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Being Starborn is a blessing and a curse.
That's what Grandma always says, anyway.
My dad's tall, and his beard is fuzzy. I'm strapped in my high chair and I watch as he washes the dishes.
Mom comes, late from work as usual. Me and daddy make silly faces at her, and she laughs.
We have strawberry pancakes, with real strawberries. Then daddy takes me to bed and sings me a lullaby, the one about the little green man and his flock of sheep. Mom comes by to kiss me goodnight, just before I drift off to sleep.
Is this really a memory or is it just a dream, I often wonder.
"How comes I'm Starborn, Grandma," I ask. "I was born right here, on Silver Creek.”
"It doesn't matter where you were born, child," she says. "Our people came from the stars. That's what makes us Starborn. That's why we're superior to humans.”
In what way are we superior, I want to ask. But I don't. I don't know why, but I never do.
"If we're the only Starborn in town, Grandma, then I'll have to marry a human, won't I? Tom Billings is so cute, you think?”
She dismisses my flights of fancy with a stern wave of her hand. "Don't fret, Monica. When the time comes, we'll find you a nice Starborn boy to marry. The Starborn only marry the Starborn, girl. Humans are no good for us, you should never forget that.”
I stop fretting. I'm only ten, anyway. I'll just wait for my Starborn prince to come and take me away in his white spaceship.
"Your parents were killed in a car crash!”
"No, they weren't." Grandma has told me that my parents had to go back to the stars, on a secret mission. They'll come back for me, when the mission is over. Grandma would never lie to me, would she?
The boy's face turns mocking, as if he's about to taunt me -- but I think it dawns on him, just then, that it's not really funny to taunt someone because their parents are dead. That would be too gross, even for him. He half-heartedly searches for something else to taunt me for, then he seems to lose his appetite for taunting and he shuffles away, leaving me alone.
But my parents aren't dead, are they? They've gone back to the stars.
"Always look up to the stars. Keep your feet on the earth, that's all the earth is good for. But wherever you go, the stars will light your way.”
"What about the Sun," I ask.
"Well the Sun is just another star, young lady. A lesser one, at that.”
I'm fifteen now, and I know that my parents are dead. Perhaps I'd known all along. Starborn die just like everyone else, as much as Grandma would like to pretend otherwise.
I'm sixteen, Grandma, and the time has come. Where's the Starborn prince you promised me, then? Where are the Starborn, Grandma?
I love Mark, and he loves me too. So what if he isn't Starborn?
Grandma freaked out when I told her I'm in love. Well, I don't care what she thinks. Mark brings me little cakes that he bakes himself, and he writes poems about my eyes. I even told him I'm Starborn, and he didn't act like I'm totally nuts. Maybe when it's time to leave this place, I'll take him to the stars with me.
Who am I kidding? What stars? Grandma's just a crazy old woman, and it's time I finally stopped pretending I believe all this nonsense. Superior to humans and all that crap. I'm seventeen now, I'm not a little girl anymore. Starborn? What a joke, really.
Mark and I are going to the same college. Isn't this wonderful? I'm leaving this rusty old town for good, and I can hardly wait. At last I'll be free of this Starborn nonsense, too. And I'll be free of Grandma, as well.
My old friend Jenny called me last night. Grandma's dying. So now I'm back at Silver Creek for the first time since I left home for college, and Stephen's here with me. In the end it didn't work out with Mark. That's life, I guess. But things are going great with me and Stephen.
We go together to visit Grandma in the hospital, and then I tell Stephen that I need some time alone with her, and he understands. Stephen always understands. I put him up at my old place for as long as I'm staying in the hospital.
I'll stay by Grandma's side till the end; it's the least I can do, especially after the way we parted.
Grandma's unconscious most of the time, but now she opens her eyes and squeezes my hand. "My time has come," she says in a tired, rasping voice. "I'm sorry to leave you alone, Monica.”
"I'm the one who left you, Grandma. But I'm here now.”
She smiles. "And I'm sorry for lying to you for so long.”
I know you were lying, and it doesn't matter. I love you -- I want to say.
But I don't, because she goes on. "There's no Starborn prince for you, my girl. That was a lie. When I'm gone, you'll be the last of the Starborn." This isn't really the confession that I expected; Grandma is determined to cling to her Starborn fantasy to the last.
Still, she goes on. "This human boy you brought over yesterday seemed rather nice. Maybe the time has finally come for our genes to mingle. You can stay with him if you wish, girl.”
As if I needed permission. But I'm past arguing with her, and I act as if it's her call to make.
"Thank you, Grandma.”
She squeezes my hand again, and then she dies.
A shimmering gate appears at the foot of the bed. I can see an ocean of stars on the other side.
Grandma's spirit rises out of her body and flies back to the stars.
George Nikolopoulos is a speculative fiction writer from Greece, and a member of Codex Writers' Group. His stories have been published in Galaxy's Edge, Nature, Daily Science Fiction, Factor Four, Grievous Angel, The Year's Best Military & Adventure SF, Best Vegan SFF, and many other magazines and anthologies.