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Second Star to the Right

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Something is glowing outside of Patrick’s bedroom window. Patrick pulls back the scratchy chambray curtains that his mother had insisted were necessary to cover up the cheap blinds that came with the apartment to see...a bug. A really big, glowing bug. Tapping on the windowpane. 

Strange. Do bugs normally do that? Maybe in Ottawa they do. He’s new here anyway. He’s no expert on the local fauna. 

Patrick leans closer, his nose brushing against the freezing cold glass. He squints and sees - he doesn’t know what he sees. Because what he sees isn’t real. 

What he sees is a girl. Woman? A tiny woman, with wings. She looks pissed. 

Patrick lifts up the window, letting in a gust of freezing January air. His not-bug/maybe-fairy visitor points at the screen with an impressive level of disdain for a creature not more than five inches tall. Patrick raises that too, letting her inside. It seems like the polite thing to do. 

He regrets it immediately. She zooms past his ear, making for his open closet door, where she systematically knocks all of his freshly ironed shirts off of their hangers and onto the floor. Patrick watches, mouth agape. 

“Can I...help you? With something?” Patrick asks, on the off chance she can understand English. 

The fairy (he’s going with fairy, until proven otherwise) makes a mad dash to his laptop, forcing open the lid by bracing her feet on the desk and pushing so hard with her tiny little shoulders that Patrick feels bad for not helping. Which is crazy. She’s some kind of supernatural invader with unknown motivations. He’s not obligated to help her rob him, if that’s what she’s doing. 

She shoots him a look when she gets the screen open, and before Patrick tracks what’s happening, she’s somehow navigated to his email and hit “Compose.”

Aware that there could be consequences for letting a stranger take over his inbox, Patrick squats down so he’s at eye level with his screen. 

“SHADOW,” she types by way of fluttering around his keyboard and stomping on the requisite keys. 

“What?” Patrick asks, the most articulate question he can manage. 

The fairy stomps on a few more keys until “SHADOW” is bold, italicized, and underlined. 

“I get that, but what does that mean? You’re looking for a shadow?”

She adds exclamation marks. 

“I want to help you, I do,” Patrick says, meaning it more than is entirely justified. “I just - I don’t understand.”

The fairy sprawls face down on his trackpad in obvious defeat. It’s then that Patrick notices she’s wearing tiny, baggy jeans and a flannel with two little cutouts for a pair of silvery wings. Not exactly stereotypical fairy attire, which Patrick can respect. He’s always wished his clothes expressed his own personal tastes a little better. Case in point, the pile of uniformly blue shirts now amassed on his closet floor. He should try another color. Maybe green. 

Patrick is trying to figure out how to best console a mythical creature when he hears a knock at his window. He spins around to see a man standing on his windowsill. Or maybe hovering ever-so-slightly above? He sort of floats down to the floor, shutting the window behind him.

"Uh, hey," the man says, fiddling with the sleeves of his sweater. "This is awkward, but is there any chance you've seen - "

The fairy rushes past Patrick, straight for his second unexpected visitor of the night. She gets right up in the man's face, making a tinkling, bell-like noise that sounds both irritated and very, very cute. Patrick gets the sense that she wouldn't want to hear that latter opinion. 

"I know, I know. I fucked up, okay?" the man says, holding up his hands in surrender. "But Stevie, you've got the wrong apartment."

The fairy goes still, except for the wings beating rapidly to keep her in place. Patrick watches as she slowly turns around to face him, arms crossed. More bell sounds. 

"She says she's very sorry," the man says from behind her. The fairy shrugs.

"She doesn't look sorry," Patrick points out. 

"That's her sorry face."

"Hm."

"Did she...damage anything?" the man asks, glancing around the room. Patrick feels weirdly spotlit, and wishes he'd bothered to decorate a little. Which is dumb. That definitely isn't the most pressing concern right now.

"She, uh. Tossed some stuff around in my closet, but it's fine."

The man steps toward him, twisting to the side to see past him. Patrick wishes he wouldn't. He's suddenly acutely aware that this guy is very, very attractive and put-together in a way Patrick could never achieve. His sweater is ripped in a way that looks expensive. Meanwhile, Patrick is wearing a blue pinstripe pajama ensemble he got for Christmas from his aunt. To make matters worse, the pants shrunk in the dryer, turning them into terrible capris. At the time, Patrick didn't think it would matter. He hadn't anticipated midnight visitors. 

When the guy sidesteps around Patrick heading for the closet, Patrick reaches forward to...he’s not sure. He’s aiming for the guy’s shoulder, but when he walks away faster than Patrick expected, Patrick’s hand ends up trailing down his back in a deeply weird way. 

Fortunately, the guy’s sweater is pretty drapey, and he doesn’t seem to notice. The fairy though, she flutters in front of him and cocks a tiny and very judgmental eyebrow. 

“I wasn’t - I didn’t -” Patrick hisses.

“I can hang these back up for you?” the man says, holding a sweater up between his pinched index finger and thumb like it’s contagious. Patrick needs this interaction to be over. Immediately. After that, he needs to burn his clothes. 

“Don’t worry about it. It’s okay.”

The guy eyes the pile at his feet. “It doesn’t look like it’s okay.”

“This is my okay face.”

The man gives him a bitten-back grin, and holds out a hand for Patrick to shake. 

“I’m David,” he says.

“Patrick.”

“Nice to meet you, Patrick.”

“Uh, nice to meet you too.” Patrick is still shaking his hand. It’s a nice hand. A socially unacceptable amount of time goes by, and Patrick hasn’t let go. Or David hasn’t. It’s impossible to say. Who invented handshakes, anyway? He should look that up later. It’s so intimate, somebody’s palm against your own. 

Patrick drops his grip and stuffs his hands into the pockets of his awful pajama pants. 

“Your...friend...said something about a shadow?” he asks. 

David’s eyebrows make a run for his hairline. “You can understand her?”

“I mean, she typed it. I can’t understand the bell sounds.”

David’s shoulders drop. “Oh, I guess that makes sense. I, uh, lost something of mine, and Stevie was trying to help me get it back. But she apparently wasn’t listening when I said the northwest corner apartment on the fourth floor -”

Vigorous bell sounds. 

“Ow, Stevie, fuck off,” David says, rubbing at a spot on his cheek the fairy just poked. 

More bells. This is the strangest one-sided conversation Patrick has ever been party to, bar none. 

“No, I know. It’s my fault. But Steeevie,” David whines, “She had an Anne Geddes print in her bathroom. You know that’s one of my red lines. I had to get out of there! No hook-up is worth being visually accosted by a baby in a seashell. It’s not my fault you got the wrong floor.” 

“Excuse me,” Patrick cuts in. David whips around, and Patrick notices his eyes. They’re dark brown, and Patrick likes them. A lot. He blinks and forgets what he was going to say.

“Yeah?” The corner of David’s mouth quirks up, and Patrick must be hallucinating because he could have sworn David just checked him out, a little. Maybe. Or he’s noticing how short Patrick’s pants are.

Patrick shakes himself. “This...is the fourth floor. There’s a lower level walkout that’s technically the first floor, so. I think you’re looking for the apartment below mine.”

David turns back to Stevie, who is rifling through the mail on Patrick’s dresser. 

“Well, shit,” David says, and Stevie drops a postcard advertising a two-for-one deal at Mr. Pretzels. “You were right.”

Stevie takes a theatrical bow like it's the curtain call of a community theatre production and not 1:00 A.M. in Patrick’s bedroom. 

"We'll just be going now," David says, swiping the pretzel coupon and making for the window.

“Wait!” Patrick says, entirely without a plan.

David turns around, eyebrow raised.

Patrick panics, mind completely blank for any reason to keep David in his bedroom. “Uhh - I could get it for you. Your shadow.”

"How?" David says, with a wave that makes the lamplight glint off the rings on his hand.

"I know Anya. Kind of. I met her, once. I'll just...ask her for it." Patrick grimaces as soon as the words are out of his mouth. Yeah, that conversation is going to go great.

"In return for?"

"An explanation. Of what you and Stevie are."

"Well, Stevie is one thing, and I'm another thing. One explanation per favor."

"Fine. What you are, then. I'll be right back. Just, stay here."

David perches on Patrick's desk chair with a noticeable wince. Patrick bought that chair in college at Ikea, thinking it looked European and would class up his dorm room. Instead, it was somehow both ugly and uncomfortable. Patrick had been unhappily sitting in it ever since.

"Before you go," David says as Patrick throws a robe on over his pajamas. "Are those... Cool Ranch Doritos on your nightstand?"

"Uh, yes?"

"Wow. Um. This is rude of me, but -"

David trails off, tracing a finger over an old water stain on the desk. Patrick hadn't been as diligent about coasters in his reckless youth. Embarrassing.

"Do you want some?" Patrick asks.

"Oh no, no, no, I couldn't." Miniscule pause. "Ugh, fine, yes. Yes I do. We don't have these where I live."

“Huh. I thought Doritos were everywhere.”

"Not...everywhere," David says, fidgeting with the rings on his fingers. 

“Is that intentionally mysterious?”

David looks up at him, mouth twisting to the side in an expression that’s an answer in and of itself.

“Right, okay,” “Patrick says, hopelessly intrigued. “I’ll be back in a minute. Help yourself to the snacks in the meantime. But that counts as a second favor.”

David nods, already reaching for the Doritos. 

Patrick looks back to see David hand Stevie the broken-off corner of a chip before he clicks the door shut. 

***

Ten minutes later, Patrick is in possession of one shadow and one pair of very nice boxer briefs. The shadow traipses along behind him, slightly out of step with Patrick’s own, which only adds to the surreality of carrying a stranger’s underwear down his building’s hallway in the middle of the night. 

His neighbor hadn’t been in a chatting mood, shoving the underwear and the shadow at him with an expression that effectively screamed, ‘ask me no questions.'

Back in his apartment, the shadow shifts across the floor until it’s reunited with its proper owner. Patrick tries to hand the boxers over in the most innocuous way possible, but fails. 

“Um, I think these are yours? They’re nice, by the way.” 

David's mouth twists in a poorly suppressed smirk, and he slides the underwear into his pocket. 

“Thank you. That’s a really lovely compliment.”

Patrick wishes he were dead.

“So anyway, like I said before, I’m David Rose, and this,” David gestures at the fairy, who is presently engrossed in reading the fine print of a credit card offer, perks up. “Is Stevie. We’re from Neverland.”

“Oh, okay. Is that in Quebec?”

David ignores the question. “Stevie’s a fairy, and I’m human. I think. Mostly, anyway.”

“Mostly?”

David waves a hand like his humanity is a meaningless detail. 

"But you can fly," Patrick points out. 

"Not inherently, no. It takes a little help from my friend over there, and her supply of pixie dust." 

David plucks a glittery speck off his sweater, and holds it out to Patrick in the palm of his hand. 

Patrick peers down at it. 

“It’s not radioactive,” David says, his voice close as Patrick leans in to see better. “At least, I don’t think so. You can touch it.”

Patrick pokes at the speck. It makes his fingertip tingle. 

“Do you want to try flying?” David says quietly, as Patrick drags the speck across David’s palm curiously. 

Stevie must overhear, because she’s buzzing in David’s ear a moment later. David’s shoulders sink. 

“Stevie says no.”

Patrick tries to swallow back his disappointment before it shows on his face. 

“Oh, that’s fine,” he says, and it isn’t convincing even to himself. “I understand.”

More bells ringing. 

“Now she’s saying you look too sad to say no to,” David translates, as Stevie keeps talking. “Stevie, that’s mean. I’m not going to tell him that.”

“Tell me what? I can handle it,” Patrick says, trying to project the self-assuredness of a person who can, in fact, handle it.  

“Like the last bottle of wine in the discount bin. Strawberry, with terrible branding. A name like ‘Berry Delicious.’”

“Wow, thanks.”

“Hey, cheer up,” David says, nudging his shoulder. “You get to fly!”

“Glad my pitiable state convinced her.”

“What can I say, she has a weakness for fruit wine,” David says, smiling. 

“So how does this work?” Patrick asks.

“You’re up, Stevie,” David says. 

Stevie does a slow pass over David’s head, ruffling his hair as sparkling dust rains down. David closes his eyes for a moment, and then floats up into the air, as easy as breathing. He does a circle around the perimeter of the room before rolling smoothly onto his back, hands laced behind his head. Patrick chances a quick glance up at his ass, forgetting Stevie can see. 

She smirks at him before flying up and over his head too. The pixie dust drifts down onto him, and it feels like he’s inside a plasma globe, every part of him a conductor for the wild energy he can feel settling over his skin.  

But his feet stay firmly rooted to the carpet. 

“Uh, am I doing it wrong?” Patrick asks. 

“Oh, I forgot part of it. You have to think of something nice,” David says, rolling onto his side in midair. 

Patrick notices that gravity has pulled David’s sweater off-center, making visible a small sliver of bare skin at his hip. Patrick lifts off the floor, just an inch. 

“Good, good,” David says, and Patrick feels his face heat up at the praise. “Okay, now think of something better than that. Much better.”

Patrick tries. He thinks about Boy Scout Camp, baseball season, and his first kiss, but nothing happens. Then, out of nowhere, he thinks of a moment a few months ago, just before he broke up with Rachel. He’d gone to a bar near their apartment, and the hot, decidedly male bartender had winked at him before sliding over his drink, like he knew something Patrick had never said aloud. 

Just like that, he’s airborne.