She's sharing an excerpt from her finished novel, Touching Stars, which is the story of Aluna Bell, who cares for her ailing mother. On Aluna's sixteenth birthday, she discovers three shocking things: 1) her father was an astrologer who discovered two rogue stars, and her mother was sent to earth to erase his memory; 2) if her mother doesn't return, her star can diminish forever; and 3) her best friend is in his love with her, and decides to tell her just when she needs to leave.
By Erin Gray
By Erin Gray
Chapter One : Big Sky
My name--is Aluna Bell. I know, you can laugh, but it’s okay I’m used it now. Mom says she gave me that name because I’m special. I figured that’s what all mom’s say to their kids, to make them feel better about the crazy names they bestow on us. But if you met my mom--you’d get it. She’s kind of different. For one; she’s extraordinarily beautiful, her long, poker straight white blond hair shines like silk as it floats like a waterfall
over her shoulders. While her skin is like a china dolls--a divine creamy porcelain, and her eyes--well, they are the strangest, palest blue you're ever likely to see, except they are hidden behind the thickest rimmed lenses known to man. Did I inherit any of this beauty in my genetic make up? Of course--not.
The only thing I’ve inherited is the ridiculously poor eyesight, in which, yep--I too get to wear the thick lenses, but just like all good mom’s, she assures me I’ll grow out of the ‘ugly’ stage, that’s what I call it. My eyes are a darker shade of puddle blue and my hair is a honey blond hay stack, not to mention my pale skin breaks out in pimples all the time, oh--and did I mention the braces?
I take care of my mom, Selene, as she’s known to everyone. Her health is slowly deteriorating and it’s kind of scary sometimes, when I see how fragile she’s becoming. Luckily we have a really great neighbor who helps out a lot, Mrs. Knutsford, she’s a widow and runs her late husbands hardware store in town where I work at week ends.
“Aluna, it’s time.” I heard my mom’s sweet melodic voice calling, reminding me I needed to help her out onto the porch, so she could sit in her rocking chair and gaze up at the stars.
“Coming,” I yelled from my room, as I approached the top step looking down, she was already stood, bent over her walking stick, puffing and panting by the front door.
“Mom, wait,” my voice wavered slightly as the panic seeped through.
She threw her arm over my shoulder, leaning her slight, tall frame onto me, “It’s…okay…just help me out …would you?” her voice struggled between the gasps of air that seemed to rattle through her lungs. It was the only real time she was happy, sat out on the porch once evening had fell, the clearer the night--the happier she was. She’d sit for hours, gazing up at the countless stars, occasionally she’d get me to fetch one of dad’s old telescopes from her room, which was on the ground floor now, since she could no longer manage the stairs.
“Ah, look Aluna, it’s Orion Nebula, she said pointing to a bright group of fuzzy looking stars in the clear night sky, her face grew alive as she smiled. It was strange, because although my mom had terrible vision, she never needed her milk bottle spectacles to see the stars and neither did I for that matter.
I guessed it was because the sky here was practically endless, which is why mom said she moved us here when I was a baby. She said the name ‘Big Sky’ is what attracted her here--to Rosebud County, Montana.
“It’s the only place that reminds me of home,” she’d said to me once when I asked her why we lived in such a rural, open, desolate place. Don’t get me wrong, it is beautiful that’s for sure and there’s as much freedom as one person could possibly wish for. But for a kid growing up--well--let’s just say it isn’t easy. I asked my mom where ‘home’ had been,
“It’s so small Aluna, it isn’t on any map.”
Where we lived in Ashland was tiny, I often thought it was the smallest town on earth, miraculously that was on the map, so God only knows how small exactly, she was talking of. I wrapped her favorite silk embroidered shawl over her shoulders, it was the middle of summer, but the nights out here grew pretty cold.
“Thank you my sweet.” Her hands came up to take hold of it, taking my hands too as I rested them on her shoulders. I stood behind her chair, listening to the bull frogs and crickets, their sound filling the vast open land that encompassed our little house. It was kind of comforting, the noise, ‘cause when it’s quiet out here, it’s deathly silent, which sometimes gives me the creeps.
My mom has practically raised me alone. When she first came here, she’d just enough money to buy the place, which was a run down shell at the time. Mrs. Knutsford is our closest neighbor, when I say closest, I mean--you can just about see her house from our front porch.
She knew some pretty nice people, well, she kind of knows everyone, and some rallied round and came by to help out. Ruben Yellow Wolf and his family, who are part of the Northern Cheyenne tribe, and live here in Ashland, became and have remained very close friends.
Cody Little Wolf, their son, is my best friend, in fact he’s my only friend and we’ve basically known each other since before we could walk. He’s teaching me how to drive mom’s old red Chevy pick up, I’m only fifteen and too young to drive, but we only take it up and down the beaten track to my house. We hang out a lot together, but he goes to the Northern Cheyenne Tribal School in Busby, so not as much as we’d like.
“Come on mom, you’d better come inside,” I suggested as I helped her out of the old rocking chair, the exact same one she used to rock me to sleep in when I was a baby.
She leaned heavily on the wooden walking stick, with a slight moan she rubbed the lower part of her back. I helped her to her room and then into bed, she was so beautiful and youthful looking it was really hard to accept that she was in fact as weak as she seemed to be.
“Hey, Aluna,” the familiar silky voice resonated from the porch. I smiled to myself, it was Cody. He came every Sunday, to hang out and give me my driving lesson. I quickly finished the dishes, hurled the laundry in the machine and headed to check on mom, who was still sleeping. It was early, I saw Cody’s rather tall figure leaning against the door frame of the porch, looking outward over the gentle rolling hills towards Rosebud Creek.
I quickly checked my appearance in the hall mirror, and grimaced at my reflection, wishing I hadn’t reminded myself of the bad hair day I was having. As I approached the door, I felt a strange sensation in my gut, like nerves or something. I realized this had happened the past few times I’d seen Cody.
Having known Cody all my life, he meant everything to me, he was the only person I could be myself with, be honest with. But lately I found him appearing in my dreams too. Not that it was a problem, I mean he is beautiful. His russet skin and deep brown chocolate eyes tugged at my heart strings whenever he looked at me, especially if we’d had an argument, making it impossible to stay mad at him.