Starlight — Free Short Story

Photo credit: (c) Ironika on Shutterstock

Angie hasn’t been feeling like herself for a long time. In fact, it’s fair to say she’s lost her mojo. And then one night, a starlit visitor gives her a chance to start again at life—and at love. (A paranormal romance short story.) This story will be available free on this website for a limited time.

Starlight

by Catherine Mesick

“Star light, star bright,” Angie Hamoncourt murmured to herself.

She looked at the single star in the twilight sky—the first star of the evening—but she couldn’t bring herself to make a wish.

There were no more wishes left in her.

As she watched, the sky deepened into night, and more stars came out. Angie sat on a soft blanket in the grass and watched the dark sky fill up as if with diamonds. As she breathed in the warm summer air deeply, she saw a shooting star streak across the sky and fall toward the earth.

Again, once upon a time, Angie would have made a wish.

But that time was long past.

And that feeling that would have been a wish remained locked inside her heart.

She watched for a few, fleeting seconds until the falling star—a tiny pinpoint of light—disappeared from her sight.

Then she went inside her house.

Lately, she’d been spending a lot of nights sitting alone in her back yard, and this Friday night was no different.

Somehow, it was easier than spending time with other people.

Angie went into her bedroom and looked around at all her familiar, cherished things and felt the same aching distance from them—from herself, even—that she experienced every night. She looked at her own image in the mirror—her face, framed by her long, dark hair, was youthful and unlined—the face of the original Angie. But somehow her eyes had lost their spark, and she felt as if a stranger was staring back at her.

She turned away.

She got ready for bed, and as she turned out the light, she felt as if she was turning out the light in her own soul.

Somewhere in the middle of the night, Angie was aware of a bright glow in her room.

She sat up, and she saw a woman standing in front of her.

She stared in wonder.

The woman’s hair shone as if it were made of a thousand tiny stars, and it cascaded around her shoulders, lighting up the dark bedroom. She was clad in a dress that also seemed to be made of thousands of tiny lights—winking and twinkling like stars in the night sky.

The woman stared at Angie for a moment, her bright eyes enhanced rather than dimmed by her brilliant hair, and Angie stared back.

Then, in the next instant, the woman was gone.

Angie looked around her dark room. The red numbers on her alarm clock were the only light that was visible now.

She wondered for a moment if she could be cracking up.

Then she shrugged the illusion off as the remnant of a dream and went back to sleep.

In the morning, Angie was tempted to text one of her friends about the oddly realistic dream she’d had about a starlit visitor, but in the end, she decided against it.

It had really been too fleeting to be worth mentioning.

Angie went on with her Saturday. She went to her usual places, did her usual things, but somehow something was missing—a light had gone out in her.

When friends invited Angie out to dinner that night, she turned them down.

She sat instead on her porch in the evening and watched the sun setting, eschewing the grass, which was damp from a light summer rain. Once again, she watched as the sky darkened to inky black. But there were no stars on this night—the cloud cover was too heavy.

At no time in particular, Angie went inside, and eventually, she went to sleep.

Somewhere in the middle of the night, a bright light fell on her face, and Angie woke up again.

Then she sat up and clutched at her covers, startled.

Standing in front of her once more was the woman dressed and crowned in stars.

Angie stared at her steadily, and this time the woman didn’t disappear.

“Hello,” the woman said, her voice as musical and silvery as a bell.

“Hello,” Angie replied.

“My name is Maia,” the woman said. “I’m here to be your guide.”

“My guide?” Angie asked.

“I heard your wish yesterday. I’m here to help you fulfill it.”

Angie shook her head. “I didn’t make any wish.”

“You most certainly did,” Maia said, her voice tinkling like crystal in her indignation.

“No,” Angie replied. “I didn’t have a single thought in my head that could remotely be called a wish.”

“You didn’t wish with your mind. You wished with your heart.”

“I didn’t—”

“Never mind the protests,” Maia said briskly. “Your wish was received, and I’m here now.”

“This is a very strange dream I’m having,” Angie said.

“It’s not a dream,” Maia replied. “Now get up. We—or rather you—have a lot to do.”

Against her better judgment, Angie got out of bed, a little self-conscious in her T-shirt and sweatpants, and stood next to the starlit woman.

“Now then,” Maia said. “I have two-and-a-half tasks for you to complete.”

“Two and a half?” Angie said.

“Yes. And you mustn’t neglect that half. It’s just as important as the two full tasks.” Maia fixed her with a piercing stare. “Task One. Find the letter ‘J.’ ”

“Find the letter ‘J’?” Angie echoed.

“Yes,” Maia replied. “Now let’s go.”

She held out a slender, delicate hand, and Angie, after a slight hesitation, took it.

In the next moment, Angie found herself floating in the air. She twisted around, startled, but Maia’s small hand held her safely aloft. As Angie watched in astonishment, she and Maia floated right up to the wall, and then soared through it, out into the night air.

They hovered for just a moment, and Angie could see her own lawn below her.

Then, without warning, they flew off into the dark sky.

Angie could see the ground streaking by below her and the stars streaking by above her. She should have been terrified by the height and the speed, but somehow all she felt was a great sense of exhilaration.

Maia and Angie flew on, and before long, they were zooming up to a white house with dark-green shutters.

And then they flew through the walls of the house.

They floated gently to the floor in a dark room.

Even in the dim light, Angie could tell the room looked familiar.

“This is my old room in my parents’ house,” she whispered.

“Yes,” Maia replied in her soft, silvery voice. “What you need is in here.”

“The letter ‘J’?” Angie asked uncertainly.

“Yes.”

“But I don’t have any idea—”

Angie turned to see Maia walking up to a wall, and then disappearing casually through it.

Angie went to follow her.

Instead, she bumped face-first into the wall.

She went to the door and found that it was locked.

Angie rattled the knob and pounded on the door. “Maia! Let me out! This door must be stuck or something.”

“The door will open when you have found what you’re looking for,” Maia said from the other side. “And not a moment before.”

Angie pounded on the door again. “Maia!”

There was no reply.

Angie sighed heavily. Then she turned to her old room and switched on the light.

Her bed and desk and trophies—from photography competitions when she was in high school—were still there, so the room still looked familiar. But now much of the floor space was taken up with cardboard boxes.

Her parents were apparently using the room for storage.

Angie tried the door one last time but found that it still wouldn’t open.

She turned back to the boxes—she supposed she’d better start looking.

She began opening the slightly dusty cardboard lids. Many of the boxes belonged to her parents. But some of them were hers—and they were labeled as such.

Angie decided to focus on those.

They seemed the likeliest place where she would find the letter “J.”

She dragged her boxes to a corner and began to open them.

Some of them held childhood items—toys and books and clothes. And some of them were from later years—college and her first job.

As Angie began to sift through all her old things, memories came bubbling up to the surface.

She found things that made her smile, a few things that made her cry, and even a thing or two that made her laugh out loud.

And then she found a box with her old camera and several long manila envelopes full of photographs.

Angie felt a pang in her heart as she gently touched the camera’s nubby, black surface.

It had been years since she’d lifted that camera—or any camera.

Somehow she’d pushed the feeling that taking photographs had once given her to the back of her mind.

It had been stashed away in a dusty, forgotten mental storage box.

She turned to the envelopes.

The first one Angie opened contained her earliest photographs—the very first she ever developed herself. There were photos of her parents, her parents’ house, her high school friends, and one beautiful photo of jasmine blossoms.

Angie paused as she took that one out—it had always been one of her favorites.

The photo depicted the jasmine bush that grew at the back of the house. The white flowers and their dark leaves looked lovely in the black-and-white photo—each highlighted the others’ stark beauty.

Even though it was one of the earliest photos she’d ever taken, Angie had always felt there was something special about this one. There was power and mystery in it.

She paused. Could this be the “J” Maia had asked her to look for?

She wasn’t sure.

Angie continued to look through the other photographs and opened more envelopes. She found many more pictures of friends and family, trips and vacations, and quite a few more studies of flowers. But nothing really stood out to her.

And then she found the picture of Jason Delbruck.

It felt like ages since she’d last seen him—a lifetime at least. In reality, it had only been about two years since they’d broken it off. But a lot had happened while they’d been together.

Angie set everything else aside and took a long look at the photograph in her hand.

Jason was smiling, looking away from the camera, and even though the photo was black and white, Angie could see with her mind’s eye just how blue his eyes were.

She’d loved his sense of humor. She’d loved his ready wit.

She’d loved him.

Could he be the “J” she was looking for?

Angie continued to look at the photo of Jason. She really had loved everything about him.

But he certainly couldn’t have said the same about her.

Jason had always said that he loved her, but he hadn’t liked her friends.

They had been the first to go.

Then he hadn’t liked her hairstyle or her perfume.

He had gotten her to change those, too.

And even though he’d consented to the photo Angie held in her hand, he hadn’t liked her interest in photography, either. He’d told her that she was no good—she had no eye for a picture—and that photography was frivolous anyway.

He’d told her she should be focusing on a serious career instead.

So Angie had given up on photography—let it disappear from her life.

And even though she’d done everything he wanted, Jason had eventually disappeared, too.

As she looked down at his smile, Angie realized there was no way he could be the letter “J.”

She didn’t know what the letter “J” was or what it was supposed to represent in her life.

But she knew it wasn’t him.

Angie sifted through her photographs until she found the picture of the jasmine again. She held it up, and she was amazed once more by the power in this simple photograph.

Somehow she had captured something special in this moment.

Angie felt something stirring in her that she hadn’t felt in a long time.

If anything was the letter “J,” it was this jasmine photo. It was the best work she’d ever done.

At that moment, the door opened, and her mother—tall, angular, her dark hair mussed from sleep—entered the room. The hall behind her was dark, and she blinked blearily in the light of the bedroom.

“Angie?” her mother said, startled. “I thought I heard someone rustling around in here. Honey, what are you doing here?”

“I—was just looking through some old things,” Angie said, equally startled.

Her mother frowned. “How did you get in the house?”

“I—uh—” Angie thought back to Maia.

She could hardly tell her mother that a starlit woman had flown her through the sky.

“You must still have that old key,” her mother said, inadvertently saving her. “Anyway, it’s good to see you, even if this is a little unusual. Sun’s coming up. Come with me, and I’ll get you some breakfast.”

Her father—bald, bespectacled, and clearly pleased to see her—soon joined them at the breakfast table for eggs, pancakes, and bacon.

Angie spent the entire Sunday with her parents. She hadn’t seen them in ages—in fact, it had been nearly a year—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 evening was approaching, and 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 to wait for her “friend,” she certainly hoped that was true.

She stood on the porch and watched the sun set in brilliant colors of red and pink and yellow. 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 in all her starry glory.

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

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

Maia took her hand.

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

“But tomorrow’s Monday,” Angie protested. “I have work in the morning—and I haven’t slept. I can’t go on a task tonight.”

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

“What?” Angie said, startled. “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 large, square building and settling on a tiled floor.

Angie looked around at the bright lights and the shelves laden with produce.

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’d 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 near a display of cantaloupes, their round, tan forms piled high like little boulders.

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 reddish-brown 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 blushed, and Angie noticed that his eyelashes were the same reddish-brown color as his hair.

“Not that I’m saying you’re single,” he stammered. “I am. But that doesn’t mean you are,” he added hastily. “I’m just looking for half a cantaloupe—that’s really all I’m 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 paused and looked down at her clothes. She was still wearing the T-shirt and sweatpants she’d worn to bed on Saturday night.

She must look as if she’d 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 had a friendly, handsome face, and he seemed like a nice person.

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, her tone apologetic. “Have a good night.”

Brian gave her a sad look, and her heart went out to him.

Angie knew what it was like to be interested in someone who didn’t seem to have the time of day for you.

But she really did have to go.

She moved off quickly.

Angie walked up and down the aisles in the supermarket without really finding anything.

How was she supposed to combine fire and water? Put tabasco sauce with cereal and milk?

Make a smoothie out of jalapeño peppers and frozen bananas?

Nothing in the store seemed like it could be any help.

Angie continued to wander, and eventually she found herself near the cash registers 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 big, glass 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 cool 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 at a supermarket 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—in chores and preparation for the workday tomorrow—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 didn’t appear that night, and Angie slept peacefully—without any interruption—until her alarm went off in the morning.

Tuesday passed the same way, and Angie began to wonder if she’d imagined the whole thing.

However, she had mysteriously shown up at her parents’ house on Saturday night in her nightclothes without a car—something her mother had remarked on quite a few times over the phone.

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’d 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—something else Jason had told her she was no good at.

Angie fondly recalled the times when 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—her own recipe—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 invite them over—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 day went by, and then an answer came in. Her friend Nina Gayle said she would be happy to come. Angie was overjoyed. Then another day went by, and two more replies came in. Both Joy Zyma and Eva Martinez 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—time was needed for the flavors to meld properly. She began chopping herbs—basil, oregano, and thyme—and vegetables—parsnips, carrots, and celery. Then Angie turned the dial on her gas stove and got one of the burners clicking. A moment later, a blue flame with an orange tip sprang to life. Angie placed a pot full of spring water on the flame and waited for it to boil. Then she began adding ingredients and let the whole thing simmer.

Later on, she would add some minced turkey and some noodles.

Once it was done, she would garnish it with mint and a dollop of sour cream.

That evening when the doorbell rang, 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 stepped back to look at them.

Nina—a friend she’d known since high school—was staring at her with her big, soulful brown eyes.

Eva had been her friend even longer—they’d known each other since childhood—and she was looking at Angie as if she couldn’t really believe she was seeing her again.

And Joy—a pal from college—lived up to her name just like she used to. She beamed, and her bright green eyes sparkled.

Angie found that there were tears in her own 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.

They talked well into the night.

At the end of the evening, Nina made them promise that they would all come to her house next Friday for a movie night.

As Angie stood by her front door, watching her friends depart, she felt a warmth in her heart that hadn’t been there in a long time. She glanced around at the dark night studded with stars and admired its beauty.

Nina, Eva, and Joy all waved one last time, and then they got in the car. The thunk of their car doors closing was loud in the quiet night air, as was the roar of Nina’s mustang as it started.

Angie watched her friends’ car until the red taillights disappeared.

Then she went back inside.

As Angie closed the door, she found she was enveloped in a dazzling, golden glow.

A woman in a dress made of tiny stars with starlit hair appeared right in front of her.

It was Maia.

She stepped forward and hugged Angie, and her embrace was as delicate and ephemeral as a butterfly’s kiss.

“You did it!” she exclaimed, in her silvery voice. “You completed Task Two!”

“I—what?” Angie said.

“You combined fire and water,” Maia said, stepping back and taking Angie’s hands. “You made your special soup!”

“I guess I did combine fire and water to make that,” Angie said, feeling disoriented. “I didn’t even think of it that way.”

Maia beamed and squeezed Angie’s hands lightly. “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. “I’ll let you in on a secret. You really only had to do two to fulfill your wish. The half is just for you—if you want it. It’s entirely up to you.”

Maia let go of Angie’s hands and began to float toward the ceiling, which Angie also found disorienting.

“Goodbye, dear Angie. I don’t believe I will see you again, but it was lovely to meet you.”

“Wait!” Angie cried. “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 catch the golden hour and take some photos with her phone—she didn’t have a new camera yet, but she was planning to get one this week.

After a very satisfying nature shoot in her own neighborhood, Angie returned to her house, and she realized she’d only bought ingredients for her special soup the last time she’d gone shopping.

She was perilously low on breakfast foods.

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 bright-red strawberries and dark, almost purple blueberries both looked good, but then Angie spied what she really wanted—a half cantaloupe, its orange center and tan rind wrapped in plastic.

She hurried over to it.

Just as she reached it, she saw another shopper moving toward the cantaloupe, his hand outstretched.

Angie stopped and looked up at the approaching figure—the tall man with the reddish-brown hair looked familiar.

She studied his lean face—which was intent on the cantaloupe—and she noticed that his eyelashes were the same reddish-brown color as his hair.

Then she recognized him—it was Brian from the night she’d been magically transported into the supermarket.

His hand touched the half cantaloupe, and then he looked up and noticed Angie standing nearby.

He broke into a grin when he saw her.

“I was hoping I’d see you again,” he said.

“Hi, Brian,” Angie replied, cheered by how happy he was to see her.

He lifted his long, lean hand and 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.

Angie glanced up at Brian. He seemed like a nice person.

She figured it couldn’t hurt to get to know him a little better.

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

Brian took it. His hand was warm and strong.

“Nice to meet you, Angie.”

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

He picked it up and held it out to her.

“Thanks,” Angie said, as she accepted the melon. “The next one we see will be for you.”

Brian glanced at her shopping basket. “Looks like you’ve got a few perishable items in there, so you probably want to get going. 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.

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

© 2018 by Catherine Mesick

Thanks very much for reading! You can pick up my book Pure free here: https://catherinemesick.com/books/.