Second Star to the Right: A Short Story


I honestly don’t know where this came from; I think it was because I was listening to James Newton-Howard yesterday. I wanted to keep the story below 1,000 words, which didn’t quite work out. I hope you like it anyway.

Her first letter began, Dear Peter. I say first letter, because there were many over the years. Life passed, measured in those letters; tucked away in a box over the fireplace, measured in the unlocked windows. And there were always the happy thoughts. When she was thirteen, before she auditioned for her first play, she inhaled the smell of fear and excitement and thought of happy things. Stardust on my fingers. When she was seventeen and vying for a scholarship to the Oxford School of Drama, remembering to think those thoughts kept her going. Her parents cheered, John and Michael supported her as only brothers can, but even as she accepted the scholarship with sunshine on her face, she couldn’t help but notice the face that wasn’t there. John told her, You’ve got to move on, Wendy. Peter isn’t real. He never was. What about Howard? He’s a nice guy. Michael said, He’s not coming back, Wendy. You know that, don’t you?  Her friends said, It’s time you grow up.

So, on the day she left for college, Wendy closed and locked her window. She lifted the acorn from around her neck and tucked it in the box with the letters. Her suitcase packed, she left the small room she had known all her life, and the dreams of Neverland and the boy who refused to grow up. She was pretty and friendly and she made friends quickly; she was practical and punctual and the professors loved her. Taking John’s advice, she went on a date with Harold, and it turned into several dates until she couldn’t remember whether when they had started seeing each other, or why they still were.

It was Autumn; the air was crisp and each gust of wind carried the smells of apples and cinnamon, and Wendy was home again for two weeks. It was comforting to be back in a place she knew, but even the sight of the cold stars winking in the sky seemed to tug a chord inside her. The rush of traffic outside her window whispered Neverland, and no matter how hard she tried, she still mistook the flutter of wings on a rooftop for a familiar shadow. Besides, there was no point to wishing – Peter had stayed in Neverland. He was still a child while here she was, twenty years old, on her way to a successful stage career. She tried not to think about it at night, as she stared at the ceiling, still painted a soft, baby blue.

“You’ve got to take your mind off whatever’s bothering you,” said Michael, who was still in junior high and therefore always around. “Find a hobby or something.”

She took to jogging. Every morning, when the sun rose pale and white, she would be moving down the sidewalk with music in her ears, headed toward the Dapper Decaf. She pulled open the door and stepped inside, taking the ear buds from her ears and letting them dangle over her shoulder. The air was infused with the smell of coffee and the vanilla candles along the shelves. She ordered a hazelnut latte and sat near the window. When she got back to school, they would start production of Richard III. Howard would play Richard, she was cast to play Lady Margaret. It was the longest play they had ever attempted, aside from Hamlet.

Her thoughts wrapped her up so tightly she didn’t hear the barista call out, “One hazelnut latte for Wendy?” until the third shout. She picked up the cup and sat back down, the warmth seeping into her palms. The bell above the door rang as it swung open, letting in a blast of chilly air quickly swallowed by the heat inside. Trying to focus on something other than her future plans and her own melancholy, Wendy watched the newcomer walk up to the counter and place an order. She didn’t catch what it was.

He leaned against the counter to wait. She expected him to pull out a smartphone or something else to occupy his time, but he didn’t. He let his eyes wander around the room, taking in the display of mugs, the backwards lettering on the inside of the front window. It gave Wendy plenty of time to stare at him. She was not usually one for staring, but there was something undeniably attractive about him. He wore his denim sleeves rolled up; he had strong hands. His curly red-brown hair offset his eyes, so startlingly green-blue that she had to look away for fear they had the power to hypnotize her. Her eyes drifted down to the chain around his neck, and her heart stuttered. Skipped one beat, then another. A small silver charm rested against his chest. It was a thimble.

“Vanilla latte for Peter,” said the barista, sliding the drink out.

Time slows down. Wendy can’t breathe. Peter takes his drink, crosses the room, and sits down across the table from her. In a voice so shockingly familiar, full of fierce mischief and gentle violence, octaves deeper than she remembered, he says, “Hey, Darling.”

Medication. She needs some kind of medication. This is getting serious. This is too serious. “You can’t be real,” she whispers in fragments. “You’re in Neverland. You’re like ten years old.”

He laughs; a sound fond and mocking and childish and solemn all at once. She knows that laugh. She loves it. “I left,” he says, as simple as that.

“You can’t,” she manages, barely, to breathe. “You’re terrified of getting old. I’m old, I’m what you thought was old.”

He nods. No words. Wendy still can’t breathe. Her ribs are caving in. With the open frankness of the boy he used to be, he says, “It wasn’t old age I was afraid of.” In the background, the coffee machine hisses. Something boils over. Another customer walks in. “It was getting there without someone. So, I left.”


He touches her hand, talking quickly, earnestly; like he’s afraid of losing another second of time. “Because I didn’t want to lose the one person I wanted to grow old with,” he says in a rush. “I love you, Wendy Darling. I always did.”

And Wendy leans across the table and gives him a thimble.

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