Authors: Amber Stokes
By Amber Stokes
Seasons of a Story Publishing
Kindle edition | Copyright © 2014 Amber Christine Stokes
All rights reserved.
This novella is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Actual businesses, as well as brand, band, TV show, and song names, are used only to set the scene, and no endorsement or copyright infringement is intended.
Lena Goldfinch at Stone Lily Design
(Milky Way background) | Dreamstime.com
To my Heavenly Father, for reviving me.
And to my sister, Emily, on the brink of adulthood...
you’ll always be a star in my book.
At eight years old, Derrick Knolane fell in love with the stars. He wouldn’t grow up to become an astronaut or an astronomer, but he always counted that night as one of his very favorite memories.
His dad took him for a drive because the winter night was clear, the sea air wasn’t too cold, and his mom needed a few hours to herself while his younger sister slept. They stopped at McDonald’s on the way so they could share some hot, perfectly salted fries. Derrick munched each bite with the ferocity of the sharks he had been learning about in school.
“Maybe we’ll see a shark.” At least, that’s all Derrick was really interested in spotting at the ocean.
His dad chuckled as he took one hand off the steering wheel to rummage around in the greasy bag resting between them. “I don’t think you’d want to be close enough to spot one of those, Son.”
Derrick turned to the window, wishing he had his dad’s view of the waves spitting foam onto the shore as they zoomed past. He stared at the trees whizzing by on his side until he grew dizzy, then glanced down at the buttons beneath the window. With a peek at his dad, he pressed down on the one he was usually told to stop playing with. The glass lowered, and a
of dusky air rushed into the car.
Another glance at his dad—but he just shook his head and picked out another handful of fries. Derrick smiled into the wind blasting his face. If he closed his eyes tight, he could pretend he was flying.
Soon, though, the sound and the cold hurt his ears, and he reluctantly pressed the other half of the button to raise the glass again. His dad didn’t say a word, but Derrick decided maybe it would be best to leave the window alone for a while.
Eventually they pulled off the main road and passed through a little town with a gas station, grocery store, and some other interesting buildings. They drove until they faced the sea, dotted with bobbing boats not far from land, then passed a baby lighthouse as they turned to follow the bluff downhill. His dad parked among a few other cars in a lot down by the beach.
“Here we are.”
The car made a few groans and clicks in protest, then settled into silence. Derrick pressed the big red button holding his seat belt in place, taking a couple of tries before he found enough strength to force the belt to release. When his dad grabbed his keys and opened his own door, Derrick pulled the handle on his side, slipping to the ground. He slammed the door and grinned up at his dad as he rounded the back of the dark blue car. His dad smiled and nodded toward a couple of buildings ahead.
They walked past the restaurant, and Derrick wrinkled his nose as he glanced through the windows. The fishy smell was hardly yummy. Adults ate the strangest things.
A long wooden path stretched out before them, lifted on stilts above the water—the pier. Derrick ran down it a ways toward his left, then stood on his tiptoes and glanced over the railing. Water threw itself across the rocks and against the bluff. He counted three bright orange starfish sticking to some submerged stones.
“See anything?” his dad asked.
Derrick pointed out the starfish, which were practically glowing in the evening shadows and clear water. “If they’re called starfish, is the ocean kind of like the sky?” He was afraid it was one of those stupid questions all his friends hated to ask at school, but he was curious. “I mean, do the stars in the sky stick to things like starfish? Are they alive?”
His dad didn’t laugh. Derrick turned so his arms were hooked over the railing behind him as he leaned forward toward his dad.
Lean back. Lean forward.
After a moment, his dad stepped next to him, his head down and the wind tugging at the dark strands of his hair. He studied the water, and Derrick studied his sneakers, counting the dirt spots dotting the white surfaces. Finally, his dad replied, “I don’t know. I’ve seen pictures and articles and documentaries, but I don’t know firsthand.” He turned and looked at Derrick, who lowered his brows as he tried to figure out what his dad was talking about. His dad continued, “I guess we’ll never really know for sure. Unless we figure out how to travel farther into space. What do you think? Do you wanna touch the stars someday?”
Derrick leaned forward as far as he could go, staring at the wooden boards stained with white splotches. “I don’t know. Aren’t they really just light?” He thought about the light bulb in the living-room lamp that he had brushed with his fingers the other night. “They’d probably be too hot to touch.”
His dad turned back toward the cliff, but Derrick caught the moment when the corner of his mouth lifted. “You’re a smart kid. You’ll probably turn out to be a scientist or something like that. Get your name on the news and support your mom and dad in their old age.”
He spoke toward the water, grown-up stuff that was boring and didn’t make any sense. His parents were supposed to take care of
. And he didn’t think being a scientist sounded very cool. He wanted to build things. Or race things.
Suddenly, his dad turned around and pointed up at the sky. “Do you know any of the stars’ names?”
Derrick hopped down from the railing and craned his neck back. The stars were faint and all looked the same. “How can you tell which one’s which?”
“Well...” His dad sat back against the railing and squinted up at the sky, which kept growing darker. “I actually don’t know many of their names. But they do form shapes, did you know that?”
Derrick stared and stared, but he couldn’t see any shapes at all, except for a fluffy oval cloud making its way across the sky. He shook his head.
“There’s one that’s actually a man—a warrior of some sort, I guess,” his dad said. “His name’s Orion.”
Derrick liked that word, “warrior.” He watched his dad, who was still scanning the stars.
“The only part of the constellation I can really identify is his belt.” His dad glanced at him, then bent down on one knee. “Hop on.”
Derrick launched himself at his dad’s back, clasping his arms around his dad’s neck, eliciting a grunt and rumbly laughter. His dad bent forward, then got his legs under him and aimed his gaze back at the nearly black sky. “See those three stars all lined up in a row?”
Derrick squinted again, following the direction of his dad’s finger. He tilted his head, then cried, “Yeah! I see the line.”
He could feel the warmth of his dad’s approval radiating through his jacket. “Great. Now you know how to find Orion.”
Derrick couldn’t figure out any more of the star picture beyond the belt, but it didn’t matter. He latched onto the belt as a now-familiar friend—a cluster of stars he could pinpoint. Their shiny faces stuck with him as he and his dad walked back to the car and made the short trek home.
16 years later...
Derrick stuffed his hands into his pockets and hunched his shoulders against the cold sea wind as he started up the Trinidad Head trail. The sky was growing dark despite the fact that he had helped close shop barely fifteen minutes ago. Just one more thing to love about winter on the coast—in addition to the lack of snow or anything at all to liven up the foggy days that ran one right into another.
High clouds swept across the ocean air, edged in the metal gray of evening. He veered toward the thin opening to the side of the gate that kept cars from driving up the private road. He flipped the hood of his green sweater over his head and stuck earbuds into his ears. With a swipe of his thumb over his iPod, he selected a song. His head bobbed slightly with the beat, while his gaze stayed trained on the pavement. He knew the sights by heart, and it was nothing exciting—at least until he hit the dirt trail and reached his favorite lookout spot.
It had been another repetitive day at Crashing Sounds, Trinidad’s little music store. CDs, percussion instruments, and gift cards... It was no wonder their customers were few and far between. The store’s saving grace was desperate tourists and a handful of faithful regulars who relied on the place for all their musical needs.
He eventually swung right, stepping off the pavement and beginning the trail that wrapped around Trinidad Head.
Lately, he had felt like Sherlock on that BBC version of the series that Trisha—his middle sister—adored. All he needed was a gun and a smiley face painted on his apartment wall to use as a target. He was so incredibly bored. With his job, his routine...his life.
This wasn’t what he signed up for when they shipped him off to college. What about all those charts that they showed high-schoolers? The ones that promised that people with college degrees made more money, had cooler jobs?
He could be debt-free and working at the same job. No one had told him about the realities of being saddled with a mound of student loans. They never put
in the college brochures, nor mentioned it during freshman orientation. Of course, if they had, he probably hadn’t been paying attention.
Still, he basically worked day in and day out at the most boring job in the world, trying to survive and pay off the student loans that had gained him nothing at all—all while living in his tiny hometown and sharing an apartment with a high-school buddy who came with a boatload of his own issues.
Yep, he was living the dream.
He shook his head in self-pity and passed the little trails that branched off the main path. Today, all he wanted was to reach the summit. There were several dead-end paths that led to benches with views of the ocean, but the best was at the highest point. There was nothing to block the wind up there, and the view was amazing.
As he walked, he must have unknowingly hit the shuffle button, because a slower song from Sky Sailing—Owl City’s alter ego—came on. Trisha had bought him the CD a few years ago for his birthday, back when he was slightly obsessed with the musician’s clever lyrics.
His thumb hovered over the skip button, but something about the wind and the faint stars blinking between the clouds made him decide to brave it out. It fit his melancholy mood.
The gentle guitar strumming filled his ears as he finally took the path to the summit, climbing over tree roots and rocks on his way up. Soon the ocean spread out before him and the wind snatched his hood back. Up here he felt exposed, frozen and exhilarated all at once. Up here he felt comforted, distanced from the smallness of everyday life and welcomed by the beckoning horizon.
Up here, he felt free.
He stepped toward the bench on the left, taking a seat and losing himself in the expanse of gray and blue—the endless uncertainties and possibilities, so different from his quiet, predictable life.
Just as the song ended, a different sound caught his attention. He yanked the earbuds out and glanced around. There was another bench perpendicular to this one, situated a few feet away and separated by bushes. He hadn’t noticed anyone when he reached the top, but then he hadn’t paid close attention to his surroundings.
It was awkward to think of someone else up here with him—like an invasion of privacy, though he could hardly lay claim to any part of the peninsula. Pushing off the bench, he stretched his limbs and stepped back toward the path. On a whim, he glanced behind him to see if he could determine who else was on the Head at this hour.
A glimpse of poufy white material stopped him in his tracks.
Is that a wedding dress?
Stuffing the iPod he was gripping into his sweater pocket, he cautiously approached the other bench, which faced one of the beaches and the northern coastline. He stepped down the minor incline and peeked over the back of the bench. His eyebrows scrunched low as he tried to make sense of the figure lying on the seat.
A blond girl—late teens, early twenties?—in a fancy white dress appeared to be asleep, curled toward the back of the bench as if the wood had caught her and held her close. Her hair was windblown, all over the place as it fell over her face, back, and shoulders. Her cheeks and nose, from what little he could see between the masses of hair, were bright pink. The silky material of her dress draped over the end of the bench.
There was no way there had been a wedding here, at least not one where the bride got left behind. Could she be some sort of runaway bride? More likely. Still, the sight of her peaceful, sleeping form was the strangest thing he had ever encountered on the Head, hands down.
He hated disturbing her—one, because she seemed so relaxed despite the brisk wind, and two, because he didn’t really want to deal with any potential drama—but it was getting dark. If she had simply taken a nap, she might not have intended to sleep so long.
Reaching out slowly, he placed his hand on her shoulder. The warmth that seeped into his palm through the thin layer of her sleeve surprised him. She couldn’t have been there that long if her skin was still warm.
He hesitated. When he glanced at her face, he saw her watching him. Her light blue eyes widened slightly, but there was no fear in them.
Realizing his hand was still glued to her shoulder, his face burned and he snatched his arm back.
She sat up, hair flying and the layers of her skirt straining toward the cliff’s edge like wisps of cloud. With a slight stretch of her neck, she settled in, wrapping her arms around her raised knees as she studied him.
Completely unnerving. Who was this chick? “I didn’t mean to bother you.” He stuffed his hands into his pockets and clutched the iPod in his fist. Raising his shoulder slightly, he added, “It’s just that it’s getting dark.”
She glanced up at the cloud-and-star-dotted sky and smiled. “I guess it is.”
No explanation for why she was here, alone, in a fluffy white dress? “Umm... Look, I don’t mean to pry, but I— What’s with your outfit?”
She was kind of cute and innocent-looking with her laughing eyes and the way she cocked her head to one side. Reminded him of his sister Chloe’s Husky, Lulu. Yeah, there was no way she was an abandoned bride. Had to be a runaway. She seemed young enough to be the kind to second-guess an early marriage.
After a moment, she shrugged. “I’m a star.”
Derrick racked his brain, trying to recall if any new movies were currently being filmed in Humboldt County. It was a popular location, what with the redwoods and all, but he couldn’t remember seeing any recent headlines involving films.
Finally, he crossed his arms. “What movie?”
She laughed as she stood. He stared at the accordion folds of her skirt, not sure whether he was still puzzled or more irritated by this point.
The wind sent her hair streaming behind her as she clarified, “Not that kind of star.” She gestured above her with a tilt of her head and a sweet little wave of her hand.
It took him a moment to catch on.
“What...you mean like
?” It was one of Chloe’s favorite movies—that was the only reason he was familiar with the story.
When she didn’t deny the claim, he closed his eyes. What had he gotten himself into? This girl was clearly insane. Or high. But when he opened his eyes again and regarded her, she certainly seemed with it.
“Are you familiar with Orion?”
Her question sent a jolt through him—a needle prick of memories from a childhood that felt light-years away. He simply jerked his head in a semi-nod.
She glanced up at the stars. “I’m from Orion’s Belt.” At his groan, she only grinned and added, “You could say the great hunter sent me.”
“Is this some kind of joke? What on earth are you on?”
For the first time since she’d awoken, a little frown sent lines across her forehead and stole the light from her eyes. Before he could try to mend the situation—whatever it was—she spun past him and headed toward the path.
“Hey!” He caught up to her but was forced to follow a safe distance behind her fluffiness. “Do you need a ride somewhere?”
She didn’t say a word as she picked her way over the rocks and then stood solidly on the main trail. She bit her lip and appeared to be searching his face.
He stuffed his hands into his jeans pockets. “I’m not one of those guys. I promise, I’m just offering a ride.”
The light returned to her eyes. “I know.” Without further response, she started down the trail, finishing the loop he had already begun. Well, he was heading that way anyway—might as well shadow her and make sure she didn’t do something stupid, like fling herself off the cliff in an effort to fly.
The trail wasn’t wide enough for them to walk side by side—especially with that ridiculous dress floating around her—so he kept his distance. After a while, though, he noticed her shivering. Bracing himself for the cold consequences of his action, he unzipped his sweater.
“Hey.” When she stopped and turned, he handed her the bundle of green cotton. “Here.”
A slow smile crossed her cheeks, erasing the strange guilt he had felt after making her frown. She took the sweater and slipped her arms into the sleeves. He turned to look at the tangled bushes on his right when she zipped the sweater over the sparkly front of her dress.
“Thank you.” Her words were soft but filled with warmth.
He pondered the girl and whatever predicament she had landed in, and the thoughts kept him preoccupied until they reached the stone cross in the clearing. An earlier version had been put there back in the 1700s, when one of the explorers came through the area. He glanced at the name and date etched on the cross—Carolus III. Dei G. Hyspaniarum Rex, June 9, 1775.
The girl settled herself on the base of the statue. He sat down next to her and asked, “What’s your name?”
He sensed her shrug.
“You do have one, don’t you?”
Her snort prompted a grin.
“Of course I have a name. All the stars do.” Her voice hovered like heat waves between them. “But I doubt it’s anything like the sorts of names you’re familiar with.”
He let her craziness slide, deciding that for now it would be more fun to just go along with it. “How about I give you a name, then?”
He glanced over at her in time to catch her grin, barely visible in the dark but still amusing. He began, “How about Belt, since you’re from Orion’s Belt?”
The resounding silence caused heat to flare into his face. “Come on. Don’t tell me you haven’t seen
?” Yet another movie his sisters had introduced him to.
A smile peeked out from behind the hand she had raised to her mouth. He scooted closer, emboldened by her obvious merriment. “Okay,” he tried again, “how about Lucy?”
The breeze—much softer here than at the summit—ruffled her dress, but no words floated back to him.
“You know, like ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,’ since you’re a star?” He added that last part for her benefit, not because she had convinced him by any stretch of the imagination.
“If you really believed I’m who I say I am, you wouldn’t keep suggesting names I obviously wouldn’t understand.”
He didn’t glance at her, though he wished he could see her expression to determine if that subtle humor still lingered. Were her eyebrows arched high from their shared joke?
Her knee brushed against his—well, at least the bunched material covering her knee—and he decided to try one more name. One more attempt at prolonging this...whatever the heck it was.
“Well, if you fell from the sky, that makes you kind of like an angel, right?”
She shifted, and he glanced sidelong at her as he asked, “How about Gabriel?” When she crossed her arms, he laughed. “Fine. Maybe Gabrielle?”
She leaned back against the cross, her hair and the shadows hiding her reaction. Something about the name lingered around him, like the feeling he sometimes got right after he woke up and had yet to register the screeching of the alarm on his phone.
He remembered the song that had played on his iPod on his way up the trail, right before he met... “Brielle.” Yeah. It fit.
He caught the satisfied look she gave him as she sat in her white cloud of a dress, glowing like fog over a dark field, or maybe even the distant light of the stars. He grinned back at her. “Brielle, then?”