Chapter 1:

No Stars Out Here

We Are ☆ Star Club!

 A bright, sparkly GIF of a cartoony UFO blinked on top of the forum I browsed instead of getting ready for school.Bookmark here

[Starstruck 07:34] Have you heard? There’s a meteor entering Earth’s atmosphere in three days!Bookmark here

[Kevin14 07:39] No way lol you mean what I think you mean?Bookmark here

[Bl00dmoon 07:40] We’ll see an UFO! Surely!Bookmark here

[Starstruck 07:42] I’ll try and capture it on my camera. Hopefully it won’t be rainyBookmark here

[Kevin14 07:45] With your grainy pics it won’t matter if it’s rainy or not lolBookmark here

I smiled while happily typing away on my keyboard, sometimes petting Lulu, purring beside me. While I didn’t know the real people behind the usernames, we all shared one belief and one hobby: aliens. Even though the meteor was still days away, I was already brimming with excitement to observe it.Bookmark here

[Starstruck 07:53] A meteor and an UFO are not the same!Bookmark here

[Bl00dmoon 07:55] Yeah but we can still hope, right?Bookmark here

[Kevin14 07:56] :alien: I believe!Bookmark here

It was only then I realized how late it was.Bookmark here

"What! Almost eight?"Bookmark here

Panic shot through my body, making me sit upright. For a moment, I felt nauseous and coughed. Thankfully, it went away as quickly as it came, and I rushed to get ready, upsetting Lulu. With strong, quick strokes of my brush I made my hair look presentable. Thankfully, it went only to my shoulders, so it didn’t take much care, even though I had to fight with my fringe on the daily. I gave myself a quick glance in the mirror. My posture was good, and my face didn’t look like I was on the brink of death anymore. My light brown eyes finally had their sparkle back. I couldn’t stop myself from grinning. I had been sick long enough, and I didn’t want to ruin my school year any further.Bookmark here

The last thing I did was shutting down my computer, not even scanning the new messages that had popped up on the forum. I already needed to run if I wanted to arrive somewhat on time.Bookmark here

The smell of sweet blossoms still hung in the air, even though many petals lay trampled on the gray sidewalks as I approached the school. At least it didn’t rain anymore, though the air was still warm and heavy, making the flowers even more fragrant. Alongside me, hundreds of other students poured through the gate, chatting and laughing. I felt like an outsider, the only one without someone to talk to. No one came up to me to wish me a good morning, or talk about today’s classes, no one even really looked at me. To them, I was just one of those students they didn’t know. I held back a sigh, and tried to keep my chin high.Bookmark here

Even though it was the third day of the school year, for me it was actually the first. Of course I had to get sick right when I entered high school, and as I went in with the other students, I had to try hard to find the right classroom. I looked left and right, but all the hallways and staircases looked the same to me. Bookmark here

Am I the only one who finds the whole place disorienting? Bookmark here

Still, I was too shy to ask for directions. I didn’t want to get laughed at for not knowing the simplest things. My stomach, a ball of nervousness, clenched and I bit down on my lip, trying to focus. I just had to stay calm and try it.Bookmark here

"Um, excuse me..."Bookmark here

My voice was shaking, too low for the chatter going on around me. None of the students passing by noticed me.Bookmark here

"Ah..."Bookmark here

Should I really bother?, I wondered.Bookmark here

Outside, the sun was shining among a bright, blue sky, making the gray of the city less suffocating than usual. But even with this beauty right before my eyes, I mostly missed nighttime. A small yawn escaped my mouth. It should be the most exciting day for me, but still, I felt awful. Without knowing where I needed to go, I would be late to class, making the worst first impression. Bookmark here

Why didn’t I get ready sooner?, I scolded myself in thought.Bookmark here

I sneezed, but even that went unnoticed. Maybe I should just turn around and vanish forever? Maybe I can just leave it all behind, get on a fisher boat and start fishing, all day, everyday. Wait, no – there are sharks in the ocean. I don’t want to fight sharks. And with my luck, I’ll arrive just in time for the boat departing, leaving me behind at the dock.Bookmark here

"Ah, are you lost?"Bookmark here

A sweet voice snapped me right out of my thoughts of becoming a shark wrestler, and suddenly, I looked into a face even sweeter than the voice it belonged to. The girl in front of me smiled at me with big, brown eyes under long lashes. Her face was framed by chestnut brown, curly hair, slightly bouncing with each movement.Bookmark here

"Ah, yes," I stuttered, "I’m, uh, actually searching for classroom 01-05, do you maybe know where that is? If not, that’s okay, too, I guess, haha..."Bookmark here

I felt myself blush at my own awkwardness. This girl is nice enough to talk to me and I still can’t get a real sentence out of my mouth! Maybe I’m still sick. Is there something like embarrasseritis? There should be. Somehow, this day is getting worse and worse. More of these thoughts ran through my mind, and I almost missed the girl’s answer.Bookmark here

"Of course, silly! I’m also heading there." A soft laugh escaped her lips and before I could react, she linked our arms together. "I’m so sorry, I don’t think I’ve seen you before. My name is Maria, by the way."Bookmark here

"Don’t worry about it – I was sick the last few days, so, uh, this is my first day, actually!"Bookmark here

"Ah, so you’re Sara! I was wondering why you weren’t there."Bookmark here

"Ah, yes. Exactly."Bookmark here

I nodded, trying to think of what else to say. Nice weather? Yeah, true, but that isn’t conversation, right? But what else? Hi, I’m a weirdo who believes in aliens? Certainly not. That didn’t work in middle school, it won’t work now. Better to keep it secret for now. Oh, but what if she’s into paranormal stuff, too? Maybe we could...Bookmark here

I was so deeply lost in thought that I didn’t see the classroom door and slammed right into it. At my side, Maria yelped.Bookmark here

"Sara! Are you alright? I’m sorry, I didn’t..."Bookmark here

"Ahaha, it’s all good. Just a little scratch, that’s all."Bookmark here

"You’re bleeding."Bookmark here

"Nothing to worry about!" I coughed a little, but shakily got up, bearing a big smile. "Let’s go!"Bookmark here

I gave Maria a thumbs-up, but she still looked at me with a worried expression.Bookmark here

"Are you sure? We could go to the nurse, or..."Bookmark here

"No, no, it’s alright."Bookmark here

I looked around the classroom. Most of the students had already taken their seats, and Maria slowly went through the rows, waving here and there. I followed her.Bookmark here

"Do you know where I could sit?"Bookmark here

"Ah, this one was empty the last few days."Bookmark here

She pointed at a sad little desk near the back with scribbles all over it. I forced myself to smile.Bookmark here

"Thanks, Maria."Bookmark here

Of course I get the crappy desk. I was sick for three days and who knows, maybe this thing will get me sick again. Ew, is that old gum? I pushed the chair back to sit down, and it made the most horrible scraping sound that ever pierced my ears. At once, all eyes were on me.Bookmark here

"Sorry," I mumbled, quickly sitting down.Bookmark here

After a second, the low chatter returned, and I took out my books and pens, ready for the school day. I inspected the desk once more. Why does it have to be this disgusting? If it was just a normal desk, I might be able to nap for a minute or two, but... I shook my head. It’s bad enough my stuff has to be on it. Better to not touch it, if I can avoid it.Bookmark here

Suddenly, the room went silent, and I looked up to see the teacher walking in.Bookmark here

"Good morning", he said with a strict voice, his cold gaze flitting from student to student.Bookmark here

While I couldn’t say how old he was, I was sure he was too old to have fun. He was huge, even after he settled behind his desk, and not once did a smile cross his face. Good thing I made it to class on time. If he scares me this much already, I don’t think I’d be able to fight sharks on my fisher boat. It was difficult for me to stay focused, but at least I didn’t miss him calling my name.Bookmark here

"I’m here."Bookmark here

"Good. You have missed a bit, just ask your fellow students about the material."Bookmark here

"Okay..."Bookmark here

I hoped that Maria would be able to help me out. But just because the girl was nice to me once didn’t mean she had to be twice, right? Maybe I annoyed her too much already. My gaze went to Maria, who paid full attention to the class, unlike me. Or, that was what I thought at first. But as I watched Maria, it became more and more clear that she was actually looking at the back of one of the boys. They probably were together. Or maybe she had a crush on him? But a girl as beautiful as Maria shouldn’t have a problem finding someone who likes her. I sighed.Bookmark here

I couldn’t even make friends. What was I lacking? If I was a little funnier, a bit more open, if I had more energy... maybe it would be easier. But it isn’t. I burrowed myself deeper into my books without actually reading them. Somehow, I doubted that this year would be different.Bookmark here

"...could you answer the next question? Hey!"Bookmark here

I looked up, seeing the teacher and some of the students staring straight at me. Suddenly, my head turned red as I frantically looked at the page, trying to decipher which question I was supposed to answer.Bookmark here

"N-no. I’m sorry."Bookmark here

The teacher sighed loudly and shook his head.Bookmark here

"Pay attention now, got it?"Bookmark here

"Yes."Bookmark here

I didn’t think it was possible to sink deeper into the chair, but my embarrassment made it work, melting me down into a tomato-red puddle of shame. A shame soup. Only when the bell rang, releasing me from the classroom among my classmates, I managed to solidify again. I fled the dreaded room, gasping for air. Thankfully, the other students were too busy to notice me. Maria was gone, probably hanging out with her friends, her boyfriend, whatever. I tried not to care, even though I really, really did care. Bookmark here

It seemed like making friends at this school was as likely as meeting an alien for me .Bookmark here

Ana Fowl
Literal Grill
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