Stars were falling though she couldn’t see them. She knew he loved her, though he’d never said.
A touch of light glinted along the barrel of her gun.
Wind whispered along her skin, cool after the day’s heat. Like his fingers, his light touch drawing pictures across her back. His face mirrored hers across the pillow, a protective angel watching over her in the darkness. He smiled, his blue eyes lighting up and love wrapped round her warm. She reached out to stroke his cheek.
She could barely move her hand. This thing beneath her head didn’t make sense. It was lumpy and plasticky and stuck to her skin.
The club was so glamorous, velvet curtains behind the band glowing green like her apple martini. A classy drink in a glass just like in the movies. She deserved a classy evening. One to make up for the others she’d only imagined. A movie star evening. Roll out the red carpets for Miss Angie. She was wearing white under her fake fur coat, white for new beginnings. She could only afford two drinks. Wine at home had been a good idea. The news said the stars were falling and she knew that love and luck would be in the air, that dreams would come true. She had so many dreams, and she was trying to help them along, but if the cosmos wanted to step in that’d be just fine. Everything was just fine.
She sat at the table, admiring the shape of her calf. Her legs crossed one over the other at just the right angle. The heel on her shoe sparkled, she liked that too. The singer was perfect for new beginnings, no pain or loss in that voice. He promised her a gilded life like his own. She savoured his brown striped shirt with old fashioned pearl snaps instead of buttons, the kind of shirt they called vintage now. Tribal tattoos wrapped around his forearms. They probably meant something deep and real about living life truly and deeply. Nothing about neighbourhood, turf, possession. He’d never had to fight for those. His long brown hair framed his face perfectly, brushing along his shoulders, and his perfect skin glowed in the lights and it felt like he was singing just to her. She had seen his jaw in the movies.
Life should be like this, she thought. Lived at one remove. Her martini went down so sweet and smooth it was hard to remember she had to make it last.
She closed her eyes and imagined him across the pillow, that beautiful face. Brown eyes blinked at her but she could not keep them from turning to blue. Felt familiar fingers tracing pictures across her back and the curve of her side. She snuggled into him and his arms tightened around her and she felt his lips on her hair and she buried herself deeper and his arms tightened and tightened, she could not breathe and gasped and the sharp edges of buildings suddenly whirled against a cloudy night sky lit up by a reflected city, she could not breath and these brick walls did not make sense because the walls of their room were white and it did not smell and breathing hurt and she was in no one’s arms.
Her first apple martini, in a glass cool and gleaming. A glass she’d always imagined between her fingers. She deserved that kind of glass and Johnny had always said they’d get there. He’d said it and here she was, but not because he’d brought her. Shaken, not stirred she’d said, and she watched the bartender pour her drink into a shiny silver container. He’d flashed her a shiny white smile when he handed her the drink.
I like a girl who knows her cocktails, he’d told her. She’d thought to herself, he’s better looking than Johnny, I bet he knows how to treat someone special.
Layla watched her suspiciously, Layla hadn’t wanted to come. Falling stars, Angie had told her, a lucky night, a one in a million, and Johnny says he has to work.
"You cleared it with Johnny then?" Layla asked. "Because if there’s any trouble, you know I’m out of here. I won’t get involved in your fucked up relationship any more" she said. "Not any more. He is going to kill you one day. You have to leave him Angie, you have to."
"Not Johnny," Angie swore. "Never Johnny, he loves me."
She knew he loved her though he had never said. That he had never said was her secret.
"What would he do without me?" She saw his eyes smiling down on her, his lips curving up and his hands reaching out for her waist. Pulling her close. Desiring her. Keeping her safe.
"Call someone else his stupid ugly bitch?" Layla whispered angrily.
"Shut up, Layla."
The light in Johnny’s eyes changed, narrowed the way they did when he was angry and she tried to remember what she had messed up and her hands anxiously smoothed her dress then patted her perfect hair but still his mouth twisted and…
The lights shone green on the curtains behind the band, green like old bottles and june bugs back home. But here it was all velvet and chrome and her finger traced the lines of her glass and chased away the frost of condensation so she could clearly see the lights billowing in the green liquid. The drummer looked like a surfer, that crazy blond 'fro, the highlights in it almost white. His shirt was dark blue with little pictures of rocket ships on it in red and black. It buttoned down. It must be vintage too. She imagined day after day on one of those southern city beaches, chasing the waves. Maybe a part time job as a waiter. Nights spent in cool dark clubs like this one. A lot of pot. She bet all of his friends looked like him. His girlfriend. His curly haired dog.
The only things he moved were his nodding head and his hands. A swish of the brush on the cymbals. She hadn’t seen that before. He watched the lead, who sang now about his first child and how much he loved his wife and what it felt like to wake up in the morning. She wanted it. She wanted all of it. She could see them sitting in the kitchen that had room for a table and chairs, a kitchen with a view. They had stainless steel appliances. It was clean, and the counters were white. She could never get her counters white, never. No matter how hard she scrubbed.
She sipped her martini, it felt good to be here. The stars were falling, enough for all of her wishes. She knew things would get better. They were already better. She self-consciously shifted, uncrossed and recrossed her legs the other way. Her legs were still good. Not as good as they had been in high school when she was practicing for cheerleader tryouts, but still good.
She’d seen a movie once where the hero had carried his love to the bed and then kissed her feet, kissed his way up her legs. She bet the singer had done that for his wife. She’d wanted that, hinted, but Johnny had asked her what the hell she was talking about in that voice that by itself could make her shut up. Danger voice.
Yet here he was kneeling at her feet, unbuckling the straps of her sparkling high heels and smiling up at her before pressing his lips to her scarlet-painted toes.
But she couldn’t feel it, she couldn’t feel her legs. Her eyes opened and she tried to look down at them but it was too dark.
She brought back her second, her last, drink, the bartender’s number on a piece of napkin between her breast and her bra. She smiled, though she wouldn’t call him. Layla rolled her eyes but said anyone was better. Especially anyone that cute.
A couple edged toward the last open table. More than the stars were falling. Johnny and another girl. A tall, thin girl in a tight black dress. A beautiful girl. Johnny had lied to her about working. He’d never brought Angie here. Said they couldn’t afford it, said that one day they would come to places like this but they’d have to wait. She knew all of a sudden that she was Johnny’s second best.
His second best.
He’d never said he loved her.
She took a deep breath.
Layla’s hand clamped down over her arm and her eyes asked Angie a question. Angie unclenched every muscle in her body and leaned back into the music. She shook her head slightly, shrugged her shoulders, smiled. Layla’s hand didn’t leave her wrist, but she relaxed too.
The song kept flowing like Kool-Aid and she stared at the winning girl, her straight nose and large eyes and perfect makeup and breasts too big for her body. The way Johnny looked at her, smiled at her. He leaned over to whisper in her ear and Angie could see the winning girl melt, giggle, kiss him on the cheek. Their eyes met, the girl looked triumphant and Angie looked away. She knew she had never glowed like that. Never.
The music ended and the lights came up and the girl got up to go to the bathroom and Angie did too, apple martini the colour of jealousy and the green of the velvet curtains singing through her veins. Layla told her to come home with her, Angie shook her head and twisted her wrist angrily from Layla’s grasp and maybe Layla left but Angie didn’t care.
She slapped Johnny on her way. Pushed through the doors and saw the girl putting on another layer of hairspray. Their eyes met again in the mirror.
"Like what you been seeing, bitch?" The girl challenged her, mouth an ugly line. Angie didn’t answer, just shoved her against the line of sinks, tried to dodge the can the girl swung at her head. Tried to grab a handful of hair, break her nose, gouge out her sparkling eyes. She knew she’d still be second best. It made her angrier.
The bouncers burst in then, grabbed her roughly and twisted her arms behind her back. The other girl struggled to break free from a guy twice her size and come at her again. Even with her face twisted like that she was beautiful.
Blood ran down Angie’s cheek, collected on her chin, rolled down her neck to rim the top edge of her white dress. Ruin it. Johnny looked at her once, his eyes blue as summer. But he didn’t look at her again and all the fight left her. He moved towards the other girl. Second best. The bouncers marched them through the place, past the green velvet curtains and the beautiful singer from the band. He pushed his long hair back from his face, his mouth a little open. Maybe he’d never seen anything like them before. They walked past him, past the line-up at the bar, out the back doors into the alley. Go home, the bouncers said, or they’d call the cops.
"Let me take you home, baby," said Johnny. But he said it to the other girl. She put her arm round his waist like she owned him. Kissed him on the cheek. Angie slowly turned like she was leaving, put her hand into her bag and thought about making this a thing.
"Bitch, guess I’m not done with you yet," the other girl said. Funny how her voice matched her face and not her words.
So Angie turned all the way around, her anger had disappeared into the pit that was her stomach. She didn’t want to fight someone who’d already won. Who’d been born winning. She just wanted her gone, but the girl had pulled Johnny’s gun out from under his coat, silencer and everything. Maybe he really was working. But it didn’t matter now. The girl looked Angie in the eyes, spat out her words like Johnny’s gun spat its bullets.
"Your sad, stupid ass really wanted to come after me instead of the two-timing son-of-a-bitch cheating on you?" Angie saw that Johnny tried to stop her but it was too late and she was falling backward with her own gun still unfired in her hand.
Johnny had tried to stop her.
The girl stood over Angie now, spoke softly.
"You know he’d’ve always come back to you, baby girl. You’re the one takes all he gives. Not like me. Not anymore. Best out of your misery now, though. What you gonna get from the world besides a few more beatings and then he kills you? You wanna take my life for that?"
The girl gave a sharp nudge to Angie’s jacket, opened it up to see the blood blossoming over the white dress, the deadly placement of bullets.
"Shit, it‘s like killing the weak kid I could have been," the girl said. "You can thank me in heaven." Then she tucked Angie’s coat back around her as though to keep her warm, but Angie didn’t feel it. She traced the lines of Johnny’s face with her eyes. Then closed them so he could stay there with her, keep watch over her. She knew that he loved her, though he’d never said. The stars were falling. The news had promised. It didn’t matter that city lights hid them. She wished and wished and wished again.
Seemed like the girl‘s musical voice was coming through water now.
"Might as well take care of you now too, because really, your mama should have taught you better."
A startled cry of surprise. Then the sudden wind of Johnny‘s falling across her cheek. The smell of garbage flung into the air. His body lying there beside her without its grace. The girl muttering fuck your kind of love as she pressed his gun into his hand.
The sound of stilettos cat-walked away.
Johnny‘s blue eyes stared at her now across the black lumpy plastic. She smiled sadly back into them though she knew he couldn‘t see her.
Maybe he never had. Maybe she should have asked for more than just stars and wishes.