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Julia Marcus, 13
Culver City, CA

My Starduster Friends

Julia Marcus, 13

It’s Friday the 13th.

Rosie doesn’t believe in superstitions, but she can’t shake the feeling that today’s an unlucky day. In what way, she doesn’t know. She stayed up late last night, scribbling in her beloved journal, and she only woke up around twenty minutes ago when the rain hammering on the roof became particularly annoying. Then she panicked, realizing it was 7:57 and school starts at 8:15. Between bites of toast, she asked her dad to drive her to school–she usually walks, as it’s only ten minutes from her house, but the rain and the time on that dreary day made it kind of impossible.

She and many other kids cram inside the hallway before first period, elbowing each other out of their way. If everyones supposed to get out of the way, Rosie thinks bitterly, whos supposed to move? Theres nowhere to go.

A tall eighth grade girl with mascara-painted eyelashes becomes the authority in the area as she puts her hands on her hips and shouts, “Listen, guys! There’s waaaay too many of us in here. We’re probably transmitting the virus.

The all-too-familiar word that’s been floating around for the past few weeks puts a general hush on the hectic crowd. A couple people mumble things like, “She’s right,” and slink out of the way. Rosie lurks in a corner, by the door to her class. She sighs. She’s really getting tired of talk about the coronavirus. Back in January, it was only this faraway thing that was unfolding somewhere else in the world. She didn’t care where it was, or how contagious it was, or how many people had gotten it in China. But now, in March, she’s hearing about it every five minutes. The virus isn’t distant anymore. It’s real. It’s here.

And later that morning, her math teacher announces that the district has decided to close schools.

No one finds the volumes of any cones that day.

Rosie can only think of how the word “cone” sounds so similar to the word “corona.”

“I guess this is it,” she says to her friend Marla after sixth period, “for a little while.”

“Yup,” Marla groans.

Normally, they would give each other a friendly hug, but today Rosie just manages a dismal wave from around six feet away.

~ Some number of months later, Rosie hasnt really been counting ~

“And that,” Rosie announces, “is the end of today’s episode. Thanks, everyone, for supporting the show and see you next week!”

She’s not sure which week next week is, or even if she’ll know when seven days have passed. She’ll probably come back to this in a few days, thinking it’s been three months. For now, she turns off her camera and sighs, leaning her head against the side of her bed. She opens Messages on her phone, scrolling through her list of contacts. It’s not very long. She only has her parents, grandparents, older sister, and Marla, along with seven or eight other friends. Rosie doesn’t feel like texting any of them. There’s nothing to say.

She’d much rather be in contact with Ivy and Marco and Emmalyn.

Not that she knows them.

Not that they even exist.

At the moment, her three favorite people are superhumans from a book series called The Stardusters. They’re teenagers from three different planets that meet after a disaster shatters their world. Over the course of four lengthy books, Ivy, Marco, and Emmalyn have earned a permanent place in Rosie’s heart. So much of her consciousness is devoted to them that she’s started interviewing them. She films herself asking them questions, then dresses as her fictional guest and gives incredibly detailed answers to her questions. She’s even edited the whole thing and put it on a private YouTube channel.

Today, she asked Ivy, “How did you first react when you found out that Marco and Emmalyn visited the Sacred Planet without you?”

Ivy said, “I’ve never been more devastated. See, the whole reason I started trusting Marco and his friends from his planet was because they said we’d get to save the Sacred Planet. When I found out that he and Emmalyn were there, I got so mad that I didn’t speak to them for a week. I hadn’t told anyone, but . . . I had a huge crush on Marco back then, and if he was going to the Sacred Planet with Emmalyn and without me, I wasn’t really sure how to go on with life. Then Emmalyn told me that without the detective work I did when they were gone, we would never have found the rebels’ spaceship, and they would have destroyed countless other planets like they ruined the Sacred Planet. We were good after that.”

Rosie’s thought process is that Ivy, Marco, and Emmalyn don’t have the virus, so hanging out with them isn’t going to get her sick. Therefore, she spends at least fifteen hours a day talking to them. Especially with her dwindling online schoolwork–she thinks the school year ends on June 12, but she’s not entirely sure how far away that day is.

And she’s sick of her computer screen. The Stardusters exist on paper. Being a fairly new and relatively obscure series, there’s no TV adaptation. Rosie wouldn’t watch it if it existed, though. She’s the type of person that abides by the universal rule “THE BOOK IS BETTER.” She has a sign on her door with that motto, in red block letters, her inaccurate sketches of characters from The Stardusters standing around the words.

“I suppose it’s hypocritical of me to be filming my own talk show when I wouldn’t even watch a TV Stardusters,” Rosie comments to the second book of the four, which is propped open next to her on her bed. It’s her favorite one, especially because of all the drama that unfolded between the characters after the Sacred Planet incident.

In February, when she tried to recommend the series to Marla, she used the technique of saying, “There’s a love triangle. In space. How can you not read it, Mar?”

Marla is Rosie’s best friend, but she’s clearly not as faithful as Ivy or Marco or Emmalyn. Her response to Rosie’s pleading was a shrug and, “I’d rather have just a love triangle, or just space. Actually, forget the space part. Just the love triangle.”

Emmalyn would have jumped up and down, screeching, “Where can I get the first book? I need it NOW!

Random scenes from The Stardusters flash through Rosie’s head. These superhumans with their space love triangles and secret missions to save destroyed planets seem more real to her than she is, amid the pandemic.

Curling up on her bed, she stares blankly at her room, which is by far the most familiar place on Earth. She’s spent so much time here since March 13th–which is the last date she remembers clearly–and she’s practically become another accessory in her room. A visitor might not be able to distinguish her from the stacks of books and clothes and crumpled sheets of paper and crayons and stuffed animals. Then again, a visitor shouldn’t even be there. Unless they’re wearing a mask.

“Well,” she sighs, stretching her stiff legs as she stands up, “it’s time for lunch. See you later, my Starduster friends.”

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