All the Stars Went Out

Submitted into Contest #232 in response to: Write a story about someone looking for a sign in a dark sky.... view prompt


LGBTQ+ Romance Sad

You never told me what to do if all the stars disappeared from the sky. You were the one who first took me camping, promising I’d love it as long as we were together. “We can’t see the stars clearly from the city, Paloma – remember I said that the night we met?” So we went, and despite the mosquitos and the damp mud and the loud campers drinking beer nearby, it was beautiful.

“If we’re ever apart, just come back out here and look at the stars. We’ll be looking at the same sky no matter where we are.”

It wasn’t the most original sentiment, but in terms of speaking, you’re closer to a poet and I’m closer to a rock. Since you said that, I came all the way back out here to look at the stars. Of course, when I come without you, there’s no mosquitos, mud, or drunks around.

And no stars either. A big, dark, empty sky.

I don’t get how it’s been only four years since we met. I plant my ass down on the ground, crashing under the reality of how fast someone’s life can change. How is that fair that we met, changed each other irreparably, then separated? So fast. So stupid. Yet here I am, out in the middle of nowhere, clinging to your words like they came from the Messiah. I choke back tears underneath a blank sky.

“Hey, how come I didn’t see you on stage earlier?”

That was how you approached me. Did you mean for that to be a pickup line? Out of all the people you could’ve talked to at the theater party, you picked the sophomore girl standing outside alone, holding a red plastic cup filled with dirt cheap beer, too afraid to even drink that. I wasn’t in any mood to chitchat, frustrated at how out of place I was with so much drama being flung around me, like catapults sieging my castle of sanity.

And then I turned around and saw you. You with your short hair dyed outrageously orange. You with your tank top in the midwinter night. You with your immunity to all the drama – you weren’t part of the theater group, just invited by a friend. If that party was a siege on my castle of sanity, you were a helicopter that didn’t belong there (or in the metaphor) yet still here to save me.

“Oh, I’m not a theater person,” I said, flubbing my first words ever to you. “I mean, I’m a part of the set design crew, but not like, a performer.” I was convinced at the time that a single sip of beer was the reason why I was so flustered and my cheeks felt hotter.

You laughed and walked closer to me, bumping against me to tease me. “Is that why you’re doing this ‘I’m a brooding loner’ bit? Don’t like the spotlight?” I was surprised that you came so close to me already, I couldn’t even think of a response in time, but it didn’t matter. One look at the sky and you snapped to attention.

“You can’t even see the stars out here! That’s part of the whole ‘loner’ bit, you walk away and look up and see a single star shining across the sky, then it streaks across the sky, and you make a wish like ‘I wish I had friends’ or even better ‘I wish everyone in the world would die and I would take care of all the pets perfectly’ – y’know, something like that?”

I laughed at how absurd your tangent got, at how absurd your confidence was, at how your bare shoulders were so absurdly close to me. And for some reason I got scared. Real scared that somehow this moment would end suddenly. So I did the only thing I could think of to hold on a bit longer.

“My name’s Paloma,” I said, reaching out for a handshake like I was a stuffy businessman. “What’s yours?”

And you didn’t hesitate to take my hand.


I slam myself into the ground, resigning to just looking up at this sea of emptiness. If you were here, you’d laugh and tell me I’m being a loner again. Somehow thinking this both helps and hurts me. I look at my right hand and remember how you used to ramble on about atoms and cells. Is this even the same hand that touched yours anymore?

I don’t think we realized we were in a relationship until we were deep into it already. It wasn’t a date or a kiss or anything like that. But you agreed to hang out with me late into the night, the only free time I had after building sets all day for the spring musical. And we just kept talking. Way after the Chinese takeout had run out, way after we finished the sci-fi movie you begged me to give a chance to. And I just… loved hearing you talk. Your imagination spilled forth. Every astronomical idea a love letter to the universe and to me.

“Think about it Paloma! Reincarnation is real! When you die, your atoms have to go somewhere, right? If you’re buried you become dirt, then worms eat you, then birds eat you, then you’re bird poop!”

I laughed and tried my best to keep up. “Remind me to cremate myself,” I joked, secretly wondering if you realized I just floated the idea of spending my life with you. Embarrassing to think back on.

But you pounced on the idea, grabbing my hands. “That’s exactly it! Cremation, then turn to ashes, then somehow, somehow, don’t ask me how, we get our ashes to float all the way beyond the atmosphere. Break into space. Atoms turning into astronauts.”

“And then what?” I asked, half invested in what you were saying, half focused on how you didn’t let go of my hands yet.

You stopped to think and smiled when it hit you. You loved to start an idea with no clue where you were headed. And that smile of yours, both proud and astonished you thought of something unexpectedly. I loved that smile.

“If it was up to me, my ashes would float all the way into a black hole. Not the sun or moon. But a dark inescapable fate. And my ashes would swirl around like I was being flushed down a toilet. And then…”

“And then…?”

An idea even you felt too embarrassed to admit. But I wanted to hear it. I squeezed your hand to tell you it was okay to let your imagination run wild with me. We had no limits together.

“And then, on the other end of a black hole, beyond how we understand time, my atoms would be scattered into the past. Back to the Big Bang. And then somehow, I’d live again. After millions of years, the atoms from my ashes would reunite, like getting the old band back together, and I’d be born again. A chance to live my life differently. That’s my version of reincarnation.”

I’m sobbing lying on the dirt now. We didn’t even kiss yet at that point but somehow that idea was the most beautiful thing you shared with me. It’s so stupid too but you loved that kind of thing and made me love it too.

I remember the first time you cried with me. Not like how you cried when we watched WALL-E for the third time, or when you botched giving yourself a haircut. But like real crying.

“You’re such a good person, the kindest I ever met. You give me so much. It’s not fair...”

I held you as you sobbed in my dorm room, laying on the bed together. We were planning to move into a townhouse next fall semester. Together. And so the idea that we could tell our parents came up. And I knew mine would be okay with us, but yours… your family was a tale as old as time, Beauty and the Bigots.

“I don’t care if they don’t accept us. And I'm really sorry they won’t accept you. But we’ll always have each other, right?”

You smiled and nodded and cried yourself to sleep, letting my heartbeat soothe you. I remember carefully sliding out of bed and heading to the theater department. I sifted through the spare prop materials I could find and stumbled upon some gold wire, solid yet malleable. With greater care than I ever put into the stages, I made you sun and moon earrings. I remember joking with you that I couldn’t figure out how to make a black hole look believable with just gold wire, so I had to settle for the sun and moon. And I remember how you kissed me because it didn’t matter if they were black holes or not.

That’s my love language, isn’t it? I’d make something and give it to you, then you’d love it and kiss me. And on some level, I thought that was all I could do. Like a bird finding trinkets for its mating partner. You proved your love to me with words, your wild imagination like a never ending love song. And all I could do to match that was to make things. Simple and easy. You were an astronomy major; I was accounting. You liked endless possibilities; I liked having one right answer. A simple thing I could do.

Our senior year, we were in our townhouse, masquerading as just roommates to your parents. That winter break you had a cousin getting married on Christmas because of course that’s the kind of thing your family would do. You told me it was okay for me to stay behind, spare me the misery of being around your family. And I agreed. Not because I was scared to go, but because I had an idea.

I spent the whole week you were gone decorating the small two room townhouse. Shelves were painted, decorations carved and hung, your sci-fi figures standing proud above the tv (Terminator side by side with Predator) and a custom tapestry of a black hole I spent way too much on hung in the living room. In our bedroom, our single beds pushed together, dropping the pretense that we were just roommates to any visitors, and Christmas lights hung up on the ceiling in a pattern. With the flick of a switch, we could have a ceiling full of stars as we laid in bed together.

Like I said, that was the only way I knew how to say “I love you” – giving you things.

Your reaction was a blur. Laughing, crying, hugging, making love under the stars I made. I wish I held onto the memories tighter. But how could I not be fixated on what happened next?

You got into grad school. In Belgium of all places. And no offense to the Belgians, but it just sounds even further away than like the UK or Ireland, not just in terms of miles (or kilometers I guess) but like you’re on a whole different planet.

I had a job lined up with a local theater company after college already. I was fixed on what I wanted to do. But like I said, your possibilities were endless.  

I was scared. But you weren’t.

“Hey, long distance relationships can still work. You can’t act like we don’t have phones and Zoom and stuff,” you said, cheerfully batting my ponytail like a cat, trying to downplay how serious this situation was.

We spent our remaining time together in that townhouse, surrounded by the trinkets I made for you. Every time you flipped on the lights I arranged on the ceiling to “make our night special,” you just reminded me that you were leaving. That none of these things I made for you were enough to make you stay. And I know how stupid that sounds, like how could a bookshelf be more important than chasing your dreams, no matter how well I painted it? But still. That’s what it felt like.

All of my love wasn’t enough for you to stay. And it’s my fault that my love was just a pile of things I got you.

At first, we just convinced ourselves it was working. Or at least I was. We still found time to call each other, get on a video chat, no 6-hour time difference was enough to get in our way. At least for like a week. Underneath your wild imagination and spontaneous spurts of silliness, you were actually pretty damn smart. That’s obviously how you got into an overseas program. But even you started struggling to keep up. Each phone call had less and less whimsy until all of a sudden it had been weeks since I heard anything from your imagination like I used to.

“Hey, just remember to think of me when you look up at the stars. Remember?” This time I was the one saying it to you, already clinging to your words, hoping that by recycling them, it would spark something in you.

But that was the night things ended. We didn’t break up yet, but somehow, I knew it wasn’t going to be the same again. I wonder if you knew that would happen when you said the next part. Or maybe you were just speaking from your overactive imagination, and I didn’t realize it.

“Paloma… if you wanna move on, just let me know.”

My heart caved in on itself, collapsing into a black hole in my chest. Swallowed by darkness.

“Eve, I’m not trying to move on. Why do you think I keep making time for these phone calls? Why do you think I keep struggling to ship things overseas and get them through customs for you?”

“But I’m saying you don’t have to force yourself to keep going! I- I feel bad every time I open up a package from you, thinking about how you’re struggling to think of what to get me next. I don’t need another blanket o-or scarf or packet of hot chocolate! I need you to be okay without me.”

“Eve, c’mon, why are you doing this? I was trying to end the phone call being romantic like you are. Remember the stars? I’m trying to make it work!”

“And I’m saying maybe you deserve better! Paloma, listen, if we broke up-“

“We’re not-“

“If we did, it’d be easier for you to find a partner anyway! You’re not like me, you’re still in a country where you speak the language, plus you’re into guys and girls too, so you have options-“

I know you didn’t mean anything by that. I know you didn’t mean to hurt me. You’re so loving and accepting, and I always just tried to match that level of acceptance. But for some reason, hearing that broke me. I never dated any guys. You were the only serious relationship I ever had. I shared that I’m bi as like a secret part of me, like opening a vault just for you, and I thought it might never really matter anyway if I stayed with you. But hearing you use it as an argument as to why I’d be okay breaking up with you…

I get why the stars went out now. Why I’m staring at an empty sky through my tears, hopelessly alone in a wilderness I never grew to love. The stars went out because I can’t see things the same way anymore. The stars were supposed to be a sign in the night that we still love each other.

The stars are gone because I can’t get over how you hurt me. How you left me. How we changed.

The breakup was long and drawn out. Like taking weeks ripping off a bandage just to see the wound still fresh underneath. I don’t wanna remember you like that. We took turns blaming the other, then apologizing, then remembering how we loved each other. And then it was over.

Hours had passed by this point, lying on the ground, never to see the stars again, wishing for a shooting star to just manifest. But life doesn’t work like that.

I take a deep breath and remember you at your best. At our best. My love language – the star and moon earrings. Your love language – the improvised ramblings about black holes.

I close my eyes and let my imagination embrace me.

I feel the earth’s heartbeat, the same molten core underneath us both, wherever you are. I melt away, burned to ashes. The night wind picks me up gently and takes me higher. The air grows thin and cold but that doesn’t matter anymore. My atoms float apart, electrons parting from their lovers, forever changing now that they’re apart. The sun and moon warmly kiss every atom of what was once me. The night sky is empty but my ashes dance across it, a field of stardust for the world to see as I leave this planet in death. And I just keep going, unsure of what will happen to me, no longer in control.

And there it is. The inescapable darkness ahead of me.

My entire essence of who I used to be is pulled into a black hole, a silent storm raging, grasping at my atoms. Time and space don’t mean anything anymore. The endless possibilities we shared are collapsing in on themselves, just like the matter and light being crushed around me. A symphony of death and rebirth amidst the darkness above us.

I hope that you were right. That at the other end of this darkness there’s a chance to do it all over again.

January 10, 2024 22:29

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Trudy Jas
15:32 Jan 14, 2024

Darn you! You made me cry. Wonderfully told.


Allan Bernal
05:12 Jan 15, 2024

Thank you Trudy!


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Joseph Ellis
02:18 Jan 14, 2024

It took me a bit to get into this story, which makes sense because Paloma isn't explaining to the reader. But once the story clicked, I loved it. This is beautiful writing Allan. Funny in places, clever, oh so sad. Great work!


Allan Bernal
03:27 Jan 14, 2024

Thank you so much Joseph!


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