Twenty miles from Milestone is a reservation. On nights like these when stargazers flee the city the locals open their gates and share the celestial wonder; that and, you know, bring in tourist dollars.
On the other side of the hills the city was a memory, and in its place was rolling plains, rivers and pine trees. If it weren’t for the shacks lining the highway and the string of traffic you might have forgotten about humans.
Tanya and I lounged in the back seat of the SUV with Angie, her little sister, strapped between us. We’d spent most of the trip playing ‘eye spy’, a game which is harder when one of you can’t spell.
Somewhere around nine we found a parking space and started to unpack. Tanya’s mom loaded my arms with folding chairs, picnic blankets and a grocery bag filled with snacks. Never let it be said that she wasn’t prepared.
Angie gripped her sister’s hand. Her gaze was married to the sky. “When the meteors come, does that mean we get to meet the dinosaurs?” she asked.
Tanya and I shared a look. “The dinosaurs went away a long time ago, kiddo.”
“Yeah,” the child reasoned, “but now that the meteors are coming we get to go to the same place that they went to.”
The family giggled. Tanya pulled her closer and explained, “no, that was an asteroid that hit the Earth and made the dinosaurs go extinct. That’s a little bit different.”
She furrowed her brow. “What’s the difference between meteors and asteroids?”
Silence. Where’s a science geek when you needed one? Tanya flicked through her smart phone, but cursed when she couldn’t pick up wifi.
Tanya’s mom, Tracy, laid out the blankets between sightseers. There was at least fifteen feet between us and the next group, so we had space enough to ourselves. Grant, aka Tanya’s step-father, aka Angie’s daddy, broke out the sparkling apple juice. He offered me a glass, smiled, and even offered me his chair.
I looked to my best friend. Did she even know how good she had it? Not that it mattered. I sat on the ground and looked up to the sky.
Gods, I’d never seen so many stars; not even as Glimmer Girl.
“Justin?” The voice was like ice. Could it really be…?
My own mother waved from the lower end of the hillside and trudged her way toward us. She smiled one of those sort of smiles, like the kind she wore when she had an appointment with a difficult client.
Tracy blinked and stood to greet her. “Liz, hi! I didn’t think you were going to be here!”
“You don’t miss something like this,” she told her. “However I’m surprised to see my son. Justin, you knew we were coming. You told me you had plans tonight.”
I couldn’t bring myself to look at her. The name she used was like nails on my eardrums.
“It was a last minute arrangement,” Tracy hummed. “The girls were originally going to do their own thing, but when I asked Tanya if she wanted to see the meteors she wanted to bring Kaira too. It just happened by serendipity.”
“Yes,” my Mom clicked, “serendipity. Of course.”
My hands clutched my knees as the parents faced each other down. Stubbornness ground against stubbornness, like goats locking horns in a battle for the mountainside. Was I my mother’s son, or was I another woman’s daughter? In this battle I seemed to have no say.
“You’re free to stay with us,” Tracy offered.
“No, thank you, but Alan’s waiting for me, and I’d better get back. I just wanted to say hello.” She turned to me and pursed her lips. “Justin, you’re free to come join us if you like. We could even give you a lift home.”
“You’re not allowed to use that name anymore, because Kaira’s a girl now,” Angie said.
We all turned to the preschooler. Despite smiling my stomach turned, ready to devour itself and the rest of me.
“It’s okay, Angie,” I lied.
The child tilted her head. “Is she still allowed to use that name because she’s your Mommy?”
I looked up and my Mom was waiting for an answer. Instead, I said nothing.
“We’ll catch up later,” she said. “Tracy, I’ll see you some other time. Everybody enjoy the show. Justin, I’ll see you at home later tonight.”
Funny, but I couldn’t bring myself to look at the sky. A million shooting stars fell, each delivering a wish to the one who caught it first. I stared at the dirt, wondering if that was where my dreams lived.
Tanya snaked an arm across my back and rubbed it. “KC…”
Pulling herself from her seat Tracy brought herself to her knees and held me from the other side. She stroked my hair and beamed in the way that only a mother can. “Kaira, I just want you to know that no matter what goes on at home you have a family with us. You really are like a daughter to me, and we love you for you, no matter what.”
“What she said,” Tanya added.
I’d spent the night wrapped in a blanket, but it was the first time I’d felt warm since arriving. My head fell into Tracy’s shoulder and I turned to the sky. A half smirk broke my lips.
Maybe there was a miracle waiting for me, if not in the stars then somewhere else.
To be continued…