Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?
Pointless, really. But do the stars gaze back? Now that’s a question.
Jules was never sure how much of what he said in this placating manner was, to put it plainly, bullshit. She couldn’t understand what could bring a mother, who had brought a child into the world, loved and cared for that child for the first many years of that child’s life, to up and vanish one night so abruptly. But even with all her curiosity, she chose not to press the matter too much. She would learn the rest of that subplot eventually.
For this story is ultimately not about how Jules spent her formative years without her mother.
This story is about how Jules fell in love.
Jules stepped through the door of her modest house and strode through her hometown of Wall with a confidence that was purely window dressing. Inside her chest, her heart thumped wildly with each step she took. She clutched a small bouquet of hand-picked flowers in both hands and willed her nerves to ease so her palms might stop sweating. She resisted the urge to rub a hand over her face, not wanting to smudge her meticulously drawn eyeliner. The stars twinkled in the night sky overhead as she walked further into town.
Jules’ heart fluttered when the voices inside gasped and twittered. One of Anna’s friends jokingly asked, “Who could that be?”
Jules ran a swift hand through her hair as Anna swatted her friends away and opened the window with a smug smile. That smile dropped a bit when her eyes landed on Jules and a quiet “oh” fell from her lips.
Jules, who was not close enough to notice these minute changes to Anna’s demeanor, bounced once on the balls of her feet and lifted a hand in greeting. Anna leaned her head a bit further out the window, hair flouncing softly in the night’s slight breeze. “Jules. What are you doing here? Did I leave something at the shop?”
“Oh, no!” Jules raised her humble collection of flowers. “No, I just thought-”
She halted her speech in surprise when a hand appeared over her shoulder and snatched the flowers from her. She turned, startled, to find Daniel, one of the wealthiest young men in town, regarding her flowers with disdain before flinging them to the ground. Tucked into the crook of his arm was his own, very expensive looking, bouquet of flowers. His dark hair was greased back, and in his other hand was a silver cane that oozed pomp. He looked Jules up and down with an expression that made her feel like she was covered in slime.
“Jules Vaughn, shop girl by day, peeping tom by night. Is there no end to your charms?”
Jules dropped her gaze to her feet when Anna’s friends giggled at the comment, having gathered behind her at the window. She looked up again hopefully when Anna chastised him from her perch. “Daniel, there’s no need to be like that. Be nice to the poor girl.”
Daniel rolled his eyes. With his cane, he gestured to the mess of flowers he’d thrown down into the dirt. “Were those for Anna? Not exactly an impressive display.”
Jules felt her cheeks burn as he twirled his cane with a flourish. Impulsively, she grabbed a stick she spotted on the ground and knocked it against the cane in challenge. Daniel scoffed and lifted the cane into fighting position.
It didn’t last long.
With a few deft swings, Daniel landed a few hard strikes and knocked the stick from Jules’ hand with a thwack.
“You always did suck at fencing in school, Jules.” She rubbed tenderly at a bruise that was already forming on her shoulder. “Actually, I can’t remember if there was anything you were good at.”
With one final swipe of his cane, Daniel took Jules’ feet out from under her, leaving her sprawling on the street. He turned his back on her and ambled toward the front door of the cottage.
Anna, whose friends were still suppressing snickers, took one last look at Jules. “You okay?”
Blinking back tears as she rose back to her feet, Jules forced herself to smile. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.”
The next morning, Jules jogged the entire route to the shop she worked at, having prolonged her departure in order to avoid her father and his inevitable questions about the events of the night before. Of course, he caught her by the front door and got his queries in anyway.
“Off so soon? You haven’t even had breakfast.”
Jules glanced longingly at the door before she turned to face him. “Yeah, I have to get going, I’m going to be late for work.”
Jules felt her heart sink into her chest as she recalled how the previous night’s attempt at winning Anna over had played out.
The words spilled from her mouth more quickly than they might have had she been telling the truth. “Um, you know, it was fine. Good. Really good.” David’s brow crinkled slightly, but he relented and did not press further. Jules silently thanked him for dropping it. “I’ve gotta go.”
When Jules reached the shop, the line of patrons had already backed up almost to the door. She dashed through the crowd and rushed behind the counter to start helping customers. The shop’s owner, Ali, bustled around in the back.
Just as a particularly impatient customer stepped up to place an order, the bell above the bell above the door jingled to signal another entrance.
Anna swept into the store, sunlight streaming in behind her. Jules perked up immediately, failing to notice that as Anna sauntered up to the counter, she was completely ignoring and cutting in front of everyone who was waiting in line.
“Hey, Jules. Pound of sugar, please.” Caught off guard and eager to please, Jules abandoned her customer and went to fetch the sugar from a shelf. Ali, making no effort to hide his annoyance, stepped in to take over serving the increasingly irritated patron at the front of the line.
“Let’s see, a bag of flour. A dozen eggs.” As Jules rushed around the store to collect the requested items, Anna continued as if they were leisurely conversing over a cup of coffee. “So listen, I’m really sorry about Daniel last night, he was really rude.” Anna made a regretful face to punctuate her remark, then launched back in. “I also need a sack of potatoes and some chocolate, please.”
Jules grabbed the chocolate and heaved the potatoes onto the counter before, slightly winded, asking, “Can we hang out without Daniel, then? Maybe tonight?”
Jules held her breath as Anna considered. “I don’t think so.” Anna’s eyes darted to her hefty pile of groceries. “But you can walk me home.”
Jules blinked. “What, now?”
Anna nodded spritely, turned on her heel, and made her way back toward the door, leaving her purchases where they sat.
Practically in a daze, Jules hoisted the items into her arms and followed Anna out, as Ali and the line of customers, all open-mouthed, looked on.
“So, I lost my job.”
Jules stared at her reflection in her bedroom mirror and tried, with varying success, to contort her expression into one that showed proper remorse. She wasn’t sure if practicing was getting her anywhere, but she figured it couldn’t hurt.
“Dad, I lost my job, I’m so sorry.” She feigned a sob, then sighed at herself. Too dramatic. She took a deep breath and tried again. “Dad, I-”
“Lost your job? So I heard.”
Jules spun around to find her father in the doorway. Clearly he’d been standing there for some time.
At this, David put a firm hand on Jules’ arm and and locked eyes with her, his face serious. “Jules, listen to me. I can tell you that every person I was ever jealous of when I was young went on to lead an entirely unremarkable life. So you don’t fit in with Daniel or the popular crowd. Now, I take that as a very good omen.”
In much the same way it did the night before, the pebble arced through the air to strike the upstairs window of Anna’s cottage. Anna, dressed casually for a night in, peered through the glass, then opened the window with a huff.
“Jules, I thought I told you-”
“Not to come. You did.” Jules clasped her hands in front of her and continued brightly, “But I have a surprise for you, if you want it.”
Jules watched with anticipation while Anna pursed her lips in consideration, then let her shoulders drop in disappointment when she proceeded to close the window and walk out of view.
Jules felt herself deflate in the moment she remained in front of the house, hoping against the odds that Anna might reconsider and open the window to her again. When the window remained closed, Jules breathed a long, discontented sigh, and buried her hands in the pockets of her billowy trousers as she turned to make the walk home.
She jumped when, after just a few steps, an arm hooked through the crook of her elbow and Anna leaned into her somewhat, matching her pace. In a playful tone, Anna said, “My birthday isn’t for another week, you know.”
Jules smiled at the lighthearted remark and walked a bit faster, eager to savor the opportunity she’d been granted.
Jules shifted her position, subtly inching herself closer. “Neither have I.” She held her glass aloft, and they drank.
Anna’s eyes grew wide. “Oh my god, this is amazing!” Jules’ smile widened, and she leaned in, taking a chance. Anna averted her eyes and leaned back slightly. “But wait, how the hell did you afford all of this on a shop girl’s salary?”
Jules downed the champagne that remained in her glass and poured herself a fresh one. “I’m not a shop girl.”
Anna grimaced. “Oh, that’s right, I heard. I’m really sorry about your job. What are you going to do now?”
Jules waved off the condolences. “No, no. I mean, yeah, but that’s not what I mean.” She shrugged and looked all around her. “Like, I was working in a shop, but I’ve never been a shop girl. And now I don’t have to pretend to be. I’m free. I can do whatever I want now.”
Anna nodded, then gestured to the picnic items assembled around them. “But, this must have been all your savings.”
Jules almost laughed. “It’s just money. I can always make more, that’s the beauty of it. And, you know, it’s not like I’m planning on staying in Wall forever. It’s a big world, I’m gonna go out and see it. Make my fortune or whatever.”
Anna chuckled at that, then shook her head. “You sound just like Daniel.” The grin fell from Jules’ lips. “He’s a big traveler too. You know he’s going all the way to Weeds to buy me a ring.”
Jules couldn’t help but let her exasperation show. “Weeds? That’s nothing! I’m talking about New York, or Paris, or… Wait. He’s getting you a ring? What kind of ring?”
Anna adopted a coy look and sipped from her glass. “Word on the street is he’s planning to propose on my birthday.”
Jules’ heart turned to stone in her chest. “And… you’re gonna say yes?”
“Well, I can’t exactly say no after he’s gone all the way to Weeds!”
Jules had to stop herself from throwing her glass in the air. “‘All the way to Weeds.’ Anna, to be with you, I’d fucking… cross oceans. Continents!”
Anna regarded her skeptically. “Really?”
“Yes!” Jules felt the cheesiness of her words even as she said them, but in that moment she meant every last one. “Anna, for you I would go to the gold fields of San Francisco and bring you back your weight in gold.” Anna smiled, encouraging Jules to continue. “I would! I’d go to Africa and bring you back a diamond as big as your fist.” Anna moved a bit closer and put her hand over Jules’. “I’d go to the Arctic, and kill a polar bear and bring you back its head.”
Anna pulled back, a disgusted look on her face. “A polar bear’s head?”
Jules cursed under her breath. “Okay, maybe not that. They are endangered, I’d find something else.” Anna made an inscrutable face. “Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is, I’d do any of those things in a heartbeat if it meant I could be with you.”
“Jules.” Anna sighed heavily. “It’s a nice fantasy, but people like you and me, we’re just not…” She trailed off, leaving her meaning clear without having to vocalize it. She started to stand. “I should head home, it’s getting late.”
Disappointed, but still not ready to give up on the evening entirely, Jules caught Anna’s forearm. “Wait, can we at least… Let’s not let the champagne go to waste.”
With a sympathetic nod, and a newfound taste for expensive champagne, Anna seated herself once again. “Well, okay.”
Had Jules known, then, how the stars watched Earth, she’d have shuddered at the very thought of an audience to her humiliation.
But, fortunately for her, nearly every star in the sky was, at that moment, looking in earnest at the land on the other side of the wall, where the king of all Highland, the magical land beyond the wall, lay on his deathbed, which was a coincidence, because it was the king’s final act that would change the course of Jules’ destiny forever.
The king, already ghostly pale and wheezing with every breath, propped himself up on an extravagant pile of pillows and cushions. Around his neck hung a weighty necklace set with a large, deep blue stone. His eyes, bloodshot and tinged with gray, scanned the faces of those who surrounded him. In his condition, he had called his court.
Highland operated, in many ways, as a traditional monarchy, but when a biological heir could not be named, in the event of a ruler’s death the crown was passed to whomever was deemed most worthy.
The king counted three faces by his bedside and frowned. “Where is Tyler?”
Ethan, a regal, if scrawny, young man, stepped forward before answering, as if hoping that physical proximity might enhance his chances of being named the king’s successor. “He’s on his way, your Majesty.”
The king expelled a breath that sounded like gravel underfoot. “Then we will wait.”
Ethan stepped back, disappointed, to smirks from the two who stood beside him: Maddy, sharp-chinned and dressed severely in black, and Kat, whose expression was cautiously serious and unwilling to show weakness.
They didn’t have to wait long, as it turned out. Moments later, the doors to the king’s chambers burst open and Tyler, dressed presumptuously in gold, strode in.
“Sorry I’m late, everyone. Your Majesty.” He paused by the foot of the bed to offer a shallow bow. “I came as soon as I heard.” He gave each of the other three standing occupants of the room a curt nod.
The king made an effort to clear his throat, struggled through a brief coughing fit, then addressed them. “So. To the matter of succession. Of my court of advisors, originally made up of seven, there are four of you still standing. This is quite a break with tradition. When I was vying for the throne, I stood against twelve rivals, and-”
“You killed each and every one of them to take your rightful place.” Maddy rolled her eyes and continued in a rather bored monotone. “And you did it all before the seated king even started to get sick. We know. You’re so strong and courageous.”
“And cunning,” Tyler chimed in. “Most importantly, cunning.”
The king’s eyes narrowed. “Yes. Tyler, go look out the window.”
Tyler, obviously pleased with himself, did as he was told and approached the open window that stretched floor to ceiling off to the side of the room.
The king watched him expectantly. “Tell me what you see.”
Tyler gazed out over the land that stretched out before him. “I see the kingdom, Majesty. All of Highland.”
The king tilted his head. “And?”
Tyler lifted an eyebrow, clearly not wanting to seem too eager. “My kingdom?”
The king allowed himself a sly grin. “Maybe. Look up.”
Again, Tyler obeyed instructions, and therefore didn’t see when the king shot a glance at Maddy. The smirk that had remained on her face grew wider. She casually, and silently, walked up behind Tyler, raised her hands to his back, and pushed, sending him toppling out of the window to fall hundreds of feet to the ground below.
The king let out a hearty laugh as Maddy turned away from the window, just in time to catch Kat attempting to sneak up behind and send her to the same fate she’d just inflicted.
The two returned to the king’s bedside as a hazy, far away expression settled on his features. He reached out a hand and uttered, “Daughter?”
Ethan, who was on the receiving end of the king’s gesture, shifted uncomfortably. “Um, no, your Majesty. It’s me, Ethan.”
The king’s face fell. “Oh. Where is my daughter?”
Kat took a step closer to the bed. “I’m sorry, your Majesty. No one has seen her for years. Don’t you remember?”
The king frowned in confusion, then looked around with accusation in his eyes. “Maddy?”
Maddy blinked in surprise. “What?”
“Tradition dictates that the throne only passes to a worthy advisor if an heir cannot claim it.”
Maddy tripped over her words slightly as she rushed to defend herself. “I mean, I, yeah, but... she disappeared before I was even appointed to your court. Why would I kill your heir before I even had a shot at taking her place?”
The king took a minute to digest her answer. It appeared to appease him, for he proceeded to address all of them. “Indeed. Well then, as none of you have managed to eliminate all of your competitors the way all who have come before you did, we shall resolve the situation in a non-traditional manner.”
He then removed the necklace from his collar and held it up. Maddy, Kat, and Ethan watched in amazement as the sapphire hue drained from the gem at its center and the necklace began to float in the air.
The king continued, “Only the person who displays true royal caliber can restore the sapphire. The one of you that does so will be the new ruler of Highland.”
With that, the king closed his eyes, laid back on his mountain of pillows, and blew out his last breath. The three remaining members of his court paused, each eyeing each other as well as the still-floating necklace that contained the fate of the future of Highland. After a beat, they all lunged for it at the same time, but of its own accord, the necklace flew out of reach, through the window, and disappeared into the night.
The necklace ascended into the atmosphere, unseen by any below, gathering speed until it exited Earth’s vicinity. It soared through the darkness until it collided with the brightest star in the sky. This was followed by an explosion, then the star, gleaming with heat, scorched its way through space toward Earth, dragging the necklace along for the ride.
On the planet’s surface, beginning to truly feel the effects of all the champagne they had been consuming, Anna’s gaze was drawn to the streak of light that was painted across the night as the star plummeted toward the land across the wall. Her hand jumped to Jules’ arm.
“Jules, look! Did you see that shooting star?” She sighed dreamily. “It’s beautiful.”
Jules, riding a light buzz herself, took a chance. “More beautiful than a fancy ring from Weeds?” Anna laughed, but Jules leaned in. “I’m serious. Anna, to be with you, I would cross the wall and bring you back that fallen star.”
Anna scoffed. “You’re drunk. You can’t just cross the wall. Nobody crosses the wall.”
Jules shook her head earnestly. “I’m only tipsy, and I would! For you, I would do it.”
Anna tapped a finger against her glass as she considered. “Hmm, my very own star…” She held up her drink as she came to a decision. “It seems we have ourselves an agreement.” Jules, elated, lifted her own champagne to seal the deal, but Anna pulled hers back at the last second. “You have a week, or I’m marrying Daniel.”
Jules nodded in compliance with the arrangement and held her drink out once more. Anna, looking particularly pleased with herself, did the same, and they clinked their glasses together.
Meanwhile, deep in the wilderness of Highland lay a lavish lair tucked into a cave in the side of a dark mountain. A warlock by the name of Nate, whose physical appearance was decrepit, almost monstrous, ambled inside as hastily as his ailing body would allow. He hurried past walls and pillars, all made of sleek, eerily smooth black stone. Objects were strewn about the place, evidence of decades’ worth of cleaning and maintenance neglected.
He scurried to one corner, where two beds were shrouded in darkness. In one of the beds, a similarly old and intimidating warlock slumbered. Nate kicked the foot of the bed frame, waking his fellow unceremoniously. “McKay! Get up.”
McKay grumbled as he pulled himself out from under a swath of ratty blankets. “What is it?”
Nate’s mouth widened into a creepy grin that emphasized his wrinkles and skin tags. “A star… has fallen.”
McKay was still for a moment as he registered what Nate said, then scrambled to his feet.
The two rushed back out into the main hall and over to a large cabinet. Nate, positively gleeful, flung it open only to find it empty. The smile dropped from his face and he slammed the door shut again. “Where are the Euphorian candles?”
“Oh, yeah, you used the last one, bro. Like, two hundred years ago.” McKay scratched his head as Nate growled in fury. “We should really get some more of those.”
Nate snapped, “It’s not like we’re just going to find them lying around!”
McKay shrugged. “I know, I just thought…”
McKay looked optimistic. “That’s only a few days of traveling. We’ve been waiting for this for centuries, we got this!” Nate nodded at him with determined agreement. “So,” McKay went on, “which one of us is gonna go get it?”
They looked at each other, silently mutually deciding to draw for it. They closed their eyes and reached into the open body cavity of the weasel on the table. While they rummaged around in the mess of organs, Nate peeked one eye open to make his selection.
They both withdrew their hands, clutching tiny, bloody animal parts in their fingers.
McKay held his up. “I got his liver.”
Nate smirked in triumph. “And I got his heart.”
McKay eyed him with envy but proceeded, “You’re gonna need some years back from the last star.” He went to a chest and retrieved a small, rusty box tied with a length of twine. Simultaneously, he and Nate touched the twine, causing it to magically undo its own knot, and the lid creaked open. They peered in at its glowing contents, and Nate frowned slightly.
“Not much left.”
“Good thing we’ll have a new one soon. Then there’ll be plenty for both of us.”
Nate stuck his hand into the box, trapped the shimmering item inside, which seemed to be avoiding his grasp, raised it to his mouth, and swallowed it. He turned to a long mirror and watched pridefully as his appearance rapidly regained its youth. Before his own eyes, Nate transformed into an exceptionally attractive young man. He pulled his raggedy shirt off to admire his newly muscular physique.
He flexed for a few moments, then turned back to McKay. “When I get back, we’ll both be restored to our prime.” He clapped a hand on McKay’s shoulder. “Don’t worry brother, I won’t fail.”
Jules crept toward the gap in the wall, crouching in the tall grass. Guarding the wall was a boy mysteriously named Ashtray, who appeared to be about ten years old.
As Jules tried to sneak closer, Ashtray rolled his eyes and spoke up. “Vaughn, you know I can see you, right?”
Jules stood up straight, embarrassed to have been caught. “How did you know it was me?”
Ashtray leaned against the wall and crossed his arms. “Your old man tried the same thing. Not about to get fooled twice.”
“Wait.” Jules folded her arms as well. “My dad? He tried to cross the wall?”
Ashtray became flustered. “What, uh, no! Course not, no one crosses the wall, you know. Everybody knows that.”
Jules’ suspicion lingered, but she chose not to dwell on it for the moment. Feigning defeat, she let her shoulders drop. “Yeah… Right, I know, nobody crosses. I understand. Guess I’ll just head home, then.” She turned and began to walk away.
Ashtray watched her go and gave a small wave. “Later, Jules. Tell your pops I said hi.”
Jules took a couple more steps, then turned and bolted back toward the gap, attempting, unbeknownst to her, the same maneuver her father had used to cross the wall some eighteen years prior.
She leapt across into the field on the other side, but skidded to a halt when Ashtray, somehow, came flipping over the wall to land in her path. Jules’ eyes widened when he raised his fists and cocked his head. She decided to try running past him again and sprinted forward, hoping this time she might catch him off guard, but she came crashing to the ground when he stuck out a foot and tripped her, punctuating it with a blow between her shoulder blades.
She took a moment to let the shock settle into a pit in her stomach and regain the breath that had been knocked from her chest. When she recovered enough to walk without hobbling, she brought herself back to her feet, stepped carefully back over the gap in the wall, and headed toward home, poking occasionally at the scrape on her thigh.
The concern on David’s face grew. “Are you sure? Did you run into Daniel again?”
“No.” Jules went quiet for a moment, then she decided to address the situation. “No, actually, it was the guard at the wall.”
David was taken aback. “The guard? Jules, he’s about three feet tall.”
“Well, he’s a damn prodigy then, isn’t he?”
Her father swallowed. “And why, may I ask, were you trying to cross the wall?”
Jules adopted a defiant expression. “I might ask you the same thing.”
David’s face rotated through expressions of shock, confusion, denial, and settled on resignation in a matter of seconds. Without another word, he started up the stairs and gestured for Jules to follow.
He led her up to the attic, a space in the house neither of them had entered in years. Against the far wall was an old trunk from which David produced a bundle of items swaddled in silk. He looked at it with a nostalgic sigh, then handed it to Jules.
“These are… from your mother.” Jules didn’t know what to say, so David continued. “I met her when I was about your age. When I crossed the wall.” Jules searched his face, trying to hide her surprise at his admitting that he had, indeed, gone across the wall, on her own features. “We were young, but we fell in love in an instant. We had a magical night together out in Highland, then I returned home to support my parents. Nine months later, she arrived here, in Wall, with you, and that was the happiest day of my life. When she left, she told me that she wasn’t sure how long she would be gone, but she intended to return. I haven’t heard from her since that night.” He gestured to the package in Jules’ hands. “When she left here, she also left that. She said it was a gift for you, when you were older. Seems to me you’re old enough now.”
He nodded, and Jules steadied her hands enough to untie the string that held the bundle together. Inside was a glass flower of pure white and a long candle wrapped in a note.
Jules delicately picked up the flower. David told her, “She always said that was a good luck charm. The morning after she left, I found it tucked in your hair while you were still asleep.” Jules felt a small smile tug at the corners of her mouth, despite her lingering skepticism, and pushed the flower carefully behind her ear. “You should also have this,” David said softly, pulling a chain up from under his collar and removing it from his neck. “According to your mother, that chain has a touch of magic in it. I want you to take it.”
David then pointed to the parchment-wrapped candle. “She left that as well. I’ve never read it. It’s addressed to you.”
Her hands fully trembling now, Jules tucked the chain into her pocket then unfurled the note and began to read.
My dearest Jules,
Please know that I only ever wanted the best for you. Had my father not fallen ill, I would have stayed by your side every moment. I dearly hope to be back with you soon - hopefully before the time comes for you to read this - but my homeland is a dangerous place, and there are many who would happily see harm done to me and my family.
If a time should ever come when you need me, the fastest way to travel is by candlelight. To use it, think of me and only me.
I will think of you every day.
All my love,
Jules dabbed a tear from the corner of her eye, then cleared her throat with some effort.
She held the candle out to her dad and asked somewhat hoarsely, “Do you have a light?”
David nodded, produced a book of matches from his pocket, and struck one. He and Jules shared a small smile, then he held the lit match to the candle’s wick.
With a loud rush of air and lightning fast flash of light, Jules vanished, and David was alone in the attic, left to ponder the weight of what had just transpired.
In Highland’s countryside, an enormous crater had formed at the site of the star’s crash landing. Rue, the star, sat up and looked around as she came to. She was ethereal. Dark brown curls fell over her slender shoulders, her face comprised of delicate, but willful, features. Dressed in all white, her clothing appeared to shimmer in the moonlight. She looked startled as she surveyed her surroundings. Her gaze landed on a mysterious necklace that lay on the ground by her side. On an impulse, she picked it up and secured it around her neck.
Slowly, wincing in pain due to injuries sustained from her fall, Rue brought herself to her feet. She took a small step and noted that the affliction originated in her ankle. She started walking gingerly toward the edge of the crater, when another light appeared in the sky above her. It almost looked like another shooting star, and she wondered fondly if her sister, Gia, had followed her.
She started to crack a smile, but it quickly devolved into a sharp yelp when the glowing streak hurtled into her and sent her sprawling back on the ground where she had been just moments before.
The light faded to reveal that the gleaming, flying object was Jules, who scurried to her feet and looked around in confusion. When she spotted Rue, still on the ground, she rushed over to her with an odd combination of excitement and concern on her face.
The woman before her shot Jules an incensed look. “Do I look like I’m your mom?”
Jules took a beat to take her in. Her memory of what her mother looked like was hazy at best, but the girl on the ground was most definitely not her. Jules grinned apologetically. “No. No, sorry.” She stood again, then extended her hand in an offer to help her not-mom to her feet. “Well, are you okay? Do you need any help?”
Rue, in even more pain than before, got up on her own, waving Jules off. “I don’t need help. You’ve done enough, thanks,” she snapped bitterly.
Jules held her hands up, conceding, and wandered a few steps around the crater, trying to figure out where she was and how she’d gotten there.
Then it hit her.
“Oh my god. ‘Light the candle and think of me…’ I was, I was thinking of my mom… But then Anna and the star just popped into my mind…” She ran back over to Rue, who was looking around with bewilderment in her eyes. “Excuse me, um, miss, this might sound weird, but have you seen a fallen star anywhere around here?”
Rue let out a disdainful laugh. “Very funny.”
Jules replied earnestly, “No, seriously. We’re in a crater, this must be where it fell.”
Rue lifted her hands into a half-shrug, then let them flop right back down to her sides, impatience smeared across her face.
Jules laughed as this realization washed over her. “Wow. I’m sorry, I had no idea you’d be a…” She let herself trail off, gesturing to the very human appearance of what she had assumed would be a smoldering ball of rubble. After a moment, she put one hand in her pocket and took a step closer to the star. “So, um, I’m sorry in advance for this.”
The distrusting crinkle in Rue’s forehead deepened. “Sorry for what?”
“For this.” Jules lunged forward and slung the chain from her pocket around one of Rue’s forearms. As if obeying a telepathic order, the chain tightened it’s loop around Rue’s wrist and extended from nothing into a sort of leash in Jules’ hand. Feeling at once both excited and guilty, Jules said, “Now, I’m pretty sure this means you have to come with me.” Rue’s eyebrows shot up. “See,” Jules continued in explanation, “you’re going to be a birthday present for Anna, as a symbol of my love.”
Rue threw her head back with an exaggerated scoff. “Oh, of course!” Sarcasm oozed from her words. “Nothing says ‘romance’ like the gift of a kidnapped, injured woman! You know how fucked up that is, right?” She struggled unsuccessfully to shake the chain off. Her stubborn nature not allowing her to give up so easily, she dropped to the ground and sat with her legs and arms both crossed. “I’m not going anywhere with you.”
Jules yanked on the chain in a vain attempt at pulling her back up. When that didn’t work, she looked around, unsure what to do. No clear options presented themselves. Eventually, Jules huffed an annoyed breath and sat down across from Rue, entering into a stony, uncomfortable silence.