“3…2…1…Happy New Year!”
Squeezed among the crowd on my building’s roof, I find myself suddenly alone as the people around me twist away to make out with their partners.
I try to keep my attention on the fireworks overhead. The colossal elementals spin and dance in the sky over the Space Needle, their rippling arms throwing sparks of red and gold. Occasionally one soars close to us, sticking out its white-hot tongue before rocketing skyward to explode in a shower of light.
Elementals this size come from volcanos. I always wonder if these performances make them sad, if they regret having to die over a strange city, but these seem to be having a great time.
So do the people around me.
The bottom falls out of my stomach. It’s Tom, his smile as dazzling as the fireworks. My roommate invited him – she knows I like him, and she’s pretty sure he likes me, and she was probably hoping the midnight revelry would inspire us. She doesn’t know I’ve typed and deleted a dozen emails to him, trying and never managing to tell him how I feel.
“Hey.” I’m pretty sure I pull off sounding cool and collected. “Happy New Year.”
“This show is amazing, huh?” He offers me a cigarette.
I’ve accepted it and instinctively pulled out my old silver lighter before I remember. “Can I borrow your light?”
He looked down at the one in my hand and his smile turns wistful. “Saving your old one?”
I shrug, trying to look nonchalant. “She’s old.”
“She came from your grandfather, right?”
The lighter had been a wedding gift from my grandmother to my grandfather, engraved with their initials and their anniversary. It’s all I have left of either of them, but by the time it had come to me, more than half the life of the elemental within had been used up. Over the last few months, she’s been changing – weakening.
I hold it out on my palm and we both watch the polished surface catch the colors. “She’s dying,” I say, feeling foolish. Who gets sentimental over the fire in their lighter? It’s not like I’m weeping for the fireworks.
But Tom just gives that gentle smile. The fireworks momentarily light his face blue and I remember how close I came to asking him to dance at the jazz club near Christmas. Yet another regret of the ended year.
His finger traces the engraving. It’s the first time we’ve been this near, this close. So close. “Remember that time she got us out of that creepy basement senior year?” he asks, chuckling.
“God, that was awful. I remember using her to help Ophelia find her ring.”
“She’s been a good little flame.”
I chew on the inside of my lip, determined not to cry. “You don’t think it’s silly to get emotional over a lighter?”
“Of course not. They’re living beings, and that one’s been with your family a long time.” He closes my fingers around the lighter. “I’m going to miss her, too. She came on so many of our misadventures.”
“I’ll make sure her final year is just as adventurous.”
I light the cigarette. The elemental’s feathery arms wrap around the paper, just like she’s done since I snuck my first cigarette in ninth grade, but I can see its tiny face is turned upward, gazing with white-hot eyes at its enormous cousins dancing overhead.
“Can you see that?” I ask it. The flame wobbles in excitement.
“Need a better look?” Feeling somewhat silly, I hold the lighter up. Tom watches it rise. The little flame glows brighter and the wisps stretch skyward. Then, with a faint squeal and a flash of white, the fire launches itself out of the lighter. It circles Tom’s head, illuminating his smile, before it shoots upward like a child’s lost balloon. It spirals closer to a huge gold sparkler, which beams and spreads its many-limbed arms wide to greet it.
There is a boom and a shower of bright sparks, and then both are gone.
It takes me a moment to realize that the silver case in my hand is an empty shell now. It takes me another moment to realize she probably lived longer than I will, and she went out gloriously.
I might go out gloriously, too, but what’s the point of waiting that long?
I kiss Tom, and the response is a new kind of magic and light.