Ally wandered around the museum. She stopped to examine a fossil when she heard a male voice say "Excuse me." She turned around, blushed, and quickly stepped to the side. She clutched her meteorite pouch nervously. The voice belonged to her crush! He glanced at her and said,
"Hey, aren't you that girl who knocked me over at the mall?"
Ally tried to casually lean on a pole to keep her balance; her knees were jelly.
"Heheh, yeah. Sorry about that. That dinosaur was huge." She resisted the urge to smack her forehead with the palm of her hand. Could you sound any more stupid, she thought to herself, fiddling with her pouch.
"No problem. Hey, what's that around your neck?"
Ally felt like an alien. She was used to everybody knowing about her meteorite. She remembered her parents arguing about whether it would allow her to fit in in the world outside the Moon Shadow.
"I-it's from my g-grandfather. He-he was hit by it in his yard."
"Cool! Your grandfather is a very lucky man." A voice called out "Terry!" The boy looked over his shoulder.
"That's my dad. Gotta go." Then he jogged away, muttering something about how stupid the nickname Terry was. Ally shook her head slightly and headed for the space section of the museum. She immersed herself in the interactive displays, trying to hide her embarrassment.
Bree woke up with the rising sun and went to water the plants in the Sun Garden. She paused to check the time with her shadow and noticed what looked like shadows from heat waves behind her. But the morning was still cool. Then she smelled smoke. Her first thought was, Why would somebody build a campfire here? Then she realized that the blaze was out of control, and heading for the Sun Garden! She ran faster than she'd ever ran before, and burst through the door of her parents' room.
"FIRE!" she cried out. Then, without hesitation, she dragged her parents out the door and to the Sun Garden, where the fire was heading fast. They quickly called 911, who promised to send a firefighting helicopter. In the meantime, all nearby campers had canteens and buckets and were trying to contain the blaze. What would Ally think if the campsite was destroyed, Bree thought anxiously. Everyone was sweating as they tried in vain to contain the inferno. It crackled evilly toward the garden. The combined heat from the effort and the fire left a sunburn on Bree's face. Melanie joined in, bringing in soaked towels from the creek. She slapped the ground, spritzing droplets on Bree. But they were pushed back into the Sun Garden as the fire went on, unaware of the water.
Then, without warning, a gush of water knocked everyone onto their feet. The helicopter had come. Bree waved enthusiastically, trying to thank them. Then she turned her attention back on the ground. The fire had left an ugly scar in the woods. It was short, but it was ugly. A patch of smoldering wood and still-hot cinder and charcoal about an acre long stretched in front of them. In the center of it all was a circle of stone that formed a fire ring. A sudden burst of anger swept through Bree like a second fire.
"Who did this?" she demanded.
"Um, it was me," a college-age man admitted quietly. "I tried to make a fire safely, but then the wind changed when I wasn't looking."
Bree clenched her fists, drawing blood when one of her fingernails dug into her skin. She didn't know whether to scream, cry, punch someone, run away, or yell at the idiot. Everyone wisely backed off. Melanie touched Bree's arm.
"It's okay. The forest will regrow."
"In a hundred years! This fire will ruin the Moon Shadow! If Mom and Dad hadn't been so wrapped up in their research, maybe I would have had more time to make sure everyone was doing everything safely." The tears came before she could stop them, cooling her burnt face. She ran into the woods, and she kept running until she collapsed from sheer exhaustion. She decided not to tell Ally about the fire. Fortunately, only part of the Sun Garden was burnt down. They could replant the flowers. But there was nothing they could do about the eerie wasteland next to it.
Jack's trembling hand held Hannah's as she opened the door to her house. Her mother was on the couch, dressed in a green robe, with her hair in curlers. She looked like a zombie, with dark circles around her eyes and her pale skin in wrinkles. She didn't look very violent. Hannah approached her with the will, on which she had highlighted the part about who she lived with if her grandfather died. She had lived with her grandfather initially because her mother was homeless for a while. But when her mother got back on her feet she demanded that Hannah live with her.
Hannah read the will to her mother, who raised an eyebrow.
"I guess those art classed did ya good. That's a really creative lie." She clenched her fist. Before Jack knew what was happening, he grabbed the woman's bony wrist.
"And who might you be? Her lawyer?" The woman let out a dry laugh.
"I'm her friend, who's here to make sure you don't hurt her."
"Aw, how sweet," she said sarcastically.
"Do you want to go to court," Hannah asked. Something flashed in her mother's eyes, like she was remembering a terrible experience.
"Yeah, I heard the story. We would have to go to the same court where you lost it while on jury duty."
"Tell me where you heard that now," her mother screamed. She rose from her chair. Jack stood between her and Hannah.
"She doesn't have to." To Jack, it felt like the words weren't coming out of his mouth, or his mouth was saying someone else's words. "It's a free country."
Hannah's mother narrowed her eyes.
"If you hate me, why do you want me here so badly," Hannah asked. Her mother sank back down, tears brimming in her eyes.
"Because I wanted to prove to your grandfather that I could be a good mother. I was in the circus when I had you. Grandfather didn't like that. I wanted to show him that just because I was a clown didn't mean I was a stupid parent. But the stress became too much for me and I became an alcoholic. I drank so much that I got brain damage. That's why I have mood swings like that. Thanks for dumping my alcohol. I guess I just needed a wake up call. I'll get better, but I think the best place for your now is your uncle's."
Hannah hugged her mother, and for a long time Jack stood there awkwardly. Then they let go and Hannah rode her bike to her uncle's, promising to visit her mother. Jack headed home, a lighter feeling in his heart.
One thing was for sure. A new school year meant even bigger changes and challenges for Ally, Bree, and Jack.
TO BE CONTINUED…