“Um, excuse me..,” Gregory tapped the young girl on the shoulder and hoped she didn’t mind the brief contact. He didn’t even know why he felt the need to talk to a teenage girl he never met; being a 24-year-old man only made it more awkward.
Gregory was shopping at the mall that afternoon when he heard the music start. The shoppers crowding the mall ignored the upbeat thumping; but, he rushed in the direction he heard music. Gregory loved participating in the unexplained musical numbers. Somehow he always knew the words to a song he’d never heard before. His dance moves always felt natural. He knew the choreography, that was different each time, as innately as he knew how to walk.
Unfortunately, he missed the window. The song was already well underway and he didn’t feel the usual entrancing pull that let him in on the action. Gregory sighed and sat down at the edge of a large water fountain to watch the show. He looked toward the middle of the crowd where he knew he would find the star. Gregory had no idea how the magic worked, but he’d had plenty of opportunities over the years to study it; he learned a few things.
There was always a star, duo, or group at the center of dancing. As far as he could tell he was the only one to notice this trend. Because no one else even remembered participating. He tried talking to friends and familiar faces after a dance number, but they never acknowledged it. At some point, it occurred to him to ask one of the stars of the show, but somehow they always disappeared in the crowd. Gregory had been unable to corner one until now.
The teenage girl in a blood-red hoodie was the most unusual star dancer Gregory saw until that point. She didn’t seem to move at all while Gregory watched the routine. She remained still; her hands in the front pockets of her hoodie while a large crowd sang and danced around her. She didn’t seem interested in the action happening around her, but everyone else’s choreography made it obvious she was the star. The crowd swirled and swayed around her while wiggling their fingers in her direction. He watched her more carefully and noticed a slight head bob in time with the music; he also noted a strand of bright white hair under her hoodie.
Gregory could not remember ever seeing an objectively bad routine, but that morning he discovered they existed. The vocals sounded worse than ever and several of the dancers were out of sync with the rest of the choreography.
It was also unusual that she was still there once the song was over and the crowd began to disperse. Realizing this was his opportunity, Gregory walked up to her and tapped her on the shoulder. The girl turned around. Gregory caught a flash of gold in her eyes for a brief moment, but then she smiled broadly at him.
“Hola, Soldado, what’s up?” she asked. “I’m Cherry,” she extended a hand, which Gregory shook. He understood ‘Hola’ but didn’t understand Spanish enough to pick up the other word. He was glad she spoke in English right after that.
“Hi Cherry, I’m Gregory,” he replied.
“Um, this might sound weird,” Gregory decided to get it over with. “But.. do you remember dancing just now?” he asked. Cherry grinned and nodded.
“I’ll admit, it’s harder than I thought it’d be,” she said. “Oh man, I’m sorry, did I take your spot or something?” Gregory didn’t register her question; he was still focusing on her first answer.
“You DO remember!??” he asked excitedly. It took every fiber of his being to keep from reaching out to shake the teenager. Cherry’s grin flattened slightly.
“Yeah?” she said. “What about it?” Gregory took a moment to collect his thoughts. He had a million questions, but he didn’t want to scare her off with all of them at once. He decided on the question he hoped would give him the most information.
“..Do you know what makes dances happen?”
“What?” Cherry asked. Her eyes flashed gold again. This time, the glow lasted longer; Gregory realized her irises resembled golden stars. “Oh whoa…,” Cherry said as the glow faded again. “I didn’t notice that the first time.”
“What do you mean?” Gregory asked. Cherry reached into the pocket of her hoodie and gave a slight sigh.
“I’m sorry, I don’t have a lot of time right now. I just wanted to come and see what it was like. But, now that I know I need more practice, I’ll be coming back,” she said. She pulled her hand out of her pocket and handed Gregory a piece of glass about the size of a playing card.
“What’s this?” Gregory accepted it. As soon as he touched it, the transparent display lit up with the time and date.
“It’s a node so you can practice too. It’ll give you something to do until I come back and answer all your questions. Uh.. tomorrow maybe. See you then.”
“Practice what?” Gregory asked. His attention was on the node. It took a second of silence for him to look up and realize that Cherry was gone already. He glanced around but there was no sign of her blood-red hoodie anywhere. He tapped the node; the time and date disappeared and the screen was filled with colorful text.[Song Selection] followed by a long list of songs. Not knowing what to make of it, Gregory tapped the first song on the list without even reading the title. Music instantly started pumping in his ears and tall, bright green text appeared in the center of his vision. It wasn’t on the display; anywhere he looked he saw text floating in the center of his eyeliner. [Get Ready…] Gregory noticed the crowd of strangers around him tighten up to be closer to him. The text changed as the music built up. [..to be…] A dense crowd now milled around Gregory. He stared at the text eagerly wondering what would happen next. […A STAR!] The text faded in time for a golden star to whizz past him. [Miss] appeared and Gregory noticed two more stars approaching from behind it. He needed to move but he managed to put his hand out to touch one of the stars. Gregory heard a sharp chime under all the music and the star disappeared. [Good] [Miss]
He spotted three more stars approaching while the crowd danced around him. A warm happiness filled Gregory’s stomach as he processed his situation.
“I’m the star!” the words to a song he never heard flowed out of his mouth as if he knew them in his soul.