Every Soul a Star Read online

  “Our data turned out to be right! They verified the planet! We’re going to be in some science journal, all of us.”

  His face lights up. “That’s great! How’d you find out? Is Mr. Silver back?”

  I shake my head. “I don’t think so. But he called or something.”

  “That’s really great,” he says. “Thanks for telling me. Does Ally know?”

  “I think so.”

  “Good,” he says, mostly to himself.

  I see my parents coming around the bend and say, “I’ve gotta go, but I’ll see you at the eclipse later. Ally’s family reserved a spot for all of us.”

  “I’m not sure I’m going,” he says softly.

  I turn back around. “You’re not going where?”

  “The eclipse. I’m not sure I’m going to watch it.”

  Sure that I must still be hearing him wrong, I say, “Huh? What are you talking about?”

  “I’m just not that into it. Don’t tell Ally, okay? I don’t want her to worry about anything today.”

  “But it’s okay if I worry?”

  “I think you can handle it.”

  “But why would you miss it? Isn’t that why you came here?”

  He shakes his head. “I came here to get out of summer school.”

  “Oh. But still. The way Ally talks about it, well, are you sure you want to miss it?”

  “I have my reasons, okay? Just don’t tell anyone. I’ll see you when it’s over.”

  I narrow my eyes at him. “You know, Jack, the eclipse is going to happen whether or not you’re there to watch it.”

  He shrugs. “It doesn’t matter.”

  “I think it does matter. Believe me, I know how fast everything’s going to go afterward. Everyone��s going to leave, including Ally and her family, and it will just be me, Mel, and our parents. It’s enough to freeze my blood.”

  He doesn’t say anything, just kicks up some dust and pebbles with his toe.

  I glance over at my parents, who are almost upon us. I really want to talk to them about Claire’s letter. “Well, if you change your mind we’ll be right next to the podium with the microphone on it.”

  “Thanks,” he says, glancing toward the big field. It’s already starting to fill with people.

  My parents are next to us now. Jack says a quick hello and then takes off in the opposite direction of the field.

  Dad takes my hand and swings my arm like he used to when I was little. “Are you excited, honey?”

  “Um, sure, Dad.” I’m very aware of the letter from Claire sticking out of my front pocket.

  “We’d like to invite the Summers to stay here next August for the Star Party, what do you think of that idea?”

  “What’s a Star Party?” I get a crazy picture in my mind of flaming balls of gas dancing the night away. Two weeks ago I would have been sure he was talking about movie stars.

  “It’s a big event the campground holds each August during the Perseid meteor shower. People bring their telescopes and camp out.”

  “So sort of like this?” I wave my arm around at the rows of people heading toward the field, carrying telescopes or wheeling them in wagons.

  Mom laughs. “Not quite this many people.”

  “Not nearly,” Dad adds.

  “I think it would be great if Ally’s family came back next summer. In fact . . .” I’m about to suggest Ally stay this summer in my place, but instead I push the note farther down in my pocket. I don’t want to argue with them. Not today.

  I arrive at the field with about forty-five minutes to go. Apparently we have to wait through a whole partial eclipse before the total eclipse, which is what everyone came for. If I had been warned I’d have to stand there for an hour before the main event, I’d have found something else to do. But I’m here now so I might as well make the best of it. That seems to be the story of my life lately.

  I head for the podium, snaking through a sea of people with telescopes and video cameras and lawn chairs. Some are totally manic, jumping around, testing and retesting their equipment. And some are totally mellow, lounging on their chairs and drinking from plastic cups. I hear snippets of foreign languages and I look around for Bellana, the woman from the labyrinth, but I don’t see her. I hope she’s drinking a lot of water to keep hydrated under that robe. At one point I stop and buy a key chain for Claire from a woman wearing a hat in the shape of a big stuffed sun.

  A throbbing sort of noise suddenly fills the air. It sounds like it’s coming from the speakers. I figure Mr. Summers must be testing the sound system. But it’s not stopping. Just this rhythmic pulsing sort of thing. Almost, but not quite, like a really annoying heartbeat.

  I see Ally’s bright yellow shirt a few feet ahead of me and stop her. “What’s that horrible noise?” I shout.

  She laughs and claims that it’s a recording of the sun. She doesn’t seem to be kidding, either. I reach for my iPod to blot out the sound, but figure what the heck, how often does someone get to hear the sun?

  I follow Ally back to our area. The rest of my family is there already. Melanie is leading them in that sunny sky dance of hers. That woman Stella is here with Ryan’s grandfather. I overhear Ally ask Stella if she’s seen Jack. My mind races for a response in case she asks me too, since I had promised Jack I wouldn’t tell. But she doesn’t ask. Stella asks me about the labyrinth again. There’s no way I can tell her I’ve tried twice more but couldn’t do it. I just shake my head. She smiles and squeezes my hand as she goes back to join the others. For some reason that makes me feel a little better.

  Mom hands me the glasses right as Ally’s dad starts talking. They’re flimsy paper things with shiny silver lenses. These are supposed to protect me from going blind? Ally is in a state of frenzy next to me. She probably doesn’t even realize it, but she’s sort of buzzing. I put the glasses on as the countdown begins. The sky looks totally normal. Well, the sun is a little orange-ish from the glasses, but isn’t the moon supposed to be there, too? How else can it cover the sun? This is all very confusing. Then everyone shouts, “One!” And a few seconds later, out of nowhere, a black dot appears on the right side of the sun. This takes me utterly by surprise. Then the blackness grows slightly bigger and longer until it forms a crescent shape, like the sliver of moon I saw in the telescope. Except the rest of the moon is still invisible, and this crescent is black, instead of white. I can’t tear my eyes away from the sun. It’s disappearing right before my eyes. Ally asks me something, but I have no idea what she says.

  I stand still and watch, turning away only briefly. As the moon creeps farther across the sun, the trees and grass turn a metallic color. It’s like the life and color is being sucked right out of the world. Mom or Dad or Melanie comes to talk to me and I almost can’t bear to look at them. The shadows on their faces are really strange and almost scary. I shiver, and not only because it’s noticeably colder. Everything is a little scary, actually, and my heart is beating faster than when I ran all the way to Claire’s. I feel something warm and soft over my shoulders and look down to find Stella’s red scarf draped over me. Her eyes meet mine and she mouths, “Keep it.”

  I smile gratefully and turn back to the sky. The sun is almost completely gone now, leaving a deep blue-black sky behind. All around the far horizon I can see a yellow-orange glow where the eclipse doesn’t reach. It’s like a huge circle of sunset. Ally’s back now. I glance over at her. She’s in a daze, just staring, frozen. I almost laugh, hoping I don’t look like that, too. I take a quick look out at the crowd, just in time to see a huge wall of darkness push toward us from the direction of the sun. “The moon’s shadow!” I hear Ryan shout. “Here it comes!” It zooms through us like a wall of ghosts, faster than I’ve ever seen anything move. It’s exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

  And then a few seconds later the sun completely disappears, leaving a hole in the sky. I feel its loss in the pit of my stomach. I hear myself scream in-voluntarily, but it gets lost among a t