“Do you know what you’re going to do yet?” Mona asked her friend, Violet. Their high top Converse sneakers thwacked against the sidewalk like the rubber soles did everyday; morning and afternoon, to and from school.
The sky’s largest star launched rays downward as Violet’s sigh trailed into autumn’s open air. The beech tree on the corner of Hollow Avenue and Peach Street stirred in the October breeze. One of the branches dropped four russet leaves, spiraling to the sidewalk’s crack. “I’ll figure it out eventually.”
Usually laughter would have joined them as they passed picket fences on Indigo Drive, but this walk home was quieter than normal. Decision making and the consequences that loomed lapped in Violet’s mind. Tonight, she would share a conversation with the heavens.
At the chipping street lamp, the girls parted ways until the seven-fifteen a.m. sun would rise and they’d retrace their travels.
Violet opened the front door. Her parents were cooking in the kitchen. The scent of baked chicken and fresh croissants wafted down the foyer, pricking her nose. She peeled off her shoes, one of them banging against the wallpaper. Her backpack tumbled beside, bumping against the umbrella stand, rattling handles together. Hanging on the wall above was a family portrait, bold sun rays creating concentric bulbs of colored lights behind their poses. Perpendicular to the framed memory was a cross. Peering up at it, she smiled and mentally pronounced a few private words.
“How was your day at school?” her mother asked once she entered the kitchen. She was slicing vegetables, the knife clanging against the cutting board rhythmically.
Washing up at the sink, Violet relished in the sensation of cool water as it spilled over her skin. She inhaled sharply as her dire life decision creeped back into her mind. To be most technical, it wasn’t all that serious. It just felt life-threatening as a fifteen year old. The mental capacity it occupied seemed much larger than her and the world.
She cut the water supply, ripping a towel. “It was fine.”
Her father’s question followed, “Did you learn anything new?”
In a way, she thought, but nothing that could be applied to tonight’s homework.
Violet left the kitchen, snatching her backpack from the foyer. The scent of dinner followed her up the staircase and into the entrance of her bedroom. She plopped herself onto the bed, letting out another sigh. Unzipping her backpack, she pulled out the note from her teacher, co-signed by the principal.
She was about to fail science.
If things didn’t change in a timely fashion, a deformed grade would be added to her transcript; a permanent marking toward pre-college academia. She thought to herself, as she narrowly glared at the pen strokes, it was only the ninth grade and over the span of the next three years, she could surely turn this all around. She could register for some extra courses just to outweigh the unsightly letter. She could also try harder, become more engaged with scientific vocabulary and formulas, watching as her grade elevated in the desired direction. Or she could just drop the class and find another science course to take.
Violet’s mind tossed these ideas back and forth, but no real solution protruded most evidently in her mind. At once, she tucked the paper away, creasing it into no particular shape. She wanted to hide this note from herself.
She stretched out her legs, letting them gently fall to the side of the bed. Her head bowed, respectfully, hair falling forward. Her hands and fingers folded together, molding as one, eyes shut before lashes interlocked. Everything around her faded to black, a darkness she welcomed and relied on more times than not. Now, as the minutes on the nearby clock lunged forward, timely concepts dissipated as it was just her and the heavens, a connection felt in her heart and soul.
“Did you hear about tonight’s meteor shower?” Mona asked, kicking an acorn across the cement. The next blow sent the acorn flinging off the sidewalk’s edge, tumbling to the grass, and skidding to a halt beside a mole’s hole.
It was the following morning, their conversation returning to its bustling state.
“I did,” Violet said. “Are you going to watch?”
While eating breakfast, the television screen flickered alive with anticipation of tonight’s shooting stars. The news reporters took their time detailing the best watching hours as meteorologists crossed their fingers for no overcast. All across the sky, stars would glitter and gleam above heads, fleeing in sparkling projections.
The unique thing about shooting stars was how these delicate orbs of a million miles away occupied the power for wishes to dispel from hearts and float toward the galaxies above. For Mona, it wasn’t prayer that she used to help dictate the next phase in her life, but rather the shooting stars that were escaping the world. Tonight, she had a special wish to make and hoped for the stars to help the change.
Mona nodded. “Without a doubt.”
For her, it wasn’t whether to remain in second period science that was causing her distress. Instead, it was her worry of whether or not her and Jenna would ever be friends again.
Tonight, she wanted to wish on each shooting star she witnessed, one by one, that everything will be okay and Jenna would jump to the top of her contact list again.
Mona and Violet crossed Maple Lane as the smallest trace of the high school’s roof came into view.
“Did you decide what to do about science?”
Violet glanced over at her friend. “I”m just waiting for a sign.”
Mona nodded as if she understood this concept. In truth, she couldn’t bring herself to accept the alleged signs a religious spirit could provide to anyone who prayed. To her, it was similar to sprouting words into the open air, without anything happen. It was just like planting seeds into the ground and nothing ever springing above the soil bed. Religion was an unseen entity that people created. Stars, however, were more concrete, vividly seen, always there, returning night after night.
As the school day progressed, Violet patiently waited for the right sign. She knew that as soon as she saw it, she would know exactly how to react. And just like that, her problems would poof into thin air, like some sort of spectacular magic trick.
The sun had vanished, sinking below the horizon. Now, the row of pine trees in Mona’s backyard were nothing more than silhouettes. Soon, the night sky would fall into its darkest phase, the moon beaming, and stars twinkling like never before.
Mona tilted her head back until her neck pleated and pupils widened in allure. Sitting on the grass, she leaned back on her arms, palms face down against the cool blades of grass. Her fingernails, too, felt cold.
After nine o’clock, against the black velvet oasis, stars started strutting across the sky, waving to constellations, as they glowed before burning out. It was just like a July firefly. But like their vanished glow in fall, the stars didn’t last forever either.
Spontaneously, each star seemed to extinguish at once. They sky hovering in a stronger onyx. Everything above paused, switched off as if controlled by a light switch. The sky looked like a foreign object, a bizarre blank canvas as stars vanished. The moon, still holding its silver hue, continued to project as if detached from the sky.
The stars were all gone, simply. Yet it seemed more astronomical than that.
Confused, Mona wondered if she had been catapulted into a dream. Returning to her two feet, she walked slowly across the backyard. Every few steps she would glance above, making sure the extinguished stars hadn’t returned.
She peered toward the house next door, hoping to see someone shift through the curtains, glance out the window, cock their head to the side, and see the exact same thing.
Turning on the television set in the kitchen, just like breakfast, newscasts flashed nationwide, some broadcasts overlapping with regularly scheduled programming. Reporters announced the world’s latest phenomenon of how the stars all burned out. The motion was swift, like air across birthday cake candles.
All the stars Mona hoped to wish upon tonight were gone forever. The fate of her and Jenna dissipated and it was all out of her hands. Her favorite atmospheric ability betrayed her and it nearly scared her how alone she suddenly felt. The weakness of reliance revealed itself.
Returning to the corner of Hollow Avenue and Peach Street, beneath the beech tree, Mona let out a sigh of distress.
“I guess Jenna and I are permanently over.”
With the same tone and frustration filtering through her voice, Violet spoke “And what am I supposed to do about this stupid science class?”
“I’m lost without these stars and you are lost without unanswered prayers.”
As part of nature’s routine, the beech tree released a few leaves, falling in front of their face.
“Maybe it is just for the best,” Mona said.
“The best?” Violet echoed, her voice cracking in exasperation.
Mona shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe we don’t need them.”
“Oh, I need them.” A string dangling from her cardigan spun around her finger as she coiled the piece, before uncoiling, and repeating. Her mouth feeling peculiarly dry, she swallowed twice and inhaled sharply before releasing slow and steady.
Mona tried again, “Maybe our decisions are too big to be decided by something millions of miles away.”
“God is never a million miles away,” Violet snapped. “Stars are, though.”
“Well, maybe.” This was another debate Mona could pursue at another moment in time.
A few seconds of silence fell between them. The only noise was the expected thwacking of shoes and motors of the few vehicles that passed by slowly. After a truck chugged along, “What if we tried to make the decisions by ourselves?”
“You mean, without more praying and wishing?”
“I don’t know about that.”
The shape of the school had come fully into view. It was all just a downhill length away.
“It is, after all, only up to us.”
“What do you mean?”
A school bus pulled out onto the adjacent road, its engine roaring as it soared down the hill.
“We can only truly rely on ourselves to react and respond to whatever life tosses at us.”
“And I’m choosing to pray about it.”
“But if something isn’t becoming answered, it might be best to take things into your own hands. To finally be the decision maker and make the things you want to have happen, well, happen.”
“The night loses its stars and you gain a whole new mindset.” Violet uncoiled the string, letting it fall loose. She ran her fingers through her hair, tucking a few strands behind her ear.
“Reliance isn’t always healthy,” Mona said. Sometimes losing something brought you an unexpected dose of clarity.
The front doors of the school loomed in the distance. A line of students were trailing inside, backpacks banging against their backs.
Violet thought to herself, knowing her friend was probably right. She had been praying since she could remember. Her parents had taken her to church every Sunday, forcing her to wear a plethora of white dresses. Praying, now, was a habit, an action that was stitched in routine and had since then become repeated visitation. Not all innate things were meant to be prevalent in the first place.
A few feet from school property, “I know what I’m going to do,” Violet said.
“Me too,” Mona replied.
They entered the thick glass doors, Violet beelining toward her science classroom, as Mona found Jenna standing in front of her locker.
Violet’s knuckle tapped on the door as her science teacher glanced up from his desk. He grinned at her and motioned her to sit down. Stepping slowly into the classroom and plopping onto a nearby chair, she opened her mouth slowly, ready to speak.
“I know I can do better than an F.”
Meanwhile, Mona had her eyes fixed on Jenna as the distance between them dwindled with each step that squeaked across the polished tile.
“Hey, Jenna,” she spoke. Her voice wavered as nerves pulsed through her body.
Jenna glanced up from her locker. Her eyes possessed a blank gaze.
“Can we talk?”
Jenna grinned, nodding.