A faint smile played on Lua’s lips as the night breeze ran its fingers through her silky black hair. It’s a full one tonight, she observed. Perfect for werewolves, falling in love…or both. She sighed as she gazed at the moon and stretched her stiff limbs, then lay flat on the roof of her house. It felt warm against her back. “I sure do miss him,” she murmured. The starry sky seemed to wink and weep and pulse in rhythmic movement with her lament.
“Hey!” came a voice from somewhere below. “How long are you gonna be out?” A mop of tangled curls thrust itself out of the window, followed by a long neck that craned upwards and football-player-tackling shoulders. Half of his torso hung out the window, reminding her of the monkey he used imitate.
“Oh…I dunno.” Lua lazily rolled on to her side, tearing her gaze away from the full moon with reluctance. “Maybe I’ll just sleep out here. I could literally fall asleep right now.” She yawned and rubbed her eyes. Besides, this is where I feel most at home, she thought.
“Right now? You’re not cold?” the mop asked. He looked at his watch and shook the tangles atop his head. “Besides, it’s 3 a.m. Why are you still out?”
“I’m not cold, Milo,” Lua replied. “If you think this is cold, just try outer space for like .01 seconds.” She chuckled. She loved one-upping her brother. Being an astronaut certainly had its perks. Or…well, a former astronaut, at least. “And I’m still out here because I’m not done looking at the sky.” She shrugged her shoulders.
“Not fair.” He crossed his arms. “You can’t just pull your ‘I’m a space walker’ card in normal conversation. Besides, you were always wearing the insulated suit.”
“And?” Lua now leaned over the edge of the roof on her stomach to stare at Milo. Her hands gripped the lip of the roof loosely. She wasn’t afraid of heights.
“And so, it doesn’t count. You never actually felt how cold space was.”
“Not fair,” she said. “I would’ve frozen before I could blink.”
“Whatever,” she said. Lua rolled her eyes, knowing her brother couldn’t see them.
“And,” he added, “I know you. You’ll never be done looking at space.”
Lua smiled, but a small period of silence passed between them for what she had lost. She was grateful he understood. After all, he had helped her through the hardest days. He was her number one supporter. I’ll make him proud one day, she promised herself.
Honestly, though, what a time of life I used to have, she thought. Easily the best time of my life…except for all the fitness tests. But still, she’d give just about anything to see Earth so small again. She used to cover it with the palm of her hand. To feel enclosed in the vast expanse that held the gyrating planets, the billions and trillions of stars with unique names and personalities, the spiraling galaxies, the wonders yet undiscovered—that was real living. And she missed him. Maybe one day soon…
“Well, anyway,” Milo started. “Are you sure you want to stay out?” He checked his watch again. “Tomorrow’s the big day.” He paused. “Maybe it’ll be a ‘yes’ this time.” He flashed an encouraging smile at her.
“I think you mean today.” Lua checked her glow-in-the-dark watch and shook her head, partly in disbelief yet partly in nonchalance at the early hour. The watch’s light cast a faint blue tinge over the silver numbers and the picture on the face. A space shuttle in liftoff graced the center of the watch in immaculate detail. Tiny specks surrounding the vehicle represented the stars like glitter thrown over the sky. On her skin she imagined the faint impression of the engraving on the underside of the watch: 10.56.7.20.69.
They couldn’t all say ‘no,’ could they? she mused. She longed to hear the sweet relief of ‘yes’ in her ear. The ‘yes’ that would bring her closer to her love.
“Earth to Lua,” Milo called, breaking her reverie. “Did you have enough snacks this time?” She sensed the light mockery in his voice, even though this conversation occurred at least once a week. “It’d be a shame to be hungry.”
He knows I’m not lonely, if that’s what he’s hinting at. She was never alone when the moon shone. Even when the sun chased the moon into hiding, the latter still rested just below the horizon, just an arm’s reach away. She only wished she had his powers to peer the thousands of miles between them with perfect clarity.
“Yup,” Lua said, pulling her senses down where gravity rules. “Here, I saved you one.” She threw a package of Cosmic Brownies down from her perch.
“Thanks,” Milo laughed. He caught the projectile like one would catch a spiraling football—dramatically, with one hand. Opening the unexpected present, he devoured a large portion of the first square.
Ironically, Lua loved eating the sugary, chemical goodness of this dessert as she stargazed from the flat portion of her rooftop. The best joys in life are the simplest, she thought. All I need are my eyes, my brownies, and a soft star-watching blanket. But she hadn’t given up on her dream. She had to get back up there somehow. She didn’t quite feel complete without him, as cliché as that might seem to others.
“Okay, goodnight,” Milo called. He retreated inside the house, closing the window with a gentle thwap. All was silent for a while. The crickets played their mini violins among the blades of grass below, and an owl joined in with a soft solo.
Lua smiled. She knew what was coming next. Five minutes tops, she wagered against herself. While she waited, she moved her things to one side of the platform.
A few minutes later, the door leading to the roof creaked open. Milo shuffled to her side without a word, carrying sleeping bags, an extra pillow, and two thermoses full of hot coffee. The steam from the beverages swirled in carefree whisps to the sky.
When Milo had settled in beside her, cocooned in his sleeping bag, he laced his hands behind his head in a cradle support. “You know, I really hope you get that job today,” he said softly. “I know how much it means to you.”
Lua sighed and tried to temper her expectations. She’d been trying to temper them ever since the interview weeks before. Her dark eyes followed a shooting star before responding. “Thanks. It’s just so frustrating.” She pulled the sleeping bag tighter around her chin. “It’s been a year—a whole year—since NASA shut down the space program. What else am I going to do with my life? I was born to be an astronaut. That’s what Dad always said.”
“Yeah, I think he told you that every week, at least.” Milo scratched his head. “Or maybe just twice before Friday.” He grinned. “But seriously, you’re good at it. I mean, c’mon! Three moon explorations, five spacewalks…maybe you’re just overqualified for smaller companies to hire you.”
Lua shrugged. She certainly was ambitious. “Hopefully, I’ll get that visit today, though. I felt really good about the interview.” As long as it’s not a letter, everything would be fine. The letter meant rejection, and she had gotten three of those already. They sat beside the trashcan in her room as reminders of her failure.
After the siblings had chatted a bit more, tracing the constellations they knew by heart, and yawned several times, they said goodnight for real. Or perhaps it was good morning? The home security lasers formed a tight light chain around the house and secured them in a checkered box all to themselves.
It’s a good thing we don’t have neighbors, Lua thought. Her eyes fluttered shut, and she dreamed of the moon.
“I’m just so nervous,” Lua said as she stabbed her blueberry waffle with the fork. She swirled the remaining bite in the sticky syrup that pooled on the bottom of her plate and shoved the warm lattice in her mouth. “Okay, gotta get changed,” she said. “Thanks for the eggs and waffles,” she called as she bounded up the stairs three at a time.
“Okay,” Milo said. He smiled and shook his mophead. “You realize you still have an hour?” he called. “It’s only 9 a.m.”
Lua walked into her room and closed the door. She leaned her back against the slab of oak and inhaled deeply. The air in her room hinted of black bamboo and fresh linen, while the almost imperceptible wafting breeze from the slightly ajar window felt cool against her skin. Yes, my other happy place. The bedroom walls were painted like the night sky, complete with numerous constellations, four shooting stars, and the rotating planets. Recently, she’d added the moon over the head of her bed. Close to the bottom curve of the lifelike sphere, a small blue heart floated. Soon, we’ll be together again, she thought. She placed both hands over her own heart, remembering the soft touch of the hands that had enclosed her own.
“Ah, later, later,” she chastised the lingering memory. “I’ve got to actually find a way to get back first.” Lua’s long strides brought her to the closet on the other side of her mini galaxy. “Hm, what shall I wear?” she asked herself. “I literally have no nice clothes.” She pushed back the NASA t-shirts, the vintage NASA t-shirts, and her blue NASA jumpsuits. They were still clean and freshly pressed…just in case. It’s always better to over-prepare, she reminded herself.
“Now this might just work!” she squealed. A navy pantsuit with a crisp white button-down blouse appeared from the corner of her closet. “I’d totally forgotten about you,” she said. Incandescent silver threads wove up and down the soft fabric, lining the suit jacket. It looks like the threads are dancing. “It’s perfect,” she breathed.
Checking her watch, she realized the time. There was no way she’d be late for a possible job acceptance interview in her own house. Quickly, she steamed her clothes, applied a touch of makeup (with a hint of blue eye shadow, tastefully done, of course), and twisted her hair into a braided, half-up bun. She put on her shiny navy heels with the star design insoles and slipped on her mother’s sterling silver necklace around her neck, hiding the dainty chain under the starched collar. I’m gonna slay today, she thought.
“You look nice!” Milo commented as Lua walked down the stairs. “I feel underdressed.” He laughed as he looked down at his simple white t-shirt and faded jean shorts.
“Thanks, Milo,” Lua said.
“Seriously, though,” he added. “When was the last time you wore a suit?” He raised his eyebrow. “Ouch!” Milo rubbed his shoulder. “What’d I do to deserve that punch? I was being nice.” He gave Lua the mock-hurt puppy eyes.
“Oh hush,” she teased. “It wasn’t that hard. What? Don’t give me that look.” She crossed her arms.
“I mean, you still got the guns, not gonna lie.” He looked in dismay at his own biceps.
“Oh, a car!” Lua whipped around to look out the window as she heard the crunch of gravel outside. Her heart rate skyrocketed, and she started to shake.
“Okay, okay, calm down,” Milo said. “Look at me. There you go.” He coaxed her away from the window. “You gotta be on your A-game, okay?”
Breathe, Lua reminded herself. Milo flashed a smile as he bounded up the stairs. Here they come.
Lua walked to the door, smoothed her suit, and slowly exhaled. The person on the other side of the door could change her life with this news. Please, let this be the one. If this is the only ‘yes’ I ever get, I’m ready.
She opened the door in a fluid motion. “Good morning, ma’am.” Lua stood up straight with her shoulders back and her arms hanging by her sides, relaxed, like the respectable astronaut she was. She gave a warm smile to the small woman in front of her. “Please, come inside.” Lua opened the door wide, beckoning the visitor inside.
“Good morning, miss.” The woman nodded her head to acknowledge the offer but didn’t move a muscle. “This is for you.”
Lua’s heart sank. No. I don’t understand. The woman pulled a richly embossed cream envelope from her inner suit pocket. “Thank you, ma’am,” she managed to squeeze out a level voice. She reluctantly took the crisp letter from the woman’s outstretched hand. Her world immediately turned varying shades of gray.
“If you have any questions, please call the number listed inside.” The woman adjusted her suit coat, turned around on a dime, and left.
Lua stood frozen in the doorway with the eager smile pasted on her face. No. Slowly, she turned into her house and closed the door. No. She shook her herself out of the gray, wiping the smile from her face. No. Again. I can’t believe it. What did I do wrong? She took off her heels and carried them haphazardly in one hand as she ascended the stairs to her room. What did I do wrong?
Quietly, she shut the door to her room and sat down on her bed, the letter in one hand and her mother’s necklace twisted in the fingers of the other. Her heels lay defeated next to the door. “What’s wrong with me?” Lua half whispered. She brushed away a few tears with the back of her hand, noticing her desk wall for the first time that day. Newspaper headlines decorated the empty space.
“22-Year-Old Woman, Youngest in Space Exploration History”
“First Woman on the Moon!”
“Astronaut Lua Nov Completes 9-Hour Space Walk”
These clippings contained colorful pictures on white or speckled-gray paper. They looked up, almost in reverence, to the older, more yellowed newspaper clippings above:
“They’re Off for the Moon!”
“Giant Leap for Mankind”
“Reagan Mourns ‘Our Seven Voyagers.’”
The black-and-white snapshots were grainy, squeezed in close to accommodate the small font text. But they meant the world to Lua—she knew each article by heart.
Again, she looked at the fancy letter in her hand. From the wrist down, her hand didn’t feel like it was attached to her body. The longer she stared at the seal, the angrier she became. It didn’t make sense why they didn’t want her. She’d worked her tail off when she was an astronaut and put every effort into her interview with them afterwards. “Some space program you are,” she said to the letter. I’ll just rip it apart. Shred it. Burn it. Drown it.
“Lua?” Milo knocked on her door. “Everything okay? That was a quick acceptance interview.”
Lua paused before answering to collect her thoughts. “Not now, Milo,” she said.
She felt the hesitation in his voice. The unspoken question. “No, the woman gave me a letter.” Her face burned with shame.
“I’m so sorry.” He shifted his weight uneasily outside the door.
“Me too.” Lua appreciated him respecting her privacy. Her heartbeat punctuated the minutes of silence that passed. She heard his muffled footsteps walk down the stairs.
Just to be sure, she thought. She broke the seal and opened the letter. She sighed. Yes, it was a rejection. That makes four. Lua let the letter drop to the floor as she lay back on her bed. The Gemini gazed down at her from the ceiling. In her peripheral vision, the blue heart wavered.
“What now, my love, what now?” she whispered. “I miss you terribly.” Closing her eyes, she pictured his face. His blue-gray eyes smiled with kindness. She remembered the day they had met.
By accident she took a wrong turn while sample collecting and caught a glimpse of him ahead of her. At first, she thought she was hallucinating because he wasn’t wearing a protective suit. But no, apparently, he lived on the Moon. He didn’t need anything artificial in his home. The kindness in his eyes had won her over as soon as they were within yards of each other. She was curious and he was lonely. So, he had taken her through the orifice of an old volcano to the recesses of his cave and shown her the wonders beneath the surface. Artic topaz, navy and teal quartz, gold-veined turquoise, and indigo sapphires naturally lined his home. He was gentle, tender, and utterly alone.
Oh, how I wish for another day with him. They had not said goodbye. Neither believed in doing so. She longed for him, for the wonder and beauty of space…the moon dust and curious craters that add character to the nebulous surface.
“I will find a way back.” Lua opened her eyes.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
“Hey, Lua?” The doorpost creaked as Milo leaned against it. “Can I come in?”
“Yeah,” Lua said. “Just watch out for the heels.” A smile played at the corners of her mouth.
Milo opened the door. “Hey.” He smiled at her. “I have an idea.” He held out his hand, open palmed, with an outstretched arm.
“Okay.” Lua grabbed his hand and stood to her feet. I hope it includes food, she thought. A break from all of this would be nice.
“Oh.” Milo paused. “You might wanna change outfits first.” He winked at her. “Grab some tennis shoes, too.” He gave her one of those nice hugs that completely blankets the body with the right amount of pressure. Not too much but not too little, either.
She felt safe.
“See ya in five,” he said as he walked out her door.
“See ya in four,” she said under her breath.
“Ready?” Milo asked. He buckled his helmet and secured his knee pads.
“I was born ready,” Lua said. She finished lacing the shoes that were covered in images of nebulae and adjusted her helmet. There, good, she thought. Hopefully my space buns aren’t sticking out too far through the top of my helmet. She loved her custom helmet. There were two holes in the top to accommodate one of her favorite hairstyles. As she stood up, she smoothed her gray vintage NASA t-shirt—the one with the squiggly letters where the A’s didn’t have lines crossing from one side to the other—and fixed her knee and elbow pads. This is going to be so much fun, she thought. Yeah, maybe I deserve a break like this. A little fun now and again is good, especially for this kid at heart.
“Man, it’s been like two years since we’ve come to this skatepark,” Milo said. He whistled low in amazement. “Hopefully we haven’t forgotten how…”
“All right! I’m ready to have some fun.” Lua bent her knees and dropped in over the edge. She and her skateboard whizzed down the ramp, catching speed as they neared the bottom of the half-pipe.
“She doesn’t let anything phase her.” Milo watched for a few seconds, then dropped in himself.
Lua started out carefully at first. “It has been a few years,” she reminded herself. But before long she was pulling tricks left and right. It came back just as easily as walking on the moon. Now, she reveled in the feeling of the wind whistling past her ears. In the background, “Fly Me to the Moon” played. She hummed along, though the ache of sadness still remained. One day, I will fly back to the moon. I’ll play among the stars. I’ll hold his hand as we take a walk.
The song seemed to play forever; perhaps it cycled on a loop. The other skateboarders faded from her consciousness, occupying the space of flitting shadows in her brain. She seemed to skateboard for at least thirty minutes to the rise and fall of this purple bliss. Half the time she shut her eyes, allowing the music to flow through her very soul.
When the ethereal melody ceased, Lua went up a ramp for the finger flick trick. Clipping her wheel on the corner of the ramp, she missed grabbing the nose and came tumbling down on the ground.
“Ouch,” Lua groaned. I definitely haven’t missed the wipeouts, that’s for sure.
“Hey, are you okay?” A man with a bald head and red beard ran up to her. “That was going to be so awesome!”
“I’m good, thank you,” said Lua. She checked her limbs for cuts but found only a few scrapes. She slowly stood to her feet.
“I’m James,” the man said. “Cool skateboard.” He handed her back the skateboard she’d lost in the fall.
“I’m Lua,” she said. “It’s nice to meet you. And thanks. I really love it.” She looked over the spaceship design on the bottom of the board. “Makes me feel like I’m flying, you know?” she said.
“Yeah,” James said. He scrunched his brow in thought. “I’m actually a big fan, too.” He twirled his skateboard on its nose to reveal a detailed paint job of the solar system, complete with a mini rocket. “A fan of space travel, I mean. Although skateboarding is cool too,” he added. “It’s just not the same as being in that cockpit, zipping through space.”
“Mhm.” Lua nodded. She knew all about that.
“You said your name’s Lua?” He repeated her name with a pause at the end.
Hm. He’s sizing me up strange, she thought. “Yeah, uh, Lua.” She looked around for Milo.
“I couldn’t help but notice your shirt, too,” he added. “You a NASA fan?” He took a step closer to her.
Oh, thank goodness. She had finally caught a glimpse of Milo across the park. He was riding towards her now. Hurry, she thought. She just had to stall a bit longer. “Uh, yeah.” But wait, maybe there was something she recognized in his face. He wasn’t hostile or anything. That red beard…
“Wait, Lua…Nov? Like the astronaut?” James’s eyes lit up.
“Yup,” Lua nodded her head. “Former astronaut, though. Can’t find much work these days.”
James smiled a warm smile. “Wow, well…I can’t even believe I’m asking this…like wow, the Lua Nov…but would you like to join my team?”
Your…what? She thought. Oh, please. I hope I heard right. Maybe I have a chance after all.
“We’ve been looking for members to join our new space program. Now, granted, we’re pretty small. And we just don’t have a lot of money to advertise right now.” James patted his skateboard. “But we’re working really hard.”
This seems almost too good to be true, she thought. But there are a lot of new companies vying for a portion of the proverbial space pie right now.
“It would be an honor for us!” James said. The pitch of his voice increased with his intensity. “But like, no pressure or anything.”
Lua held back the mixture of a gasp and rapturous laughter. “I’m certainly interested,” she began. “How about we meet sometime to talk about it?” She tried to temper her enthusiasm and not overly smile. There’s no way. I can’t believe it! A ‘maybe.’
“Here’s the company address.” James handed her a business card. He smiled sheepishly. “I never know who I might run into. Just stop by any time between 1 and 5 p.m. He turned to leave: “I look forward to seeing you.” He nodded to her, then left.
NO WAY. No way! Lua’s thoughts raced as rapidly as a whirring star or as a comet streaks across the sky. Her smile almost hurt from its size.
“What’s this, a smile?” Milo said. He huffed, bending with his hands on his knees. “Hey, was that guy bothering you?” He raised his eyebrow at her.
“You’ll never believe what just happened.” She stopped to process Milo’s question. “No, he knew who I was…like my astronaut me. And he wants me to join his program!” Lua almost levitated, she was so excited. “This is amazing.” She looked with affection at her skateboard. Who would’ve thought? Something as ‘insignificant’ as a design…
“That’s great news!” Milo grabbed her in a bear hug. She laughed for a long time. “This calls for some ice cream.” He checked his watch, then flashed a few dollars at her. “Let’s skateboard for another thirty minutes, at least, and then get some ice cream.”
“Yes!” Lua picked up her spaceship skateboard, tightening her helmet as they walked to a different section of the park. She breathed a sigh of relief, gently playing with the silver necklace around her neck. Lua looked up at the moon. It’s one small step, but I’m getting there. She broke out into a new smile. And the moon seemed to smile back.