The last thing I remember about home was the heat. It wasn't just sweating hot, the I-need-a-lemonade-or-a-dip-in-the-pool-hot, but a heat that bore down on you like a blanket. You couldn't be sure what you were seeing, because heat waves blurred everything. You felt the pressure, the weight of heat so strongly that you were almost certain there was something tangible holding you down.
Then I remember something forced over my head, strapped around my body. I remember struggling against it, before a soothing hand was laid on my shoulder.
"It's a life vest, Leigh. You have to wear it. It'll keep you safe." My father, his voice soft and comforting. I looked up into his face—a memory still clear today. He was smiling, in a hopeful sort of way, but now that I'm older I can see the strain. His eyes, that bright green that I'd inherited, the short blond hair that I hadn't. I still sometimes feel the same thrill of fear I felt when I realized he wasn't wearing a jacket because he wasn't coming with me.
That was the day our sun died and all life on Earth was destroyed. I remember being snapped into the airship, a last glimpse of my mother's black curls swirling around her face as it lifted me away from home. I remember drifting in open space for so long. A bright light flashing behind me, spinning the ship end over end with dizzying speed.
The new planet was just as developed a planet as Earth and very similar. Everyone here had once been Earthlings, some had even brought over beloved pets. Everything I saw here reminded me of home and all I'd lost when I'd come here. I began to loath Iya and all that was here.
If I had been smarter, I would have tried to bring them with me. I would have realized the purpose of the life vest was to make me big enough to fill the space, that if I'd left it behind there would have been room for one of them, at least. I should have given them the ship and stayed on Earth myself.
My parents gave up their lives to send me here, where I could live out my full life. The price of my life was both of theirs—a price they were too willing to pay.
If I'd been smarter, I would have taken them with me. If they'd been smarter, they'd have realized that sending me here didn't save my life anymore than it had saved theirs.
It still hurts to remember, even ten years later, but it's one of the only memories I have of him and sometimes I think of it, hold it between my hands and turn it over, hoping it's left me with some clue as to where I could find him.
At seven, Leigh was a skinny kid. Even in one of these kid-sized ships, he was too small to fit properly. Mom and Dad, afraid that he'd bounce around as he came through the atmosphere, shoved a life jacket over his head before they sent him off.
Mom lowered the door to my ship, and as it rose away from her, I saw Leigh struggling against the jacket. I watched until I couldn't anymore, and he still hadn't taken off.
As it was, Leigh wasn't far enough away. The bomb detonated, and the shockwave knocked him way off course. I watched from the safety of my ship as his turned every possible way—sideways, upside down, sideways again. I thought, Good thing Mom and Dad put that vest on him.
When I landed, I looked for him everywhere. I waited in that field for hours. He never showed up. Hours turned to days. Could've been weeks—I don't know. Some boy came along, nine, maybe ten. He lifted me from where I lay—depressed, dehydrated, starving. He took me home.
This became my family—but I have never stopped looking.