While attending a birthday party, a family secret is revealed
I hated my parents and their stupid birthday parties. All the other kids have Destination Parties. Gretchen's parents flew fifteen friends to Sweden to celebrate her thirteenth. Of course, no one invited me because my parents insist birthday celebrations are family events. Another year to fake joy. The cakes are all the same, from the same bakery. Always the elaborate roses. Thirteen this time. I'll have to fake a delighted surprise. "Oooh. I want the big blue one this year." I tried a smile. Mom and Dad looked uncomfortable, my brothers bored.
"Lilly, we have no presents for your thirteenth birthday."
My smile took a downward turn. I blinked away tears. I expected thirteen presents to honor my entrance to teen-hood. "Did I do something wrong?"
"No, Lilly," Dad said. "You're poised to accomplish something wondrous."
Scott poked a tongue and snatched my birthday rose. "Lilly's too dumb."
"Hey, Scotty took—"
Mom rose and put her arm around me. "Scott, give the rose back to your sister."
Scotty planted his thumb in the middle of it, smushing all the elaborate curves and swirls. Now even the tiniest present was ruined. "So, what's the big secret?"
"Scott, Alexander, go watch television." The brothers took off before Dad changed his mind.
Mom said, "Grandma's bringing you a gift."
Chills ran up and down my arms. "From the grave?" She would be all powdery bones and desiccated flesh. No teeth. Moths in her mouth.
"Grandma's not coming from her grave. She never died."
"What?" Grandma made my world go round. Saved me from my overprotective parents and annoying brothers. "She's not dead?" No one answered. "Where is she?"
"She's visible on special days."
My brain shifted, intuition slotting in. Looking up at my parents, I asked, "Like thirteenth birthdays?"
Mom nodded. "Like thirteenth birthdays for special girls, but not boys." She switched off the security lights for the back yard, and Dad helped Mom and me into our coats.
"It's a blustery winter night," Mom said, wrapping a scratchy woolen scarf up over my mouth.
When she turned away, I pushed it down so I could talk. "Thought you said this was all about girls night or something? Why's Dad here?"
"Grandma loved your father."
Powered by a gust of wind, the door clapped behind us. Mom gazed heavenward. "It's a clear night."
I caught her dashing some tears away. Dad comforted her by hugging her shoulders. "Your mother arranges it, no doubt."
"Grandma arranges cloudless nights? From the grave."
Dad spread a blanket under a birch tree. The white bark shone in the darkened backyard. He patted the spot next to him, and Mom snuggled in on the other. Dad's voice was distant. "It's easier to show than tell. Look."
I whirled and stood face to face with a vague outline, accentuated by, even though it's impossible, winking stars.
"Happy Thirteenth Birthday, Lilly. Time to fulfill your destiny."
"Mom, the shadowy-star talks. It's creepy."
"That shadowy-star is Grandma."
"Lilly," Grandma said. "As far back as one-million years, our kind was charged with guarding the stars. Each one of us has our own cluster. I've an entire galaxy due to my age."
"Guarding the stars? Against alien conquest?"
The lights outlining Grandma's body shimmered and tinkled. Laughing. "No aliens, Lilly. We assign stars where needed."
"Assign stars?" I felt, more than saw Grandma nod. "Yes. We also record every star birth and every star burst. Try to keep them from black holes." Gram drew in a deep breath. Or rather the shadowy-star figure vibrated. "If their destiny is to perish in a black hole, we're powerless."
"Like shooting stars?"
Mom leaned over and patted my knee. "That's right, honey. To the human eye."
"Human eye? We're not humans?"
"Let Grandma explain about 'The Way.'"
More stars appeared, winking and flashing. Grandma's words soft. "The Way of the Star Children. We fall to earth from a star."
"Fall to earth?" Making two fists and rubbing my eyes, I tried to absorb the impossible. "So, not the same as a shooting star."
"Our descent is controlled. The Star Keepers live in clusters. When a child is needed, we gather and create a path of light to guide the Star. If the moment is witnessed, humans call it a shooting star."
"How does a star appear human? How are we appearing as humans?"
"With years comes knowledge."
"Not telling me, then." I sat down and tried to put it all together. "Grandma's a star child. Mom, you're a star child. I'm a star child? Assigned to you?"
"Yes. To keep the lineage prospering."
"And Dad knows?"
"Only because Grandma allowed him."
I walked away, wanting to go back to a place—before this. To be a teenager. A human teenager. I ran back. "Mom, you're not going on business trips. You're going up there." Needlessly pointing to the star-speckled sky. "To be a Star whatever."
"A Star Child," Mom whispered, stroking my cheek. "We're duty bound."
"When, when do I have to be duty-bound?"
"Lilly, your grandmother's time has passed from view. Say goodbye before she goes to her home in the sky."
"Bye, Gram. When do I see you again?" By the time I asked, she had dissipated.
"As a thirteen year old, you will have only one night a year on Star Duty. As the years pass, you'll be staying heavenward for longer periods of time."
"Someday all the women descendants will be eternal, like Gram?"
"The skies are full of our ancestral sisters. See how bright they shine."
They blurred together as I blinked tears away. "But someday we'll go supernova and burn out."
"Better than being buried in a box, under dirt. When Star Children die they explode in a boundless void after eons watching miracles."