Prologue – Celebrating Stars

“Look, look, look!” My finger swept along the ever-expanding canvas of the nighttime sky as I turned to meet his familiar smile. “Did you see it? Did ya?” The brisk air clung to our breath and colored the tips of our noses.        

“Hm-hmm.” He agreed though he remained motionless on his side.

 “Colton! You weren’t even looking! You missed it.” Disappointment crept into my voice as the breeze skipped along the dusty desert landscape with ease, carrying the smells of dirt, civilization and night to us as we lounged.

 “No, I didn’t.” Reluctantly, he returned to his back, allowing his strong facial features to return to the interspersed darkness above.

 As the next hour passed, the sky was continually traversed by drones in their choreographed dance as they darted about, gathering information. The neon glow from the vibrant greens, blues and yellows of their undersides was reminiscent of what I had always imagined those long fabled lightning bugs to look like.

Being outside the barracks past curfew, knowing we could be found by the guards, always gave me a bit of a rush. “Look!” Excitement compelled my whisper to teeter on the brink of calling out. “There!” My index finger followed another trail etched into the night above us.

“How the heck can you see those? I don’t see ‘em.”

“It’s easy. You just have to cross your eyes.”

“Cross your eyes?”

“Yeah…. Well, no. Not really.” Despite my best efforts, a giggle managed to escape. “I mean, you have to just not see what’s right in front of you, you know? Focus on what’s behind it. Past all those lights, all those colors, the target beams, the planes… all of it, you’ll see the stars. They’re the only things not moving. They just are. They’re still and calm but they dance you know?” I found myself sighing before I continued my usual rambling, “They’re happy, and if you focus on them long enough, you’ll see one, a shooting star. But, I don’t really think they’re shooting stars. In the sky, with all that freedom, I like to think they’re celebrating…” Before I even realized he’d moved, Colton pressed his lips lightly to mine.

 “Celebrating, huh?”

 “They… it… uh, yeah.” Embarrassment warmed my cheeks and chest.

 I heard him chuckle quietly before settling back on the ground. “And what are they celebrating, Harper?”

 “Hope.”

 “Careful.” Concern hardened his words as he rose to his elbows, scanning our surroundings warily. “Watch it.”

 “Oh relax, no one’s listening. They don’t care about us.” I laughed to myself. He was always so serious, so fearful.

 He let out a slightly frustrated breath. “Happy Birthday, Harper.” His fingertips skimmed across the back of my hand, seeking tentatively.

 “Thanks.” I whispered, eyeing his fingers that were light and rough as desert sand as they intertwined with my own. “I think twelve is going to be a good year.”

 “Yeah? Why‘s that?”

 I fumbled “Well, it – it’s already off to a good start.”

He squeezed my hand in response as we lay without moving, without speaking for hours, watching for more celebrating stars.  

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