Stardust
rating: +25+x

The night began as usual. As the dark settled in, the Club started to stir. A three-piece band tuned up their set.

“Mic check, mic check…” the singer called out.

“Sounds all good!” the bartender yelled from the back.

“Thanks Ethel.” the voice rang out overhead.

The band started up with folky, acoustic versions of older US Top-40 hits, the kind of songs that were etched into the fading distant memory of what the world outside the venue used to be. Patrons slowly trickled in from the entrance and filled the bar stools, the seat, and the booths, but despite this the dance floor remained empty.

A woman in her mid-thirties sat by herself in the corner of the bar, chatting with Ethel. The woman, with semi-curly auburn hair, sipped a glass of red wine in front of her. She laughed, revealing a pristine white smile. It was that smile, that stunning flash of beauty that caught his eye.

He frequented this bar many times, he even knew Ethel pretty well, however, this was his first time seeing this woman. He had come in for a quick drink or six. It really didn’t matter too much anymore. He figured if it was going to be like this, he might as well take in something gorgeous. He stared, not sure for how long, maybe a few moments, maybe an hour, but at some point he got caught. The woman locked eyes with him and smiled, and he immediately averted his eyes.

She felt his gaze on her much sooner than she acknowledged him. When she finally got a clear look at the man, she noticed that he was young, mid to late twenties with luminous yellow hair. He was a handsome lad, and she appreciated the glances. When he had looked away she turned to Ethel and asked, “Who is that?”

“Oh him, that’s Cass” Ethel replied.

“Cass? What kind of name…?”

“Well his full name is Rho-Cassiopeia. So, he goes by Cass.”

As his interest in overseeing the band waned, his desire to admire the woman again grew in intensity. He decided if this was gonna be the night, he might as well do something new. He flagged Ethel over, away from the mystery woman. “Say Ethel, can you get that girl you’re talking to a drink on me, get her another round of whatever.”

“Sure thing hon.” winked Ethel.

A fresh wine glass went down in front of the woman. Ethel pointed to Cass. The woman smiled, raised the glass and took a sip. Cass followed customarily in suit. About ten minutes went by and Cass returned his attention to the band once again. His viewership was short lived, as soon a single tap was felt on this right shoulder.

“Thanks for the drink!” the mystery woman said.

“Oh, yeah… no problem.”

“Why didn’t you bring it over and introduce yourself?” she asked.

“Oh, I don’t know… I didn’t want to annoy you, or have you think I was some creep.”

“Well, you already spent an awful lot of time just looking at me, so…” she said with a laugh.

“Oh, yeah. Sorry.” he blushed.

“Don’t be, but didn’t your mother ever tell you that it was rude to stare?”

His timid demeanor momentarily broke. In its place, against the finality of the night, he replied, “Tonight, I’m not in the business of denying myself the opportunity to see something beautiful.” Her smile grew and a smirk turned into rapture. She extended her hand.

“Malina’s the name. Ethel tells me your name is Cass?”

“That’s me.” he confirmed as they shook.

“Mind if I sit with you Cass?”

“It would be my honor, Malina.”

Ethel approached the two. “Another round?”

“That’s a yes for me, Ethel. Miss, how bout you? What you drinking?” He inquired.

“She only ever does the two-dollar wine deal.”

“Two dollars for a wine? It must taste horrible!” Cass yowled.

“Mr. Cass, you do not spend two dollars on a glass of wine and expect it to have any moniker of pleasantry.” Malina retorted.

“Well in light of tonight, let’s get you an upgrade. Cocktail?”

“Sure! I’ll have a ‘Cosmospolitan’ then.”

“And I’ll have…. Ummmm. Oh, I’ll do the Razzberry Rum Runner please.” said Cass.

“You got it!” Ethel said as she turned to the well and proceeded to mix.

“So, what brings you here Malina?” said Cass.

“Oh, just call me Mal, or M.” responded Malina.

“Ok, Mal.”

“Well I came in to say hi to Ethel. She and I used to work here together long ago. We were both dancers, back when it was under different management.” Malina said as she pointed to a worn, and faded photo frame hanging on the wall. In the frame was the picture of a middle-aged white man with short brown hair, a black shirt, yellow tie and yellow suit. On the suit there was an insignia, an odd circle with three lines and the letters “S.C.P.”. Underneath the frame was a patinated copper plaque that read, “86’d - Mr. Cimmerian".

“Oh yeah! You are one of the dancers from back in the day? I heard Ethel talking about that once. I guess it was before my time.”

“Yup, was one of the stars.” Malina gushed.

“Oh, what I would have given to see that. I'm regretting that I hadn’t had the opportunity to see you sooner.”

“Yeah it was nice being the shining star in the room, but unfortunately I had to quit when life got in the way.”

Ethel returned with two cocktails.

“‘Cosmospolitan’ and Razz Runner” she said as she placed the drinks in front of the respective drinkers.

“Cheers.” said Malina, raising the glass.

“Cheers.” replied Cass.

“OH! That’s good! Wanna try, Cass?”

“I’m not the biggest vodka fan, but ya wanna try mine?” Cass responded.

“Sure!”

Malina took the glass from Cass’s hands, and as she did their fingers touched. He looked at her, she at him, they both smiled.

“Wow, this tastes like my childhood home.”

“How so Mal?”

“Just ya know, that whole ethyl formate in nebulas thing. Space supposedly tastes like raspberries and smells of rum.”

Ethel turned around and looks at Cass, “Also! Did you know that in the old human language, the word for raspberry is ‘Malina’?”

“Really makes you think, right?” said Malina.

“About what?” inquired Cass.

“Fate, destiny, that kinda crap. You did just order a drink that has an ingredient that has the same name as me, and the drink reminds me of my childhood. Coincidence?”

“I don’t really believe in that kind of stuff. I think we are just mistakenly here for a short time and things happen until they don’t.” shot down Cass.

“A pessimist I see.” Malina said almost insulted that her whimsy was so immediately censured.

“No, I’m of the mindset to try to get as much out of your time here as possible. You don’t get a second chance.” Cass touted.

The music in the club stopped for a brief moment, the voices and murmurs of all the conversations slowly subsided. The singer of the band came to the mic. “Alright guys I want to thank y’all for coming out, this is gonna be our last song before we open up the dance floor and invite out tonight’s featured act, DJSAG-A*. He’ll be spinning some sweet accretion disks and sending out some gravitational bumps!” The band then picked back up.

“I can understand that viewpoint.” Malina conceded.

“What were you saying earlier about you left here because ‘life got in the way’?” Cass said bringing the conversation back around.

“Oh, well if we are being honest, like brutally honest, I have kids.” Malina said.

“Oh, kids don’t bother me, I never had any nor did I ever think I wanted them, but I completely understand how they can just happen. Most of my friends have kids. How many you have?”

“Well I did have nine, but one did become a bit estranged.”

“Nine! Wow most friends I know with kids have one or two. Was this estranged kid why you stopped working?”

“No, it was my Third.” Malina started, “She got sick, some sort of virus got her, it managed to completely destroy her, and when it was done, the virus spread to my other three closest. I lost 4 children to the sickness. And then just one day, the sickness left, almost with no trace. Like a fever had burned off.”

“What was the name of the sickness?” Cass gently inquired.

“Something called ‘Life’.” Malina sulked. “But I still have my others, and although I’ve grown, loss some mass in these later years, I still try to make it out here to say hi to Ethel. Makes me feel young again.”

“THANK YOU GOODNIGHT!” The band members said in unison. From backstage, a figure dressed in all black stepped out on stage with a foldable turn table set up, He effortlessly unfolded it and took two Golden Records from a case and placed them on the set up. The speakers began to boom heavy rhythmic beats and synths.

“Speaking of feeling young again, you wanna dance?!” Malina shouted over the blaring music.

“What?!”

“DANCE!” roared Malina, as she moved her hips in a charade.

“Oh…. Oh no I’m not…” Cass barely finished his reluctance before Malina grabbed him by the hand and led him to the dance floor.

There they danced, hand in hand, body on body. A binary system in motion, spiraling inwards becoming one. They shut the universe out, as if only they existed. The two swayed and sweat, spun and smiled. Although they stood upright and glided across the dance floor, each of them in their own way had fallen.

Hours went by without respite from the enamored motion of their dance. It was now one in the morning and the music reached its penultimate conclusion. As the floor cleared, it was the two of them that still remained. Their lips pressed together, her head in his hands, her lips touching his in that soft way, one does against glass when sipping the last drop of wine.

When the world came back into focus, they smiled and walked back to the bar.

“Well, um…” Cass stammered.

“I. Yeah…” Malina blushed.

“This was not how I expected my night to go.”

“Mine neither. However, you bought a pretty girl a drink, how did you expect this night to go?” Malina replied.

“I don’t know, I came here for a different reason, now…”

“What reason was that?” Malina asked.

“Before I tell you, can, can I kiss you again?” Cass looked deep into her eyes, Malina took his face by her hand and they locked lips.

“So, what’s up?” Malina prodded.

Cass stood up from the bar, “Ethel two more over by the pool table please?”

“You got it!” Shouted the bartender.

Cass and Malina walked over to the pool table. Cass grabbed a cue stick and chalked the tip. Malina obliged and arranged the rack.

“Each ball you get, you get to ask a question, and the person has to be 100% honest, sound good?”

“That’s a deal” responded Malina.

Cass hits in the 7 on the break.

“Solids.”

“Does the break count for a question?” Malina queried.

“I wouldn’t think so.” Cass said confidentiality.

“Oh good.” Malina then took her cue and ran the table with five expertly placed pockets.

“Ok, whoa here, am I being sharked?” Cass exclaimed.

“I think you can only be ‘sharked’ when there’s money involved, right? Now, does that count at one or five questions?” Malina laughed.

“ONE!” Cass protested as he grabbed Malina by the waist and kissed her forehead.

“Tell me the reason you came in here tonight?” Malina asked again.

“Well, Mal, if we are being honest here.” Cass paused.

“Yeah?”

“It’s my last day. An iron mass has been produced in my core and it’s bringing me down tomorrow. My time here is just borrowed. After tonight, when I return home, I will die. When I say I didn’t expect to spend the night like this… it is that I thought I was going to spend a few self-destructive hours by myself. I didn’t think anything wonderful would happen to me, not like you.” Cass’s shoulders dropped, and he walked to the other side of the table opposite Malina.

Malina came to his side and held him, “But you are so young, how?”

“Out there…” Cass motioned to the ceiling, “Out there, I’m a super-massive yellow giant, only a couple million old, and although I’ve shone big, shone bright, I will be leaving. You know the old saying – the biggest and brightest stars burn hot and burn quickly. I’ve had a fast and full existence, but now it’s my time.”

“Are you scared?” Malina asked somberly.

“No… Well, I was fine, I made peace with it a while back, but now… Now I’m not so sure.”

“Why?” asked Malina.

“Because of you.” Cass stared into her eyes. Those dark round eyes. She had the kind of eyes that drew in his very being with a look. They sucked him in, like two black holes of unknown love, never to escape. “I didn’t plan on you.”

“Alright everyone LAST CALL!” shouted Ethel.

“Last Call, Last Call” shouted some of the bouncers. “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here! Finish up!”

“I think I should be going now.” Cass said with resignation.

“Cass… what if we…” Malina tried, searching for words to comfort, to do something.

“There’s nothing to do. Mal, you made my last night worth everything. I want you to know, that I will forever be grateful for you. I will love you for that.” Cass smiled.

“I’ll remember this forever too, Cass. I wish we had more time.” Malina chocked back a strong lump in her throat.

“Everything is finite Malina, even stars. I think that’s what makes us shine.” Cass thought aloud.

“Let’s go! Let’s Go! Let’s Go!” demanded the bouncers.

“I guess this is it?” asked Malina.

“This is it. Thank you, Malina. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

As their lips came together, Time & Space ceased their relentless stirring and stood still. In an endless moment they triumphed against the darkness that was soon to surround them.

“Goodbye.” cried Malina.

“Till next time.” smiled Cass.

The following night as Malina gazed out into the vastness of her little neighborhood. A light shone in exceptional luminosity where there was previously nothing to see. The light grew and grew, until it became one of the brightest things in the universe, and over a few weeks it soon faded back into nothing. Malina sighed, smiled and knew that Cass was gone. She was thankful for their one night, those few short hours where nothing mattered but the space between them.

——

It had been years since she had been back to visit Ethel. Malina had grown out of her bigger phase and had since shrunken in size, she was old now, in her tens of billions, dense and compact; she appeared as a woman in her seventies. The universe she once knew had become so large, so much bigger and scarier than she could remember. For the first time in exponential millennia, Malina entered the venue, sat down and called an aging Ethel over. “The usual, M?” asked Ethel.

“No, I think today I’ll have a Razz Runner.”

“Stellar,” said Ethel.

At that moment, a young man of about eighteen years of age wandered into the bar and sat down two stools from Malina.

“Light Beer, please.” The young man said.

“Little young for this place, ain't ya?” observed Malina.

“Yeah, it’s my first time here, was allowed to leave the nursery. My name is Sigma. Sigma-Cassiopeia.”

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