Today we are featuring Inklings Book Contest 2018 finalist, Jade Wang! Jade finished 8th grade this past school year. The story she submitted is called “Life Through the Eyes of a Telescope.” One of our judges said this about Jade’s story: “Choosing to use the telescope as the narrator for this story was an excellent decision. . . Jade built toward the choice to share Halley’s story with Orion in a layered, well-crafted way.” Enjoy!
Telescopes are but mere instruments to help you see the stars. But before you look to the stars, you must first look around you—you may notice that everything that you’d ever want and need is standing right next to you.
A quiet girl sat on a small hill with her knees propped against her chest and her arms around her legs. Despite her timid appearance, she had big dreams: those of the stars and of the great cosmos outside of the tiny, boring world that she lived in. I knew all about that girl: Halley Orpheus. She was the girl who would walk the long route home because it included passing the Kennedy Space Station, where she would sit on the bench 3.12 miles away from the rocket launching area. She was the shy girl who would sneak out in the middle of the night and fall asleep under the stars, because secretly, she wanted to be close to her father, who had left her and her mother five years ago to join the first colony to live on Mars.
I knew Halley well because I had watched her grow up under the stars and night sky, because I had stuck with her when no one else had– when her so-called “friends” had left her after she had embarrassed herself in fifth grade, when her pet guinea pig died later that year, and most importantly, when her father had told her that he would be taking a little trip out of town and never returned. I had been with Halley since she was born, and would continue to stick with her until she didn’t need me anymore, whenever that would be.
As of right now, she still did, as I stood next to her as she waited for the sun to set so that I could aid her in looking to the cosmos. During that time, Halley had taken out her trigonometry homework and was almost done with her last page. I watched as she brushed her ash brown hair out of her face and continued to work, pursing her lips as she struggled to solve another problem. Suddenly, a loud chime echoed throughout our otherwise perfectly tranquil setting. Furrowing her eyebrows, Halley grabbed her phone and began to frantically type. I knew that look well; Halley’s mother, Alice, had told her to come home. Soon, we were off, heading back home, the place where Halley dreaded most– not only because her depressed mother was there, constantly nagging Halley to forget her dreams of the cosmos and focus on something a little closer to home, but because there were always reminders of her father: his books, his pictures, his model of the solar system. They were always there, taunting Halley, reminding her that he was 54.6 million kilometers away.
As Halley drifted off to sleep under the stars that night, I prayed for her to feel happy, a feeling she hadn’t felt since her father had left.
The next day, we went to school in a slight rush, as Halley had trouble waking up every morning after sneaking out late at night to sleep under the night sky. Nothing too important happened other than the fact that Mrs. Winters, Halley’s science teacher, had assigned a group project. Since Halley didn’t have any friends in Mrs. Winters’ class, she was paired with Orion, a new student. Halley was obviously upset with the project (or Mrs. Winters) because she scowled and repeatedly tapped her galaxy themed notebook with the tip of her pencil, making little gray dots on the cover, something she only did when she was extremely stressed.
When Orion approached her during lunch to talk about the project, Halley pretended not to see him. She often did all of the work during group projects, to the point where she preferred to do them without help. While Halley may have gotten lucky during lunch, however, she didn’t afterschool.
“Hey, you’re the girl I’m doing the science project with, right?” Orion called as he ran to her, his black hoodie flopping around in the wind like some boneless crow.
Halley turned, scowling; she was wasting time she could use to read the most recently published article about sending more people to the colony on Mars.
Orion flashed a quick and unnecessary smile before saying, “Well, what are we going to do it on? I’m kind of busy this week, so I wanted to get everything done today. Shouldn’t be too hard, right?”
Halley pursed her lips. “You don’t need to help; I can do it myself.”
“Yeah, I don’t think we’re supposed to do that.”
Halley rolled her eyes and said, “Let me rephrase that: I don’t need your help.”
Orion groaned and ran a hand through his messy brown hair. “Can we stop arguing about this? We have work to get done.”
Halley gaped at Orion in shock. Not only was he the only person to not refer to her as “Martian” or “Space Nerd” or call her annoying and stubborn, he was also the first person to want to work on a project with her.
Because of this, Halley half-heartedly muttered, “Fine.”
“Cool, so I was thinking that we could go to Crow’s Peak since there’s a ton of nature and stuff around there, which makes for a really interesting project. Maybe we could do an analysis of the ecosystem there?”
Halley nodded slowly. His idea somewhat decent, though she was still extremely suspicious of him, as was I. “Okay, lead the way.”
Then they walked, first in silence, later in quiet chatter. I kept a keen eye on Orion; because while he seemed like a relatively nice person, Halley had been through too much bullying and other emotional stress to have some awkward boy who walked with his arms moving faster than his legs to add any unnecessary stress. As they walked, Halley kept track of the time, making sure that she would pass the Kennedy Space Station at 5:15 PM because that’s the time her father had told her he would come home. They got to the bench at 5:13 PM, so Halley made Orion sit with her in silence until 5:20 PM, when that same presence of silence, or perhaps lack of rocket launching noises, finally broke her. While Halley looked up at the sky, Orion looked at Halley. I didn’t like the way his pupils were dilated 1/16 more than their usual size. Halley didn’t seem to notice our company’s weird gawking gaze, however, which I guess was a good thing, as that would have completely freaked her out. As the two got off of the bench, Orion asked Halley why she had decided to sit on that bench for so long.
Halley, who clearly wasn’t interested in sharing her story, replied with, “I want to work there someday.”
“Cool,” he replied. “I mean, it matches your name; Halley’s Comet, Kennedy Space Station, space in general. It almost goes hand in hand.”
Halley stared at him in awe for a second– Orion was the first person to mention her name’s relation to Halley’s Comet.
“March 8th, 2061. That was the date I was born.”
Orion grinned. “And the date that Halley’s Comet last passed Earth.”
“Yeah, my father gave me that name.”
“Your dad must’ve loved space eh?”
Halley nodded sadly. “Yeah, he sure did.”
As Orion opened his mouth, most likely to ask another question about Halley’s father, Halley quickly changed the subject by saying, “You know, we’re pretty similar, aren’t we? I mean, you clearly know a lot about space too. Ever wanted to go out there?”
I noticed a small smile begin to appear on Halley’s face and prayed that Orion wouldn’t let her down. But of course, things don’t usually go the way we want them to.
“Nah,” he replied, and immediately, Halley’s face fell. “I mean, I used to, but now I don’t.”
Orion paused for a moment, biting his lip. “Let’s just say I’d rather stay here, where it’s safe.”
“Where it’s boring and ugly,” Halley muttered.
“It’s not boring. If anything, it’s way better than out there. I mean, we’ve got movie theaters, music festivals, cafes, and malls. Actual people. Actual life. What do they have? Nothing. They don’t even have gravity,” Orion said.
“What are you talking about? Gravity is way overrated. I mean, who wants to walk when you can fly?” Halley countered.
“I wouldn’t; especially since no gravity can lead to some serious health issues.”
Halley shrugged. “Fair point, but still, space has so many other amazing qualities that make it so interesting. I mean, it’s so shrouded in mystery that it’s impossible to resist the urge to try to discover what’s out there. Like, haven’t you ever wondered if there’s other intelligent life out there? Or if there’s a whole new planet waiting to be discovered? I know space isn’t the safest place out there, but there’s so much adventure and mystery. Wouldn’t you want to take a chance and go out there?”
I notice Orion studying Halley’s face when she says that. I can’t really tell what exactly he’s thinking about, but something tells me that he understands Halley’s point of view, but sees the world, and the rest of the cosmos, a little differently.
“Maybe… but what if there’s nothing out there? What if you’re just stuck out there in a cold, lifeless, unforgiving place that’s not the exciting place you imagined it to be? Wouldn’t that just be a huge waste of time? I’d rather stay here and make the most of my life. Start a family, get a job, and retire. That sort of stuff,” Orion replied, meeting Halley’s eye and causing her to flinch a little bit.
“Well, whatever the case about space, one thing’s for sure: when you get out there, you’d be greeted with glittering stars and tons of galaxies. Just the amazing view out there is enough to make me want to go out there.”
“And I’m sure there are nice views here, too.”
“But–” Halley began, but was cut off by the fact that she and Orion had climbed to the top of Crow’s Peak and were now being greeted by a magnificent sight: dark green trees dotting the landscape, light green grass covering the hilly trail that Halley and Orion had recently trekked up, and most gorgeous of all, the sunset. Pink, red, gold, and orange spilled onto the pale blue sky, glowing bright and magnificent. Halley had never appreciated the sunset, as she always just figured it was another half an hour that she would have to wait before it got dark and the stars came out.
“I think this might merit the title of ‘amazing view’ too.”
“Yeah,” Halley said with a breathless smile, “By the way, why do you hate space so much? You clearly liked it almost as much as I did at some point, so what made you stop?”
Orion shrugged. “Reasons.”
“I’ll tell you why I always pass the Kennedy Space Station on the way home.”
Orion paused, considering Halley’s offer. I was surprised with how ready Halley was to share something this personal, especially with someone who she had just met.
“My parents both were astronauts. One day, the rocket malfunctioned and they both died.”
I was pretty surprised by how nonchalantly Orion told such a depressing story. Halley, who clearly had been expecting something a lot milder, widened her eyes in shock and reached for Orion’s hand. “Oh my gosh, I— I’m so sorry.”
Orion shrugged away from Halley, who flinched in response. I guess she wasn’t ready for Orion to refuse her first attempt at comforting someone. Orion, who seemed to notice Halley flustered and embarrassed, murmured quickly, “Sorry, I wasn’t trying to be mean or something… I just- it’s hard, you know? Sharing something that still tears you up inside when you lie in bed thinking about it.”
Halley nodded slowly, reaching for Orion again. This time, he doesn’t move away.
“Yeah, I get what you mean.”
The two then stand awkwardly for a moment until Orion says. “So now that you know my sob story, what’s yours?”
Halley paused for a moment, frozen in fear; she had forgotten about her end of the deal. Still avoiding Orion’s gaze, Halley pondered on what to say.
Will she tell the truth? I wondered.
“Right… about that… I…” Halley began, clenching and unclenching her fists.
Suddenly all of Halley’s stressed movement stops and I notice her stare at something in the sunset-turned-to-night sky. I follow her gaze to a circular red planet in the distance. To her, it’s a tiny red speck that houses the person she calls home. To me, it’s a vast, red dusty planet with a small colony waiting for Halley to join it. After a few seconds, Halley tears her gaze away from Mars and turns to Orion.
“Sorry that took so long… it’s just like you said, it’s hard to share something that still tears you up at night.”
Orion gave an encouraging smile. “No problem, anytime you’re ready. You have me for the entire night.”
Halley smiled back at him before turning back to the night sky. “You see that tiny red speck over there?”
Orion follows her gaze to the speck. “Yeah.”
“Five years ago, my dad told me he was going on a little trip. Never told me where, but the moment he was gone, I knew.” Halley bit back a few tears before continuing. “He’s out there now. First colony on Mars. Honestly, I don’t blame him for leaving… I would’ve too. I just… I wish I could’ve said goodbye properly.”
Orion paused, thinking about what to say. “Hey, maybe one day you’ll see him again.”
Halley gave him a sad smile. “Yeah, I hope so.”
The two stood next to each other yet again, but this time, it wasn’t awkward. There was some silent level of understanding and grief that filled the air. I guess you could call it two broken hearts resonating with each other.
Halley bit her lip before murmuring, “Maybe Earth isn’t as bad as it seems. You know, I didn’t realize it before, but I guess there is a little more to it than just heartbreak.”
Orion smiled. “So are you going to throw away your dreams of going to space?”
“Not a chance.”
The two grin at each other for a few moments before Orion murmurs, “Agree to disagree.”
Halley laughs a little and nods. “Agree to disagree.”
It’s been five years since that fateful night when Halley began connecting with people again. While remnants of the shy, quiet girl I once knew still existed, Halley stopped completely closing herself off to other people. Of course, she still keeps a lot of her old habits, including taking the long way home, sleeping under the stars, and sitting on the bench 3.12 miles away from the rocket launching area at the Kennedy Space Station. The only difference is that now, Halley does those things with Orion. There’s another difference, too. This one is a lot more important than just some awkward boy replacing me as Halley’s best friend. This new difference is that a few months ago, Halley got accepted into the NASA Mars New Colony Training Program.
That brings us to today, another fateful day: the launching of the rocket scheduled to send young astronauts to join the Mars colony. Naturally, Halley was one of them. As Orion walked with Halley to the Kennedy Space Station while carrying me with his left hand, Halley cried a lot. I don’t really get why, considering the fact that Halley’s wanted to go to Mars even before her father left. And I was more baffled after witnessing Halley’s extensive, tear-filled goodbye with Orion, especially since Halley had said barely a word to me despite us knowing each other for 22 years and Orion only knowing her for five.
“Thanks for always being there,” she had said to me. Of course, there was a multitude of words that wanted to come streaming out of me, but alas, I couldn’t say anything back. She’s finally leaving to pursue her dream, I thought as I watched Halley walk off and felt my nonexistent heart break into tiny pieces.
As Orion carries me out the door, I notice tears beginning to fill his eyes. I already knew he was putting on a brave face and refraining from any tear-shed when he had seen Halley off, but now that she was gone, he had no reason to hide his sorrow.
Why are you crying? You’ve only known her for five years. I’ve known her since she was born, I thought as he put me down on a bench 3.12 miles away from the rocket launching area. We only really sat for a little over half an hour, but it felt like decades before we finally saw a rocket, no, the rocket that was carrying the light of both my life and Orion’s away from us.
At that moment in time, I wondered: Why do you have to leave me, Halley? Why couldn’t you have brought me with you? Granted, I already knew the answer to my second question. Halley didn’t need me anymore. After all, the reason why Halley needed me was so that I could help her see the stars, and more importantly, find a trace of her father. Now, she’ll be able to see the stars on her own. Now, Halley will finally be able to see her father with her own eyes.
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