Star-Crossed Memory

by Ellen Denham

 
 
Maia woke up to her joints singing with arthritis pain, shuffled into the kitchen, and put two slices of bread into the toaster. A note on the counter in red Magic Marker reminded her "turn off the stove." She put her hand on the dial, but it was already off. She got out two slices of bread——wait——there was already bread in the toaster. The sky outside was pitch-black. What time was it anyway? She shuffled back into the bedroom, where the clock read 3:00 a.m. What was she doing up? A note on the bedside table reminded her "call Orion." Of course!
 
* * *
 
Maia hadn't really wanted to go to Jamaica for her eleventh birthday—she usually hoped for snow so she could go sledding with Anna and Lizzie. Surprisingly, Jamaica wasn't that bad. Maia moped theatrically for the first afternoon at their resort, a collection of small rental houses that for some reason were called "villas." She claimed all the bright colors—turquoise sea, vibrant green trees, flashy flowers, and candy-colored houses—gave her a headache. Nobody would paint their house purple back in North Carolina. The next day she discovered how much she liked swimming in the Caribbean. The water was so clear that she could see all the way to the bottom, and warm enough she could stay in as long as she wanted. Mom and Dad swam too, but they spent a lot of time on the beach reading books and talking. Maia pretended she was a dolphin, then nobody would tell her it was time to get out of the water and shower before dinner.
 
Their second night on the island, Mom and Dad went to bed early so they could get up with the sun and go bird watching. Maia slipped out onto the beach with a flashlight, thinking she'd look for crabs, but once she saw the stars, she forgot all about crabs. Back home, she'd never see this many stars. The sky was positively dotted with them, bright ones, dim ones, tiny clusters of stars. The crescent moon grinned down like a Cheshire cat, spread lengthwise across the sky, not straight up and down like it was back home. Orion was easy to see with his three-star belt. Maia gave him a wave. "Hey mon," she called, imitating a Jamaican accent. She turned cartwheels until she collapsed giggling in the sand, the stars spinning.
 
She wished there was someone she could tell about the stars. Anna and Lizzie wouldn't care—they'd just tell her she was weird like when they made fun of her for always having her nose in a book. This wasn't the sort of thing that sounded as good telling about it anyway. You would have to be here and see it for yourself. It wasn't easy to have fun all alone. If only she had a boyfriend. Not some stuck-up jerk like Jimmy or disgusting like Blake, who could say the entire alphabet in a single burp. Her boyfriend would be like a best friend, only better. They'd chase each other through the waves and draw a heart in the sand with their initials in it. She sighed, sitting up and pulling her knobby knees to her chest.
 
"Orion, I wish you were my boyfriend." A faint breeze rustled the palms and made her shiver. "I bet you're really cute and not stuck-up at all." Orion wasn't a person, just a bunch of stars. In mythology, he was a mighty hunter. Just as well not to have him for a boyfriend, because he'd probably bring her lots of smelly dead animals. Maia was a vegetarian. Anna and Lizzie teased her for that too, waving hamburgers or slices of pepperoni pizza under her nose.
 
The ocean's dark waves were edged with white from the moonlight on their foam. A man walking down the beach was also outlined with a faint glow. She expected him to walk by, but he came straight toward her. Maia knew she should have gotten up and walked away. What if he was a weirdo?
 
"You," he said, his voice low and resonant.
 
"Mister, you're glowing," Maia said. "Did you swim in the bioluminescent bay?" She'd read all about it—they were supposed to go there tomorrow.
 
"What is your name?" His speech was thick, each syllable rolled in his mouth like a pebble, as if maybe he was foreign. She thought he was wearing a swimsuit, but as he got closer, it looked sort of like a skirt. He was tall and pretty muscular, like he went to the gym a lot.
 
"Maia," she replied, then gasped, her hand to her mouth. She wasn't supposed to give her name to a stranger.

"One of the Pleiades. I should have known." His face crinkled into a grin, making him look older than she thought. He must be nearly thirty.
 
"So who are you?" she asked, suddenly bold. He didn’t look dangerous.
 
"You know who I am. You called me."
 
Maia jumped up, flinging sand in all directions, and ran back toward the villa.
 
"Wait," he called. His voice had that strange catch of someone about to burst into tears.
 
Maia turned. He looked like a normal man, aside from the glow. He was taller than Dad and wore a short beard of dark curls hugging his chin.
 
"Who are you really?"
 
"I have been called Orion and Nimrod. I can't remember all the names." He paused, eyes focused up and to one side, as if recalling something. "I've been… away, but your summons caught my ear."
 
Maia inched closer. "But you can't be Orion. Look—" she flung an arm upward. "Orion is still in the sky."
 
He sighed. "That is my symbol, not my self."
 
"Are you like a genie, here to grant me a wish?" Maia wasn't sure what she'd wish. It would have to be something really good, like a whole bunch of friends who would always like her no matter what.
 
"Your wish was for a lover, was it not? I was once renowned as such." He extended a leg and made a sweeping bow, like he was in a play. "At your service."
 
If he meant what she thought, that was just gross. Maia must have blushed all the way to the roots of her hair. She'd met a constellation and he turned out to be a creep.
 
"Um, mister, I wished for a boy my age who maybe would like me. No offense, but you look as old as my dad. I'm only eleven."
 
Orion stroked his beard and surveyed her with deep-set eyes. "You do look like a child. Though I scarcely recall. How old is old enough?"
 
Maia thought about it. "Eighteen is legal." She knew a lot of girls did it sooner, but she didn't want to get him arrested.
 
Orion smiled. "Seven years is only an eye-blink for me. Call for me in seven years, and I will return to you." He leaned forward so quickly she didn't have time to react. Placing a hand on either side of her face, he pulled her toward him and planted a kiss upon her forehead. Then, he didn't walk away; he sort of vanished into shimmering dust. Three large particles shimmered at about what had been his waist height, then winked out.
 
The next morning, Maia convinced herself it had been a dream. It had to be. Constellations didn't come down out of the sky.
 
* * *
 
Maia flipped through the heap of papers and notes on her nightstand, looking for something important. Her long white braid fell forward across her shoulder, but she flung it back. What was it? A calendar, with something she had to remember, something to do with her grandson. Ah, there it was! But so many Post-its and bookmarks. Underneath the calendar, a journal was open to a page that read "How to Solve the Orion Problem." What could she possibly have meant?
 
* * *
 
Maia and Frank went to the Outer Banks for their honeymoon. He'd been a patron at the library where she worked and they'd dated for two years. Being with Frank was sort of like what she imagined it must be to have a best friend. He was big and loud with a winsome smile and baby-soft blond hair. He talked enough for both of them, which kept her from feeling awkward in social situations. He could always make her laugh. They lay on lounge chairs outside their rented beach cottage in Rodanthe, looking up at the stars.
 
"The stars are even brighter in Jamaica," she said. "I went there once as a child. Not so much light pollution as we have here."
 
"Really?" Frank said. "Maybe if we save up enough money, we can go there someday. But, I mean, not that I'm racist or anything, but it's a third-world country. We're probably better off going to Florida."
 
Maia sighed, her perfect dream of being on a Jamaican beach with Frank someday evaporating into the air. "Do you see Orion?"
 
Frank laughed. "I can't even find the Big Dipper.  I'm hopeless with stars."
 
Maia pointed out the three stars of Orion's belt until Frank could recognize the constellation.
 
"That's great, Maia. I see what you mean. Thanks." He gave her hair a fond tousle.
 
Maia told Frank how in high school, she had researched just about every story about Orion from various cultures for a paper.
 
"Why Orion?" he asked.
 
"When I was a kid I dreamed he was my boyfriend."
 
Frank chortled, slapping his thigh. "Oh, that's too funny. You have such an imagination. A bunch of balls of flaming gas. Great boyfriend." He leaned toward her, arching an eyebrow. "Should I be jealous?"
 
"Of course not."
 
Frank had a bit too much to drink that night and fell asleep early. Maia slid open the glass door and walked out onto the empty beach. Why on earth had she told him about her dream? It was a dream, wasn't it? "Orion," she whispered, "I wish to have a long and happy, loving marriage."
 
She walked all the way to the edge of the surf, letting the waves lick her bare toes. She felt the presence before she saw him. For a moment she thought Frank had gotten out of bed, but the man who slid an arm around her waist was more muscular and smelled very different. And his arm glowed faintly. Maia gasped, but she didn't move away.
 
"You called me again. I was hoping you would."
 
"I didn't call you. I was wishing for happiness in my—" She dared to turn to look at him, then wished she hadn't. Her younger self had not remembered that he was movie-star handsome, with shaggy dark hair and smoldering eyes in a finely chiseled face. "For happiness in my marriage."
 
"Then you wish me to marry you?" He wrapped his other arm around her waist, turning her toward him, their faces inches apart.
 
"No." Maia pulled from his embrace. "Look, I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to call you at all. I just got married."
 
Orion's face lost some of its glow. "I thought you would call me when you were old enough." He paused as if really seeing her for the first time. "You've matured into quite a lovely woman."
 
"Thank you," Maia said. She'd turned twenty-eight that year. She should have called Orion back when she'd been in college. He might have been a better choice than what she now thought of as her string of loser boyfriends.
 
"Look," she said, "I'm sorry to waste your time."
 
"Then you wish me to leave?" He clasped his hands together, broad shoulders drooping, dark eyes pleading like a contrite spaniel.
 
This hardly seemed like the aggressive huntsman who in legends had raped Merope and had chased Pleione for seven years. Whatever he had become now, she wasn't concerned that he might force himself upon her. She'd been disappointed to find there was no definitive legend about Orion. In secondary sources referring to Hesiod, he'd been blinded as punishment for rape, then later healed by Helios. Homer, in The Odyssey, had called him "the most handsome of the earthborn." Feeling the way his sad-puppy-face tugged at her heart, Maia could believe that.
 
"I suppose you better leave, before my husband wakes up."
 
"Goodbye, then." Orion made a half-bow in her direction and turned away.
 
"Wait," she said, her librarian's curiosity perking up. "Did you die from a scorpion bite or from Artemis's arrow?"
 
Orion whipped back around, grinning to reveal luminescent teeth. "Both," he said.
 
"I, I don't understand."
 
His face screwed into a knot of perplexedness. "I think I am more myth than man. All the stories about me are true, though maybe not all at once."
 
Maia nodded, disappointed. "So what do you do now that you're not in a story?" she asked.
 
Orion frowned with concentration, twisting a curl of his beard around a finger. "I sleep quite a bit, and when I sleep, I dream."
 
"Until I interrupted to accidentally summon you," she said.
 
"Oh, I must answer a summons. It was part of the bargain."
 
"What bargain?"
 
Orion's jaw clenched and his eyebrows drew together, as if memory required great effort. "I'm not sure," he finally said. "In some versions it was a punishment; in others, a reward."
 
Any little thrill Maia felt that Orion had come specifically for her vanished. He came when called, like a trained dog, and she had accidentally hit on the right command.
 
"You may go now," she said. Probably some other woman would summon him, someone all too glad to give him what she would not, could not.
 
"Goodnight, Maia." He stepped forward as if to kiss her brow, the way he had the first time. But something in her expression must have stopped him. He turned on his heel and walked down the beach, dissolving into a mass of shining dust before he had gone five paces.
 
Maia crept quietly back into the cottage, where Frank lay snoring, open-mouthed—a man of flesh and blood, not myth. He had chosen her. He'd made promises. With a sigh, she crawled into bed beside him and closed her eyes.
 
* * *
 
Maia tore through her stack of notes and calendars in a panic. She stood by the bed in her nightgown, but she wasn't sure if she had just gotten up or was going to bed. Sunlight streamed through the window. Most of her notes said something along the lines of "Don't forget to call Orion." Sometimes she'd underlined his name three times. One note said, "Telescope for Andy's birthday." Had she missed her grandson's birthday? She had crossed off Saturday on her calendar, but what if she forgot a day? Was it Sunday or Monday? Orion would know.
 
* * *
 
Maia poured herself a glass of wine. Too much wouldn't be a good idea—she knew that much from twenty-three years married to Frank. But a little bit might help her get up her nerve. Outside her motel room, the September sky over the ocean faded to darkness. A few clouds hung low—she hoped it would be clear enough to see him.
 
Now that the divorce was final, Maia had taken a little trip all by herself to celebrate. The kids were both in college, not that she'd wanted them along on this particular trip. She'd tried to be a good mother. Ted and Diana had turned out pretty well so far, but she wasn't as close to them as some mothers. They didn't call her every other day to ask her advice or share what was going on in their lives.
 
This was the sort of excursion one should probably do with girlfriends—a divorce party at the beach. Only, Maia didn't really have any friends close enough she felt comfortable asking. Most of her women friends had been the wives or girlfriends of Frank's friends, and it would have been awkward to invite any of them to the beach to celebrate her divorce. Not much had really changed since she was in school with Anna and Lizzie—always the third wheel, never the best friend.
 
No matter. Tonight, she was going to enjoy herself. She'd smoothed scented lotion into her skin, even painted her nails. Not that Orion would probably care. He'd come when called, like a faithful dog, give her what she wanted, and be on his way.
 
Once the sky was fully dark, Maia slipped out onto the sand, barefoot, wearing a halter dress she hoped showed off her shoulders, toned from years of swimming laps. One couple made their slow way down the beach, their arms around each other's waists. Maia waited until they were out of sight, her eyes fixed on those three points of light she knew so well.
 
"Orion, I wish for you to be here." Would he come, after all this time?
 
She scanned the horizon, looked up and down the beach. The first time he'd come walking along the shore.
 
"Maia," his voice whispered at her ear, and then he materialized out of sparkling dust right beside her. "Did you mean to call me this time?"
 
"Yes." Maia's voice came out in a squeak. He was handsome as ever, looking nearly young enough to be her son, his dark curls artfully tousled, his broad chest and shoulders sculpted like a statue.
 
"You are as lovely as I recall," he said, sliding his arms around her waist.
 
Oh, God, this can't be real.
 
Without even another word of greeting, he pulled her close and kissed her. Probably has to get this over with quickly so he can get to his next conquest.
 
His beard tickled. Much as she wanted to relax and enjoy kissing him, all she could think of was that she was kissing a man—maybe not even a man—she barely knew, and he was probably only doing this out of some bargain he once made. She'd never liked casual hook-ups, even when she'd been in college. She preferred to get to know someone first, and was usually attracted to his intellect or wit. What on earth made her think she was up for this now, at her age?
 
Orion must have sensed her stiffness. "Is there something wrong? Do you not enjoy kisses?"
 
Maia gave his cheek what she hoped was an affectionate pat. "I'm sorry. I thought this was what I wanted. But it's too much like a cheesy romance novel. You're here offering to fulfill my desires, no strings attached. That strikes me as really odd. What's in it for you?"
 
Probably a dumb question. No doubt he wanted what most men wanted.
 
Orion stepped away, his eyebrows raised. "I hadn't thought of it that way. You called me, and I answered." 
 
"But what do you want?" she asked.
 
Orion narrowed his eyes and gave his head a little shake, as if trying to engage his brain. "I've never considered that."
 
"Surely you must want something. What do you do all the time you're not called by me or—" she had to say it "—someone else. Sleep?"
 
Orion shrugged. "No one else has called me for hundreds of voyages of the earth around the sun. Mostly, I sleep. I dream. I wait."
 
"For what?" Maia shivered in the evening breeze, goose bumps rising along her arms. She should have worn a sweater.
 
"For you to call me."
 
"You mean no one else calls you? Why not?"
 
Orion let out a long breath, deflating his ribcage. He hung his head. When he raised it again, his eyes shone with wetness. "I think I've simply been forgotten." He sank to sit cross-legged on the sand.
 
Maia knelt down before him and placed a hesitant hand upon his arm. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
 
Orion's shoulders shook and he drew in a shuddering gasp of breath. Maia was just going to give his back a pat, the way she might have done for one of her children when they were younger, but he pitched forward into her arms, his face buried against her shoulder. She held him as he sobbed quietly. She had felt like the loneliest person in the world. Now she felt like the biggest fool. At last he lay still and quiet.
 
"Then all this time," she asked, "you wanted me to call you?" Touched by his sudden vulnerability, she felt something crack open, a chink inside her heart.
 
"Of course," Orion replied, wiping a tear from his eye and raising himself to sit beside her. "I sometimes imagine conversations, but I'm out of practice."
 
"If you wanted someone to talk to, why didn't you say so?"
 
"I didn't think that was why you had called me. Besides, I had never considered what I wanted until you asked me."
 
The tiny chink became a chasm. Maia threw back her head and laughed. She laughed until she howled. She fell down upon the sand and erupted into uncontrollable whoops.
 
"Did I say something funny?" Orion squatted beside her. "I didn't think I made a joke."
 
"Orion," Maia gasped out between peals of laughter. "The joke is on me. Would you like me to call you more often? We could just talk—about anything. Maybe you could think of things you'd like to do or talk about."
 
Orion smiled. "I'd like that very much. But Maia, what do you want?"
 
The answer was clear as day. Her greatest pride was that she'd never let on even to Frank how much the divorce had hurt her. But if this mighty hunter from legend could weep like a child in her arms, surely she could admit to him her most secret wish. "A friend. Do you think maybe we could be friends?"
 
* * *
 
Maia eased herself down to sit on her bed, despite the complaints of her arthritic left hip. The journal on her nightstand lay open to where she had written, "The main problem is that Orion needs a friend." What could she have meant? She was his friend. She had written more underneath that, but she was too tired to read it now. Maybe in the morning.
 
* * *
 
Maia began spending all her vacation time at the beach and as many weekends as she could afford, saving up all year long. There were places she could have seen Orion even more reliably than at an eastern beach—the clear air of a Southwestern desert, for instance—but the plane tickets would get expensive. She could only summon Orion when he was visible in the sky, which ruled out part of the summer. Once she bought a nice telescope and learned how to use it, though, she could sometimes call him as early as July on a clear day, when he rose sideways at the crack of dawn.
 
Friendship with Orion wasn't always easy. As often as not, he infuriated her. Though Maia still questioned him about his mythological past, he never seemed to recall much. This didn't bother him. He stayed focused in the present with a single-mindedness that amazed her, speeding through the library books she brought him and teaching himself new skills like origami or sign language. She satisfied his voracious appetite by bringing books to match his interests. One fall, it might be astronomy. He became morose for a whole week when he learned that Betelgeuse, the star marking his shoulder, might go supernova in the next million years.
 
"For Pete's sake, that's ages away, and you don’t even know if it will have an effect on you," she'd snapped at him. "Stop worrying!"
 
Sometimes he seemed too big for the motel rooms, pacing like a caged bear and knocking into furniture. He said he missed hunting. Since there was no place nearby he could hunt, Maia got him fishing equipment and how-to books. She hated fishing and didn't join him on these excursions, but she had to admit, he'd learned to cook his catches quite well on the motel grills. Her son Ted liked to fish. Sometimes she thought he and Orion might like each other, but she couldn't imagine how she might introduce them.

* * *
 
When Maia retired, she sold her modest condo and bought a cottage—a shack, really—in a community of ramshackle rentals in Pine Knoll Shores, just a short walk from the beach. Her son and daughter, now grown with children of their own, had thought she was crazy. "You may like it there in summer, but nobody lives there in winter. You won't have any neighbors to call on if you need help." Her daughter had even offered to let her move in with their family in Indiana, but Maia knew she couldn't be that far away from the beach and her truest friend.
 
Orion helped her winterize the house and she painted it purple. During the day, she slept, her cats Winkin, Blinkin, and Nod purring against her sides. At night, she and Orion talked, or read, or played board games while the cats hunted real and imaginary mice. He kept up with his fishing and became quite the gourmet chef now that he had access to a kitchen. She didn't really notice herself getting older, but he did. She could see it in his face, and in the way he would say, "let me do that" when she was faced with a demanding task like hauling a 20-pound bag of cat litter up the stairs.
 
"You walk more slowly now, Maia. You don't always remember things I tell you." The book he'd been reading lay face-up on the coffee table as if to mock her, the title reading "Memory Games for Seniors." He took her hand, tracing the dark spots that had gradually appeared. "What if someday you forget all about me?"
 
"I'm not forgetful; I'm just getting old," she said more sharply than she intended. "I'll die just like everyone else. Except those who somehow get made into a constellation as a punishment or reward."
 
"I think it's both," Orion said, mouth poised as if he intended to say more, but he shook his head. "Game of Scrabble?"
 
* * *
 
The years passed. Maia spent part of the summers with her children when Orion's constellation was not visible in the night sky. Both Diana and Ted had matured into wonderful adults, delightful to spend time with, and she enjoyed having grandchildren—all the fun of parenthood with none of the responsibility. Ted's son Andy had taken a particular interest in books, and she loved seeing his face light up as he experienced some of her childhood favorites for the first time. Still, she looked forward to the end of summer when she could see Orion again. Diana would tell her that her favorite sweater looked threadbare; Ted complained that she didn’t listen. Orion didn't judge her. Only with him did she feel free to be herself.
 
She shrunk a few inches; her hair became completely white. Though she'd worn it short for most of her life, she let it grow. Orion braided it for her when her arthritis was acting up.
 
One autumn evening, as she enjoyed a delicious stir-fry he had cooked "with extra broccoli, just the way you like it," he went out of his way to please her so much that she asked if anything was wrong.
 
Orion set down his fork. "Why didn't you call me last night? I thought maybe you were angry."
 
"I did. I call you every night, as soon as you are visible."
 
"But last night you didn't. It was two nights ago."
 
"No it wasn't. We watched that movie last night—what was it called?"
 
She railed at him and how he still didn't understand the passage of time when he was in the sky, until he brought a calendar and a copy of the TV listings for the week. When he'd proven to her that the movie was actually two nights ago, Maia was shaken. How had she lost track of a whole day?
 
She apologized profusely for her forgetfulness, promised it wouldn’t happen again, but over the course of the next weeks, she worried. What if someday she forgot all about him, and he had no one to talk to at all? Even if that didn't happen, she would die someday and he would be alone. Flipping through her calendar, she noticed that her grandchildren had written down the dates of their spring breaks. It was about time they came to visit her here—Ted and Diana too. Andy had circled his upcoming birthday in red. He would be eleven. She smiled, wondering what she should send him this year. She began to think of a plan. Maia wrote down all her thoughts carefully in her journal, just in case she forgot, under the heading "How to Solve the Orion Problem." She put the calendar on her bedside table to check off every day just to make sure she didn't miss a day calling him.
 
* * *
 
Maia woke up with the feeling that something special was supposed to happen, but she couldn't remember what. She rifled through the calendars and notes she'd left on her bedside table. Yes—today Diana and her husband Matthew were arriving in the morning, with their two kids. Maia couldn't think of the names of the kids at the moment, but she knew she had them written down somewhere. Then Ted and his girlfriend—he and his wife had split up. He shared custody of his son, but she couldn't remember if the boy was coming along. She pulled on her pink chenille robe over her nightgown and went to make sure the guest room—wait, she didn't have a guest room here. That's right, they were all renting the beach house next door. She sighed with relief. She would be glad to see them, of course, but this time was something special. She wrote extra reminders down in red Magic Marker on several loose sheets of paper and left them scattered around the house, just in case.
 
* * *
 
The visit started off wonderfully, Diana and Matthew's kids playing on the floor, Ted's son setting up the new telescope he had gotten for his birthday, for which he thanked her, though she didn't recall having sent it. The adults talked and laughed over wine. But after a delicious dinner of fish that Ted had caught, when they were relaxing in chairs in the enormous living room of the rented house, the adults' faces all grew serious. "Andy, why don't you take your cousins outside to look for crabs," Ted said, handing his son a flashlight. The boy sighed, but the younger kids jumped with glee to be going out on the beach after dark.
 
"Mom," Diana said, her eyes darting to her older brother, "we really don't like the idea of you living by yourself here any more. It's not safe. You're getting forgetful—"
 
"So I forget sometimes! That's why I write myself notes. To remember. I'm doing just fine." Maia reached into her pocket. She knew she'd written herself a note about something important, something she needed to tell them. But her pocket was empty. What had she done with it?
 
Ted took up where his sister left off. "I know how much you like the beach. But the retirement homes in this area are quite expensive. I'd love for you to consider living near me. There's a wonderful retirement community just two blocks away." He pulled a brochure from his shirt pocket.
 
"Of course, the offer still stands for you to come live with us," Diana said, placing her hand on Matthew's. Matthew nodded his agreement, though he didn't meet her gaze.
 
Maia stood up, her entire body shaking with rage and humiliation. "I need to go back to my house for a moment," she said.
 
"Mom," Diana called after her, but Maia didn't stop.
 
"Give her a moment alone," Ted said. "She needs time to digest this."
 
Maia had forgotten her purse in the rental house and didn't have her key. She found to her relief she hadn't locked her door.
 
She went inside and closed the door behind her, crossed her arms over her chest, and sobbed, great wracking sobs that shuddered through her shoulders. How could they do this to her? She sank down upon her faded couch. A piece of paper on the end table caught her eye, beside the half-eaten bagel she must have left there. When was the last time she'd gotten bagels? "Call Orion." Of course.
 
Maia walked out onto the darkened beach. "Orion," she whispered to his shape in the sky.  That was all he needed. He appeared just beside her, his arms already outstretched to hold her as she collapsed into them, weeping.
 
"What's wrong?"
 
She told him as best she could.
 
Orion frowned. "They should not do this to you."
 
"I almost forgot." Maia smacked her forehead. "I was going to tell them about you." She'd even written herself a note. "They're just worried because they think I'm all alone."
 
Now, though, she wasn't so sure. They already wanted to put her away in an old folks' home. If she told them about Orion, they would put her straight in the loony bin. 
 
"You're not alone," he said. "I take care of you." 
 
A thought slipped through Maia's mind, cold as a snake. "You can only come if I call you. What if I forget? Am I really getting forgetful?" She dreaded the answer.
 
Orion hesitated, pulling back to study her. "Yes. You don’t call me every night. Sometimes your clothes are dirty and I'm not sure you're eating right when I'm not here to cook for you, or remembering to feed the cats."
 
Maia sighed, wiping a tear from her eye. She was his only friend, and she'd been a terrible friend.
 
The sound of children's laughter came toward them from further down the beach. Two younger children came running, followed by an older boy with a flashlight. "Grandma!" One of the children called. "I found a shell!" Yes—these were—Maia tried to think of their names. "Come, children," she said. "I want you to meet someone very special."
 
The children slowed as they approached.
 
"Who are you?" the older boy said to Orion, looking suspicious. Maia remembered that he was interested in books and gadgets and had recently had a birthday—was it ten or eleven?
 
"My name is Orion." Orion extended a hand. "I am a friend of Maia—of your grandma."
 
"Like the constellation!" The boy grinned, shaking his hand. "Why are you glowing? Are there bioluminescent organisms here?"
 
Maia knew there was something she should tell the children—something very important. She gripped her dress in both hands, frustrated with the effort to remember.
 
Orion put an arm around her shoulders and whispered, "Would you like me to tell them? Everything? Including how to call me?"
 
"Yes, yes!" That was exactly what she was trying to remember.
 
Orion gave her a squeeze. "Let's walk on the beach, shall we? I'm going to tell you all about how I met your grandma."  He cocked his head to one side. "Well, maybe not all. And why I'm glowing. You probably won't believe me at first. She didn't."
 
"Yay! A story!" The two younger children jumped up and down. The older boy grinned like he realized he was about to step into a story himself. Maia remembered that feeling. She remembered!
 
As they made their slow way alongside the crashing waves, Orion talking and the children interrupting to ask questions, Maia felt happy and peaceful. She couldn't recall why, but for the first time in a long time, she wasn't worried about what she might have forgotten.


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