Read Second Star Online

Authors: Alyssa B. Sheinmel

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

Second Star (2 page)

BOOK: Second Star
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She follows me down the hall behind the dining room to the house’s bedrooms. The glass house has cool tile floors, and Nana licks up the water that drips from my dress.

In my bedroom, I leave my dress on the floor and climb into bed. Nana leaps up beside me. My room isn’t dark, not even when I turn out all the lights. It never really gets dark in a house with glass walls, propped on top of a hill, looking out over the city. The city lights keep the house bright; I’ve never slept in darkness. When we were little, my mother told my brothers and me that the lights from the city were our own night-lights, there to watch over us and keep us safe. The three of us believed in our mother’s night-lights the way that other kids believed in Santa Claus.

The tips of my hair are still wet. Maybe it’s the salt water drying on my skin, but I feel closer to my brothers tonight than I have since they left. I can almost hear the laughter coming from their bedroom across the hall, almost see the surfboards they’d leave propped by the front door every night, just waiting to take the waves in the morning.

I get up and walk to the window, looking down at the city lights I know by heart and the dark horizon of the ocean beyond. I picture the waves crashing on mile after mile of empty shoreline, bonfires burned down to ash, nothing but the moon and the stars left to light up the beach.

There are secret spots only surfers know. Places that the police can’t find and where my parents wouldn’t have looked. I heard John and Michael whispering once about a hidden cove.

Out loud, I say, “They can’t have gone far. They would never leave the ocean.”

I take a deep breath like I’m about to dive underwater and get back into bed. My heart is racing as though I’ve just discovered something. My eyelids grow heavy, but a thought works its way into the space between sleeping and waking:
If I search hard enough, I will find them.

I expect to dream about John and Michael, but instead I dream about the boy I saw on the water, the boy riding the perfect wave under the stars. Asleep, I can still feel the waves lapping against my body. In the morning, my sheets are heavy with the scent of the sea.

3

I shower early the next morning, the scent of salt water dissolving under soap, spinning down the drain. My hair dries stick-straight down my back, and I take my time getting dressed. I’m not sure what exactly I should wear for a day of driving up and down the coast, looking for two missing surfers. Finally, I pick a bathing suit and a long cover-up.

A text message from Fiona distracts me:
Wanna go to the beach?

Perfect
, I write back enthusiastically.

In the kitchen, my parents stand by the coffeemaker. My father is half-dressed; my mother is still in pajamas. Have they noticed that the color has drained from their wardrobes recently? They’ve taken to wearing only shades of gray. Even my mom’s bathrobe has faded from its former bright yellow, like she washed it too many times.

“Morning,” I say. I bring a bowl of cereal to the table, and Nana rests her head in my lap.

My parents seem even more exhausted today than they usually do. Celebrating my graduation and seeing all of my classmates yesterday probably took a lot out of them. They each pour themselves enormous cups of coffee.

“Good morning, sweetie,” Mom says, placing a coffee mug on the table and sitting down beside me. Her eyes are only half-open.

Not like the boy from last night. His eyes were open wide, like maybe he saw more than everyone else did. Hazel, green in the center with a ring of yellow as bright as sunshine around the edge of his irises.

“There were surfers at the bonfire last night,” I say suddenly.

I jump when my father, still standing by the coffeemaker, slams his hand down on the counter. Nana’s head pops up from my lap, and I stroke her ears to assure her that everything’s okay.

“They shouldn’t allow that,” Dad says angrily. “Kids surfing after dark. Don’t they know how dangerous it is?”

My mother nods her head in sleepy agreement. “I think I need a little more sleep,” she says with a weak smile. When she stands, she leans her palm on my own as though my hand is simply part of the table. The grain of the wood is rough under my skin.

When she’s gone, Dad says, “You upset her.”

“I’m sorry,” I say, shaking my head.

“Don’t talk about surfers anymore,” he adds, his voice without inflection, bringing his milky coffee to his lips. He used to take it black, but since the boys disappeared he started adding milk and sugar. I don’t think he can stomach anything bitter these days.

“I won’t,” I promise.

 

 

“Ready?” Fiona asks excitedly when I pick her up in my mother’s SUV. There are still traces of sunscreen on her face.

“Sure,” I say. “I thought we might try someplace new.”

“Someplace new?” She reaches into her beach bag and pulls out cherry-flavored lip gloss.

“We’ve been going to the same beaches since kindergarten,” I say, backing out of Fiona’s driveway. I hate driving; I could hear the surprise in Fiona’s voice when I volunteered to drive this morning. I’m the only girl in our graduating class who didn’t beg for a car for her sixteenth birthday.

Fiona tucks the lip gloss away in her bag and retrieves her phone. “I need to tell Dax where to meet us.”

“Dax?”

“Yeah, I told him we were going to the beach today.”

I try to stifle my sigh, but it comes out anyway, heavy and warm. “Can’t we do something just us today?”

“But I already told him.”

“Well, Fee, you didn’t tell
me
.” I tighten my grip on the steering wheel. I’m headed in the direction of a beach that we know, determined to drive right past it.

Fiona fingers her phone in her lap.

“I can tell him not to meet us until the afternoon. That way we can have the whole morning together. Okay?”

I nod, loosening my knuckles, wondering how much ground we can cover by noon.

 

 

A half hour goes by before Fiona speaks up.

“What exactly are we doing?”

I don’t answer right away because I’m not entirely sure; we’ve been driving in a straight line up the Pacific Coast Highway, past the beaches I know and past a few more that I don’t. I haven’t pulled into a single parking lot. I’m honestly not sure where to begin. I should have brought a notebook or something with me, should keep one list for the beaches I need to search and another for the ones I should drive right past. I need to treat this like any other assignment: do enough research, and I’ll find the answers I’m looking for.

“We’re looking for a beach,” I say, which isn’t a lie.

“We’ve passed, like, twelve beaches, Wendy. What are we looking for?”

I hesitate before answering. I take a deep breath and exhale. “My brothers.”

“What?”

“We’re looking for my brothers.
I
am.” I wave a hand at the beaches outside the window, and when I do, the car swerves from its lane.

“Wendy,” Fiona says slowly, “you should pull over.”

“Why?” I don’t take my eyes off the road.

“I think we need to talk.”

“We can talk while I’m driving.” Without meaning to, I press harder on the gas pedal.

Fiona’s eyes widen and she sits back in her seat, like she believes I’m going to drive right onto the beach, over the sand, and into the ocean.

“Don’t look at me like I’m nuts,” I say, finally pulling into the nearest parking lot. “How many times do I have to tell you, Fi?”

Fiona releases her seat belt and turns to face me. I keep my hands on the steering wheel. “Wendy, you’re not going to find your brothers. They’re gone.”

I shake my head and look out at the beach in front of us, past the sunbathers and swimmers, to the spot where the water meets the sky. I never really understood how big the ocean was until the police said that the bodies of the two surfers went unrecovered; I’d always thought that things could be found, even in the ocean. Everything I’d ever lost had turned up if I just looked hard enough: keys, scarves, books. Maybe that’s why I believe I can find my brothers. Nothing is ever really lost.

I push my sunglasses up like a headband. “You don’t know that.”

“Yes, I do.”

“I think I know John and Michael a little better than you do.”

Even as I say it, I know it’s not entirely true. I’ve always loved my brothers, but, like everyone else, I loved them from the outside, like they were actors in some endlessly fascinating play for which I had front row seats.

“Wendy, you have to accept that they’re not coming back.”

I shrug. “Maybe you have to accept that they
are
coming back.”

“Surfers take risks on those waves every day.”

I can practically hear the words that Fiona is avoiding. That surfers wipe out, they fall, they break bones and can’t swim to reach the surface. A towline gets caught on a rock at the bottom of the ocean and they can’t come up for air. A shark can scent the blood from their scrapes and bruises and come looking for them. A wave can crash over them until they are so discombobulated that they can’t remember which way is up.

I know the words Fiona wants to say:
There are any number of ways for surfers to die.

I shake my head, releasing the steering wheel and resting my hands in my lap. Fiona isn’t going to help me. Fiona
can’t
help me. This is something I have to do alone.

We sit in silence until I ask, “Where did you tell Dax we’d meet him?”

“Huh?”

“I’ll drop you off. Just tell me where. You don’t have to do this with me.”

“I’m not going to leave you. It’s been a rough few days. Graduation must have been tough without your brothers there. Last night…” Fiona’s voice trails off.

“Where should I drop you?” I say, insistent now.

Fiona mumbles the name of the beach closest to home, the beach we’ve been going to since we were babies. The place where John and Michael learned to surf, soon complaining the waves were too small. The last beach where they’d be now. I mentally add it to my list of beaches to ignore.

I pull the car out of the lot and head back the way we came.

When we get to the beach and I pull over, Fiona hesitates before getting out of the car. “Wendy,” she says gently, “I understand why you’re looking for them. But even your parents have accepted that they’re gone.”

Gone
, I think bitterly. The word tastes like vinegar. No one ever says the words they mean:
drowned
,
dead
. Instead they say things like
gone
,
missing
,
lost
.

“We don’t know anything for sure,” I say.

“It’s crazy to think you can find them when the police couldn’t.”

“No,” I say, shaking my head. “What’s crazy is that the police stopped looking.” I undo my seat belt and lean across the car, reaching for the latch to open Fiona’s door for her. “You
don’t
understand,” I say sadly.

I’m not sure I could explain it to her. It’s not like I was so close to my brothers. This sounds awful, but it’s not even about how much I miss them, not exactly. The truth is that the house is more peaceful without them, and no one is making fun of my pale skin and my status as perpetual teacher’s pet. But it just doesn’t feel
right
without them around. The house isn’t
supposed
to be that peaceful and I’m
supposed
to be made fun of. Fiona looks at me like she’s waiting for some kind of explanation, so finally I say, “You don’t have brothers.”

I pull away quickly after Fiona steps out of the car, barely giving her the time to shut the door.

4

I pull into the gas station and open my window. It’s been hours since I dropped Fiona at the beach and it already feels like I’ve been up and down the coast a dozen times. I’ve seen so many surfboards sticking out of trunks and balanced across the tops of cars that I can’t even tell them apart anymore. I rest my head on the steering wheel, my face close to the air-conditioning vents, trying to cool off. The floor of my mother’s car is already covered in sand. I never realized just how
much
beach there was.

Someone is knocking on the roof. I blink.

“Miss?” The gas station attendant is waiting for me.

“Here.” I turn to hand him my credit card and ask for unleaded. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot a surfboard.

“Miss?” he says again. I take the card back, sign the receipt. I put my hand to the keys, willing myself to put the car in gear and drive away without looking at the board. I don’t need to stare at
another
surfboard.

But then my eyes fall on someone’s bare back. Messy dark hair and long, colt-like legs under board shorts. A patch of sand has dried onto the small of his back. He’s bending down over a bike, filling up its tires with air, just a few feet from where the board leans against a tree. His feet are bare and the ground must be a million degrees, but he hardly seems to notice.

When his tires are full, he grabs his board and hops onto the bike. He turns around for a second, adjusting in his seat, and I gasp.

It’s the boy from the bonfire. The boy who pulled me to shore.

I pull out after him. He expertly balances his board on his right hip while he rides, then turns into one of the lookouts and dismounts. He walks his bike and his board toward the edge of the lookout, where brush grows out of the sandy dirt.

I park and follow him.

At the edge of the lot, the reeds grow as high as my head. Then taller, so that they cover the surfer’s head, too. It doesn’t look like a path at first, just grass and rocks, sharp under my bare feet. I keep my eyes down, following the stripe that the boy’s bicycle tires made in the sand as it slopes downward. The air is thick with the smell of salt water. Seagulls shout in the distance.

The reeds begin to thin out, and the sand beneath my feet becomes sugar-white and flour-soft, and slightly wet, as though it was covered in water not very long ago. I can hear the ocean, but the waves sound different here. Even though I can’t yet see the water, somehow I can tell: these waves are perfect.

BOOK: Second Star
11.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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