Quinlan and Vienna were out getting coffee when the stars started falling from the sky. They fell right past the clouds sloshing into their cups with a soft splashing sound. Vienna picked one up with the edge of her left pinky; it was a blue star and it was dying and neither she nor Quinlan said a word until it faded, just a shadow of light on Vienna’ fingertip. Then Vienna stirred her cup of coffee and Quinlan just stared into his own cup as though it was made of miracles. In a way, it was.
“Stars,” Quinlan said. It was only another word, one much like other words that start with s and ended that way too, but today it was a word that confused him. Stars belonged in the sky, 40,208,000,000,000 kilometers away being the nearest distance possible, and they didn’t belong in someone’s morning beverage; especially not Quinlan’s, because he wasn’t interested in the sky. He had better things to be doing on ground, and to him, the best and prettiest things were never over fifteen miles away from his home. He looked up at Vienna. It was ironic now that he thought of it, but when he thought of the best and prettiest things never being more than fifteen miles away, meaning his girlfriend Vienna, he didn’t remember her name was a place before it belonged to her.
“What do you think they’re doing here?” Quinlan gently took Vienna’s coffee warmed hand in his own and brushed the star corpse to the table, where it fell through the metal grates and descended into the sidewalk’s abyss. “And why is no one else noticing?” There were stars falling around them like curtains; the curtains all blue and yellow and red and some being colors that Quinlan and Vienna, being only human, had never been able to see before. Quinlan stood up and held out his hand, the left one, into the raining stars. They fell through like water running from a kitchen sink. “Vi, feel this.”
Vienna pushed her chair away from the table and cupped her hands, rings clinking together like bells on a Christmas sleigh. “That’s amazing.” She twirled despite the bizarre nature of the scenario, and Quinlan smiled because it was for reasons like this that he fell in love with her more, each and every day. “But,” Vienna added, stopping mid-twirl, “What does it all mean?” They had no clue. They couldn’t ask anyone else, either, because everyone else had vanished. There was only Vienna to Quinlan, Quinlan to Vienna, and a table with starfilled coffee to both of them together.
“I don’t know.” The stars landed on Quinlan’s cheeks and nose and they stuck between his long eyelashes. When he blinked, there were fireworks. He caught three stars on his wrist and held them there with the palm of his right hand. “Here, ask them. If anyone can, it’s you.” Quinlan moved closer to Vienna and she gathered the stars to her open palm. They glittered and sparkled. These didn’t show any sign of dying, unlike the first one she’d fished out of her coffee.
“What do you want, little creature?” Vienna asked. As she did, she realized that whatever she and Quilan were seeing couldn’t possibly be stars. These were tiny, obviously small enough to fit in coffee cups and palms of hands and eyelashes, so they couldn’t be stars. Stars are massive. The smallest one is still the size of Saturn, Vienna recalled from her last semester’s astronomy project. She tried not to think of school too much when she was on a break, but here it was, sifting through her moments alone and sneaking into relevance. It was always weird when something you learned at school managed to be helpful in real life. “They aren’t stars.”
“They told you?”
“Nope, but stars can’t be this little. This is more like,” Vienna peered up through the curtains and into the black sky, “Sky glitter.”
“Sky glitter… Pretty name. Still doesn’t answer the question, though. Why’s it here?”
“Why are you here?” Vienna leaned closer to her hand, listening to the sprinkling of the galaxies. “Can you tell me?” There was no answer, only a flash of intense white light. Quinlan slid in front of Vienna, shielding her. The light stung behind their eyes, like a million icepicks driving in all at once, but then, when it settled, there was something there no one- not even the most skeptical of people- would’ve wanted their eyes closed for.
A being cloaked in dark, velvet-blue robes had appeared. They had eyes of carven soap and a mouth set like molten steel, but Quilan could tell it meant them no harm. This was a benevolent being, no doubt sent from a world outside his own, and Vienna’s own. Quinlan moved away from in front of Vienna, but took her hand in his and pressed her close to his body. Even if he had it signed by God that this velvet-blue, soap eyed being was safer than a baby without a rattle, he was still going to make sure Vienna was safe. Though, there had been over a million times when it had been the other way around, and Vienna’s arm was pulled so tight around his waist he thought he’d pop like a cinnamon roll can on Saturday morning, cracked right down the middle against the kitchen counter.
“Quinlan Cly.” The being was saying words, but it didn’t have a distinct voice. To Quinlan, it seemed like anything could have said his name, though he knew where it technically came from. When the being spoke, the noise emanated from all surroundings, Vienna included.
She looked surprised to hear the words coming out of her mouth because she hadn’t meant to say, “Quinlan Cly.” She hadn’t thought of saying words at all, at least not right then. Quinlan looked at her, curiosity ebbing his steady gaze, and then back at the being. “That’s who I am.” He gave Vienna fingers a squeeze. He was still here with her. He would always still be with her. “Who’s asking? And why?”
“Your inheritance awaits you,” the table muttered and the coffee cups thundered, “As you have waited for it.”
“I don’t have an inheritance.” Quinlan’s mom worked at the KFC downtown and his dad worked the graveyard shift at Motel 87. His grandparents ran a laundry mat in Chicago. There was no inheritance to be had in the Cly family.
“Yes, you do, Quinlan.” The being’s mysterious, ethereal persona dropped all of a sudden. Their voice became thicker and belonged to their own mouth now. “Remember?”
“Um,” Quinlan blinked, “No?”
Vienna tilted her head at him. “You have an inheritance?”
“No, I don’t think so. I would have told you.”
The being cleared their throat. “Don’t you people know how to react to celestial beings anymore?”
“You’re an angel?” Quilan couldn’t keep track of this tone. It was everywhere and then nowhere and then it sounded almost like his third grade librarian.
“The planet we’re from is called Celestial. Therefore I am a Celestial being.”
Quinlan dropped Vienna’s hand. He sent her an apologetic glance, but she understood. It was a lot to take in. She stepped back towards the table and picked up her coffee cup. The drink was cold now, and there were still a few pieces of- what was it, sky glitter?- floating near the top. Vienna tipped it back and swallowed the remaining coffee in one fell swoop. Quinlan blinked again.
“Why’d you say we? There is no we in this conversation. I’m not from...Planet Celestial. I’m from Detroit. Vienna’s from Boston. We go to college in Philadelphia. I don’t wanna be cliche, but maybe you have the wrong Quinlan?”
Quinlan sniffed. He was getting emotional over the prospect of this whole thing being true. What would it mean for him and Vienna if he wasn’t from this planet? Would she still love him? Would their children grow up with a complex identity disorder? Was he overthinking it instead of just listening to the dang Celestial being for like half a second? The night had gone from an almost idyllic scene of gentle star glitter to a night one neither Quinlan nor Vienna would ever forget. Unlike the fact that Quinlan had a space inheritance waiting for him. That had totally been forgotten.
“What does he need to do to get the inheritance?” Vienna wasted no time asking. She loved Quinny, but was it so bad she would love whatever the planet Celestial had in store for him, too?
“He needs to make a human sacrifice. Someone he loves more than anyone else. Someone,” the being lowered their hood and stared straight at Vienna, “Like you.”
Quinlan started to say no, but the being stopped him. “You know we stopped requiring that part of the deal in like 1894. You just have to promise never to use your inheritance for yourself.”
That was an interesting promise. Quinlan wondered what the inheritance was. “Well, what’s the whole inheritance?” He did note that there were still a whole lot of gaps on whether or not his parents knew about this or not, whether they were from the planet too, and a variety of other things, but for the time being, they were not questions high on the list. There could, after all, be an expiration date on this deal.
“I can’t tell you.”
“You can’t tell me what?”
“I can’t tell you what the inheritance is.”
“I-” Quinlan looked at Vienna. “Did you hear the same thing I just did?”
“Yeah. I think you should say okay, though. Because if it’s money…” Ah, Quinlan saw where she was going with this. He could give it to her. Thus canceling out the issue of having to share with the world, but also complying with the rules of the deal.
Hoping that the Celestial being didn’t read thoughts, Quinlan said, “Okay, that’s fine. I’ll agree to it.” The star glitter stopped altogether. Everything spun backwards, Quinlan moved to reach for Vienna but the whole world just lurched before he could say another word. Then it was all still, and he was sitting back at the table with Vienna, the tables around them back to bustling with people eating breakfast and sipping coffee.
“Vi, you okay?” Quinlan waved at his girlfriend. Her coffee cup was full. He rubbed his jaw. Something was wrong. “Vivi? Vienna?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah, I’m fine. How’s your coffee?” She stared past him as she talked. “Mine’s a little stale.”
“You’re kidding, right? You remember that seriously two seconds ago you drank that entire cup of coffee? And you do recall the whole part about me having an extraterrestrial inheritance?”
Vienna laughed and reached across the table, lowering her voice, “Yes, of course I remember. But I don’t want anyone to hear that. You know people freak out when they hear things that don’t match their stories, and to everyone else here, our little alien encounter never happened. It’s best if we pretend the same until we can talk privately.”
“Okay,” Quinlan was relieved and he kissed Vienna’s fingers; they were the only pieces of sky he needed anyway, “Okay.”
“You’re so scared? Look, if you think I’ll leave because of this, I can assure you I’m not go-”
Quinlan took a sip of the coffee. It was hot again. “No. I don’t think that. I know you won’t leave, but what if the inheritance has some weird fine line thing? Like what if it’s a whole bucket load of money, but you have to spend it all on that, you know, that other planet? Celestial?”
“Then I guess we take a road trip through the galaxy. I’m not worried about it and if you’d listen to yourself for half a second, you wouldn’t be either. It’s a cool thing -not to mention way bizarre- but you can’t overthink it.”
“I kinda need to call my parents.”
“Okay, you do that. I have to get to class, anyway. Catch you later? Text me.” Vienna leaned across the table, kissed Quinlan goodbye, and left before he could say anything else. He didn’t call his parents. He didn’t go to Economics either, even though it was the only class he had that day, and he almost forgot to grab the check for coffee. In the midst of the whole morning, he felt like the cafe should be paying him instead of the other way around.
Quinlan got to his dorm and kicked his shoes into the pile beside the front door. You’d think it would be the only door, seeing as Quinlan lived in a college dorm three stories up, but there was another door that led to the balcony. It was very hard to use it as an entrance, though, so like most alternate passages, it was used in emergencies and late at night.
Quinlan sat on the edge of his bed and then climbed under the covers, pulled them over his head until he couldn’t see the light of the broken ceiling fan anymore, and closed his eyes. Sparks of light danced behind his shut eyelids. It brought him back to his younger days, when he found he could press his palms or fingers into his eyes just enough so that a personal light show displayed. He’d looked up the word for that, the other day, and found out the phenomenon wasn’t selective to only him; the lights were called phosphenes and they, like Twinkies and first dates, were universally known for being painful, yet irresistible. Quinlan never thought of it before, but what if his shapes and colors, his phosphenes, were a message telling him he wasn’t from the planet he had always called home?
He wished, still cocooned under the covers and feeling the seams of his jeans cut into his legs, that he could know the answers to all the questions his brain was chock full of and rattling with. He wanted to know them, but he was still too scared to ask.
About four hours later, Quinlan woke up. His nap had been the kind that, when you wake up you wake up feeling disoriented and out of your body. Then again. Quinlan didn’t know 100% that this was his body. After nineteen whole years of life as he knew it, this guy stood in front of the bathroom mirror and, touching his collarbone and shoulder blades, wondered out loud if he’d ever had wings. The not knowing was what bothered Quinlan the most. It wasn’t like he’d been dropped from the sky as a baby and raised as a human.
According to C.B, he was supposed to already remember all this stuff about the planet and the inheritance and the rules that came with it. There were whole inside jokes Quinlan was supposed to know about, but none of that matched in his mind. He loved Detroit and Philadelphia and Chicago and Boston but the truth was he’d never been outside those cities. He’d never been out of the country, so why now was he expected to believe this story?
Quinlan pressed his palms against his eyes and instead of seeing blue lights, he saw sky glitter. He saw Vivi twirling, and he saw himself laughing, but then the glitter turned to real stars and crushed them both like oreos in milk. He opened his eyes, turned on the bathroom sink, and splashed some water in his face. Once he thought he was in a better place, he picked up his phone off the towel rack where he’d balanced it, and began to fire off a text.
Hi, coming to talk. Dress warm. <3 I love you, vi.
He typed it out, but couldn’t send it because he felt weird, like there were spiders crawling under his nails and a million roaches celebrating Mardi Gras in his ears. It was the oddest sensation. Cold, silver, and gray shards of glass jabbed at his ribs and he arched his back to chase the liver smothering butterflies from his stomach.
“Ouch, what the heck?” His cry rang against the empty dorm walls. No one, not even the boys who played cello concerts at three am in the dorm next door, could hear him.
Quinlan tipped left in a violent jolt, but caught himself on the sharp edge of the bathtub second before smashing his skull like porcelain against it. The room spun sideways and then upside down. The bathtub was pink, then orange, and then gone altogether, and then Quinlan wasn’t sitting on the floor of his bathroom anymore.
In her own dorm across campus, Vienna waited for a text message that never came.