“Binary Star System”
by Phoebe Wood
I remember being her: the girl on the other side of the observatory ballroom, starlight combing past her skin. Her hair’s the color of rose quartz, a tousled spray chopped below the jaw. When the roots grow out, she’ll never dye it back.
Soon he steps from the crowd.
He’s gracefully ungraceful, with a constellation of freckles and long fingers that brush the nape of his neck. He sidles up to the observation pane in an almost-casual manner. His lean silhouette is framed by the starscape, where a coruscant galaxy illuminates the dark.
She smiles even before she turns, as if she knows his footfalls by heart.
I catalogue the way her eyes crinkle, the way her tongue slides between her teeth. My policy is absolute: no matter where I go, I never talk to myself. If time travellers had laws, that would be the first.
But time travel, like love, is lawless.
What would I tell her, if I dared?
What would I ask her?
How it feels to be near him.
I cut between crisp-lapelled diplomats, across the neofibrous footlights of the dance floor. I just want to be close enough to remember. The room seems to quiver, and I know it’s not just the vibration of the ship’s orbital thrusters. Either this timeline longs to reject me, the incompatible transplant that I am, or my limbs are trembling as I step deeper into the crowd.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned coasting the past, it’s that I can easily evade their notice. His eyes gravitate to her, her eyes gravitate to him, and they are captive to one another like binary stars. The ballroom drips with fairy lights, but I am well-practised at finding shadows to hide in.
“What’s the colour of eternity?” he’s asking her, in a timbre that sends something hot and vibrant down my spine.
Her tongue traces her lip. “I’d say . . . honeysuckle. What does moonlight sound like?”
“Oh, an aria.” He lets his fingertips brush hers.
My heart flutters. He’s fresh as a spring weed, and lanky in his tight-fitting suit. His skin looks petal-soft, his jaw recently shaved. He laughs even when she’s not joking, a laugh I’d like to bottle and take with me.
I’ll soon run out of history to visit him in. I’m afraid to forget.
“What will you do when you’re old?” she asks.
“Make a nuisance of myself for everyone around,” he says. “Particularly you.”
“I’ll give as good as I get.”
“I bet you will.” His eyes scan her face, their gentleness so familiar.
I draw a ragged breath, and his gaze flickers in my direction.
I turn and bury myself in a cluster of passersby. The men smell of dryer sheets and cologne, the women of almond and honey. Their fragrance ignites my memory, so that I’m filled with the sensation of standing beside him at the observation pane, even as I’m striding from the room. I make my escape through the shoulders of strangers and don’t dare to look back.
That’s where the danger lies: I can’t stop looking back.
I’d exchange centuries for a chance to fall in love with him again, but it’s not time that prevents me doing so.
It’s that you simply can’t do something again that you never stopped doing.
Phoebe Wood is a British writer living near London. She writes speculative fiction and has a degree in English Literature with Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. She has stories published in The Arcanist, White Wall Review, and forthcoming in a microfiction anthology. She also enjoys sharing her writing journey on YouTube.