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Sitting on a cold, hard boulder in the middle of Central Park, Ian looked up at the sky and saw the star. It was the only star; the rest were covered by a thick layer of industrial smog. Even then, he could only see it when the sky was clear, which it often wasn’t. Ian remembered when he used to live in a place where he could see the stars, thousands of them, every night. He liked the stars.
Five years ago, Ian could sit on his porch in the middle of Kentucky and stare at the sky for hours. He became absorbed in the beauty of the night, the millions of twinkling diamonds that peered at him and his small, run down home. He would walk into the plains around him, never straying too far, and lie down in the soft, dry grass while his father slept soundly inside the cottage. Staring up at the sky, Ian would often fall asleep among the course blades and later awake covered in cool, misty dew. At first, this behavior worried his father, but after a while, it simply became routine.
It wasn’t that Ian’s father didn’t care. Brett loved Ian more than words could show; he gave him everything he had. In the days shortly after Ian’s mother kicked him out of the apartment, he took his son age three, and wrapped him in his only jacket for exactly eighteen nights. When Brett finally found a job at a nearby fast food joint, he was eventually able to work his way into a position to rent a cheap apartment, then a nicer one with no holes in the whole, and then finally the small, run down house in the country. He liked the country, and he loved Ian.
For thirteen years, father and son lived happily together, just the two of them. Brett would drop Ian off at his bus stop on his way into work and pick him up on his way home. They would eat dinner together every night and tell each other about their day. When Brett met a girl, Ian watched them and wondered if he would ever have a mother. When the girl left, Ian was there beside his dad. If the two were short on money, he stayed positive until Brett pulled though. They were happy.
Then, on Ian’s sixteenth birthday, his mother finally came to see him. After thirteen years of silence, Sheila came to the small, run down house in Kentucky to meet him. She greeted him as if she loved him, as if she had been a part of his life for more than three out of the last sixteen years. When Brett saw her, he dropped the bottle of beer had been holding; it seemed to shatter in slow motion. Ian didn’t know what to think. After not seeing his mother for thirteen years, he was unsure of how to act around her. He didn’t know if he trusted her yet.
Over dinner, Ian’s sixteenth birthday dinner, Sheila and Brett discussed their child. Ian sat in his chair and, for his father’s sake, politely answered his mother’s questions and recapped his life while keeping a straight face. But when dinner ended, he excused himself from the table and walked outside. After the door shut completely, Ian picked up a scuffed, wicker chair and threw it down the dusty driveway. He ran his hand through his hair and tried not to shout in anguish. Ian took off running, and when he tripped over a rock hidden in the long grass, he turned onto his back but stayed down.
Half an hour later, Brett opened the door and saw Ian, his faced tear stained for the first time in thirteen years, lying on his back in the meadow about a hundred yards from the porch. Jogging, he quickly made his way to Ian’s side.
“Ian,” he said, concerned. “Are you alright?”
Ian sat up and looked at his father with distress. “I don’t know, Dad. I haven’t seen my mother in thirteen years and she’s here now expecting me to act as though I don’t even care about it. What am I supposed to do?”
Brett sighed. “I don’t know if I told you, but the funding got cut at work and they’re paying me less.”
“Oh, my God,” said Ian, slightly confused. “That’s awful.” He paused. “Where is this going?”
Brett took another deep breath. “Son, your mother and I think it would be best if you went to New York and stayed with her.”
Ian’s heart dropped. His brain stopped. Never in his entire life had he thought his father would send him away. They had always been so close; Ian had never spent a day without him.
“What.” It was not a question, but a demand.
Brett’s heart raced as well. He was about to lose his son to his ex-wife. “Ian, my salary just got cut in half. I don’t think I can support the two of us for very long. On the other hand, your mother is married to a successful lawyer, has a high paying job, and lives in a nice apartment in downtown New York.”
“I don’t give a crap about the money!” Ian yelled. “I’ll get a job, I’ll do anything!” He was angry now.
“Your mother signed you up for one of the best schools in –”
“She signed me up.” Ian paused and chuckled in disbelief. “I never had a say, did I?”
Two day later, Ian was on a plane to New York. It had changed since he had last lived there with his father eight years ago, but it was still recognizable. And because his mother lived in a much nicer, taller apartment than he had, he could look out across the city; it was a moving, painted timeline. But at night, the hazy cityscape transformed into a plain of dazzling lights. Every night, Ian would sit in his room and gaze wistfully out his window at the sky, hovering above the lights like a dark, blank canvas. Because in New York, Ian could see no stars. Not one.
Ian spent the remainder of his summer vacation reacquainting himself with the city. Every day, he would pack himself a water bottle, lunch money, and book in a small backpack and ride through the busy streets of New York. He explored the places he once knew as home, all the door steps he had slept on, the benches in the park. He could remember each and every one of them. Thirteen years had done nothing to help him forget.
However, as school began, Ian soon had no time for exploration; his school work had never been so rigorous. With the increased amount of stress, he began having and more trouble sleeping. With lack of sleep and homesickness, the boy began to feel melancholy. He felt as though the happiness and been from his very core.
Then he met Ella. Ella Peters was the girl he had pictured in every romance novel he had ever read. Everything about her was perfect, from her long, black hair with straight bangs to her soft, delicate hands. Her periwinkle eyes twinkled as she laughed and her smile could light the entire city of New York. From the first time he laid eyes on her, Ian was in love.
They first met in the lunch line on a Thursday afternoon. For that entire first week, Ian had purposely placed himself in line right behind her, and after four days, she finally acknowledged him.
“I haven’t seen you here before. Are you new?”
His heart leapt; she had spoken to him! “Yeah,” he replied. “I just moved here from Kentucky.”
“That’s really cool, I’ve never been. What’s it like there?”
This was the first time any girl had tried to make conversation with Ian. He didn’t know what to say. How to describe Kentucky?
“It’s very remote. Peaceful. I like it better.”
Ella nodded, but he didn’t know why. “Come sit with me,” she said. “I want to hear more.”
And so they sat, and Ian told her everything while she listened like the friend he never had. He told her about the times he spent in the small, run down house with nothing to eat and how happy they were when Brett finally got a job. He told her about the time he spent on the streets of New York and how his father worked his way through job after job to get where they were now. And he told her about his sixteenth birthday, about how his father gave him up to someone he hadn’t contacted in thirteen years. And Ella listened.
A week later, they became a couple. The night he had asked her, he sat by his window, texting. And when Ian looked outside across the sky, he saw something he hadn’t seen in five months: a star. He knew she was the one.
For the next three months, Ian experienced the happiest days of his life. He finally had a person to sit with at lunch, a person to talk to on the phone, and a person to hold in his heart. He had never trusted anyone besides his father, and after he shipped Ian away, Ella was the only one. But three months later, Ella seemed to have lost her place, too.
Sitting on hard, cold, boulder in the middle of central park, Ian looked up at the sky and saw the star: his star. It twinkled, pulsating so faintly that he could hardly see it move. But it was moving, and he realized that, even if he couldn’t see something, it still might be there. He loved Ella; he had never stopped. It didn’t matter to him that he had told her otherwise. Ian had to tell her and make it right.
He knew what to do. His heart racing, they boy quickly hopped on his bike and pedaled down the concrete lane. Weaving between the cracks in the path, he sped onto the sidewalks, carefully avoiding the late night pedestrians. He rode past the street vendors and parking garages until he reached Ella’s building. After locking his bike, he sprinted onto the elevator and frantically rode to the seventh floor. He was going to see Ella again. Ella. Again. His star. He couldn’t breathe.
The minute the gate slid open, he ran to the door he had visited so frequently. Knocking frantically, he could not help but shake in anticipation. Ella.
But it was not Ella who answered the door; it was her mother. Her slightly wrinkled face was covered in tears; her hair was unusually unkempt.
“Mrs. Peters? What’s wrong?” Ella could wait; her mother was distraught.
With wide eyes and a deep breath, Ella’s mother looked Ian in the eye. “Are you here for Ella?” she choked.
“Yeah, but –”
She took another breath. “Ian,” she stuttered, “Ella’s dead.”