“But it’s your birthday, Katie. Are you sure you don’t-”
“I’m really not in the mood for a party this year, mom. I just… want to spend time with my family.”
They usually ate in the kitchen these days, because the dining room always felt too empty. Colleen leaned over the island counter and Pidge met her mother’s hug halfway.
This time last year, every window in the Holt household was dark. If you’d gone inside, you would’ve found the living room couch to be made up as a bed, maybe big enough for two. And if you’d gone upstairs, you would’ve seen the door to the master bedroom shut and a door covered in Garrison stickers locked.
There also wouldn’t have been anyone home, because the Holt family (at least, what was left of them) was out stargazing from the top of Pidge’s favorite hill. The three of them, Pidge, Colleen, and Gunther, huddled close together under the same blanket, telescope in between them and pointed up at the sky. Maybe they had a picnic, or a late night stack, and their dirty dishes were piled off to the side. Pidge excitedly chattered on about a constellation as she helped her mother carefully, reverently, set out two empty plates where they would have sat.
When Colleen settled back down, she had a single, tiny cupcake cupped in her hands. The rosy glow of the candle flickered over both of their faces, a little bit of light under the universe.
“Make a wish, Katie,” Colleen said, and in that moment things felt like before. Pidge smiled, cuddling Gunther closer as he wiggled his head through the crook of her arm.
‘Please,’ she thought, as she closed her eyes and leaned forward. ‘Please let me find them.’