If Loreen had known that today would be the day that changed her life forever, she would probably have bothered to get out of her pajamas. Her boyfriend Wayne agreed that she should try and get out of her pajamas every day, but for completely different reasons. Lately, Loreen had become listless and lazy, rude and flippant with Wayne’s mother. The fact that she insisted on maintaining her two-hour makeup routine even when she never got around to putting on pants only further confused him. He simply wanted her to act like a normal person, and he thought making an effort to get dressed every morning would be an excellent start.
“Loreen!” He knocked on the bathroom door, behind which he could smell the intoxicating but frustrating odors of hair shine, lip gloss, perfumes, tanning solutions, and sprays. “Why don’t you get dressed? We’re supposed to be at the toy store at noon.”
By “the toy store,” Wayne meant the water-toy store Wet and Wild Water Toys that his mother owned and operated. Now that he was making a regular sort of income at his father’s garage, he thought it was time Loreen started doing something lucrative with her afternoons.
Loreen nudged opened the bathroom door with her hip. “Do you want me to look ugly for your mom?” she spat, blinking flecks of mascara out of her big, round eyes. “You know I don’t ever like to appear ungroomed.”
“You’re a babe without all that gnarly stuff!” he exclaimed, believing it.
“No one cares who’s a babe in Hawley,” Loreen grumbled, and continued painting a cat-eye line over her upper lashes. “You tell me who’s a babe in Beverly Hills, then we can have a conversation.”
Wayne sighed and went to grab his telescope from the porch. He stood in the trailer’s narrow kitchen and polished the lens with a dishcloth, adding just the tiniest amount of soap to the warm water and cleaning the glass with a gentle circular motion. His breathing grew steady again, and the air lost its previously inflamed atmosphere. The birds chirped outside as they always did in late morning in Wayne County, Pennsylvania. Twice in the last week, folks from a just a little higher in the hills had spotted a UFO. Whether this was the same UFO circling around Hawley or two separate ones in rotation, perhaps communicating with each other, Wayne wondered. He longed to see one for himself.
When Loreen finally emerged from the bathroom and stood in the hallway, Wayne twirled around toward her and inadvertently smashed two coffee mugs off the shelf with the swinging end of the telescope. The clay cups stumbled to the tile floor with a loud thud and broke neatly into four halves. Loreen raised her eyebrows and went for the broom.
“Why do you take that thing out during the day?” she asked. “There are no stars.”
“I’m not looking through it, I’m cleaning it.”
Loreen opened the screen door and walked out to the porch.
“And there are stars, during the day,” said Wayne. “We just can’t see them.”
“Why do you bother with all of that?”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m obsessed? Me? Loreen, you’re the one who spends a goddamn year putting on her makeup in the morning. And for what?”
“To get recognized.”
“I mean it. I’m wasted here.”
“You’ve barely ever acted.”
“Any fool can act. I have what it takes to be a celebrity.”
“I’m not moving.”
“Why? Wayne, big, huge things can happen on Earth, too.” Loreen made painted a large circle in the air with her outstretched hands. “You know, our world? Where we live?”
“Loreen,” Wayne made a grand gesture of securing the telescope back on its stand. “When you look out at the stars—I mean, there are literally infinite other stars, planets, worlds. People just like us. People better than us. Infinite of them out there in the sky. We are so, so incredibly small. We’re—insignificant. Do you get that?”
Loreen rolled her eyes.
“It’s a joke,” Wayne continued. “Hollywood. Jesus. I mean, sure, Brad Pitt, you’re a huge movie star…on Earth.”
“Right, okay. And what else matters?” Loreen asked, goading him.
“I’m not. Physicists and astronomers all agree. So what does that make us, huh?”
“I told you. Psycho.”
“So move to Hollywood already.”
“I’d miss you, maybe.”
The couple climbed into Wayne’s blue Toyota pickup and drove slowly down Interstate 90 toward the lake and Wet and Wild Water Toy Store, where Wayne’s mother Betty waited. Loreen was still in her pajamas, but Wayne didn’t mention it.
When Betty saw her son followed by his girlfriend Loreen in those filthy pajamas, she grew visibly angry. Her cheeks turned slightly purple, her head got hot, and her fingers tapped neurotically on the Wet and Wild Water Toy Store checkout counter. But Betty stopped herself from causing a scene: Wayne loved the girl. As long as Loreen could just get a job, there was no problem. Betty sucked in a breath and thought of relaxing things, like the leftover spaghetti that was waiting for her in the fridge in the back, like drinking pink wine while floating on a large yellow raft at Lake Wallenpaupack, like the smell of grease and oil at her husband’s garage.
“Wayne! Loree!” she said sweetly when they came up to the register.
Loreen fidgeted with an oversized rubber duck that hung from a hook on the countertop and glanced sideways at Wayne.
“Ma,” said Wayne reluctantly, “Loreen doesn’t want to go by that anymore.”
“Certainly it’s charming,” said Loreen, affecting a faint British accent. “But sort of a misnomer for me, don’t you think?”
“That’s not really what misnomer means,” said Wayne.
“Okay! Well!” Betty interrupted the asinine conversation to get down to business. “Loreen, I think of you as part of the family now, and well, if you want to pick up a few shifts, the job is yours.”
Wayne was delighted. “Yeah!”
Loreen gave a placid smile. “Wonderful.” She paused. “Thank you, Betty.”
“Sure,” said Betty. “I mean, we’ll have to show you what to do before it’s official—a sort of trial period, though we both know you’ll do fine. A pretty girl like you!”
“Thanks.” Loreen smiled again, this time looking genuinely appreciative.
“Pay is eleven dollars an hour, and you can come in, oh, maybe four days a week to start. Okay? Great. Let me go in back to get you a little guide to the register and inventory. Wait here.” Betty left the two at the counter to go find the guide to the register and inventory in back and also to sit on the footstool for five minutes eating her leftover spaghetti.
“This is great,” Wayne said, turning to Loreen. “I’m so glad, Lor.”
Loreen groaned and let him kiss her then, feeling dissatisfied but warm in the moment. She was at least glad to see him so happy with her.
Just then, the jangly silver bell that hung above the glass door rang. In stepped a tall, thin man with silvering blond hair and an attractive beard. He walked, not facing them, down the pool-noodle aisle with a heavy step. At the sight of an unfamiliar figure, Loreen looked questioningly at Wayne. He shrugged.
“You’re excited?” Wayne asked quietly, focusing again on Loreen while the man wandered somewhat aimlessly around the store.
“Oh, come on. Wayne, you know this is only for you. You think I’m going to jump for joy to sell water noodles to a couple hicks?”
“Lor.” Wayne put his arm around her shoulder. “It’s not forever.”
“It feels like it,” she said, her voice cracked with tears.
Loreen regained her composure, noticing that the blond stranger had begun to head up the slip-and-slide aisle and toward the register.
“What?” Wayne asked, loudly.
Loreen elbowed him. Wayne turned his eyes toward the customer and was affronted with the image of Brad Pitt. Not the A River Runs Through It Brad Pitt he was used to but the real, living Brad Pitt whom he sometimes saw in magazines. His gold hair was tinged with gray, and there were marked, deep wrinkles under his eyes, but this only made him look more handsome, which Wayne hated himself for noticing.
“Can I—help you with anything?” Loreen asked weakly, assuming her role as floor saleswoman as Brad Pitt approached the cash register.
“Everything all right, miss?” Brad Pitt asked genuinely with a look of concern. “You seemed distraught.”
“Oh, I’m—I’m fine. It’s nothing. Working in a pool-toy store.” Loreen let out a shrill giggle and exhaled deeply. “Do you see anything you like?”
Brad Pitt eyed Loreen coolly. “Maybe.”
Wayne’s fist tightened.
“Well, do you—do you see anything, well, specific?” Loreen fumbled.
“Wasn’t struck, not really.” Brad Pitt lazily gestured around the dinky shop before his eyes carelessly landed on the giant rubber duck. “Maybe I’ll take this.”
“You want that rubber duck?”
“Okay, let me just—” Loreen started to make her way behind the counter before she turned around, bracing herself with her hands on the counter behind her, and said, “Well, excuse me, but you’re Brad Pitt!”
“I am,” Brad Pitt said, and reached out for Loreen’s hand. He kissed it lightly.
“I mean,” Loreen began, almost convulsing, “this is just such a stroke of luck. It seems like fate. I am such a fan. I was just talking about you today with Wayne here.” She elbowed Wayne again. “Right, Wayne?”
Brad Pitt didn’t acknowledge Wayne. “I’m pleased to hear that. Your name?”
“Loreen, your look is fucking rock and roll.” He nodded approvingly at her tattered pajamas. “Are you an actress?”
“Well, yes. I want to move to Hollywood to act.”
“Anyone can act,” said Brad Pitt seriously. “But with a face like that, you could be a celebrity.”
“Really?” Loreen squealed.
“Oh, I’d love to be able to discuss it with you—it’s been so hard to—” Loreen spoke in increments, dismally failing at a professional tone.
“Look,” he said, practically tossing the rubber duck on the counter. “My kids don’t need any more pool toys. I’d rather just help you. My car’s in idle outside. Why don’t we walk out?”
Wayne followed them dumbly, fists still clenched. He could barely hear the harsh jingle of the bells as they exited the store. His mother, who was deep into her container of spaghetti marinara, didn’t hear it either.
Brad Pitt’s car was a shining red 1962 Chevrolet Corvette convertible. Wayne’s head hurt just looking at it. Brad Pitt led them to the passenger’s side of the car, speaking with Loreen in a low voice: “Let’s go, Loreen. Let’s have some fun. We can discuss all this on the way.”
“Oh, go on,” said Wayne nervously.
“I assure you I’m very serious,” said Brad Pitt, for once concentrating his iconically stupefying blue gaze on Wayne. “Loreen is a beautiful woman, and she should live among the most beautiful things in the world.”
“Oh, wow!” Loreen almost jumped with glee.
Wayne was stunned—partially by the accidental wisdom of his words but mostly in a paralytic rage.
Brad Pitt turned back to Loreen. “My wife Angelina Jolie and our six children have been in the Catskills for a few days—things get difficult with all those tabloids and cameras. You know. We’re passing through town on our way to New York.” He paused. “Then we’ll fly home to Hollywood. I’d really love to have you come stay with us.”
“Surely there must be some—” said Loreen.
“Don’t worry,” Brad Pitt assured her with a wink. “Angelina and I are in a very honest, open marriage.”
“Angelina Jolie—?” started Wayne, finding it prudent to insert himself into this moment.
“Not that open,” Brad Pitt cut him off quickly, and opened the door for Loreen. “M’lady.” Then he rounded the car with two bounding leaps and got in himself.
“Loreen, are you listening to this guy?” Wayne erupted, to which Loreen gave a placid shrug and tied a violet scarf around her head, slipping on a pair of round sunglasses. He turned to the actor. “You think the most beautiful things in the world are in Hollywood?” Wayne practically shouted in despair.
“Brad Pitt, you’re an asshole.”
But Brad Pitt didn’t hear him, as at that moment he revved the engine of his 1962 Corvette. Seated in the red convertible, he and Loreen made a good-looking pair.
“Okay!” Wayne called out as the sports car backed up. “Just wait! Just wait until you see what’s out there! You think you’re such a big shot here on Earth!”
“That’s all there is, baby!” cried Brad Pitt as the Chevrolet convertible containing Wayne’s girlfriend tore left onto the road.
Wayne didn’t understand the philosophical implications of what the Golden Globe Award–winning, six-time Academy Award–nominated actor had said, and instead contented himself with the thought that Brad Pitt was an idiot. Embarrassed by the way things had transpired, he returned sulkily to the water-toy shop and explained to his mother what had happened.
That night, Wayne returned home from the garage to a trailer without Loreen. He could think of nothing besides the image of her and Brad Pitt in the convertible, couldn’t seem to stop himself from envisioning them sipping champagne from flute glasses at the Ritz. His regret at having dragged his girlfriend to his mother’s water-toy store that morning was deep. He needed a distraction from the images running across the backs of his eyelids, from the temptation of running to the desktop computer in the living room to go down a Brad Pitt internet wormhole.
So Wayne did what he always did in such times of distress, which was quietly walk out to the porch and place his right eye against the telescope’s eyepiece. When he angled his telescope up at the sky and squinted into the depths of the stars, his heart suffered in the way a heart does when the person it loves chooses to leave. Pitt! Having your girl swept away in a red Corvette by Brad Pitt was certainly no minor event. Wayne knew this. And yet, as he shifted focus and narrowed in on the red sequin that was Mars hovering over Leo, he decided not to dwell. The Earth was, after all, very, very small.