WISH YOU WEREN’T
CHAPTER ONE | Wish Upon a Star
IT’S MIDNIGHT AND I’M FLAT ON MY BACK on a patch of grass in front of our hotel room, hoping that no one looks outside and wonders what the weirdos from California are doing.
Tonight is the peak of the Perseids meteor shower. Every year my mom drags us out of bed just to see the shooting stars. My brother’s on one side of me, squirming around, trying to stay awake. My friend Paul’s on the other side, snoring. At least he already knew our family was crazy before he came on this vacation with us.
When I was younger, I thought it was cool to get up at midnight and watch the stars. Tonight I’d rather be in bed. Like Dad. I swear it’s still over a hundred degrees out here. And don’t get me started with the mosquitoes.
“Did you see that one, Marten?” Mom points up at the sky, but all I see are a few regular stars winking back at me. That’s the thing with a shooting star. By the time someone asks if you saw it, it’s already gone.
Mom lies back down, eyes fixed on the sky. I shake my head, even though I know she’s not looking at me.
“I did! I saw it!” Aldrin is between us, practically shouting in my ear. He might convince Mom that he saw it, but I’m willing to bet his eyes weren’t even open thirty seconds ago.
Mom squeezes his hand. “Okay, let’s not wake Paul up, little man. Now close your eyes and make a wish.”
“I wish we were going to Disneyland!”
Paul bolts up, eyes wide. “Someone say Disneyland?”
Mom laughs. “You’re going to have to find another shooting star, Aldrin. And next time, don’t tell anyone what you wished for.”
“Like that makes a difference,” I grumble. “It’s not as if it’s going to come true.”
Mom goes up on an elbow, her eyes drilling into the side of my head. “Why would you say that, Marten?”
“Because I’ve been doing this all my life and none of my wishes has ever come true.”
Mom pins me with her gaze, leaning over Aldrin until we’re almost nose to nose. “Then you aren’t wishing hard enough.”
“Do your wishes come true, Mommy?” asks Aldrin.
Mom rubs his cheek gently and smiles. “Almost every time.”
Paul leans over and whispers in my ear. “Maybe you should have your mom make your wishes for you.”
I roll my eyes. Mom always has her head up in the clouds, dreaming impossible dreams. I’m not really sure how she ever became a respected scientist. The guys in her lab would die laughing if they heard her talking about wishing on stars.
My dreams are much more down to earth. Get through middle school without ever experiencing swirlies. Install an alarm system on my bedroom to keep my brother out. Change my parents’ minds about moving to Texas.
I stifle a yawn and wonder how much longer we’re going to stay out of bed. When the sun comes up, it’ll be our last day of vacation here in Corpus Christi. If you can call visiting cousins and looking at model homes a vacation.
My parents started talking about moving to Texas a few months ago. At first it was just my dad saying stupid stuff like, “If you had to choose between Austin and Corpus Christi, what would you choose?”
Dad is the king of pointless questions like this. One time when Paul was at our house for a sleepover, Dad asked us, “If you were stuck on a deserted island and you could only choose one girl from your class to join you, which one would you pick?”
Okay, first of all, I wouldn’t want to be stuck anywhere with any of the girls in our class. They’d spend their whole time on the island looking for a mall or complaining about the smell of fish. And second of all, a deserted island? Really? It’s okay for my dad to be a dork around us, but it’s pretty embarrassing when he acts that way around my friends.
Of course, if we move, I won’t have any friends.
Paul reaches across me to show Aldrin a complicated handshake. Sometimes having him around is like having another brother. I can’t imagine not having him for a friend. But if we move? I don’t even want to think about it.
Mom grew up in Corpus Christi, so I’m pretty sure it’s her fault we’re looking at houses here. The city is a lot bigger than when she lived here as a kid though, so all the lights are making it hard to see the moon, let alone a bunch of shooting stars.
Aldrin pokes me in the ribs and sticks out his tongue. “I’m a good wisher.” He bunches up his ratty old train blanket and sticks it under his head, a goofy grin on his face. “I’m good at lots of things.”
I ignore his comment, but apparently my brother isn’t in the mood to be ignored. He reaches for a handful of crushed ice from the bucket between us and flings it at my face. He’s lucky it’s so hot out here. The cold water on my sweaty skin actually feels good.
“Thanks, Kid. That was refreshing.” I smile and pat his head, knowing it’s the opposite of how he wants me to react.
Aldrin licks the ice chips from his fingers and looks at me expectantly. “You shoulda brought Han Solo out to see the stars.”
“Like that would ever happen.” Paul shakes his head and laughs. “I think Marten’s science project next quarter is to build a force field that keeps humans, especially you, away from those toys.”
“Collectibles,” I correct.
My brother has been trying to get at my vintage Star Wars action figures since the day he could point. They used to be my dad’s from when he was my age. He gave them to me when I was in first grade after we watched the original trilogy together.
“Those collectibles aren’t for playing with. They’re old and they’re worth a lot of money.” I’ve explained this before, but every time Aldrin goes in my room he stares at the shelf where they sit and begs me to take them down. He’s the same age I was when I got them, but he just doesn’t get it. Maybe if my parents didn’t baby him so much, he wouldn’t act like one.
Aldrin gazes at me with a mixture of fear and admiration. “Someday can’t I get a turn with ‘em? You’re not just keeping ‘em on a shelf forever, are you?”
“When you’re older, like twelve, I might let you touch them. Until then, it would not be responsible of me to let you play with them.” Mom can’t argue with that logic. After all, even Dad wouldn’t want those grubby little six-year-old hands messing with his old Kenner collectibles.
“You’re not even twelve yet.”
“Almost.” I shrug. “Besides, it’s not like I brought any action figures on vacation.”
My brother’s face lights up. That look makes me nervous. His innocent face always fools people, but not me. I know he’s a devil in cute kid clothing.
“What does spons-uhbull mean, Marten?”
“It means you take care of your stuff. You always know where it is and you don’t run it over with your bike or stick it in the oven.”
Mom groans, probably remembering the melted Legos she had to scrape up when she turned on the oven for cookies last week without looking inside first. The whole house smelled like burnt plastic for days.
Aldrin picks up his blanket. “Then I’m spons-uhbull, see.”
He pulls out Han Solo, my twelve-inch action figure, proudly wearing the Rebel Alliance Medal of Honor that Princess Leia gives him at the end of A New Hope. That action figure is supposed to be on my shelf at home, not in Aldrin’s sweaty little fist.
Paul lets out a low whistle. “Didn’t see that one coming.”
“I took care of him all week!” Aldrin digs a booger out of his nose and wipes it on his shirt, dangerously close to Han. He smiles at me as if I should be proud of him for stealing my toy.
I jump to my feet. “You…little…how did you even get him down?”
Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Paul shaking his head and signaling for Aldrin to let go of Han, but my brother isn’t paying any attention. Big surprise there.
Mom sits up and frowns. “Aldrin, give your brother back his doll.”
“Action figure!” I try to act calm even though I’m not. I’ve taken such good care of those toys ever since Dad gave them to me. Nobody gets to touch them, not even Paul.
“Give it back, twerp.”
I grab for Han, but Aldrin takes another step back, grinning wickedly. He waves my action figure in the air just out of my reach. I lunge at him and grasp Han around the neck. Aldrin yanks his arm away and I hear a snap. I stare at the 1978 Han Solo head lying in my hand. The Rebel Alliance Medal of Honor slips to the ground.
Paul cringes. “Dude, that’s just wrong.”
I leap to my feet, not sure what to do first: try to fix my collectible or strangle my brother. Mom snags Han Solo’s head. I dive for Aldrin.
He takes off across the lawn, screaming at the top of his lungs. Then he runs to where Mom is standing and grabs her around the leg as she struggles to fix Han’s head. That toy lasted more than thirty years only to die in the hands of my brother.
I start to pry him from Mom’s leg, but she gives me a warning look.
“Don’t do something you’ll regret.” She squeezes the plastic neck, trying to make it fit in the hole between Han’s shoulders. “I think I can reattach this.” The plastic head squishes in her hand, but it doesn’t go back on.
“You always defend him!”
“I didn’t mean to break it.” Aldrin’s voice is muffled against my mom’s leg. He gazes up at me with those big puppy eyes, but it’s not going to work, not this time.
“I’m not defending him,” Mom says. “He has no business taking your things. But I do think we can fix this.” She pushes down on Han’s head. It falls from his body and drops into the bucket of ice water. “Eventually.”
“You let him get away with everything,” I say. “I don’t even want to be out here with him. He’s such a…”
I stop talking because right at that moment the biggest shooting star I’ve ever seen blazes through the sky.
“You saw that, didn’t you, Marten?” Mom sounds happy, as if a meteor is supposed to make me feel better.
I don’t reply.
Aldrin lets go of Mom’s leg and looks around. “Where’s the star? I didn’t see it!”
When Aldrin was born, I kind of liked the idea of a little brother. But having him around hasn’t turned out the way I expected. Sometimes I think the reason my parents waited so long to have another kid is so that they would have a built-in babysitter. I’m tired of being spons-uhbull for Aldrin, tired of watching him ruin everything in my life and get away with it because he’s cute.
Even though the whole wishing on a star thing has never worked before, I’m willing to give it one more try. I take a deep breath, squeeze my eyes tight and make my wish. Sweat drips into my ear as a mosquito buzzes around my head, then…
I relax my tensed muscles and listen for any telltale sounds.
I open one eye and look around.
Aldrin is staring up at me, his brown curls bouncing around his face. “What’cha doing, Marten?”
I sigh. So much for that.
Aldrin jabs me in the ribs, reminding me that I’ve failed. Again.
I jog back toward the room, biting my tongue to keep the words inside.
I’m wishing you weren’t here.