Sunday, January 9, 2011

Wishing on a Star

Tonya shivered and pulled her jacket close around her. She loved the warm, sunny days in Twinbrook, but the nights could be cool, especially with the mists coming off the swamps. It was the first Friday after the start of the New Year, and as usual, she was alone. She envied the popular girls at Twinbrook High, girls who had dates every weekend, girls who went to all the school dances, girls who were chosen for the pep squad and cheerleading teams.

She'd never been popular, and for years she'd told herself it didn't matter. What she lacked in beauty, she made up for with brains. She made straight A's in all her classes, had never once missed being on the Honor Roll, and unless something drastic happened before she graduated in 2012, she'd earn the title of Valedictorian. Instead of going to football and basketball games and taking part in pep rallies, Tonya's place was among the geeks and nerds. Science Club. The Astronomer's Club. Mathematics Club. While those subjects were fascinating to her, they were dull and boring to just about everybody else. At least, to everybody who really mattered at Twinbrook High.

Now she sat before a long table with dozens of stars cut from white posterboard scattered across the top. A large sign proclaimed "Twinbrook High Astronomers Club - Come Wish Upon a Star". Tonya herself had come up with the idea for the fund-raiser. Anyone who wanted to donate a dollar to the club could take a star, write a wish upon it, decorate it with glitter and stickers, and hang their special wish on a nearby tree.

If only our wishes would come true, she thought as she stared out through the darkness toward the tree. She knew what she would wish for, but --

"About ready to wrap it up for the night?" Mr. Lansford, the science teacher stood at the table with his wife beside him. He picked up a star and dangled it from its string. "Looks like the club did all right. You did a great job with this, Tonya."

She appreciated the compliments, and she was pleased that the fund-raiser had turned out so well. Hundreds of glittering stars hung from the branches of the tree, shimmering in the moonlight as they danced and swayed in the breeze.

"Thanks, and yeah, I think I'll start packing things away. It doesn't look like we'll have too many more people coming by." She got up and slowly began gathering up the stars on the table, reluctant for the night to end. She had nowhere to go but home and nothing to do once she got there other than feed the cats, curl up on the couch and read a good book -- and ignore her annoying little brother. Her parents would be in the den watching television. They'd exchange a few words and a few smiles, and that would be the extent of their family interactions.

I wish I could go somewhere, maybe do something exciting ...

She stopped and stared down at the star she held in her hand. Maybe she should make a wish.

Glancing around, she saw Mr. and Mrs. Lansford busy taking down the telescopes the club had set up around the site. Good. She still had a little time.

Tonya reached for her purse, fumbled around searching for coins, then sighed. She didn't even have a dollar to donate to the club! But she had given of her time, hadn't she? Spending the last several hours of her life sitting on that cold, metal folding chair should be worth at least a dollar. Besides, she could bring a dollar to school on Monday to add to the club treasury.

Determined now to make a wish, she picked up one of the ink pens and began to write. At least, she tried. The pen wasn't working.

Oh, this is just great. Maybe I'm not meant to ever have a wish come true.

She tried another pen, then another. Finally she found one that worked. Quickly, before she lost her nerve, she scribbled down the words.

I wish someone cared about me.

Her parents cared, of course. They just didn't take the time to show it. Even Arnie, her little brother, actually liked her, but being 10 years old, he had to pretend otherwise. Besides, family members had to care about each other. That was just the way life worked.

What Tonya really wanted was someone special who would care.

She closed her eyes, and for a moment, she dared to dream.

I wish there were a special guy who would care about me. Somebody cute and funny who could make me laugh, somebody who wouldn't think I'm weird because I like algebra and biology. And I wish he'd like to take long walks along the riverbank, and --

Hearing laughter, Tonya opened her eyes. Standing beneath the tree, hand-in-hand were Merit and Buddy. They'd been steady dating for weeks. Tonya was happy for both of them. Other couples from school had come by throughout the evening. Jethro and Donna. Larry and Starr, his newest girlfriend. Raylene and Jeff. Everyone seemed to have somebody special.

Everybody except her.

This year it's going to be different. I'm going to find someone special.

Tonya didn't have time to decorate her star. Would the fates deny her wish because it wasn't covered in gold and silver glitter? She hoped not.

With a sigh, she hurried off toward the tree.

"Hey, Merit! Hi, Buddy." She smiled.

"We've been wishing for world peace," Buddy said.

"And for an end to poverty and homelessness throughout the world," added Merit.

Tonya smiled again, feeling a little selfish about her wish. Leave it to Buddy and Merit to think of others before themselves. Of course, they had each other. Tonya had nobody special to call her own.

Buddy and Merit waved and hurried off, still holding hands.

Tonya stood on tiptoes as she tried to reach a low-hanging branch of the tree. She struggled with the task, and only ended up dropping her star. A wind rose up, and her star went floating off on the air.

"Hey, wait!" she cried out, running after it. Carried on the breeze, the star sailed through the night. Tonya chased after it. "Oh, dear!"

Tonya watched as the cardboard star soared on -- directly toward a tall young man coming down the hill. At first she couldn't tell who it was, but as he drew closer, she recognized Amos Owens. Tonya cringed when the star blew right into his hands.

"That's my star," she called out, rushing to claim it. Her cheeks heated. If Amos read her wish, she'd absolutely die of embarrassment right then and there. "I need to hang it on the tree." She snatched it from his hands as quickly as she could.

"Yeah, I was thinking about making a wish, too." Amos smiled at her. "Looks like I got here a little too late, though. I didn't get off work until nine," he explained. Amos worked part-time at the bookstore in town.

"There's still time," Tonya told him. "I haven't finished packing everything up." She looked back to the table, saw the Lansfords walking toward it, then impulsively grabbed Amos by the hand. "Come on. We'll have to hurry."

Moments later, Amos stood at the table, hastily scribbing down a wish while Tonya put things away. No sooner had he finished than Mr. Lansford folded up the table. He and his wife loaded everything into the back of their van.

"It was a great fund-raiser," Mrs. Lansford assured Tonya. "We might have to make this an annual tradition." She held up the cashbox. "The club made a lot of money."

Tonya nodded. "Yeah. I hope maybe some of those wishes come true, at least." She gestured toward the tree. "We'd be in sad shape if we had to offer money-back guarantees."

Mrs. Lansford gave her a quizzical look. "Why so pessimistic, Tonya? Wishes do come true. You just have to believe, you know."

"Yeah, right." Tonya smiled. She wished it were true.

"Do you need a ride anywhere?" Mr. Lansford asked. "We'll be glad to take you home."

"Thanks, but I'll be fine," Tonya replied. "I don't live far from here."

"All right. See you on Monday." Mr. Lansford waved, helped his wife into the car, and they drove off.

Tonya picked up her purse, then realized Amos was still standing beside her.

"Did you need something else?" she asked.

"Well, I was going to hang my wish. What about you? Your wish?"

She stared down at the ragged star she still clutched in her hand. "It's a little worse for wear, but I suppose --" Tonya shrugged.

Together they walked to the tree. Amos grabbed hold of the branch and held it while Tonya hung her wish.

"World peace," she whispered. "That's what I'm wishing for." She hoped and prayed Amos couldn't read what was actually written upon her star. "What about you?"

"World peace." Amos tied his star beside Tonya's. "And a passing grade in World History."

"Mrs. Townsend's class? That's a tough one," she added when Amos nodded. "Would you want me to help you study for the exam?" She blushed and wondered why she'd been so bold as to suggest such a thing. "I mean, well, I just thought --"

"I'd like that." Amos smiled at her. "Hey, do you have to get home right away? Maybe we could head over to the diner and grab a bite to eat. I'd enjoy the company." His face reddened. "I mean, well, I just thought maybe --"

"I'd love to." Tonya beamed with excitement, then her hopes fell. "I'm sorry, Amos. I can't. I just remembered I don't have any money with me."

"That's fine. This is my treat." He stared down at the ground and shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other. "I've always liked you, Tonya. You're so smart, and you're always so good at organizing things, like this event tonight. But you're always so busy, and I'm busy a lot, too." He actually began to stammer. "I- I've wanted to get to know you better, but -- but, I didn't know how to make you notice me."

Tonya blinked in surprise. How could any girl not notice Amos Owens? He was tall, cute, and always doing something off-the-wall. Like the time he dressed in cowboy duds and rode his horse to school, or the time he painted his old car with polka dots, or the time ...

"Well, how about it, Tonya?"

His voice drew her from her thoughts. "Sure, Amos! I'd really enjoy having a bite to eat with you. And getting to know you better." She smiled, and when he reached for her arm, she smiled even more.

They strolled along the riverbank on the way to the diner. The stars above reflected in the rippling current of the water.

"Just look at all those stars," Amos said, stopping and pointing heavenward. "Maybe each one is somebody's wish."

"Too bad wishes don't really come true." Tonya took another step, but Amos held her back.

"Of course they do." He gazed at her with gentle blue eyes. "Mine's already come true. I have a confession to make. I didn't really wish for world peace. I wished I'd find someone who understood me, or at least, somebody willing to try." He shrugged. "People think I'm different, and I guess I am."

"You march to your own drummer," Tonya told him. "That's what people say about you."

"It gets lonely."

"I feel lonely sometimes, too," she admitted. "I guess people don't really understand me, either."

"Maybe we can learn to understand each other," Amos suggested, pulling her close. He bent his head close to hers and lightly kissed her lips. "Maybe we can make all our wishes come true."

"Maybe so." Tonya smiled, her lips still tingling from his sweet kiss. "Right now, I'm wishing for a cheesburger and fries. Think we can make that happen?"

"With a chocolate malted to go along with it?" Amos grinned. "Sure thing." Holding hands, he and Tonya strolled on through the night.