Three teenagers walked side by side down a path, deeper into the dense forest, navigating their way through the night.
“It’s so beautiful here,” said the boy from Boston.
“Even at night time,” said the boy from Vermont with a laugh, “when you can’t even see anything?”
Boston switched off his flashlight. They stopped walking. A long, silent moment passed.
“We don’t get cicadas like these in the city,” said Boston.
“I didn’t notice them,” said Vermont. “I hear these every night during the summer, before bed, but the sound doesn’t always register.”
“The cicadas back home sound different,” said the girl from Wyoming. “I can hear these ones separately; they don’t just register as one lone blur.”
“They sound beautiful,” said Boston.
“Yeah, they really do,” said Vermont.
None of them dared to move in the forest’s sky-less darkness, so they all just stood there.
“What are they like in Wyoming?” asked Boston.
“Nonstop. They have one thick, constant tone, but we have twenty different species,” said Wyoming. “I used to search for them at night with my parents in the grass, but we never found a single one. Only shells and dead ones.”
“I wonder why that is,” said Boston.
“My dad always said, ‘the louder we talk, the quieter they sing.’ But I never minded that.” Wyoming paused, letting her words taper out into the air. “My house gets lonely when Mom and Dad are out and I only have the cicada songs with me. I prefer other people to talk to. This is nice.” She spoke the last sentence softly, like the words were a calming sigh.
“Hey, I can hear the river,” said Boston with a sudden flare of excitement. “It’s close.”
“Then we should get going,” said Vermont. “I want to make it back to catch the end of the concert, but we have to see this spot you’ve talked so much about.”
Boston switched his flashlight back on, illuminating the path before them, and the three began to move. As they neared the river, the path began a steep depression, and the air thickened with the moisture of whatever water the river lost to the air.
“The rock is right down here,” said Boston, as they climbed down a hill layered with tree roots. He moved the light further down so that only a wide circle was visible about 10 yards away, containing a large rock and water flowing around it.
They left their shoes by the bank. When stepping into the river to climb onto the rock, their feet got wet and muddy, but none of them minded. They sat on the rock and dangled their feet off the edge. Behind them, the flashlight lay carelessly discarded, and the light shined into the river but didn’t reveal much.
“You can see more when the sun’s out, but this is it,” said Boston. “This is the place.”
Boston stared around, trying to absorb as much as he could within the darkness. He tracked the ruffles in the water, watching them move down from the visible part of the stream into the darkness, where their motion continued in his mind’s eye. His ears filled this image with owls and frolicking creatures; the cicada songs and surging water animated them. Then he closed his eyes and lay back on the rock.
“Wow,” said Vermont in a quiet unobtrusiveness. He also took a few moments to look around. “This place reminds me of a stream behind my house. I love that place. I have since I was little.” He spoke he words more to the surrounding emptiness than to his companions.
“There’s a spot like this back home,” said Wyoming, “a beautiful spot. I’ve tried to draw it over and over. My teachers love all of those drawings, but none feel right to me. I’ve only ever gone to that spot by myself.” She looked back and forth between Boston and Vermont and smiled.
“I’ve never been somewhere like this before,” said Boston, sitting up. “I could stay up here forever.” He picked up the light and shined it around them, slowly moving it across the forest landscape. He then turned off the light and looked up at the clear slice of sky visible where the river cut a line through the trees. “And the stars here astound me. You can almost never see them back home, and when you can there are too few.”
Vermont mumbled something that was inaudible so close to the river.
“What?” asked Boston.
“New York City,” said Vermont, lifting his legs back onto the rock and scooting closer to Boston.
“Have you ever been there? To New York City?” Vermont asked sharply.
“Yes,” said Boston. “Many times.”
“I went when I was a baby,” said Wyoming. “My parents have told me stories.”
“How was it?” Vermont asked Boston.
“New York?” He paused. “It’s a great place. There’s a thousand things going on all the time and thousands more to do. It’s fun, I’ve always had a fun time there.”
Vermont didn’t say anything for a while.
Wyoming was so happy just looking back and forth between her two friends.
After a minute, Vermont spoke: “I’ve dreamt of New York my whole life. I’ve always wanted to go, but I’ve never had the chance. I’ve seen it in books and in movies, searched online for anything that would paint a real picture of New York for me.
“I think if I ever got the chance, I’d go on a bus with just a loaded backpack and a few friends. We’d walk around first, and keep walking and walking until we found one of those independent art galleries. I’d hope some of the artists would be there, and I’d ask them about their work, maybe even talk to them about some of mine.” He lay down so that he was facing the sky. “We’d buy lunch from a truck, eat it in the park while bikers rode by and dogs barked down the grass, and find our way to the top of the Empire State Building by sunset. I want to see how the city lights up at night.”
Boston didn’t respond for a while. He reflected on one of his dashes through the met, his parents guided by audio tour headsets, him following them, asking if any of the paintings were important ones, asking how long until their “tour” concluded and they could eat lunch. He tried to envision some of the paintings, but the canvases remained mostly blank aside from slight background details like the mixed green of hills or the blue horizons.
Wyoming was also silent. She decided that she would paint Vermont’s imagined journey.
During that moment, the cicadas continued to chirp and the river continued to splash against the rock. The trees brushed against each other in the breeze and the stars lit up the dark water.
“You can,” said Boston. “You can and I’m sure you will one day.”
“Yeah,” said Vermont, sighing out the fresh country air and staring blankly into the forest’s darkness “We should probably head back soon. If we go now, we could probably catch the end of the concert.”
The three nodded in unison. They got up, climbed off the rock, and put their shoes back on. They walked back silently through the lulling, noisy, hushed night. They passed through the edge of the forest, where it opened up into a meadow, and walked through its tall grass. The meadow ended in a road, where one motorcycle drove by, its bright lights and loud motor startling them, before they crossed.
The harmonious sound of two guitars could be heard from the barn up ahead, a soft sound that mingled with the other late-night bucolic melodies. When the three arrived, they saw a circle of kids, people whom the three of them did not know, sitting on the grass outside the door of the barn. The chords and accompanying voices flowed through the air, to and past the circle, where everyone was nodding his or her head with the music.
Boston, Vermont, and Wyoming joined the circle in time for the last song.
“This is the best spot,” one of the others said to the three of them. “We got to hear the whole thing, but still get to sit under the stars.” He looked up at them. “I’m Jake, by the way.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” said Boston. “I’m Stephen.”
“Where are you from?” Nick asked Jake.
“New York City.”
Stephen saw Nick’s face momentarily harden, and then watched as it thawed into a radiant smile as the song rushed past and dissipated into calm, lively night.