Starstruck hopped out of the car, jumping up and down. “Come on, Mom!”
Jupiter laughed and wrapped her trunk around her daughter's tusk. It had been so long since she'd seen Starstruck so excited, ever since the bullying started up....
Jupiter shook her head. Only her daughter's happiness mattered today.
Starstruck started dragging Jupiter toward the marketplace (a tough feat seeing that Jupiter resembled a large, black elephant, except for the waving antenna and three trunks instead of one).
Extraterrestrial Market occupied all of Planet Miniscus, the tiniest hunk of rock in the Forum Galaxy. It held a parking lot big enough to fit thousands of spaceships, and colorful stalls curving around the rest of its surface.
“Watch out, Starstruck!” warned Jupiter as they entered the crowded market. Starstruck brushed against a Blorkian examining a pair of earrings. The clam-shaped alien immediately snapped shut, crushing the jewelry.
“Hey!” shouted the stall-keeper, giving Jupiter a dirty look. She waved her trunks in apology and threw some Space Bucks into the stall before hurrying Starstruck forward.
“Sorry, Mom,” said Starstruck, grimacing. Her antenna quivered.
Jupiter sighed. “It's ok, honey. Just be careful. Especially around Selks.” Jupiter shivered. The seaweed-like aliens had poison lined in their leaves and wouldn’t tell the difference between a murderer or a child running into them.
Starstruck nodded and walked slower through the market, staying close to her mother's side.
They passed stall after stall of curious wonders: pink and purple fruits that floated in the air and squirted bright green juice when bitten into; necklaces made of rocks from seven different asteroid belts; hot sauce that caused throats to melt (only the Cholulas could handle those as they could regrow any part of their body).
“Where is he?” whined Starstruck, trying to peek around the many shoppers.
“Patience, honey,” said Jupiter as she picked up a bag of sun-flavored jerky at Hal’s Meat Stall.
Starstruck sighed, twisting and untwisting her trunks in anticipation.
After passing a few more stalls, they saw it: the most crowded stall, surrounded by a line of aliens.
“He's there!” shouted Starstruck, jumping from foot to foot, her antenna waving wildly.
Jupiter grinned at her daughter. “Then let’s get in line!”
The two walked over and stood behind a small Lepus and an older one. They looked more or less like rodents, with ears taller than Jupiter. The ears quivered in the slight breeze.
“Hello!” squeaked the older Lepus, turning to Jupiter. “I’m Ege, and this is my granddaughter Stas!”
Jupiter smiled, touching her middle trunk to Ege’s ears in the Lepus traditional greeting. “I’m Jupiter. This is my daughter, Starstruck.”
“Hi,” said Starstruck. Jupiter blinked in surprise; ever since the bullying started, Starstruck had kept quiet around strangers. But she smiled at the aliens; perhaps it was because the Lepus were just so small and, well, cute. It was impossible not to grin around them.
“I’ve waited weeks for this!” piped up Stas, hopping up and down so that her ears flopped back and forth.
Starstruck giggled. “Me, too!”
“She really has,” laughed Ege, rolling her eyes good-naturedly. “Talked non-stop about him every day!”
“Well, duh! It’s Santa!” said Stas as they shuffled forward in the line.
Jupiter shared a knowing look with Ege. She wasn’t too sure how a tradition from a small, new planet in the Milky Way had made its way all the way to Forum Galaxy, but it had taken hold like an asteroid caught in a sun’s gravity. Jupiter supposed it was the wonder of it all, or the joy, or the hope of small presents in the morning.
She couldn't remember what the holiday was called--Crissness or Rishmiss or something like that. The Little Green Guys had a lot to learn about Earth and Jupiter didn’t blame them for not putting the focus on holidays.
But they all raved about Santa, and now so did every being of the Forum Galaxy.
“What are you wishing for, Stas?” Jupiter asked kindly.
Stas’s tiny eyes widened. “I can’t tell you that! It might not come true!”
“I think that’s only birthday wishes,” said Starstruck.
Ege swiveled her head toward her grandmother, who nodded encouragingly. “I think she’s right, Stas.”
Stas lowered her voice. “I’m wishing for my mom to come back alive!”
Starstruck blinked. Jupiter watched the smile melt off Ege’s face.
“Er--are you sure that’s what you want, sweetheart?” asked Ege in a shaky voice. She glanced toward the line, which was getting shorter and shorter by the minute.
Stas bounced around. “Yes, yes, yes! Santa can’t say no to that!”
Ege shot a “Help me!” look at Jupiter, who jumped in. “Stas, honey--I’m not sure if Santa has the power to--to bring back the dead.”
Stas shook her head stubbornly. “Yes, he does. I know it.”
“Yeah!” said Starstruck. “He can do anything!”
Ege stared at Jupiter, panicked, as they reached the front of the line. Stas hopped forward to Santa, a fluffy Ursa alien wearing a big red coat. He hugged her and lowered his snout so she could whisper in his ear.
“Oh, dear,” said Ege.
“I’m sorry, Ege,” said Jupiter in a low voice so Starstruck couldn’t hear her.
Ege just shook her head.
The Ursa whispered something back to Stas, who hopped off and returned to her grandmother. She hung her head.
“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” asked Ege.
Stas sniffed. “He--he said he’s not sure if he can bring Mom back.” Her eyes brimmed with tears.
Jupiter suddenly had an idea.
“Stas, maybe your wish was just too specific. That can happen, you know, when Santa has so many children to take care of.”
Stas wiped her eyes. “Really?”
“I don’t know if he can give you your mother--but he can give you a mother.”
Jupiter reached her left trunk into her purse and pulled out a card. “Here’s my number. I want you to call me anytime--every day, if you want, just to catch up.”
“Really?” said Stas, eyes widening.
Jupiter nodded and glanced at Ege. “If it's ok with your grandmother, of course.”
Ege burst into tears. “Thank you, thank you! I--I can’t thank you for your kindness. It's been a hard year.” She pulled a tissue from her bag and noisily blew her nose.
Jupiter patted her shoulder with one of her trunks before turning to Starstruck. “It’s your turn for Santa, honey!”
Star stared at Stas and Ege before settling her gaze on her mother. “I got my wish!”
Jupiter blinked in surprise and tilted her head. “Oh? And what was that?”
Star gave her a small smile. “Friends.”
The four aliens stepped out of the line and spent the rest of the day exploring the marketplace, together.