Tonya shivered and pulled her jacket close around her. She must be out of her mind to be at the park on a cold, January night, bundled up against the frigid air. She rubbed her hands together, thankful for her thick, red mittens. At least, she wasn’t alone like she usually was on Friday night.
Sometimes she almost wished she were one of the popular girls at school, the girls who had dates every weekend, who went to all the school dances, the ones who were always chosen for the pep squad and cheerleading teams. But being popular really didn’t matter. At least, that’s what she told herself.
“Be proud of who you are, Tonya. Think of all you’ve accomplished.” That’s what her mother always said. True enough, what she lacked in beauty, she made up for with brains. Straight A’s in all her classes. The Honor Roll every semester. Unless something drastic happened before graduation that spring, she’d be standing at the podium, accepting the title of Valedictorian.
She didn’t belong at the football games and basketball games. She wasn’t meant to be sauntering around in a cheerleading skirt, swishing pom-poms in the air. Tonya knew her place. She belonged with the geeks and nerds.
Science Club. The Astronomy Club. Mathematics Club.
Now she sat before a long table with dozens of stars cut from white posterboard scattered across the top. A large sign proclaimed "Westbrook High Astronomy Club - Come Wish Upon a Star". The club had been saving up for a new telescope but were still far short of their goal, and Tonya had suggested an idea for a New Year’s fund-rasier. Anyone who wanted to donate a dollar to the club could take one of the cardboard stars, write a wish upon it, decorate it with glitter and stickers, and hang their special wish on a nearby tree.
If only our wishes would come true, Tonya thought as she peered through the dark night toward the tall tree. Hundreds of glittering stars hung from the bare limbs, shimmering in the moonlight as they danced and swayed in the frosty night.
“About ready to wrap it up?” Mr. Lansford, the science teacher stood at the table with his wife beside him. He smiled, picked up a star, and dangled it playfully from its string. “Looks like the club did all right tonight. You did a great job in organizing this, Tonya.”
"Thanks, and yeah, I guess I should start packing things away. We probably won’t have too many more people coming by.” She got up and slowly began gathering the stars from the table. The other club members who’d helped out had left a short time before, but Tonya had stayed late, reluctant for the night to end. She had nowhere to go but home and nothing to do once she got there other than feed the cats, curl up on the couch and read a good book -- and ignore her annoying little brother. Her parents would be in the den watching television. They'd exchange a few words and a few smiles, and she’d be on her own again. Alone, again.
I wish I could go somewhere, maybe do something exciting ...
She stopped and stared down at the star she held in her hand. Maybe she should make a wish.
Glancing around, she saw Mr. and Mrs. Lansford busy putting things away. Good. She still had a little time.
Tonya reached for her purse, fumbled around searching for coins, then sighed. She didn't even have a dollar to donate to the club! But she had given of her time, hadn't she? Spending the last several hours of her life sitting on that cold, metal folding chair should be worth at least a dollar. Besides, she could bring a dollar to school on Monday to add to the club treasury.
Determined now to make a wish, she grabbed a pen, then huffed out a breath. She couldn’t write a word with her hands encased in those thick mittens. She tugged the mittens off, then tried again. The pen refused to work.
Oh, this is just great. Maybe I'm not meant to ever have a wish come true.
She tried another pen, then another. Finally she found one that worked. Quickly, before she lost her nerve, she scribbled down the words.
I wish someone cared about me.
Her parents cared, of course. Even Arnie, her little brother, actually liked her, but being ten years old, he had to pretend otherwise. Family didn’t really count toward her wish, though. They were obligated to care about one another.
What Tonya really wanted was someone special who would care.
She closed her eyes, and for a moment, she dared to dream.
I wish there were a special guy who would care about me. Somebody cute and funny who could make me laugh, somebody who wouldn't think I'm weird because I like algebra and biology. And I wish he'd like to take long walks along the riverbank, and --
Hearing laughter, Tonya opened her eyes. Standing hand-in-hand beneath the tree were Megan and Brandon. They'd been steady dating for weeks. Tonya was happy for both of them. Several other couples from school had come by throughout the evening. Ashley and Luke. Liz and Tommy. Cherise and Jeff. Everybody had somebody special who cared.
Shewatched as the cardboard star soared on -- directly toward a tall young man coming down the hill. At first she couldn't tell who it was, but as he drew closer, she recognized Amos Owens. Tonya cringed when the star blew right into his hands.
"That's my star," she called out, rushing to claim it. Her cheeks heated. If Amos read her wish, she'd absolutely die of embarrassment right then and there. "I need to hang it on the tree." She snatched it from his hands as quickly as she could.
His voice drew her from her thoughts. "Sure, Amos! I'd really enjoy having a bite to eat with you. And getting to know you better." She smiled, and when he reached for her arm, she smiled even more.
They strolled along the riverbank on the way to the diner. The stars above reflected across the icy surface of the frozen water.
"Just look at all those stars," Amos said, stopping and pointing heavenward. "Maybe each one is somebody's wish."
"Maybe wishes can come true." Tonya held her breath. "Maybe we just have to believe." She took another step, but Amos held her back.
"I know wishes come true." He gazed at her with gentle blue eyes. "I have a confession to make. I didn't really wish for world peace. I wished I'd find someone who understood me, or at least, somebody willing to try." He shrugged. "People think I'm different, and I guess I am."
~~~ The End ~~~
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