Mom passed Dad a duffel bag. “Arthur, leave it be. Hold this while I pack Corabelle’s things.” She began taking the items Jenny had collected and stuffing them in the bag.
I stood up and walked over to Gavin, both wanting him alone and not wanting the bustle to end, an easy distraction from the difficult morning. I felt better than I had walking out of the lab waiting room. Between Tina and Dr. Darion, and Jenny’s flubs, I could see life was moving on, going forward. It never did completely stop, no matter what was happening, what life drama was unfolding.
He held on to me as we watched my parents and Jenny pack, his arms tight on my waist, my head tucked under his chin. I was surrounded by people who cared. We created this web, interweaving, and somehow I had to trust that it would not let me fall.
Corabelle paused on the last few steps of the stairwell, holding her chest. I stood behind her, pretty pissed at myself for letting her talk me into this.
“There will be about ten people lined up to kill me if anyone knows I let you come here,” I told her, my hand pressed against her back. “And I’m not sure who would make it more painful — your dad or Jenny.”
“I’m fine,” she said. “I just get winded sort of easily.” She reached for my hand and squeezed it. “It makes me happy just knowing we get to go up here.”
“If it’s cold and windy up there, we’re not staying,” I said. “Deal?”
“Deal.” She pulled on the lever to the door to the roof.
Amy, the TA, stood over a shop light, handing out assignments to the other students. When she saw us, she waved. “You’re back!”
The roof was littered with students staring at the sky. The city twinkled beyond the ledge until the light ended in the Pacific, roiling like a black menace in the pale glow of the moon. I thought of how easily it could have swallowed Corabelle up and shuddered.
“What have you got for us?” Corabelle asked, taking a sheet from Amy.
“Pretty easy. Find the Cepheus constellation, locate the Delta star, and estimate its brightness based on the known magnitude of Zeta and Epsilon.”
Corabelle turned to me. “I hope you’ve been paying attention.”
Amy laughed. “I wouldn’t bet on that. But it’s all on the sheet. Let me know if you need help.”
“Kiddie astronomy,” I said. “Magnitude is just how bright the star is.” I took the page from her. “Easy stuff.”
“Good. I need easy.” Corabelle took my hand and we wound our way through the sprawled legs and discarded backpacks of other students to find our spot on the back side.
“You cold?” I asked her.
“Not yet,” she said, sitting down on the concrete.
“I should have brought a blanket.” I knelt beside her. “Should I spread my coat down?”
“I’ve got you.” She peered at the page. “Let’s get this done.”
I pulled out a little flashlight to shine on the assignment. It seemed pretty easy. Locate the star. Find companion stars. Compare brightness and estimate the magnitude.
Corabelle looked up. “You see Cepheus?”
I stared at the stars. “Says here it’s only the size of a fist. Five stars in the shape of a house.”
“There’s the North Star,” Corabelle said. “Is it close to that?”
“Between it and Cassiopeia.”
She held up her arms. “Okay, I think I’ve got it. Do you see?”
I couldn’t take my eyes off her, the coal-black hair streaming down her back, her pale face turned up to the sky. Just seeing her someplace other than a hospital bed was a miracle.
Corabelle turned to me. “Hey, you’re not even looking.”
“I already see what I want to see.”
She dropped her arms. “It’s different tonight, isn’t it?”
I glanced up at the sky, finally. “Colder, certainly.”
She punched my arm. “You know what I mean. We’re actually together.”
I lay back on the roof, dragging a backpack under my head. “Well, the first time we were in shock at seeing each other, and the second time we were fighting. So yeah, this is new.”
She eased down and curled up next to me, her head on my shoulder. I pulled her in tight, the way I’d wanted to that first night. I wasn’t going to take for granted that I could do it now.
“We’re a team this time. Life is just as hard as it was at the other two star parties, but this time we’re in it together.”
I squeezed her shoulders. “We are.”
Her breath puffed against my cheek. “It’s the last night before everything could change.”
“Nothing’s going to change.”
“If that boy belongs to you.”
She hesitated, then said, “I saw how much you cared about him.”
“I worry about what will happen to them. Her family was not kind about her situation. Tijuana isn’t an easy place to survive.”
She fell silent again, and the weight of her unasked questions pressed down on us like the stars.
“I think I see Delta,” I said.
Corabelle turned her head to look up. “I don’t remember which stars to compare it to.”
“Zeta, Epsilon, and Delta form a triangle off Cepheus,” I said. “Zeta is the corner of the house.”
“Hey! You have been paying attention!”