Authors: Laura D. Bastian
By Laura D. Bastian
Published by Astraea Press
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.
EYE ON ORION
Copyright Â© 2014 LAURA D. BASTIAN
Cover Art Designed AM DESIGN STUDIO
To my husband. Who once told me, “That could make a great book."
Bright headlights turning the corner interrupted my study of the constellations. Who would be roaming my neighborhood at three in the morning? I sat up and felt the rough shingles brush against my bare calves. I looked over the edge of the roof and watched the car as it passed. It pulled into the driveway at the house Celia had moved out of last month. Had it sold?
The car's headlamps turned off, and a man stepped out from the driver's side. He glanced right, then left, and walked over to the streetlight and placed a hand on the metal post. The bulb flickered before going out completely. The light from further down the street was fine. Had he done something to this one? Impossible. It had to be a fluke.
The passenger door opened, and I realized the car's interior lights weren't on. A second man got out. Though I couldn't see him as clearly as the first, there was enough light to make out a few things. His body appeared big and strong, but something about it gave me the impression of youth. He couldn't be more than twenty, a thought my seventeen-year-old mind found intriguing. He did a visual sweep of the area and walked toward the two-story house. He pulled keys out and opened the front door, then disappeared inside while the first man moved back to the idling car.
The lights in the house turned on one by one as if the guy inside were entering each room. Soon the stranger exited the house and strode purposefully toward the car. He slowed as he neared it then looked directly at me. Gooseflesh covered my arms, and I held my breath as if that could keep me hidden. It would be impossible for him to see me in the dark, but I didn't move a muscle just in case. He motioned for the other man to join him then pointed at my roof. The first guy shook his head, and after a moment the younger man turned to the car.
He opened the back door and helped a young woman out of the car. He rushed her to the house, and the two disappeared inside. A second woman got out of the car while the man who'd touched the lamppost opened the trunk. They grabbed luggage and vanished into the house, leaving me once again alone with my stars.
“Mom, did you know someone moved into Celia's house?” I asked.
“Really? I hadn't heard it sold.” Mom put a plate in the dishwasher. “Grab that cup for me, Holly.”
I handed her the cup, trying to cover a huge yawn. “I saw some people go in there last night.”
“Maybe we should take them a plate of cookies to welcome them to the neighborhood.” Mom pulled ingredients out of the cupboard and set them on the counter. “We'll make some after work.”
I shook my head. “Mom, we can't do that.”
Mom looked at me as if I was crazy. “Of course we can. We do that for all the new neighbors.”
“But these people areâ¦” I couldn't help thinking of the light going out or the way the one guy had seemed to look right at me. “Different.”
“I'm sure they are just like anyone else.” Mom went about her normal morning ritual, and I knew it would be useless to argue about the cookies.
“Can I drive today?” I asked, trying to change the subject.
“Come on,” I pleaded. “I only hit one trash can, and it didn't even dent the car. I paid to get the paint touched up too. I'll be careful.” That scratch had prevented me from having a new telescope already.
Mom's sigh spoke volumes.
I grinned and grabbed the keys from the hook on my way out the door. Mom slid into the passenger side and put her seatbelt on with exaggerated care. I clicked mine into place and backed out smoothly. Mom released the breath she'd been holding. I checked my mirror and stomped on the brake, jamming the gear into park. The younger guy from last night guided a moving van from an upscale furniture store into the driveway of Celia's old house.
Daylight certainly was good to him. His blond hair and broad shoulders were just begging to be stared at. I glanced at Mom then shifted the car into drive. I peeked at the rearview mirror as I pulled forward. The expression on his face as he stared at my house didn't look promising.
True to her word, Mom made chocolate chip cookies after we got home from the family-owned plant nursery. I wrapped the plate in cheap cellophane and attached a strip of tape across the bottom to hold it together. I ran upstairs to clean up a bit before Mom made me go meet the hot neighbor. I re-did my ponytail, capturing the strands that had escaped. I double-checked to make sure I didn't have any smears of dirt or potting soil on my face. A clean shirt and touched-up lip gloss completed my makeover before I went downstairs to wait for Mom.
“You can take these over on your own if you want,” she said. “I'll stay and finish the last two batches.”
I hesitated. Having a chance to see that guy without Mom was tempting. She'd probably tell me afterward what I could have done or said to be more friendly, or smoother, or more polite, or whatever. Yet, going alone meant I had to do all the talking, and what if they recognized me? I decided to wait for Mom. A simple smile and a shrug would let him know I did it to humor her, if he thought we were crazy. And with Mom there to do the talking, I could watch and see if anything else weird happened.
We stepped out into the warm June evening and made our way across the street.
I cringed inside when Curtis hollered at me. He waved the cloth he'd been polishing his classic muscle car with. Since Mom was with me, I couldn't just pretend I hadn't heard him. I waved back and continued on down the street.
“Why don't you and Curtis hang out like you used to?” Mom asked.
I shrugged. “We don't like the same kinds of things.”
Plus, his hands roam way too much when he's close by.
Mom frowned and shook her head.
The moving van was gone and the house had an occupied feel to it again. Funny what a curtain could do to a home. The yard had a few dead spots of grass and weeds in the flower bed. Good thing Dad wasn't with us or he'd give them his business card.
Mom slowed down and let me walk up the stairs first. She could have done the welcome-to-the-neighborhood spiel but kept forcing me to practice interacting with people. Apparently since my best friend had moved across the country last month, she thought I needed to get out more.
I ignored the doorbell and used the brass knocker they had added. It felt strange to be knocking. Celia and I had felt at home in either house. A slight movement of the curtain caught my eye. A shadow crossed the half-moon window above the knocker. My nerves rose and I took a deep breath to calm them. I looked up to meet deep blue eyes peering out the window.
The door opened and I was shocked to find the hot guy frowning at me. Close up, he was amazing. The combination of his gorgeous face and the expression on it stole my planned speech. He looked me over with unveiled annoyance, and my irritation rose. He didn't even know me, and already I felt like summer break was over and I was back at school.
“What do you want?” His deep voice had an accent I couldn't place.
“I, uh, I'm Holly Adams. This is my mom, Susan. We live down the street a little ways, and my mom â I mean â we thought it would be fun to welcome you to the neighborhood.” I stopped and cleared my throat.
I still held the plate of cookies. He looked down when I thrust them at him. “Here. These are for you.” He reached to take them and when our fingers touched, the same shiver I felt last night as I watched them hit me. I pulled my hands back and shoved them into my pockets.
He stared at the cookies then at me, confusion evident on his face. I glanced back at my mom for help. She smiled, but it looked a little forced. Maybe she'd think twice before making me bring cookies to any new neighbors again. Guess the visit wasn't a total bust.
Turning back to him, I waited awkwardly, trying to think of something to say. If we waited long enough, Mom might say something. He glanced behind him then stepped into the center of the doorway, blocking my view of a girl gliding toward us.
“Who is it, Jai?” the girl asked. Her accent was thicker than his. He didn't say anything, just stood his ground. She was almost as tall as he was, so it was easy for her to peek around him. Her hair was a little darker than mine, and her green eyes were brighter. I'd need a team of personal stylists to look that good.
“Oh, how nice. Some neighbors have brought treats.” She smiled. “I am Amira, and you have met my brother, Jai.” She patted him on the shoulder and pushed him gently out of the way. He moved over without a fight, but didn't seem happy about her being there.
So he was her brother. That kind of surprised me, yet made me smile inside. Hopefully he wouldn't always be such a jerk. I took in his muscular body, thinking he was definitely fit. He probably played some sport. If so, he wouldn't want anything to do with me and my nerdiness.
“I'm Holly,” I said again. “And this is my mom, Susan. We live in the house over there with the big maple tree in the front yard.” I pointed it out. Jai frowned even deeper. I could see his eyes flit from the house to me and then up to the roof.
Amira glanced from me to Jai. She turned to me. “Were you out late last night, by any chance?”
Mom looked at me. “Were you up on the roof again?”
“Mars looked the best between two and four this morning.” I felt defensive for some reason, but also a little embarrassed that I had to explain my odd hobby to these new neighbors.
“Astronomy!” Jai blurted. That single word sent a slight shiver through me. “You like the stars?”
“Yeah.” I shrugged. “There's nothing wrong with that.”
“Of course not.” He nodded. “I am just surprised someone like you would find them interesting.”
Someone like me? What's that supposed to mean?
Amira placed her hand on Jai's shoulder and called behind her into the house. “Mother, Marshal, come meet some of our new neighbors,” Amira said, her words clipped and short. “They brought us something.” She lifted the plate of cookies, and I could see the tape had come undone.
The other two from last night came to the door much quicker than my parents would have. She introduced us to her mother, Delilah, and her stepfather, Marshal. Jai and Amira didn't look anything like Delilah. They must have gotten their height and features from their other father. I looked at Marshal and couldn't help looking back to the streetlight. I heard a sharp intake of breath and turned to see Jai and Amira staring at me.
Amira peeled the plastic off the cookies and took a bite. “These are delicious. Thank you.” She passed one to everyone, including us. After the first round she tried to offer the still-full plate back to me.
I glanced at Mom and was relieved when she stepped forward. “Do you need any help moving in?”
Delilah and Marshal looked at her for a moment with furrowed brows. “No. Thank you, but we have finished unpacking.”
Mom talked to the adults while I watched Jai and Amira. We didn't say anything, but Amira continued to smile wide while Jai's frown deepened. He looked over at her â sometimes with eyebrows raised, sometimes with them furrowed. She rolled her eyes slightly, and he shook his head, causing her smile to be replaced with a frown. She narrowed her eyes at him. He chewed on his bottom lip as he looked at her, then he glanced over at me. A frown returned to his face, and Amira forced a smile again.
“It was kind of you to bring over a welcome gift. We are relieved to have moved into a friendly area. I hope to see you again soon, Holly,” Amira said.
She extended her hand to me, and I took it in a gentle grip. She stepped to the side and motioned Jai forward. I thought it strange how she seemed to be in charge.
Jai offered me his hand. A wristband with a black, circular stone embedded in the weave of the leather braid caught my eye.
“It is nice to meet you.” Jai raised his chin, looking down on me.
I placed my hand in his, feeling a mild tingle while we touched. Did he feel it too? He didn't seem bothered at all.
I must be imagining it
. He gripped my hand as if testing my strength. I squeezed his hand back in response, daring him to think of me as weak.
His eyes widened. I didn't blink. He smiled a crooked smile that did a funny thing to my heart's rhythm. A scar in the upper right side of his lip accentuated his otherwise perfect mouth. As intriguing as his smile was, it didn't reach his watchful eyes. They were an interesting shade of blue; darker around the inside near the pupil and lightening as the iris extended out, somehow making his eyes seem bigger than normal.
“Nice to meet you too,” I said when he let go of my hand.
I rubbed my palm with the fingers from my other hand. The tingle faded away, but my mind lingered on it. I watched him closely while Mom wrapped up her conversation with his parents. They retreated into the house with Jai closing the door. A glance back showed his head visible through the half-moon window.
“Well, that was odd.” Mom glanced back at the house as we walked home. “But at least the girl is your age. You two could be friends.”
“Mom, just âcause Celia moved doesn't mean I need to replace her. I'm fine on my own.”
“But don't you think you might have fun doing something with kids your age?”
“I do stuff.” I preferred to be with someone who didn't judge me. Celia had tolerated my obsession with the stars. Curtis told me I was nuts, but still wouldn't leave me alone. At school most people thought I was a snob for choosing homework over hanging out or parties, but if I was going to get into a good college, I needed to maintain my 4.0.
“Sweetie, you spend most of your time looking at the stars.” Mom perked up momentarily. “Jai sounded interested in them. Maybe you two could have something to talk about.”
I nodded to appease her but doubted Jai would ever talk to me on purpose.