It took a moment for May to realize Em was absolutely serious.
“Em,” she said, voice stern. “This isn’t funny.”
“I’m not trying to be funny,” Em was exasperated. “You wanted to know what I am, right? I’m trying to tell you.”
“A Star, Em?” The octave of May’s voice was growing steadily higher. “I thought you were going to say your were a witch or possessed or something!”
Em gaped. “And that would have been easier to believe?”
“I don’t know!” May was mentally hovering somewhere between panicked and furious.
Rubbing her hands down her face, Em groaned loudly. “I know it sounds crazy but I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true.”
Against all logic, there was something inside of May that believed her.
“May, I’m trying really hard to be honest with you. Please, just hear me out.”
Anxiously, May chewed at the edge of her thumbnail as she considered her options.
“Fine.” She huffed at last, dropping to take a seat in the sand.
Em pursed her lips and considered her next steps carefully. She glanced at the pile of wood she had been collecting and got an idea.
“I’m going to tell you a story.” She crouched next to the fire pit. “But first, let me set the mood a little.”
Under May’s skeptical watch, Em hovered her hands over the wood pile. She concentrated silently, slowly bringing her hands closer together.
May wondered if she was imagining the heat emanating from the small space between Em’s palms when a spark flashed, taking to the dry driftwood hungrily. May let out a small yelp and quickly pulled her legs up to her chest.
“Sorry,” Em laughed. “I wasn’t trying to scare you. That trick’s a bit harder to control but, shit, it sure comes in handy when you’re backpacking.”
In stunned silence, May watched Em settle down on the other side of the fire. After a moment or two, a comforting warmth bathed her limbs and face. Despite her fear and confusion, May couldn’t help but relax a little.
“How did you do that?” she asked quietly.
“That might be easier to explain if I start at the beginning,” Em replied gently, not wanting to disrupt the waters now that May had calmed.
May shifted, gradually letting herself get comfortable. When she was ready, she nodded. Em began.
“Once upon a time there was a little girl.”
“Really?” May interrupted, her brow furrowed. “‘Once upon a time’? That’s what you’re going with?”
Em’s eyes narrowed. “I thought you wanted to hear this.”
May threw her hands up in mock surrender. “I’m sorry, please continue.”
“Right,” Em grumbled. “This little girl. She was a sweet kid but she had a bad heart. Since the day she was born, she had been sick. People weren’t sure if she would get to grow up, that’s how bad it was.”
May frowned. “Didn’t you say your mom had been sick?”
“Are you going to let me tell the story or what?” Em asked.
May winced. “Sorry, I’ll stop.”
“Transposition of the great arteries.” Em barrelled onward, ignoring the apology. “It’s when the arteries that bring blood to and from the heart are backwards. She had to have surgery right after she was born. Usually kids with this condition have a pretty decent chance of living a long life but things are never really normal for them.”
She paused to give May a chance to add in a quip, but there was only silence so she continued.
“Being sick meant she couldn’t do most things kids get to do growing up. She was always meeting with doctors and had to take it easy because her heart was so weak. She spent a lot of time alone.”
Em paused for a moment to stare up at the sky. May wanted her to continue but was afraid to interrupt again. She could relate to a childhood spent mostly alone. She wanted to say so without making this about her.
“That’s a hard way to grow up,” she offered gently.
Em nodded, distracted. She brought her eyes back down to meet May’s, blinking to regain focus.
“Her grandmother liked to tell stories to keep her mind off things. When the girl was really young, her grandmother told her the legend of the Stars. The little girl thought if the Stars could hear when people made wishes on them, then maybe they could hear her if she just talked to them instead. After that she would talk to them every single night before bed.”
“Is that true?” May asked. “About the wishes?”
“It’s true they can hear you,” Em said with a shrug. “But the part about granting wishes is just a human fantasy. I mean, they can, they just generally choose not to.”
May squirmed, remembering her own wish, cast to the stars the night before. “Why not?”
“Because they have everything planned out.” Em said this as if it was perfectly common knowledge.
“As it turns out, she was right: someone was listening,” she said, words spilling out faster, as if she was just as enthralled with the twist in her own story. “One Star in particular had become fascinated with the girl. They listened to her stories every single night.”
“After years of listening to the girl talk and watching her grow up, the Star decided they had to meet. It was risky and the Star knew they shouldn’t, but they had made up their mind. After meeting, the two became close friends. The girl – at this point a young woman – would whisper her stories at night and, when the Star could get down to Earth, the two would spend time together. They were as inseparable as two beings living on two different planes of existence could be.”
At this, Em paused again, rubbing her hands together slowly and staring aimlessly at the fire for a moment before swallowing hard.
“Eventually, the woman was grown,” she continued without looking away from the fire. “To celebrate her coming of age, the Star gave her a gift. Even though they weren’t supposed to, the Star offered her a wish – anything she wanted, as long as it was just for her.”
May frowned. “But what about the plan?”
Em shook her head.
“That’s how much the Star cared for her; they kind of went rogue. I think they were probably hoping that she’d wish for health – or that she might at least be able to live a long life without fear.”
May was captivated. The flickering of the firelight and the soothing sound of Em’s voice lured her in, wrapping her in a blanket of comfort so that she had all but forgotten to be afraid. The Star, the woman – May wanted to know everything.
“What did she wish for instead?” she whispered softly, holding the sight of Em through the dancing flames until the other finally looked up and their eyes locked.
“She wished for a baby,” Em replied.
Banner art by @beverlylove