New Beginnings

New Beginnings
by Morgan Straughan Comnick

ISBN: 9780692337172
Pages: 274
Release Date: November 25, 2014
Ages: 13 and up
Genre: Paranormal Romance, Inspirational
Cover Art: Suzy Zhang a.k.a. Cherriuki

Prologue

The One Who Watches from Above
 
“Are you settling into the Angel Counsel nicely, my lady?”

I beamed, scanning the massive wooden table that was as vast as an ocean and the clear blue sky above us where only angels could reach. The moon was so close. I yearned to touch it and the stars above. As I stepped on the floor made entirely of clouds, the mosaics of every Holy Scripture scene danced and moved along with me from the only solid wall on the opposite side of the meeting room where I stood. The wall also held texts, research, documents, and memories of our Savior, His son, and our heaven.

“Oh yes indeed! I am still baffled beyond belief and honored that I am a part of such an important part of our heaven above.”

President Lincoln, tall and dashing as all the history books depicted, nodded at me, absorbing the glory of the room as well. He stared at my back and a deep sadness filled my body; it was radiating off him and into my soul. He strode up to me and reassuringly rested his large hand on my tiny shoulder. “And yet, my dear, you seem to be lost and heaven is not a place for that.”

I tried to think of a way to prove his assumption was incorrect, but lying was not my strong suit and he was called honest for a reason. I lowered my head and nodded slowly, allowing the truth to sink into my soul. I had accepted my death. I even accepted the fact I was murdered. I had found my family waiting for me beyond the golden gates and was given this high honor.

Yet…I felt lonely. A string still pulled me towards Earth. In heaven, this way of thinking was not allowed. Heaven was a paradise, a place to rest eternally with God until your loved ones found you. Although I had so much, I still wanted to be on Earth with the three I still knew. Clinging to this possession made me selfish and I was not sure what punishment I would endure if discovered for still having thoughts about Earth, the land I dreamed of living on since my youth, the land I can never return to unless told…

Mr. Lincoln smiled at me, the mosaics’ colors bouncing off his eyes. “Will you follow me child?”

I followed him over to a small fountain that was the size of a bird bath. It had flowers springing around it in a ring; the stand was a lovely silver. It was the perfect height for me to bend down and gaze into a pool of water so clear and pure that I had to blink to make sure it was real. I forget sometimes how pure everything in heaven really is. My reflection was glossy like a mirror—a mirror made of rippling water.

“You have only been here for a few months, so it is understandable that you still long for the land of your birth. Even the most devoted angels have to look into this pool once in a blue moon.” He took a deep breath to allow me to process this and he stared forward, as if lost in his own memories. One thing about being an angel was I could read emotions and thoughts of anyone I focused on long enough. At the second meeting I attended, everyone chuckled when I became shocked that I could read the emotions of Mr. Mahatma Gandhi before they explained it to me.

Mr. Lincoln turned to me and smiled, his eyes strained, but his heart full of empathy for me. I returned the gesture to this kind man. He spoke, “If you need to see how your connections to the physical world are, just look into the pool and touch the fountain. Your heart knows where to go from there. But, I warn you young on: remember they are alive, and you are not. Do not get caught up in viewing the world of the living; that is when true issues arise.”

Although I accepted my fate full-heartedly, I did consider wandering alone forever to make sure these connections, pieces of my heart, would find happiness. How could I not be concerned for them? I had to know if they were all right. Something in the air felt wrong.

I gazed into the crystal mirror pool, cradling the brim delicately. Suddenly, the bottom of the fountain vanished and my vision (and my stomach) did a freefall through the clouds to a new place. I was amazed at what I could feel, amazed at the thoughts I heard, and amazed at what I saw.

Chapter One

Stary
 
Lavender. The sky etched the color into swirls across the plains of life and the borders of heaven. Bursts of orange and red hues danced breathtakingly among the lilac hue. I felt as if they wanted me to follow their glory. Wait…who was I? What was I? Where was I?

Dizzily, I rubbed my fingers against my eyes, which were spinning just as madly as the dazzling colors of the falling dawn. In a blur, I saw the outline of my smooth hands, delicately coming into focus. A rush of waves filled my head, pulsing with thudding vibrations, making the boldness of the sky vibrate to my inner rhythm. My head was clear now and locked into the eternal wonder of the beyond that was my normal life.

A whistle reached my ears and the wind soon followed like a siren call. It cooled my senses, opening up my emotions to expand on possibilities. A refreshing breeze patted down my hair with force, the wind making the hues of the space blend like an oil painting trapped in the rain. The scent of the air fueled my lungs with confidence, making me recall everything.

I remembered. I remembered I’m Stary Moon. I remembered I’m a Spirit Warrior and a normal high school girl. I remembered I—well sadly, I didn’t know where I was. However, I knew one thing about my location. Distance. It was all that was between me and discovery.

I was prepared. Slowly, I stood up. I brushed dirt off my knees like a downpour, hitting my earth-colored sandals that blended with the ground, which I normally wouldn’t wear. Surprised, I glanced down to see I was in a deep purple dress, which flowed like a stream. The material was light as a feather and beautiful as the wind hit my skin with the dress’s soul. The colors above me were now fused together and spinning worse than a merry-go-round out of control. A stir was in the air. Something was happening. I had to find it.

I began to run. No matter how normal or fast my natural speed was, the melody of change made me feel slow, lost in nothingness. Although my dress was more appropriate for spring, the chilled air seeping into my feet indicated it was really autumn. In a blink of an eye, I was rushing into a forest where all the leaves were falling off the trees. Dark green bushes shielded each tree’s side. The sky above the trees didn’t have a speck of light hinted in it as the colors began to hum. Between the wavering branches of the trees, the sky above the trees were the oil colors of lilac, orange, and bleeding red watching me carefully. The lingering scent of cherry blossoms that suddenly entered my nose was contradictory with the mood of the heavens above. I wanted to pause to piece together these clashes, but I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to. I was trapped in life’s unknown motion meant solely for me.

Leaves were smacking all parts of me, tangling my body and going through it like the small injection of a needle. The rain of leaves created a road that bathed in the colors of God’s ambers and yellows—it was a path overlapping the gray trail of the planet.

I was so determined to find my place that I didn’t notice how far I had run or how much I had completed. A circle of burning power was ahead of me, pebbles surrounding it like a picture frame. However, as soon as I was a foot away, the pebbles absorbed itself into the ground, making the dirt moist to the touch…

Flash! A blinding light hit my eyes and I was forced to halt in a whirlpool where the circle of light once was. I blocked the mighty wind with my arm, trying to control the madness with the tightening of my teeth. The bright gold light shone fiercely, illuminating the sky in clear glory. The humming of the wind that once bent the colors of the sky halted into an echo of silence. The quietness was shattered by the strong wind. A sound like a bumble bee zipping away vibrated my being.

As the air died down, the clamor revealed itself into four leaves, spinning like tops with the aid of their own personal breezes, forming a perfect square around me. My eyes were locked on to their movements, sparkling with emotion. It made me feel like my cheerful self again. With the square embracing me, I was the me not meant to make an impact on the world.

I wanted to reach for the stars and touch the amazement the leaves brought. But my curiosity cursed me for the leaves twirled faster. In front of my pupils, the leaf in the left corner began to take on a new form outside its intended shape. Dew drops were dripping off it like it was crying. Water? Water was coming out of the leaf like it was a part of its destined nature.

A red blaze from my right caught my eye. That leaf was engulfed completely in fire, sizzling and crackling the edges of it, which was perfectly unharmed. Frightened, I jerked my head back to look over my left shoulder to see another leaf with steam emitting from it. Pieces of lead were also smoldering in the vapors, blending more into its mystery. The final leaf (behind my right shoulder) was smoking as well, but lightly. It was sparking intensely, the edges burnt to a crisp. Static boomed all over its area and bolts of lightning escaped from all of its ends. The world stopped outside my square. I was a misled child trapped in the vortex of elemental confusion.

I clung my hands tightly to my chest, focusing on the madness in front of me. Still, my heartbeat, the drive to my life and the melody to my mission, was calm and wanted to learn more, wanted to continue. With the clash of my body’s fearful reaction and my heart’s innocent cries, the leaves halted their dance, almost like their movement was based on my state of thinking. I gasped, not really wanting them to leave and regretting my earlier fear of them. They began to vanish beautifully into specks of light, engulfed by heaven’s honor in the clouds. I was alone then, staring at their spiritual ascension and allowing the wind to cool my face with relief.

I took in a crisp sigh before preparing myself to move forward. I was now more in control of myself. That was until I saw…him. Leaning elegantly on the final tree on the now sunny path, aligning his spine to the tree’s thin posture was the man my heart, mind, body, and soul were driven to: Umbra. He narrowed his eyes, looking directly into my pools and smiled slyly, making my cheeks flush. He shrugged and walked swiftly to the center of the trail’s edge, smiling and waving at me. It was like the old personality of Umbra and the new persona of him was combined and I, myself, was the changing factor in him.

“Stary! Come on!” he called in his dreamy voice that made me melt, pulling me to him. I could feel a dumbfounded look forming on my face.

Umbra: the adventures, the struggle, the compassion, the enlightenment, the heartache, and rewards…All the things we went through together were rushing into my being and the emotions were my only needed fuel to continue forward. He was all I needed.

As his loving face got closer, my clockwork of time seemed to slow down again. Another snap echoed, popping annoyingly in my eardrums, the sound soaring through all parts of the forest path thanks to the wind. The black in the sky above me shattered to reveal more sunset hues. The colors of the sky blurred once more, dancing in a slow vibe like I was witnessing a moving art museum while having a major headache at the same time. But nothing else mattered. I would reach Umbra and I knew we could figure out the situation because together, we can do anything. That is the power of love…

A smile took over my face, sparkling in harmony with Umbra’s perfect features. They were traits I would notice in any world or time. With each passing second, I wanted to be with him sooner. This look must have been apparent on my face for his eyes laughed, his expression mocking my naïve nature. I could almost reach his priceless face that was now grinning at me. My fingers yearned to leave a mark on his flesh as his hand rewarded me with his own gentle touch.

“Umbra!” I yelled happily, my heart singing its praise for him. He gestured his hand like a proper gentleman, looking at me like I was the most radiant creature on the planet no matter how ridiculous I looked stumbling towards him. Umbra was my everything.

I had to beat the slowing of time that was trying to trap me. I was half a meter away from him; having him so near was stimulating. He looked frozen in the frame of life showing off his burning smile. My hand reached to grab his, but it slipped right through, like Umbra was merely an illusion.

In a panic, my eyes widened to the size of Mars, but my feet were still running; my toes were about to touch the shining light peeking through the final trees of the forest path in the alternate universe. Umbra was gone and worse: he got sucked into the moist ground. I had to run forward with all my might to search for my beloved, the other half of my soul.

I saw a small hill ahead of me and all the light was overlooking its safety. I had to find Umbra! As I entered the hillside, I noticed that this hill was the source of the eternal sunset of colors that painted over this never-ending midnight land, the tones steaming from the grass. But my mind had no room to marvel at this sight! For all I knew, Umbra could be hidden in this next piece of this mysterious world. I had to find—

The light attacked my eyes at full force, blinding me to the core for a few seconds. I felt like I was missing, like I was nothing but a hollow shell. Something was gone, erased from me. Who…who was I? Why was I here in a lovely meadow of Kelly green grass and gorgeous deep red flowers? There was no background to this portion of where I was except for an onyx-colored wall of smooth rocks or perhaps it was more darkness. The circle of a warming spotlight was solely above the meadow, creating energies of pollen that floated upward to paradise’s wonder.

A large ink puddle was in front of my feet. I was spellbound staring at it, finding it fascinating. I could see my pupils in the reflection: clear and blank. Was something wrong with me? What was my purpose here? I felt as if something was missing…

The spill in front of me was moving. A motion stirred it, making it curl. Smaller circles were forming inside it and then, emerging from the bubbles were long black waves, shooting out like beanstalks, the movement slow and calming, rocking back and forth. Danger, the inner voice in my mind was screaming, but it soon vanished, and looked at the relaxing dance of the black whips. One traced my arm. It felt like soft, radiant hair. Its secret waves were calling me, telling me nothing mattered. I knew nothing. I felt nothing. As long as I was here with this unknown comfort, this unknown creature, all would be well.

However, an alarming pulse was surfacing, trying to escape. Should I let it? At the thought, the creature inside the ink circle grabbed my other wrist and tightened itself around it, slowly sucking all the feeling and blood from it. In a close harmony, it did the same pattern to my right wrist. I bent my head back by bodily response, but no emotion crossed my mind or triggered my heart. Nothing mattered for I knew I was missing. I knew I was nothing.

Gracefully, a figure rose, which was what the hair whips were attached to. It was a silhouette of a woman, a lovely woman with extremely long, wavy, and alive hair. The creature wrapped my waist with her hair—her choice weapon. Her faceless head seemed to be beaming at me, locking me in a spell. I lifted my chin up to expose my neck. I knew she was pleased. Her hair slithered up and wringed my neck, the pain automatically swelling tears in my dull eyes. It was a slow process, but her point came across. She wanted me dead so she could use my power for her own to get out of her imprisonment. The thought was jolting. “Escape. Stop her,” I said, knowing I needed to speak, but my voice began to fade away as my world went black…

Chapter Two

The One Who Watches from Above
 
“Stary moon! You need to get up. Since I’m retired now, I cannot be your personal alarm clock. Wake up!”

The voice had an edge of friction and blended with the blinding morning sun and the ding of the toaster, all into a routine melody that was familiar. It was 6:15 a.m., and time to get up and start the next chapter in her life.

“All right Daddy! I’m just…pacing myself is all.” She heard a hardy, lumberjack laugh and knew she was off the hook.

Stary Moon sighed, rubbing the sleep that sprinkled the tips of her delicate eyelashes before hopping out of bed. She had trouble keeping her balance and stepped backwards a little. The sun was too piercing in her eyes, but that was not the problem. She felt funny. Her insides were warm and fuzzy, like she was a newly born volcano, but her skin was cold, her fingers purple and blue like the Arctic. Her goose bumps were oddly shaped, like ice crystals had permanently indented themselves into her flesh.

That dream…Was it real? What did it all mean?

A yawn escaped her lips, crushing the thoughts with her jaw’s unexpected snap. She shook her head fiercely, like a wet dog. She strolled to her vanity mirror, her dark and deep blue eyes, the shade of the ocean during a raging storm, twinkled with amusement and excitement for the upcoming school term, but with her powers, she felt a wave of uncertainty as well.

She sighed heavily now, looking at the young fifteen-year-old girl staring back at her. Stary pushed her apprehensions down, allowing her natural good cheer to sink in so she could prepare for school. She giggled shortly at her messed up, very long, light brown hair and the barely noticeable dark half circles under her eyes.

“Well…it won’t get much better than this,” she whispered ever so softly to herself. It was like a secret butterfly in the wind, and she expected no one to answer as it continued to flutter its wings.

In her usual upbeat manner, Stary hummed a past choir melody quietly to not annoy her not-morning-person little brother, Link, as she walked by his room on the way to the bathroom. Regardless of it being morning, it was an important day: Stary Moon was now a sophomore in high school and got to officially show off her beyond-wonderful-for-words boyfriend, Umbra Rowe. As she was putting toothpaste on her toothbrush, the thought of Umbra made her pulse race and her mind freeze, blocking all her common sense. All she could see or think about was Umbra and every little aspect of him. If only time would move faster…if only she could reach out and touch him right now…

“Stary! Get out of the bathroom now! I need to brush my teeth fast so I can take a ten minute nap before it’s time to leave!” The loud and irritating voice of her now fifth grade brother made her drop her toothbrush into the drain of the sink, the paste leaving a sticky river on her arm.

To contain her anger, Stary took a deep breath and gave a piercing stare into the mirror for a moment before looking annoyed, but controlled, at Link, who just barraged in. How she wished the bathroom lock had not broken over the summer!

“Link, I’m almost done and besides, I can catch a ride, which would make you leave ten minutes later than your little pea-sized brain realized.”

“Like Dad really would let you get a ride with Umbra! Dad’s positive he belongs to a motorcycle gang!” Link challenged.

“Dad rode a motorcycle when he was younger.”

“He didn’t belong to a gang that picked knife fights!”

Stary inhaled a staggering breath and held it in her cheeks like a puffer fish, not allowing her frowning brother to beat her down. Sadly, her patience was thinning as the impending nuclear explosion between the siblings was about to erupt.

“Umbra does not have a car yet, therefore I can’t get a ride with him. I was going to go with Jorgen since we had driver’s ed together over the summer and he lives two blocks over. If I were you, I wouldn’t say mean things about Umbra, little brother. You want him after you?”

Stary’s smile was edgy, making Link stop in his tracks for a few seconds to think of how to rebut. Finally, he tapped his side. “Fine, but hurry up!”

“You’re the one who made me drop my toothbrush! Now it’ll take me even longer to get ready. See what rushing does?” She wagged her finger at him, just like their mother did, making Link turn to give a disgusted look as his stare caught sight of the river of toothpaste.

“Sis, clean the toothpaste off your arm. It makes you look uglier than you already are naturally.” He gave her a devilish, revenge-filled smirk before running away to find their father.

“You creep! I can’t believe you’re so rude at such a young age!”

Her hands flew into the air, becoming fists, but she stopped, knowing it was effortless. Slowly, she saw the nasty looking toothpaste stream on her arm, all dried up like a desert and flaking like paint chips.

With a washcloth, she wiped it off with some good scrubbing and managed to save her trapped toothbrush. “I was almost done anyway, but what is the probability of that happening again? Maybe I should call The Mythbusters,” she joked, not wanting to notice how sickening it looked. She barely touched the end. She would have to buy a new one for sure.

With a final brush to make sure her shiny hair was as neat as it could be, she gave herself a shy smile and hurried towards the kitchen, her dogs eyeing her sleepily. There, by the counter, was her mother, making sure Link had his lunch in order after her dad had packed it the night before.

“Hey Momma,” Stary said in a chipper tone, grabbing an apple off the table and throwing it in the air, but she missed catching it. It rolled on the floor with an awkward thud. The dogs looked puzzled by the noise, but paid it no mind; they were used to Stary’s clumsy moments.

Her mother glanced at her with a look that said she knew that was bound to happen and her eyes questioned Stary’s reasoning. Stary shrugged, turning to face her mother after she washed and dried the apple.

“It worked on Aladdin,” Stary simply said. Her mother laughed, covering her mouth as discreetly as she could. Stary took a bite of the apple and spit the skin in the trashcan; it was too hard to chew.

Stary leaned on the counter where the sink was and looked at her mother, a lazy look on her face. “Mom, I need a new toothbrush. Link made mine fall in the drain.”

Selene Moon caught her breath and looked at her daughter with disappointed eyes. “Stary, how on Earth did that happen and why are you blaming your brother?”

Stary sighed and recounted the events to her mother, allowing the light streaming from the window to fill her lungs and help hold her thoughts in. She had no idea if her mother was joking or serious on the final part of her question.

Quickly, she finished her apple and tossed the core into the trashcan. Three points she wanted to shout. Of course, no one noticed when she had an athletic moment. At least basketball was one sport she was good at, even if it was the only one.

Mrs. Moon shook her head lightly, making her lovely shoulder-length brown hair bounce in sync with her swaying arms. “Is that all you’re going to eat? Stary Moon, you’re going to make yourself ill!”

Stary had to shake her head in a jolting motion to focus on her mother’s worrying words of wisdom as the drive to roll her eyes became too strong. “I have a fruit bar in my bag and I promise I’ll eat lunch. I put my money in early. Daddy wanted me to be ready—”

“Of course I did, because Dad is always right. What was I right about today…?”

Stary glanced up to see her father entering the kitchen, walking swiftly and proud like a trooper surviving his first battle. Link must have finished brushing his teeth and went to take his power nap; getting him ready for that was a chore in itself.

Selene Moon groaned and tossed her hair in her husband’s direction, looking upset at his overflowing parental confidence. “Something about lunch money. Oh dear! Poor Stary won’t have her daddy to protect her this year.”

A small puppy pout spread across Stary’s face as she batted her eyelashes to make her father feel guilty. Crater Moon looked emotionless, not affected by Stary’s cuteness. He let out a grunt of disapproval before wrapping his arm around his wife’s shoulder.

“Stary, you know that crap doesn’t work on me! You’ll be fine, you’re a Moon after all. Besides, I couldn’t pass up all the extra buyout money.” Stary caught her dad winking at her, making her stomach twist at how soon that money would be spent on her college. The thought was downright horrible in Stary’s eyes.

“Thanks Dad…Love you too,” Stary said in a monotone.

“Don’t worry babe. If you have any problems, you can go to Mr. Tin. He reassured me he will be your father figure while I’m gone.”

Mr. Tin was wonderful, but to imagine him as her father…She betted her friends would never be near her again. Stary scrunched her face up heavily to reflect her feelings.

Her dad honored her with a low and smooth laugh. Stary snorted, but agreed. Her father really was amazing, like the true role model of a gentleman Stary always told him he was.

“Thanks Dad…I’ll be f-fi-FINE!” Stary wailed, her voice jumping up two octaves. Confused, her parents cocked their heads in opposite directions, trying to understand Stary’s frightened gesture.

There, dangling like a deadly, black spider was Umbra, upside down, half in her ceiling and half not. His locks shot straight out like missiles greased in oil, making him look surprisingly boyish, but still sexy. His eyes twinkled like the night, vast dark holes glowing from his inner self and his smile (or happy frown was more what it looked like from her angle) was wide and breathtaking as usual. Stary was lost, unable to ignore Umbra’s call to her, but also in fear to explain her shouting. How could she explain all this to her parents? They would need a novel for that!

As Stary’s parents got directly in her face, their eyes flickering with unneeded and unknown confusion, she waved her hands in front of them frantically to allow herself some thinking space. As they stared at her crazed body motions, she mouthed to Umbra to “Go” with dagger-like eyes, and then “Wait for me outside.” Umbra only smiled wider, shaking his perfect head and mouthing he needed to see her beautiful face. Stary’s heart thudded, yearning more to embrace him, to never look back or let go. Why did he do this to her in front of her loving parents? Maybe he was still a little evil after all, she pondered.

Quickly, she turned to look at her parents, to halt their reactions. “It was…hmmmm…a spider! Yeah! A huge, annoying spider, who needs to go outside.” She stressed the final words.

Stary’s words were harsher than she wanted, but she needed to prove to Umbra that she was serious. Pretending to be offended, he let his mouth hang somewhat agape before vanishing into the ceiling, invisible to the naked eye. With a deep sigh of relief, Stary turned to see her parents, who were giving each other questioning looks.

With a gulp, Stary wondered who would be the first to not believe her tale. It was her mother who reacted faster, “But Stary…you like spiders. Well, not like spiders, but you’ve never been scared of them before. I thought you hated snakes darling…”

Her father crossed his arms in a firm agreement although his eyes were glistening with kindness. Darn! Stary wanted to shout for them figuring out her fib. “True Momma. I don’t mind spiders, but this one was huge. I mean, flippin’ bigger than my hand huge! It startled me is all, but it’s okay. He’s gone, probably to meet his other friends.”

“He went away that fast? But Stary, I didn’t see—”

“OH! Dad? I was wondering since it’s Link’s first day of fifth grade at the intermediate school and he’s a crabby pants today, could I get a ride from Jorgen, you know, to save time? He said he’d happily do it.” Stary allowed the sweat to tingle down her back, praying her parents would not catch her cover up.

“I don’t know Stary. He’s only had his license for three months and he seems like an okay boy, but I’d feel safer if I took you…” The worry in his face was sharp, like a spear.

“Plus your father is worried he likes you,” her mother added in a teasing voice and a coy smirk. The comment made her father grunt with anger.

Stary let out a huff, not wanting to discuss that especially when her true love might be listening outside. Jorgen did not need to be killed with lasers! “Mom, Dad, Jorgen doesn’t like me. He’s my twin.”

“Stary, I hate when you call him that! I do not own that boy in any way.”

“I know that Daddy, but we have the same birthday and live so close together, so it’s a fun thing we do. Come on Daddy. He’s a great guy and we both need to go until we can figure out a time system. Please Daddy…,” she whimpered, acting like she was begging with all her heart.

“Okay, but you have to lay out all the safety rules!” A shining light showed itself in his eyes although a tiresome frown lay across his arched face in parental concern for his daughter. He spent several minutes discussing safety protocols to her, the time dragging.

After waking Link early and taking the annual new school pictures to please their mother, Stary was off like a refreshing breeze, waving at her family and shouting warm regards as she skipped into the world, being careful on the sidewalk. Perfect hues of blue swirled in the sky into one brilliant and indescribable color, blending dreamily into the shapes of the clouds. The craft of honest imagination, Stary thought. The world seemed so private, so peaceful, and so inviting that Stary could hardly recall the nightmare that gave her chills. Still…the feeling of needing, the urge to fight, and the power to defend was too strong to be called “good.” She had no idea what or when something was coming, but the air was stirring in pieces of evil.

Excited and overpowered by personal thrill, Stary smiled brightly, more noticeable than the rays of the blazing sun, and began to jog forward at a hastening speed. Not long before she began to feel her cheeks flush, a shadow caught up with her, seeming to run beside her. The melody of the most amazing laugh reached her eardrums. Umbra was the moving shadow and was there. Like Mary’s little lamb, everywhere that Stary went, Umbra was sure to go. The two were interconnected: one was not able to function long without the other near.

“Ha! You’re really this happy to go back to school, huh? You really are something…”

Stary’s smile stopped and transformed into a light, closed grin, her hidden delight now fully exposed. “Maybe I am, or maybe I wanted to catch up with that freakin’ huge spider. He was so big! I bet he was Spider-Man undercover…”

Although her words were teasing, the feelings under the surface were as clear as a chime: “I wanted to see you as fast as I could because I love you more than anything Umbra.”

Umbra, still acting like a stalking shadow, chuckled and replied, “I take that as a personal insult. I know I can beat Spider-Man!”

“Probably…,” Stary said with a snicker. How she wished to touch him, to run away with him. School did not matter, especially the first day of explaining the rules. But she had to go to see all her loved ones such as Chloe Dew, Rin Fortune, Lauren Flower, and Mark Steel…

Oh wait, Stary recalled sadly, the memory tugging at her heartstrings harder than she requested.

Mark had to move away because of his father’s minister job. Letting Mark, her best guy friend, leave on the last day was difficult. He had hugged her in an extremely close, supporting embrace and affectionately kissed Stary’s cheek. Her dad swore that Mark kissed her lips in front of him, but Stary reassured him she would have remembered that.

“I miss him too, Stary. I only knew Mark for about three weeks, but he was a great guy.” Umbra soothed his caring girlfriend, startling her a little bit out of her painful flashback.

“Get out of my head would you?” Stary said jokingly, but still strict enough to show she was deeply affected by Mark’s departure. Umbra laughed briefly, enough to make Stary wonder if he could read her mind. How embarrassing would that be?! “Besides, Umbra, I’m worried about Chloe. I’m not sure if they straightened things out before he left.”

Umbra’s breathing became apparent as he pondered how to comfort his too-worried-for-others love about that one, “Well, at least she has you to help her heal. She trusts you so much.”

“Thank you Dr. Phil!” Stary said with a loud laugh that echoed down the street. Although she could not see Umbra, she knew he was there and his thoughts were all on her. “Make sure you’re careful where you stare Umbra,” Stary choked out, scared and mousy, humiliated to have to be worried about someone loving her too much.

Umbra’s spell of chuckles combined into an enchanted harmony with Stary’s racing heartbeat. “Honey…that ship has sailed! But…I’m being careful where my eyes land to respect your feminine wishes.” A groan was hidden at the last part; he was a typical guy after all.

“My feminine wishes thank you…Oh Umbra, we’re three houses away from Jorgen’s, so you’ll have to follow sneakily, okay?” Stary stopped her running, panting for a few seconds as Umbra froze in place, looking like spilled ink rocking in the wind. Ink…shadows…her dream. It was all too real. The wind, the trail, the horrible woman trying to destroy her into a shadow being, forgetting Umbra existed. That scared her most of all. Mini earthquakes attacked her body, ramming her heart into her ribs. The feeling of boiling blood was gushing through her like a crimson hot spring.

“Babe, are you all right? You shouldn’t have run that far.”

Stary tensed up to look down at Umbra’s form, wiggling slightly to show his liveliness.

All I ever do is make him worry, she thought wretchedly. He was about to pop up, to quickly transform into his normal, handsome self.

Continuing to force air into her lungs, Stary raised a hand in front of Umbra’s shadow, making him cease. “Don’t,” she managed to cough.

The details of the dream, the horror lurking in the nightmare was now a reopened wound—fresh in her mind—and she could not stand to look at him until it was suffocated. Thinking of losing him would only make tears escape her forlorn eyes and make her soul mate more concerned.

“I’m…okay Umbra, honest.” Stary was almost ready to stand up straight, looking down at him over her shoulder. To Umbra, it made her look like a radiant model. “I just have too many new adventures piled up in my weak, human system. Please, go to school without me. It will be more romantic if you wait for me.”

Umbra moved from side to side, not wanting his apprehension to show through, but Stary could read him like an open book, making him feel glad to be open the only time in both of his lives. She smiled warmly at him, no hint of worry or pain left on her goddess-like face. Umbra finally gave in to his only weakness, sighed lastingly, and absorbed himself into the sidewalk, zipping past the cars like they were toys in a game only he could win.

Stary let out an agonizing breath and felt a little better. She hated lying to Umbra and loathed making him feel guilty or unwanted. There was no way to truly win. She would be so ready for school once she got there that no one would suspect she had a nightmare so vivid that it made the Grim Reaper seem like a saint and Umbra would not be allowed to be concerned. She swore to protect Umbra, to love Umbra, to be there for Umbra. Nothing was going to stop her from that or from living her precious life. With a new goal in her heart, Stary swung musically on her heels and danced her way forward to ring Jorgen’s doorbell, and soon Stary was on the road to school.

The wind swept Stary’s lovely hair as Jorgen King let the top down of his 1990 convertible. Stary let out a shrill of delight as he turned the corner, feeling free and excited. They began to laugh together, matching like twins do before Stary could catch her breath.

“Jorgen, you’re so awesome. Thanks again so much for the ride.”

A wide grin with dazzling teeth shone on Jorgen’s face, making his overly curly dirty-blond bob resemble a fishing lure on the waves. “No problem babe. That’s what twins do, right? Besides, I’d be so scared if you drove because you only go like fifteen miles an hour.”

“Excuse me! With overprotective parents, what else am I supposed to do? Besides, I’m up to twenty miles an hour, thank you very much.”

A hardy laugh escaped Jorgen’s lips as he chuckled at her reaction. “Sorry. That is impressive Miss Speed Demon.” He added a roll of his brown eyes for emphasis.

“At least I didn’t almost hit a baby squirrel!”

“That was Drew!”

“Right…”

Jorgen caught her winking at him as she giggled at the memory.

Stary looked out at the stretch of the road. It amazed her how comforting a new pace could be for the mind. Still, the fear of her nightmare, the symbolism it might contain, was bubbling in the depths of Stary’s tired brain. She swallowed, not willing to let the agony reach her face. “Are you excited about school?”

“Well, it’s learning out of old books with teachers yakking all day, so I’m going to have to say…no.” He studied Stary’s expressionless face, lines creasing her forehead in disagreement. To redeem his honor, Jorgen adjusted his back to look cool, his sunglasses glinting in the sun as he stared at the road. “But I am ready to see my friends again and get fed some food. My mom never seems to feed me! Plus, my band will be starting up with new members hopefully.”

Stary looked at her twin questionably. She knew Jorgen wanted to start a band, but he had mentioned holding it off for a year or so, so this news was new to her. “I thought you were going to become pope?” she endearingly asked.

Again, Jorgen laughed and blushed slightly at how lovely Stary looked leaning towards him with eyes full of wonderment. “Yeah, but I have to be president before that and that will take, like, twenty years so got to love the music before that!”

Stary chuckled to show her support and asked him questions about the band. Soon, she completely forgot her troubles, the panic of the unknown stopped pounding every fiber in her body and making all her bones stiff. True, she was special, but she was also a normal girl and that was all that mattered right then to her.

In about five minutes, they were at the bottom of the hill that led to the school. The line of cars was backed up quite a bit. Parents with new students reassured their growing up children.

“Fresh meat…,” Jorgen whispered cruelly before he parked.

Stary got out as elegantly as she could to try to look more impressive to the older students and inviting and friendly to the timid younger ones. The dull white of Jorgen’s car twinkled slightly from the sun peeking through the trees at Jorgen’s shady spot. The gray handles looked like pure silver in the escaping rays.

Today is going to be a good day, Stary whispered in her head.

She thanked Jorgen with a sweet smile and light bow of the head, preparing to walk up the stairs before he called out, “Hey Stary?”

She turned around, that same loving smile plastered on her face for her twin.

“I…umm…I was wondering if maybe…well, ah…I…and…you…if maybe…sometime soon…you’d want to see a movie with me?”

The smile was now alert and somewhat scared. Stary wanted to just hang with Jorgen, but she was not positive Umbra would take it so lightly. Besides, she did not want to break his heart if he was after hers. She hated when her parents were right!

“Oh…that’s sweet Jorgen, but I’ll have to make sure Umbra’s fine with it. He’s a good guy, but I don’t want to be the cause of a fight or make anyone uncomfortable.”

Jorgen looked disappointed, but not destroyed. He could never be mad at Stary’s sincerity and caring charm. “Oh…yeah. Umbra. I forgot about your boyfriend. I’m not used to it I guess. That’s cool. We can talk about it another time. Hey! Are you going to the drama club meeting? I get to do lights this year!”

“Yeah, I’m going. Chloe’s dragging me. I like to act, but I’m not sure I can impress Mr. Lor. Lights, huh? That sounds perfect for you!”

“You’ll be great! I’ll see you then.”

“Okay, see you Jorgen. Thanks again and have a great first day.”

“You too hon.”

The two waved sweetly before parting, small smiles trimmed on their faces. There, at the top of the hill, in front of the lobby, was Umbra, leaning on the fake marble pillar, his dim eyes scanning every new face that walked past. Stary was not sure if it was for her protection or his curiosity.

It was a new school year and she was older, maybe wiser, and she was able to see her friends again—and Umbra was waiting for her. She ran up to him with a large, beautiful grin. The sight of his girlfriend made Umbra’s eyes glitter, his face glowing with happiness.

They needed no words. Umbra leaned down, unpeeling his crossed arms, which were his trademark, to brush her arm lightly. His smile became smaller, but still full of brightness and comfort as he memorized every detail about her at that moment with his scorching eyes: from how many hairs she had out of place to what she was wearing to how red her cheeks were on a scale. Gently, he reached her smooth cheek, patting it with his hand and laid a sweet and quick kiss upon it.

Stary’s heart climbed to new degrees as she felt her face get even hotter. Umbra’s burning lips left a powerful message. She thought she would be used to it by now. Before anyone could really stare, Umbra moved effortlessly out of the way, bowing to escort his lady to class. Grabbing Stary’s hand, he tightened his grip in fear of losing his current emotion.

Together, they entered the building. Umbra pushed the cool glass door open with barely a tap. There, in front of them, was a sea of students, looking like fish out of water as they chattered worse than birds. With a sigh, Stary knew what was coming. She would normally have the annoying task of gently pushing her way through the endless lobby, giving out “excuse mes” and “pardon mes” like those were the only words in her vocabulary.

However, that was not Umbra’s way. Timid, Stary took a gulp and slowly tilted her head upward to gaze at Umbra’s lovely face. A twisted, pleasurable smile was across it, his eyes smoldering with rage, determination, and delight. Stary wanted to protest, but Umbra would never abide; the fire in his soul was burning and she could smell the smoke. She parted her nervous lips to make an effort. Umbra turned to look at her, but his expression did not alter in the slightest. He squeezed her hand tighter, making her stiffen up and shut her eyes.

In a low, enchanting whisper only she could hear, a breathy message reached her ears: “Hold on tight. It’ll be over quickly.” It sounded like final words.

With a focused grin, Umbra’s body became inflamed, an unstoppable force where no one could touch or notice him. True, he was seen, but not clearly. He bent his back slightly, positioning his feet in an unmovable stance. Stary frantically looped her other arm through his, gluing her hand to his muscular, tense shoulder.

Umbra seemed motionless, like he froze into a masterpiece of a statue, but his heart was racing. His dark brown eyes flickered, seeing all the invisible things other humans could not, from footprints on the floor to every bit of dust. An untraceable breeze soothed his body and revealed the path—the trail—where he could effortlessly make a break for it.

“There…,” he said to himself, sounding fierce, ready to hunt like a starved lion. In the blink of an eye, Umbra made his move, zooming past all the faceless people as they became a blur of lights. He dragged Stary with him and in less than half a normal human heartbeat, they were on the other side of the lobby, ready to go down the shiny corridor to the lunchroom where all the older, un-bubbly students sat.

With a confident and proud grin, Umbra glanced at all the people packed in the cramped lobby. Not one soul had been able to pick up his trace. Not one person even thought he was a super-fast rush of wind. Stary looked back as well, uneasily, praying to herself that no one noticed. Her heartbeat was intensely fast. Umbra had done that with her before, but if she had not been there, he could have taken off in less than a blink and never run into anything or tire. With her, he had to judge his path.

True, Stary was not used to the idea yet, but it never hurt her; it was like closing your eyes on the Tilt-A-Whirl, only seeing spots of flashing colors. Still, with all the people, Stary was scared. If Umbra did not calculate properly, then he could easily have knocked one of the freshmen out of most of their breath…and hopefully only that.

She hated where this was going. With a gulp that poked the inside of her throat, she slowly slid her hand off Umbra completely, staring with teary eyes at him while her other hand clutched her chest.

“Umbra…” Stary’s voice was disappointed and hushed.

Umbra knew what was coming too and he dared not allow it. His smile changed into a smug line on his flawless face, trying to contain his hurt and ire. His eyes became a tad blacker and bleaker as they gazed into her fading blue, sparkling eyes.

In a jolt, Umbra grabbed Stary’s hand firmly. Not enough to hurt her, but enough so she could not get away from his grip, and the two made their way down the hall. Nervously, Stary followed, losing her balance with the first few hopping steps. After the first few strides, Umbra slowed to a calmer, more humane pace and allowed Stary to be at his side, nodding regretfully.

Stary’s mouth unzipped, slightly opened in shy wonderment before allowing her carefully chosen words to break free from her control. “Umbra…I know you were trying to move through the crowd more…quickly and I know you are great at judging, but you might have hurt someone or someone could have had supernatural power…”

In a dark monotone, Umbra snapped a reply back, “But if someone with powers was here, you would’ve known.”

In protest, Stary became a little louder, a little more tense. “Maybe, but Umbra, I didn’t train much this summer in the art of sensing mortals with supernatural powers. Mostly I tried to find and help lost spirits. So what do I know? Anyway, it’s just the principle of the thing. You really shouldn’t use your gifts yet—”

“If I have a gift, then I should be able to use them. Don’t humans, you know, want to be considered special all the time or something?”

“You’re twisting my words around! You know what I mean. Your gifts are not normal. Do you want someone to notice?”

“No one will.”

It was getting harder for both of them to control their tones and more difficult for Umbra to not clutch Stary’s hand until it was white from frustration. Stary’s lips puckered in dissatisfaction. This was the only thing they ever fought about and Stary always started it. She hated to, but Umbra never learned that he could not use his special abilities in front of humans.

“Umbra, someone could see you someday. Do you want to be discovered?”

“I’m not ashamed of myself Stary!”

“There you go twisting my words around again! Neither am I! I love everything about you. I want to protect you. That’s why I worry…That’s why you shouldn’t…” Stary’s eyes became teary again, agony wanting to escape from her eyelids.

Umbra halted, looking at her with dire concern. She could never finish that sentence: If the right person saw you, they could take you away from me. Umbra looked guilty. He wondered if a boy could ever honestly win a fight against their girlfriend. Blushing, he said, “I’m sorry. I just…I’m just not sure how to not use my gifts yet.”

Stary sighed, feeling a pounding in her hollow chest. It was a craving to hug Umbra and never let go, to never use words to harm his delicate emotions ever again. “I know love, but we just have to be careful.” She slanted her body diagonally from him, her eyes flashing with amazement at saying the word “we” like they were one soul in two separate forms. Umbra copied her look, stunned, but feeling the tingling to love her all over his reflexes. The two were so focused, so blinded by one another that they could not even hear a footstep.

Stary continued: “We…we don’t even know how you kept those—”

“STARY! Yoo-Hoo! Over here!”

A chipper shout broke through their love shield, crackling the air like a firecracker. Startled, both jumped up on their heels and looked over at the same time to see Chloe in an elegant and flowing sky blue baby doll top and crisp blue jeans, running towards both of them with an unmatched smile. Her blonde hair that went a little beyond her shoulders bounced like a spring and her blue eyes glistened more than a rushing river as she waved like a maniac towards her best friend and her new, mysteriously handsome beau.

Out of breath, Chloe reached Umbra and Stary in record time. As she tried to form true English words, Stary rolled her head back in a chuckle at her airhead best friend, placing her hands on Chloe’s side to comfort her. Umbra smiled shyly to himself at the girls’ chatter, an inner melody humming inside of him at the sight.

“Chloe, you’re so silly and impatient! We were coming,” Stary reassured.

“I know, but you were so slow and making me wait is a crime…Ah!” Chloe panted frantically, wiping sweat from her forehead as Stary unruffled her friend’s lovely new shirt. Looking at Chloe’s annoyed face, Stary laughed again. Instead of glaring like she wanted, Chloe joined in and hugged her best friend. It was like nothing had changed and the odd guy, Umbra, did not exist.

“Well, there’s the other blue sister.”

A smooth, but sarcastic voice rang in Stary’s ears behind Chloe, catching her attention. Walking at an even pace behind Chloe was Rin, looking fiery and attractive in a plain burgundy T-shirt and faded blue jeans. Her sandy, a little longer than shoulder-length hair was swept into a bit of a wave and the thin glow in her murky brown eyes made her look perfect.

Stary blinked, puzzled, too happy about seeing Rin to really notice that she herself was wearing blue as well: a dazzling, ocean-blue-toned tank top with detailed crowns all over it. It was covered by a night-sky-colored half-jacket with stars on the sleeves and upper corner. Her signature blue jeans and famous diamond star necklace that dangled beautifully on her slim neck completed the look.

Stary, however, was focusing on how her breath caught when she looked at Umbra in his first day of school ever attire: a simple black button-up shirt and tight black jeans. The warm smile aimed at her made for the perfect accessory. She shook the inappropriate thoughts away to embrace Rin, who, of course, backed away, growling and baring her teeth like she may bite, but there was a smile in her eyes.

“Rin hasn’t changed! What a relief! You look very cute today as well Rin-chan.” Stary flapped her arms down like a swan about to take flight when her hug got rejected.

Rin rolled her eyes, acting disgusted and hiding the fact that she was a little flattered by her good friend’s praise. “Yeah, yeah, don’t start! Why would I change for you? I made sure I didn’t just to make you happy, so you’re welcome little Miss Troublemaker.”

“You’re the one about to cause trouble Rin. You didn’t help either Chloe. Gosh! You want more attention drawn to us?”

An elegant tone hummed in the air behind Rin to soon expose Lauren behind her. Stary supposed she had had enough of their bickering and finally spoke up. Lauren’s hair was golden brown like thread shining in the sun to her mid-back and in her trademark ponytail. Also as expected, she was wearing her silver spiral glasses. An oversized hoodie and loose black jeans hid her thin, well-toned body and figure well.

“Lauren!” Stary squealed with delight, the urge to jump and hug her friend extremely strong. Yet, she resisted; Lauren would have pushed her off with one of her karate moves. “You got a new hoodie! I really like it. The navy blue looked good on you…although it’s depressing with your pretty green eyes.”

Lauren groaned, annoyed. “Green-ish eyes Stary. My old hoodie finally fell apart in the wash so I got this one for cheap. My mom is a savings freak you know.”

“We know…and shut up about your eyes! They’re about as green as watered grass,” Rin playfully teased in a butch voice, smacking Lauren’s hidden forearm lightly.

With a defeated puff of air, Lauren aimed Rin a challenging look through her glazed spectacles. “They only look that way in the bright light. Normally they look like a clear river with specks of moss trapped in them. It’s irritating!”

Chloe snorted. She was finally able to straighten her body upward without Stary’s support. “Ha! You’re so full of bull Lauren! With this school, how can we have bright light?”

Stary locked a deep breath in her throat to not offend anyone. The air hit her so hard and fast that she almost choked on contact. Wide-eyed, Umbra shot his eyes over at her, seeing Stary’s cheeks inflame slowly, creeping with a fitted, closed smile. But she caved. With wonderment, he examined her, taking in all her traits. He might have thought that all this girl talk was exasperating, but it made Stary feel loved, safe, happy, and above all, whole.

Feeling eyes watching her, Stary turned to see Umbra, the pressure too much to bear. Her eyes shone, telling Umbra she was sorry he had to listen to their babble. He rolled his eyes flirtatiously and smirked, his curls and spikes tossing upward into the heavens.

To change the subject from the green eye argument before her lungs exploded, Stary flung her arms over Chloe’s shoulders, looking down at her slyly. “Gosh, how I missed you guys! Seeing you maybe twice this summer was not nearly enough. I also love seeing how much taller I am than you.”

The three girls halted, glaring at their best friend with sharp knives in their eyes. Umbra snickered softly, making the girls lose interest only for a second to glance at the forgotten intruder in their closely knit group. He wrapped his arm around Stary’s shoulder and lifted her off Chloe like she was made of tissue paper. With a shimmering smile of pure delight, making everyone weak in the knees for a moment, Umbra whispered to her, “You’ve done it now darling.”

“Excuse me Miss Thing! You are not much taller than me and I’m still growing,” Chloe said rudely, her hands on her hips.

Stary tossed her head back with an unimpressed smile. She was too excited about being tall seeing that her mother was barely over five foot and her dad not exactly six (Umbra was an inch taller than him). “Pfft! Please! I’m still growing! I grew like over two inches this summer and I’m almost five foot seven. You are…what? Five three, babe?”

“Well at least I’m taller than Rin!”

“Hey! Watch it!” Rin threatened, borderline anger in her voice. Poor Rin was about five foot one (stretching it a little) and she had not grown much since she was about twelve, so hope was slim for a major growth spurt.

Scared, Chloe gulped nervously, giving a very animated face as she backed into Stary, tapping her arm. “Lauren…,” Chloe started, however Lauren stepped up to defend herself.

“Don’t drag me into this. You know I’m taller than you Chloe.”

“Only by like a centimeter.” This was sadly true. Stary had to do some close measuring in summer P.E. and Lauren beat Chloe by literally a hair.

“That doesn’t count!” Chloe wailed, trying to use Stary as a human shield as Rin approached closer to the two girls.

“Well I’m taller than all of you,” Umbra butted in with a dark tone, but his humor was light and comforting; a small, rainy cloud blocking the sun’s intense rays on a hot day. All four girls snapped up to look at the handsome model of a boy with a radiant smile on his face.

Stary was the only one who truly laughed as the others did so awkwardly, only to stop the silence. Before they could do anything else, the ten minute warning bell rang crisply and the group of five wanted to beat the mad mass of freshmen who would walk quickly in fear of not being able to locate their classrooms. Princely, Umbra picked up Chloe’s backpack that had fallen off her shoulders and placed it into her slightly trembling hand. She was not sure what to think of him. None of the girls did.

After getting things in order, the girls took off and reconfirmed their new schedules. Rin and Lauren walked perfectly in sync, Chloe a few inches behind and barely an inch behind them was Stary holding Umbra’s hand. He grabbed a strand of her beautiful hair that she was proud she was growing out. It was two inches above her bottom and as straight, shiny, and beautiful as always in his eyes. As he twisted his slender fingers around it, Stary’s arms tingled with a thrill.

Lauren and Rin waved good-bye to go to their lockers upstairs, trying not to be shoved into a wall, while Chloe, Stary, and Umbra had lockers on the bottom level, all preparing to meet at lunch to form their group table for the year. Umbra’s locker was at the beginning of the science hallway while Stary and Chloe’s was at the end, closer to the senior wing.

Umbra hated parting with his love, even if it was only for a few hours. “Why do I have to have different classes than you?”

“Because you’re too smart for your own good babe,” Stary hooted, poking his nose. Quickly, he brushed Stary’s hair softly and kissed her jawline, trying to smoothly and nonchalantly kiss her burning lips, the lips he yearned for…

“Hey! No PDA!” Chloe taunted loudly, already holding her books to her chest. She was eyeing Umbra nervously, like he was hurting her innocent best friend.

Umbra noted her fear and bowed his head in shame, gluing his eyes to the ground before answering and stopping his desire, “Sorry about that Chloe. I didn’t know there was a rule against it, honestly. Have a wonderful first day ladies.”

He exited effortlessly, pretending to tip an invisible hat. This made Stary smile and crave for him to return. She would bet money that he would be waiting for her, leaning on a pillar after Chloe left. Stary angrily pondered how many girls would be gawking at the beyond handsome new sophomore.

Together, the two sisters of the heart made their departure to class. Curious, Stary asked Chloe a question: “You’re so quiet for you Miss Chatter-Box! Too pumped for band to speak?”

A little smile was placed on Chloe’s face as she flipped her fair-toned hair back. “Ha! Yeah, that’s it! I suppose you know me too well for my own good.”

“We do love each other too much. Well then, can I ask you a question?”

“Of course you can.”

“Do…well…What do you think of Umbra?” Stary said overly shy, her face redder than Superman’s cape. She should not have asked.

“Oh…Stary…I, well…I don’t hate Umbra, I just don’t know him is all and you seem all over him…emotionally, I mean. I’m not used to my too innocent, overly shy, and sweet best friend being overly obsessed over a guy. That is what I do! I just…I just want to protect you. He looks so different from what I expected and…I’m not sure what to think of love…,” Chloe said in a low, formulating voice.

“Oh Chloe…I didn’t mean to make anyone uncomfortable and I’m so grateful my girls care about me so much. I never expected to fall in love. It just…happened and I’m extremely happy. I promise, I’ll be careful and tell you guys things about Umbra and me. I will also never forget about you. I need my friends too much.

“But…love is an amazing, confusing, and painful thing. It is the most selfish emotions if you think about it. We steal someone’s heart…or break someone’s heart. We take all of someone’s time and make them risk rejection, hurt, sorrow, or living their weaknesses. We love people because it makes us grow and feel better about ourselves than when we are alone. Love is a selfish gift, full of taking…but, we also give.

“To protect someone, to live for someone, to make someone happy with our own personal traits…It’s special. So, I can’t explain love, but it’s neither good nor bad. It’s a bond that one has to discover on their own. You’ll find someone Chloe, so just let life happen.”

Startled by Stary’s insightful speech, Chloe ducked her head down, becoming the most silent she had been in years, the words rolling around in her skull. Soon, Chloe and Stary were in front of the music wing doors where they had to part.

“Thanks Stary. I’ll give Umbra a chance. Still…I wish you weren’t so deep; it surprised the heck out of me!” Chloe twirled to face her pal, grinning, but her eyes were dim with worry.

She knew what to do. Before Chloe could turn to leave, Stary grabbed her friend’s hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze, lifting it under her chin. She whispered in a comforting way, “You can talk about him to me. You know that right?”

Chloe’s mouth tightened at the mention of Mark. She was about to deny or question Stary’s theory, but the warning bell cut off her courage at its roots and Chloe tapped Stary’s arm before going into the band room. Watching her go and looking so uncertain poked a hole in Stary’s heart, allowing guilt and sorrow to seep through. If only she could wave a magic wand and bring Mark back to make her best friend’s destined happily ever after become a reality. Feeling defeated, Stary turned away, her hair a whip of roses in the wind as she went to search for her own fairy tale.

Hopping up the stairs, her eyes halfway blurry from overthinking, she saw Umbra leaning on the fake sky blue doorframe of the school store, examining his surroundings. Overwhelmed, Stary allowed a smile to show and skipped steps to reach him.

Once he caught sight of his lovely vision, Umbra’s heart felt light, like it was being lifted into the sky, but a string was keeping it down on his earthly paradise. Stary, so happy and upbeat, so giving and caring. It amazed him that he was given the unheard of chance to be with her, all because of his best friend, his sister—

“Umbra!” Stary called full of spunk, but pressure was building up and crushing her ribs.

“Did you take care of Chloe?” His eyes were dazzling, locking onto her art-like features in her own blue eyes. Yet he saw static sparks of anxiety bubbling under them. Had they been there all morning? he interrogated himself. Or had something just happened? “Stary…are you okay, babe? Your eyes…they look drained…”

Stary’s breath and saliva became trapped in her throat. Had Umbra noticed the fret on her face, the terror from her nightmare she worked so hard to disguise? Touching her burning cheek by instinct, she stared at Umbra questionably. “Is something wrong with my eyes?”

“No. They’re as stunning as always. But they looked…glazed over, in the back of your pupils…like you’re bothered by something in the back of your mind.”

Stary gulped, guilt slipping into her heart again, making her chest become tight. Only Umbra could have that good sight or love her enough to tell she was refusing to recall her dream to control her mentality.

Shaking her head slowly, careful to not make her brain throb like it was beginning to, her body vibrated as she spoke, “Well…yeah. I’m a little worried about Chloe. She really misses Mark and I can tell she isn’t ready to talk about it. I still don’t know if she told her feelings to him before he left either. She’s also a little concerned about us dating. I’m sorry. I didn’t think it was going to hit me so early in the morning.” She plastered an overly bright smile on her small face and gave a peppy fist to show Umbra she was okay.

Umbra stepped forward and held her in a powerful embrace, tightening his arms around her. He wished with all his heart he could fully understand her, be stronger for her. Stary wheezed, blushing that Umbra would do that in public; he knew that made her extremely nervous. But in that short moment that stretched out forever in their hearts, she allowed it to fill her body and returned his hug as he whispered sweet things into her hair. After what seemed like years, the two grabbed each other’s hands and swung them shyly as they walked to Stary’s English class.

Everywhere they went, they stood out: the handsome, dark looking hero and the timid, but cute girl with the long, flowing hair like a dream. But they ignored all the staring. They were in their own little world, a beautiful world no one could understand. To view their planet would be a confusing crime; the things they had witnessed and experienced would look like something created in Hollywood. Still…their world shone brighter than any other because it could never be defeated.

“Are you ready for class?” Umbra asked kindly, trying to be honestly curious to avoid Stary thinking of whatever was stressing her.

“I suppose. I mean, it’s not like I got into advanced math or anything…” She winked at him playfully, nudging him in the ribs.

“It’s not my fault I did so well on the test! You’ll be in there next year.” Umbra became flustered with that part of his gift; he was smart at anything and everything he literally set his mind to.

Stary giggled at how cute he was when he was rattled, which was rare with his cool façade. But to be nice, she decided to change the subject. “Umbra…I’ve been thinking…”

“Oh no! Is that good or bad?” He rolled his eyes dramatically, like the Earth was imploding. He gave his girl a teasing, but still mischievous grin as his brown eyes paced with joy.

Annoyed, she halted her steps and glared with a slight blazing fury in her pupils. “Excuse me? You want to repeat that baby?” Her voice was harsh, like a pile of granite was trapped in her slender vocal chords.

Umbra sighed with disapproval, holding back the fact that he was not one bit intimidated by his petite land angel. Yet he did not want to press the issue. Gracefully, he bowed and placed her trim hand into his own, tracing it like a feather of the most breathtaking swan. “I’m sorry, my princess. Please, enchant me with your words…”

Stary was lost in Umbra’s smile, but slapped her hand away in a fuss, still glaring and making a “not buying it” sound. “Hmmph…You’re darn right I’m a princess!”

Umbra did not budge and only smiled wider.

With a groan, she twirled her head to the side and gave in to his seducing charm as she held his warm, pulsing hand in her own to make them continue their educational path. “I was thinking that maybe you should join a team or a club or something…”

“Why…?” Umbra dragged the question, his eyebrow lifting, trying to decode Stary’s hidden agenda.

“It’s a lot of fun and I think you should get all the high school experience you can.”

“Not everyone in high school gets noticed, babe.”

“I know that. I just want you to develop more…socially.”

“When did you become a mother?!” Umbra hooted at the thought.

Stary frowned, wrinkling her face to keep her rattling soul calm. “It really is fun Umbra. You don’t have to be in everything, but at least one thing. Like for me, I have choir and the fact I made Girls’ Chorus this year, where everyone there wants to be there, will be even better! I get to meet people who like music like I do and it makes singing more rewarding.”

“But you’ll also meet people who are jerks because they act all high and mighty.” Umbra’s tone became more stabbing.

“Umbra…there are mean people wherever you go. And you don’t have to pick choir, although that would be fun; you have an amazing voice. I should have thought of that! Maybe you should join Men’s Chorus. Girls’ choir gets to travel with them sometimes…”

Umbra groaned, his jaw strained. “Honey, I’m not the dressing-up-to-do-corny-songs type and have other girls scream about how cute I am.” He performed jazz hands with a roll of his eyes before going on, “If you really wanted, I would dress up in a slicker, more sophisticated outfit and sing any love song you wanted, as long as it was meaningful. I refuse to expose myself to anyone else.”

Stary’s heart skipped a beat, her feet aching like crazy to keep her balance. Her knees did not merely give in—they died. To have Umbra sing to her like that, confessing his love in that velvet, melting lava voice would be enough to make a heartless woman drool. She shook her head in frenzy, cracking her bones to stop the thoughts; she had to stay focused. “That…hmmm…that would be wonderful, but I still think you should join a club.”

Defeat was the only word that described Umbra’s feelings. “You mean even my romantic charm won’t work on you anymore?”

“You sneaky little devil! Don’t abuse our love like that! Of course I would want you to sing for me, but I’m too strong willed to give in to you today.”

“Wow…I am exceedingly impressed!” Umbra said, brushing her hand to make it tingle as an award. Stary must have been determined with whatever her point was, so he released all his air supply to brace himself. “What club to you think I should join?

Overwhelmed, Stary’s smile was huge, like it was caught by a fishing hook and stretched far on both sides. She gave a slight, zealous hop. “Thank you Umbra! I was thinking track.”

“Wait a minute! I can’t control my running without using my gift and here I got a silent treatment and third degree like twenty minutes ago about using my gifts. Isn’t that a double standard point of view?

“Hear me out: You love to run and you are good, even without your gift kicking in. I just know you are. This is a great way for you to learn control along with meeting people.”

Umbra cackled, making Stary pout. “Why do I need to meet people? I’m perfectly happy with only you Stary. I love you and you’re all I need in my life, now and always. Isn’t that enough? A second without you is agony!”

Guilt rang through Stary’s ears, cracking her eardrums into millions of tiny, stabbing shards. Goose bumps attacked the back of her neck like a deadly virus. In a whisper, because her voice was failing, she replied, “Oh Umbra…I hate when you do that; make me feel like less of a human being. I…I need you too, more than I need anything. You are my soul and my breath, but…I haven’t learned how to live without my family or friends yet. I love them too, very much, and I need them to function. I don’t want to be without them, but I also dread to make you feel lonely, which is why I’m pressing the issue so hard. Umbra…I’m sorry. I know I’m a horrid girlfriend…”

A force was locked on Stary’s tender lips, trapping them in a swirling spell of magic and pain. Umbra refused, he utterly banned Stary to talk poorly about herself when he craved to be with her so much, needed her to even open his eyes. Of course she needs her friends, he thought, beating himself up. She is human. Always has been. I’ve been so selfish. If she’s happy, I’ll live without her for a few hours longer.

It was like all the messages in Umbra’s head were pouring into Stary’s own mind as their lips touched, brushing the air away and sealing their love at that moment, hidden from all of civilization. In a panic, Umbra let go in front of Stary’s first stop of the new school term. She was not sure how she got there, unseen, but nothing mattered.

With a gulp and flushed cheeks, Stary nodded good-bye to Umbra, her mouth sealed from their embrace, her words missing in action. Umbra’s eyes were dark with no shine in them. As Stary turned away to enter the room, Umbra leaned on the doorframe, grabbing her shoulders to cast a shadow over them to kiss her sweet forehead, to tell her he loved her. In a whisper, he added: “What time are track tryouts?” and before Stary could shift her shoulders, he was gone into the wind.

If only time could stand still, Stary thought. She wanted to be with Umbra more than write English sentences all day. Agonizingly, she turned to enter the classroom, searching for an open seat when a crushing feeling fell on top of her head, making her feel dizzy and wobbly. It was all so clear as she shut her eyes to contain herself: red blood blended into the darkened sky that now appeared overhead. Rocks flew through the air as blue static struck from the sky. A scream, a howl of distress that sounded too low to be healthy belted in her ears.

Why…why was that so familiar? Stary had seen none of that in her nightmare that she had tucked into the back of her skull. Why could she not open her eyes? In a start, she was able to see the slowly still world of her school, her eyes feeling like they were made of metal.

As she adjusted to the school lighting that had now returned, trying to down pat the cause of the flooding images, she saw a long shadow, a whip in the far corner by the classroom entryway. Blinking carefully, Stary focused on that area. In a quick second, it was gone, dust only fluttering where it had been.

Stary thought maybe it was all an illusion from her mind going a thousand separate directions, but one thing was for sure: something was in the air and it was coming for her.

You’ve been chosen to be God’s Warrior, but not even He knows what lies ahead.

Spirit Warrior Stary Moon is prepared to begin her sophomore year of high school with a better understanding of the powers granted to her from the Lord. But the path set out for her is uncertain. Stary never imagined what a challenge it would be to get her friends and family to accept her true love, former spirit Umbra, whose Ultimate Weapon powers are resurfacing mysteriously. On top of this, a dark presence is possessing spirits and ghosts, haunting Stary’s dreams, and wanting revenge. As Stary dives deeper into the world of spirits, she begins losing her connection to the world of mortals. Does Stary have the strength to overcome this darkness alone, or will she need to dabble in some ancient magic? Can she continue this path no matter what the cost?