Nestled into his red clay divot, Sebastian aimed the green laser pointer high into the clear night, and a rocket ship of light launched from the desert scrub. He squinted as he followed the rocket’s luminescent green contrail up to the twinkling ursine constellation. The Little Bear was easy to spot.
“Why do you keep pointing that at the same old star?” Teresa kicked up a tiny mushroom cloud of dust as they lay side by side. Her dad’s ranch butted up against Sebastian’s family’s in a place where eighty acres of distance counted as close. An interstellar distance for a city girl by birth, so accustomed to everyone on top of each other with no stars in the dirty lit sky. Her ball cap fit snugly on her head, and a short, braided ponytail jutted out the back as she stargazed.
Sebastian snorted. “What do ya mean? It’s the North Star, Polaris. It’s like the most important one.” The green rocket orbited Polaris, his pointer whipping ellipses around the dot. Dirt chilled his cheek when he turned to her, hoping the night would hide his blush.
The stars above did cast enough pale light to let him see her face scrunching in thought. “Okay, but we’ve watched it, like, every night this week. What makes it special?”
He waved his arms in a majestic arc across the horizon. Grandiose, maybe, but it fit with the beauty both in the sky and on the ground. “It doesn’t move. It’s always right there.”
Teresa asked questions fast, a remnant of her urban lifestyle. “Why can’t it move?”
Sebastian had pored over three hand-me-down books and a wrinkled magazine he had borrowed indefinitely from the school library to prepare for her inquisition. Pride warmed his chest. “Because it’s not supposed to move. That way you can always follow it.”
The starlight let him see her wink, too, and that thoroughly confused him. He squirmed and put another six inches between them. Nervous butterfingers dropped the pointer; the green rocket unceremoniously reentered Earth’s atmosphere. “Well, actually, in like 10,000 years, it’ll be Vega instead. See, Earth will wobble a bunch and put Vega where Polaris is now.”
She huffed like a solar flare, and Sebastian flinched as the air heated. “That doesn’t count as always, then.”
Pride curdled in his gut, and Sebastian suddenly felt protective of his knowledge. He sat up in a plume of dust. “But it’ll still be the North Star, just a different one!”
“Oh, chill.” With cheeks burning hotter than a red supergiant, he complied. He stared down Orion while listening to her draw mindless dirt circles. “Where do you learn all this anyway?”
In each class and down every hallway, Teresa sported one clear earbud, a tiny noisy moon tidally locked to her head forever. Whatever songs she listened to, Sebastian wouldn’t know. His family preferred the art of conversation over the stylings of pop music, which made fifth-period astronomy with Miss Levenson a breeze. “I pay attention in class.”
Her laugh fell up into space. “You’re such a nerd, Sebastian.”
She never relented with that moniker, though she only sometimes meant it. Still, he blushed more, which she probably expected and enjoyed. He rolled onto his pointer, burying his radiant cheek in the dirt.
Teresa’s feet shuffled the ground with a slow, gentle rustle. “See, my dad says they sing. That’s how you follow ’em.”
Relieved she wouldn’t harp on his nerdiness, he grinned, though he did himself no favors by regurgitating pieces of his lessons. “Stars don’t sing. They’re balls of gas and… stuff.”
“That’s cuz you’re not listening.” Gravel crinkled, and heat trailed her as she slid to Sebastian. “Dad says their songs pour through the sky like water. You just gotta pay attention and scoop ‘em up.”
Now more curious than embarrassed, Sebastian raised an ear to the sky and listened. Stars sounded a lot like the dry hum of crickets and beetles, plus a diesel pickup backfiring.
“You’re not doing it right,” she said with a knowing smirk. “Here.” In the chilly night, her fingers seared. She cupped her hand to his ear at the proper song-catching angle — 32.5 degrees, as accurate as Sebastian could be without his protractor — and he took deep cleansing breaths.
Song, beautiful songs poured into his ear, liquid music cascading down from the stars. She hummed in elegant harmony as Polaris and Vega and all the others flooded the night with stellar melodies. Eyes closed, he listened, and he drank deeply, greedily, as the celestial waterfall thinned to a trickle.
When her hand left, he stared dumbfounded, proud stars winking back. Sebastian soaked in a pool of music.
“You heard it! I can tell by those eyes you’re makin’.” She had this happy hiccup of a giggle, a bubbly refreshment after the stars’ symphony. Her ponytail brushed the dirt, and her cap would’ve fallen off had Sebastian not mustered enough sense to reach out and keep it on her head. Her laugh dribbled away.
The music seeped into jagged cracks in the dry ground. Sounds of crickets, beetles, and pickup trucks followed. Nervous fingers poured down her cap, and he stroked her ponytail and then the soft nape of her neck, watching her in the misty light and humid silence of stars that had rained down their songs.
Polaris twinkled as time passed. He waited, she waited, waited until the music drained into the parched earth. She sighed, long and dragging as Sebastian removed his hand. Her turn to shuffle six inches away, light-years apart as they gazed into outer space.
Silent stars had turned above. New constellations broke the horizon. Sebastian only needed a moment more to sit still in the darkness before he retrieved his pointer. They both forced soft smiles as his green ship resumed its flight.
“And that one there, that’s Sirius. It’s funny, it actually has a whole story behind it.”
Alex Sventeckis works as a content marketer by day. Most other times, he writes short fiction, exploring grand occurrences and little moments through tall tales. Alex’s work can be found on 365tomorrows and elsewhere, as well as on his own story site, Quik Fics. He lives in Indianapolis, IN and enjoys all the amenities the city offers.