Prologue: Under the Stars
The Byzantine Empire in the Ancient World was a theocracy, which meant God ruled the nation through an Emperor as the divine ruling instrument. The foundation of the whole society was rooted in Christian morals and values. In later years, attempting to prevent the cruelty of a ruler drunk with power, they reformed their government and birthed a complicated bureaucracy. Constantinople hailed as the capitol, at the center of imports and exports for Europe at the time. This Eastern Roman Empire fizzled out after years of various wars, underpopulation, and conquests by the Muslims.
Rachel wasn’t getting anywhere with her paper. She couldn’t stop thinking about Itai (Ee-tie). At the end of Summer, Itai went back to Italy. He was only an exchange student for a year and one Summer Break. With every ounce of who she was, Rachel tried to avoid his flirty stares, his smooth lines, and devilishly handsome smile… but in January Itai asked for help in American History Class, and by the end of their study session they studied making out more than history.
Since fifth grade, Rachel’s dating history was rocky, only lasting for weeks at time. Agreeing to date guys she didn’t really want to date, but everyone thought they went together. Plus, she liked the attention that “being in a relationship” brought. All the girls wanted to be like her, and suddenly. all the boys wanted to date her because Ricky said she was a good kisser.
The brilliant part was that Rachel never got pegged as a ho, going from boy to boy, hook up to hook up, because she was the cool church girl. The day she picked up a guitar, an unspoken expectation was placed on her to date a lot, and write about love and heartbreak… except… in her poetry and in her songs, she could never find herself to write about her relationships.
Mainly, because she didn’t understand them. The adrenaline rush she got from the flirting stage made life a bit exciting, but what made it awesome, was pissing off Mary– Rachel’s mom. Mary believed in waiting until marriage to have sex, but the woman was a hypocrite because got pregnant with Daniel, Rachel’s brother, out of wedlock. Every time Rachel kissed a boy, or went a little further… it was like the ultimate form of secret revenge.
What did Mary do that was so awful? She drove Rachel’s dad away. He left when Rachel was two and went back to Spain to work. In the beginning, Daniel and Rachel spent the summers in Spain, but then Mary complained the kids were gone for too long, and that meant no more trips across the pond to see Padre. Once a year, for her birthday, Rachel got a birthday card with a $500 Visa Gift Card. She would call her dad to thank him, but he could only talk for a couple minutes… most of the time he never answered at all…
Confused by her own psyche, Rachel just wanted to make Mary hurt, the way Rachel felt hurt with an absentee dad. When Rachel brought home boy drama, (because even though Rachel tried to keep things strictly physical, her heart would fall in love with the dumb boys) Mary would say, “I blame your father’s absence for your boy-craziness, Rachel.”
Javier (Ha-vee-air) didn’t leave because of his inability to be a family man. He remarried in Spain and today, Rachel’s twin sisters get spoiled to death by their loving father. He left because of Mary.
Then again, Rachel didn’t blame Javier for leaving… Mary was a vortex sucking all hope and life out one’s soul. Mary constantly kept attention on herself in the company of anyone. If someone tried to change the subject, a pain flare up would spark in Mary’s body, keeping the attention on Mary.
A rage built a fire in Rachel’s heart. She wanted to scream at the top of her lungs. She couldn’t shake the urge to break every breakable object in her tiny room. Pound a few wholes in the wall. In this moment, she felt utterly unloved by anyone. Staring at her reflection in the vanity… she felt utterly ugly. She loathed herself to her core. Tempted to cut her flesh to counteract the rage, the self-hatred, the ache of missing her dad and now Itai… she took ten deep breaths.
This early in the morning, she couldn’t bust out her guitar and start strumming her grief away, but she could write a poem.
She pulled out her journal, from her white, wicker nightstand drawer, and sat crisscross applesauce on her twin bed, freshly made up with cotton linens, and a poofy, yet silky floral comforter. She held her palm to the bound leather journal and a sense of serenity swooped into the room. She re-read her entry about the night she lost her virginity.
Rachel started crying… she missed being the girl who could turn to God when she felt like this… She took more deep breaths. Spotting a pen on her messy floor, she quickly picked it up and got back into position on the bed. Cracking open to a blank page in the journal… she wrote a poem. Titled… UNDER THE STARS…
10 Years Later
On stage, waiting for the lights to go up, Rachel stared out at the silhouette of the crowd. As her heart galloped like thousands of wild horses at once in her chest, Rachel recalled praying for this moment as a little girl. In a single blink, she remembered the vision God gave her when she was seven years old… of this very moment.
Now she was conflicted… was being married to Keith convincing her God really was real… after she spent all these years certain the God of the Bible was an invention of humankind?
Just like it was in her vision, a spotlight popped up on stage left, shining on the host of this year’s Mega American Music Awards. Back then, she had no idea who the beautiful biracial woman was, but now, everyone knew who the hottest actress/singer in Hollywood was – Brooklyn Dougs.
The songtress wore a hot pink sequenced, form fitting romper with her auburn brown curls down and out into a natural partial fro. Her matted lip color matched her dress. With a sultry, powerful voice, Brooklyn introduced Rachel’s band.
“Already nominated for three awards tonight: Best New Artist, Best Single of the Year, and Best Album of Year, here is the breakout, chart-topping band – Byzantine Souls! Singing their latest hit – UNDER THE STARS!”
The spotlight went out. The lights over Rachel burst bright nearly blinding her, and she sang the poem she wrote, in the middle of the night, ten years ago… It was her first song that she wrote about a relationship she had.
Back to 10 Years Ago
Loud banging on her bedroom door startled Rachel awake, with her face on her open journal as a pillow and the tip of a ballpoint pen an inch from gouging her right eye out.
“I’m leaving with or without in 5 minutes,” Daniel shouted.
Rachel cursed fumbling out of bed. She scurried around her room. Sniffing articles of clothing to assess which was the freshest to wear amongst the funky clothes. Nothing was clean since writing her paper consumed all her time… HER PAPER!
She cursed again, blazingly ticked off she fell asleep before finishing her paper. On second thought… maybe she should just crawl back into bed and play the sick card? She could finish her paper, take the late penalties, and still get a solid passing C by turning it in tomorrow, as to where turning in a paragraph would for sure get her an F today.
Deciding that ditching school was the better alternative, Rachel grabbed her phone. She sent Keith a text asking if he could get all her homework assignments, because she would be home all day sick.
Keith’s Text: Are you really sick?
Rachel’s Text: Yeah…
Keith’s Text: Praying you feel better and I’ll come by after school.
Rachel sent him a heart emoji with the amen/thanks emoji of praying hands.
Keith undoubtedly was the sweetest boy Rachel ever knew. If he wasn’t so pure and so good, Rachel would totally date him… but she couldn’t risk losing her best friend to the toxicity of the romantic love she dished out.
They’ve been best buds since kindergarten. They’ve had sleepovers up until middle school and their hormones awakened, where their moms didn’t think it was a good idea to sleep in the same room at night anymore.
They were so in sync, people mistook them as a couple all the time. They finished each other’s sentences. They knew how the other was feeling by a single expression on their face. They also knew how to enjoy silence when together. There was no need to talk every second. Sometimes it was wonderful just being near each other. Rachel loved Keith and Keith loved her. Rachel was closer to Keith than her own brother…
Yes, every year Rachel sort of crushed on Keith, in that cliche-movie-romcom-friend-falling-for-best-friend-kind-of-way, but Rachel promised herself to never kiss Keith. One kiss could either seal or break whatever it was they had, and Rachel couldn’t lose him.
Now, Keith knew Rachel questioned whether God was real for some time. They’ve had intense conversations about it, but he didn’t know Rachel stopped believing in God while she dated Itai… and that she lost her virginity to him… and that she was sexually active with her current boyfriend, Yeager (Yay-grr). Never had Rachel kept so many secrets from Keith, but if she told him, he would encourage her to repent… which would make her fake repentance even if she didn’t feel it, because she wouldn’t want to let Keith down.
10 Years Later… After the Mega American Music Awards
Rachel returned the loft in the middle of the night. Holding two sterling silver MAMAs that the band won for Best New Artist and Best Single of the Year. The rest of the band went out to party and celebrate, but things had been tense between Keith and her, and Rachel didn’t want things to stay that way.
Trying to be quiet as she entered the bedroom, Rachel was taken aback starting at her two favorite boys, cuddled together in the middle of a massive, California King bed. Keith snored while Storm slumbered with his hands clenching Keith’s nappy, taper fade… Slipping off her bulky leather jacket, and kicking off her high heels, Rachel didn’t bother to change or wipe off her make up. She gently snuck into bed, next to her family.
And to think… people said she couldn’t make her dream happen when she had to put her family first. But she proved all of them wrong. At first, when Storm entered her life, she wished he wasn’t there. She wished she didn’t keep him. That she agreed to get rid of him. But then, on the first night she had him… as she was feeding him in the middle of the night… her heart expanded making room for him and she knew, she couldn’t be without him… ever… just like a mother should feel about her child. In that moment, she was taken by Storm. And of course, she wrote a poem about it that then became a song.
Rachel embarked on a wild road before Storm came along and she married Keith. There was a time in her life, where she didn’t care or felt like anything mattered… But hitting the bottom made her realize, in order to fully be alive, she needed to pursue her dream of becoming famous for music… not for her own sake… but for some bigger-than-herself-reason she couldn’t explain.
Return Next Week
on 11.17.2019 for
Storyteller via writer, actor, filmmaker, and artist.