Chapter 11:

Under The Same Sky

Galaktika Gamble: Stolen Light

After my grandpa kicked us out, I couldn't help but feel lost. Having only a couple of weeks to find somewhere to go was stressful. I tried applying to different places for a job, but I never got a call back on any of them. Even if they did call back, they probably wouldn't have paid enough, especially only working part-time since I had to go to school as well. All I could think about is how disappointed my mother would probably be if she saw where life had taken us.

Those few weeks passed by very quickly with no luck. John's mother gave me a quick hug as Neil and I made our way to the front door.

Maria: I apologize. If I were able to keep you here longer I would. I really hope this doesn't cause any hard feelings.

Ivan: Of course not, Mrs. Standing. We appreciate your help very much. We understand that people can only do so much, but it really means a lot to us that you did what you could.

I turned to Neil as he spoke up.

Neil: Dealing with my situation isn't easy. Having children around me is even scarier. You've already done more than enough. I am very grateful for what you have done.

Neil gave a bittersweet smile and nodded gratefully before opening the door and leaving. I turned back to John and his mother.

Ivan: Thanks again. We'll be alright, I know we will.

John: Just let me know if you need anything, okay? We may not be able to let you stay here longer, but we can still find other ways to help.

Ivan: Thanks, John. You're a great friend.

John: No problem dude.

John gave me a fist bump as I left the house. As we walked down the street, he shouted at us.

John: I mean it! Text me if you need anything!

I gave him a quick thumbs-up before he shut the door.

Ivan: Well... I guess this is it for now.

Neil: I would suggest sleeping at the park, but there's too many children there. It would be dangerous for me to be there.

Ivan: True...I guess we could sleep outside the school? We have school tomorrow so we might as well.

That night we slept outside of the school as I had suggested. Though it was cold, we were able to stay a little warmer than we expected due to the building blocking the wind. I closed my eyes and slowly drifted to sleep. Hearing a muffled but familiar voice, I opened my eyes and found myself in a dark cave. I looked around anxiously, trying to find where the voice came from.

Ivan: H-hello?

I looked down, noticing a small black rabbit with yellow and green eyes sitting on my lap. Something about this rabbit made me feel uneasy. Just as I was about to say something, it opened its mouth, revealing several sharp teeth before ripping my stomach open with them.

I screamed and opened my eyes, scanning my surroundings in a panicked state. Noticing that I was awake and at school, I sighed with relief. Looking around, I wasn't sure where Neil had gone. It appeared that school was going to start soon, as some students were already arriving. As I was getting up from where I was sitting, I noticed Ela running towards me.

Ela: Hey! You're here early!

I laughed nervously and tried to play it cool.

Ivan: Yeah! Guess I had nothing better to do this morning! Haha!

Ela: Are you okay? You seem a bit spooked.

Ivan: Yeah, I'm alright!

Ela gave me a serious look before placing her hand on my face. I blushed and started to stutter.

Ela: Your face is freezing!! Did you sleep out here?!

Ivan: I-

Ela: That's not okay! I told you if you needed a place to stay that you could stay at my place!

Ivan: I know..we just can't rely on everyone else all the time. We won't get anywhere if we are always dependant on everyone else.

Ela: You're staying at my place tonight.

Ivan: But-

Ela: No buts! You need somewhere warm and safe to stay. I won't let you and Neil sleep outside again.

As I tried to protest, the rest of the Astronomy Club walked over to us.

Brian: Everything okay?

Ela: Ivan slept outside in the cold last night!

Brian: Oh, that's not good. Are you okay?

Ivan: Yeah, I'm fine. This is only temporary, don't worry!

They gave me concerned looks, but it seems they trusted me and changed the subject. As the bell rang and I was headed to my class, I noticed Neil yelling at someone in the hallway. It was a girl with bleached hair and blue bangs that I had never seen before.

Neil: I told you to leave me alone! I don't know you!

Girl: But that's the whole point of talking! You can get to know me and I can get to know you! Are you really against making friends that much?

Neil: Yes! I don't want to get to know you! Go away, damn it! Fuck off!

The girl smiled and shrugged.

Girl: Alright then! If you say so!

Instead of seeming upset by Neil's attitude, she turned around and happily skipped to class with a big smile on her face. I felt a small sense of nervousness when I realized she entered my classroom. As I walked in the class, I noticed her doodling fruit with cute faces. Thinking that maybe she was hiding her upset feelings, I decided to apologize to her for Neil's behavior.

Ivan: Hey, I'm sorry for what happened in the hall. He's a bit of a loner and doesn't like people too close to him. Are you new here?

Girl: Yeah! I just transferred today. I already expected him to reject my friendship so it's okay haha. It's no secret that Neil Doune is an antisocial mystery.

Ivan: You already know about Neil?

Girl: Yeah, I'm from around here. I transferred from Show Low.

Ivan: Oh, that's pretty close. Why would you transfer here?

Girl: Just wanted a change. I was tired of seeing the same faces all the time. You're Ivan aren't you? Do you think you could convince Neil to give me a chance?

Ivan: Uh...I hope this doesn't sound rude, but why would you want that?

Girl: Because I want to be his friend! Not only that...but he's much cuter than I expected him to be.

The girl smirked before taking lip gloss out of her purse and putting it on. I walked to my desk quietly as the bell rang. After the teacher walked in and greeted the class, he called the girl up to the front to let her introduce herself.

Jill: Hello! My name is Jill, but you can call me Kitty! My last school mascot was a cougar, that's why haha. Sorry, but who thought yellowjackets would make a cool mascot? Everyone hates them!

After a short moment of laughter, the class went back to its usual routine. The day seemed fairly normal, with the exception of the new girl. Every time I saw Neil in the hall or during lunch break, she seemed to be somewhere near him. At the end of the day, Ela met up with Neil and I by the school entrance.

Neil: Why is Ela here?

Ela: I know you don't like being around people, but you're staying at my house tonight.

Neil: I don't agr-

Ela: I live alone. You don't have to worry.

Ivan: You live alone? I didn't know that.

Ela: Well, technically I don't live alone, but my father is out of the house most of the time because of work. He usually just stops by for a moment or a meal and leaves again. You won't be putting anyone in danger at my place.

Neil didn't reply, but it was easy to tell he was still uncomfortable with the idea. Suddenly he seemed to become focused on something behind us. Ela and I turned around to see Jill hiding behind a tree. Neil sighed with frustration and mumbled to Ela.

Neil: Fine, I'll trust you for one night. Just make sure that girl doesn't follow us.

Ela: Who is she? Is she new?

Neil: Yeah. She's been trying to follow me all day. It's not safe being around me; she needs to stay away. She acts like she doesn't care about my warnings.

Ela: Alright. I'll make sure the house is locked well. We have security cameras anyway so we'll be fine. Are you in shape?

Neil: Not exactly..

Ela: It's okay, me neither haha. We can catch our breath later!

Ela started to sprint, calling out for us to follow her. We started to run after her. By the time we made it to her house and through the front door, Neil and I fell on the floor gasping for air. Ela locked the door behind her and sat on the floor with her back against the door, laughing between breaths.

Ela: We made it! Hopefully she wasn't able to keep up!

Ivan: Is it just me or does the cold air make it even harder to breathe?

Neil: You're right, it does.

After a moment to catch our breath, Ela stood up and gave us a quick tour of the house.

Ela: There's the guest bedroom and my bedroom. You guys can choose where you want to sleep and I'll sleep in the living room for now.

Ivan: What? Are you sure that's okay? I can sleep on the couch-

Ela placed her finger over my mouth gently and smiled.

Ela: You've had to sleep on a couch long enough. Last night you slept on the ground. You deserve a nice bed.

I watched Ela as she left the room, mumbling something about figuring out what to eat for dinner.

Neil: You take Ela's room. I would feel awkward sleeping in a bed someone else has recently slept in.

Neil opened the door to the guest bedroom and threw his bag on the bed before plopping down face-first into the mattress. I shrugged and opened the door to Ela's room. Making sure not to mess with any of her things, I carefully placed my bag on her bed and returned to the living room. Ela was in the dining room, whisper screaming into her phone.

Ela: This doesn't have to be difficult. Just do it, please?! Okay. Text it to me right now! Thank you. Of course! I'm not going to beat him up! I promise! Okay, thanks. Yup. Bye!

Ivan: Everything okay?

Ela: Yeah, I was just asking one of my cousins for a favor haha. No biggie! Is pizza fine for dinner? I could order one.

Ivan: Neil loves pizza, I'm sure he won't complain haha.

That night was one of the most relaxing nights we had in a while. With no one else in the house, it was very quiet. After we ate our pizza, Neil went straight to bed. Sleeping was a bit difficult for me though. Laying down on Ela's bed, all I could do was think about her. At first, I was very cautious around her. After John explained Ela's behavior, I found myself at ease around her. She was fun to talk to, and something about seeing her smile made each day a little brighter. And her personality was unique and bold. Sweet and kind...yet strong and independent. A little nerdy too. I cracked a smile as I remembered her rambling about her mythology interest. Unable to sleep, I decided to text Ela and see if she was awake. After a moment, I heard a light knock on the door.

Ela: Are you okay? You said you can't sleep?

Ivan: Yeah. Sorry if I woke you.

I laughed nervously. Ela walked into the room and sat down on the bed.

Ivan: Thank you for giving us a place to stay for now. It means a lot.

Ela: Of course! I couldn't let you continue to sleep outside.

Ivan: I promise we'll be out of here as soon as we can. I am working hard on finding a job so we can get our own place.

Ela: Don't worry. You're not a burden. You can stay here as long as you need.

The room fell silent for a moment. I thought about the various part-time jobs I applied for, wondering how long it would take them to call me for an interview if they considered hiring me. I wondered how long I would even have to work to find an affordable place to live.

Ela: I'm worried about you.

Ivan: Me? Why?

Ela: Life has been pretty rough for you lately, hasn't it?

Ivan: I'll be fine.

I smiled and tried to change the subject. The last thing I wanted was to make Ela upset with whatever was happening in my life. I wanted to see her happy.

Ivan: Did you finish reading those books we got at the library awhile back?

Ela looked at me with concern but answered my question.

Ela: Yes, I did. They were pretty interesting.

Ivan: Do you have a favorite folktale?

Ela: Yes. My family nicknamed me "Little Wren" when I was a child. I used to hate that nickname so much. As I got older though, I found a European folktale about a wren becoming the king of birds. The birds held a contest to see who could fly the highest. The winner would become the king of birds. The wren ended up winning by thinking smart and hiding in the eagle’s feathers to fly the highest, finally flying herself above the eagle when the eagle got too tired to fly higher. When things go wrong, I like to think about that folktale and tell myself that if the small wren could become the king of all birds, even the big scary birds, I can get through whatever tries to bring me down. I can accomplish anything.

Ivan: That's a pretty positive way to keep moving forward.

Ela: If you like, I'll find a folktale that fits you too!

Ivan: A folktale for me?

Ela: Of course! I'll make sure to find a good one! When you feel down or upset, you can use it for inspiration!

Ivan: I would really like that actually. Finding a way to stay motivated would be great for me.

Ela: Do you have any nicknames?

Ivan: I can't think of any haha..I guess we never really had a lot of time for that stuff.

I laughed nervously as I thought about how odd that must sound.

Ela: That's no problem! I'll figure out something and eventually tell you a folktale that fits you!

Ivan: Thank you!

Ela smiled and stood up to stretch. She took a few steps away from the bed to pull back the curtains covering her window.

Ela: I was able to get to know you better because of the Astronomy Club, so maybe I'll find a good folktale for you about the stars! Is that cheesy?

Ivan: Maybe a little haha..but it's kinda cute.

I heard Ela laugh nervously for a moment. The room was too dark to tell if she was blushing.

Ela: The Astronomy Club means so much to me. I've made all my closest friends through it. The stars just have a way of connecting people. Even people from the past we've never met. The stars we see in the sky are the same stars everyone in previous generations has seen. Everyone that has ever existed has been under the same sky as us. The sky seems so timeless. I'm looking at the same moon and stars that all my ancestors looked at. Though they are dead now, I can still experience this sky the same way they did when they were alive. I think that is amazing.

Ela laughed nervously again after a moment of silence.

Ela: Jeez, what am I rambling on about? I probably sounds weird talking like this hahaha..

Ela sat at the edge of the bed and continued to look out the window. As I thought about what she said, a question came to my mind.

Ivan: What do you think happens to us when we die?

Ela: Well... It's hard to know for sure. Personally, I think their spirit lives on even after their body dies. As for what they do or where they go after physical death, I won't know for sure until I'm dead myself haha. If I were to die though, I think I would want to try and playfully haunt my friends and family but also watch over them. I would make the lights flicker when they watch scary movies and play pranks on them regularly haha. Maybe try to talk to them through dreams or something too. What about you? What do you believe?

Ivan: I don't know. There's no scientific proof of spirits or anything supernatural so even if I want to believe in it, it doesn't make sense to me. The only way people "live on" is through pictures, recordings, objects, and memories. Obviously they aren't truly living anymore..but it's a piece of them left behind. A piece that can be seen, heard, or felt..when everything else is gone. Even though they aren't physically here anymore, I can hear them clearly in my mind and replay memories as many times as I want.

Ela looked at me before glancing at Sally's stuffed rabbit placed next to the pillow.

Ela: That rabbit is one of those objects, isn't it?

Ivan: Yeah.

Ela looked as if she wanted to ask about it some more, but stayed silent. I'm not sure if she could tell I got uncomfortable talking about those things, but she seemed to respect my privacy.

Ivan: Hey..

Ela: Hm?

Ivan: Thanks for talking with me tonight. I know it's pretty late. You should probably go to sleep.

Ela: Will you be able to sleep? Have you been having bad dreams lately? You looked a bit spooked this morning.

Ivan: I had a really odd dream, but I'll be fine. Thank you.

Ela stood up and walked to the door.

Ela: Let me know if you need anything else, okay? I don't mind.

Ivan: Of course.

Ela smiled before shutting the door behind her as she left. I adjusted the pillow before laying my head down. Seeing the stuffed rabbit in front of me, I thought about what Ela had said. I wondered if Sally, my mother, and my father were happily spending time together in some form of spirit world. The thought of that possibility almost seemed inviting to me. If I could die and be happy with my family and Sally again, maybe I wouldn't have to feel empty anymore. The thought of death had always terrified me though, and with no proof of any form of afterlife, it seemed too risky to truly consider or attempt suicide. Besides, that would've made me a huge hypocrite to Neil, and that's the last thing I wanted to be. I shook my head in frustration and grabbed the rabbit, holding it close to me before drifting to sleep.

The next morning I awoke to the sound of my phone ringing. Thinking it was my phone alarm, I tapped the red button and tried to fall back asleep. However, after a moment the phone began to ring again. Picking it up and squinting at the words on the screen, I noticed that it wasn't an alarm. Instead, it was a phone call from my grandpa. I tapped the green button while rubbing the sleep out of my eyes.

Ivan: Hello?

My grandpa spoke quietly over the phone, sounding as if he felt guilty. My eyes became wide as he explained the reason for his call.

Ivan: A-are you sure?

I listened to his apology. He sounded sincere. After telling me what he wanted to say, he apologized again and hung up the phone. Wondering if I was still asleep and dreaming, I pinched myself. I could feel pain, so I concluded I must be awake. I got ready for school and met up with Neil and Ela as we left the house together. Unable to keep the news to myself, I decided to tell Neil about the phone call.

Ivan: Grandpa said we can come back.

Neil: Why would I do that? He'll just kick me out again later.

Ivan: Well actually, he went back to Phoenix. He said we can take the house since he already has his house in Phoenix.

Ela: That's great news!

Though Ela seemed happy for us, Neil still seemed hesitant. He mumbled as he seemed deep in thought.

Neil: I wonder what made him change his mind. He doesn't do that easily.

Ela smiled and pat his shoulder. Neil glared at her for a second and tried to distance himself from her, obviously not wanting to be touched.

Ela: What matters is that you'll have a place to live again! No more sleeping on couches or outside!

Neil: I just hope he doesn't change his mind again. I don't want to be kicked out, especially if he's not even there.

Ivan: I think it'll be okay. He said he hid the key under the big rock next to the mailbox. I don't think he would lie to us about it.

Neil still looked as if he didn't fully trust it, but he dropped the subject. The rest of the day at school went fairly well for me, but Neil seemed to struggle. Like the day before, I noticed that girl following him everywhere despite his protests. When the school day ended, I decided to confront her.

Ivan: Hey Jill- I mean "Kitty" I talk to you?

Jill: Of course!

Ivan: Neil is clearly uncomfortable with you following him. Can you please stop?

Jill frowned at me and crossed her arms.

Jill: I haven't done anything to bother him. He told me to stop trying to talk to him, so I did. Is it really such a sin for me to be in the same area? It's not like I'm right next to him. Am I not allowed to admire him from afar?

Ivan: You're basically stalking him and that's not okay. I understand if you want to be his friend, but doing this is not going to earn his friendship.

The girl scoffed at me before laughing and shaking her head.

Jill: You're ridiculous. We are in the same school, there's only a limited amount of space here. I could mind my own business and you'd still accuse me of stalking him just because I think he's cute and want to be his friend. Are you jealous at the thought of him having more friends than just you? How do you think he feels, seeing you walk around with your group of friends without him? Don't be so selfish.

Jill rolled her eyes and shoved me to the side as she walked away. After watching her walk away for a moment, I started to walk home myself, meeting Neil outside of the school. We walked back to our old house in complete silence. As I bent down and lifted the rock under the mailbox to grab the key to the front door, Neil spoke up.

Neil: You're more quiet than usual. Are you okay?

Ivan: I confronted that girl earlier. I stayed quiet on the way home so I could be more alert in case she decided to follow us here. We don't want her knowing we are here.

Neil: Oh, I see. Yeah, I don't want her knowing where I'm sleeping.

I opened the door. The house was completely silent except for the small buzz sound coming from the refrigerator in the kitchen. On the dining room table was a note from my grandpa with an envelope under it. I skimmed through the words without really registering them, since they just looked like he was rehashing everything he said during the phone call.

"I'ᴍ sᴏʀʀʏ I ᴋɪᴄᴋᴇᴅ ʏᴏᴜ ɢᴜʏs ᴏᴜᴛ. Yᴏᴜʀ ғʀɪᴇɴᴅ ɪs sᴍᴀʀᴛ ᴀɴᴅ sʜᴏᴡᴇᴅ ᴍᴇ ᴛʜɪs sᴏʟᴜᴛɪᴏɴ. Tʜɪs ᴡᴀs ᴛʜᴇ ʙᴇᴛᴛᴇʀ ᴏᴘᴛɪᴏɴ ʙᴜᴛ I ɴᴇᴠᴇʀ ᴛʜᴏᴜɢʜᴛ ᴏғ ɪᴛ. Nᴏᴡ ʏᴏᴜ ᴄᴀɴ ʜᴀᴠᴇ ᴛʜɪs ʜᴏᴜsᴇ ᴀɴᴅ I ᴄᴀɴ ʟɪᴠᴇ ɪɴ Pʜᴏᴇɴɪx. I ᴄᴀɴ sᴛɪʟʟ sᴜᴘᴘᴏʀᴛ ʏᴏᴜ ғɪɴᴀɴᴄɪᴀʟʟʏ ғᴏʀ ɴᴏᴡ. I ᴡɪʟʟ ᴘᴀʏ ғᴏʀ ᴛʜᴇ ʜᴏᴜsᴇ ʙɪʟʟs ᴜɴᴛɪʟ ʏᴏᴜ ɢʀᴀᴅᴜᴀᴛᴇ ғʀᴏᴍ ʜɪɢʜ sᴄʜᴏᴏʟ. Uɴᴛɪʟ ᴛʜᴇɴ, sᴛᴀʏ sᴀғᴇ. Dᴏɴ'ᴛ ᴅᴏ ᴀɴʏᴛʜɪɴɢ sᴛᴜᴘɪᴅ."

I handed the letter to Neil and looked at the envelope. Written on it was the words "for groceries". I opened the envelope and counted the money inside. We estimated it would be enough for about two weeks worth of food.

Neil: I guess he'll give us pity money whether we want it or not.

Ivan: At least this makes things a little less stressful. I'll still find a job for groceries but not having to worry about finding a place to live is relieving.

I put the money back in the envelope and set it on the table before walking to my room. Seeing everything left untouched, I smiled as I realized I could play video games again. I unpacked my backpack and sat on my bed, thinking about a few of the words that stood out to me in my grandpa's letter. I went back to the table and picked up the letter again.

"Yᴏᴜʀ ғʀɪᴇɴᴅ ɪs sᴍᴀʀᴛ ᴀɴᴅ sʜᴏᴡᴇᴅ ᴍᴇ ᴛʜɪs sᴏʟᴜᴛɪᴏɴ."

My mind went back to the night before, when I walked in on Ela whispering into her phone. She told me it was about a favor. I wondered if she had found some way to talk to my grandpa, but shrugged off the idea. There was no way she would have his contact info. I decided to text John asking if he had talked with my grandpa instead, but he didn't reply.

Though I didn't know who helped us out, I was definitely grateful. Being able to return home made things seem like they were looking up again, and they were for a while. Everything seemed to go back to normal for the most part, with the exception of Jill following Neil. He found ways to avoid her though, so it seemed to be okay for the rest of the school year. Even the amount of people dying around Neil seemed to go down for a short time, which was great.

However, with the deadly situations appearing to lessen, that made a few people too comfortable around him, including myself. By junior year, we realized how big of a mistake it was to let our guard down so easily.