“Five pieces left,” Stella sighed at the handful of candy. Five pieces of black licorice hard candy rested in her palms. Each one wrapped in translucent purple cellophane. The young woman sat cross-legged on her bed at nine in the morning. Sunlight filled one side of the room while she sat in shadow. She took vacation time and cleared her schedule for the next week. After wasting too many pieces she realized the time difference. She only needed two and a half hours to go through the last pieces, but she expected to be heartbroken at the end.
“This is my special candy,” Stella’s grandma explained when the girl was only seven. “You can try a piece, but you won’t like it. It’s magical…,” her grandma giggled and tapped Stella’s nose. “…just like you. But it’s like two magnets that push each other away.” Alice was determined to prove her grandmother wrong and shoved the black candy into her mouth. Stella made a sour face, then the shiny, black, wet piece of candy was stuck to the carpet within two seconds. “Give your magic some time to mature,” her grandmother said with a wink. “You’ll like it when you’re older.” Her grandma never answered questions about the magical nature of the confection. She only ever saw the older woman eat it in the evening when she disappeared into her room for the night.
Stella found the hidden stockpile of sweets in her grandmother’s attic and pocketed them all. She still didn’t like licorice, but she was older now. She knew how to power through unpleasantness. By 22 she stopped believing in magic; then, that first sharp tartness prodded her tongue. She almost spit it out, but Stella clamped her teeth shut and imprisoned the candy. She was determined to keep it in her mouth no matter how much she wanted to be somewhere else at that moment. She imagined her grandmother laughing at her; then something black appeared. The first time she was in her living room. A tall, black hole floated in front of her couch. She believed in magic again and jumped through the hole.
On the other side, she found herself on a hill over-looking small village. She did not feel an ounce of fear. Instead, she dashed down to the town eager to explore. It wasn’t until the third day that she began to wonder how to get home. She knew her grandmother always got home just fine, but she did not know how. Then, she was home. Stella did not waste any time and ate another piece of candy. She ate four pieces in a row before she started wondering about the world she was leaving behind. That’s when she found out about the time difference. On her fifth trip, she met Ulysses and spent her next 20 pieces falling in love with him. Stella unwrapped the 26th piece, popped it in her mouth, and laid back with her eyes closed.
“Hey, when did you get here?” Ulysses said. She opened her eyes and saw him standing at the doorway to his room. “I was wondering when I’d get to see you again.”
“I need to tell you something,” Stella said. She sat up in his bed. Ulysses moved closer and sat next to her.
“Something wrong?” He asked.
“I have something to tell you. It’s really weird and you probably won’t believe me,” she looked into his eyes. Golden starbursts surrounded his pupils. “But it’s all true. I’m not crazy.” Ulysses nodded.
“Okay, you’re not crazy,” he smiled. “What’s the big secret?”
“I’m not from here,” she tried starting broad. If he had problems with her being an outsider she would not have to elaborate. Ulysses nodded.
“I know. Is that it?” he wrapped his hand around hers. Stella shook her head.
“I don’t mean this village or even this continent. I’m not from this Earth,” she explained. Ulysses chuckled and nodded his head again.
“I know,” he repeated with a squeeze of her hand. “It’s not a big deal.”
“Not a big deal!? I’m from an alternate universe! How is that not a big deal?” Ulysses’ eyes opened wide. The golden stars disappeared leaving boring, brown irises. “How do you know?”
“You don’t know what you are?” he asked with a hushed tone. Stella felt like he was trying hard not to offend her.
“What do you mean?” she asked him.
“How have you been traveling here?” he asked. Stella remembered why they were having the conversation at all. She got distracted by his easy acceptance of her story.
“My grandma had some magic candies.. but I only have four left after this trip. It lasts for three days, so… starting today I only have 15 days here.” Stella hung her head. Ulysses doubled over and burst into laughter; his jovialness shook the bed under her.
“Hey…,” Stella said softly. She wanted to let him know he hurt her feelings. He quickly shook his head and hopped off the bed.
“You know, I always wondered why you didn’t have a tattoo,” he pointed to the star on his bicep with the number 35 on it. “And I looked all over,” he winked. “C’mon, let’s go get you one.”
“Why do I need a tattoo?” she asked. Ulysses smiled and wiggled his hand at the air beside the bed. A black portal, like the one that formed when Stella ate a piece of candy, appeared.
“Because if you have a tattoo…,” Ulysses smiled and led her off the bed. “…you can make a portal without the candy.”