Karolina Dean’s world shines. There are the flashing
bulbs of cameras, washing over many-colored,
extravagant formalwear. The trillion tiny glowing
dots making up the movie screen at the premiere. The
sparkling diamonds dangling from her mother’s ears,
every facet catching a different beam of light.
She wriggles a little on the plush seat, her bottom
smushing as close into the back as she can get it.
Her father’s large, gentle hand reaches down to brush
her knee, and she stills, looking up at his face. His
eyebrows wriggle and he winks, flashing her a set of
even, white teeth, as familiar to her as they are to
the American viewing public. He whispers, “It’s
showtime,” and the lights go down, just like that.
The chatterings and mutterings of the crowd around
them fade, slowly, as the music swells.
Credits bloom, and her mother, sitting poised beside
her in the seat, is doubled in quintuple-size, her
body composed of countless pin-pricks of light.
Karolina takes a deep breath, and the movie begins.
Out in the bustle of the Los Angeles street, trotting
down the red carpet with each small hand tucked in one
of her parents’, she looks up at her mother’s long
hair, shining where it catches the sun. She’s sure
that the tiny glowing pixels have been caught there,
carried out of the movie and into the mundane city
beyond. Her parents put a sparkle in everyone’s eyes.
She grins out at the world through the pink tinge of
her sunglasses, with their five-pointed frames. As
far as she can see is a sea of happy pink faces, all
smiling to see her family, stars.
“Look up, sweetheart. See the painting?”
Tearing her eyes away from the pendulum, she tilts her
head back as far as it will go, staring up at the
giant figures painted on the octagonal ceiling far
above her head. She recognizes the signs of the
zodiac ringed around the center; mythical creatures
that she knows are really groups of stars. She’d
learned about Greek and Roman mythology just last week
at school. There’s Atlas, and a man with wings on his
ankles; Hermes, or Mercury. What if she could reach
up, all the way up, and touch him?
It’s a funny thought; she imagines herself stretching
out like bubblegum, and giggles. “Wow.” She turns in
a circle, slowly, watching the figures move.
Leslie looks down at her ten-year-old daughter,
staring rapt at a fantastical, painted sky. Her pink
lips stretch into a wide smile. “Let’s go find your
He’s standing out in the Observatory grounds, looking
up at the metal face of a man mounted on a stone
pillar. She recognizes the face before she reads the
name; it’s James Dean. There’s a poster of him in her
parents’ bedroom, from an old movie he starred in,
before he died. When she was younger, she’d wondered
if maybe they were related.
Her father does look a bit like the famous rebel,
though he’s getting older.
He looks up as they approach, reaching down to tousle
Karolina’s flyaway blonde hair. “Did you see any
On their way down to the car, she tells him about the
star charts, the gigantic telescope, the painted
zodiac on the ceiling. Frank stops to sign a scrap of
paper for a nervous young woman in the parking lot,
while Leslie frowns a little with disapproval. She
shrugs when her husband catches the look, pulling the
door shut on the fan’s receding figure. “Stargazers.”
They share a private smile. Karolina smiles too,
because she knows her parents don’t fight about fans
like some of their friends do. Even when fans are as
pretty as that one.
“So, I need to fly to Chicago tomorrow to talk to
that, ah, independent producer . . .” She drifts off,
her head nodding against the window of the station
wagon as the trees blur together beyond the glass.
She sets the tray of fajitas down carefully in the car
seat beside her, smoothing the tinfoil while her
parents buckle up in front of her. She flashes her
father a smile when he glances back in her direction,
letting her head fall back as he pulls away from the
house. She’s not exactly sure whether or not she’s
looking forward to the fundraiser. The other kids
think she’s so weird, with her hemp clothing and her
refusal to consume dairy projects. Even Gert, the
vegetarian, who isn’t really because Karolina had
definitely seen her eating salmon at dinner last time.
It’s not as though those other kids aren’t weird
themselves, and even their parents are kind of creepy
. . . sometimes she gets the shivers when Mrs. Minoru
looks at her, and Mr. Hayes smells a little like a
hospital. Still, they must be good people, if they’re
so committed to charity, right? Like her parents.
She wonders how big Molly will be now, and if Chase
will still insist on making those disgusting jokes
every two minutes, the ones that made her so angry
when he made Nico blush. Maybe Nico had taken her
advice and switched to contacts. The poor little
thing needs all the fashion advice she can get,
really, Karolina muses . . .
She must have dozed off, because when she opens her
eyes they’re pulling through the gates of the Wilder
She smiles politely at the Wilders while her parents
say their hellos. Mr. Wilder nods gravely at her in
return, and she drifts into the room, smiling vaguely
around: almost all the guests are already present.
The door opens again, but before she turns to see the
late arrivals, Chase materializes in front of her. He
gives her the kind of dopey grin that most of the
jocks at school wear, and she flashes her own
practiced smile back.
“Hey, there, Karolina! What’s the haps?” As he
starts rambling something about “smokin’” and how it’s
a shame they only see each other once a year, somehow
segueing from that to formals and limo rides, her eyes
drift towards the doorway. Alex Wilder has come
downstairs and is speaking to
“Nico!” Wow, it seems as though Nico doesn’t need any
fashion advice after all. The clothes are a bit goth,
it’s true, but . . .
“God, you are so hot
.” She feels as though she’s
sparkling under her skin, butterflies fluttering in
her stomach. Nico’s returning smile is tentative, but
blinding. She shivers and turns away as Mr. Wilder
calls for the room’s attention, managing to exchange a
blinking smile with her parents before they follow
him. Off to do their good work, whatever it is.
“Okay, will someone please
tell me what’s going on?
What did I miss down there?” She glares up from the
Twister mat. The other kids had run back from the
tunnel as though they were being chased
parents, or possibly the Hulk. There had been no
explanation, just a frantic pig-pile and lots of
swearing from Chase. Which really was not appropriate
around Molly, and she is going to make sure to tell
him so, once they both get off of her.
They all seem really . . . scared. Alex is sending
Molly away again, this time with Gert. The vague,
uneasy feeling that she’d had before grows.
The Minorus, the Wilders, all the other adults had
never looked creepier than in that strange clothing,
but to see her own happy, Hollywood hippy parents in
what looked like head-to-toe leather fetish gear . . .
what on earth could it possibly mean? What could they
have done that was so inappropriate for an
eleven-year-old to hear?
Nico takes her hand, and the butterflies are fighting
a war in her stomach, queasy nerves and something
else. The other girl’s expression is strangely
earnest, Alex looming over her shoulder as though to
protect her from whatever it is she’s about to tell
Of course, Chase shatters the moment. “Alex’s dad
just killed some chick.” She can’t have heard that
right. And the boys are off in another squabbling
match while she tries to piece it together in her
head, stuttering while Nico gently pushes her down
onto the couch. The colors in the room are whirling
too fast for distinction, black and red and beige and
blue, empty video game screens and the Nico’s wide
eyes. Alex’s dad, their parents, her parents . . .
Nico pulls away from her and stands up. Karolina’s
father is at the door, smiling as friendly as ever,
Hollywood handsome in spite of the wrinkles around his
eyes. But there are still stars exploding in front of
hers, doubling him, while she looks up and tries to
force another smile.