I Applaud as Stars Shoot Across the Sky by Emma Burnett

Just like I applaud when she makes dinner appear on the table like magic, or when she manifests tickets to the coolest new shows in town. She likes the recognition, likes to be seen. It’s something I noticed about her, even on our first date, when she made the wilting restaurant flowers re-bloom, and I had gasped in wonder. She’s always wanted me to know it’s her who has the power.
       She sits next to me on the plastic-backed picnic blanket, her slight body pressed against my arm, gazing up at her handiwork. She called this show down on us for a reason. I’ve been dreading it for days, since she invited me on this late-night picnic, since she told me she wanted to have a serious chat with me about our future.
       It’s a flex. The stars are falling to remind me, she’s in charge.
       A thought flits across my mind, like one of the little stars. I didn’t have to come tonight. I could have gone to my mum’s, to the new house she’d moved into after the fire. But no, best I hadn’t. Better for Mum.
       She clears her throat.
       “So,” she says.
       “That was amazing,” I reply quickly. Maybe if I distract her, compliment her, she’ll focus on what she can do, not whatever she wants from me tonight. “How did you do that? It really looked like the stars were falling.”
       She wiggles her fingers, dismissively. “Cosmic dust, space pebbles, I don’t know. I’ve told you, I don’t make the magic, I just use it. And don’t interrupt me.”
       “Sorry.” And I am. I never want to interrupt her, because it’s rude, and also because I regret it later. And it’s gotten increasingly hard to convince friends that I just get a lot of sporting injuries.
       “Right. So, I’ve been thinking. It’s time.”
       I wait, making sure she’s finished her sentence. “Time?”
       “Yes. Time. It’s time for you to propose to me. We need to move this relationship along. Plus, it’ll help you to stop feeling so flighty”
       Pause. “Oh.”
       She shifts, and the pressure of her body is off me. Now it’s the pressure of her gaze, and the weight of her words. I look back up at the dark sky, although there is no more cosmic dust raining down like falling stars.
       “You want to marry me.” It’s a statement, not a question, and I know if she considers it to be true, it will be, soon enough. Just like she did with my dog when he got ill, but he’s fine now because she decided he would be. She reminds me, sometimes, that he’s living on borrowed time and her good will.
       “It makes sense. We make sense,” she says.
       “Sure,” I reply.
       “I’m great for you. Before me, what were you? An accountant for fast food chains.” She snorts. “Now look at you. You’re running the biggest green investment fund in the world. You’ve helped thousands of people, billions of pounds, transition away from exploitative speculation to something that actually helps people.” She’s parroting the quote from my website, a quote that appeared on there when she decided what I’d be better off doing. “I’ve made sure you found some ambition. You’ve got a nice life. You’re successful.”
       “You control those things. You control my life.” I’ve said this to her before. At first, it seemed to bother her. Now, she shrugs it off.
       “Is that so bad? Look. I made shooting stars, just for you.” She turns her face back up towards the night sky, and I follow her gaze. A bright light comes hurtling down towards us, but it doesn’t fizzle out. It comes closer and closer, and…
       Wham. It lands on the grassy slope only a few metres away. I see smoke rising out of the damp grass, backlit from the light of the town, down in the valley.
       “Go get it,” she says.
       I stand, and the blanket that has been covering us falls off. She stares at me, and I grab it before it can get damp, tuck it around her. Then I go to the space pebble, still smoking, and wonder if it is hot enough to burn me. I crouch down, then hesitate, holding my hand over the little stone, embedded in the grass.
       “Pick it up,” she instructs. “It’s cool now.”
       And she’s right, it’s cool to the touch. I don’t know how she did that, but I don’t know how she does any of it, so I just carry the pockmarked little thing back to the picnic blanket, clutch it in my hand. It feels peculiarly heavy, a tiny rock like a lead weight, like the kind of thing that could choke the life out of you if it pressed down on your throat for long enough.
       I pass it to her.
       “It could have landed on your head,” she says. I know this. “It could have landed on your leg, on your car, on your mum.” She shrugs. “If you think of it that way, I saved you.”
       I look down at her, turning the small stone over in her hand.
       She smiles up at me. “Maybe we should turn this into the engagement ring. Story for the grandkids, hey?”
       “Sure,” I say. “A story for the grandkids. Who you’ll also keep safe.”
       One of her eyebrows quirks up slightly. She pats the blanket next to her.
       I sit back down, and she takes my hand in hers. I look up into the darkness, and wonder if I tell her no, if I upset her, whether she will make me fall upwards into the sky.

Emma Burnett is a researcher and writer. She has had stories in Mythaxis, Apex, Radon, Utopia Magazine, MetaStellar, Milk Candy Review, Elegant Literature, Roi Fainéant, The Sunlight Press, Rejection Letters, and more. You can find her @slashnburnett, @slashnburnett.bsky.social, or emmaburnett.uk.

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