Chapter 1 There’s a bluebird in the maple tree. It’s a male, with a beautiful, rusty breast and wings the color of sapphires. He is joined by his mate, the female he’s been with since spring. Their two broods aren’t far away; from my red lawn chair, I hear them chirping, their sweet voices carried by the wind.
I lower my binoculars gently, allowing them to rest against my olive-green jacket while I jot Bluebird, 2 in my miniature, spiral-bound notebook. As I’m writing, an unexpected feather floats down from above, landing on the crinkled pages. I take it in my hands and study it carefully, knowing that, by some strange miracle, this feather is meant for me. It is too perfect, the barbs wonderfully intertwined, the feather smooth to the touch. The beautiful biology of a bird’s spectacular feathers, of flight itself, is no small wonder.
I slide the feather into my jacket pocket. When I head inside, I’ll take it upstairs, and it will join my collection. I study the sky, waiting for another bird to fly by, perhaps to leave me the gift of one, precious feather.
It’s an absolutely beautiful morning with crystal clear skies, and a cool breeze sweeps through the yard. The branches dance with the wind as their partner. If Asher could see these skies, feel this breeze on his skin, he would surely turn his face upwards with that toothy grin of his and shout “Hallelujah!” in praise to God above.
Chapter 2 I’m sitting on the front porch steps. Asher is fourteen, and he sees the world through his new binoculars, the ones grandma and grandpa bought for his birthday a few months back. His eyes are constantly trained on the sky; not a moment goes by when he isn’t scanning the endless blue for one of his feathered friends.
“Look, Sky!” Asher calls. “There’s a bluebird up on the telephone wire.”
Eleven-year-old me is unimpressed, “So?”
He pulls me over and places his binoculars in my fingers. They’re a soft, unpolished black and heavy in my hands. I don’t yet understand the full magnitude of my brother’s actions; trusting me with his precious binoculars, his most prized possession, takes more courage than many boys can muster. “Just look up at the wire.”
I roll my eyes, yet lift the binoculars to my eyes anyway. With unexpected amazement, I behold the creature on the wire.
The bird is lovely, more so than anything I have ever seen in the few years of my life. I am struck by the spectacular blue of his wings, the red-orange of his breast, the perfect proportions of his figure. It is no wonder that bluebirds are Asher’s favorite of all animals.
I look back at Asher. My face must be one of awestruck wonder.
Chapter 3 Asher has always loved bird watching. Even when he was a little boy, he would sit eagerly on the porch with Mama, asking her for the name of every bird that flew through the yard. Mama still has pictures of him from his seventh birthday, when he received his first birding field guide. The little boy in the photographs is grinning, absolutely overjoyed.
Today, I Skype Asher on my laptop. My brother looks tired, with circles beneath his eyes, but a wide smile is spread across his face, and he seems to be happy.
I tell myself that I should be proud of him, as an encouraging sister should be. I should be excited to see him at Cornell, the university he always dreamed of attending. Still, seeing his dorm room in the background reminds me where he isn’t: home.
“Hey, Ash,” my voice quivers just a little as I speak. “How’s it going?” I don’t really want to talk with him, not now, but I promised I’d call him every day and Skype him at least once a week. And I always keep my promises.
“It’s good,” he replies. “Chelsea and I went out last night.”
It takes me a moment to remember who Chelsea is. Oh, yes. Chelsea is his girlfriend. They’ve been dating for a month. He went bird watching with her once. I recall seeing her when Asher introduced her to me over Skype. Piece by piece, the details come back to me, starting with the eyes. Her's, ice blue with hints of grey, were like lasers, boring straight into mine. Even though she was laughing and smiling, her eyes remained like stone, and I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that she absolutely hated me.
She and Cassie would have been good friends.
I don’t like Chelsea. But I tell Asher otherwise.
“That’s great! You guys look so cute together! When are you bringing her to PA? I just can’t wait to meet her!”