Beautician to the Stars

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

A story of constellations.

Submitted: December 18, 2017

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Submitted: December 18, 2017



My fingers tangle in her fiery locks as a look of confusion spreads across my face. "So, you want me to cut it? What, all of it?" My words stumble out, and I am dumbfounded at the singular thought of the loss she will suffer.

Never taking her eyes off of mine in the mirror, she confidently states, "Yes all of it. I want it gone.”

I sigh and reach for the diamond plated clippers. Turning them on I begin trimming off the starry locks and try not to notice when she winces as each piece falls to the floor, winking off into the sky. Finally, the last bit is gone, she beams at me and exclaims, "Imagine the meteor shower that caused!" After being thanked, I watch Virgo skip back to her place among the stars.

I clean the clippers carefully--the diamond blades can withstand shearing off stars, but only with proper care and maintenance. I hum to myself, the melody wandering like unnamed constellations. The door opens, and my next customer enters.

“Was that just Virgo I saw skipping out of here?” Cassiopeia asks, her smile beautiful, but nasty. She is too much like her namesake, but I will never say as much--after all, the vain queen is one of my best customers.

I carefully put my clippers away in a vanity drawer and gesture for the queen to take her throne, all the while not commenting. Virgo is a friend, and I know more of what happened than anyone else. Well, maybe not more than anyone--there is one constellation who probably knows more, but I expect she won’t be gossiping with Cassiopeia anytime soon. Instead of commenting on poor Virgo, I ask, “What can I do for you today?”

 “Well, not that I need it you know,” Cassiopeia precludes, her eyes narrowed--as if I will ever contradict her. “But I wanted to get a little polish done.” She touches the starlight skin under her eye, examining it critically. As if the stars there would ever deign to be out of line.

“Of course,” I murmur and begin removing polish and a buffer from their proper drawers.

“It was Virgo I saw though, wasn’t it?” she persists as I prepare the supplies. I glance up and catch her smirk in the mirror, “Though I suspect she’ll have to get a new name soon. Virgin indeed.”

My fists clench for a moment, but I plaster a smile on my face as I prepare spin the conversation my way, “She wished for a change--she looked quite beautiful, do you not think?” I ask as I plug in the buffer and turn it on. It makes a soft buzzing sound that still allows for conversation.

Perhaps Cassiopeia realizes she may be insulting my work if she insults Virgo’s drastic change, because her tone is forcefully sweet as she replies, “Oh, of course, darling! You always do such wonderful work.” But she cannot keep the venom at bay for long, because her smile shifts to a smirk as she adds, “Even when you have such a ruined canvas to work with.”

I take that moment to buffer her mouth, pressing a little harder than necessary. She does not know it, but the more I polish her, the less time she will shine in the sky. It is why I always take extra care with her, and spend my time getting everything shined to perfection. She must keep her face still during this process, so she ceases speaking, but I know it is only a temporary reprieve.

As soon as the buffer moves from her mouth to her chin, she gleefully asks, “Do you know what I heard?” She does not wait for me to reply. “I heard that after Gemini had her, she spread her stars from here to the other edge of the Milky Way. Can you believe it!”

“No, I cannot,” I reply, as pleasantly as I can manage. She gives me a disgruntled look and I press a little harder than necessary on her chin. She squeaks in pain as I polish a star almost into nonexistence. “That hurt!” she gasps, jerking away from me.

“Beauty is pain,” I reply with a shrug. Before she can continue spewing her vitriol, I tell her, “I heard something you might be interested in.”

She pauses, the bait of fresh gossip too good to deny. “And?”

“I heard Gemini has shown his true nature,” I reply, lowering my voice so that she has to lean in to hear me. “I heard that she left him because he tried to put her stars out. He was jealous, because she shines so beautifully.”

Cassiopeia gasps with delicious fright at such news. “And what did he do to her?”

“Well, I could not possibly say,” I demur as I return to buffering the other side of her face.

“Oh, you can tell me,” she wheedles. “I am your best customer, after all.”

Virgo’s words come back to me, almost forgotten in my shock at her request, “I need you to cut my hair off. Every last bit. I cannot stand the thought of another man ever grabbing it again.”

But I do not repeat the words to Cassiopeia. They are too private, too much a part of Virgo for me expose out in the open. If Cassiopeia could grasp that sort of information, she would coat the sky with the knowledge, whisper it to every star she crossed. There would be some who would pity Virgo, who may even understand her, but the others … no, I would never expose Virgo in such a way.

“My lips are sealed,” I insist, forcing my face into a conspiratorial smile. For once, Cassiopeia does not push--she must know that if she could ever convince me to tell her one of my other client’s secrets, her own would not be so safe with me.

I pity Andromeda, who must share a sky with her. Andromeda has refused to step foot in my shop ever since the day she and Cassiopeia arrived at the same time. I would have preferred to keep Andromeda as a customer, and lose the vain queen, but … well, that would require leaving my shop, and this is something I have not done in centuries.

It is only a few weeks before I have another customer. Sometimes, it seems the stars move so slowly. Other times, they come and go in the blink of an eye. But I am not surprised when Libra comes to my door, her scales weighing dangerously in the wrong direction. “I need your help!” she exclaims and grabs my hand, trying to tug to me out of the salon.

I panic for a moment--I cannot go out there, among the stars. My place is here, serving them, not being part of them. “No!” I cry, and stop just short of the doorway.

Libra turns, her eyes flashing angrily. “But I need you!”

My chest is tightening; my eyes cannot focus. I stare at her scales, unnerved by how unbalanced they are. I know what is upsetting her--of course, I know, how could I not? But I cannot help, I cannot leave, and even if I could, I do not know that Virgo needs anything from me. I may be her friend, but I am only a beautician.

“Are you going to leave her to face this on her own?” Libra demands, her stars becoming brighter with her distress. If she is not careful, she will burn out, and then no one will be able to help Virgo in her times of trouble.

I am about to warn her of this, but instead find myself asking, “What else has happened?”

Libra purses her lips mulishly before admitting, “He’s come back to her.”

I close my eyes and feel every particle of me clench in pain.

“That two-faced horse’s arse has,” she pauses and takes a deep breath, but it does not seem to calm her. “Well, he has changed his mind. Again.”

“And did she take him back?” I ask, afraid that I know the answer.

But Libra’s next words surprise me as she looks away, her expression pained and confused. “I don’t know. She smiles and watches her shooting stars and exclaims over all the wishes she is granting, but she won’t comment on the state of her own heart.”

I do not know whether I should sigh in relief or feel more trepidation. Since when did Virgo keep secrets? “What are you planning on doing?”

Libra looks at me sourly, but I think she finally understands that I will not--cannot--accompany her. “I’ll find out the truth,” she says and turns on her heel, her scales chiming menacingly as she wades into the fray.

Months pass, or maybe years. It is difficult to tell the passage of time in the shop, where the only indication may be who visits me. Some constellations, like Virgo and Libra, are limited by the time of year. It saddens me that my friends cannot come in whenever they wish. Others, like Cassiopeia, are unfortunately not encumbered in the same way. But eventually I hear the steps of another customer, and I turn to face them, only to have my heart sink as I see who is entering my shop.

Orion, his faithful canine at his side, strides into my store. I wish it had not been him, for he is friends with Gemini, and I do not wish to hear any defense of that constellation's actions. “Ho there, Beautician, it’s been a fair while since I last saw you,” Orion says good naturedly, his hands in his belt.

“How may I help you?” I ask, trying to sound professional instead of wary.

“Not me this time, I’m glad to say,” he replies with a chuckle that does nothing to set me at ease. “I’ve come with Canis Major here--you need a good trim, eh, boy? And then it’s off hunting again.” He winks at me good-naturedly, but I can barely muster a smile.

I settle in with the dog constellation, who is always remarkably well-behaved. I smile to myself as I think that he could give Cassiopeia some lessons. I give him the full treatment--bathing his stars in light and fire, trimming his coat so just a few locks of starlight fall first to the floor, and then through the sky as shooting stars.

Orion interrupts the pleasant procedure with a sly comment, “You’re friends with Virgo, aren’t you?”

“I am,” I affirm. I may not be able to help her, but I will never deny her, even if it will cause me pain to hear whatever slander he will say against her.

“I hunted her for years, you know,” he says casually.

I did not know, but I am not surprised--Orion will hunt anything.

“Though I wasn’t that surprised when Gemini caught her instead.” He snorts and adds, “And even less surprised when he let his quarry go. I always thought she’d be a fine catch, but as it turns out, she rolls over too easily.”

Canis Major yips in displeasure as my clippers dig a little too deeply into his fur. I murmur my sincere apologies and set them down. Perhaps I should not be operating machinery while my friend is being maligned. “Gemini treated her abbominably," I tell him as I turn to face him, hands on my hips.

“You’ve got it wrong,” he insists with a smug smile. “I saw them myself. He was far too sweet with her, constantly attentive. If he got a little rough with that attention, well,” he trails off and shrugs, as if it is no matter. “I can’t blame him for getting bored--she sounds like the ungrateful sort. And the way she reacted, when he said he needed a little bit of space!” he chuckles, shaking his head. “As if she were his wife, and not simply a way to pass the dark hours.” I glower at him, but he does not seem to notice, or even realize what a strange, contradictory image he paints. And then he exclaims, “But did you hear? He started pursuing her again! Now that’s a challenge if I’ve ever heard one--trying to win back a scorned woman.” He chuckles at his own joke, and does not seem to notice that I am not laughing.

To drown him out, I pull out the buffer and begin polishing Canis’ stars. His tongue lolls and he rolls over to expose his belly. I wish life were as simple for some of us as it is for this friendly constellation.

When we finish, Orion exclaims, “Aren’t you a handsome boy!” and showers affection on his dog. I watch as they walk out together, and worry over Virgo. Is she all right? Gemini left her, and she was heartbroken, but I think she was also free. Libra’s fears come back to me and I worry about Virgo’s future. If he breaks her heart again, what will she do this time?

Months, or years, or centuries pass again, and Cancer comes to visit. I am surprised, because Cancer is not a frequent customer, and I do not know what they may want. They settle into the chair quietly, without comment, and watch me in the mirror.

“What can I do for you?” I ask, trying to smile professionally. I cannot figure out what they’ve come here for--their stars are shining, their claws seem sharp, and all they are doing is watching me.

After a moment, they ask in their quiet voice, “Have you heard about Virgo?”

I stiffen and ask, “What, what is it?”

“Gemini has dropped her again.”

I close my eyes and cannot hide the pain I feel for her. No one had told me that she had accepted him back into her good graces, so I had no real time to prepare for this inevitable conclusion. What would she do now? She had not come to me. Did she think I had failed her after all, when I did not accompany Libra? I take in a deep breath and ask, “And? How is she taking it?”

The crab smiles sadly and says, “Not well.”

I do not know what comes over me, but as soon as the words are out of their mouth, I begin running. Stardust trails after me as I race through the night sky. I have this strong sense of foreboding that if I do not reach her fast enough, she will scatter her stars so completely that she disappears. I pick up the pace, racing a hundred miles a second. I must reach her, I must, I must--and I collide with something unexpected.

Firm hands steady me and I look up, aghast, into a face I never wished to see. He never comes to the shop, he has no need of me, but I recognize him all the same. I jerk away from him and stare at Gemini in horror. “What have you done?” I demand.

He seems surprised by my outburst and retorts quickly, “What do you mean?”

“To Virgo! Did you break her heart again?”

His stars dim, a darkness crossing his face. “Is that really your business?”

“She is my friend!” I scream, the sound echoing across the distance as pain bursts through me.

He examines me a moment and then shrugs. “Ask her yourself.”

And he tries to pass me, but I reach a hand out to stop him, stare straight into his starlight eyes, and demand, “Did you ever love her?”

This time, surprise does not seem to even be a consideration, and he answers without hesitation, “Of course I did.”

“What part of you?” I demand viciously.

There’s a moment of silence, and I am angry, thinking he will dismiss me. But then I see his face and realize--he is honestly considering.

“Do you even know how badly you hurt her?” I demand.

“I do,” he replies solemnly, not denying anything.

“So, which one hurt her and which one loved her?” I ask, focusing on the stars that he is made of. “Which one are you now? Castor or Pollux?”

He gives me a sad smile and says, “You of all people should know--I am only a constellation, not the individual stars. You ask which one? It’s me--all me. Always has been, always will be.” He pulls away with one last answer, “I loved her, I hurt her, and I will do both again, if she lets me.”

“I hope she never lets you near her again,” I whisper vehemently, then turn and continue running. There is a faint response on the breeze, but I am running too fast to hear it.

It is ages before I find Virgo--I am beginning to think I will be too late. But there she is, lounging with the Pleiades, giggling over something I do not understand. When Virgo spots me, her stars light up, and I see that her fiery locks have started to grow back. “You are out of your shop!” she exclaims in surprise and glee as she jumps from her reclined position and runs to embrace me. I close my eyes and feel her warmth and light surround me. “What are you doing here? I have never seen you outside, not once!”

“I came to check on you,” I say, then realize how silly that sounds as I see her smiling face. “Are--are you all right?”

“All right?” she asks, incredulous. “I am wonderful! Have you met the sisters?” she asks, looping her arm in mine and turning me to meet the individual stars. “There is Maia, Electra, Alcyone, Taygete, Asterope, Celaeno,” she points to each of them in turn, and then her eyelashes lower coyly as she adds, “And Merope.” Merope is nothing like her namesake, if the looks she exchanges with Virgo are any indication. This one is not pining after a mortal man, but instead admiring a constellation. I can only hope that they get on well together.

I look around at them and realize that Virgo is in no danger, no matter the shop gossip. It is my first time seeing her in the sky, but she is surrounded by bright, fiery love, and I know that no matter what ups and downs she faces, she will not allow her lights to burn out so easily.

Seeing how she shines now, I smile and kiss her on the cheek and murmur, “I am glad you are happy and well, but I must return to the shop.” I bow my head to the women and tell them, “Come and see me anytime you like.”

As I turn to leave, Virgo calls out, “Antinous, wait!”

I have not heard my name in centuries, perhaps millennia, and it makes me pause before I turn back to her, still smiling, “Yes?”

“Can you not stay out for a little while?” she pleads. “I am sure they would be so happy to see you,” she says, gesturing to the world below.

I look down at them, then back up at her with a sad smile. “I disappeared from the sky a long time ago. There is no reason to startle them with my reappearance.”

Her smile is so sad as she tells me, “I wish you would though.”

I open my mouth to refuse again, but then the other stars surround me, the Pleiades in all their sisterly glory welcome me, urge me to sit, to settle.

“They will not know what to think,” I protest nervously as I look at the sky below. They erased me, so long ago, re-wrote my history--banished me from the sky, blended my stars with another constellation. I am but a pale image of what I was then, but I worry that they will see me anyway, that they will continue to decide I am not good enough to grace their skies, to carry a name.

Virgo’s hands settle around my face and she lifts my head so that I may look into her star bright eyes, which become almost unbearable to look at as she smiles. “I know you worry,” she whispers. “But I also know that spending centuries alone in that shop cannot be good for you. Your stars are going out,” she scolds, pointing at how dull I am, how dull I have been for centuries.

“It does not matter,” I try to reassure her, try to pull away.

“Do you know,” Merope pipes up, leaning her head against Virgo’s shoulders so that I can see her face. “That I used to almost be so faded, they could not see me?” she points at the world below, and I glance down as well. “They thought I hid my face in shame, because I was the only one of my sisters that did not love a god.”

I look at her, confused. I know her story--I know all of their stories.

“But do you know what made all the difference?”

I shake my head, still trying to pull away from Virgo. She is too bright, here in the sky, where she reigns over the night.

“I had a good beautician,” she murmurs.

And before I know what they mean to do, the eight ladies descend upon me. They do not have my skill, or my tools, but they have more enthusiasm for the job than I would ever expect. I have not hand polished anyone in ages. I have not run my fingers through their hair, taking the outdated diamond shears to it instead of the much faster clippers. And they go above and beyond the maintenance and beautification I have bestowed upon anyone in centuries. I do not have the heart to tell them that this shine would be temporary, that even if the humans notice a new constellation in the sky tonight, I will fade and be forgotten again in a century or two.

Virgo winds her hand in mine, which shines brighter than I can ever remember seeing it, and together we turn to face the world. “I think you look beautiful,” she tells me and I believe her.

“Perhaps I could stay for a little while,” I reply shyly as I settle in to shine with the other constellations. The shop can wait. The chair can remain empty. Cassiopeia can find another beautician to tend her needs. For now, my only plan is to bask in starlight and the work of eight amateur, yet enthusiastic beauticians.

© Copyright 2018 Jennifer Ridge. All rights reserved.

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