Under an August Sky

Rachel Jensen

Rachel Jensen

We wouldn’t get a moment like this again.
The air was thick in North Carolina, heavy on my shoulders. It was stickier than the salty breeze we had at home. My parents and I unloaded the last of the plastic shopping bags from the gray rental car. And then we stood on the dark asphalt of the parking lot, looking at anything and everything but each other. We’d been waiting for this moment, but still we weren’t ready.
We’d never said goodbye before, not really.
“Do you know where you’ll watch?” my father asked finally, pushing his sunglasses higher on his nose.
I nodded, my throat tight. “The quad.”
My mother smiled. It was too hot for a hug, but she pulled me toward her anyways. She smelled like her: lavender dryer sheets and SPF 30 sunscreen. My face was warm and wet -- sweat and tears beginning where the other ended. I wiped them both away with the sleeve of my white t-shirt.
“We’ll be watching too,” my mother promised as she pulled away, squeezing my hand. “It’ll be fun, all of it, and Thanksgiving’s not that far away. We’ll be seeing you really soon.”
I only nodded, watching as they folded themselves into the gray sedan. My mother rolled down the window, waving until they disappeared around the corner and I was standing on the curb alone.
Upstairs, my new roommate was waiting in our rectangular room. Emily from Maryland. With dark eyes and long braids, she was smaller than she looked in her profile picture and friendlier than she had seemed over the phone. She was a biology major like everyone else that first semester.
We still had several hours before it happened. Equipped with Google Maps and a sense of wonder, we set off to explore the alien terrain. There was the dining hall, with the soft serve machine. And the big library and the small library and the fancy library. There were all the shops on Main Street too.
Around three in the afternoon, Emily and I headed for the quad. We noticed the shadows on our way. Down on the brick path, soft crescents of light emerged, shifting and sharpening. We quickened our pace. It was almost time.
The quad was crowded with teenagers in orange t-shirts and baseball caps. My new neighbors. Tinny music echoed out of someone’s speaker. We found an empty patch of too-long grass and took our seats for the show.
The human noise grew louder as the sky began her quiet performance. We wouldn’t get a moment like this again. That’s what everyone was whispering. It might be once in a lifetime, something like this.
Some cheers rose from the crowd. It was beginning now. The moon inched ahead, getting closer and closer to obscuring the sun.
I thought of my parents, universes away. Were they seeing the same sky? They were always there with me, through the bright and dark moments. But for this one and the next and many of the rest, they wouldn’t be.
“This is so exciting,” Emily said, glancing over at me. “Are you ready?”
I considered her question for a second before nodding and slipping on my pair of flimsy eclipse glasses. Someone started a countdown like it was New Year’s Eve. I took a deep breath. And then the day grew dark, and we all looked up.
---
Rachel Jensen is a senior at UNC, and she is studying Advertising and Public Relations with a Creative Writing minor. This story won first place in the 2020 Mini-Max Competition.
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