The ocean looked beautiful at night. Milly DeVere looked at the dark expanse of water as it quietly lapped against the side of the cabin cruiser, bluish black water repeatedly pushing against reinforced white fiberglass. Milly barely felt the bobbing of the personal cruiser beneath her feet, having adjusted to her sea legs on the long journey it took to get out here.
Where was here, actually? That was something Milly could not comprehend, and in the efforts of working as a deckhand alongside the cruiser’s captain she had not been given time to think about it. Now that the cruiser’s engine was off, the craft floated in relatively the same position. There was no sign of land, no sign of anything above the water save the odd bird and a fish that chose to breach the surface.
In the end, Milly did not choose to worry about the location. She was safe here, with people she trusted.
The night air was cool, but not oppressively cold; it had been a very wise decision to travel out to sea in the summer instead of the spring or autumn. Milly’s blue long-sleeved shirt and thin jeans kept her body warm enough to stay out on deck in a small lounge chair, her blond hair tied back in a ponytail away from her face. The slip-on shoes she wore tapped against the deck’s slick surface; her rougher sneakers were already stowed in her cabin for the evening.
Milly eased a breath out through her nose, her pale skin looking a tad paler underneath what was turning out to be a clear night sky. At twenty-five years old, Milly had seen her fair share of night skies, but none as clear as this. There had always been something blocking a complete view; smog, electrical lights, or even rain clouds on the horizon. Beneath the light of a gibbous moon, she could just make out her green eyes reflected on the deck’s polished surface.
The cruiser’s deck looked pristine, its white fiberglass body resistant to the ocean’s pull and able to stay on the surface despite all its components and running parts. Milly did not know nearly enough of them to understand how a machine like this operated, but her friend had been able to give her a crash course on navigation and starting the cruiser up as they left the shoreline.
On the topic of friends, Milly remembered the friend who had asked her to come out here was getting something for them both. Whatever this thing was seemed to be taking Milly’s friend a while to get. Not that just sitting back in the deck chair she was in was a bad thing. Milly normally did not like waiting for someone else, but this time was an exception.
The door to the cruiser’s inner cabins popped open with a thud as Milly worked to calm her worries.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, dear!” a woman called out from below deck. Milly turned to face the door as the cruiser’s captain, forty-two-year-old Anabelle Milon, strutted up the narrow stairway to reach the deck proper. Her striped top and linen pants combined with a rugged pair of sandals to highlight the curves of her well-toned body and well-tanned skin from years of nautical work. Her black hair stretched down to her waist, carefully cut to shroud her forehead where a large red birthmark resided. That was the only marring feature in the appearance of an otherwise well-off older woman.
Anabelle beamed as she handed an orange thermos to Milly, taking a seat in a second deck chair. “I thought we could chat a bit over some hot drinks,” she said as she sat down. “Like when we first met, remember?”
“How could I forget?” Milly grinned as Anabelle passed her a warm thermos, taking a quick sip of the liquid to warm her chilled muscles. She hummed in pleasant surprise at the drink given to her, popping her lips away from the thermos and letting the flavor linger on her tongue.
“So?” Anabelle was looking expectantly at Milly with a grin of her own. “How does it taste?”
“Black coffee with sugar, whipped cream, and three pinches of sea salt. You made it just perfectly, Annabelle.” Milly laughed at the blush that appeared on Annabelle’s cheeks, getting the recipe exactly right on the first try. “You were probably waiting forever for me to tell you that, right?”
Anabelle gave Milly a knowing smile. It was that comment, “You made it just perfectly,” that had set off the friendship between these two women. Well, those words and a special cup of coffee on a rainy day about four months prior.
Milly had made Annabelle’s order—the actual drink she had just described, in fact—and gave it to her personally, but back then the black-haired woman had just been another customer in Milly’s daily dosage of work as a barista. The initial encounter had been nothing special to Milly, but to Annabelle it had sparked a sense of intrigue. The words “You Made This Just Perfectly!” scrawled on a handwritten note, along with a modest tip, came from Annabelle when she discreetly went back to the counter a bit later.
After that chance encounter, Milly saw Annabelle frequently return to the shop she worked at. The drink she ordered was always the same, and every time Milly made it, Anabelle regarded it in the same pleased manner but with different satisfied comments. There was no more money passed to Milly, which she would have appreciated, but the more often she saw a customer be satisfied with her work the happier she felt when Annabelle kept coming back.
Soon enough, brief discussions made during the process of making Anabelle’s order led to brief meetings after Milly’s shift ended. Anabelle managed to figure out when Milly clocked out at least two days in the week, and Milly treated them both to a short meal afterwards. Anabelle’s outgoing and vibrant attitude bounced off Milly’s stoic shell with positive results; Milly soon started opening to Anabelle and engaging more in their conversations, creating a repeating cycle of trust between the pair. When Milly started asking Anabelle questions about her own life, something she almost never did while at work, they both knew they had crossed the line from acquaintances to friends.
Anabelle sipped her own drink carefully to avoid burning her tongue. “So,” she asked Milly, “how much longer did you have to go on your degree again?”
“This upcoming semester should be the last one before I earn my Masters.” Milly smirked as she imagined how graduation would feel. “After that, I’ll need to figure out what I’m going to do with the rest of my life.”
“You’ll figure something out. Serving custom-made coffee and pastries to customers is nice, but there are grander ways to make a paycheck.” Anabelle smiled as Milly laughed in response, and then both women sipped their drinks simultaneously and looked out at the sky. For minutes, neither woman spoke or did anything beyond enjoying a hot drink on a cool night and looking at the quiet ocean surrounding them. It really helped put their lives into perspective, despite how different they both were.
“Ah, this is the life!” remarked Milly as she leaned back into her chair, seemingly uncaring about how her clothes shifted around her body. “I’ve wanted to do some stargazing so much since last month, especially now that I’m not doing it alone.”
Anabelle hummed in agreement. “It certainly is nice to get away from it all. But doing this trip more than once a month wouldn’t work for me. I prefer solid ground to the ocean waves when I’m going somewhere.” She did not mention the anticipated soreness her body would be giving her over the next few days after her workout in shipmate duties.
“I completely understand you, Milly. You do your part to help people, and I do mine.” Anabelle sat back up in her chair and adjusted her clothes, her hair parting to reveal a small portion of that hidden birthmark. “Without your skills at making coffee, we may never have met at all. And then who would have made my drinks just perfectly right?”
Milly rolled her eyes but kept smiling. “I get it, you’re glad for me. Please don’t harp on it so much.”
“Oh, but I want you to get your Masters in… What was it, city maintenance?” Milly nodded. “So, the jobs at that level require a degree to get very far. My work requires a degree, too, and I had to work hard to get it just like you.”
“Marine biology is very different from maintaining a city, Anabelle.” Anabelle shook her head and sipped her drink instead of giving a response. The birthmark on her forehead popped into full view for a second as her hair slid around before covering it up again.
“Look at that sky,” the older woman chirruped to change the topic. “You don’t get this view in the city, for sure.” She licked her lips to keep them wet between sips of her drink. “You know,” she quietly admitted, “the last person to do this with me was Edgar.”
Milly instinctively flinched at the sound of Anabelle’s deceased husband. Whenever he came up in a conversation, it meant Milly was gently pushed to one side. Not that Milly objected to that treatment, but she never liked being forcibly moved around in a conversation without warning. But this was a man Anabelle claimed to have loved very much, and who had loved her so much he had left enough of an inheritance to keep her happy long after his passing.
Anabelle had used that money to join several local environmental protections agencies and purchase the very cabin cruiser they both were using. Edgar had left much more money than what was needed to keep both those things well off for many years to come.
Edgar was dead, and Milly did not like thinking about dead people. Milly also disliked thinking about when things ended. The life of a retail worker did not have long endings, merely short flashes of conversation and rapid movements to serve the customer. There was no time to linger.
It had taken Milly nearly three months to question whether not a sense of lingering thoughts on the past having was good for her long-term health or not. The wall she had to climb over seemed so terribly high.
Milly attempted to drown her worries with a larger amount of her coffee. This only left her feeling warm inside, though her arms and legs relaxed a bit more from that warmth. “Anabelle,” she told the older widow beside her, “you don’t have to speak about him here.”
Anabelle frowned, her hands holding her own thermos tightly. “If you are worried about me getting upset over my husband’s death, please don’t be. I am not afraid of being myself and telling people my point of view.”
“Well, I don’t get that chance in my job. The customer is always right, you know?”
It was Anabelle’s turn to flinch, which Milly was glad to see. It proved Anabelle was like her, at some basic level.
“You’re right, dear. I forgot that you are not like him. I think that’s a good thing, it helps me know what makes you special to me. You are my friend, Milly,” the older woman insisted, “and that matters to me.”
Milly could not stop herself from smiling at the praise she was getting. “I’m glad I matter to someone, at least.”
It hurt to say that aloud, but it was how Milly felt inside. So very often, Milly’s fate had been spinning on the wrong side of the coin. Putting in work and studying hard provided only so much protection against the truth; she sat on the bottom of the totem pole. Out here, with only the ocean and Anabelle as companions, Milly had the chance to reflect and consider how she could climb to the next rung, the next level of success in her life.
“I am here if you need to talk, Milly,” Anabelle promised. “But for now, let’s look at the sky and finish our drinks before they get cold. Sound good?”
Milly nodded and took another sip of her coffee. It was still somewhat warm, the sea salt counteracting the sugar and whipped cream that had started to melt into the mixture. The blended flavor felt great on her tongue, so she brushed that little part of her around her mouth to scoop up as much lingering liquid as she could. At the same time, her eyes turned skyward and began identifying all the stars she could see shining down on the Earth. Despite knowing almost nothing about astronomy or constellations, Milly easily understood why Anabelle came out here.
The sky looked so beautiful at night. So full of stars, winking white and yellow and red. So pretty to watch. Watch and forget everything else, even for just a fraction of time.
Blinking only when she needed to, Milly gazed at the stars. Moving from one beacon of light to another, they appeared like slides in a presentation. She automatically sipped at her drink when she felt it necessary, breathing slower as her eyes clicked from one star to the next, one piece of the great sky to the next. So many things she could not have seen at home, or anywhere near home. This had been a great idea; the effort of getting out here was producing great feelings for her right now and she was—
Something flashed in Milly’s eyes. She rapidly blinked three times, snapping her focus back to the sky the moment she felt okay doing so. One of the red stars was glowing, a thin aura of solar rays around it. Had that glow always been there? She looked more closely at it, and then her body jerked back against the chair in surprise.
“Whoa!” Before Milly’s eyes, the red light had grown even brighter, like it was expanding in real time. That could not be true; the star must be billions of miles away from Earth!
Anabelle heard Milly’s surprise and turned her own eyes towards her friend. “Milly? Is something wrong?” The younger woman looked stunned, but not scared. She came back down to look at Annabelle in just a few moments.
“Oh, nothing, really.” That was a lie, and they both knew it. “I was just wondering about that red star up there. It hadn’t been glowing a moment ago, I think.”
“Which red star?” Milly pointed it out, and Anabelle’s eyes widened in recognition when she looked straight at it. “Oh, that one! Yes, I have seen it before; it appears just about monthly in the sky like clockwork. That star is one of the reasons I come out here, to be honest. I think astronomers call it a red supergiant. You can’t see it when you’re in the city, too much smog and noise.”
Milly agreed and sipped the last of her coffee. “It looks kind of creepy. All red and glowing like that.”
“Don’t be so quick to judge,” Anabelle urged, knowing from Milly’s work stories about her quick forming and maintaining of first impressions. “It’s just a star. It has a right to be there, it’s not hurting anyone.”
Milly snorted, the sound startling Anabelle for a second before she realized Milly was laughing. “Try telling that to the two ladies who always push each other in line to get their Frappuccinos first.” Milly’s smile proved infectious as Annabelle replicated it. “How old are those two, seven? They look like they’re fifty and want to kill each other!”
Anabelle laughed along with Milly, recognizing exactly who the “ladies” were. She had seen them, and certainly heard them, in the shop before. People like them, ones that generated mutual understanding between Milly and Anabelle, helped strengthen the bond between the two friends. They shared a few more stories of similar people from their separate work and lives as they finished their drinks and continued looking at the sky.
As time passed, Milly and Anabelle talked less and less; the vastness of their surroundings swallowed their voices and made their thoughts as small as grains of sand on the beach. They welcomed the gradual decline of personal thinking in preference of basking in the greater world and universe around them. Beneath the light of the Moon, the glowing red star, and the vast universe out beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, Milly and Anabelle fell silent and observed a cosmic dance.
The silvery-gray of Earth’s Moon and the brightness of the red star were two prominent players in a movement of the dance, different in form but mutually providing enjoyment to the watchers.
The red star remained shining as Milly started to fall asleep in her chair. It was inevitable, the combination of quiet surroundings and the earlier effort it took to travel here had worn her down. “Anabelle,” she quietly told her friend, “I think we should… Oh.”
When Milly turned to look at Anabelle, the older woman was looking at the sky with intense focus, her head tilted to the side and her hair not quite hiding that birthmark. Milly was quickly unnerved; Anabelle looked very different in this state, this level of focus rarely ever seen when they were together. Getting her attention, and breaking her out of this state, might not be a good idea. People normally did not like coming out of their own activities at random, especially without an important reason.
Milly narrowed her eyes. This version of Annabelle grew more unusual as she kept looking, an eerie sort of unusual. Anabelle’s posture was as rigid as a board, her gaze not shifting an inch despite everything around her. The red star’s light seemed to shine inside Annabelle’s eyes, at least from where Milly was looking. That shroud of black hair blocking view of the birthmark on her forehead was not doing a good job anymore. Milly could see the mark glistening as sweat—yes, Anabelle was sweating in the cool night air—slid down the skin.
Milly looked at Anabelle’s body; Anabelle was completely still. That did not look normal. Did Anabelle have a fever? Was she suffering from a stroke? What could be driving Anabelle to act like this? Was this a private moment? Did she get like this whenever she went out here?
Cold tendrils of paranoia began settling into Milly’s head. How much of Anabelle’s life did Milly really know? The truth was, not very much. That in itself could be an issue.
Milly knew that knowing so little about someone you called a friend could lead to a dangerous scenario. Like being with that friend, all alone. On her boat. Far away from land. At night. Did friends do this stuff together, or did this cross into deeper types of relationships?
Milly’s hands trembled against the chair’s armrests. Her cell phone was in her purse, which was in the cabin. To get there would be to walk right past Annabelle and block her view of the sky. There was not enough space between Anabelle’s chair and the stern’s end to sneak around that way. Milly looked at the clean deck and considered crawling past Annabelle on all fours, even marring the pristine surface with her grubby fingers.
The absurdity of Milly’s thoughts caused her to smile to herself ironically. She then looked back at Anabelle to find no change in her posture or expression. Milly waited for four heartbeats before swallowing hard and slowly standing up. Her legs wobbled a little as she felt the cruiser rock beneath her. Careful not to stumble, she took a few steps towards the cabin’s entrance door.
Milly’s heart leapt in her throat at Anabelle’s words, the frigid tone behind them more like she was ordering than requesting. The fears Milly had dismissed as irony thundered back into her head, making her legs move quickly as her mind tried to remember the hotline for the local coast guard.
“Milly. Don’t leave me.” Milly did not look back, placing her hand on the door and twisting the knob as if her life depended on it. Then Anabelle cried out, “Milly!”, and that made Milly freeze. It sounded like Anabelle was scared, just as scared as Milly herself. Anabelle had never sounded this scared before.
Milly’s hand pulled on the door. A shuddering gasp came from Anabelle, spearing through Milly’s worries and triggering a primal desire. A sense of need, she needed to be by her friend’s side, regardless of consequences. Friends cared for each other.
Milly’s hand let go of the knob. Her feet guided her back to Anabelle’s side, the widow’s hair sticking to her forehead. The birthmark looked more prominent as Anabelle’s face grew a darker shade of red. Milly did not think that was important as she got adjacent to Anabelle and knelt by her on the deck. “Hey,” she whispered to the sweating older woman, “I’m here, I’m here, Anabelle. It’s okay.”
The only reaction Anabelle gave to Milly’s presence was her breathing slowing down and becoming easier. Milly interpreted Anabelle’s posture, expression, and general presentation as someone incredibly stressed about something very personal. Luckily, Milly knew one of the best ways to get rid of excess stress. “C’mon, Anabelle, let’s get you below deck. You need to sleep.”
“No.” Anabelle’s voice still conveyed panic, but she was rapidly regaining control. Her eyes remained closed. “I’ll stay here for a bit longer. It’s okay.”
Milly felt very strongly that was a lie. “Listen, we’re surrounded by water. If a storm comes and you slide off the deck, you will drown. Here,” she urged, “get some sleep. We’ve been looking at the stars for too long, anyway.”
“I’ll be fine. You go to bed if you want.” Anabelle’s entire body shook again, her hair parting around her birthmark and revealing it fully for a moment. “You don’t need to see me like this any longer.”
Milly was having none of Anabelle’s attitude. She had dealt with antsy coworkers before; their dismissive words did a bad job of hiding the real injuries inside. “Don’t throw me off like that,” she grumbled, “you need to sleep as much as me. Now come on!”
Squeezing hard on Anabelle’s arm, Milly pulled her up with a burst of strength. Just then, Milly’s feet slipped on the deck. A shocked, “Wah!” came from one of the women as Milly fell backwards, pulling Anabelle with her. The angle of their fall was not straight on, Milly turning them both to one side as they went down. Milly’s shoulder hit the deck first, and she instinctively twisted her body to cushion her blow. This caused Anabelle to land on her side, but her head hit the deck as well as her shoulder.
Before Milly could even consider apologizing, Anabelle’s cry of pain coincided with the birthmark on her forehead tearing open. No blood spilt out, but a third eye, a giant eye, blazing red and sporting a slit pupil, flashed from inside the hole. Red light bathed Milly’s face before she could look away. Milly’s body instantly locked up, paralyzed as the light bombarded her senses, boring into her brain with no care for collateral damage. All she saw, all she sensed, was the light; it voraciously devoured everything else she could think of and still hungered for more.
From far away, Milly heard someone yell, “Oh, no!” The voice sounded familiar, but Milly did not think about it for more than a moment. Her focus was staring into the light, into the eye and the infinite crimson depths it held. As she did so, those depths sank behind a layer of thick skin. The eye closed shut and vanished back into Annabelle’s birthmark.
Milly’s body became limp the moment the light was gone. A gentle bob from the cruiser as it rode a small wave was enough to tip her towards Anabelle, pressing down on the older woman like dead weight. Anabelle was instantly moving, working to get Milly out of her trance.
“Milly! Milly, can you hear me?!” No response. “Wake up, Milly!” Anabelle said, not quite yelling but conveying enough force to show her genuine worry.
Milly heard nothing. She only drooled and vacantly stared at nothing at all. She heard the words but could not muster the willpower to respond. The words did not dim the fact the light was gone. There was nothing else worth thinking about.
Tears started leaking from Anabelle’s eyes, the birthmark on her head a darker shade of red. “Milly, no, please wake up. Please!” She grabbed the sides of Milly’s head and squeezed, lightly at first and then harder when she saw no sign of recognition in Milly’s glazed stare.
With the younger barista’s body completely limp, Annabelle had to cradle her like an infant as she guided them both to a standing position. Anabelle then went back to the deck chair she had sat in and delicately sat Milly down in it. Milly’s head lolled to one side, eyes still not seeing anything around her.
Anabelle barely heard Milly’s rhythmic breathing over the roaring in her own ears. Cursing her bad luck, ill fortune, and the cruel twists of fate, she grabbed Anabelle’s hand with both of hers and leaned over Milly like a protective mother. “Milly,” she sternly ordered, “wake up for me, right now.”
Milly’s pupils moved to one side. Her eyelids widened a small but noticeable amount, her mouth closing just as much. Anabelle looked on, hoping her words had broken through. That hope dropped along with Milly’s hand as Anabelle let go of it. Milly did not appear to have heard the order. What could she do, Anabelle rushed to figure out, to get her friend out of this state?
Hold on… Anabelle looked at Milly’s eyes again. They did not move, but the glazed state was gone, replaced by focus. Anabelle knew that focused look; Milly had expressed it often during work, Anabelle looking at her covertly while enjoying her specially made drink. She had enjoyed seeing Milly going through the motions, especially when she was making that special drink she liked so much. Now, Milly’s gaze latched onto something else. Something in the sky.
Anabelle looked up, following the direction of Milly’s stare. The first object that got her attention, the first one she thought Milly might be focusing on, was the Moon. It was the largest thing up there, so it made perfect sense as the focus of absentminded staring. She looked back at Milly’s eyes, mentally mapping their direction. They did not point to the Moon; they pointed to the next largest and brightest object in the sky.
“The star…” A smile spread across Anabelle’s face as she managed to put the pieces together and come up with a plan. “That’s it!” She almost laughed at the situation; there was a strong sense of absurdity from accidentally showing her greatest secret to her friend and then having to use that very secret to get her feeling “normal” again.
Anabelle refused to expose her true self to Milly again. She had to get the Milly she knew, the one she wanted, back to her reality. “Oh, I hope this works,” she mumbled whilst kneeling beside the chair and carefully touching the back of Milly’s head with one hand. Anabelle’s fingers hooked around Milly’s head and moved Milly’s position slightly, like strings connecting to a puppet for a marionette’s use.
“Milly?” Anabelle whispered as she tilted the blond woman’s head to the left, and then the right. “If you can hear me, I want you to look at the red star.”
Milly moved against Anabelle’s motions that time. Even so, she ended up doing what Anabelle wanted; Milly’s head leaned back, and her eyes locked onto that crimson celestial object. So far so good.
“Look at the red star,” continued Anabelle, quietly talking like this were a casual suggestion, no longer moving Milly’s head around but still clutching it with her fingers. “See it in the sky, shining and glittering brightly. Like a ruby, or a rose, so beautiful and standing out so much. Can you remember when you saw it? You pointed it out to me, and I said it was beautiful. It still is beautiful now.
“And the more you look at the star, Milly, that beautiful red star, the more you realize it stands out to you. It seems to get brighter as you look at it, stare at it, staring deep into its ruby glow. That makes it easier to look at, right? So, you can keep looking, you can keep watching the star like I am asking you to.”
Milly’s head moved slightly, adjusting to get a better view of the star. Annabelle felt the muscles on Milly’s neck tense, a clear sign she was keeping her eyes on something. The plan in Annabelle’s mind grew more complex as she thought about what to say next. Luckily, she had no distractions beyond the night’s chill and the rocking of the cruiser on the ocean’s surface.
“Now the star is bright, Milly, eclipsing the nearby sky.” Annabelle’s voice became more forceful, the widow more obviously taking charge. “And you can keep looking at it, in fact you want to look at it, to look closer and closer. The star fills your vision more and more, matching your growing interest in it by shining brighter still. But it does not hurt your eyes, Milly; your eyes are strong enough to look straight at it.”
Anabelle raised her other hand to stroke Milly’s shoulder, her fingers brushing like feathers against the limp woman’s skin and clothes. Milly’s breathing grew louder in reaction to the contact, though her eyes never broke away from the star.
The plan seemed to be working. Anabelle kept going. “Keep looking at the star, Milly, and keep listening to my voice. The voice of Anabelle, your friend. Is Anabelle your friend, Milly? Say it if you believe it to be true.”
Milly broke out of her focused state. Her eyelids blinked separately from one another, trying to keep her eyes on the star as much as possible. “Anabelle is… She is…” She could not say it, she lacked necessary willpower to admit this personal fact. Like Anabelle, she had secrets of her own. Friends trusted each other to keep secrets like these unspoken, and if revealed, friends were supposed to be sources of comfort and support.
Anabelle gritted her teeth, but kept her lips shut tight. She needed to change her plan. Milly sounded confused, pained; perhaps even scared. She must not know what was happening, but she could feel it happening. Was this like what Milly dealt with at her job when Anabelle was not around? Were the customers that bad? Did she have no other friends at her workplace?
How much did Anabelle really know about Milly? The grim truth was, not very much beyond their conversations. She had a genuine reason for not delving further, but now she figured some peeking would have opened a way to prevent the current moment from ever happening. Unfortunately, she could not fix her past mistakes.
However, Anabelle Milon could certainly correct her current mistakes. Starting with how she really felt about her friend, Milly DeVere, and how Milly felt about her. Whether she was just a friend, or more than that, Anabelle wanted to know the truth. The best way to do that, in her mind, was to guide Milly back to her side.
Anabelle took a deep breath. Here we go.
“Look at the red star, Milly.” Anabelle threw personal space to the wind, her hair fluttering despite no breeze in the air. “You see it out there, so bright and proud, so confident in showing what it is.” She leaned close to Milly, brushing strands of blond hair away to speak directly into her ears. “Now look into the star, Milly, let its feelings become your feelings. Be as bright, shine just as proudly.”
Milly twitched. Her pupils dilated. Her cheeks grew red as a blush slowly spread across her face. Anabelle’s smile grew a little more at the sight. “That’s very good, Milly. You are shining. You are shining so brightly, that must make you happy. Does it make you happy, Milly, to be a shining star?” Anabelle risked rubbing her fingers against Milly’s bare neck. “Say it, Milly.”
“Yes.” Milly sounded quiet, like her voice was coming from many miles away instead of just a few inches. “I’m a shining star.”
“You work so hard and get so few chances to shine like this.” Anabelle rubbed Milly along the shoulder with her hand, seamlessly swapping the one holding Milly’s head in place. “You are truly special to bear it, Milly, along with everyone who works as faithfully as you at their jobs. But you are also confident, Milly, confident like the red star; you can talk and act however you want now that you are just as bright.”
Milly remained silent. Comprehension began growing in her head, memories slowly returning. All the times she had spoken up for herself, she had stood against danger, she had faced her problems without running; she began to remember them. The red star’s light illuminated these moments as they rebuilt themselves through stellar dust and cosmic matter. Her pupils began glowing redder as she watched the greatest moments of her life all over again.
Confidence came along with comprehension. Milly saw how she had been, and what she could be if she was not afraid of anything. She liked this feeling.
“Milly?” Anabelle’s fingers tightened around Milly’s scalp, the hand stretching up to nestle inside the blond curls like the strands of a fur coat. “Come back to me, dear. Please answer my question. Is Anabelle your friend?”
“Yes,” answered Milly, her voice louder and stronger. “Anabelle is my friend.” As she said it, she knew it was true, her words confirming what her memories had already shown.
“Thank you, Milly. Is that all you feel for Anabelle? Do you trust her as more than a friend?”
It took Milly a few moments, silently staring at the star, to answer: “I trust her. Anabelle is a great friend. I trust her because she’s a friend.”
“That’s very good,” Anabelle gently whispered, “because I need the Milly Anabelle knew to come back. I need your light to dim—not be shut off, mind, just dimmed—and the former you to come back out. Now, if you trust me, I can make it a very pleasurable experience for you. Do you want to experience it?”
“Yes.” The answer took only a few seconds for Milly to give. Her eyes, the pupils glowing deep red, looked to Anabelle for just a moment. For a moment, Milly snapped free of Anabelle’s guidance and control to look at her friend. Anabelle was surprised but did not show it any more than a quick blink of her own unchanged eyes.
A moment later, Milly’s eyes were back on the star, as if she had never looked away. Anabelle hung onto the sign of Milly’s dedication, the mark of a great friend, before she spoke again.
“Look back to the star, Milly.” Anabelle’s urging seemed unnecessary, but she gave it anyway. “It’s still there, still bright as ever. It draws your eyes to it, loving the attention you are giving it. Look, Milly, the star is looking back at you. It sees you, mirroring its radiance, on the Earth. It is amazed and happy, Milly, amazed and happy at you and your light.”
Milly smiled, her red pupils growing to fill her irises. The star was looking right at her and liking what it saw. Rather than being embarrassed at such a level of exposure, Milly reveled in the moment. Her newfound confidence helped her realize this was a good thing; it was good to have people looking at you and seeing your unique qualities. It made you special like nothing else could. Not even friendship, though that was a close second.
“The star wants to see you, Milly.” Anabelle stroked Milly’s hair again, just for a moment. “It wants to be near you, connect better with you. Milly, the star wants to be your friend. Doesn’t that sound exquisite?”
Annabelle’s fingers moved to scratch Milly’s head, gently scraping her scalp; her other hand rubbed against a tight knot in Milly’s shoulder. The combined sensations produced a few sparks of pleasurable sensations in Milly’s entranced mind. “Yes,” Milly moaned, her back rising slightly off the chair from the attention she was receiving. “Yes, oh, yes, it sounds amazing!”
“Then give the star your full attention.” Annabelle continued to scratch and rub Milly’s head and shoulders as she guided her friend through her mental fantasy. “Listen to my voice, but also speak to the star. Ask it to come here, speak to it in your mind, you can do it because it is so like yourself. You can communicate with this star, your star, Milly, because you are such good friends with it.”
Milly’s body moved again, her back rising even higher as she leaned up off the chair. Trying to close the distance between her and the star, she strained what little mental faculty she had regained to address the star. She had no idea what to call it, so she asked it with all her strength to give her a sign, something she could see and know that she was doing the right thing. Anabelle looked on, hope mixing with tingles of amusement at how concentrated Milly looked at that moment.
Milly gasped between heartbeats, her body falling back onto the chair as her mouth split into a wide grin. She had seen the star’s surface flicker in a new way. The star had heard her.
“Yes, Milly,” Anabelle continued, easily seeing Milly’s happiness for what it was, “the star hears you. Now it is getting closer, Milly, coming towards the Earth, towards you. Falling from the sky, like a great comet. It gets bigger, brighter, the closer it gets to the planet.”
“Hah…” Milly’s eyes strained as she saw the star start to get larger and more prominent in the sky. She wanted to close her eyes shut but finding her urges blocked by the sight before her. “S-So bright…!” she grunted out, her pupils’ colors changing to even darker shades of red as the star continued to expand. It started as just a small red sphere, and then it became a large red ball, then a glowing orb as big as her own body, then a radiant ball of gas as big as the cruiser beneath her feet. Still it grew, seemingly without end.
“Now the star is filling the horizon in red, bathing it rose-red, so bright and powerful that it is impossible to block out.” Anabelle tapped both of Milly’s ears with her fingers. “And now you can hear it coming, Milly, the sound of its entry coming to you as it breaches the Earth’s atmosphere.”
The sky roared as it turned a chaotic mixture of orange and red. Waves of air flew out from the surface of the oncoming star as it descended from on high like a great meteor. With the addition of sound, Milly’s elation at the star’s oncoming embrace toned down several degrees. For the first time, she felt scared about what was happening. Something as loud as this was sure to bring devastation in its wake.
Milly’s inner heart did not agree. That would be wrong to do to a friend, whether old or new. That would show she was afraid of making new friends. Friends were there for each other. That was what Anabelle had said, and she trusted Anabelle very much.
Anabelle’s fingers continued to hold Milly steady as the star became more ferocious in its approach. “Keep looking, Milly,” she rapidly whispered, her voice piercing through the roaring air like a knife’s blade. “Look for as long as you can, keep listening to my voice and look at your falling star. It is coming for you; it wants to be with you so much. You want to be with it so much.
“When you two are one, you will be the best person you can be, the person Anabelle wants you to be. You will be confident.” Anabelle’s fingers dug into Milly’s head for a second, in time with her words. “You will be strong.” She dug her fingers in again. “You will look at yourself every day and love who you are. Do you want that, Milly? Do you want to be that kind of person?”
“Yes! Yes! Please!” Milly’s eyes were stuck wide open at this point, her pupils brightening to a blood-red shade, her breathing rough and quick. She waited, trembling in hope and desire, for the star to finally fall, to become one with it. That great celestial body descended with a force stronger than any she had seen or heard before, turning the sky crimson with vast orange flames. The noise its arrival made drowned out everything else; she could not hear her breath, her heart, or the searing of her skin beneath the raw passion of the star’s energies.
Suddenly, a shadow moved in front of the star, straddling Milly’s body. Milly’s eyes did not adjust to the shadow’s presence quickly. When she finally recognized the shadow was a familiar person, her friend Anabelle, she was completely surprised.
“Anabelle! Get out of the way! You’re going to be—!”
The skin on Anabelle’s forehead tore open again, revealing that great third eye. Then five other eyes just like it grew from Anabelle’s arms, back, and behind her head, stretching out on individual scaled, ropy stalks that rose to level out with her face. Milly’s shock turned to momentary recognition, remembering when she had last seen these alien eyes. This time, she also felt fear, heart-crushing terror at the sight of Anabelle, her friend, becoming a monster.
All eight of Anabelle’s eyes, each one sporting the same shade of bloody red and slit pupils, opened wide, and then simultaneously shut themselves tight.
The sky went black. The ocean went silent. The star vanished in a literal blink of an eye. Milly stared, petrified, and then drew in a breath to howl at the friend she had lost and the monster that remained. In that moment of unimaginable grief, Anabelle opened her many eyes again, staring right at Milly and her expression of complete terror.
Milly’s howl of loss turned into a surprised cry of joy. The star was back, it was right in front of her; it had come inside Anabelle’s eyes. Anabelle was the star, and she was also Milly’s loving friend.
“Anabelle!” Milly cried in ecstasy, tears pouring out from her eyes. “My star! Oh, yes! You’re my star, Anabelle!”
Anabelle said nothing, only leaning forward and getting even closer to Milly. The light in her eyes blazed from all eight points, angling down on Milly’s mere two eyes to bind her down. As strong as any rope or chain, Milly was lost in Anabelle’s gaze. Anabelle had brought the star to her, she was the cause of everything here, and she wanted Milly to know it and enjoy it.
Oh, did Milly enjoy it. She felt free, breaking through a shell of hatred and weakness. The freedom and happiness ignited her core, sending flares of her real feelings into the cosmos. She embraced the emotional high, this roaring meteor, for as long as possible, until it finally splashed down back to her body on Earth.
Anabelle stayed quiet as Milly rode out the afterglow of her newfound friendship. The younger woman’s body was soaked clean through her clothes from her own sweat and tears. She gasped for air, heaving her chest with abandon. She felt Anabelle pressing down on her, still straddling her while leaning close with all those glowing eyes, human and inhuman, looking at her from several different angles at once.
Milly did not feel afraid. Anabelle was looking at her. Anabelle was not like other people; she was a friend. Her greatest friend. When Anabelle looked at Milly, it meant something good.
The red light in Milly’s eyes faded. She was herself again, and she was with a friend she trusted.
“Milly.” Anabelle finally spoke to the woman beneath her, and she got Milly’s attention instantly. “Milly, are you okay? I’m so sorry for all this.”
“Anabelle.” Milly’s right hand rose on a shaking arm, the fingers weaving between the eyestalks and touching Anabelle’s cheek as if she was made of glass. “You are so beautiful.”
“Beautiful?” Anabelle’s human eyes joined the eye inside her birthmark in expressing her shock. “Y-You’re not upset with me? You’re not afraid of… these?” She gestured and looked at the five stalks and third eye, all bright and beaming like newborn suns.
Milly slowly shook her head, her hand flopping back down to the chair. “You gave me my light. I’m bright inside, like you are now. This is the real you, and I adore it.”
“That is so sweet of you to say.” Anabelle’s mind did not quite connect with what she was saying, but she did not care. Nestled against her friend, seeing the trust in Milly’s eyes, her own heartrate went into overdrive. The five alien eyes crinkled, showing the happiness she felt for hearing how happy Milly felt for her. Then she noticed Milly getting closer, opening her lips a few centimeters, her intentions blatantly obvious under eight eyes’ observation.
Anabelle put a hand on Milly’s mouth, covering the lips entirely. Milly froze in momentary confusion, and Anabelle took the chance to explain: “You need to step away for a bit. I must feed from the star.”
Milly mumbled something indecipherable behind Anabelle’s hand; Anabelle withdrew her hand so Milly could speak properly. “The star? My star?” Milly took a quick breath as Anabelle moved off and away from her. “Are you going to…?”
Anabelle shook her head, and the eyestalks swayed in time with her body. “No, you won’t be hurt,” she explained. “The star is out there just as much as it is in you. Look,” she told Milly and pointed to the heavens above, “Up there, in the sky!”
Milly looked up. The sky was back to its previous state, the Moon and distant stars shining down on her. The red star was up there too, as if it had never left. Milly felt sad about that, but the sadness flickered like a flame beneath the cold wind of truth. Her friend—her other friend—was back in its normal place. Falling to Earth to see Milly had been a temporary action, a breach in the laws of the universe to satisfy a specific need.
“I’ll feed from that, Milly,” Anabelle continued. “You just stay here. You can even watch if you want, but I don’t mind if you just rest for a bit.”
With that, Anabelle looked around herself to make sure nothing was too close to her body. Satisfied, she closed her human eyes. The eyestalks moved up or down to form a half-circle around her upper body.
There was no sound to accompany Anabelle’s motions, no spilling of bodily fluids from the change. Anabelle drew her arms to her sides, putting her legs together, balancing on the deck and swaying along with the cruiser atop the waves. The eyestalks all turned to look at the red star. The alien eye in Anabelle’s forehead glowed brightest of them all, its cornea turning black as ink and the pupil a pinkish red. Milly watched, staring without comment, as Anabelle’s body rose into the sky by unseen strings. A few inches, a few feet, and still Anabelle climbed higher, guided by the alien part of her body towards its objective.
At several feet in the air, Anabelle’s human eyes opened again. The eyestalks all stiffened; the eyes attached to them all focused on the red star. In just a few moments, Milly saw that distant star expel red dust from itself that rapidly fell to Earth, crossing thousands of light-years in seconds. This dust twinkled like snow and formed into a cloud, moving with a recognizable sentience.
The eyestalks stretched out even further, straining themselves to get closer to the ethereal dust. The cloud was pulled on other invisible strings to get to Anabelle faster; when it finally reached her, the eyes drew it in like sipping through straws. Equally split eight ways, the dust was absorbed into Anabelle’s eyes. It made them shine just as bright as the star but much closer to Earth. So close, in fact, that Milly’s eyes seared with an image that sent ripples of tingling pleasure to every cell of her being.
Milly was looking at an eight-eyed creature, human in form but otherworldly in nature. Adopting human characteristics and human memories, it also carried the human traits of compassion and comfort. It had the name Anabelle, and it, or more accurately she, called Milly her friend and companion. Anabelle was content to share Milly’s joys, pains, and unique characteristics. For what purpose, Milly did not know, nor did she care.
Milly had a friend when she needed it. One who helped her be happier with herself. That was what mattered.
As Anabelle finished absorbing the red star’s dust, Milly rose from the chair and knelt before Anabelle’s position. She did not know why she was kneeling, demonstrating subservience to her friend, but she felt it was a good way to show her deepened trust towards Anabelle. Bowing her head but blatantly staring with her mere two eyes, she watched Anabelle sink back to the cruiser’s deck.
Anabelle’s feet gently pressed on the deck, her eight eyes dimming as the dust fully vanished from view. The eyes then began dripping bright red ichor in tiny streams; Anabelle appeared to take no notice of this phenomenon. The first thing Anabelle’s human eyes lingered on was the sight of Milly kneeling before her, staring at her. “What is it, Milly?” she asked, her words carrying a deeper quality that vanished out of Milly’s mind with each passing second.
Milly raised her head, but remained kneeling, looking at each of the eyestalks bobbing back and forth. Their movements were slow, with hints of sensuousness, hypnotic even. “Your eyes…” Milly inhaled slowly, gathering her courage to admit something was wrong. “Anabelle, your eyes are bleeding.”
Anabelle turned to look at one of the eyes and its stalk, finally and seeing the red liquid dribbling out of it. The eye being viewed shut for a few seconds; when it opened again, more of that blood fell out. “Yes,” she admitted, “they are.” Then she smiled and looked at Milly with her human eyes and the bigger eye above them. “This happens every so often. Help me make them better, Milly. Please?”
The eye on Anabelle’s forehead shimmered; that was the best way Milly’s mind could describe the display of colors and shapes inside that human-like organ. It was not human, not of this world. Fear cropped up inside Milly, urging her to act for her own safety. The new Milly, the confident Milly filled with the light of a star, refused to let her fears control her. A friend needed her help.
Milly let her confidence take the reins of her body, helping her get to her feet and walk towards Anabelle. Her hand carefully reached out to touch the closest eyestalk, drawing the bleeding eye at its end up to her face. The eye blinked, looking at each of Milly’s eyes in turn, questioning without needing to speak.
Milly sighed, captivated by the eye’s alien beauty, salivating from the mouth as her newborn confidence gave way to a very strange desire. Now unshackled from the boundaries of morality in the presence of her friend Anabelle, she could indulge in that desire, whatever she wanted. What she wanted right then was to help Anabelle feel better.
Milly closed her eyes and, letting her desires guide her, gently kissed the eye she held. It was a momentary contact, just enough to feel the slick surface of the eye and taste the blood—oddly sweet blood, actually—leaking out of it. Then she kissed it again, licking it with the tip of her tongue, giving in to her desire to make it better so Anabelle could feel better. A quiet moan from Anabelle told her she was doing a good job.
The eyestalk in Milly’s hand tugged back. She let it go, keeping her own eyes closed and hands open. Anabelle guided another eyestalk into her grasp, and she repeated the motions on this second eye without looking at it. “Oh, Milly,” Anabelle said with another pleased groan, “that feels very nice, please keep going.”
Milly gladly complied. Every kiss and lick gave her bursts of pleasure, the fire in her body roaring in delight. As she did this, Anabelle kept praising her. “You are so special, Milly.” The second eye left, and a third one took its place in Milly’s hands. “You feel so happy to be with your friend, with me.”
Milly stopped cleaning the third eye with gentle rubbing motions of her tongue, but kept her eyes closed. “You are so lovely, Anabelle. I want to…” She paused to spit out a rancid bit of the eye’s blood that had gotten on her tongue. “I want to kiss you, hug you, hold you close and love you.”
“Oh, that sounds heavenly. And when we go back to the shore, we can still be friends if you want.”
Milly let the third eye go. “I do want that, Anabelle,” she said with complete honesty. What kind of friend would she be to run away after she had seen how lovely and trusting her friend could be? “But I also want this, too,” she admitted a moment later.
“This being…?” Anabelle’s question hung unfinished as the fourth eyestalk stretched out to get in Milly’s grip without either woman having to move.
“Happy. Blissful. Relaxed.” Milly breathed lightly on the fourth eye before she licked it clean of blood. “I haven’t felt like this in ages.”
“You really want to feel like this again? Why?”
“Because it makes you happy as well.” Milly let go of the fourth eyestalk and waited for the final one to come to her. “Friends help each other out, right?”
“Oh, Milly. Thank you.” The fifth eyestalk came over, inching like a worm through the air. “But I don’t think we are in the right mind to indulge ourselves. We really should be getting to bed once this is done.”
“I’m not tired, Anabelle. And you don’t sound tired, either.” Milly opened her eyes to look at the last eyestalk, her hands gripping it a fraction tighter than the rest. “You need to be adored,” she said, speaking to the human she knew despite looking at a part of her alien physiology. “You want me to adore you.”
Anabelle said nothing. Milly did not look to see what reaction her words generated, instead giving a longer kiss to the eye in her hands. At this point, the blood dripping from it tasted very good; it was coming from Anabelle, and Anabelle was a friend, so she accepted the belief of everything coming from Anabelle must have some level of good in it.
Anabelle cooed as Milly finished her treatment of the final eye, drawing it back to hover above her head like an anglerfish’s lure. Anabelle opened her eyes again and looked at Milly square in the face. Anabelle’s smile meant the world to Milly right then, a sign she had done the right thing.
“Have you been in love with a woman before, Milly?” asked Anabelle unexpectedly.
Milly blushed at the thought, and the implications behind it. She had never gone that far in a relationship, whether with a boyfriend or girlfriend. To think about it promoted actions she considered degenerate and immoral.
“No,” admitted Milly, and she clenched her hands into fists, dropping them to her sides. “But I’m not scared to try it anymore.” Not with her friend, at least.
Anabelle’s smile turned more flirtatious than friendly. “Then come, Milly.” All eight of her eyes flashed in sequence, starting at her forehead, spreading out like a guiding pathway. “Come and fill my body with your light.”
The eyes repeated their pattern in quick order, entrancing their target in seconds. Milly’s eyes glazed over as she gave in to the flashing lure without a fight. “Yes, my star,” she murmured, stepping forward as if she were on a solid bridge a mile wide instead of a bobbing cruiser far away from land.
Grinning, Anabelle turned her body to face the cabin door, but the eyestalks flipped around to face Milly, keeping her entranced with more flashes of that starry redness. Milly did not see where the stalks began on Anabelle’s body, or whether they were beneath her clothes at all. Thoughts like that did not matter to her, or her friend that she loved so much. Dismissing them was easy, so easy now.
Anabelle, who did not look back once to see if Milly was following, opened the cabin door. Milly strode inside without thinking of the consequences, closing the door by her own instinct. The bedroom within, which the two had not taken much time to examine before their journey began, soon echoed with the rising moans of two friends and lovers engrossed in mutual pleasure. As flashes of red light shone through the porthole, the universe seemed to shine even brighter in appreciation of the lovers’ passions.
The ocean looked beautiful in daylight. Not the same “beautiful” as at night, but still beautiful, because the Sun was a star with its own beauty.
Milly and Anabelle did not have a chance to look at the sparkling ocean waters around them while guiding the cruiser back to land. They managed to spend a few moments’ looking around once they shut the cruiser’s engine off and parked the craft in an open space at the same dockyard they had left from. The cawing of gulls mixed with the chatter of other boat and cruiser users, which Milly and Anabelle did not add to as they stood side by side by the steering wheel.
Milly and Anabelle knew that their journey and their time together had ended. Standing together on the upper deck, Anabelle kept her hands on the ship’s wheel as she turned to look at Milly. The pair had changed back to their clothes and appearances, all physical traces of their nighttime activity erased from sight. Their memories, however, jingled with secret moments from their “bonding” the previous night. Those moments, they both knew would never fade.
Both women wore the same clothes they had the previous night, agreeing to change when they returned to their homes. Anabelle hid her birthmark behind her black hair again; meanwhile, Milly left her blond locks tied into a loose ponytail. All signs of Anabelle’s alien traits were hidden as deeply as before their trip had begun, but even so, Milly had kept glancing at her in case something popped through. One flash of that third eye would spell plenty of trouble for Anabelle’s future and social standing.
Milly corrected herself for thinking that way. It would not do to worry about the future when in a friend’s company.
Milly and Anabelle smiled at each other, basking in the now, feeling comforted by each other’s presence as they prepared to step into the greater world once again. “Thank you for helping me, Milly,” Anabelle said. “I’ll drop by the shop soon if you want to talk again.”
“Take your time,” Milly advised. “This was… Well, it was a lot to take in.” An absolute understatement, but it was hard for Milly to say what she really felt. She probably would never be confident enough to talk about that in public, no matter how long she stayed with Anabelle.
Anabelle recognized Milly’s subtlety for what it really meant and did not like it. “If it’s too much, you can always call off for a day.” I do not want to see you strain yourself like this, she added to herself. It reminds me too much of my own struggles. She did not tell Milly that, and she figured she would not ever do so.
Friends, even close ones, were not that intimate. Maybe Milly was not just Anabelle’s “friend” anymore.
Milly slowly shook her head while moving to the cruiser’s bow. “No,” she told Anabelle as she held the duffel bag containing her stuff over her shoulder, “I know I’ll be needed tomorrow. I just need to rest some more, that’s all.”
Anabelle’s expression slipped into a knowing smirk, an expression she had adopted a lot around Milly before they had become more than friends. “You know yourself best,” was all she said.
Milly smiled back, staying a few steps ahead of Anabelle as they both walked off the cruiser onto the solid dockyard. The dock’s solid surface proved harder for Milly’s legs to transition onto than expected; thankfully, Anabelle was there to keep her steady and comment, “Woah, I’ve got you,” for emotional support.
Milly blushed in embarrassment; having handled seeing something alien in nature hours before, now she was stumbling about like a toddler when walking on solid ground? It was pathetic to imagine, a clear point of weakness to correct. “Sorry, Anabelle, I… I really need to rest.”
Anabelle chuckled; her voice was suddenly close by Milly’s ear. “Ah, Milly,” she quietly revealed, “I don’t think that’s true.”
Milly turned to look at her, her expression somewhere between shock and anticipation. “I think you need to do something you love today,” Anabelle said–no, insisted–to Milly. “Go out and shine, as my star.”
“Your star…” Milly’s breath slowed as her eyes glowed red for a moment. Anabelle noticed it and smiled as her earlier work showed it was still present in Milly’s mind. The light was still there, they both knew it. They both accepted it being there, working suggestions into both of their hearts and minds that would never go away.
“Would you like to be my star again, Milly?” whispered Anabelle. “Say, next month?” She accentuated her suggestion by raising her eyebrows, adopting a more casual attitude after seeing Milly was willing to listen. It would be helpful to have Milly there the next time she needed to gaze at the stars; particularly if a star like Milly was there with her.
“Honestly? No.” Milly’s answer, given in a quiet but honest voice, stunned her older friend into silence, her eyebrows risen even higher. Milly looked Anabelle eye to human eye before she added, “I need you to be my star as well. Friends share the burden, right?”
Anabelle hummed in understanding, eyebrows lowering back down as she finally figured out what had so deeply concerned Milly. Friends or lovers, Milly wanted the same feelings from her friends that she gave them. They had to take their relationship more seriously. Anabelle was glad to know Milly was willing to take that burden, despite the rest of her life weighing her down.
“Go and shine, my dear.” Anabelle rubbed Milly’s shoulder with her free hand, smiling as the action caused Milly’s eyes to flutter like petals in the breeze. “And I’ll shine right along with you. I promise.”
Milly smiled, and then leaned forward to embrace Anabelle. Friends, lovers, whatever their relationship could be called, they both knew they were beautiful in each other’s eyes. Their own beauty, their individual confidence, grew stronger by knowing the other being there for them.
They both knew they were different now. Tomorrow was the start of the rest of their lives, and they were ready to start walking down that road together.