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Star Crossed

Andrea Rivera is an author from Quito, Ecuador. Her interest in reading and writing began in an early stage in life with the discovery of fantasy novels. In 2017, she attended USFQ, majoring in Chemical Engineering. Despite this, her love for literature moved her to pursue a minor in English.

Palmira dessert is four hours and eighteen minutes away, according to Google Maps. I check it as I drop our bags on the backseat of the car. We're not taking much, just a few of our favorite things: my books, his medals, our memories. Dan stacks the last gallons of gasoline in the trunk, making sure they are properly sealed before shutting the door.
I take a last look at our house, thinking of all the things we wanted to do before leaving. Fix the leaky shower on the second floor, change the kitchen tiles, have a movie marathon, throw a New Year's party, get a pet. Perhaps in the future.
Dan sees the app open on my phone when I lay it down to buckle my seatbelt.
"You know it's gonna take longer, right?" A tinge of worry in his voice, he knows how impatient I can be.
"I know." Silence fills the space between us. So many things left unsaid. "Hey! Will you let me drive?"
"Ha!" he laughs; I love his smile. I wish I had more time to see it. "I still plan on living past tomorrow."
With this, he turns the key. The engine purrs as his feet make the swift transition from clutch to gas. We leave chasing the rising sun.
Google Maps can't tell which parts of the highways collapsed during the earthquakes. It took us over two hours of driving through laberynthic streets, in and out of la Simon, to leave Quito behind and finally reach Panamericana. The growing sun reflects on the metal bumpers and street signs laying crushed on the ground, making it harder for Dan to see where the potholes and cracks are. So we drive slowly and silently.
It's usually me who does all the talking; Dan likes to focus on the road and the road only. It used to drive me nuts years ago, speaking to an empty space--but it's grown on me. I know he likes to hear me talk. He lets me rant, cry, fantasize; not once has he told me to shut up. It's one of the things I love about him. Today though, I'm speechless; mesmerized by the landscape surrounding us.
Rivers of mud flow on the curb of the highway. They carry with them melting blocks of ice, branches, rocks, bricks and what is left of those who couldn't escape the fires and floods. Cinder floats in the air, as dense as fog used to be by the mountain skirt. We take a turn and there it is, Cotopaxi. It shines bright against the ashy sky, trails of lava flowing down its broken peak. It's breathtaking the way its danger can be so alluring.
"Unbelievable," Dan says beside me. For once, not looking straight ahead. I can only nod.
We encounter a block as we pass by Chimborazo's imposing frame, forcing us to endure Riobamba's heavy traffic. I check my phone. Palmira remains three hours away. My stomach growls, it's already past noon. Dan puts on a sorry smile and turns off the engine. We've been stuck for over one hour.
There wasn't much food left to bring. Our backseat picnic consists of a soggy piece of bread and half an apple. Suddenly, Dan pulls out a folded napkin and lays it in my hands, unable to contain his smile. Melvas. Sweet, chocolatey, marvelous melvas. My mouth waters just thinking about them. He said they were all gone.
"You tricky little liar," I say, resting on his shoulder, diving in the coziness of cookies and him.
Our food is gone right as the car in front us decides to move. Dan hands me the keys. I can't believe it.
"Really?" He nods. "I thought you wanted to live to past tomorrow."
"Let's say I just wanna live in today." He knows we're too late. I take the keys anyways.
The sun is setting when we finally get there. A crowd of thousands stands between the rocket and us; there is no way to cross it in time. We left the house as soon as our tickets were approved, but even then, it was already too late.
Everything was too late.
Debates about building the launching station in Ecuador began time ago, but political interests stalled them. When the comets' clash altered the Earth's orbit, it became a race against time. As I scan the area, my eyes stop on the debris of the second launch pad. People climb the fallen scaffolding, trying to get a better view of the rocket as it prepares to shoot into space. Perhaps we could have boarded that second rocket. I stare at them, thinking of all the "perhaps" snatched from us to satisfy the ambition of others. It stings to know, even now, things haven't change.
Dan points out the quarrels starting to break all around. People pushing, climbing and stepping on each other in a desperate attempt to save their lives. It's not safe to stay.
Dan grabs my hand over the gearshift and presses it against his lips. I can feel just the slightest tremble.
"Didn't you wanna see the dunes?" he whispers. I nod. Palmira dessert is just minutes away, but Google Maps can't tell me since my phone is dead. I drive away.
The dunes lay ready for the rocket to fall on them if the launching fails. Dan and I see it take off. Fire blasting out of its rear end, with a rambunctious sound resonating all over. Up and up it goes, carrying the last traces of humanity, leaving nothing but a cloud of smoke.
We keep staring at the sky. Away from city lights, it speaks of far off galaxies and worlds beyond our reach. Lives beyond our reach. Dan wraps me in his arms.
"I promised you forever." My ear warms up as his tears begin to trickle down.
I think of the stars above. A static picture of a past that will outlive us. Perhaps we can be a star in someone else's sky. "This feels like forever enough".
I try to memorize the shape of him before closing my eyes.
It's not long before the meteor shower begins. Hundreds of firebolts shooting across the firmament, blasting as they collide with Earth.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, May 27th, 2022


Author Comments

When I first conceived this story, I was already sure how I wanted it to end (one could say I can't help myself when it comes to bittersweet endings). The problem was, I didn't yet know the journey. As I went figuring it out, one of the hardest parts was balancing the sweet of the relationship with the sour of, you know, apocalypse. Making the final words both pleasant and tragic was the ultimate boss of this story. For me, it all comes together in the little details: inside jokes, caring gestures, making sure you're taking each other's favourite cookies. It felt like a creating a world within our world, and then leading them to crash and explode and expand beyond our perception.

- Andrea Carolina Rivera
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