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Alana chewed leisurely on the kung pao chicken she had picked up from Yang’s Palace down 5th. She sat quietly on the gray, timeless couch, staring out the floor to ceiling windows that overlooked the city. The thriving lights reminded her of the non-existent stars that had always intrigued her. She was still contemplating whether or not to attend the astronomy club’s night of stars event. It wasn’t exactly something “she” would do; “she” was more likely to be seen at John Tyler’s party tonight, defending her title as Beer Pong Champion. But she was getting sick of it, sick of being known as the party girl, of being “too cool” for this and that, of pretending of being something she wasn’t. The girl her single mother knew, the girl her old best friend Kyle knew seemed to disappear before their eyes when she entered high school.
She had turned away from her love of the stars, her love for her mother’s collection of vintage art, and even her love for her best friend who stood by her even during her darkest times. That girl was gone, or so Alana thought. See the thing was she had never quite given up on astronomy, reading articles and books her grandmother brought to her in secret. Everything about the cosmos, dark matter, the planets and especially the stars fascinated her, made her mind tick. It was her very own secret pleasure, but she could never tell her friends that. They would look down at her, give her that look, the same look she gave those students that always knew the answer, that always got A’s, the ones that would attend Ivey leagues. Alana knew it; she’d done it to her old friend Rebecca when she told her she was joining the Mathletes.
She remembered the feeling when blue eyed, blond haired Rebecca had told her, just her. She had come to her after lunch, pulled her aside even; Alana had thought she had something juicy to tell her. Maybe about a boy or someone had made a fool of themselves in class. But when she had said those words “I’m going to join the Mathletes” it seemed like someone had kicked her in the stomach. She was speechless, angry even, but nothing compared to the raging jealously that dripped off the next words she spoke.
You. Are. A. Freak.
The same guilt that always came along with thinking about how they had bullied her and banned her from their group, trickled back to the pit of her throat making her want to cry. Alana had always wanted to apologize; to tell her that when she had done those unspeakable things, it was because she had envied her, not hated her. No, she could never truly hate someone who was able to stand up and do what they wanted to do.
Her brown eyes drifted to the large brass vintage clock that hung in their kitchen. (One of her mother’s favorite collectables) It’s rusted arms ticked with age, standing still on the elegantly drawn numbers. 8:48 pm. She looked back over to where she had unfolded the crinkled blue flyer one of the astronomy members had given her.
“What was her name again…” Alana whispered, barely audible, as she recalled the petite Asian with thick black frames that sat on her small nose.
“Kayla… Katie… Kaylie…” She closed her eyes and reminisced about the moment. She had seen the girl around before, they lived in the same complex even, a smart girl with a pretty decent fashion sense. She was brave, Alana had to admit, walking straight up to her group before school and handing it to her, only her. She talked in a small voice, but it was enough to make her realize how much she had changed.
“You should come…” She had said even after Alana had crumpled the sheet and tossed it in her locker.
“If you do, just tell them that Kaitlyn invited you.”
“Kaitlyn…” She said in relief, finally remembering the name and scrawled it down on the poorly decorated flyer. It was almost time for the event to begin, her skin prickled as she got up and headed to her closet.
She heard her mom call her just when she reached the door, one hand on the brass knob and the other on her bag.
“Going out again, Alana?” Her voice was tired, stressed from hours at the hospital. She was used to this by now, her leaving late into the night and not coming back till dawn, almost always stumbling back into the apartment. Alana sighed, something else she wasn’t exactly proud of.
“Yeah, but…” She turned to face her, her face flushed with embarrassment. She had hoped to not see her before she left. She watched as her mother raise one of her dark brows at her.
“And you’re wearing that?” She seemed to almost laugh. Alana could feel herself grimace, after her father’s death in the summer after 8th grade, their once close relationship seemed to disappear with the old Alana. Her mother had no idea what she had liked and disliked anymore.
“Um, the thing is…” She looked down at her beat up pink converses that still had the words sexy, and cutie pie scrawled on the sides from when her friends had penned them in 9th. Alana took a deep breath and squeezed the strap of her bag, heavy from her books and managed to say it. Her mother’s surprised look softened after a few seconds as she nodded her head in approval. Something she hadn’t seen in years.
“Have fun Lana.” She spoke in a shaky voice. Alana looked up in slight shock, not by her mother’s voice nor from her approval but from what she had called her. Lana. Smiling ever so slightly she turned the knob and headed to the place where her heart yearned to go.
Her friends texted her on the way towards the event, of course it had contained words like s***, b**** and sexy, names they’ve called each other since they’ve met. She had managed to tell them she had a dire case of food poisoning and wasn’t able to make it tonight. And they all responded in the same way. You suck, w****. It wasn’t as if they had meant it, she understood that, but she couldn’t help but wonder why they always used such profound names. She smiled as she recalled a conversation she had with Kyle about how girls, well like her, always did that. She remembered how they had laughed at how pointless and vapid it was. But the bittersweet memory faded as she reached the 5 story school building. As she looked up she could barely make out the telescopes that peaked over the sides, she felt her heart speed up. As she climbed the stairs, she knew that her friendship with Kyle was almost impossible to fix, especially after what she did to him. But this, Alana knew that this was something she could possibly save, the last piece of her old self that still remained.
She tried to open the roof door as soundlessly as possible, not wanting to draw attention. It seemed to work, students crowded around telescopes talking quietly with one another, not minding her at all. She felt a bit peeved that no one noticed her presence; she was a no one again. Tucking away the feeling, she walked up to the table that sat in the middle of roof top where a middle aged lady sat with a small flash light reading over some papers. She looked up when she approached and smiled one of those smiles that would always warm you, that made you feel safe.
“Hello there. Please sign in here.” She said and handed her a pen. Alana looked down at the sheet, eight or nine names were jotted down on the lined paper, Kaitlyn was one of them.
“Are you apart of the Astronomy club?” The lady asked curiously. She looked up from the paper after writing a name down, and shook her head.
“Um, Kaitlyn invited me.” She spoke in a low voice and pulled the cord of her hoodie.
“Oh well that’s great! We always encourage new people to join in! Thank you for coming…” She read the name before completing her sentence. “Rebecca.” She said with earnestly. Alana felt her heart squeeze. It was okay. She would leave it as it was, she thought as she headed towards the microscope where Kaitlyn and one other stood.
Beneath the embarrassment, guilt and slight anger she always felt, was something else. It crept slowly into her heart as she tapped Kaitlyn on the shoulder. Seeped in as she smiled and welcomed her. And when she finally looked through the window to the stars, she knew what it was. It was Hope.