Home>>read Under Different Stars free online

Under Different Stars

By:AMY A. BARTOL

CHAPTER 1

CHICAGO

Flipping a coin into the air, I watch as it arches toward the cascading water of the fountain. “Home,” I whisper to myself as it breaks the surface, causing ripples to race toward the lapis tiles.

“That’s a waste of money,” Enrique says after pulling the earbud from my ear. “Why do you continue to throw your money away when you know that Lou is gonna get it at the end of the month?” he asks. I glance at Lou, who’s leaning against the mahogany front desk of the City Insurance Building reading the Chicago Tribune, his distended belly straining against his janitorial jumpsuit. He absently uses a rag to polish the desk’s surface that he’s gone over a thousand times already.

“He doesn’t get to keep my wish, does he?” I ask, looking back at the fountain before pulling my coat on over my own khaki janitorial jumpsuit. I pull the other earbud from my ear, press pause on my iPod, and tuck my headphones in my pocket.

“You can stop wishing for Prince Charming to come and rescue you,” Enrique says with a grin, watching me wrap my scarf around my neck and put on my mittens. “I’m right here, Kricket. Enrique and Kricket Rodriguez…that sounds chill. We can put the announcement in the Trib.” His teeth look stark white in contrast to his honey-toned skin as he smiles at me.

“I think finding Prince Charming is your wish. Mine is still Northwestern University,” I reply, picking up my backpack and throwing it over my shoulder.

“Just think how happy my mom would be if I told her I was marrying you. She’d flip out, seriously,” he says half-jokingly.

“Enrique, that’s a really tempting offer, but since I’m only seventeen, I’m gonna keep my options open,” I reply, putting my hat on and trying to sweep my mass of blond hair beneath it.

“I thought you heard back from U of M,” Enrique says, zipping his coat and putting on his hat. His thick, black hair sticks out beneath it.

“I did, the University of Michigan liked my test scores. I just can’t afford it, even with a partial scholarship. Plus, what am I going to do in Ann Arbor?” I ask, trying not to sound disappointed. “I don’t know anyone there.”

“You don’t really know anyone here, either,” Enrique replies. “It’s not like you have to stay for your family.” He nudges me with his elbow.

“No…you’re right.” I try to smile to cover the stab of pain his comment causes.

“You have no idea how good you have it, Kricket. It must be total freedom not having cousins, aunts and uncles, and parents on your back all the time about what you’re doing,” he says. “Being on your own must be nice.”

My shoulders slouch forward as I try to hide my face. “It’s better than foster care,” I say softly. “I only have to stay below the radar for a few more months. Then, when I’m eighteen, they can’t touch me. No more under the table jobs. I’ll be able to get a real job, for real money. You know Bridget, my roommate?” I glance at him and see his nod. “She works at the Mercantile Exchange. She thinks she can get me a job verifying trades on the currencies floor in the spring. If I get accepted to Northwestern, I can take classes at night and work at the Merc during the day.”

“Your ambition makes me feel like I gotta take a nap.” Enrique holds the door for me as we step out of the corporate offices of the City Insurance Building. It’s still dark out at five in the morning, but the streetlights in the loop illuminate the entire area. The softly falling snow looks magical as we walk by the Christmas holiday displays in the downtown windows.

“I need to have goals. If I thought that I’d be emptying trashcans for the rest of my life, I’d lose it,” I admit.

“You could do a ton of other things. Like…modeling. You’re a giant, sister,” Enrique says, his feet make crunching noises as he walks over the snow on the salted sidewalk.

“Five-ten is not that tall.”

“C’mon, you look like a Viking. Those modeling agents would freak for your hollow cheekbones and I bet they’ve never seen a natural blond walk through their lobby doors.” He stops at the end of the block and waits for the light. “But, when they see your freakish eyes, they’ll beg you to sign with them.”

“My eyes are not freakish!”

Enrique makes a derisive sound. “I’ve never met anyone with violet eyes,” he replies, raising his eyebrows. “If I had eyes like yours, I’d be in New York making some serious cash.”

“Yeah, and the minute they enter my social security number into their agency computer, the Illinois Department of Social Services will show up and haul me back to some juvenile detention center. No thanks,” I say, feeling a shiver tear through me. “I’ve spent too many years trapped in their hell. I’m not going back—even if they can only hold me for a few more months. When I’m eighteen, I can do whatever I want, but until then, I’ll sweep up coffee grounds, empty trashcans, and listen to my iPod.”

Recommend