Starlight, Part 3 — New Short Story

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Here is part three of Starlight. If you haven’t read part two, you can find it here.

Starlight, Part 3

Angie spent the day with her parents. She hadn’t seen them in ages, and it felt good to spend time with them.

While she was with them, she felt something—a little bit of warmth in her heart. She remembered how nice it was to spend time with family.

When it was time for her to go, Angie had a little trouble explaining her travel arrangements. She hadn’t brought her car, and she lived twenty miles from her parents’ house—she clearly hadn’t walked.

Angie just told her parents that a friend had brought her over—and that that friend would pick her up. As she stepped out of the house, she certainly hoped that was true.

She stood on the porch and watched the sun set. Soon, the first star of the evening appeared. After that, more stars studded the sky.

Angie began to feel anxious. She knew her mother would come to check on her soon, and she wouldn’t have a good explanation for why she was still standing on the porch.

The night continued to darken, and suddenly a bright light appeared by her side.

Maia had materialized next to her.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Angie said. “I wasn’t sure if—”

“There’s no time to talk,” Maia said. “You’ve found the letter ‘J.’ Now you have one-and-a-half more tasks to complete.”

Suddenly, they were floating in the air, and in the next moment, they were flying through the night.

“But I have work in the morning,” Angie protested. “I can’t go on a task tonight.”

“Then you’ll have to work quickly,” Maia replied. “Task Two. Combine fire and water.”

“What?” Angie said. “What does that mean?”

“That’s what you have to find out,” Maia said.

They flew on, and before long, they were floating into a building and settling on the ground.

Angie looked around. They were in a supermarket.

“What are we—”

Angie turned around. Maia was gone.

Angie looked around the supermarket in some trepidation. She wondered if she would be trapped in the store like she had been trapped in her old room.

She didn’t relish the idea of spending the night in a supermarket.

Angie glanced around again. She was standing in the produce department near a display of cantaloupes. She thought idly that she really liked cantaloupe, but she couldn’t eat a whole one—not by herself.

“It’s a shame, isn’t it?” said a voice by her side.

Angie looked up.

A young man with red hair was standing next to her.

“When you’re single,” he said, “you’re really better off with half a cantaloupe.”

Angie stared at him.

The young man colored. “Not that I’m saying you’re single. I am. But that doesn’t mean you are. I’m just looking for half a cantaloupe—that’s all I’m really saying. But I don’t see any, do you?”

Angie looked around. “No, I don’t. But I do know what you mean.”

The young man brightened. “You do? I live around here. Do you live around here?”

Angie frowned. “I’m not actually sure.”

She stopped and looked down at her clothes. She was still wearing the clothes she’d worn to bed on Saturday night—she must look as if she had just run out of the house to grab a few things from the store.

The young man nodded. “That’s cool. I understand if you don’t want to tell me where you live. I’m Brian, by the way. Maybe I’ll see you around.”

“Nice to meet you, Brian,” Angie said. She looked at him. He seemed like a nice person—and under ordinary circumstances she might have liked to stop and chat with him a little.

But right now she had something she had to do.

“I’ve got to go,” Angie said. “Have a good night.”

She moved off quickly.

Angie walked up and down the aisles without really finding anything. How was she supposed to combine fire and water—put tabasco sauce with cereal and milk? Nothing in the store seemed like it could be any help.

Angie continued to wander and eventually she found herself near the cashiers and the automatic doors that led out of the store.

She stopped and watched people entering and exiting with shopping carts and baskets. Getting out looked so easy—surely the automatic doors wouldn’t refuse her.

She waited until a family was heading out together, and then Angie hurried forward and walked out along with them.

She sighed in relief as the doors opened with a soft shush to allow them all out and then closed behind them with an equally soft sound.

Angie stood out in the night air and looked around gratefully. She hadn’t fulfilled the second task, but she wasn’t trapped. As she continued to look around, she realized that the front of the store looked familiar—she was actually in her own neighborhood.

Angie felt another surge of relief—she wouldn’t have to spend the night in the store, and she could now go home and get ready for work as if this were a normal Sunday night.

Angie began to walk the few blocks to her house.

The night passed as many Sunday nights had, and as Angie climbed into bed at the end of it, she began to wonder if she would receive a visit from Maia. But no starlit visitor showed up to scold her for not fulfilling her task, and eventually, Angie fell asleep.

She went to work as usual on Monday and then came home. Once again, Maia did not appear, and Angie slept peacefully that night without any interruption.

Tuesday passed the same way, and Angie began to wonder if she had imagined the whole thing. But she had mysteriously shown up in her parents’ house on Saturday night in her nightclothes without a car—something her mother had remarked on quite a few times. So something had happened that night, and Angie was unable to explain it all away.

As the week wore on, Angie found herself going back to the supermarket where she had magically appeared on Sunday night. She would wander the aisles, looking for something to jump out at her, but she saw nothing that could reasonably be construed as the combination of fire and water. But Maia—if she did exist—had wanted her to find something in this particular place.

What could it be?

Angie didn’t know.

She kept going back to the supermarket, and she began to remember how much she used to love to cook. Angie remembered how she used to have all her friends over, and she would cook something simple—like a big pot of pasta. And then they would all talk and laugh and have a great time. And then sometimes, when a friend was going through a difficult time, she would make her special soup, and they would talk it out.

Angie began to wonder—should she try to contact her old friends? Maybe make her special soup? She had friends now, of course, but they were mostly friends she’d met through work. She liked her new friends, but she missed her old ones—the ones she’d had before Jason.

Maybe she could try to invite them over—maybe see if they might come back into her life.

The more Angie thought about it, the more she liked the idea.

Another week went by, and then Angie decided she would do it. She found old email addresses for three of her best friends and sent them an invite—she didn’t even know if the addresses were still good. Then she went to the supermarket and bought ingredients for her special soup. Angie decided she would make it even if no one wanted to come.

A few days went by, and then an answer came in. Her friend Nina said she would be happy to come. Angie was overjoyed. Then another day went by, and two more replies came in. Both Joy and Eva said they would come too.

Angie spent Friday night cleaning her house. Then Saturday morning she got up early and began to prepare her soup—it needed time for the flavors to meld properly. She began chopping herbs and vegetables. Then Angie turned the dial on her gas stove and got one of the burners clicking. A moment later, a flame sprang to life. Angie placed a pot full of water on the flame and waited for it to boil. Then she began adding ingredients and let the whole thing simmer.

That night, the doorbell rang, and Angie jumped up to answer it. Nina, Joy, and Eva had all arrived together, and when they saw Angie, the three of them wrapped her in a big hug.

Angie found that there were tears in her eyes.

Angie and her friends sat around her kitchen table and ate her special soup just like they had in the old days. They laughed a lot and cried a little, and Angie found that it seemed like no time at all had passed—they were all still friends. At the end of the night, Nina made them promise that they would all come to her house next Friday for a movie night.

Angie watched her friends depart with a warmth in her heart that she hadn’t felt in a long time. The night was dark but studded with stars, and Angie watched her friends’ car until the red taillights disappeared.

Then she went back inside.

As Angie closed the door, she found a woman in a dress made of stars with starlight hair standing right in front of her—it was Maia.

Maia stepped forward and hugged Angie.

“You did it!” she said. “You completed Task Two!”

“I—” Angie said.

“You combined fire and water,” Maia said. “You made your special soup!”

“I guess I did,” Angie said. “I didn’t even think of it that way.”

Maia beamed. “My job here is done. You’ve completed both your tasks, and now your unspoken wish is fulfilled. You’ve gotten yourself back.”

Angie frowned. “Both my tasks? You said I had two and a half.”

Maia winked. “You really only had two to fulfill your wish. The half is just for you—if you want it.”

Maia began to float toward the ceiling. “Goodbye, dear Angie. I don’t believe I will see you again, but it was lovely to meet you.”

“Wait!” Angie said. “What do you mean, the half is just for me?”

But Maia was already gone.

Angie went back to the kitchen to put away her soup.

In the morning, Angie got up early to take some photos with her phone—she didn’t have a new camera yet. As she returned to the house, she realized she’d neglected to buy anything for breakfast.

She hurried to the supermarket.

Angie picked up some cereal and milk, considered eggs briefly, and then drifted over to the produce aisle—she figured she could use some fruit.

The strawberries and blueberries looked good, but then Angie spied it—a half cantaloupe wrapped in plastic.

She hurried over to it.

Just as she reached it, she saw another shopper heading toward the cantaloupe.

Angie stopped and looked up at him—the tall, red-haired figure looked familiar.

After a moment, the name came to her—it was Brian.

Brian smiled when he saw her. “I was hoping I’d see you again.”

“Hi, Brian,” Angie said.

He gestured to the plastic-wrapped fruit. “I see we’re both after the same thing—the legendary half cantaloupe.”

Angie glanced at the fruit. A half cantaloupe. The half is just for you, Maia had said.

She glanced up at Brian. He seemed like a nice person—it couldn’t hurt to get to know him a little better.

Angie held out her hand. “My name’s Angie, by the way.”

Brian took it. “Nice to meet you, Angie.”

He looked over at the cantaloupe. “I’d be happy to relinquish my claim on this particular piece of fruit. It’s all for you.”

Angie smiled. “Thanks. The next one we see will be for you.”

Brian glanced at her basket. “Looks like you’ve got a few perishable items in there, so you probably want to get home. But would you like to meet for coffee some time?”

Angie looked at Brian. His smile seemed genuine, and she felt stirrings in her heart that she hadn’t felt in a long time.

“I’d like that,” she said.

******************

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