For the next few days Tristan spent more and more time in his room keeping a close eye on the skybax egg. After he'd gnawed his fingernails down to the quick, and still hadn't thought up a solution to his problems, he resorted to his sketch book. Drawing had always interested him, but he'd never found the patience for it until recently.
His mother wondered why he spent so much time alone in his room and he still hadn't figured out a way to tell her. Celesta, in her quiet way, kept hinting to him that he needed to tell the rest of the family what was going on. Tristan promised he would, but it seemed to get harder the longer he waited. One day when his mother came in, wanting to know why he spent so much time alone, Tristan pulled the sketchbook off of the shelf in his room and handed it to her.
Sarilla gave her son a quizzical look.
Tristan just shrugged and flopped down on the bed. He tried hard to not look at the closet. He was afraid that his mother would somehow see right through him and the closet door.
Sarilla opened the book and her eyes widened as she stared at the first page. "Tristan, I had no idea!" She said, excitement in her voice as she thumbed through the pages. "When did you start doing this?" She held the book open to one page and held it out to him.
Tristan looked at the page. There was a half finished drawing of skybax perched on a rock ledge. There were other drawings in the book, mainly of skybaxes, but there were a few sketches of other dinosaurs. Some of the drawings were better than others, particularly the ones further back in the book since he got better after he first started.
"One of the other cadets back at Canyon City got me started on it. It was frustrating at first, but I guess I liked it enough to keep trying." He swallowed nervously, hoping she wouldn't ask why there were so many skybax sketches over other subjects. It was true. He'd been sketching all the more while he spent time with the egg. It helped to pass the time and there was something satisfying about seeing the drawings progress.
"I had no idea you liked to draw. Why didn't you ever tell me this before?"
"Like I said, I just recently kind of got started on it. I didn't think they were that good and didn't feel the need to show anyone."
Sarilla shook her head. "I never imagined you would have the patience for such a thing."
Tristan choked back a sarcastic laugh. He didn't really have the patience. He'd only been doing them to kill time and try and keep himself from thinking about his problems, but he didn't really feel like letting his mother know that. Not yet anyway.
Sarilla put the book back on the shelf. "If you're that interested in art, I can arrange for you to take classes. I'm pretty sure there's an artist who teaches on afternoons every few days over at the conservatory just past Carousel Plaza.
Tristan shook his head. He should've known his mother would try to push him into some kind of training. "No. I'm not ready for that. I just…need to give it more time."
Sarilla kissed her son on the forehead. "Let me know when you are." She smiled and left the room.
Tristan sighed when she left. It was for that very reason that he hadn't shown her the sketches sooner. She would want him to go further with the training and he really wasn't interested enough for that. At least she was satisfied with that explanation for now. But Tristan knew that time was running out and he would have to tell his parents about the skybax egg. But could he trust them with this? Ever since he'd returned he'd been watching them closely, trying to find some kind of sign that would let him know that they would understand him and wouldn't make him take the egg to a hatchery. So far he hadn't seen anything to convince him yet.
"So, did you find a good present for her?" Tiana asked one evening while she and Celesta and Tristan were cleaning up the kitchen in the back of the restaurant.
Tristan groaned. He'd forgotten about that part. In the Starr family, birthdays meant presents.
Tiana laughed. "Seriously, Tristan, you do beat all sometimes. Someone invited you to a birthday party and you didn't even think about a present."
"Well you and Celesta are invited too." Tristan said pointedly. "I'm not the only one that's got to come up with something."
Tiana just shrugged, but an ornery smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. "Yeah, but we don't know her. What do you think she'd like?"
Tristan paused from scrubbing one of the counters with a rag. "I really don't know."
"Come on. You've been around her more than us." Tiana said as she dumped a bunch of dirty silverware into the sink of hot water.
"You could always give her some flowers. Girls always like flowers." Celesta suggested. She contentedly scrubbed away at the dirty dishes, clearly happy to be working in the back rather than serving customers in the dining room.
Tristan shook his head. "No. Not flowers. I don't want her getting the wrong idea."
Tiana and Celesta looked at each other and burst into laughter.
Tristan rolled his eyes. "Girls." He muttered. He dropped the dishcloth into the soapy dishwater, making sure to splash his sisters in the process. Celesta calmly swiped the water away from her face with her sleeve, but Tiana erupted. "Hey, watch it." She scooped up a handful of soap suds and blew them into her brother's face. Tristan saw it coming though and ducked. As a result, the bubbles landed in his hair instead. Celesta giggled. "You look like your hair is turning white like an old man's."
"Yeah." Tiana said, and if you keep worrying like you always do, you'll end up with real white hair long before your time."
"Worrying?" Tristan said. "What makes you think I'm worrying right now?"
Tiana grinned. "I just know you good, that's all. You're trying to act all cool, but you're worried about what to get Poppy Harper for her birthday."
Tristan rolled his eyes. "I need to figure out what to give her, but I'm certainly not worrying about it. I wouldn't have forgotten about it up until now if I was worried about it."
Tiana just gave him a look which showed that she didn't believe him. Tristan decided to just pretend that he didn't notice it even though he was boiling inside. His sister could tease all she wanted, but he wouldn't give her the satisfaction of seeing him flustered about the whole situation of being invited to a birthday party by a girl. Then an idea hit him. "Hey, couldn't we all just share the same gift? You know, you girls go get something and it can be from all three of us?" A comment like that would surely deter his sisters from thinking that he liked Poppy in any special way. He really didn't like her in that way and it irked him that his sisters kept pestering him about it.
Both of his sisters shook their heads. "We already know what we're giving her." Tiana announced. "I'm giving her a bottle of perfume."
"And I'm giving her a shell necklace that I made." Celesta added.
Tristan frowned. "Weren't you just asking me a minute ago what to get her? Now you tell me you've already got gifts."
Tiana tusked lightly. "Now let's get things straight. I never said we didn't have gifts, I just asked what you thought she might like."
Tristan rolled his eyes. Of course, Tiana had simply messed with him to get a reaction and it had worked. "Fine then." Tristan said, huffily. "Since you two are so good at this, could you just go out and get something for me to give her?"
Tiana and Celesta looked at each other and grinned. Tristan immediately regretted the question. "No, never mind. You two would get me into something I didn't bargain for." He chose to ignore their disappointed expressions. Clearly, his sisters wanted to go find something for him, just to have some fun and make things difficult for him. For all he knew they would find some shiny piece of jewelry or a bouquet along with a sappy little note that would have just the opposite effect he wanted on Poppy. The less this girl knew about him the better. She knew too much already concerning the skybax egg and it would be a total disaster if she found out what really happened to it.
So the next day Tristan went out and spent a whole afternoon looking in shops, trying to find something to get for Poppy's birthday. "It shouldn't be so hard." He told himself. He closed his eyes, trying to remember what she looked like the first day he'd met her. Was there anything that stood out that would give him some kind of clue? Then, after a moment of concentration, he thought of the colorful crocheted bag that the girl carried with her. It gave him an idea and it would have to do. He found a shop with a variety of colorful threads and yarns so he chose three skeins of yarn, one blue, one gold, and the other green. In exchange, he spent and hour and a half cleaning up the yarn shop, dusting, sweeping, and straightening up the shelves of yarn.
Finally, the night of the party arrived. Tristan, Tiana, and Celesta headed out the door of the apartment, with Sekani following close behind. Each one of them carried their gift and even Sekani had brought something. In one claw he held a small bunch of bright red poppies he'd gotten from a nearby flower vender. Tristan glanced at the dinosaur, slightly jealous of his gift. It was a clever idea, giving the girl flowers in honor of her name, but Tristan reminded himself that giving her flowers might give her the wrong idea. Sekani caught him eyeing his gift. The creature grinned, his sharp teeth twinkling in the city lights. Tristan rolled his eyes and looked away. What did it matter anyway what gift he gave the girl? He was trying to not to encourage things. Of course, why was he coming to the party then in the first place? He should've told her no. That would've ended it all. But then again, he really didn't want to hurt her feelings. Tristan grew edgy as he wrestled with himself, wondering why he was even thinking about all this anyway.
As they approached the Harper home, a pretty house built on the edge of the bay overlooking the water, Tristan grew nervous. The lights spilled out the windows of the large house, casting colorful beams on the dark water. He could hear music and laughter and the din of many voices. Tristan suddenly remembered that he hated parties and big crowds and wondered again why he ever consented to coming in the first place. He felt a small pat on his arm and turned to see Celesta giving him a sympathetic smile. She understood his discomfort since she too wasn't much for crowds and parties. At the last minute she'd almost decided to stay home, but Tristan managed to convince her to come, promising that she would like Poppy a lot. Deep down though, he had a hunch that Tiana would hit it off a little better with Poppy since they were both seemingly boisterous and fun loving. His biggest reason for wanting Celesta to come was simply because it would be a comfort knowing she was there since she shared his dread for parties. Also, his mother had told him that she really wanted Celesta to get out more. "Ever since you left for skybax rider training, Celesta has shown little interest in socializing. Even though Tiana is outgoing and would happily bring her along to her activities, you were the one that Celesta felt comfortable with going places. Now that you're back, I was kind of hoping that you could help her out with that again." Sarilla had explained.
A stygimoloch with painted head spikes graciously opened the door for the three Starr siblings and ushered them in. Tristan stared around him in a daze. The lights in the big central room shone down brightly, illuminating the crowd of people and dinosaurs milling about the room. He was vaguely aware of Celesta clinging to his sleeve.
"Oh, this is going to be fun." Tiana said as she tugged at Sekani's claw. "Look, I think there's someone we know." She scampered off with Sekani following close behind.
"How does she do that?" Celesta said as she watched her sister go.
Tristan scratched his head. "Beats me. Maybe Mom and Dad adopted her."
Celesta's worried expression melted into one of her slow smiles. She had a tendency to smile only half way most of the time so few people benefited at seeing it in full blossom. It was just reaching its peak when Poppy and her brother, Kale, standing next to her caught sight of them.
Poppy's eyes lit up at recognizing Tristan and she immediately bounded over to him. "Hi! I see you made it here. Oh, and this must be one of your sisters! I'm so excited to meet you." She held out a hand in greeting to the girl. "Breath deep. I'm Poppy Harper. What's your name?"
Celesta's smile remained, though smaller now, as she held out her hand shyly. "Seek peace." She returned in her soft voice. "My name is Celesta."
"Celesta. What a beautiful name." Poppy cooed appreciatively.
Kale cleared his throat loudly and Poppy suddenly remembered him. "Oh, and this is one of my brothers. Kale, meet Celesta, and you already know Tristan."
Kale touched the girl's hand in greeting. "I'm pleased to meet you, Celesta." He said smiling cordially. Then, glancing at Tristan he said, "Where's the other sister you spoke of?"
Tristan shrugged. "Oh, somewhere around here. Just as soon as we walked through the door she took off when she recognized someone she knew."
Kale looked around, tugging anxiously at his shirt collar. "And the deinonychus from the Rainy Basin?"
Tristan grinned. "He's with Tiana. They're practically inseparable. He takes his job seriously when he guards my sisters."
"Oh. I see." Kale swallowed hard and ran a hand through his sandy colored hair. "I uh, I guess I'll just meet her later then."
Celesta shyly held her carefully wrapped gift out to Poppy. "Here's a present for you."
Poppy's eyes brightened. "Oh, you didn't need to give me a present. I know this is a birthday party and all, but I don't expect presents from people. Having them come and spend time at the party is much more wonderful than any gift I could ever hope for."
Kale rolled his eyes. "Awe, come on. Don't let her fool you. She loves people, but she can't help but enjoy presents too."
Poppy gave her brother a friendly shove. "Oh, you. Why don't you go find something else to do with yourself?"
"Well, I'd like to get to know your guests too." Kale replied, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Well can't you do it without making things awkward?" Poppy complained.
Celesta smiled as she watched the two siblings. She couldn't help but like this bubbly girl that reminded her so much of her own sister, Tiana. She pressed the gift into Poppy's hands. "It's alright. All people like presents. We just can't help it."
Poppy smiled. "Oh, Celesta, you are too kind."
Tristan was glad to see that his shy sister seemed to be hitting it off a lot better than he thought she would with Poppy. He glanced sideways at Kale, noticing how the other boy was eyeing his sister. It was all he could do to keep from laughing. Kale might think that he could win Celesta, but Tristan knew better. At this point in Celesta's life she was so shy with anyone and steered clear of boys, especially if any sought her out. After all, she was only fourteen and had plenty of time before getting serious with anyone. Kale may have been watching Celesta closely, hoping to catch her eye, but she was just ignoring him, giving all her attention to Poppy.
"Why don't you open it?" Celesta said.
"Alright." Poppy said, her eyes shining with anticipation. She carefully untied the ribbon and pulled away the pretty piece of material that covered the little box. She lifted the lid to the box and pulled out the shell necklace. "Oh, it's wonderful! I've always loved seashells. This is so pretty. Where did you find something like this? I'd love to visit a shop that has stuff like this."
"I made it." Celesta said with a modest smile and stared down at her feet.
"Just for me?"
"And you didn't even know me. You are too kind. Oh, Celesta, can I give you a hug?"
Celesta shrugged. "I guess."
Poppy hugged the girl. "Thank you so much. You are so sweet. I think we're going to get along wonderfully."
"Yeah, I think we will." Kale added determined not to be completely left out of the conversation.
Celesta just looked at the boy with a confused expression on her face.
Tristan unceremoniously plopped his gift into Poppy's hands. "And here's mine." He said.
"You too?" Poppy said. "You know you didn't have to."
"Yes. I know. But that's what we Starr's do for birthdays. We give gifts to the birthday person."
"Really? The Harpers always throw a party with lots of dancing. That's our tradition." Poppy took the gift and opened it. He thought something was wrong at first because the girl stared down at the colorful skeins of yarn silently.
"Well, uh, do you like it?" Tristan asked, wondering if he'd made a really stupid mistake.
Poppy looked up at him, her eyes glowing. "How did you know?"
"How did you know that I love making things out of yarn? I don't even know you that well yet and you figured that out somehow."
Tristan shrugged. "Well, I noticed that colorful bag you were holding the first day we met."
"Really? And you seemed so distracted then. I would've never thought you'd notice something like that. Thank you, Tristan. I can't wait to get started making something out of this." Poppy carefully returned the yarn to the bag that Tristan had brought it in and added Celesta's gift to it. She stepped forward and just as she'd done with Celesta, she hugged him too. "That was the perfect gift." She said, softly, in his ear.
Tristan just stood there stubbornly with his arms held stiffly to his sides. If he dared return that hug he just knew Tiana would see it from wherever she'd disappeared to and he'd never hear the end of her teasing. It was all he could do to stand politely still instead of swatting the girl's hands away like he usually did when his sisters ever tried to hug him.
Poppy, apparently having been raised to hug everybody she considered a friend, didn't seem to notice how awkward Tristan felt. She pulled away quickly and said merrily, "Come on, let's go find your other sister. I'd like to meet her." She tugged at one of Tristan's hands, as well as Celesta's and the two people in the Starr family who hated parties, found themselves being pulled right into the center of one.
Kale was left standing alone staring after Celesta with a disappointed expression on his face. After a moment's hesitation though, he decided to follow them, though at a distance.