Uncross the Stars by Janell Rhiannon
Genres: Romance, Young Adult
Fiona Lavender is the new girl at school. She has a chip on her shoulder and a penchant for poetry. Dario Martinez is the star quarterback, and the most unattainable guy on campus. Their stars cross when they are paired to study Romeo and Juliet for a senior English project. Their attraction is fragile and undeniable. But, Dario is afraid of what love will do; and Fiona is waiting for love to claim her.
Will they uncross the stars and find the love they both need to heal their pasts?
EXCERPT: CHAPTER 1
UNCROSS THE STARS
At midnight, Fiona and her mother finally pulled into the driveway of their new rental. Her mom cut the engine, but not the parking lights.
“Looks like we made it, Fee.”
“Barely. I thought you were going to kill us a few times weaving all over the road like you were,” Fiona said.
“It’s not easy driving and towing a U-haul trailer. It’s heavy,” her mom replied and began rummaging through her purse.
Fiona ignored her mother and squinted through the dust and bug splats on the windshield at the dark house. She noticed the crooked light fixture on the left side of the garage, and the rain gutter hanging askew.
“Looks like we’re the haunted house on the block,” Fiona said.
Her mom hit the high beams spotlighting the garage door like a stage.
“Not so helpful, Mom.” Fiona got out of the car and stretched her neck and back. She inhaled the cool fall air. Peering through the darkness, she noticed the bushes lining the dead grass yard needed trimming, the thinly branched tree in the front stood naked of leaves, and mounds of dried up flowers filled the flower bed under the front window. Shadows darkened the walkway to the front door. A pair of windows stared out at the street like rectangular evil eyes.
“Looks sturdy and dirty. And creepy. I can hardly wait to go inside, Mom.”
Fiona peered inside the car. Under the dim dome light, her mom had dumped the entire contents of her purse on the passenger side seat.
“Mom, what are you doing?”
“I think I left the key back in Watsonville.”
“Great,” Fiona said. She glanced back at the windows. They remained staring blankly into the night. Fiona looked down the street in both directions. Every single house had a lit porch, except theirs.
“Ahhh-ha! I found it. It was in the ash tray. I forgot I put it in there for safe keeping.”
“Hurry up, Mom. It’s dark outside.”
“Fine. I’m coming. Have some patience, Fee,” her mom said, as she got out of the car.
They walked the dark pathway to the front door. A powdery dust covered everything. Fiona’s mom tried to fit the key in the lock and open the door. She jiggled and twisted the knob, syncing the internal mechanisms with difficulty, until the door finally creaked open into a darkness blacker than night.
“Where’s the light switch?” her mom asked, as she ran her hand over the wall next to the door frame. “Ah!”
Fiona heard the light switch click. She heard her mom toggle it up and down several times in rapid succession, but nothing happened.
“Ummm,” her mom mumbled.
“There aren’t any lights on outside either. Don’t tell me we don’t have any electricity,” Fiona said.
“Well, either that or we need several dozen light bulbs,” her mother answered.
“Figures.” Fiona heard her mother rummaging through her purse again. “What are you doing?”
“Wait. I think I’ve got it.”
Fiona heard jangling keys, a soft snap and a beam of blue light appeared from her mother’s hand. “There we go.” Her mom walked into the house waving the thin light in front of her. When she found the kitchen, she searched through random drawers. “There we go,” she said again.
“There we go what?” Fiona asked completely annoyed.
“Candles. Now, all I need is some fire.”
Fiona flipped a pack of paper matches at her mom.
“Where’d you get these? You aren’t smoking again, are you?”
“From the counter, Mom! Jeez. I smoke one time three years ago and you act like I’m going to die of lung cancer or some crap. Light the dumb candle already.” As her mom lit the candles, it occurred to Fiona, “Did you call ahead to get the power turned on?”
“What?” Her mom asked.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me.”
“Maybe I can get my old job back.” Fiona’s mom rerouted the conversation.
“What job?” Fiona asked, rolling her eyes.
“The one at Red Lobster. Ah. There we go. Light.” Fiona’s mom smiled triumphantly, holding up a lit candle.
Fiona stared at her mother through the candlelight. “Are you serious? That was ten years ago.”
“I was good at that job. The manager, oh, what was her name? Mandy?”
“Who cares what her name was. It was ten years ago. No one’s going to remember you.”
Undeterred by Fiona’s negativity, her mother continued, “I think it was Valerie. Yes, I’m pretty sure it was Valerie. Maybe she’s still there.”
“Ten years ago, Mom. And nice try.” Fiona said.
“Nice try what?” Her mom paused. “I noticed you didn’t use the F-word. I’m proud of you sticking to your promise.”
“Nice try not answering my question. The power company. You didn’t call ahead, did you?”
“I was so busy getting the U-haul loaded—”
“I’ll take that as a no,” Fiona said flatly.
“I’m sorry, Fee. I’ll get on it first thing in the morning.”
“Can we just unload some things, so I can go to bed, preferably not on the floor?”
After an hour of wrestling the flimsy mattresses to their rooms, moving boxes, and ignoring her mom the whole time, Fiona finally had the solitude she craved. She found the box she’d packed Mr. Lion-Bear in for the trip from Watsonville to Sierra Crest. She opened it and pulled him out and hugged him to her chest, like she did when she was a little girl.
Ten years ago, when her mother decided in her typical impulsive fashion to get married to Dominic, some guy she barely knew, two important things happened. Her mom had a huge yard sale and lion-bear became her best friend. Fiona hated the yard sale because she watched bits and pieces of her life walk away, like her little Star Wars figurines, her too small ballet shoes, and her favorite Beauty and the Beast comforter. She had cried so hard that her mom bought her a new stuffed animal. The instant she saw him she’d loved him because he promised with his fuzzy black nose to her neck that he’d never leave her. She named him lion-bear because he was a lion, but soft like a teddy bear. She had whispered all her secrets into his fuzzy ears.
Within days of the dreaded yard sale and the purchase of her beloved companion, they had packed up the remaining pieces of wreckage from their life in Sierra Crest, crammed them into the car, and drove two hundred miles northwest to Watsonville never to look back.
At the time, Fiona’s mother reassured her that Dominic epitomized fun and happy, and most important of all he had a job and promised to take care of them. They’d been struggling for months, going without electricity or water more than once, because her mom couldn’t keep a steady job. Her mom always made a game out of the darkness and the droughts. She said it was good to find the silver lining in the rain clouds. Usually, that meant her mom reading to her by candle light.
“Here we are again, Mr. Lion-Bear. Back where we started,” Fiona said to the worn stuffed animal in her lap. “This time better be different. If my mom meets another guy, I swear I’ll never talk to her again. I’m so absolutely sick of moving. Sick of changing schools.”
Moving to Watsonville was supposed to have been a fresh start for Fiona and her mother, but once they got there the beautiful dream quickly eroded into a familiar disaster. Dominic turned out to be as flaky as all the rest of the men her mom dated. Fiona couldn’t believe anyone could be worse at holding down a regular job than her mother, but Dominic proved otherwise. Dominic also turned out to be some kind of moody jerkwad. Weeks before Fiona’s mom had decided to leave for good, he had been diagnosed as bi-polar—which answered a lot of questions, but the damage had been done. Her mom packed them up to move again. She promised Fiona life would be different this time if they went back to Sierra Crest and recovered the life they dumped years ago.
“I hope Mom’s being honest with herself. I want to finish my senior year at the same school. I don’t think I can take moving one more time.” She plopped Mr. Lion-Bear on her bed. “We need some blankets, little friend.” She opened another box marked FIONA’S ROOM and pulled out a well-worn quilt. “This’ll do.” Fiona smoothed it on the top mattress, blew out the candle and lay down exhausted. “God, I hope she’s being honest with herself.”
UNCROSS THE STARS
The after party began on the far side of the Renaissance Fair grounds, near the edge of the city park’s wooded island. Dario sat against a large rock with Fiona between his knees, her back pressed against his chest. Her arms rested on his knees, and his arms wrapped loosely around her waist. Dario watched the huge bonfire blaze orange and blue against the black night sky. The red hot cinders floated above the roaring flames, funneling up into the darkness. A hipster boy sat in the light of the fire strumming Coldplay songs on a guitar he hugged in his lap. Fiona’s back was warm against his chest. He leaned forward to smell her hair, soft against his face.
“Your hair smells like campfire,” he said.
“Thanks. I think.”
“Don’t worry. It’s a good thing. I like it.” He let a strand of her hair slide through his fingers.
“Okay, in that case, thanks.” Fiona turned to look at him and smiled.
“Did you notice how bright the stars are?” Dario asked.
She leaned her head back against Dario’s shoulder and looked up. “No, not until just now. They look like blinking jewels.”
“You want to take a walk?” he asked.
“It’s dark. Where would we walk to?”
“Trust me. I know a place. The view is spectacular.”
Dario got up first and slapped the damp grass off his jeans, then he extended his hand to Fiona and she reached for it without hesitation. He held her hand low next to his thigh so that as they walked their legs sometimes bumped their clasp hands. The light and noise of the gathering faded as they walked along the edge of the city park’s planned woodland. Dario wanted to tell her how pretty he thought she was, but kept the words to himself. He didn’t want to say the wrong thing and come on too strong. His avoidance of girls had handicapped him for this situation. He knew next to nothing about girls, except that he wanted Fiona. Within minutes they reached a small trailhead.
“We have to go down this way.” Dario pointed to the dirt line that faded into shadows and darkness. He pulled out his phone and switched the flashlight on high, beaming the bluish light down the intended path.
“That looks scary,” Fiona said. She backed up a step. “I don’t know.”
“It’s okay. I promise.” Dario reassured her by releasing her hand and putting his arm around her shoulders. “I’ve got you.”
“It better be worth it. What if a tree monster grabs us or the Wild Things kidnap us?”
Dario stiffened a little. “The Wild Things? You mean the kid book?” He hadn’t thought about that book in forever. Without knowing it, Fiona broke the seal on the lid to his Pandora’s Box.
“Those little monsters freaked me out. I hate that story about Max and their gnashing teeth and all that. In a forest. This looks like that forest.”
“It’s not my favorite story either,” Dario said. He pulled her a little closer. “It’s just some trees. It’ll be fine. I know where I’m going.” They followed the thin glow projected by his phone. The well-trodden path wound around trees and rocks. The branches soon canopied overhead blocking out the white points of light above and the sky itself. Dario held her tight against his side. He pulled her just a little closer and kissed the top of her head. He liked how she leaned into him. He hoped she felt safe.
It seemed like they were lost in the shadows of the low hanging branches and tree trunks when the night sky popped into view. They stepped out into a small hidden meadow circling a huge boulder.
“Welcome to Boulder Meadow,” Dario announced. “Come on.”
He led her through the low grass and late summer flowers bowing their sleepy heads to the earth, closed for the night.
“Wow. It’s a lot bigger close up,” Fiona said. She put a hand out to touch it. “It’s cold.”
Dario led them around the rock to a place with an easily accessible cleft serving as handholds and footholds. They scaled the giant rock to the very top.
Fiona stood and looked out over the meadow. “It’s all silver in the moonlight. It’s beautiful.”
“Most people forget this is here. It’s my favorite spot to be under the stars,” he said. “Here and, now, the pond.”
Fiona turned to face him. “Why’s that?”
“You know why,” Dario said, looking down into her eyes. “You.”
Fiona blushed and looked away.
“Is something wrong?” Dario asked.
“No. Not at all.”
Dario sat on the rock. Fiona sat next to him. He put his arm around her, guarding her from the chill. “You want to see something really cool?”
Fiona nodded. “Of course.”
“Lay back and look up.” He leaned back, opening his arm so she could lay next to him. “Look at that.”
Fiona settled in the nook of his arm and looked up at the sea of stars. “I’ve always thought stars looked like dancing dots of light. Little flames across the sky. This view really is spectacular. Thanks for bringing me here.”
Dario hugged her a little tighter to his side. She warmed him from the inside out. “I have a confession, Fiona.”
“What’s that?” she asked, as she turned to face him.
“When we were at the pond I wanted to kiss you.”
“I have a confession, too.”
“What’s that?” he asked and smiled up at the sky.
“I wanted you to.” She rolled onto her side with Dario still cradling her shoulders.
“I’ve never kissed a girl like this.” He gave up another truth and met her gaze.
“Like what?” she asked.
Dario swallowed hard. He leaned his head down, stopping just as his lips made contact with hers. He could feel the heat of her breath, the soft curve of her bottom lip. Then, he pressed his mouth against hers. Her lips parted. She was sweet, and soft, and stirred a long dormant hunger. He rolled completely on his side, wrapping his arms around her tightly. He kissed her harder. Fiona wrapped a leg over his, pulling him closer to her, smashing their bodies completely against each other.
His body had a mind of its own. It told him he wanted her. He wanted more than this kissing. His hands roamed to her unknown curves. His brain screamed for the emergency brake.
Fiona pulled her mouth away to whisper, “If you want to…”
Her offering jarred him to his senses. He’d jumped with both feet into an all-consuming fire. And he’d done it without realizing it would happen. If he didn’t stop now, he wouldn’t be able to stop the swell of emotions and needs urging him forward. No girl had ever tugged so sweetly on his heart, until now. He sat up, pulling her with him. “It’s getting kind of late. We should be getting back. I still have to get you home.”
Fiona sat up and looked away. “Sure. Okay.”
Dario helped her down the rock by the same path they had climbed up. They walked all the way back to the bonfire in silence. Dario was confused by what happened on the rock. He was afraid of how he wanted her, how she was reaching all the hidden places in his heart.
On the way back, Dario noticed that Fiona didn’t lean into him the way she had earlier. He wondered what she was thinking. He hoped she knew how much he wanted her. He wanted to just tell her, but that would take him down a path he wasn’t certain he wanted to go.
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Janell has been writing since she was in grade school. In high school, her 9th grade English teacher suggested she consider a career in writing. After a decade in college and a Master's degree in history, she settled into teaching.
Writing never stopped. Stories never stopped. READING fiction never stopped. Now, she writes and publishes on-line. Invisible Wings is her first YA novel, a compilation of short stories centered on teenage life triumphs and tragedies. She believes being a teenager is difficult and wrote Invisible Wings to let teens know they aren't alone. That they matter. That even though life is rough, they can still find beauty and love.
Beside the YA stories close to her heart, she adores Mythology and Fairy tales. Anything magical and mystical. And dragons. And gargoyles.
She currently lives in CA.
Visit her at Facebook @Janell Rhiannon Author. If you want to see what projects are in the works or find out more about the her, visit