Wish upon a Fallen Star
Text ©2003 Roger E. Moore (email@example.com)
Daria and associated characters are ©2003 MTV Networks
Feedback (good, bad, indifferent, just want to bother me, whatever) is appreciated. Please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Synopsis: Stacy Rowe goes out on a weird date with Ted DeWitt-Clinton—and they discover the future.
Author’s Notes: It is assumed that readers are familiar with the characters of the “Daria” show, so detailed explanations of who is who are not needed. The Mall of the Millennium is diagramed in The Daria Diaries, and the magic show with Upchuck was shown on the “Daria” fifth-season TV episode, “Life in the Past Lane.”
Acknowledgements: My thanks go out to MMan for suggesting a necessary, in-character change. You were absolutely right. Thank you to all the readers for your support.
The daylong trip to the Mall of the Millennium and back took its toll, though the Saturday shopping experience was, in Stacy Rowe’s mind, perfect for a first “major” date. True, she’d gotten other boys to take her places, but something was clicking on this date, which had “major” written all over it.
Her dating partner had everything to do with it. Ted DeWitt-Clinton was not your typical male high-school senior. He was tall and popular and fairly good looking and worked on the yearbook, but he was also unfazed by clothes shopping, he always had something interesting or funny to say, and he was always cheerful, even when he was clearly running on empty by the time they finished their journey through the W. H. Trogg department store on the mall’s fifth floor. Stacy called it quits at that point, as she doubted Ted could carry another shopping bag now that he was up to seven, plus a shoebox under either arm. They went up to the sixth floor under the giant skylights and had fat-free vanilla ice cream at Big Cone, capping off the day before making their way down the escalators to the parking lot and homeward.
The Interstate traffic was light that warm May evening. Thirty-odd miles from Lawndale, as twilight settled and Stacy yawned and began flipping her right pigtail against her face because she couldn’t think of anything new to say, Ted said, “I’d like to show you something, if that’s okay.”
“Really? What?” Stacy asked. The two Ultra-Colas she’d consumed earlier had not yet worn off, so she wasn’t sleepy.
“It’s off the road up here, at the next exit.” Ted adjusted his glasses and ran a hand through his backward-combed blond hair. “There’s a place there I heard about, and I wanted to show it to you.”
“What is it?” Was he going to drive her to a make-out place? Until today, she and Ted had kissed only four and one-half times, but the mall was big, and they got bold, and now she had no idea how many times she’d kissed and been kissed. Stacy felt slightly dirty—the good kind of dirty. It shocked her that she liked it.
And—Ted was a very good kisser. Even with the glasses, he left everyone else in the dirt.
Ted gave a little smile. “It’s kind of special. I’ll tell you about it when we get there.”
A make-out place sounded pretty good. Making out on a major date would be a first for Stacy, who did not count the time Skylar put his hand on her breast when he was trying to kiss her and groped her like he was testing vegetable produce at Food Lord. Plus, he said, “Hey, titlets!” which upset her and made her hyperventilate, and that was the end of the date right there. Toad.
Stacy had the feeling, however, that Ted would not comment on size. If he wanted produce, she’d unpack the groceries.
“Sure, whatever you want,” she said. She didn’t have to be home until 11:30 p.m., and if she was late, there was always the flat tire excuse.
“It’s pretty cool. Weird, but really cool.”
Stacy began to prepare herself. She checked her breath, looked in her makeup mirror to make sure she had nothing stuck in her teeth, and reviewed the Six Things You Could Let a Really Nice Guy Do, as told to her by Quinn and Sandi just last month when they discovered that Stacy and Ted were seeing each other seriously. Quinn and Sandi sort of overdid it with the illustrated books and the Barbie and Ken dolls, but it had been instructive as well as entertaining. It looked like fun, too. Tiffany had been there as well, though no one was sure if Tiffany had gotten the information down correctly. Stacy shrugged. You just couldn’t worry about that all the time where Tiffany was concerned.
When the next exit appeared, Ted turned off the Interstate and then went right, down a two-lane country road past fields of corn and soybeans. The terrain around was lightly forested and hilly, with one particularly broad and high hill in the near distance. Ted appeared to be heading for that very hill.
“Can you tell me about this place before we get there?” Stacy asked. This was mysterious, and she liked that, but she had to ask.
“Well,” said Ted, looking for something on the left side of the road, “it’s kinda weird. I hope you like it. I thought it was pretty weird, anyway, but really cool.”
This came from a home-schooled guy who didn’t know what chewing gum was until two years ago, when Quinn’s older sister had showed him. Ted was brilliant in a naïve, geeky way, but in a fun geeky way. He made geeky stuff exciting. She’d have to wait and see what he had in mind.
The darkening sky above was clear. Several stars could already be seen. Stacy recognized the Big Dipper, the only constellation she knew. It was comforting to see it hovering above the world.
Ted put on the turn signal, then slowed and turned left onto a one-lane road leading toward the tall hill. A sign appeared in the car’s headlights: TRANSMISSION TOWERS ONE MILE. Stacy glanced up and sure enough, she could see a collection of about four or five tall radio or TV antennas on the great hill ahead. Their red aircraft-warning lights winked slowly on and off against the night.
This really is weird, she thought. She vaguely considered the possibility that Ted was a wannabe axe murderer taking her to her doom, but that did not seem likely. Ted was authentic. He always held her jacket, always opened doors for her, and had never once closed a car door on her leg, as Shawn had three months ago at Pizza Forest. Ted also paid for her meals on their mall date and even gave her a small necklace made from a gold chain and semiprecious stones. He’d made it himself. She liked the necklace. Her fingers touched it as they drove over the narrow road.
Best of all, Ted had never shown the least interest in dating Quinn or Sandi. For that, and for being a good shopping companion, Stacy decided he could have all the second-base produce he wanted.
There was no illumination inside the car except from the dashboard lights. On impulse, Stacy thumbed the switch that rolled her window down. The warm night air rushed in. She let it blow over her face as she wondered what Ted had in mind. She thought about third base and shivered. He was a nice enough guy for that, but she hoped his gentleman side would hold out.
And that she would hold out, too.
The road angled upward and curved around the hill in a counterclockwise manner. Trees rose thick around them. Forest smells came in through the window.
“Nice out, isn’t it?” Ted said, slowing the car. They were near the top of the hill.
Stacy’s breathing picked up. No hyperventilating tonight. She was ready for this.
“Here we are,” said Ted, and he stopped the car on the very top of the hill in a small parking lot, then shut off the lights. Gigantic transmissions towers, thin and infinitely high, surrounded them, as did their endless support cables. Just enough twilight was left to tell that no one else was around.
Ted opened his door. “I’ll get your door,” he said, and he hurried around to her side of the car to do just that. Stacy smiled in spite of herself as she got out. After he closed her door, he went to the trunk, opened it, and pulled out a small blanket.
Blanket. They were going to make out. It would have been nice to have had a peppermint candy with her, but it was too late for regrets. Maybe the Ultra-Cola had freshened her breath.
“So,” she said, “let’s see your surprise!” It was a risky statement, because any number of things he could have done then would have disappointed her, like the time when Larry took her hand and put it on his crotch (hyperventilation, end of date). Ted just took her hand and said, “This way, come on,” and he led her toward a path passing between two of the towers. Stacy looked up as they walked, and it seemed the red lights of the towers were as high as the crescent moon and the stars.
Their short walk ended when they came to a large rock that projected out from the top of the hill. Ted led Stacy carefully to a spot near the edge, where he spread the blanket.
“I came up and swept this off yesterday,” he said, “so there aren’t any pebbles or sticks or things to sit on.”
“You swept it off?” said Stacy, amazed. Was there anything he didn’t think of?
“I still have the broom in the trunk, in case we need it.” He sat down on the blanket, patted it, and held a hand up for her.
Moments later, they lay back and cuddled together. Stacy found that Ted’s right arm was quite comfortable as a pillow, and she nestled in against him. Perfect fit. She looked up.
Above them, against a black sky, were a billion trillion stars. Stacy forgot to breathe for a moment.
“Did you ever really wish for something?” Ted asked softly.
All the time, she thought. “Um, yeah, I guess.”
“You know how you’re supposed to wish on a falling star, so your wish will come true?”
“Well, we’re lying on one.”
Pause. “One what?”
“Falling star. Fallen star, I mean. This hill.”
Stacy turned her head. Ted stared straight up into space. “What?”
He sighed. “It was really weird. I was doing this science report last month for Ms. Barch, about the geology of Carter County. My parents, when they were home-schooling me, said . . . well, they’re into the literal interpretation of Genesis, six days and then God rested, that sort of thing. I always had some questions about that.” He turned his head to Stacy, frowning. “Does that bother you?”
“Uh—oh, no, not at all. I’m not much into science.” The words were no sooner out of her mouth than she knew she’d said something wrong. She cringed, waiting for Ted to call her stupid.
“Ah,” he said, looking up again. “Not a lot of people are. Anyway, I started to get into the report, you know? And I looked up a bunch of stuff on the Internet at the library, about what the rock formations are like around here, what kind of fossils are here, and I found a really crazy thing.”
He didn’t call me stupid, Stacy thought in relief. He sounds like he still likes me.
“This hill used to be called Long View Peak, because it’s the highest place in Carter County. The settlers who came here could climb up and look way out to the horizon, see the whole world here from the very spot where you and I are, right now. You can see the lights of Lawndale from here, against the sky, if you look for them.”
“Can you see the buildings?”
“Nah, the hills get in the way. Just the light from the streetlights. Because the hill’s so high, they put all the radio and TV and microwave towers here, so their signals would go farther. Anyway, eventually some people began to wonder why this hill was here in the first place, because it’s not like the other hills around it. It’s a lot bigger, and the type of rocks here aren’t like the rocks everywhere else. A few years ago, some people from Middleton College, from its geology department, came out here and checked out this hill, and they found out that it’s not a natural hill.”
Stacy, who had followed him to this point, turned to look at Ted’s face. “You mean it’s manmade?”
“Oh, no, I didn’t mean like that. It’s not an Indian mound or anything. The rocks here are all broken up, like shattered, and the strata—the rock layers are all knocked around. The geologists checked it out, and they found out that a long time ago, about four hundred million years ago, way before there were dinosaurs running around or anything, there was a big explosion here that created this hill.”
Pause. “A big explosion?”
“You mean like a volcano?” Suddenly, lying down did not seem like such a good idea.
“Oh, no, not a volcano. It’s not that.”
“Oh.” It was hard to get back into the mood now. Stacy suppressed an urge to jump up and run back down the hill. “What happened?”
“Well, this hill—it turns out that this is the central peak of an old astrobleme.”
“A meteor crater.”
Stacy blinked. What Ted called weird was far beyond the outer limits of what Stacy called weird. “You’re kidding! Oh, I didn’t mean that you were lying to me, I meant—”
“It’s okay, don’t worry. I didn’t believe it either when I read it, but I checked into it, and I think it’s true. This hill is all that’s left of an ancient meteor crater. The rest of the crater, the big bowl shape, that’s all gone now. The crater walls eroded away ages ago. This hill, though, this is where the meteor hit. Actually, it was bigger than a meteor. I think it was an asteroid, maybe a hundred meters across. It’s crazy.”
Stacy looked up at the billions of stars above her. It was crazy, yes. If Ted said it was true, though, then it had to be true. She tried to get her mind around the idea but couldn’t. If anyone else had said this, she would have blown it off, but Ted said it, so she had to know more about it.
“Explain this to me. Just a little, not a whole lot, but explain a little how . . . how what you said actually is, you know?”
Ted sighed, thinking. “About four hundred million years ago, this big rock came down from space. It was about as big as a football stadium. It smacked into the earth right here, and it hit so hard that it buried itself underground. When it hit, it broke up all the rock layers around here, and it formed a sort of mountain when the ground rebounded after the strike. This old hill, most of it is just jumbled up rocks from the impact, but part of it is that ancient asteroid that fell from the sky. It’s what we’re lying on. Part of the sky fell here, eons ago, and I wanted you to come up here and see it with me.”
Stacy could not think of a thing to say. It was crazier than that awful movie that Robert once took her to see about cannibal alien cheerleaders, a gore-fest that Stacy could only watch ten minutes of before she was hyperventilating to beat the band, and the date was over.
Stacy then realized she was not hyperventilating. She believed what Ted was saying, but it didn’t frighten her. It was weird—boy, was it weird—but it wasn’t scary. It did strange things to her mind, but she wasn’t afraid. That was weird, too.
“What do you want to do when you get out of school?” Ted asked.
Stacy shifted mental gears. “I don’t know,” she said. She hesitated, then added, “No one’s ever asked me that before.”
“What do you think you’ll do?”
Stacy looked back up at the stars. “I’ve thought a lot about teaching or something. I like helping people and doing things for people.” Something clicked in her head. “I worry too much about what people think of me, but I’m getting over that. I want to do stuff. I’ve always followed people around, like Sandi or Quinn, and I’ve always wanted people to like me, but lately I want to do stuff that I want to do, even if it isn’t what other people want me to do. You know what I mean?”
Ted nodded slowly. “Yeah.”
“I mean, I’d like to teach. I want to do something that’s . . . something that challenges me, makes me try harder to do stuff. I want to reach out to people and do something good for them. I want to do something exciting, something cool, and teaching sort of grabs me. When Upchuck and I—Charles, you know—when we did that magic show, I found out that I liked being in front of people and doing stuff. It didn’t scare me at all. He made me feel really comfortable, even if he’s sort of gross at times, and I had a great time. I mean, it’s not like I like him, like I like him like him, you know? But it was great.”
“That was a wonderful show. You were awesome. I thought you were really scared at first.”
“Oh, that was part of the act. It fooled Sandi completely. That was great! Not that I wanted to fool her, but . . . well, it was great. I loved it.”
“Teaching is cool.” Ted still looked up at the stars.
“How about you? What do you want to do?”
Ted didn’t answer for a minute, then he glanced at Stacy shyly. “It’s kind of silly.”
“No, come on. I told you. You tell me. What do you want to do?”
Ted stared at the stars.
“I want to go up there,” he said.
Stacy looked up, then looked back at Ted.
“Up there,” she said, then it hit her. “You want to be an astronaut.”
Ted was quiet for a few moments, and Stacy suddenly knew he really was thinking about being an astronaut. In fact—she knew this in her bones, as surely as she knew she was lying on a hilltop with him—she knew that Ted would do it. He would be an astronaut one day. He would make it happen. He was leaving Earth for sure.
“Oh,” she said.
And she was afraid then.
“That’s . . .”
“That’s a lot, isn’t it?” Ted chewed his lower lip. “I don’t want to be a pilot, but I like studying things, you know? I like all sorts of science things, and photography, and I’d like to be a mission specialist. Someone who runs the experiments, does research, figures things out. I’d love to do that more than anything.”
Stacy lay back. Her fear grew. Suddenly she was a preschooler again, it was January 1986, and she was watching her mother cry in front of the TV set, and on the TV was a blue sky and an ugly white cloud with great claws coming out of it, a fireball and debris raining down, and her mother would not stop crying, so Stacy had cried too, not knowing what had happened or why it was so awful.
Stacy remembered it perfectly. She lay back and looked up into the depths of space, the cold points of light and the pale crescent moon, the infinite place that did not forgive any mistake.
She was suddenly aware that Ted was still talking. He must have been talking for a while, she had no idea for how long. He was talking about studying the earth from orbit, about photographing land features, examining the sea, looking for resources and adding to knowledge, going to other worlds, discovering the universe first-hand. He was already up there. He was gone.
“You really want this,” she said aloud, interrupting.
Ted stopped talking. “Yeah,” he finally said. “Yeah, I do.”
“You brought me up here to tell me this?”
Ted half rolled so he could look her in the face. “No. I really brought you up here so you could make a wish.”
Her mouth was dry. “So I could make a wish?”
“On a falling star. The one we’re lying on. I figured if you made a wish when you’re right on top of one, it might come true.”
“Oh.” Stacy stared into Ted’s face as she thought about this, about everything they’d talked about, then she reached an arm around him and pulled his mouth to hers and kissed him with everything she had.
Eons later, when they broke apart for air, she said, “You want to go into space?”
“Yeah,” he gasped.
“Okay,” she said, and nothing else was important then except that she would help him get there, whatever it took, and she might even decide to go with him. It was as clear to her as the night above.
And then she knew that she would go with him. She was leaving, too.
She got up suddenly, threw a leg over Ted, and straddled him as he lay on the ground. She bent her face down to his and covered his mouth with her own.
She made a wish.
And it came true.
“The true courage of space flight is not sitting aboard six million pounds of fire and thunder as one rockets away from this planet. True courage comes in enduring . . . persevering, the preparation and believing in oneself.”
—Ronald McNair, Challenger 51L