Read Second Star Online

Authors: Alyssa B. Sheinmel

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Classics, #Fairy Tales & Folklore, #Adaptations, #Family, #Siblings, #Love & Romance

Second Star (10 page)

BOOK: Second Star
3.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“I fell,” I say, wondering if somehow they just missed my spectacular splash into the ocean. “I crashed.”

“Yeah,” Hughie says. “But you stood up first.” He smiles, putting his arm around me. “You stood up first,” he repeats.

I nod, feeling warm in the sunlight, glancing back out at the ocean behind us. From here, the waves don’t look like itty-bitty three-foot waves. They look a whole lot bigger—six feet at least. Hughie tells me that’s because before I took off on my wave, I was looking at it from behind—waves are about half as tall from behind as they are when you’re facing them head-on. “Your wave,” he says, and I feel a flush of warm pride when he calls it mine, “was a good six-footer at least.”

“Wow,” I say softly, looking from the ocean back to the beach, surprised to see Pete standing at the foot of the stairs, his arms folded across his chest. He smiles at me, lifting his arms above his head as if to say
And even though it feels silly after having fallen, I do the same.

My heart is still racing, a million beats per minute. Maybe my brothers felt what I am feeling right now: proud and exhilarated, even after falling down. And I smile, because I’ve just discovered that the invincible, hopeful feeling I got on the water my first day with Pete wasn’t unique to that day—I feel it again now, on land, even though my mouth is bitter with the taste of the ocean, my eyes stinging from the salt water. My jaw is beginning to ache from smiling so wide, and I dig my toes into the sand, hot in the afternoon sunlight beneath my feet. Suddenly, a mystical, magical feeling washes over me: I’m absolutely certain that my brothers felt exactly what I’m feeling—standing in this very same spot.


Every morning I wake up with the sunrise. I grab John’s board and run down to the water. Sometimes, Pete and the crew beat me out the door, but most mornings, I’m the first one there. Every day I get a little braver, paddling out with no one else in sight, going farther and deeper into the ocean, taking on bigger waves. At night, alone in my room with nothing but the moonlight to illuminate the page, I scribble down every detail of the day in my notebook, but there’s nothing that feels like it’s going to lead me to my brothers, not yet. Instead, I find myself writing about Hughie’s smile and Matt’s goofy sense of humor, Belle’s dirty looks and the shivers that go down my spine every time Pete is close to me. When I finally pull the covers up around me, I can still feel the sensation of the waves rocking me back and forth, like some kind of lullaby. I’ve never slept so well in my life.

New muscles sprout up on my arms and legs. My stomach aches as my abdominal muscles develop. But the truth is, it also aches with hunger. Pete and his friends did get food with the cash they made from the raid on the Brentway house, but it’s not exactly the most nourishing stuff. Since we don’t have electricity, they only buy things that can be eaten without being cooked, things that don’t go bad when left unrefrigerated. It’s a lot of cold cereal and energy bars.

There’s an enormous old grill on the back porch, abandoned by whoever lived here before Pete and the boys. Pete finds me studying it one afternoon, my hair still wet from the morning’s surf, my bathing suit still damp.

“Whatcha doing?” he says, coming up from behind me.

“Checking out the grill,” I answer. It’s not all that different from the one in my parents’ backyard. Before my brothers ran away, my father used to grill our dinner every Sunday night. Steak, chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, corn on the cob—my mouth waters just thinking about it. I stood next to him while he cooked, every Sunday since I was five. He used to call me his sous-chef.

“What for?” Pete asks. I turn to face him. Beads of salt water sparkle across his shoulders in the sunlight.

I shake my head, grinning. “Come on,” I say, grabbing his hand. “We’re running some errands.”

Thirty minutes later, I turn the car into the parking lot of an enormous supermarket. My dad would disapprove. He liked to go to specialty stores and greenmarkets early Sunday morning, pick up the freshest produce, organic meats. But beggars can’t be choosers. I wanted a one-stop shop where I could buy everything from meat to cooking supplies to paper plates, plastic knives, and forks.

It’s an ugly, depressing building, in a strip mall filled with one box-shaped store after another. Just a few minutes out here, surrounded by cars and streetlights, mothers pushing strollers, businessmen wearing suits and ties, and I already miss Kensington.

“You know,” Pete says as I unclick my seat belt and hop down from my car, Michael’s surfboard still peeking out from the backseat, “I’ve never actually run an errand before.”

“What do you call it when you and the boys run into town for supplies?”

Pete shrugs, grinning. “We don’t call it errands,” he says, resting his arm around my shoulder as we walk through the parking lot toward the store.

“You’re not wearing shoes,” I say as I begin pushing a cart up an aisle. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen Pete wearing shoes. I’m not even sure he owns a pair. I wonder if this is the kind of store where they’ll kick him out for being barefoot.
No shoes, no shirt, no service
. But Pete strides so confidently up and down the aisles that I can’t imagine anyone would even notice.

I pick out corn and zucchini, steaks and chicken. An enormous bottle of barbecue sauce. I direct Pete to heave a bag full of charcoal into the cart.

“You sure you know what you’re doing here, Wendy?”

Instead of answering, I grin. I know exactly what I’m doing. Even after we’ve loaded everything I want into the cart, I continue roaming the aisles lazily. Pete puts his arm back around my shoulders and I lean into him, enjoying the sound of the bad music drifting down from the store’s speakers, the breeze of artificially cooled air on my bare legs, all the people who barely look at us as we walk past them, people who surely just assume that we’re a normal teenage couple loading up our cart for a party, people who have no idea that this will be the first hot meal we’ve had in weeks. I don’t ask Pete how long it’s been since he, Belle, and the boys have had a real meal. When we finally get in line, Pete stands behind me and I lean against him, my back against his front. Who knew that a trip to the grocery store could feel so romantic?

I pay with a handful of cash I grabbed from my duffel bag before we left Kensie, and Pete holds my hand on the way back to the car. As we pull out of the parking lot, Pete says, “So, Hughie tells me that you’re going to help him get his GED.”

I nod as I pull onto the freeway, turning on my blinker to change lanes. I’ve always preferred to stay in the right lane, to be ready to exit at any time. But now I pull into the middle then over to the left, pressing down on the gas.

“He was really excited about it,” I say.

“What does he need his GED for?”

I shrug, keeping my eyes on the road. “You never know.”

“You don’t need a high school diploma to live the way we do. It’s not like college.”

“Of course not,” I say. “But if it’s something he wants, why shouldn’t he have it?”

Pete doesn’t answer, and I glance over at him. The answer is written all over his face: with a high school diploma, Hughie might get a real job and leave Kensington behind.

“Hey,” I say, taking one hand off the wheel and placing it on Pete’s arm. “He doesn’t want to leave, you know. He says you’re his family.”

Pete nods. “We are a family,” he says, taking my hand in his. “You’re a part of our family now, too.”

I nod, pulling my hand away and placing it back on the wheel. I’ve never been a part of something the way I’m a part of this.

After Pete and I haul the groceries into the house on the cliffs, I pour the charcoal into the belly of the grill and use my dad’s method for stacking and lighting the briquets. While the fire heats up I prep the food. Pete watches me, and I narrate every step, for once teaching him something instead of the other way around.

Soon, everyone is watching me turn the corn, brush the meat with barbecue sauce. You’d think they’d never seen anyone cook before, and maybe some of them haven’t, or at least not for a long time.

When Matt and I finally carry the food back into the house, I’m surprised to see that Pete has spread a blanket on the floor and set out paper plates and plastic utensils. He’s even folded napkins beside each place. I look at him and grin, taking my seat at one end of the blanket, and he sits down opposite me at the other end.

As everyone digs in, I watch Pete. He eats carefully, almost delicately, savoring every bite. My own food gets cold as I watch Pete and the boys eat, but I don’t mind. It’s too much fun to see them. Even Belle is digging in with enthusiasm, barbecue sauce making a ring around her lips—though unlike everyone else, she doesn’t tell me how good it tastes, doesn’t thank me for cooking.

Pete’s right—we
a family, and for just a few minutes, it feels like Pete and I are about twenty years older than we actually are, like we’re the parents and these are our kids sitting around the blanket. This is our house, and these boys—and Belle—they’re our family. And tonight, I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job of taking care of them.


It’s dark when Pete leads me out through the back door and toward the stairs to the beach; halfway down and to the left, onto the rocks. The sun has long since set, but the moon is bright and the stars reflect brightly off the ocean. I know exactly where Pete is leading me, to the same crevice on the cliffs where we spent our first night together. I tiptoe over the rocks carefully, pebbles and sand getting caught inside my sandals.

Pete stops abruptly and settles onto the flat rock, which looks for all the world like someone built it there just for his use.

“Come here,” he says, reaching his hand out to pull me onto the rock beside him. His hand is cool and dry, and mine fits perfectly inside of it, like we were made to hold hands. Fiona once told me that when she and Dax started dating, it took them a while to get used to walking hand in hand, took them a while to get their steps in sync, to fit their hands easily.

“That was great tonight,” Pete says, his smile lighting up the darkness.

I shrug. “It was just dinner. No big deal.”

Pete shakes his head. “Why are you always selling yourself short?”

I open my mouth to argue, but no words come out. Because the truth is, it
a big deal, and I know it. It made me miss my brothers, reminded me of the family dinners we used to have before they ran away.

“Wendy,” Pete says softly, “it’s amazing the way you know how to do things, how to take care of yourself.”

“What are you talking about? You’ve been taking care of yourself for—” I stop talking midsentence. I don’t actually know how long Pete has been taking care of himself. “You take care of yourself, and Belle, and the boys.”

“Yeah, but it’s different. You really
how to take care of yourself. I just figure it out as I go along.”

To me, that sounds like a much greater achievement, but I don’t argue.

“And you’re such a good person, too. I mean, you worked your whole life to go to college, and now here you are, putting it all on hold to find your brothers. Coming to live in a strange place with a bunch of lowlifes like us.”

“You’re not lowlifes,” I say quickly.

Pete nods. “Maybe not. Maybe now that you’re here—”


“I can’t explain it. You bring—I don’t know—a different energy to this place. Kensie feels different with you here.”

“Different how?”

Pete shakes his head, and he doesn’t look at me when he says, “Different better.” We’re silent for a beat, and then he adds, “I don’t know, Wendy, I just really like having you around.”

“I like being around,” I say, the words thick in my throat. “Around you, I mean.”

I feel like I’ve known Pete my whole life, and yet I feel like nothing that’s happened in the past several days and weeks even resembles what my life has been up to now.

Pete smiles. “You’re getting pretty good out there,” he says, gesturing to the water.

“I fall a lot more than I stand,” I say automatically. I still spend most days tumbling off my board instead of balancing on top of it. But I keep going. Usually, by the end of the day, when the sun starts to fall from the sky, I manage to stand and take at least one wave all the way back to the beach. I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud of anything; not getting into Stanford, not my SAT scores, not even when I finally trained Nana to sit and stay.

Pete shakes his head. “There you go,” he says, sliding closer to me, as graceful and quick on solid ground as he is on water. “Selling yourself short again.”

I can feel his breath on my bare shoulder and I shiver with longing, forcing myself not to lean into him, even though the pull to be closer to him feels impossible to resist, a force beyond me, like gravity.
, I tell myself firmly.

“I’m so sorry, Wendy,” he says, and it’s not the same kind of
that I’ve been hearing for so many months. First, they were sorry that my brothers ran away, then they were sorry that they’d died.
I’m sorry for your loss
, that’s what they would say, and I would think it was such an odd turn of phrase. As though my brothers had just been misplaced and I didn’t know where to find them. Now, I think that it’s a lot closer to the truth than any of those well-wishers could have imagined.

But Pete’s
I’m sorry
sounds different. It’s weighted with something deep and heavy; I remember the way he told me I had to be light on the surfboard, the way I had to leave my troubles behind on the beach before I took to the water. If Pete tried to take a wave now, hard as it is to imagine, I can’t help thinking that he’d fall, head over feet, tumbling into the waves.

“What for?” I ask.

He pauses before he answers, like he’s trying to figure out exactly what he means. Finally, he says, “I shouldn’t have kissed you that night.” He leans so close that I can feel the heat from his skin against mine. “Belle and I…” He shakes his head again, looking down, so that his curls fall across his forehead and brush my shoulder. “I love that girl. I really do. I couldn’t stand the thought of anyone hurting her. Even if that someone was me.
if it was me.”

BOOK: Second Star
3.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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