Karen bit her lip and held the hot chocolate carefully. She spilled some on the little plate below the cup, cursing herself all the way.
“What do you do up here every evening?” Karen asked, bringing the man his beverage and setting it before him.
“My girlfriend and I, we’re in an increasing-distance relationship,” he said with a sigh.
Karen squinted at him, shaking her head. “That can’t possibly be a thing.”
“Oh, it is!” he chuckled, opening his eyes in an expression of surrender. “I’m down here, I’m Terry by the way, and Chloe is up there on the generation ship.” He pointed at the second bright spot on the sky.
Karen followed his finger to the fire in the sky. “I’m Karen,” she deadpanned, still looking up.
“I’m looking up at the sunset, or, more specifically, at the afterburner sunset.” He waved in the general direction.
“What’s that? I’m new in town,” Karen chuckled, holding the tray against her belly.
Terry sat forward, putting his elbows on the table. “Lots of people come to this cafe around this time of day to watch it, this is the best spot in town. Just before the sunset, couples show up and watch the golden-red sky. It’s the only time that the sky is dark enough and the afterburner bright enough to be seen among the stars. It’s sort of like Venus, which is mistakenly called the brightest star in the night sky. The generation ship’s afterburners are powerful enough, bright enough to be seen with the naked eye. For a few more years, that is…” he finished with his voice trailing off.
“Wow…” Karen said, her voice small. “So romantic. So you look up at her, and she looks back on Earth?”
“She’s somewhere behind that burn, yes.”
They stayed in silence for a while.
He turned up to look at her, then towards the bar. “Aren’t there customers to service? Not that I mind chatting with you…” he quickly added.
Karen plopped her butt on the chain opposite his and smiled wide at him.
“I-I don’t understand…” he stuttered, looking back and forth. The place was busy and no one would notice a girl pretending to wait tables, despite her not wearing a uniform or anything.
“I don’t really work here,” Karen said and threw the tray like a frisbee. It clattered on the floor and against a table’s leg.
“Okay… Then what are you really doing?” He nodded, seeming to get it. “You’re a reporter, aren’t you? The one that’s been nagging me for ages.”
“What?” Karen squealed. “No. I’m not. I just saw you coming here, then sitting all alone and thought I’d introduce myself.”
He squinted at her. “But you didn’t introduce yourself. I did. And you brought me my hot chocolate, you didn’t act like a patron.”
“Yeah…” she sighed, propping her upper body on her arms, her hands on the seat and bobbing back and forth. “I kinda do these things, you know? Impulsive ones. I really don’t know anybody in town, I really am new here. And I thought you were cute and I saw you tapping an order for one, so I said, why not chat you up?”
He smiled awkwardly. “Okay… Thanks, but I just said I’m in a relationship.”
She breathed out slowly, sagging on the chair with her entire upper body. “I know…”
They said nothing for a while. She clicked her tongue in an annoying way and he sipped his hot chocolate.
“I’m gonna go,” she said and stood up. He must have said something to her but she hurried away, never having felt so embarrassed before in her life.
End of First Sunset