Stargazing

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Imagination Station

Jackson gets an unexpected ride home after a night out in the city.

It was absolutely fucking freezing.

The streets of Philly at 3 AM felt abandoned and unattended to as Jackson stood a block down from the bar he had come from, waiting for his Uber to arrive. He couldn’t help but shiver, shifting his hands around in his jacket pockets, craving any kind of warmth. Despite the atmosphere, people were still awake and wandering around Southern Philadelphia, some littering the sidewalks with friends while others hid in alleys and behind buildings. It was off-putting. Jackson always felt uneasy in this part of Philadelphia but resorted to the nightlife in the city compared to the lack of nightlife back in Jersey. The cold air and uneasy atmosphere of the streets invoked a craving for a cigarette.

“Shit,” he breathed out, jolting forward and turning around, hearing a rustle behind him. 

A raccoon sat next to an overturned trash can with a half-eaten apple in its paws.

He really needed a cigarette. He pulled his stash out of his back pocket.

Igniting the end of one, he considered how excited he was to collapse into his bed at home and cuddle up with his dog after this disappointment of a bland, uneventful night. He was not excited to wake up to texts from Marcus, his friend, about how eventful his night had been in comparison. He hated living vicariously through his friends, especially when it involved his friends getting sexual attention, and his lack thereof.

Jackson brought out his phone and checked the tracker for the third time in the last 5 minutes, praying that his Uber was close. Most of his drivers in the city ended up being older men with very poorly taken close-up profile pictures, but this one was a woman with brilliant red hair and bright blue eyes, deeper than he’d ever seen, almost like the ocean. Her name was Stella. He wouldn’t forget that. Something about her and the fierce grin in her profile picture felt oddly familiar and made him smile, just the smallest bit. He couldn’t feel the tips of his fingers tapping on the screen and the relenting city wind blowing smells of alcohol and food his way didn’t help matters. He should’ve gotten more drunk. Maybe he wouldn’t notice how fucking cold it actually was and wouldn’t be as aggravated and irritable as he’d ended up being. He was tired of these nights.

“Jackson?”

The smoke his breath produced clouded his vision just as the car pulled up with the window rolling down and a female driver shouting his name. He leaned forward to check to make sure the driver matched her profile photo and nodded to her when she did, dropping and stomping out his cigarette. He wasted no time closing the distance between himself and the vehicle, practically throwing himself into the passenger seat and shutting the door in one swift motion.

Thank god this lady had seat warmers.

“We goin’ over the bridge?” she asked, recalibrating her car’s built-in GPS to his destination in Jersey.

“Yeah, that alright? I know it’s out of the way,” he responded. He always had to make sure. Philly drivers were assholes and Jersey drivers were similar, and it was out of the way, about 40 minutes with tolls.

“I accepted the drive request, didn’t I?” She smiled lightly in his direction, putting the car into drive and pulling away from the city block. 

He let out a long sigh and let himself adjust to the newfound warmth of the car, also beginning to notice his surroundings.

She definitely had money. Lots of fuckin’ money. He had never felt a smoother car seat in his life. At a touch, it felt like a fuzzy velvet with a lace embroidering along the edges. His fingers traced those edges and felt the individual threads weaving between each other, holding his seat together. The handles, ceiling, and flooring all appeared to be covered with a similar type of velvet. The car itself, despite a relatively dingy exterior, concealed an overwhelmingly luxurious interior. What fucking brand was this thing? The GPS interface in front of him looked futuristic and colorful, yet easy on Jackson’s tired eyes. Something felt three-dimensional about it, almost like he could reach out and touch the virtual roads mapping their route. He had to hold himself back from actually doing so. Sections of the interface next to the GPS showed the air temperature inside and outside of the car, the songs playing out loud through the driver’s phone, and the current time: 3:07 AM. Too fucking late. Again. He had work in the morning. He kept doing this to himself and hated himself for it. He considered, just for a moment, the fact that he could definitely fall asleep in this seat, before it became a passing thought.

Jackson looked over to the woman next to him for longer than he’d like to admit - he was probably coming across as creepy. The beautiful interior of the car matched a beautiful driver. Stella was stunning. Her hair was perfectly short and just as red as it looked on the app, illuminated by the brightness of the electronic display of the car. The lights along the road in front of them revealed a glow in her beautiful blue eyes and a dotting of freckles underneath. Her face had a delightfully tender nature to it. Her skin looked untouched, natural, and pure. Everything about her seemed flawless - if Jackson had swung that way, he’d be smitten.

The first ten minutes passed slowly.

In car rides like this, late into the night, Jackson caught himself in a comfortable state of sonder. He couldn’t help but stare out the window at passing strangers and consider their lives, their aspirations, their personalities. Were they in similar situations to him? Did they feel lost in life? Were they living incredible lives, or were they on the brink of losing hope? What were they feeling at the moment he looked at them? Would he ever cross paths with them? He did this every time, and it always ended with him falling down a falsely hopeful hole he never wanted to end up in.

He tried to focus on the music playing in the car to avoid that hole and rein in his thoughts.

Jackson’s taste in music wasn’t very expansive. He’d always restricted his listening history to artists primarily from his childhood: TLC, Madonna, Nirvana, the Spice Girls. He could always go for some Mariah. Current mainstream music felt overproduced to him and lacked the essence that his favorite musicians embodied. 

He was used to the boring, predictable songs of popular radio stations that his past Uber drivers always resorted to listening to, so his current driver’s musical choices took him by surprise. The songs the woman was playing aloud in the car were overproduced, no doubt, but not in a bad way. If Jackson had to group them into a genre, he’d say electronic, atmospheric - maybe even experimental. Something about the combination of the warmth of the car, the comfort of his seat, and the trance-like music made him want to drift into a peaceful slumber.

He caught himself pulling out his phone multiple times, jotting down his specific favorites in his notes: The Valley by Cape LionsSentimental by Edgar Sandoval Jr., Me by The 1975.

She must have noticed. “You like?” she said, lowering the volume slightly.

“Hm?” Jackson hummed.

“The music.”

“Oh, uh…” he felt caught. “Yeah. Not my usual favorite, but yeah.”

She breathed out a small laugh and glanced at him for a few seconds, considering a response. “I have really weird taste. I usually reserve this stuff for more pensive nights. If you prefer something else, I’m open to suggestions,” she said.

Jackson was never one to make conversation with his Uber drivers, especially after a night of guys looking for superficial fucks and mundane conversation. He wanted to sit in silence and marinate in his own head without having to deal with a random person breaking the awkward silence that was always there. This woman, the car, the music, this specific night, whatever it was – it made him want to talk.

“No, I do really like this, actually,” he said, taking on a more informal, genuine tone. “Do you always play this kind of stuff for the people you drive around?”

“Only the cute ones,” she remarked.

Jackson immediately recognized the false signals he had sent. “Oh, I’m not-“

“I know,” Stella said, reassuringly. “I know how to read a room and I know a gay guy when I see one, especially when he’s that close to a gay bar. How come you’re comin’ home with me and not someone else?”

If Jackson was going to do this and be completely honest with her – with this complete stranger, he reminded himself – he’d start reading from the compiled list of reasons on why he’s not only single, but excessively picky when it comes to guys. The men in his life had all been dicks that didn’t deserve him, but Jackson had a way of convincing himself that he, himself, was the problem. He didn’t like to linger on that thought. Jackson didn’t claim to have a specific type, but all of his past boyfriends followed a trend that he’d noticed over the years. They always had to be a certain height, taller than him, with at least some muscle. They had to love animals, especially if he was inviting them back to his place. They had to have a solid sense of humor and the ability to match Jackson’s sarcasm. Had to have a stable job, preferably, had to have their life together to some degree…

“Connection,” he finally said. “I’m just tired of hookups. I always feel like a piece of shit after,” he admitted to both himself and the woman beside him. “I want a real relationship, a real connection.”

“You’ve never been in a real relationship?”

“Oh, I have,” he laughs, probably too hard. “I have been in plenty. It just always feels like something really important is missing.”

“And that’s a connection,” she confirms aloud. The two make eye contact for a brief moment and Jackson nods. He repositions his sights on the road in front of him as they finally exit the city and land on a highway into Jersey. He leans an arm against the window, rubbing his temple and feeling the beginnings of a hangover headache forming – a result of drinking too much to leave him without consequences, but not enough to leave him still under the influence. Seeing the lit buildings exit his peripheral and the familiar bunching of trees enter his vision calms him.

He glances at the clock. 3:21 AM.

Silence embraces the car. Jackson scratches his head and realizes how odd his sudden confession was from her perspective. He, for some inexplicable reason, didn’t want to make a bad impression on the woman. “Sorry, that probably doesn’t make sense,” he blurts out without thought.

He feels flustered after that, sneaking multiple looks at the woman to gauge her response. Her face is stolid and unbothered, her breathing steady and slow. She continues to stare ahead. He tracks her line of sight and can’t tell whether she’s actually looking at the road, the passing cars on the highway, or the sea of stars in the vast night sky. After another few moments, she breathes out heavily.

“It does,” she says, “more than you know.” She draws out a long sigh that strikes a chord in Jackson, almost like some kind of weight has been lifted off the woman’s shoulders. It’s almost like she’s experienced similar situations and felt the same lack of connection, perhaps throughout her entire life. He feels at ease knowing that, that someone understands him. He wants to break the ensuing silence that overcomes the car, but Stella interrupts his intentions to do so. “This is a safe space, y’know. No judgment here, especially not from me.”

Jackson’s heart stops for just a moment. Her voice was so soft, so convincing. The woman had given him the go-ahead to basically say anything, whatever he wished to get off his chest, and that was something he had never been given. Nobody really expressed any care in what he was thinking or how he felt, mostly because he was the one helping others with their own thoughts and feelings. It was uncharted territory, especially for someone as naturally closed-off as Jackson. And normal Jackson would’ve said hell no, stay reserved. Change the subject. Don’t get soft all the sudden, on a fucking stranger, of all people. This conversation really won’t mean anything, and you won’t keep in touch with this person. You never end up keeping in touch with anyone. Just move on. Ignore it. Just move on. He wants to do just that, move on to a different topic, and pretend that life is easy and okay and that everything is fine.

He’s always done that, screwed himself out of the only thing that he’s always wanted, avoiding the potential of a beautiful relationship. He was so scared of being vulnerable to somebody, anybody - even the people he loves the most. He always kept quiet. Jackson was great at convincing himself that he didn’t deserve good things. He never shared the thoughts he wanted to share the most.

But something gives. He swallows his pride. Current Jackson’s saying fuck it, just do it.

So he does.

“It isn’t just a connection. I have had plenty of close friends and they’re all incredible. Some I’ve known forever, since high school, since elementary school, but none of those friendships have the meaning I’m looking for.” He pauses for a moment to exhale. The tension he felt before is gone, so he relaxes his shoulders and continues. “I would never discredit those friendships. They're just more simplified. I want a relationship with someone where we can be comfortable in silence together, where we have the same drive to go down the shore at 3 in the morning, where we aren’t afraid to say what we really mean. I want to visit the city late at night for cheesesteaks and go on road trips across countries to see the world, as cheesy as that is. I want security in every aspect of the word. I want to see them at their absolute worst, at their absolute best – and I want them to see me there, too. I want to know someone’s soul, the essence of who they are, and I just want to fall in love with it, and I never want to let go.”

He feels the curl of his toes in his shoes and has to keep himself from looking over at the woman. He’s scared to see her reaction. Horrified. Part of him wants her to say nothing, to just drive him the rest of the way home without a word. Part of him wants to open the car door and fling himself out onto the highway. Part of him wants to rewind time and stop the conversation completely. Despite all this, Jackson felt the kind of adrenaline he’d dreamed about, the hope of a possible connection more meaningful than he’d ever experienced. He didn’t fully give in to this adrenaline, but it was growing.

Stella turns the music down to a low hum, never taking her eyes off the road.

“You sound like you write horoscopes for a newspaper,” she said. Jackson breathes out a quiet laugh, mocking himself, but she continues. “I love it. It’s rare, to find somebody that recognizes that kind of connection.”

His body is still tense, but he forces himself to just keep going. “I feel like I’m chasing something that doesn’t exist, though.”

“You aren’t,” she says, almost immediately. She was right there with him. “Trust me, you aren’t.”

There it is.

The way she spoke, it was so particular. It wasn’t confidence, but something like it. Not certainty, or conviction, or any kind of faith… omniscience?He couldn’t tell for sure. It gave Jackson the confirmation that she had felt things that Jackson so dearly wanted to feel himself. He felt understood. Something about this entire situation, to him, felt extraterrestrial and unhuman. He had fully given into the adrenaline and the emotions he’d been waiting to release. Holy fuck, it was incredible. Fleeting. He hoped that everyone around the world had the chance, at some point in life, to feel the way he felt right now.

He felt real, and whole, and so entirely enveloped in the moment that he didn’t realize how close he was to home.

3:33 AM.

The familiarity of passing stores and restaurants, all closed and dark, gave him solace. Without the sound of her music, he could faintly hear the sound of vehicles speeding past them through the closed confines of the car and the hum of the car itself. He noticed the stars, seeming to shine a bit brighter than usual. He convinced himself that they were calling to him, begging for his attention. He wished he was out there, among the stars, surrounded by the calmness of space. A state of eternal peace sounded really nice to him.

“You are the first.”

Jackson cleared his throat. Stella’s voice managed to pull him right out of the mental space he was just in. “The first?”

“The first to break the silence. Usually, I have to do it, and I hate doing it because that’s not how it’s meant to be done. But you did it yourself,” she said, taking a moment to look over at him, staring straight through his skull. Her eyes were hypnotizing, and he couldn’t help but stare right back at them. A small smirk grew across her face. “You know yourself more than you did before. I’m proud.”

3:36 AM.

Jackson’s mind started to race with possibility, trying to formulate a response, trying to understand Stella’s reason for saying these things. This lady did look familiar to him at first, so maybe he went to school with her at some point; he couldn’t remember any Stella’s from his high school, however. Her comfort in talking to a stranger like him was unconventional – but then again, so was his, even if he had just discovered that comfort. Did she have some other motive? If she was some kind of murderer or psychopath, she wouldn’t have driven him this close to his home and past so many houses full of people that could hear an attack, would she? Was she just weird? He was weird too. He needed to just stop thinking. He needed to listen to his heart. All he had to do was say the first thing he had wanted to say, before all of the overthinking and all of the worry.

“Thank you.”

Yeah, this entire conversation did feel a bit one-sided, but the woman had a way of making it feel incredibly mutual without saying much at all. They make eye contact once more. Stella reaches over and gives his arm a squeeze. Normally, he’d jump, especially after coming from somewhere like a bar in Philadelphia, but all he did was smile up at her.

Jackson genuinely smiled, for the first time in a very long time.

To a complete fucking stranger.

3:38 AM.

Jackson snapped back to reality as Stella turned into a development. He recognized the familiar apartment buildings of the area they had just entered as those he lived near. It was incredible, he thought, how such a simple conversation with a complete stranger had made him feel. He did feel like he knew himself more, just like she had said, in more ways than one. He knew what he wanted and how to get what he wanted. He knew how liberating it felt to break down the superficial barrier that had existed his entire life. It opened so many possibilities for future conversations and so many friendships and relationships he could have in the future. He could do everything he wanted to do with the meaning he had always wanted, and he could find somebody to do those things with. No matter how long it took, he’d find them. No matter how long it took.

“I know we only just met,” he said. Stella drove deeper into the forest of apartment buildings, growing closer to the one Jackson lived in.

“And I know it’s probably weird of me to say,” he continued. Stella tapped the green button on her GPS, confirming that they had arrived at their destination.

“But I really enjoyed this conversation.” Stella brought the car to a smooth stop in front of Jackson’s building.

“It meant a lot to me.” Stella’s gaze slowly traveled from the road in front of the car down to her lap, where it lingered.

He braced himself. 3:42 AM.

“…and I’ll never forget it.”

As soon as Stella had put the car into park, the display in front of them turned off and silence surrounded them. It felt that all that had existed was Stella, Jackson, and the ever-expanding night sky above both of them. Time felt frozen and nonexistent at the same time. Jackson felt an agonizing pain in his stomach, realizing that this was it. This was the end of the road, the end of their conversation, and the end of their beautiful newfound connection. A small voice in his head told him that he was exaggerating the situation and that it hadn’t meant as much to the woman as it did to him, especially in such a short period of time, especially because they had literally just met that night. He didn’t want to believe that, so he didn’t. He blocked out that small voice and regarded it as just another passing thought. Stella brought her eyes to his, shining in a similar way to the stars above.

Her gaze always seemed to wander across the stars, in a way that someone would look at somebody they love.

“Neither will I,” she said, finally. “I’m glad you found what you were looking for.”

He didn’t want to leave. He didn’t want to get up and go back into his apartment. He wanted to keep driving with this woman, letting her take both of them wherever the roads would let them go. An unbreakable desire to share these feelings made itself very apparent in his mind, and he almost said something, but held himself back. He unbuckled his seatbelt and let out a sigh, taking one more moment to look at her and smile.

“G’night,” he said, opening his door and stepping outside.

“Goodnight, Jackson.” He shut the door behind him.

The sound of chirping crickets and nothing more surrounded him. After taking a few steps toward his building, that desire came back, more like an instinct. He needed to keep going with her. He didn’t want to let go. He wouldn’t let go, not after finally figuring this out. Not after finally finding something that could save him from this fucked up world. Without hesitation, he spun around.

“Hey-“

The car was gone.

Jackson shook his head. He didn’t hear her drive away. He would ultimately lead himself to believe that she did drive away, that he was just too lost in thought to realize. He’d make his way into his apartment building, a completely changed person, and he’d always think back to his conversation with Stella. He’d meet incredible people throughout his life and create the connections he’d always wanted to make, but he’d never fail to mention Stella’s name. He told the story numerous times. Interestingly enough, he eventually started hearing similar stories from other people. They’d mention a female Uber driver with brilliant red hair and bright blue eyes, deeper than they’d ever seen, almost like the ocean.

Stella would only look down, however, and smile at him, before shooting across the sky in search of another lost soul.


Submitted: May 17, 2020

© Copyright 2021 H. Adams. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Keke Serene

Beautiful and personal writing, H. I do adore that your style always reads intimate to the characters and we get a seat in their subconscious, so to say lol. And who can't empathize or relate to what Jackson wants? We all want to be understood, accepted and cared for. Your dialogue and pacing is smooth as butter here. I also really enjoy that the idea that what most often scares us, relieves us when we have the courage to express it. I was not expecting the ending though, but I love the idea of supernatural entities seamlessly woven into our landscape providing safe places or whatever our hearts may need! Its great to read your work again!

Mon, May 18th, 2020 4:32pm

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thank you so much, love. i appreciate your words. :)

Mon, June 1st, 2020 5:29pm

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