1: Starlight

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A strange man from the stars once told me, "A wish is an expensive thing to waste."

"Wishes," he said, "can be traded for money, power, fame, anything you could ever want." I wondered why anyone would want to trade in a wish. That's when I learned that not all wishes are good, and some come with a terrible price.

***

"Eddie," whispered my father nudging me awake. "Wake up, Starlight. It's almost time." I had fallen asleep wrapped in his arms as we sat on the roof of our home. He pointed to the night sky. "You're going to miss the meteor shower. Come on. Up. Up. It's about to start."

I opened my little eyes to see my father's smiling face glow in the lantern light. I looked to the sky and yawned.

"Are you sure?" I said seeing a motionless patchwork of stars. "How can you tell?" My father chuckled.

"You are talking to an ace astronaut," he saluted with glee. "Trust me. I know my night sky. And in a few days, I'll be up there waving at you from the space station."

"Do you and mom really have to go?" I said pulling my sweater over my knees. "I hate it when you leave me."

"I'm sorry, Starlight," said my father rubbing my back. "You know it's our job. Someone has to keep the station running."

"Why couldn't y'all be dentists like Mitchell's parents. Not some lame astronauts."

My father hugged me tightly and kissed my cheek.

"We are not going to be gone very long. Besides, Nana will take care of you." My father sighed. "You will be having so much fun you won't believe how fast the time goes."

"I'm gonna miss you, dad," I said dropping my small head to his shoulder.

"I'll miss you too, Starlight." My father suddenly raised his arm and in a joyous excitement he pointed to the sky. "Look! You see that small moving glowing dot."

"Yeah," I said.

"That is the space station. Mom and I will be right there watching you. Every ninety-two minutes we will pass over. I promise I will be waving each time I see Florida."

"Really?"

"Of course, Starlight."

Suddenly the night filled with movement. Bright streaks of light shot across the sky. The meteor shower had begun.

My young self was so awed by the sight. I had never seen so many shooting stars in all my life. My father glanced down at his watch.

"Just on time. 11:11. The perfect time to make a wish." He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Don't forget to make your wish. You may never get another chance like this."

I closed my eyes and made a wish. My father laughed.

"So what did you wish for?"

"I can't tell you," I said. "It won't come true if I tell you."

"Well, you know what I wished for?"

"No, no, don't tell me." I put my hands over my ears. "It won't come true. Don't waste it!"

"A wish is an expensive thing to waste," he said pulling my hands down and hugging me once again. "You don't get many chances to make a wish, but when you do never keep it to yourself. A wish is pointless if it is not shared." He ran his fingers through my red curly hair. "I wished that I would always be there for you, my little starlight. And I promise, no matter what happens, I'll be there watching from the stars."

That was the last night I ever saw my father or mother. We climbed off the roof. My mother gave me a glass of warm milk, and soon I was asleep.

Early the next morning he and mom had left for the take off. I rode with Nana in her car to watch the launch. I screamed the countdown, cheering on my parents as the engines roared to life and sent plumes of smoke and steam into the air. They were off. The space shuttle looked like a giant climbing metal monster. My parents said they loved the take off. They would hold hands looking at one another all wrapped in their red, white, and blue flight suits. A smile shared between them, but not today.

Unfortunately, something malfunctioned before the shuttle could reach the edge of the atmosphere. Everybody gasped. A stillness gripped the crowd. Nana pulled me close and tried to cover my eyes, but I pulled her hands apart. The space shuttle had exploded.

A giant fireball of debris rained down on the world below. I remember the heat wave singe my face and the taste of ash fill in my mouth. I remember the screams, my screams, and the sound of my heart breaking against my chest.

"Mom!" I yelled. Tears poured from my eyes. "Dad! No!"

The newscaster covering the event stuttered into the microphone. "Something has gone wrong. The Space Shuttle Stardancer has exploded. You have just witnessed the death of several brave Americans. God have mercy."

"Eddie," cried Nana, pulling at my jacket. "Turn away. Don't look at it."

No matter how hard I tried, I could not look away. My eyes were frozen to the dark swirling clouds for some hope that my parents had survived, but it was no use. My parents were gone. In a single instant I became an orphan, and my life changed forever.

It was the saddest day of my life. I didn't eat for a week. Nana tried to comfort me with candy and ice cream, but the only comfort I found was sitting on the roof of my home watching the starry sky. I thought I would never be happy until I discovered hope in a small memory. I set my alarm each night to beep at 11:11 just like my father had said. I'd climb out the window to the roof, pull out my little telescope, and stare into the sky, sometimes seeing the space station pass by. Before the clock would change, I would find the brightest star, shut my eyes, and make the same desperate wish. A wish I hoped would one day come true. And one day it did. 


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