Star is a regular girl, living a regular routine. Work, home, friends, there is nothing extradorinary about her life. One day she starts to notice a strange yet familiar man lingering about. She starts to confide in an old lover, although they are miles apart. He has always been the safest thing she can remember in her life. Is the strange man a figment of her imagination? Or is it something much more dangerous? Unknowingly to both Star and her old flame, this is a mystery they must solve together.
Sitting in a dark room at a U.S air force base, on an early cloudy morning in Scotland, Mick attempts to watch Dave Chapelle through heavy eyelids. Being on an overnight assignment is especially hard when your only task is to wait for a military bird to bunk. As he struggled to concentrate, his thoughts travel back in time to nine years ago when he was 18 years old and decided to enlist in the United States Navy. Back then he was a scrawny kid trying to figure out his life after high school. He was never very academic, so the number of options seemed limited. Serving his country for a while felt like a good idea.
He remembers his father being unmoved the first time he told him what he was going to do. He didn’t expect anything more than that, his father was not a very exuberant person. He left his life in Colorado shortly after graduation and moved to Florida for the Navy. Many things have transpired since then; friendships, his military career, and being married and divorced. He now owned a home he lived in with a German Shepard named Racer. He missed his home in the sunshine, it was situated on 2 acres of land and it was a strong house built with red brick. It was surrounded by giant palm trees that shaded the surrounding greenery. He could picture Racer running through the grass and the sunshine moving through the trees as the humid wind awakened them. Besides his job and the occasional whiskey bottle, his life was colorless like the grey outside.
Taking a deep sigh, he stands up to refill his coffee. He watches the dark hot liquid fill up his white mug that had the United States Department of the Navy seal on it. The aroma reaches his nose and he feels a little more awake. He walks back to his chair, sips his black coffee and looks up at the small TV. As he sets his coffee down on the table in front of him, he notices a notification on his phone.
It is a snapchat from a girl he dated back in Colorado the year before he moved. He swipes his screen with his thumb and opens the snap. It is a close picture of her cuddled under the covers in her bed with the word ‘finally’ written across the screen. It should be around 10pm in Denver, so she is probably getting home from her busy day and going to sleep. As the timer counts down on the screen he stares at her light hazel eyes that are framed with tiny faint freckles. He could never forget those eyes, they were the same ones he said goodbye to nine years ago. Her eyes are kindly complexed with starbursts of green and amber gold. He doesn’t know if it is just the way the picture was taken but for a moment he feels as though he is there with her. The timer ends and the momentary picture leaves his screen. It is too dark in the room for him to reply with a picture so he messages her, and for a moment he pauses, unsure of what to say. They had only recently began speaking again.
Long day? He types into the phone. He stares at his screen and watches her open the message and type back. Long but good, just got back from the gym how are you? What time is it there? He isn’t much of a texter but he does his best and replies It’s very early here. He takes another sip of his coffee and waits for her reply. Sounds rough, do you ever have trouble staying awake all night? Truthfully it wasn’t extremely hard for him, he had been trained to endure prolonged pain among staying awake for up to 72 hours, so this foggy night in Scotland felt like a walk in the park. She didn’t need to know that though, he would just sound like he was bragging. So he types back Not really, there are worse things. A few seconds later she replies I guess so, and I would assume someone as handsome as you wouldn’t need that much beauty sleep :).
As he reads her message, a huge smile breaks out across his face. She was clearly flirting with him. He remembered how she was always good at that. It was one of the things he liked most about her. Talking to her was fun. He thought carefully about what to say next. He wanted this conversation to go much deeper. What he really wanted to tell her was that she was the beautiful one with most sexy body he has ever seen. He wanted to see it again. Would she think that was rude to say? How could he reply without sounding like an ass and still flirting? As he was contemplating his reply he received another message from her. Well I am falling asleep, Goodnight Mick. He typed back Goodnight Star.
He leaned into his chair and focused back on Dave Chapelle. An hour later, he receives a request from his aircraft to land and gives the command to bring it to ground. He walks out to the runway through the early morning haze and greets the pilot. He inspects the plane and checks it off his list and okays it for bunking for the day. This job wasn’t too bad. He had to supervise the coming and going of specific military aircrafts in western Europe. He was offered this assignment a few months ago and decided to accept. Besides Racer, nothing was really holding him back at home. There was so much of the world he was yet to see and Europe didn’t seem like a bad place to start.
Excited to lay down, he makes his way back to his room to sleep for a few hours. He opens his door and feels a chill as he enters. He misses Racer so much and was hoping by magic that he would be on the other side of this door wagging his tail completely excited to see him. Instead he is met with a stale silence. His cold fingers reach for the thermostat and after turning up the heat, he sits at the end of his bed and scrolls through his phone once more. He takes a minute before reaching for his boots, then slowly removes his uniform and hangs it up very neat in the closet. A hot shower sounds outrageously good, so he runs the water and steps in. The steam fills up the bathroom and he feels soothed as the hot water runs down his back warming up each of his muscles.
An image of Star moves into his mind. They are upstairs in her mother’s house, both 17 years old. Her mom is out of town, so he is staying the night. Neither of them was ever good at following the rules. She laces her fingers through his hand as she guides him into her bedroom. It is a bright clear winter night, and outside the sky is illuminating the snow covering the ground bringing the landscape alive in a glistening pattern. He watches Star in the silhouette of the moonlight shining through her window. She is undressing, and by the look in her eyes he knows he should do the same. He nervously takes his jeans and black hoodie off and drops them to the floor. He walks over to her and wraps his arms around her petite frame. She is a tiny girl, he guesses maybe 5’0”–5’2”. He bends down to kiss her and in chorus runs his hands through her long golden-brown hair moving it sweetly behind her ear. They move rhythmically over to her bed, never once letting go of each other until morning. He snaps back to the present moment and laughs out loud a little thinking about how nonsensical he must have been that night. They were only kids, and he had no idea what to do. If he could have her now, he would worship her body until she was exhausted and satisfied.
Warmed up and relaxed from the shower, Mick lays his head on his pillow. He grabs his phone and sets an alarm. There is a message from a girl back in Florida, telling him to call her sometime. He tells her ok and knows it may be a while before their schedules match up with the time difference. They haven’t known each other for very long but they were casually dating. He wasn’t deeply interested in commitment at this time in his life, but he wasn’t the type of guy to just hookup with someone. Laying his phone down, he closed his eyes as his head rested on the crisp white pillow, and he drifted into a sunken sleep.
Star stumbles through a dark park led by a murky stranger to a parked car. What time is it? Where is she? She doesn’t know. The edges of her vision are fuzzy, and the world is tilted. The night is a nauseating black with just a couple specks of streetlights. She feels sick to her stomach, she literally might get sick. She trips a little and the stranger forcibly picks her up and pushes her onward. They reach the car and she rests her back against it while the stranger does something in the backseat. She wants to run but her feet just won’t move. Nothing will move. Her limbs are so heavy they feel almost numb. Her brain is frantically screaming to get them moving but nothing is happening. She is terrified, and her heart is racing, she is not sure what is going on, but she knows it isn’t good. She opens her mouth to scream but there isn’t enough air in her lungs for anything but faint breaths to come out. In a complete void of desperation, a tear runs down her cheek and she tastes the hot salty drop against her lips.
The moment turns black and in a sudden jerk Star wakes up to her puppy Rue licking her face. There are tears heavily stained on her cheek. She sits up and looks around a little confused. Her mind clears and in an instant, she knows it was just another nightmare. Rue crawls to Star and pushes her fluffy body into her shoulder. She wraps her arms around the sweet auburn dog and starts to take deep breaths. It was only a dream she says to herself at a low whisper. She grabs the glass of water next to her on the nightstand and takes a sip. Looking out her window she sees the skeleton of the giant oak tree in her front yard waving about in the night-time mountain wind. It is barely springtime and the tree is still stripped from the harsh winter. She loves that tree and considers it a friend that shares her home.
What time is it, she wonders as she reaches for her phone. Great, 3AM on a work night. Taking a deep sigh, she gets out of bed and slips on her moccasin slippers. Her and Rue walk side by side down the stairs of her townhome and to the kitchen. She grabs her light blue teapot, fills it with water, and turns on the stove. A cup of ‘sleepytime’ tea usually calms her nerves. She sits on her grey loveseat with Rue and turns Friends on. 90’s sitcoms always cheer her up. With the TV lightly playing in the background she starts scrolling through her phone. She has a few messages from her mom, there is no need to reply right now she would risk waking her up. Then she smiles as she notices she also has a couple of snapchats from Mick.
She opens the app and presses the red square box with his name next to it. The first one is him standing in front of an old cathedral in ruins. A dark blue sweater outlines his wide shoulders and muscular chest. He is holding a coffee in his right hand and his left hand is casually tucked into the front pocket of his dark khaki pants. He is smiling, a soft genuine smile. Not the kind of smile you just fake for a picture, he actually looks happy. The photo times out and another one enters her screen.
It is Mick in bed, surrounded by white pillows and sheets. The words ‘I am still so tired’ written across the screen. She gazes nearly in awe at the man in the picture. This was not the same skinny teenage boy she dated almost a decade ago. He was obscenely handsome. With dark brown hair that matched his dark brown eyes, and a strong jawline that harmonized his strong physique. He was the kind of handsome that gave girls butterflies just from walking by him on the street.
The teapot starts singing in the background breaking her trance. Feeling a little foolish from staring at his pictures with her jaw dropped, she smiles and shakes her head as she pours the steaming tea into a mug.
The smell of chamomile starts to fill up her living room. She grabs a blanket and cuddles up to Rue on the couch. The stigma of the nightmare has passed, and her spirit is warm again. Completely content, she falls back asleep.
A loud whipping noise from the doggy door wakes her up and she flutters her eyes open to a very bright sunny day in Colorado. Rue was walking back in from the yard and noticing that Star was awake she wags her tail and jumps right on her stomach. She was really awake now. With the wind slightly knocked out of her from the 40 pound fluffball now laying on top of her she checks her phone for the time. 8:30, holy shit she is going to be late again! She worked at a small engineering firm where she was a water resource engineer. She related to nature and adored it in sympathy her whole life. She spent most of her early 20’s obtaining an Environmental Engineering degree. She loved her job, she felt like she was actually working for a purpose of making the world a better place.
Rolling her eyes, she lightly moved Rue off of her and got up from the couch. She hurried through her morning routine, put food and water in Rue’s bowls and flew out the door. The weather was so nice that she rolled down the windows of her 4runner she still had from high school and turned the radio up. ‘Heart Out’ by The 1975 was on, one of her favorite songs. It definitely corresponded with the brightness of the day.
She reached her office with an energetic spirit, sat down and began working. A few hours pass by and she receives an e-vite from her Aunt to a family picnic in a couple weeks. Perfect, just what she needed another family event where she is the only single person.
All her elders would say things like “how come you aren’t dating anyone, you are such a pretty girl, why don’t you try one of those dating apps” or “don’t worry, Mr. Right will come into your life soon sweetheart”. She didn’t need a Mr. Right. It was her choice to stay single. Also, a dating app? Please, she would rather pledge her life to celibacy as a nun.
She wasn’t bitter about men or the world, she was realistic based on her experiences. Her experiences told her that even though there were great guys out there, it would take someone with a profound patient heart to understand her. She didn’t want to admit it out loud, but she knew she needed that. Her past was complicated, there were periods of her life that were dark with shadows amidst the sunlight. She had done everything she could to heal herself, however when something that dark touches your soul, it leaves an imprint and she struggled to seldom feel it. It would take a strong man indeed to not be spooked and run for the hills.
She takes a moment to stare out her three large private office windows she had lined with string lights to the city landscape. She can see the snowcapped Rocky Mountains in the distance peaking over the vast valley of buildings. She still has Mick’s handsome pictures in the back of her mind and she remembers it was a day like today when she first truly noticed him.
They were 16 and working at a car wash in the suburban town they lived in out east. She was the cashier and he was one of the guys working on the line outside to clean the cars. It was her first week at this job and her first time truly working besides the occasional babysitting. She was organizing the candy when she caught a glimpse of him working on a car outside.
She first noticed his slim lean biceps and how they flexed through his white t-shirt while he was wiping down the outside of a car. His tanned skin looked so enticing as it gleamed in the sun. She watched him walk to the other side of the car and laid her eyes on his face for the first time. He was so cute. A face that was boyishly handsome with hair like a young Leonardo DiCaprio, but he moved with an effortless style like James Dean. This isn’t too bad for a first job she thought, especially with a view like this.
The first time they spoke was a couple days later. Mick came into the reception area to buy a cold Mountain Dew. She watched him walk toward her and her mind was completely blank as she became flushed from the major crush she had on him. He reached the counter and while commenting that she was new he asked her name. She smiled courteously and said, “yes it’s my first week, I’m Star, what’s yours”. When he told her Mick, she thought to herself of course it is. She was counting his change when he gave her a sly smile and said he liked her name.
Before she could say thanks, she dropped all his change on the floor like a clumsy fool. He ran around the counter to help her pick it up, that’s when she noticed his hands. She had a thing for guys with strong hands, and Mick’s were downright perfect. They were sexy, strong, and a little rough but not extremely. After he put his change in his pocket, he headed for the door and politely said “see ya around”. She watched him walk away and just when she thought that was it, he turned his head and glanced back at her giving her another sly smile.
Friday night in early April, the giant oak tree outside Star’s home had begun to sprout tiny bright green buds all over its long hovering branches. She sat underneath it on her front porch watching some kids ride their bicycles around the block in circles.
There were a couple boys and a few girls, and the girls were playfully screaming and laughing as the boys pretended to be chasing them. The kids painted a nostalgic and beautiful tribute of innocence. Star smiled down at Rue who seemed very intrigued by the children. She didn’t blame her, Rue was just a child herself. A warm wind blew through the street and she knew summer would not be far behind like the eager buds on her favorite oak tree.
She walks inside and heads to the kitchen. She stands still in front of her open fridge pondering the possibilities. Nothing seemed very promising, so she opens a drawer she kept a bunch of take out menu’s in and starts flipping through them. Behind her on the counter her phone beeps. She turns around and looks at the screen, it is a message from the only person she still saw from high school, her childhood neighbor Tamas or Tom she called him for short.
Tamas was an immigrant from Hungary, who came to Colorado when he was a young kid. Her mother encouraged her to welcome him to their town and school throughout all stages of their childhood. She got her license before him and gave him a ride to school most mornings. She got to know him, and he was one of the most enjoyable and genuine people she ever knew.
His message asked her if she wanted to go downtown for dinner at a Korean barbecue place and then head to their favorite microbrewery Banded Oaks to play board games.
Star hadn’t seen him in a long time and she didn’t spend enough time being social anymore. Most of her Friday nights were spent with Rue on the couch eating take out that she washed down with a good white wine while binge watching something on Netflix. “What the hell, why not” she says out loud to Rue.
Still in her workout clothes from the hike Rue and she just did, she runs upstairs to shower. She was in pretty good shape, but she had to work for it. Not being blessed with a skinny-no-matter-what gene, she dedicated a lot of her free time to physical activities. Exercise was also a good therapy for her. Submersing herself in the forest reached a place deep inside her spirit and healed her from the inside out. It released her of all the tensions that enveloped the modern world.
Getting out of the shower, she turns her Wi-Fi speaker on and starts a 90’s playlist she created. She may be 28, but she isn’t old enough to not dance around to Gin Blossoms in her robe. Over the last few years she became obsessed with all things 90’s. She loved that decade; the shows, movies, music, fashion, pretty much everything.
Happily shuffling around in her room, she finishes her hair and make-up, another thing she rarely did. She opens her closet in a swift movement and glances about at the towering choices of clothes. Black always works for her so she grabs a black cropped t-shirt, black high rise skinny jeans, and black faux-suede ankle booties. She starts walking away and stops as she notices the oak tree outside her window reminding her it’s not quite summer yet. So, she turns around and reaches for a red flannel and lightly ties it around her waist. Sweetly kissing Rue on her nose, she says goodbye and heads downtown.
The restaurant was alive with a vibrant city groove. She got there early so she sat outside and waited for Tom. He arrived shortly after with his boyfriend of 6 years, Tim. She loved how cute it was that they were Tim and Tom. Tim had an out-going lively personality, whereas Tom was more reserved and intellectual. They complimented each other perfectly, like a real-life version of an ‘after school special’ romance.
The three of them start to catch up over zucchini pancakes, and the chicken pork and shrimp bulgogi barbecue platter. Tim talks about the pressure from his family for him and Tom to get married and adopt kids, while Tom is interested in her opinion on a green roof initiative for solar renewable energy. She laughs a little in her head at their different yet toning conversation. Finishing the last bite of chicken bulgogi, she requests the check from the server and picks up the tab when they weren’t looking. She felt bad for turning into such an introvert and wanted to treat them for saving her from another night with her ass glued to the couch.
They leave the restaurant and walking arm in arm, the three of them head a few blocks down to Banded Oaks. It was their favorite because among the cities commotion it was a hidden gem. No one was hardly ever there yet they had a patio that overlooked all of Broadway.
When they arrive, Tim and Tom go inside to get them a pitcher of the blood orange brew they always shared. Star sits at a big wooden picnic table underneath the rows of hung up string lights on the patio and basks in the glowing energy of the night time city lights.
She closes her eyes for a tiny moment as a thin wind starts to swirl around her. She doesn’t know why but she can’t quit thinking of Mick. She wonders what it would be like sitting here with him, with his strong arms wrapped around her as she nuzzles her head into his neck. It had been so long since she let a man hold her. It had been a long time since she even dreamed of someone holding her.
Lost in that warm thought, she didn’t notice that the wind had started to build around her until it was no longer gentle and soothing. The tirade force breaks her thought and sends her a familiar yet uncanny feeling. She looks around, there is only a couple other people on the patio and she seemed to be the only one the wind’s vendetta is targeting. She unties her cozy red flannel from her waist and straps her arms through it. Still mesmerized by the blunt hailing wind, she glances around again and a man standing across the street catches her attention. His gaze is oddly and intensely focused on her.
He was much older than her and had black hair and dark skin. With his crumpled brows and a frown slightly hidden underneath his messy mustache, he stood like a firm statue not once moving his eyes from her. His expression suggested that she offended him in some manner. She felt goosebumps start to raise on her arms, and a prick of nausea swirl in her stomach. Faint flashes of a faraway night and a shifted world start playing through her mind, paralyzing her.
Then suddenly, she feels Toms hand on her shoulder. She jerks a little and looks up at him. They are both standing next to her observing her with concern and Tom asks “Star, are you alright?”
“Yes, I am fine, why what’s up?” She glances back and forth between them. “Well, we said your name twice and you didn’t answer” Tim politely explained.
She stared at them a little confused, she didn’t hear anything. Now that she thinks about it, even the city noise went numb for a moment. In a slight panic, she looks back across the street to see if the creepy man is still there, and to her surprise he isn’t. She glanced around a little down both sides of the street and he was nowhere to be found. How could he have moved so fast, it’s only been a couple seconds. Still standing, Tim and Tom exchange worried looks. Tom puts his hand on Star’s shoulder once more and says;
“The bartender needs to see your ID”, “You can give it to Tim, he will go show it to him.” She takes her ID out from her back pocket and hands it to Tim. Tom sits down beside her and sets the pitcher in front of them.
“Are you sure you are alright? Your face was pale like you just saw a ghost.” She wishes it was a ghost, as haunting as that man was she knew he was vividly real. She felt a little like telling Tom what she just saw, but she would have to explain her irrational reaction to it. She was a little trembled, but she was alright.
“I am fine, I just got lost in thought for a moment.” She fakes a laugh to lighten the mood. “I am getting old Tom, that’s what it is”
“Oh, please!”, “If you are getting old, I am too and that is not ok” he smiles and lightly nudges her while he pours her a beer.