Every Soul a Star Read online

  I should have come down at dawn, like I meant to. Maybe this is the Moon Shadow’s way of telling me it doesn’t belong to me anymore. My heart sinks, but rises a bit when I see Bree sitting a few feet away, on the slope that leads up to the Star Garden. As usual she’s wearing her iPod. I don’t think I’ve seen her without it for the past two days. She’s watching the men lift the telescopes onto carts. They’ll be set up in various places in the field, each one fitted with a special solar filter. The guests will be able to take turns looking at the eclipse through them. Dad put my favorite one aside for the family. I have specially fitted binoculars too.

  I call Bree’s name, but she doesn’t hear me. Ever since the other night when she looked through Mr. Silver’s scope at the moon, she’s been stranger than usual. Not as angry as she used to be, but sort of in her own world. Jack’s been a little strange too, but only about the eclipse. Every time I go to take care of one of the Unusuals, he’s there. Or he’s row-boating with that little boy Pete’s family. Or he’s babysitting the twins. But whenever I try to talk to him about the eclipse, he gets all weird and changes the subject. Maybe he’s just anxious that Mr. Silver isn’t back yet. He hasn’t mentioned the whole “me being really pretty” thing again, and I’m beginning to think I heard him wrong. After all, who could possibly think I’m prettier than Bree? I’ve been paying more attention to my appearance though, or at least trying to make sure my clothes aren’t covered in stains.

  Static bursts through my walkie-talkie, and I grab it from my waist. Bree doesn’t even look up, so I turn back onto the road and press the talk button. “Hey, Dad, what’s up?”

  It’s not Dad though, it’s Mom. “Come back to the house, Ally,” her voice cackles through the air. “I’ve got special news for you.” There’s so much interference from all the other walkie-talkies people brought with them that I have to ask her to repeat herself three times. When I finally understand her, my heart leaps! My fingers stumble over the right button to press. “We’re not moving?” I ask, holding my breath.

  “Of course we’re moving! Just come —” She says more, but I turn it off and stick it back on my shorts.

  When I get back to the house the first thing I see is Melanie doing cartwheels across the lawn. She runs up when she sees me. “Did you hear? Did you hear?”

  “Hear what?”

  Kenny comes running down the stairs to meet us, with Ryan a few steps behind. “What’s going on?” I ask.

  “Mr. Silver called!” Kenny says, shifting from one foot to the other like he can barely contain himself.

  “He’s still not here?” I ask, thinking of Jack.

  Kenny shakes his head. “He’s on the road, but it’s pretty crowded. He might not make it in time. But listen —”

  “We actually did it!” Ryan breaks in, laughing. “The huge telescope in Hawaii used our data and confirmed the planet!”

  I gasp. “Seriously?” I had been convinced since we didn’t hear anything right away that we had messed up somehow. And after getting my hopes up with the SETI project, I hadn’t allowed myself to get too excited. But this is amazing!

  “Not only that,” Kenny says. “But we’re famous! Mr. Silver said we’re the youngest people ever to have found an exoplanet!”

  “We didn’t really find it, exactly,” Ryan corrects. “We just monitored it. But he said this proves amateur astronomers can play a really important role in confirming exoplanets.” His enthusiasm dampens a little. “At least for now. Until those planet-finding telescopes are launched into space in a few years.”

  “Let’s not think about them,” Melanie says. She looks so happy, with her cheeks so bright that it’s impossible not to catch her enthusiasm.

  “That’s right!” I say. “And no matter how many planets they find, they didn’t find this one!”

  “We gotta tell Jack and Bree,” Kenny says. “Does anyone know where they are?”

  Still feeling like I could float a foot off the ground, I tell him I just saw Bree a few minutes ago by the Star Garden.

  “I’ll go find her,” Melanie says. “I have to give her something anyway.” She takes off running, does two cartwheels, and continues.

  I ask Ryan if he’s seen Jack.

  He shakes his head. “Not since last night. I just went by his cabin but he wasn’t there.”

  Kenny says, “He came by this morning to pick up the eclipse glasses for his group. I haven’t seen him since though.”

  We all promise to keep an eye out for him. Ryan goes off to find his grandfather while Kenny and I head inside. I give the sky one last glance. Still a few too many clouds for my liking, but clouds move fast, and there’s no way of telling what will happen this afternoon. I notice Kenny eyeing them nervously too, but he shakes it off as well and gives me a huge grin.

  Mom and Dad each give us a big hug as we walk into the kitchen. “There they are,” Dad says, beaming proudly. “The groundbreaking planet-finding astronomers!”

  “Isn’t it amazing?” Kenny says, bouncing around the kitchen. “We’re famous!”

  “And you’re finally talking to us again!” Mom says, clapping her hands.

  “Oops!” Kenny throws his hand over his mouth, then brings it down in defeat. “Oh, all right! I give up.”

  “That’s good,” Dad says, turning to the huge dry-erase board they’ve set up on the table. “Because we have a lot to go over and the seconds are ticking away.”

  According to the board, Kenny’s job is to finish printing the flyers and then to hand them out as people arrive at the site. He’s also in charge of making sure no one is disturbing the peace or littering. For a ten-year-old with a sunny disposition, he can be very persuasive. People listen to him.

  Dad’s job is to oversee the technical aspects. Making sure the video cameras and projection screens are working, that the P.A. system is loud enough, that sort of thing, so that everyone can hear when it’s safe to look at the sun without protection. Mom is on crisis duty—if anyone gets stung by a bee or faints, or if a kid gets lost, she’s the one to take care of it. And my job is to go through the group and make sure everyone’s eyes and equipment are properly protected during the partial phases. Besides listing the stages of the eclipse and telling the guests what to watch for at each stage, Kenny’s flyers have a warning in big letters about not looking directly at the sun.

  The security crew Dad hired will also be overseeing all these things, and even though every guest who registered signed something agreeing to take precautions, we want to make sure everyone has a positive experience. Dad tells us to meet in the roped-off area he reserved for us before totality hits. Otherwise it will be too dark to find each other. Ryan, his grandfather, and Bree’s family are meeting us there too. I invited Jack, but he said he might have to be with his group. Then he changed the subject, as usual.

  “This is it,” Dad says, actually getting a little teary-eyed. “What we’ve been waiting for—planning for—all these years.”

  A lump forms in my throat. Kenny stops bouncing. We can hear shouts of excitement and anticipation drift in through the open windows as two different groups of campers run by.

  “We should all be really proud of ourselves,” Mom says. “We’re making a lot of people very happy. We’re giving them a memory they’ll never forget.”

  “That none of us will ever forget,” Dad says firmly. He glances out the window. “No matter what happens.”

  “No matter what happens,” we all repeat, placing our hands on top of each other’s like a team before a game. Then we gobble down an early lunch and go our separate ways. I run up to my room to get my supplies, stepping over the empty boxes like they’re bumps in the rug and nothing more. My backpack has been ready for days. Binoculars, logbook, red flashlight, camera, solar glasses, and a screen made of welder’s glass. I’ve also packed many extra sheets of the solar filters in case people don’t have them. I’m already wearing the t-shirt Mom had printed for us. It’s bright yellow and has a pic