by Kat Howard
There is an entire history in the stars. Light takes time to travel, to get from wherever the star is to wherever we can see it, here, on Earth. So when you think about it, when we see the stars, we are looking back in time. Everything those stars actually shone on has already happened. But just because a story already happened, that doesn’t mean it’s finished.
Juliet was the bleeding heart of a story, made flesh and made gorgeous. She was all eyeliner and fishnets, the kind of girl who looked like she’d carve designs on her own skin, not because she was trying to hurt herself, but just for the beauty of it, you know?
It wasn’t ever herself that Juliet cut, though. It was her lovers. All of them. That was the deal. A fuck, and then a perfect star, cut out of their skin.
The scars were like a badge of honor. Proof you’d been with her. People would ask her to put them some place visible, those little stars she cut out of people, but Juliet chose. Juliet always chose.
I fell in love with Juliet the first time I met her, which doesn’t make me any different from anyone else. I know that. That’s just how it was with Juliet. If you fell in love with her, it was an instant, headlong crash.
I don’t think she fell in love back. It didn’t matter. She was like a star–so bright that everything else seemed dim when she walked into the room. It was enough to be in her orbit.
I met her for the first time at a party. I knew who she was. Everyone knew who Juliet was. She was a love story with a knife, and a tattoo of an apothecary’s vial.
But when we met, I was dancing, and some guy bumped into me, and I tripped. When I put my hands out to catch myself, it was her shoulders that they landed on.
She leaned close, her lips almost brushing my ear, “You’re Rose, right?”
We danced until I could taste her sweat mixed with mine, until I wasn’t sure whether the ache in my thighs was from exhaustion or desire. We danced until I saw stars, her hand under my shirt, tracing a constellation on my skin.
Because of the distances between the stars and the Earth, some of the stars we see in the sky have already died, burnt themselves out. Some people think that’s sad, that we look up and see things that aren’t there anymore. I think it’s beautiful. It’s like, because we can still see them, in a way they’re still alive.
After, when her fingers were still inside me, her head resting on my chest, I asked: “What do you do with the stars?”
Juliet was silent long enough that I thought she wasn’t going to answer. Then she said, “There was a boy, and I loved him. It was the kind of love people write poetry and songs about.
“He burned brighter than the stars, and then he died. And I didn’t. I thought I would, but I didn’t.”
She climbed from the bed, and looked out the window. “I promised I would cut him out, and hang him in the heavens. That way, everyone can see him, and when they do, they’ll know he was worth everything.”
Juliet cut the star from the skin on my chest, right over my heart. She used a dagger. “It was his,” she said when I asked.
It hurt. Of course it hurt. The star of skin was the least of what she was cutting out of me.
I had never wondered before how it was that people fell out of love with Juliet.
The scar healed cleanly. Not just cleanly, but perfectly, a star shining on my skin.
I look for him in the sky. That boy that Juliet loved so much that she would change the face of heaven for him. I don’t know how long it takes the light from those stars, the ones that she hangs, to reach us here, but I know that it will.
I wonder if light reaches back in time, too. Maybe it’s impossible, but a lot of things are, and they happen anyway. I see the stars, and I wonder if that boy ever looked up at the sky and knew how much Juliet loved him. The kind of love people write songs and poetry about. The kind of love that is written in the stars.
Kat Howard’s short fiction has been performed on NPR as part of Selected Shorts, and was included in The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, 2012, edited by Rich Horton. You can find her work in Lightspeed, Subterranean, Apex and various other magazines and anthologies, including the forthcoming Oz Reimagined, edited by John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen. She lives in the Twin Cities, and you can find her on Twitter as @KatWithSword.