Track 15: Starlight

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"Keep looking. It has to be here somewhere," I shouted above the music to Claire as I tried to not to crash the car while also scanning for the non-descript warehouse that was supposed to be vintage dress Mecca.

"Hey, there's a petticoat on that fence!" shouted Claire. "That has to be it."

I guided the car to a spot out front, parked and grabbed my purse. Though normally things like dress hunting would fall under "low priority" on a show day, doing four shows at the Staples Center meant there could be a little room for fun. Although just a little. "Okay, we've only got an hour before we have to start heading back. Leave no polka dot or stripe unexamined."

As I pushed open the door I noticed a chalkboard that said "No Boys Allowed" and smiled. This was looking better all the time.

"Whoa," whispered Claire as we took in the massive warehouse. Everywhere racks were jammed with '60s sundresses and '70s cocktail dresses. A table was so covered in mutlicoloured scarves it looked like you could build a nest there. (I mentally filed giant nest of clothes under procrastination tactics on laundry day.) There were cool retro chairs to kick back in and mannequins modeling gowns out of an Audrey Hepburn movie.

Claire motioned to me from a rack of '50s ballgowns, each the color of a Sweet Tart. "These are dying to be twirled in," she said, selecting a mint green tulle number that looked great with her long dark hair.

I plucked a lavender gown from the rack and started putting it on over my shorts and tank, then helped Claire zip up her dress. "I feel like I should have a corsage for you or something," I joked.

Claire laughed. "Don't worry. But your footwork better be up to snuff." She grabbed my hand and pulled me close, putting one hand around my waist, and started to sing as she waltzed me between clothing racks.

"I said, 'Oh my, what a marvelous tune' 
It was the best night, never would forget how we moved.  
The whole place was dressed to the nines, 
And we were dancing, dancing 
Like we're made of starlight 
Like we're made of starlight"

***

It was 2 a.m., and after eating an amount of candy that would rival a Halloween bender (because: adulthood), I'd fallen down an internet wormhole. I was trying to find some photos to show the stylist what I looking for the Teen Choice Awards, and now I was staring at black-and-white photos from a university archive. I took my glasses off and rubbed my eyes. I knew I should go to bed - my Meredith alarm went off at 6 a.m. like clockwork - but there was something about the photos that were just so fascinating. I felt like I was a time traveler, getting a small taste of another era. I'd go to bed . . . soon. After just a few more.

I clicked next and found myself looking at a photo of a young couple at a dance, probably sometime in the late '40s. They looked about 17, and they were gazing into each other's eyes, smiling. Stars speckled the sky behind them - the perfect backdrop for their elegant seaside soiree. I leaned closer into the screen, absorbing every detail. For some reason this photo was even more mesmerizing than the rest. You could practically hear the band playing and people laughing over cups of punch.

I read the caption below the photo: "Ethel and Bobby Kennedy, c. 1945." Amazing. Ever since I'd read that 600-page Kennedy bio I was fascinated by the family, and this photo just added to the mystique.

The moment captured in the photo seemed like something out of an old movie, either the end, with the lovers united, or the beginning, with a madcap adventure just around the corner. Where would they go after the dance? Maybe down to the nearby shore: Bobby would skip rocks on the waves, and Ethel would dash through the water, her skirts gathered in her hands. Maybe they'd slowdance on the beach, bare feet in the waves.

I smiled, then blinked back tears. I felt as if I'd been wretched and heartbroken forever, with romantic moments turned into painful reminders of what I'd lost. I'd forgotten about that beautiful, bubbling optimism that only comes at the beginning of a relationship, when you're wide awake and dreaming, and when anything - everything - seems possible.

I pushed my laptop aside and walked over to my bookshelf to grab my writing notebook. Right now it was filled with passion and sadness and anger, but what was missing was hope. I wanted to write something that could make people feel like Ethel and Bobby might have that night. Pure and sparkling and hopeful. Like they're made of starlight . . .

***

After I'd chimed in with Claire and we'd finished a dance with as many spins and dips as the nearby racks would allow, we both curtsied, trying hard to keep a straight face. Our only witness, a lady with sleeve tattoos and a polka-dot sundress, clapped.

"We've done more effective shopping," said Claire.

I laughed. "Well that dress was begging for a test drive. I'd say it handles well." I picked up some cat's eye sunglasses from a nearby rack and slid them on. "I'll have to write to Ethel about this."

Ethel and I had become penpals not long after I played "Starlight" for her - real penpals with paper, stamps, the works. There was nothing like coming home to an envelope addressed to Miss Taylor Swift in Ethel's elegant cursive. It still gave me that fizzy feeling of nervous excitement, because it still seemed unbelievable that we even knew each other, let alone that we becoming friends. But I think that may be what happens when you dream impossible things.

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