Disclaimer: I don't own the characters.
Note: This is an answer to Jennifer's challenge (on the Roswell Smut list) which asked for an M&M story using a Greek myth as the basis. I rarely do challenges, as I have a hard time tailoring my warped mind to fit the usual challenge criteria, but this fic is indeed based, in part, on the myth of Hades and Persephone. So thank you Jennifer for inspiring me. :-) If you aren't familiar with the myth, you can get a very quick overview of it at: http://www.messagenet.com/myths/bios/persephone.html
I heard the footfall of the flower spring...
Apparently Roswell was once a pretty nice town. I wouldn't know about that, because it was nice way before my time. Grandpa Valenti--he's not really my grandfather, not by blood anyway, but he's the closest thing I've got to one and besides, I like him--sometimes talks about what Roswell was like in the 1930s. He talks about a town without a curfew, without a patrol guard, without a government base, without aliens, and I listen politely. I suppose he could be telling the truth, but I can't imagine the world he talks about.
Grandpa was around my age when the aliens landed in 1947. He doesn't like to talk about the day they came here much, but once, after he'd taken too much of his pain medicine, he mentioned it. "We all ran out to see what happened, just about everyone in town. I can still remember how we all stood there, staring at the ship. And then the first alien came out--and they looked just like us! We were all so excited..." His voice trailed off, and I wasn't sure what he said next, but I thought it was "Idiots! That's what we were. Idiots."
Jim, my stepfather, wasn't even alive when the aliens landed. He was born here in Roswell, though--Grandpa refused to leave, even when the fighting was at its worst--and Jim considers Roswell home. Most people don't--Roswell is just a way-station, a step on the ladder to a big promotion, or a place where you come when you have nowhere else to go.
Mom and I came to Roswell when I was a baby. My mom was married to an alien hunter-or at least, that's what he said he was. He was mostly a bum, and he ran off after his first encounter with an alien on the streets of Roswell. Mom stayed, because she had no family, no money, and nowhere else to go. She ended up working on a diplomatic team, and that's how she met Jim. He was always insisting that even diplomatic teams needed weapons training, and my mom was the only person who didn't like the idea. Jim always says, "It was love at first sight for me and your mom," which is pretty much Jim's best joke. Sad, I know.
Mom married Jim when I was ten. Jim was pretty cool about it, even asked me if I was ok with it and stuff --not like I had a lot of choice or anything--but I was ok with it. Not because I wanted a father, and certainly not because I wanted a brother (if I did, Kyle is so *not* the brother I'd choose)--but because everyone knows that the aliens respect very few humans and they fear even fewer. But they fear Jim Valenti, and because of that, I'm safe here in Roswell. Sure, I still take all the precautions--everyone does, and I'm not stupid--but I know that I'm as safe here as anyone can be. And that even makes living with Kyle bearable.
Everyone in Roswell is supposed to work. Free time isn't discouraged so much as it is feared. A couple of years ago, two high school kids who'd somehow managed to get out of their job requirements got killed when they wandered into the wrong part of the desert. Jim worked really, really hard to keep things peaceful during that time--everyone was sure that the aliens had killed the kids, and tempers were high, but Jim managed to calm everyone down. It didn't hurt that he had proof that the kids had died of exposure.
Anyway, everyone works. Adults work full-time, and anyone under the age of eighteen has to either volunteer to work at the base or get a job to fill the hours from three (when school gets out) till the eight p.m. curfew, when everyone is supposed to be home. I got really lucky in my job assignment. I got the Crashdown café, which averages maybe four customers a year. Liz works there too, and since she and I are best friends, I think Jim might have had a hand in where I ended up working. I usually don't like his interference (especially when it involves my grades), but in this case it was pretty cool.
Liz and her parents came to Roswell three years ago. Her dad is some sort of scientist, but the base gave him the café to run as a sort of "cover." As if the aliens don't know what everyone in town does. But that's how it is in Roswell. Everyone has a "cover." Jim is officially the town sheriff, which is a joke because the town of Roswell pretty much ceased to exist in 1947. What Jim really does is head up the security teams for the area. Roswell is a neutral zone--an area where humans and aliens are supposed to be able to meet and talk freely, to "coexist" as the government likes to put it. Mostly the aliens stay in the desert and make threats once in a while, and we stay here and make threats once in a while. So basically, Jim has a really shitty job. But he seems to like it, so who am I to judge?
Besides, Liz has just told me that she's started dating someone I know. And I'm pretty surprised by who it is.
"Alex? You mean the Alex that is sitting right over there?" I point at the booth where Alex is sitting and wait for Liz's denial. God knows, I love Alex--he's been one of my best friends for years, but this latest development has thrown me for a loop.
"Yes, that Alex. What's not to understand?"
He's balancing a spoon on his nose--how's that for starters? "I don't know, Liz. Are you sure you want to date him? He's Alex, you know."
"What does that mean?"
"You know," Liz says. "He's nice. We've been friends since I moved here, and it's easy with him. Comfortable. We don't all live with Jim Valenti, Maria. We don't all feel safe all the time."
"Liz...." How can I make her understand? Especially since she's right. There is safety in living with Jim. He heads up the territory (unofficially); he's in charge of keeping everyone safe (officially). He's the person that everyone depends on, and he's my stepfather. "It's not that I'm opposed to the idea of you and Alex, it's just that I don't understand it."
"Well guess what, Maria? I'm not asking you to. Life in Roswell is never certain, not for any of us. I just want to be happy. I just want to feel safe."
I put down the coffeepot I was pretending to dust and turn to her. "You'll be done with school soon. You know you'll get to go to college. You'll be able to leave, Liz. Don't worry."
She gives me a hesitant smile. "Who's worried?"
I laugh and throw my dishtowel at her. She ducks and we continue cleaning the mostly deserted café. People don't socialize much in Roswell, but the government pays to keep the café open--partially because it's what Liz's dad is supposed to do, and partially because the Crashdown is supposed to be a sort of restaurant for people who are unlucky enough to get stationed here.
Liz lived on the east coast before she came out here, and I think Roswell was a shock for her. The aliens aren't much interested in expanding past the Mississippi, for whatever reasons (it's not like they would deign to share their reasons with us, you know), so there are some people out there who've never seen an alien. Not that you'd recognize one of them if you walked down the street--they do look normal--but when they come to town, they usually stand out by virtue of the fact that they don't look nervous. Plus Roswell is small, like I said, and I pretty much know everyone on sight.
Like Alex. Alex is like me--a real Roswellian. He's supposed to be the Crashdown's cook for the afternoon shift, but he spends most of his time writing songs and working on things for his band. His dad was one of the first people out here when the government opened the territory back up to settlers in the 1980s. His father is a scientist of some sort too (there are a lot of scientists in Roswell), and he works on finding ways to grow lots of food in limited space. It's in case...well, you know. In case more aliens come and we have to leave. For all the big talk about fighting aliens and coexisting with aliens--they basically can kick our asses any time they want. We're just lucky that they are pretty happy with everything they have now. Plus, from what Jim's managed to learn, it seems pretty clear that Earth is sort of a loser planet to them-- the place where you go if you can't go anywhere else, or a place you get sent to. Kyle finds that really offensive--but Kyle gets offended so easily. I figure that for the aliens, Earth is sort of like Roswell is to most people. Interesting to read about, maybe cool for a visit--but once you get home you think, "That place was pretty awful."
Anyway, Alex and I have been friends for years. We've gone to school together, gone through the dumb-ass army training together (six weeks in the desert--never saw an alien, and never learned how to do anything. Except make signal fires, and as Alex pointed out, "What good is a signal fire if you don't know how to keep yourself alive? You'd be dead by the time anyone found you.") I could never date Alex because I know him so well, but I guess I can see why Liz would be interested. Maybe. If I closed my eyes and pretended that Alex wasn't the same boy who threw up after eating too much cake at Mom and Jim's wedding.
Liz goes and gets a soda out of the case and goes over to talk to Alex. I go back to pretending to clean the counters and watching dust roll down the street.
I can tell that Kyle is in a bad mood way before he gets to the café. For one thing, you aren't supposed to be walking around in town, alone, during the day. For another thing, Kyle is supposed to work at the base every day after school. Jim wants Kyle to learn everything, so Kyle gets rotated around the base, "doing all the crappy stuff that no one else wants to do" as Kyle says; "learning responsibility" is what Jim says.
I go and open the café door when I see him walking down the street, gesture for him to hurry up. He gives me the finger and I laugh and go back inside. When Mom and I first started living with Jim, I was terrified of Kyle--all he did was holler and pick fights, and tell me to go fuck myself when I tried to talk to him. After a while though, I stopped getting upset by all the things he did and now we get along ok.
The café door opens and Kyle comes in. His face is red, but I'm not sure if it's from the weather or anger. It's been cold in Roswell this winter--colder than usual. "Hey 'Ria."
I used to hate it when he called me 'Ria, but I don't mind it now. "Hey Kyle. What's up?"
He looks around the café. "Anyone here?"
We both laugh at every Roswellian's favorite joke and he asks me for a soda. I point to the case and he goes and gets one and sits down at the counter. I notice that his hands are shaking. "You ok?"
He shakes his head at me and starts drinking his soda. I shrug and go back to pretending to work. A glance at the clock shows me that it's only six, and that I have two more hours here.
I look over at Kyle, who is watching Alex and Liz. Kyle likes Liz; he's liked her ever since she came to town--but she isn't interested in him. That might be surprising--Liz likes safety, she worries about life her in Roswell so much--why wouldn't she be interested in Jim Valenti's son?
Because she knows Kyle. Roswell is a small town--there aren't that many kids, and to top it all off, Kyle and I have been "siblings" for as long as Liz has known us, and she knows all my Kyle stories. She knows how he leaves the toilet seat up, how he can't ever seem to remember that a black T-shirt shouldn't be thrown in with a load of light-colored clothes, how he picks his nose when he thinks no one is looking.
And she knows that Kyle is nothing like Jim. Jim is levelheaded and cautious. Kyle isn't. He hates the aliens more than anyone I've ever met, and nothing Jim says or does will change his mind.
Kyle's hatred for aliens is understandable though. Mom doesn't even try to talk him out of it anymore, though she tried pretty hard when she and Jim were first married. Kyle's mom was killed by aliens when he was really little. It was back when the government had just opened the territory up again, and the aliens were nervous about all the people coming in. Well, not really nervous--they just wanted to make sure that everyone remembered that they had a say in things too. So when a couple of settlers tried to move onto part of the dessert that the aliens had claimed, the aliens just went in and "rearranged" them.
That's the scary thing about the aliens. They can mess with molecular structure, and they took those settlers and literally turned them inside out. Anyway, one of the settlers that was killed was Kyle's mother's brother, and she'd been out visiting him that day, and she was killed too. Jim found a way to make peace with it, but Kyle hasn't, and if he had his way, we'd all spend our time thinking of ways to get rid of the aliens instead of trying to coexist with them.
Kyle puts his soda down on the counter and looks up at me. His hands aren't shaking so badly anymore, but I can still see his fingertips twitching. "What?" he says, and I would swear that he's blushing except I've never seen Kyle blush and we are talking about the boy who thinks mooning is an art form.
"Are you ok?"
He exhales nosily, and looks around the café. I want to scream 'It's just you, me, Liz, and Alex, just like it was five minutes ago' but I don't, I just wait. Whatever he's getting ready to say must be big.
"They captured one of them."
"What?" Alex and Liz, who'd been talking, their heads bent over a book (both of them are so smart that it's disgusting), look up and speak at the same time.
"They caught an alien. Yesterday. I just found out about it."
That explains the hands, then. Kyle's mad. Jim didn't tell him, and Kyle probably found out from one of the guys on the base.
Alex whistles, a low sound of surprise and I watch as he reaches out for Liz's hand. I look at their fingers, entwined, for a moment, and then I turn back to Kyle. For them to capture an alien...that's a big deal. Jim doesn't allow that kind of stuff often--he believe in second chances, and third chances, and seventy-fifth chances. "What happened?"
Kyle looks at me. "Someone tried to kill Dad yesterday."
I grab for the counter top without even realizing it. "What?"
Alex makes a soft noise, and I hear Liz moving towards me, feel her hand under my elbow. "Sit down" she says, and I watch her go over and get a soda out of the case. "What?" I say again.
Kyle laughs. "Yeah. Isn't that great? Someone tried to kill him, they caught the thing that tried it, and he didn't mention it to me or to you, or to Amy. God!"
"Are you sure?" Liz. Sensible, rational Liz. She hands me the soda and looks over at Alex. Alex nods. "Yeah, Kyle. Liz is right. Are you sure?"
Kyle nods. "When I was at the base this afternoon, I heard one of the guys talking about it. Dad didn't even let them keep it on base--he insisted that they put it in the old jail. So the other aliens wouldn't worry. Who gives a shit if the aliens are worried?" His voice has risen sharply during the last part, and I feel my fingers pressing into the counter. I notice that I've knocked over the soda. I should clean it up, but I don't seem to be capable of moving right now.
"Still," Liz says, "it just could be a rumor, or something like that. There hasn't been any trouble in so long--and the aliens wouldn't go after Mr. Valenti....they just wouldn't." Alex nods and I finally see that they are perfect for each other. Mr. and Mrs. Rational.
Kyle laughs. "No, it's for real."
"How do you know?" My voice sounds higher than is usually does, but I'm scared. Everyone who was in town during the 1980s remembers all the trouble--even Alex. I can see that, even though he's trying to be the voice of reason, he's worried too. And poor Liz is just trying to calm us all down and she's probably more worried than I am; at least I've been through this sort of thing before...
"I talked to her, it. The thing that tried to kill Dad. I went to see her--she was in the old jail. Just like the guy said. She--it--said that it's all a mistake, but I know she's lying."
Oh God. I remember how, back in those bad times, Mom and I spent day after day in the basement, waiting for all the fighting to stop. I can't even begin to imagine what would happen if Jim died. For all the government tried to do, it's been Jim who has kept the territory peaceful. He's the only person who the aliens are willing to make deals with, and now...
"We should go see it." Liz's voice is quiet, but firm, and we all turn to stare at her in shock. She looks back at us steadily. "If it really is a threat--if we all think the alien is lying--then we can do something. We can get people to listen if we have proof, if all of us speak up."
I watch as Kyle looks down at the counter. Liz is too kind to say it, but what she means is that no one will believe Kyle if he tries to say anything, because Kyle already has a reputation as a troublemaker. I almost feel sorry for him, but I'm too busy worrying about myself.
"Fine" he says after a moment, and I notice that he doesn't sound upset or angry by what Liz has implied, he just sounds resigned. I look over at Alex, who gives me an almost imperceptible shrug, which is Alex-speak for 'I have no idea what's going on. You're the one who lives with Kyle."
I sigh and go get my coat. When I get back, Liz has cleaned up my soda and I give her a quick smile. She is a good friend.
"Hurry up, let's go" Kyle says and I look over at Alex, who rolls his eyes at me and walks outside. After a moment, Liz and I follow.
If the four of us walk to the jail, we'll be safe. As safe as we can be, anyway. And if someone or something is trying to kill Jim, that's bad news. Not just for me, but for everyone. So even though I'd rather stay here in the quiet Crashdown, drinking soda and watching Alex and Liz be happy, I'm going to go see an alien.
The jail isn't too far from the café, thank goodness. But of course, not much is left of the original town. The police station, which is mostly unused--the government stores food in it, the library--which is now housing for unmarried soldiers who are unlucky enough to get stationed here, and the school-- which is still used as a school. The rest of the town is made up of houses and the base.
Roswell had an Air Force base here in the 1940s, but after the aliens landed and proceeded to take over the state of New Mexico (and several other states as well) the base was pretty much destroyed. Then once Jim and other humans who'd stayed after the government left brokered a peace of sorts, the government came back and built a huge base in Roswell. Jim says that the base amuses the aliens, and I suppose it does. But it makes all of us feel safe, so I'm glad it's here.
It is cold out--so cold that I wish I'd brought my mittens with me, but I left them at home this morning, thinking that there was no way I was going to need them. My poor fingers are all red and numb. At least the streetlights are on, so we don't have to walk in the dark. Last year, the streetlights didn't work for three weeks because of some electrical problem and it was so dark at night that it was actually kind of scary.
I look over at Liz, who is wearing sensible gloves and holding Alex's hand. Kyle doesn't have gloves on, but he never wears gloves and he's so hyper right now that it's hard to look at him. He keeps telling us to walk faster, and we keep ignoring him, but he's got that glint in his eye, and I hope, fervently (and probably hopelessly) that his alien story is false, that the alien just came into town to raise a little hell and that's it.
We get to the jail and go inside. It's dark, and everything is made of wood, which looks strange, because most everything around here is made of metal or plastic. Kyle heads directly for the "jail" which isn't really a jail so much as a series of rooms that have doors with key locks that the aliens can't melt or unfasten. Jim prodded the government till they sent scientists out her who could make stuff like that. That's how Jim is. Practical. So practical that it can be pretty irritating.
Liz and Alex are having a whispered conversation as they walk down the hallway and I ignore them and wander back behind the counter. In the 1930s, you could walk in here, report a problem, and have it taken care of. I wonder what it was like, to live in a world without aliens. Did people know how lucky they were?
Of course not. They probably all thought they had it bad, were scared of some crisis. There's always a crisis, isn't there? I run my hand along the desk, which is really dusty, and wonder about all the people that once sat back here.
"Hey! You aren't supposed to be here!"
I look up, startled. There's a blond guy standing in the doorway. He's about my age, maybe a little older. He looks normal; cute even, but I don't know him. A lifetime of caution and training and fear make me start to move towards the door, make me check to see if anyone else is around. "I don't know you."
He rolls his eyes at me. "Yeah. I don't know you either. I just got here today, stationed in this wasteland, and the first thing I was told was to come over to the jail and take a look at some alien. Where's the jail at?"
I laugh. He sounds so aggravated and pissed off that he's got to be new. Some of these poor military guys think they are signing up for some big adventure when they come to Roswell, and mostly all they get is a lot of training and sitting around.
He looks offended when I laugh and I shake my head. "I'm sorry. It's just...anyway, I know it's hard to be new here and stuff. You're in the jail. The cells are down at the end of the other hallway."
He starts to leave the room. I look after him for a second and then realize that something's wrong. "Wait!"
He stops and turns back towards me and for a moment, something I see in his eyes makes me feel nervous. But he looks harmless when I look again, maybe even a little scared. "Hey, you can't just go wandering in to see an alien."
"What do you mean?" His hands are clenched into fists at his side.
Oh God, the poor thing. He won't last five minutes. I walk over to him and grab his hand, try to force his fist to unclench. "You've got to relax. You can't go in there all tense. They can sense stuff like that, and believe me, they already have all the advantages. It's not a big deal, you know. Chances are, this is nothing. They're not all that bad."
His hand flips over and grabs mine. "You really think so?" he says and there's a rush of something--I don't know how to describe it, except that it's like the time I fell down the stairs when I was six. When I landed at the bottom, I couldn't breathe. I just sort of lay there, and everything felt suspended. At the time, I swore I could feel my heart start to beat again, could feel my whole body come back to itself.
It's like that, only worse, and I get a quick flash of desert and sky and I pull my hand away, fast, because this is what they always warned me about in school and I'm not with a human, and I've made the stupidest mistake of all, the kind of mistake that I thought only someone like Kyle would make, and I've just been talking to an alien...
I open my mouth to scream, but all the comes out is a little shriek and his hand is still holding mine and I can tell that he is listening, listening to Kyle and Alex and Liz who are down looking at the alien, and he is thinking that the plan worked, and that humans are even dumber than he thought, and that he is surprised because I am better looking than he thought humans usually were.
I pull, as hard as I can, and my hand moves away from his. Nothing is coming out of my mouth, but I turn to run and go get Kyle and Liz and Alex, because we have got to get out of here, now. His hand wraps around my arm, and he says something, but I can't hear it over all the panic that I'm feeling, all the memories of sitting, just sitting in the basement and hearing all those screams...
My hand closes over something and I turn, swinging it in a wide arc. It's some sort of plaque type thing, I can't read the name on it, but it hits his face, and he lets go of my arm and I run out into the hallway and head for the others. I can hear myself screaming, and I hope I'm not too late.
When I get to the cells, the situation is equally as bad, and it's no wonder that no one heard me screaming. Kyle and the alien--another blond one, but a girl--are literally snarling at each other through the tiny barred window in the door, and I can see Liz and Alex are both trying to restrain Kyle, who is trying to unlock the door to the room the girl is in and is swearing furiously about how all aliens do is kill and he'll take care of them even if his father won't.
I'm trying to get them to hear me, and I can hear myself hollering, but the girl--who is also about our age--is so angry and so loud that I know no one hears me. The girl and Kyle are facing each other and as I watch, Kyle shakes Liz off and shoves Alex away, lunges forward, shoves his hand through the bar over the tiny window on the door and grabs the girl.
I can almost hear everyone gasp. You don't ever, ever, ever touch an alien. They can sense things, but it's harder for them if they aren't touching you, a lot harder, and they have to touch you before they can hurt you. It was bad enough that I touched one by accident, but Kyle is so angry that he's being even stupider than usual.
I run over to him, intending to pull him away, but instead I just stand there, frozen. Kyle and the girl have stopped hollering and they are just staring at each other. The girl is shaking, and I can't tell if it's from fear or anger and I think, suddenly, of how Kyle's hands were shaking earlier.
I can hear voices coming down the hallway and that's enough to get me moving again. I grab Kyle's arm. "Kyle! It's a setup of some kind! They wanted you to come here!"
I can hear Liz and Alex both let out a gasp, and Kyle turns to face me. His eyes look glazed over, and I wonder briefly about what he is doing. I look over the alien girl, who has stepped back from Kyle with a horrified look on her face. Then I lift my foot up and bring it down on top of Kyle's as hard as I can.
He looks down at his foot, and then up at me. He starts to swear, but I cut him off with "It's a trap, you dumbass! We've got to get out of here. They're coming for her" I gesture at the girl, then look back over at Liz and Alex, see that they have already started to head for the door.
"Wait, how did you know that?" Kyle sounds confused and I open my mouth to tell him that we can talk later, but we have to get out of here, now--but I see Liz and Alex move away from the door that leads into the hallway, and it's almost as if they are moving in slow motion; it's like everything has stopped and I'm six years old again, lying on the floor, and nothing inside me is working.
The blond alien--the one I saw not three minutes ago--is in the doorway. "It worked Isabel," he says, directing his comments at the girl who is still standing where she was before, staring at Kyle. "I told you it would."
Then everything pitches forward into regular speed again, and I hear Kyle turn and holler something at the girl, Isabel. "You set this up?" and Alex is screaming "The window at the end of the hall! Liz, Maria, Kyle.... HURRY!"
Then everything starts to blur. I hear voices, I see people--aliens--the blond one and another one, with dark hair--coming into the room. I hear Liz, sobbing as she tries to get the window open--I hear the sound of flesh hitting flesh as Kyle launches himself at the blond alien I hit earlier, and I see Alex, blood dripping from his hand as he smashes it into the window.
The girl, Isabel, is gesturing frantically at the dark-haired alien, who is moving towards Liz and Alex. He turns away from them and walks towards her. That, finally, gets me moving. I have to get out of here. Now.
But then I hear Kyle scream. Oh God, Kyle! I can see him, over in the corner, fighting the blond alien off furiously, his face a mask of rage. I look over at Liz, who is climbing out of the window with Alex and I start towards them. I want to be safe, oh yes I do.
But I can't leave Kyle. I can't leave my brother.
I didn't realize what I'd thought till I'd gone over, balled my fists together, and swung them at the blond alien's head. I'd already hit him once, what would it take to get this guy to stay down? Then I realized what I'd thought. 'Brother.' I'd thought of Kyle as my brother.
My joined hands connect with a resounding, satisfying smacking noise, and I watch as the blond alien staggers back. I feel like I've broken all of my fingers. "Come on Kyle!" I scream, grabbing him and pushing him towards the window. I can see the other blond alien, Isabel, rushing towards us and I run as fast as I can, half-dragging Kyle with me.
We get to the window and he turns to me. "You first," he says, in his 'I'm Kyle Valenti, and you're just my stepsister' voice, but I'm in no mood to disagree. I start to climb outside--I'm going to run screaming into the night, I want to get away from this nightmare I've stumbled into. How does Jim manage to deal with this--these aliens--on a regular basis? I'll have to be more understanding when he comes home all crabby.
I can see the window ledge and I reach for it. But then something cold and wet slides across my arm and I turn back. Kyle's back is to me, and his neck has a huge gash across it. I can see blood, a steady brownish-red stream of it, leaking out across his back and down over my arm.
"Kyle!" I grab his arm, squeeze it till he turns and looks at me. "You're hurt, you've got to go first!"
He shakes his head and I can tell he is going to argue. "No!" I tell him. "Go."
He smiles at me, just briefly. "There's no arguing with you, is there? You're as bad as your mother."
I shake my head, and he moves towards the window, starts to climb out. I can hear myself chanting "Hurry, hurry" and then he's out the window and reaching back inside, I can see his hand reaching down towards mine, hear him say "No Alex! Go! I've got to wait for my sister!"
And stupid, stupid me pauses when I hear that. Sister. And then there is a voice in my ear, harsh and angry. "One Valenti is as good as another." I turn and there is the blond alien--the one I saw earlier, who grabbed me in the office, the one I was stupid enough to talk to, the one I just hit -- right behind me. I open my mouth to scream, I reach for Kyle's hand, I am going to get out of here, this is a bad dream, I'm going to wake up soon...
And then there is blackness.
"You were supposed to grab Valenti's son."
That's the first thing I hear when I wake up. My head hurts a little, and it's so dark that it takes my eyes a second to adjust.
I seem to be in the back seat of a car, and after a moment, I realize I'm in an old Army jeep. I haven't been in one of them in years--the government allowed people to have cars by the time I was seven and no one drives jeeps anymore, but I guess the aliens need them to drive around in the desert.
"Well, how could I when he'd already gone and climbed out the window? Besides, you were supposed to have him at the jail, not him and his sister and a bunch of other slack-jawed humans."
I resent that. "Liz and Alex are not slack-jawed!" I turn to glare at whoever said that, and my eyes meet those of the alien I hit earlier, the one who grabbed me in the jail. He looks really angry and I can guess why. I can see the shadow of a bruise on his face, even in the almost non-existent light. He glares at me, and I glare right back, too angry to be afraid.
He laughs and turns away. "Now see what we're stuck with Isabel? "
"You should fix your eye, Michael. Or let me do it." The girl, Isabel, turns around in the front seat, reaches back towards his face. He pushes her hand away. Michael. What a perfectly horribly name for a perfectly horrible alien.
"Both of you messed up." A dark-haired alien guy-the one I saw Isabel gesture at inside the jail--turns around briefly, and then looks back at the road. "How do we know that Valenti will bargain for her?"
"She's his daughter" Michael says impatiently. "That guy, what's his name, he called her sister."
"Kyle," Isabel says absently at the same time I say "Stepsister."
The dark-haired alien turns again and looks at Isabel. "You talked to him?"
"You're supposed to be driving Max" she says sharply, and then turns to Michael. "She's not even Valenti's daughter. What good will she be?"
"How do you know she's not Valenti's daughter?"
Isabel looks away from Michael and Max and glances out at the dessert. "I saw his memory of the wedding. Her mom to his dad. She's not his sister."
Michael's hand, which is wrapped around my arm--holding me in place I guess, though I'm not stupid enough to throw myself out of an old, speeding jeep into the desert that aliens inhabit-especially at night-- tightens and I gasp as a sudden rush of worry and anger hit me. I think I'm going to throw up, the feelings are that intense. I didn't realize I was that upset. I can hear myself gagging and Michael's hand moves away from my arm. He says "What do you mean you saw it?" The worry and anger are gone, or at least knocked back a bit, and I take a big breath and concentrate on not puking. And then I realize that maybe it wasn't me who was feeling that angry and upset.
"He came to the jail-and you weren't there." Isabel says this angrily, glaring at Michael. "And he was really mad and I was just trying to keep him away from me."
"You're lying." Max speaks again and his voice is flat. "I can tell. Why are you lying, Isabel?"
She sighs and says "Keep your eyes on the road Max. And I'm not the one who screwed this all up. Michael is the one who got there late because he stopped to gawk at the girl--who isn't even Valenti's daughter."
"How do you know she's not his daughter? Just because you think you saw something in his son's head? Yeah, Isabel, sure. Whatever. "
Michael turns and his hand wraps around my arm again. "He's your father, right?"
I can almost hear him searching through my memories. They float in my head: the memory of the A I got in music last year (the first A I'd gotten in a class since I was a little kid), the memory of the time Jimmy Ford took me out to eat and ditched me to make out with Cheryl Fontana in the restaurant bathroom, the memory of the wedding--the new dress I got to wear, which was nice, even if it was yellow, and I hear myself say, faintly, "Jim's not my father. He's my stepfather."
The jeep stops. I feel myself pitching forward, and I wonder if I'm going to hit my head. How fitting. Dead in a car accident. Mom is always saying that I'm not a very good driver, and that if I'm not careful I'm going to wreck the car, and then Jim will worry more about me than he usually does, and he has enough to worry about.
At the last second, I feel myself being pulled back. Michael yanks me back into the seat and glares at me again. I feel his hand drop away from the back of my shirt, and I breathe a sigh of relief. Having someone inside your mind is a weird thing.
"What did she say?" Max has turned around completely, and he is staring at Michael. He doesn't look happy.
Michael actually looks a little nervous. "He's her stepfather. They're not related by blood."
"See!" Isabel throws her hands in the air in a gesture of exasperation. I didn't know aliens could do that. Get exasperated, I mean. I didn't think they made mistakes, to tell you the truth. "Now what are we going to do?"
Max closes his eyes and sighs. "Michael, why did you...oh, this is bad. Come on Isabel, we need to talk." He gets out of the jeep and Isabel says "Now? Here?"
Max says, "Yes. Here. Now. Before we get back. If we can think of a reason why we grabbed her, or a way to salvage the situation, we have to do it right now. We don't need anyone figuring out that we messed up. We're already in enough trouble."
Isabel nods and gets out of the jeep. "Hey!" Michael says. "What about me? Don't I get a say?"
Max shakes his head. "No, Michael. You don't. Isabel is right. You were late. And the person who's sitting next to you isn't Kyle Valenti. So you get to keep an eye on her. And we'll figure out how to make this all work."
Michael mutters something very unkind under his breath and slouches down in the seat. Then he sits up again, abruptly, and turns to me. "Why did Kyle call you his sister then?"
I shrug. I'm out in the desert, and it's night. If I got out of the jeep now and ran, the aliens might not find me. And if I found somewhere warm to sleep, and if I was able to figure out where I am in the morning, I might be able to get home. Max and Isabel are distracted, they are standing about twenty feet away from the front of the jeep, and they might have a hard time seeing because Max left the headlights on. It's not much of a head start, but it might be enough.
"Forget it. You'd freeze to death even if you were smart enough to find somewhere to hide."
I look over at Michael. He is smirking at me. Then I look down and see that he's touching my arm again. He's reading my thoughts, and I jerk away from him. "Don't do that!"
He shrugs. "It's not my fault that humans are easy to read." And then he clamps his hand around my arm again. "And I don't feel like chasing you around the desert, so you're staying here."
He's tired. And he's mad at himself. If he hadn't stopped to talk to me--that was really stupid, why did he do that? And who knew I could hit so hard? He'll actually have to fix the bruise on his face. And how come no one ever mentioned that human skin is so soft? He remembers the feel of my hand, my fingers touching his, and he's wondering what the skin on my face would feel like...did he really just think that? About a human? How strange.
I can hear his thoughts. He must realize it at the same time I do--at first, his presence in my mind was simply so bizarre that I thought I was imaging his voice--but I didn't, I can hear him. What did he think human skin was like anyway? Lizard skin? I'm not the one who spends all my time living in the desert like some big reptile. Maybe the aliens have forked tongues or something. Jim says they are a lot like humans, but maybe he was lying. I didn't know that humans could sense alien thoughts too. I thought the thought- seeing process just worked one way. Wow, that sounds strange. I wonder if Jim knows about this. Wait, I can't hear what Michael is thinking anymore. Is he not thinking? Maybe he's tired, or maybe aliens are just really stupid and can't think more than one thought every two minutes or something. After all, they did mess up their plan and...
"You're sensing what I'm thinking?" He's angry again, and hearing the words spoke and reverberating around in my mind is too much, like the time Mom and Jim got home and found me and Kyle trying everything in the liquor cabinet and they both started hollering at the same time. It's an overlapping echo of words.
"Shit!" Michael's hand drops away from my arm and the awful pressure is gone, I don't hear my thoughts and his and him talking. It's not quite so loud in my mind anymore.
"You aren't supposed to be able to do that" he hisses at me and I shake my head. I feel really tired all of a sudden and kind of sick.
"I didn't mean to" I sound whiny and my voice is higher than normal. I think I must be in shock. How surprising. But then, I'm out in the desert, at night, with aliens, who are taking me to who knows where to do God knows what and it turns out that when they look into my mind I can see into theirs. I think I'm keeping it together pretty well, all things considered.
I turn to tell Michael that, then I realize that he probably doesn't care. No, he wouldn't care at all. The thought strikes me as very funny--he can see whatever he wants about me whenever he wants to, and it would take him thirty seconds to figure out all the stuff I've hidden from Mom and Jim (like the fact that I failed my last two chemistry tests, for instance) and I start giggling. The aliens have missed their calling. They could move out of the desert and start working as psychics. I bet they'd make a fortune. I look over at Michael, who is looking at me like I'm crazy and I can just seem him now, doing an infomercial on tv for a psychic hotline, and I start laughing harder.
"Michael! What are you doing?" Max sounds a little alarmed.
"Nothing. She just started laughing."
I hear Max walking over towards the jeep and I'm still laughing. Nothing is really very funny now, but I can't seem to stop laughing. In fact, I'm laughing so hard that I'm crying and I think about how Mrs. Evans, who used to live down the street from me and Mom, laughed when they told her that her husband was dead, that he'd accidentally stepped on a land mine while on patrol trying to make sure that the outskirts of Roswell were safe. She laughed and laughed and laughed and then she started screaming and they had to take her to the base hospital, and she never came back, not even to pack up her things.
I can see Max now, looking at me, and he looks confused. He lifts up his hand towards me, and I move away. I've had my mind read enough for today, thank you very much.
Then I hear Isabel's voice. "You've got to calm her down. See if you can sense anything about if Valenti cares about her too. And hurry up, I'm cold"
Max doesn't move.
"What, you mean me?" Sarcasm laces Michael's voice. "You mean you want me to do something? I thought I was just supposed to sit here, Isabel."
"Shut up and take care of it Michael."
Max closes his eyes. "Isabel. Don't. And I still want to talk to you about Valenti's son."
Max and Isabel start to argue again and I try to listen, but I'm still crying and I'm being really noisy. I'm actually embarrassing myself, but I can't seem to stop.
Michael lets out a disgusted-sounding sigh and grabs my chin, turns me to face him. "Stop it" he says, and I can hear it, him, inside my head. Stop it, stop it, stop it.
But I don't want to stop. I want to go home and I don't particularly want to die out here in the desert.
I can feel Michael's sigh settle around my ears. Maybe there are parts of the brain that are set aside to store alien thoughts. Sighs goes by the ears, shouts go behind the eyes.
I hear his chuckle in the base of my skull. He is rooting around in my mind again, searching through my memories. Looking for stuff about Jim.
I don't know what he's looking for. Stuff like that time Jim came and got me at school after I twisted my ankle during gym class? Or stuff like the time he found out that I'd made Mom cry and he got really mad and told me no daughter of his was going to make her mother cry? I was furious with him for that one--and angry with myself for kind of liking him calling me his daughter, and we hollered at each other for a long time until Kyle came in and told us to both shut up. That was so unexpected that we'd both started to laugh.
And there's Michael's chuckle again. He thinks that both of those memories will do very nicely, and that humans have the worst memory filing system ever. I wonder what would have happened if I'd been able to pick up a filing cabinet and hit him with it when we were in the jail office. I bet he would have stayed down then.
He wonders what would have happened if we'd talked longer, if he hadn't grabbed my hand. I wonder why no one told me that having someone inside your head was interesting in a strange sort of way. And how I was glad that there was a new cute guy in town before I found out he was an alien.
And then he's out of my mind and it's just the empty space of my own thoughts in my own head again. I look around for something to focus on and my eyes slide across Max. No, I don't want to look at more aliens. I look down at the floor instead.
Max is the first person to speak. "Did you see anything Michael?"
"Yeah. Valenti will bargain for her, I think."
"Ok. We'll just tell everyone that we couldn't get Kyle," Max stresses the name Kyle slightly, and I look up to see Isabel's face flush a little, see her eyes dart away from Max's face. "and that we took..." He turns to look at me. "What's your name?"
"Maria." Michael answers for me. "Her name is Maria."
"Right. That we took Maria instead. Michael, you get to keep an eye on her."
"Why me?" Maybe I'm imaging things, but I think he sounds sort of panicked by that.
"Because you're the one who fucked up." Isabel gets in the jeep as she says this, and Max shrugs at Michael. "She's right. Who knows what Valenti will do once he finds out we have his daughter."
"Stepdaughter," I say before I think about it, and Max, surprisingly, smiles at me.
"Right. Stepdaughter." Then he gets in the front seat and we head off into the dark again.
We drive for what seems like forever. I'm tired. I'm so tired that I can hardly keep my eyes open. But it somehow seems disloyal to fall asleep, like I'd be betraying everyone in Roswell if I did. It sounds stupid, but I want to prove to myself that I can do something, that I can take care of myself somehow. But it's so dark, and so quiet, and the humming of the jeep, the sound of the wind--it's making me sleepy.
Years ago, after all the fighting ended and Mom and I felt safe enough to leave the basement, I was afraid to fall asleep at night. I worried that the aliens would come and no one would be there to protect us, I worried that they would get Mom and I wouldn't be able to help her--I just plain worried a lot. I would lie there at night, tucked into my bed, and I would try so hard to stay awake.
I fell asleep every time. It seemed like the harder I tried to stay awake, the easier it was for me to fall asleep. I never understood it, but it didn't stop it from happening. When Alex and I were out in the desert for that stupid military "training," he mentioned that something similar happened to him. It was kind of nice to talk to someone about it--nice to know that it happened to someone else too. A lot of the time, I feel like I'm always out of step with everyone around me. That's mom's legacy to me, I guess--she's always been a little different too.
Yes, I'll be able to stay awake this time. All I have to think about is where I am and who is sitting next to me, and I feel that little spurt of panic in my chest. The kind of panic that makes your heart beat so hard that your chest actually hurts, the kind of panic that makes you open your eyes and look around in sudden terror.
I can hear Michael breathing, a dark noise near me; all the nightmares of my childhood come to life, the aliens are all around me.... I curl myself into the far corner of the seat, moving as far away from him as possible.
I'm really not sleepy. Not sleepy at all.
But if I do fall asleep--maybe when I wake up I'll be back in Roswell. I'd give anything for all of this to be a bad dream that will end when I open my eyes again. Note: The Pueblo people are thought to be descendants of the Anasazi, who built some amazingly beautiful cliff dwellings. For more information: http://www.indianpueblo.org/ and for pictures: http://www.southwest-usa.com/profiles/bandeliercliff.jpg http://www.aqd.nps.gov/grd/parks/band/photos.htm
I didn't wake up back in Roswell. I have been out here, in the desert, for about a week now. And things have not turned out like I thought they would, and I am confused.
I did actually fall asleep in the jeep that night, and I woke up because we finally stopped. I couldn't see the lights from the base at all, so I knew we were way out in the desert--farther out than I'd ever been before. Isabel disappeared out of the jeep as soon as we stopped, wandering off towards a large wall of rock.
Max got out and walked over towards the rock too. I just sat there and looked around. I wasn't sure what I was expecting, but it was more than what I saw, which was just rock and night and stars.
"Come on," Michael said. "Let's go."
He got out of the jeep and after a moment, I followed. Michael walked into the rock, which turned out to be some sort of bizarre stone formation.
That was my first big shock. I just assumed that the aliens lived in houses like we do. I don't know why I assumed that, because Mom is always insisting that the fact that the aliens live like the Pueblos' ancestors used to must mean something, and Jim is always telling her that it just means that no one, human or alien, would want to try to build a house on sand.
Anyway, Mom was right about the Pueblo thing. The aliens lived in this apartment building type structure, except it was built into rock. Michael saw the look on my face that first night and I could practically hear him getting offended by all my gaping. "Look," he'd said, "it's not like we can build a subdivision out here. We have to make do with what we have." And I suppose they'd done ok. I mean, they had just about everything we do. But it just wasn't what I expected.
My first night there, Michael walked me to what looked like a solid wall of rock and stared at me till I tried to find a door. There didn't seem to be one and I ended up just standing there, staring down the hallway, listening to how quiet it was.
He cursed a bit, muttered that all humans were useless, and then he did something that opened part of the rock and pushed me inside. Aside from the interesting door thing--the only sign of non-human technology I'd seen, everything about the room I was in was normal. Bed, window with a view of dark sky, bathroom, carpet. Stone walls were the only things that separated it from one of the army's dormitory rooms in the base at Roswell.
I guessed I was supposed to sleep, but I was wide awake again and I was scared. I was inside some enormous rock with who knows how many aliens--it was like something out of those horrible survival films, with titles like "What To Do If You Are Captured," that they used to show at school or in training sessions. So far, I hadn't done anything like I was supposed to. I forgot to leave any clues that could help trackers find me, I hadn't tried to find out where we were going so I could figure out how far I was from Roswell, and I didn't know how I could find any useful information, since I wasn't sure why I was there. I'd always assumed I'd be safe, I always assumed that those films were a joke, and that nothing would ever happen to me.
Suddenly the room was too small, the stone walls too oppressive and close. I thought that if I was outside, maybe I could at least guess where Roswell was, maybe I wouldn't feel so scared. I went back over to where I thought the door was and pressed against the rock. I didn't find anything and I broke one of my fingernails. As stupid and as trivial as that was, that split fingernail is what made me start crying. I looked down at my finger, at the piece of nail that was hanging crookedly, and I just started to bawl.
Then the door opened, and I stepped back in surprise. I wiped my face and looked out into the hallway.
Michael was sitting on the floor across from the door. He wasn't moving, but I could see that his eyes were open, because the light from my window, as dim as it was, was reflecting off them. After a moment, I said his name hesitantly. I go to school with four Michaels, I say their name all the time, but his name, his version of Michael, it sounded strange. Different. He didn't reply and I wondered if maybe aliens slept with their eyes open.
I don't think I've ever felt so alone. I never felt my humanness, never really noticed it or what it meant, as acutely as I did in that moment. I am human. Do you know what that means? I never did before that night. But I understood then--I felt the weight of who I am, of what I am.
There are tons of books about strangers in a strange land, and for the first time, I finally knew why my English teachers were always babbling about the theme of alienation. I was utterly alone, an alien in the midst of other aliens. It's the sort of thought that makes your head hurt, and I could feel a throbbing pain in my temples. Too much information, too much feeling--just too much, and I couldn't do anything about it.
"You'll be ok. Don't worry."
That was all he said, and he wasn't even touching me. And yet he knew I was worried anyway. That scared me more than anything else--more than what happened in the jail, more than feeling him inside my mind, more than walking into a rock full of aliens. He knew I was scared, he could understand how I felt-the aliens had feelings too. I wanted to run away, but I couldn't. I just went back inside the room and after a moment, the door closed.
I sat there on the bed, looked out the window, and thought about Michael sitting out in the hallway. And then I cried until the sun came up.
The next few days were like a surreal dream. There were just so many surprises. For one thing, the aliens were all young. Most of them were my age or a little older. I saw only a handful of people even close to Jim's age. How could that be? The aliens had been around for years--but the ones I saw would have been my age or younger during the worst of the fighting in the early 1980s--how could they have fought? It didn't make any sense.
I was actually so confused by it that I asked Michael about it. He was my unwilling chaperone--apparently Max and Isabel were still upset at him, and keeping an eye on me was his punishment, but they'd apparently managed to concoct some sort of story about how I was a better bargaining tool for them. And the aliens all seemed to believe it. They mostly avoided me--leaving the room if I came into it, whispering to each other whenever I was around.
Three years ago, an alien got caught stealing food from the base, and Jim kept it in town for a few days. We all went to take a look at it, and I peered at it like everyone else did. Now I knew how that alien felt--the utter humiliations of being a walking, talking, freak show; a spectacle that everyone wants to see and talk about, but not view as real, not view as someone with thoughts and feelings.
Oh, a few of them spoke to me. The ones who'd actually met humans--most of them knew my mother and Jim--they would ask me cautious questions, which I always answered with the help of Michael, who willing or not, was always broadcasting his thoughts to me because he was always touching me--grabbing my arm to pull me into another room, pulling my arm to get me to start moving. Jim and Mom were always careful when it came to giving out personal information--who wouldn't be?-- and I learned that Jim and Mom just referred to Kyle and I as "the kids," and so there were some shocked stares when I would mention that Jim wasn't my father.
I was in a bad mood by my fourth day there--so far, all I'd been asked is why all "my kind" did was hide inside forts and attack the poor defenseless aliens, which made me furious--but whenever I mouthed off about how the aliens hadn't been so defenseless when they killed most of the residents of Roswell--all I got were puzzled stares. So I finally broke down and asked Michael, "How come no one mentions what happened in the 1980s? After all, it was victory for all of you, right? I would think you'd want to rub it in."
"The fighting. How come no one mentions it? Even the ones who would have been old enough to fight look at me like I'm crazy. Did you have a mass memory wipe or something?"
He glared at me and I glared right back. "I don't know what you're talking about" he said slowly, carefully.
We were standing outside my room at the time--and I was so irritated at having been through another frustrating, pointless, frightening day that I forgot to be cautious. I could see that he thought I was lying and I grabbed his hand without thinking.
I could feel his shock as my memories of that time hit him. He was silent for a long time. "I thought...I thought it was an exaggeration," he finally said. "I mean, we always heard stuff, and we'd been told things by humans, but we just figured..."
And then he walked off. He didn't remind me to go inside my little cell; he didn't say anything. He just walked off.
I wanted to feel vindicated, but I was more puzzled than ever. I could hear the shock in his voice, I'd felt it in his thoughts as they went through my mind. I thought about leaving--but I would undoubtedly pass aliens on my way out into the desert, and more than trying to figure out how to get to Roswell, more than trying to live in the desert on my own--the thought of all those stares scared me. I couldn't do it. So I went into the room (I refused to think of it as my room) and I looked out the window. I had memorized the view already.
Max and Isabel came in a few minutes later. To tell the truth, I wasn't even surprised to hear them come in. I'd already managed to gather by then that they were respected by all the other aliens, and that it was their agreement to the plan to kidnap Kyle that got it to happen and that they were the ones who found a way to fix things when the wrong person got taken. Max asked me about the fighting and I told him that yes, it was true. He said the same thing Michael did, which is that he assumed it was exaggeration and rumor. "Go ahead and take a look," I told him, which clearly startled him.
But he did--he came over and put his hand on the back of my neck. And I could sort of sense what he was doing--it was like a nagging tickle in my mind, sort of like when you get an itch in your throat--but it was nothing like Michael's presence, which was so clear and so *there* that you couldn't escape it. After a moment, Max pulled away and gestured at Isabel.
She compressed her lips together, her mouth pulled into a tight line of strain, but she came over and did the same thing. I felt her presence even less that Max's, except for a brief spurt of fury that spilled over into my mind as she bumped up against what seemed to be one of my Kyle memories.
It didn't make sense to me. I'd always heard that aliens could sense thoughts, of course, but I just figured that Jim and everyone else who had any sort of power withheld the information about how the mind reading thing went both ways to avoid scaring people more. Having them read your thoughts was bad enough--a fear of that had been drummed into me since childhood--but knowing that they could form some sort of connection with you, that you could see their thoughts--that was even scarier. I knew that when I allowed myself to think about it, it terrified me. Sure, what Max and Isabel had done was intrusive, but it was nothing like having Michael's presence, his shadow, if you will, inside my head for the better part of eighteen hours a day. It forced an intimacy that neither one of us knew what to do with.
"What do you make of it?" Max asked.
Isabel shrugged. "The fighting? Who knows." She shot Max a look that said, 'we can talk about this later.' "As for the rest, it's shock, probably. I mean, that sort of connection doesn't just happen--and with humans...well, you know."
Max nodded and turned to me. "You aren't really sensing Michael's thoughts, you know. You just think you are. It's just because all of this is so....new to you."
"I'm imaging it?" I couldn't help it--Max's words made me laugh. "If I was going to make something up, why would I make that up?"
Max shrugged and looked away, but Isabel's eyes met mine for a second. I could tell that she didn't think I'd made it all up, but she wasn't going to say anything. "You've been through a lot" she finally told me, and her voice was almost kind. "Everyone is capable of seeing things that aren't there once in a while."
I didn't say anything, because as far as I could tell, they weren't going to believe me, and nothing was going to be gained by my insisting that I was telling the truth. Besides, since when did I care what aliens thought of me?
"You should be able to go home soon," Max said.
I turned to look at him, surprised. "Really?"
"Yes. I sent someone to see Valenti today." Max gave Isabel a small nod. She sighed and said, "I'll go get Michael."
After she left, Max and I just stood there, waiting. I don't like silences much, and I really don't like awkward silences. I ended up blurting out the first thing I thought of, which was "So, why am I here?"
Max gave me an incredulous stare. I couldn't tell if he was surprised that I asked or surprised that I didn't know. When Michael came, Max suggested we go for a walk. I wanted to say no--but Michael's hand brushed against mine, and I saw that when Max asked, you complied.
So Michael, Max, and I ended up going for a walk. I really didn't want to go--Max was so remotely polite that he scared the hell out of me, and he hadn't looked happy when I asked why I had been taken from Roswell.
"You know, you don't have to drag her around, Michael. Where is she going to run to?" Max's tone was mild, but the look he sent Michael was very intent.
"You're not the one who has to watch her eighteen hours a day, Maxwell."
"I suppose I could find someone else to do it."
Something swept through Michael's mind, so quickly that I couldn't catch it. I looked at him, and he stared back at me. I couldn't see anything in his eyes, and his mind was mostly blank, filled with thoughts of boredom and hunger. "Valenti said he wanted to see her before he did anything."
The change of subject caused Max to stop so abruptly that I almost bumped into him. "What?"
Michael shrugged. "That's what he said. I'm supposed to take her out to meet him tomorrow."
Max bit his lip, and closed his eyes briefly. The gesture made him look younger, more vulnerable. "I wasn't expecting that" he finally said. "But he'll agree to what we asked for?"
Michael laughed. "Oh yeah. We could have asked for more, I think."
"No." Max's voice was sharp, and I could feel Michael's surprise. "It's bad enough that it's come to this. The sooner all of this is over, the better." He gave Michael one last, careful look, and walked off.
"I guess the walk is over." I suppose I sounded pretty cheerful. And yes, I was curious as to what they were talking about. But I wanted to go home more, and just the thought of it--going home!--was enough to make me not care too much about anything else. The thought of home--my room, Mom, Liz, Alex; heck, even Kyle and Jim--it was enough to make me smile. Michael's hand tightened around my arm for a second, and then he let go. I almost missed his presence--I was that used to feeling him in the back of my mind.
"You want some water?"
He was mad about something. I could tell from the tone of his voice, from the glint in his eyes. That should have made me start to realize that things had changed, it should have made me start to worry--I'd noticed him enough and I knew him well enough to know when he was upset. I nodded and took the container cautiously. The aliens were pretty stingy with food and water though, and I wasn't about to turn down anything to drink.
When I was done, I handed the container back to him. He wiped the mouthpiece off with his shirt. I almost said 'What good will that do? Your shirt is dirtier than the container' but then I realized he was doing it to prove a point, to show me how he felt about humans, about me. I felt a blush creep over my face, and I felt the sharp rise of anger. I couldn't pinpoint why I was mad, and that made me even angrier.
"I hate you" I hissed at him, and in that moment, I did hate him. I hated the desert, so bright and boring and endless. I hated the stupid rock that I'd been living in. I hated the way all the aliens stared at me like I was a display at a museum or a trained monkey, and most of all, I hated the way Michael could make me so angry for reasons that I couldn't understand.
He leaned in towards me, his hands brushing against my arms. For a moment, a moment of sheer terror and something else--a feeling almost like anticipation, I thought he was going to kiss me.
"No, you don't," he said, and he smiled at me. And he was thinking about kissing me.
I pulled away from him, fast. It was one thing to think that he might be thinking about kissing me. It was another thing entirely to see that he was. I walked back into the rocks, wanting, for the first time, the four stone walls of my little cell, the window that looked out onto nothing. Michael scared me, but more than that, I was scaring myself.
And then it was that next day, come sooner than I was ready for. Michael came to get me in silence, and we climbed into the jeep and headed out into the desert.
We drove for what seemed like an eternity, over endless hills and valleys of sand. Eventually, he stopped, and I realized we were on one of the bluffs that rise up on the outskirts of Roswell. For the first time in days, I could see the town. It was almost embarrassing, how much I missed Roswell and the people in it. I didn't know what to say to him--and when I finally spoke, my voice was almost hesitant. "Now what do we do?"
He sighed. "We wait. Do you think you can handle that?"
"Hey, that's what a Roswellian knows how to do best. Wait."
"Yep. Wait for school to get over, wait for work to end. Wait, wait, wait. I'm good at it."
"I thought work was fun for you"
"What?" I turned to look at him.
"I, uh, saw you in that café when I came to town. You were laughing." He looked away from me. "You looked happy."
I could feel my face turning red and I looked down at my hands. "Work is ok sometimes, I guess. How come I didn't see you?"
He laughed. "Why would you have noticed me? Besides, you weren't supposed to see me."
I would have noticed him, I did notice him when I finally saw him. I remembered my first thought when I saw him at the jail: 'Oh, cute guy.' I took a quick look over at him and noticed that he was staring down at the jeep dashboard as if it was the most interesting thing in the world.
"Well, you got my attention later." I tried to laugh, but it came out as a strangled little cough. "I was surprised to see you at the jail, that's for sure."
He looked over at me, and he smiled. "Yeah, I could tell." I smiled back at him, and he cleared his throat. "Have you lived in Roswell for a long time?"
Good, I thought. A question that isn't quite so...unnerving. "I've always lived in Roswell. I mean, ever since I can remember. I was born in Texas, but my mom came here with my dad right after I was born. My dad left after they'd been in Roswell for a while."
"He left you? How could...I mean, why did he?"
I smiled at that. I don't know why I did, but I know I couldn't help it. "He told my mom he was an alien hunter. Turns out that he'd never even seen an alien before. After he saw one, he freaked out and left."
"Because of the alien?"
"That's what he told Mom in the letter he left for her. She figures he just couldn't deal with being married. She always said we were better off without him."
"Do you miss him?"
"I used to. When I was little, I used to think about him a lot. Why he left, if he'd come back, that sort of thing. But he never tried to see me or anything. I got used to it. Do you miss your parents?"
"I never knew them. They died right after I was born. Max and Isabel are my cousins, I'd guess you'd say. We're all family here though. We all came here together."
"So where do alie...where did you come from?" I wanted to wince as soon as the words were out of my mouth.
He gave me a lopsided smile. "A pod."
"Really? I thought," I could feel my face turning red again, "I thought that aliens were born the same way as humans. My mom was--is--part of the diplomatic corp. She spent a lot of time out with your people (I wondered if that was the right word to use, but what else could I say?) two summers ago, and she said..."
"Yeah, I remember her. She showed us pictures of you and Kyle. And she likes to make slogans for everything. 'Work For Peace'--that's one I remember."
My mother and her idealism, plus her penchant for photo display. How embarrassing. I hope she didn't show baby pictures. "Yeah, mom likes stuff like that. When she and I first moved to Jim's house, a couple of months before the wedding, Mom tried to get Kyle and me to get along by setting up some sort of incentive program. She made a little cardboard chart, and we were supposed to put stars on for each day we had without a fight. The slogan on top of the chart was "Learning to Get Along" and I gave Kyle a black eye when he called Mom's idea lame. It was lame, but still..."
He laughed. "Sounds like it was about a successful as 'Work For Peace.' But she did try, which is more than I can say for most humans."
He gave me an oblique look, and for a second I thought he would argue with me. But he had seen my memories of the past, he knew that I wasn't lying. "Yeah. Anyway, the pods are just for travel. We're born just like you are."
"A bunch of us came here about ten years ago--but travel through space is different than regular travel, and you have to be sort of sealed or else you'd be too old to work or do anything else when you got here."
"What?" I knew the aliens traveled to get here in the first place, and Jim (and my teachers) had explained how travel in space is different because of the distances involved and how it's necessary to slow the body down so that you don't age at the normal rate, but it was always something that I nodded at and didn't think about. But Michael had done it. He came from somewhere far away, really far away--and he came to Roswell.
"I know. All this way to end up in Roswell. Hell, not even in Roswell. Out in the desert. But that's what the pods are for. We landed, I came out of it. I was four when we left and six when we landed."
He wasn't even touching me and he knew what I was thinking. Again. It wasn't really that cold--the desert heats up during the day, even in winter--but I still felt a chill of something move across me. "You weren't here for all the fighting, then. You really didn't know about it."
"No. There aren't too many of us left from those days--most of us that are here now came when I did. I mean, I heard rumors--stuff from people like Jim--but you know how..." He trailed off awkwardly.
He was going to say, "you know how humans are." It made me angry, and I started to protest, but then I realized that if the situation were reversed, and he told me that he didn't know what had happened in the past--if I hadn't felt the shock of him realizing that I'd seen things that he'd only heard whispers about--I would have thought the same thing. *You know how aliens are*. How many times have I heard that over the years? How many times have I said it? "Do you think Jim will be here soon?"
He looked away from me. "I don't know. Do you want some water?"
"Sure." I would have welcomed a repeat performance of yesterday, another show of his disdain for me.
He handed me the water and I drank some and gave the container back to him. I noticed that he didn't wipe it off before he drank. I watched his throat work as he swallowed and it made something inside me twist and fall loose, a softening. "Thanks."
It was the first time he'd ever said that to me, and it was my turn to look away. "How come you live in the desert?"
He looked startled, and I was almost sorry that I asked the question. But I was too comfortable with him, I was starting to like talking to him, I was noticing things that I shouldn't, and I needed the distance.
"I guess it's because that's what our home is like."
He shrugged. "I think so. I don't really remember much. I was little when I left, but I remember that it was a lot like this." He gestures around at all the sand. "Bright. Hot. Empty. But the sun was a lot bigger, and red."
"Do you think that...?" I wasn't sure how to end my question. I've had enough science to know that it sounded like his world was dying. I thought about what Jim had always said, what I've always heard--that the aliens' planet is beautiful, a paradise, and that they are just here because they can be.
His mouth compressed, his lips pulling into a thin line. "Forget what I said."
"Just forget what I said, ok?"
"Why?" I reached out to him without thinking, my hand brushing his shoulder. I couldn't help it, I'm a tactile person. That's Mom's word for it. Kyle says I'm grabby.
The connection was sudden, immediate. I saw him as a child, sitting in a room. Max and Isabel and others were with him, and an older alien, one I haven't seen, was lecturing them. "The world you came from is a paradise. That is what you will say if you are ever asked. We can't afford..." There was a break as the alien came forward, picked up Michael's chin, looked into his eyes. "we can't afford to let them know that we need to be here. They fight us too much already. Will you remember Michael? Will all of you remember?"
I saw that he didn't want to let anyone down. That what he has now is all he has, he can't go home, none of them can go home, and what would happen to them if we--humans-- found out?
"I won't tell." I said the words as I thought them and they hovered between us.
I was lying. I thought of what Jim could do if I told him. Of how maybe there could be an end to all of the worries that grip Roswell and everywhere else. Of how it would maybe bring more problems, different worries--the aliens are never going to leave.
He wanted to believe me, but how could he? He had just seen what I thought, he could sense the panic that had risen in me with my last thought, my knowledge that the aliens' presence on earth will never end.
But his eyes--they called to me. The desert is the only world he has ever known. And he cannot help the connection we have.
I won't tell, I thought, and this time I was telling the truth.
I heard his acceptance of it. I couldn't help the connection we have either. I would keep his secret, and I wouldn't think about the consequences.
We smiled at each other, and I could tell he was thinking about kissing me before he did it. I saw the gossamer strand of the impulse as it formed. I did not turn away from it. It was something that had occurred to me, too, and we both knew it. But I had not acknowledged it, even to myself, until then.
It was a slow thing, a torturous wait of his doubts and mine--is this a mistake, is this the wrong thing, isn't this something that actually can't happen, will the desert open up and swallow us both? But we both still moved towards each other, hesitantly, our imaginations driving us.
His mouth was soft and the kiss was both better and more terrible than any other kiss I've had. Better because his mouth was firm and sure and because I wanted it touching mine--terrible because I felt his pleasure as well as my own and there is no way a kiss from a human can ever compare.
When we separated, I sat there in silence, waiting. He looked at me for a moment, and then he spoke. "We'd better go."
It was not what I expected him to say, and my surprise must have shown on my face. My arms were still wrapped around him, and his thoughts rose up like a tide in me.
He never went to see Jim. He lied to Max. He wanted to talk to me. He was glad he kissed me. Everything was a mess now, and what was he going to do?
I didn't know and I don't know how I feel about what I saw--I do not know what I will do with the knowledge of what he has done, if I will ever share it with anyone. He turned away from me, pulled away, and we drove back into the desert.
I went with him. I did not protest what he had done, I did not try to flee from him, I did not try to run for the safety of my home. I sat, a silent accomplice beside him. And now, remembering that moment, lying here in the room that is mine for who knows how long, I do not feel fear--I feel anticipation. If I opened the door, he would be out there, waiting for me. I am not ready for that step yet, but I fear that I will be soon.
I have to go home, I know that.
But do I want to?
I am Maria DeLuca. I am human. I want to go home. Roswell is my home.
I have to remember who I am. I recite the words, the phrases that I hope will define me, as I sit around during the day, waiting. At night, when I lie on the bed in the room I have been given and try not to think about what I could do, what I am pretty sure that I want to do, I close my eyes and picture the words, watch them wave in front of my eyes.
Michael and I rode in silence all the way back from the desert, the quiet between us taking on a life of its own. I wanted to think 'I can't believe what happened,' but I couldn't find the purchase I needed to lie to myself. When we got back, Max was waiting for us.
"How did it go?" he asked Michael, and I could hear the eagerness in his voice.
"It went ok," Michael said. He looked off to the side when he spoke, and I wondered if Max could tell that Michael was lying. "He said I should contact him again in a few days."
"Why?" Max's face fell when he spoke, and I knew I should say something. *I'm sorry Max, Michael lied. He never contacted Jim.* Not only would it get me out of whatever situation I was hurtling towards, it would get me home sooner.
"He has to get permission from the government before he can do anything." I heard the words come out of my mouth and...I wish I could say I was surprised by what I said. But I wasn't.
Max looked over at me. So did Michael. I don't know what Max said, I couldn't tell you if he looked surprised, or sad, or angry at what I said.
Michael is not an expressive man. I have been here...how long now? A week, maybe two - I'm not sure. My lack of interest in the passage of time should alarm me. It does not. But I know that Michael rarely smiles or frowns. He rants, he gets frustrated, he argues - but his face is always a mask - his expression smooth, or at most, derisive.
But when I lied, he looked shocked. His mouth fell open. He should have looked comical. He didn't. He blinked, so rapidly that I thought of hummingbirds - the way the air around them sings from the rapid beating of their wings - and then he looked away from me. "Yeah," he told Max. "Some sort of thing about clearing the request. Just a few days."
Max looked at me for a long time - so long that I grew uncomfortable under his stare and turned away from it. Then he sighed and when I turned back, he was looking at Michael. I watched as they stared at each other - both of their faces flat and impassive, their expressions revealing very little of what they were thinking.
"A few days?" he finally said, and Michael shrugged, nodded.
Isabel came over to where we were all standing. Her face was puzzled, and she spoke hesitantly. "Max? Is everything...?"
"Yes. Fine. We just have to wait a few days. In the meantime, could you watch Maria?"
Isabel's face twisted into an unhappy grimace. The feeling was mutual - I had no desire to spend time with her either. "Why?"
Max didn't say anything. He just looked over at her. Isabel shrugged, and said "Fine." She gestured at me, said, "Come on, let's go." So I left with Isabel, and I decided I'd think about everything later. It's always easy to put things off till later - so easy.
That night, the first night after Michael kissed me, there was a frost. Frosts are rare in New Mexico, even in the winter, but everything froze that night. I woke up in the middle of the night and looked at my window. It was covered with a white film, and I went and pressed my hand against the glass, watched as my palm left an impression on the window.
The next morning, there was a thin white blanket on the ground - a sheen of ice crystals that disappeared as soon as the sun moved into the sky. But it was cold inside the rocks, and I noticed that there were a lot of worried faces.
I wanted to wonder why - I knew that it had something to do with why I was there, and I was sure that it was important. But I couldn't find the will to think about it. I would try - would make myself search out faces when I walked down hallways with Isabel marching along ahead of me, would peer into doorways looking for hints of something as we passed. In the end though, I only thought of Michael. Wondering what he was doing, wondering if I would see him.
That is what shapes my days. Michael. What he has said, what I have said, what we have done. I know this path, these thoughts, are not what I should focus on, but I cannot seem to find anything else.
Isabel is my shadow now, although it would be more accurate to say that I am her shadow. She comes and gets me in the morning and I follow her all through the day. She has no interest in reading my mind, no real interest in talking to me. She sees me as a burden, and she is not afraid to tell me so.
I am supposed to stay away from Michael. Nothing has been said, of course - I think that for the aliens, even admitting that one of them wanted to spend any time with a human is something that is simply too absurd to be believed. But after Isabel became my escort, I noticed that I saw Michael very little. Glimpses here and there, a quick look as we walked by him or he came to ask her a question.
Maybe I'm imaging things; maybe the other aliens haven't noticed anything. Maybe there is a part of me that knows I should stay away from Michael and stares, aghast, at what I do, what we do. Either way, I have not stayed away from him.
The first day I spent with Isabel was boring - so boring and so quiet. There was no silence between Michael and me - if we weren't arguing, we were just absorbing each other's thoughts. The intrusiveness of him being in my mind became natural, and I missed it. I miss it. That's a frightening thought.
Anyway, during that first endless day with Isabel, I was actually looking forward to going back to the little room that is mine for now, was looking forward to getting away from Isabel's silences and careful, sharp questions. She asked questions that hurt: "Why hasn't anyone come looking for you?"
I even knew the answers to the questions she asked: Jim would want a peaceful resolution to all of this, not conflict. He wouldn't have let anyone look for me - he would have insisted that my disappearance be treated like anyone else's. But the implication in Isabel's voice made me wonder, and I didn't like that.
So that night - when I saw Michael in the hallway, I smiled. I smiled at him because I was happy to see him. That's a frightening thought too.
He looked surprised when I smiled, but just for a moment. Then he came over to me and touched my arm, stopped me. I looked at Isabel, who was striding down the hall ahead of me, intent on whatever it was she was thinking about.
She turned around after a second, of course, and told me to hurry up, but that moment, as brief as it was - and it was only Michael's hand touching my arm - made everything seem a little brighter.
In retrospect, I suppose I should have known what I was starting on the path to then. But it was so easy to rationalize it all, to tell myself that I was just doing what it took to get through the day. And to some extent, it's true. But the other part, the worst part, the truer part, is that whatever is between Michael and me has nothing to do with rationalization.
If this, any of it, ever comes to light - I think about that sometimes, as I sit silently with Isabel - how will I explain what I've done? The escalation, the walk down this path, it has been an easy thing, a pleasurable thing. My grandfather always says that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I always wondered what that meant, but now I think I understand. Does 'good' for you always mean good for someone else?
Finally my first day with Isabel was creeping towards an end. I had just finished waiting in line for a plateful of whatever mush they were serving that passed for food and I turned to walk out to where Isabel was sitting. The aliens all eat together, in a communal dining room that reminds me of our school cafeteria, or the so-called dining room on the base. I had to pass through a crowd of aliens - they were standing around talking about something - and Michael was on the edge of the crowd.
To get by, I had to walk past him. I turned as I did - I didn't need to turn, not really, but I did anyway - and I felt our bodies brush together - the bump of my shoulder into his chest, the slide of his hips against mine, the sudden hot surge of his thoughts. I did all of it gladly, with no small amount of joy. It was over in a second, but I replayed the moment endlessly.
After that, it was easy to graduate to telling Isabel that I was going to get water, or go to the bathroom, or even to just wander off for a moment. She didn't have me on her mind all the time; she had no interest in watching me closely. She knew I had nowhere to go, so it was easy to slip away.
The first time I did this - which was the second time Michael kissed me - I wouldn't let myself admit that I was trying to find him, that I wanted to be with him. It was a quick thing - a hand grabbed mine, spun me into a corner, the brief sensation of his mouth on mine, then my bemused glance as he wandered down the hall without looking back.
After the fourth - or was it the fifth? - time I did this, I stopped lying to myself and instead started pretending that whatever it was I was doing would have no impact on the rest of my life. It was just a series of moments, and that was all. That was all it could be. I had created an absolute to define a situation that existed without any boundaries, and I knew that. But I kept on pretending anyway.
Isabel is more forthcoming about what life is like for them, the aliens, than Michael had been. He knows that I am cataloging what I see, wondering how it could help Mom, Jim - everyone in Roswell. Isabel probably knows too, but she doesn't see me, or any other human, as much of a threat.
To tell you the truth, Isabel scares me more than any of the other aliens. She has no qualms about using her powers in front of me - summoning light where there isn't any, changing the shape of a rock, holding up CDs and listening to them - and she always looks at me as if I am an amusing anecdote - a joke of sorts, something that is almost funny, but not quite worth even a laugh.
In fact, the only thing that seems to agitate her is Kyle. And I only know this because she mentioned him by name twice. She never refers to humans by name - she is forever calling me 'you' or 'Valenti's daughter' - except for Kyle.
The first time she mentioned him was the day I'd passed Michael as I was getting food. I'd gone over and sat down next to her, my mind eagerly reviewing what I'd just done, and she said, "So, what happened to Kyle's mother?"
I choked on the water I was drinking and stared at her. "Why do you want to know?" I'm sure I sounded incredulous.
She looked down and fingered the edge of her plate briefly. "He... mentioned her."
I answered her as best I could - Kyle never really talked about his mother, and Jim had only mentioned the vaguest of details to me. When I was done, Isabel sighed.
That sigh - that was one of the few times I ever saw her as a someone around my age. She looked young and a little confused, and maybe even a little worried. But then she noticed I was looking at her, and her face cleared. She told me to hurry up and finish eating and it was as if that moment had never happened.
The second time she mentioned Kyle was today. It was morning, and I was still half-asleep. Isabel likes to get up early, so that means I get up early too, and I am not a morning person. We were sitting outside, on a ledge of rock that overlooked the desert, and she was looking off at the sky.
I was thinking about yesterday. Yesterday, Michael told Isabel that he needed to talk to me about Jim. I was sure that Isabel would know he was lying - even I could tell he was lying, but she shrugged and said, "Whatever gets her out of here quicker."
Michael nodded and gestured for me to follow him. We ended up in one of the endless series of hallways that branch off to nowhere. There are a lot of those around here. From what I can figure out, there were more aliens once, a lot more, and once they were gone (left? died? I don't know), the hallways they lived in just became unused, quiet.
I let him touch me in that quiet hallway, and I touched him. I worked my hands under his shirt, let him slide his hands over my skin. I could hear him breathing, I could hear myself breathing, and the sound of it was enough to make my skin prickle.
We separated because I had to go, because he could sense that Isabel was looking for me. So I left him, and went back to the endless round of waiting that is my life now.
This morning, after I managed to force my thoughts away from Michael, I started wondering why everything that goes on here seems to involve waiting. All of the aliens seem to be waiting - they stand around as if they are not sure what they are doing, as if they are not sure what is going to happen.
Then I started wondering why all the aliens look so worried, and why things had been extra quiet and extra tense since the night of the frost. I knew that there was something important that I needed to figure out, but I just couldn't put all the pieces together. I don't like puzzles; I have never liked them.
One of the few things Kyle and I have ever agreed on is our complete lack of interest in puzzles. Mom and Jim love them. Right after the wedding, when we were all 'adjusting,' Mom insisted that Kyle and I help them put a puzzle together as a 'family' thing. It was one of those horrible ten thousand piece puzzles that looks like a bad calendar picture when it's all put together. I think it was of trees or something, but I really can't remember. What I do remember is how I sat at the kitchen table, bored out of my mind, and thinking that if I ever had children, I wouldn't buy them any puzzles, ever.
Kyle looked as bored as I did and he was bending a piece of the puzzle back and forth between his fingers. The piece was getting all bent of shape and creased, and there was no way it would ever fit with whatever pieces it was supposed to. Jim looked over at Kyle and asked him what he was doing. "How is that piece ever going to fit now?"
I reached over and grabbed the piece out of Kyle's hand and placed it on the table. Then I picked up the puzzle piece I was supposed to be finding a mate for, and pushed it next to Kyle's. I had to bang my fist on the pieces to get them to fit together - they obviously weren't meant to join, but I didn't care - and when I was done Mom was looking at me as if I was crazy and Jim looked even more exasperated.
But Kyle started laughing and said, "There, it fits now," and I started laughing too and, after a moment, even Jim smiled. And after that, Kyle and I weren't forced to work on any more family puzzles.
The memory made me smile. I miss everyone so much - I miss Jim coming home and asking everyone how their day was and actually listening to the replies. I miss talking to Liz. I miss teasing Alex about his band. I miss the way my mother always has time to nag me about doing my homework. I even miss Kyle. I knew that whatever was going on with the aliens was something I needed to understand, and I hoped it would remind me of what I was missing. It would give me something to focus on, something to think about. Something that wasn't Michael-related.
I was actually pretty proud of myself. I was doing something; I wasn't just floating along, acting on my usually misguided impulses. I looked over at Isabel, trying to decide how I could get her to tell me what was going on.
There was a group of aliens working over on the rock ledge next to us. They seemed to be digging a series of trenches, but I wasn't really sure. Michael was with them, and I could practically hear my hastily formed ideas fade away as I looked at him. Wouldn't it be easier to just focus on the one thing that was bringing me happiness?
The thought paralyzed me. It was one thing to delude myself and pretend that everything I had done was just a series of events that had no connections - it was another thing entirely to realize that I was happy about it, with it. My terror at my own thoughts made me abandon any attempt at subtlety. "What are they doing?"
"Checking to make sure that our irrigation system is working." Isabel was looking over at the ledge too, and her voice was distracted.
That made sense to me. There's certainly not a lot of water in the desert, and how else would you get things to grow except by using irrigation? I suppose that growing things in the desert must take a lot of work - I can't even begin to imagine how much. And there'd been a horrible drought this past summer. Everyone in town had to ration water, which was a real pain. My mom's garden had pretty much died - all the plants had withered and baked in the sun.
The memory of my mother's garden - all those dead plants, their leaves black from the sun - that solved the puzzle for me. That one little piece, that one little memory. "You need food" I breathed, and Isabel turned to look at me.
It all made sense. The way the aliens are very stingy with water and with food - it's because they don't have much. And what better way to get what they needed than by bargaining with something or someone that those in power loved? No wonder Max and Isabel were so mad when they found out I wasn't Jim's daughter.
Isabel didn't say anything in response, but then, she really didn't need to. I turned my attention back to the knot of people working over on the ridge across from us. Michael was talking to someone, nodding at whatever it was they said, and I noticed that Max was there and was walking over towards Michael. I wanted to ask what was going on, but I knew Isabel would never answer that question. So I just contented myself with watching and wondering.
Max motioned to Michael and Michael walked over towards him. They spoke for a moment - Max's gestures were controlled and tense, and Michael...he just stood there. After a moment, Max made an abrupt movement, waving his hand in a gesture of dismissal, and I saw Michael stiffen. He pointed down at the ground, and then up at the sky, and then he started to walk away.
Max said something as Michael walked away - something that made Michael pause and turn around. He made a hesitant half-start in Max's direction - and for a moment, something in his expression looked almost penitent.
"Kyle messed everything up," Isabel said and I turned to look at her, surprised.
"If he hadn't..." she trailed off and glared at me. "Stay here. I'll be back in a minute."
She stormed off and I turned back, anxious to see if Michael and Max were still talking. But Michael was gone and Max was just standing alone near the edge of the ridge, looking out at the desert. After a moment, he turned and went back inside the rocks.
Isabel was gone for a while, but when she came back, she seemed almost cheerful. I could hear her humming a little as she looked out at the sky, and I settled back to pretend that I wasn't thinking about Michael, wondering what he'd done and where he'd gone.
And now he is back. Michael is back. He walks by where Isabel and I are sitting and his gaze sweeps over mine. I ball my hands into fists so Isabel will not see my fingers shaking.
"I'm going to get some water," I say. "I'll be back."
Isabel glances at me, and for a moment, I am sure she knows everything, and that she even understands, because her gaze is almost pitying. But her face quickly drops into her usual bored expression and she sighs. "Fine. Bring me some too, and make sure it's cold."
I walk down the hall slowly, wondering if the aliens I pass can see what I am thinking. Would they be horrified if they knew? Probably. What would Jim say? What would my mother say?
That last thought causes me to falter a little. Jim and my mother; they would be horrified too. For all the work my mother has done, all the things she's said, she and Jim and everyone else in Roswell just want peace. Not integration. Not what I'm doing, not what I've done.
I can sense him now. We are not supposed to spend time together. He is no longer ricocheting around in my mind for hours every day. And yet I am still aware of him in a way that I've been aware of no one else. There are signal towers outside Roswell - put up to monitor the aliens, to watch the skies, to keep an eye on the town. If you go to them, you can hear them working - a low humming noise that spreads out into the sky.
I'm like those towers. I am sure that my feelings for Michael - my confusion, my want - must be a beacon. I know he hears it, because his eyes meet mine as he starts down the hallway towards me.
I am still walking. I pass someone - an alien - whose eyes slide away from mine, who moves away from me. And yet I still walk forward. I am still an oddity to these people, to all of them.
Except for one. I can not look at him now. If - oh, how I long for this 'if,' though know it will never be, but I still dream of it - If he was a boy, just a human boy, and we were at school - my eyes would dart towards his, then away. I would whisper to Liz, and she and I would laugh. I would walk by him, and his eyes might meet mine. A promise. There would be none of this worry, this urgency.
Hurry, it will all end soon, you have to store up these memories. Hurry, don't think about this, how you are acting against everything you've learned. Hurry, because he is near me now, and his arm is reaching out towards me.
Hurry, because my hand clasps his willingly. Hurry, let the rush of his thoughts fall over me. If we were normal, if this were normal, his thoughts would be a mystery to me - I would torture myself by wondering if he liked me, if he noticed me.
But I see his thoughts and he sees mine. We cannot pretend as humans do, as perhaps aliens can do. We have established something that isn't supposed to be. Hurry, before I lose my nerve and scurry back to the safety of Isabel's mocking gaze.
He pulls me into a room. It could be a storage room, it could be anything. It is empty and bare, and I hear myself trying to justify what I am doing - look around, see if you find anything useful, Maria - remember what you've learned in school? - but I can't look around. My eyes are closed because I am waiting for him to kiss me, I want him to kiss me.
Hurry. That is what we are both thinking. Hurry because I have to go back to Isabel and to waiting. Hurry because he has sworn to Max that he has no interest in me other than making sure that Valenti bargains for me. Hurry because every moment is precious and has to be filled.
He saw Jim today. I see Michael waiting for Jim, talking to him, just briefly. I reach out eagerly for the memory of what Michael has seen - will I go home soon?
"Wait" he whispers to me. "Just let me touch you first."
As if I would say no. That thought - my assent, so freely given - will that trouble me later? Maybe. But I don't care now, my arms have opened and I am welcoming him.
I thought that perhaps Michael would be very polished and seductive - sliding my shoes off, opening the buttons on my shirt with one hand, whispering things into my mind. But he isn't, he has never been. It's as if both of us have been put into a world that we can't quite deal with and it has made us clumsier than usual.
He can't unbutton my shirt and my hands get tangled in his t-shirt when I try to pull it over his head. We both end up tugging our clothes off in between kisses.
I end up leaning back against the wall, which is cold, cold enough to startle me. I shut my eyes quickly as I look around, down, get a glimpse of myself. It isn't real if I don't see it.
His hands rest on my stomach and slide up, over my breasts. I can hear him, inside my head, whispering my name. Maria.
We kiss again and all I see is a jumble of images, of feelings. There is no breath in me at all, it is all gone, pushed out of me. Is this what it is like for aliens, all the time, every time? If it is, I can't imagine how they manage to get anything done. I would want to spend all my time like this.
There is his response - no, it isn't like this, that's why no one believed me when they saw me thinking about how I could see what he thought. This is new. Different. Better.
His mouth moves down my neck, across the top of my chest. My feet fumble for purchase, I feel the faint stab of rock against my bare skin. He catches me before I fall and lays me down gently on the cold floor. It should bother me - the rocks, the cold, what I am doing, but all I can sense, all I can feel is his mouth on my stomach, his wonder at what we have discovered, and the excitement we both feel.
Everything inside me is liquefied - as if my insides, myself had all been reduced to a slow boil of something that I can feel pressing against me - behind the backs of my knees, rolling inside my stomach, trapped behind my eyelids. I know I must be making noises, I can feel his reaction to my voice, which is broken and uttering his name, but all I hear is me waiting as his mouth moves lower.
And then his mouth touches a spot that makes my mind go blank and I don't see or hear anything but a white noise, a blanketing sound of pleasure that I feel everywhere. It is better than anything I have ever felt before and I open my eyes, no longer caring that I am not supposed to see this as real. I absorb the sight of Michael's head between my legs, an abstract concept rendered real by the feel of his cheek as it rubs against my thigh.
It's wrong. We have both heard that so often - no contact, no contact - that it is there, rasping against the back of our memories. He should have taken me today, when he went to see Jim, he should have let me go. There is no reason for me to stay, everything is set. But doesn't want me to go.
I don't want him to stop. I don't want to leave.
It's that last admission that sends me into a place where I can't think in terms of my thoughts and Michael's thoughts anymore, to a place where I am not sure where he ends and I begin.
It is almost unpleasant to come back, to realize that I haven't managed to transcend where I am and make everything possible. I say his name because I want to make sure that he is still here, that I didn't just imagine all this, that I am not going to wake up in the dank room that is my current home with a hot ache between my thighs.
I realize that his mouth is still between my legs at the same time he lifts his head up. I feel a blush start on my face and move down my body, see it as it passes over my chest and down my stomach. He smiles at me, and I feel disoriented, dazed.
He rises up, kisses me, and the pressure of his mouth is enough to remind me that I am still Maria DeLuca, and that I am still human. His mind opens fully to me; he passes his memory of his meeting with Jim over for me to see. I watch - I see Jim's worry for me, I hear the love in his voice when he tells Michael to "tell Maria that we miss her."
Yes, it will all end tomorrow. Whatever the aliens want and have bargained for will arrive, and I will be sent back to Roswell. Michael and I have no future; I knew that all along. This just makes it final, makes it clear.
I run my hands down his back and then up over his chest. His skin is soft, yet I can feel the knots of the muscles that cover his ribcage. That is Michael - a contradiction; a living, breathing, talking paradox that has pushed me into a strange world of our own creation, one where the fact that I am human and he is alien does not seem to matter.
But this - this moment, the few we've had before this - this is all we will ever have. These will be memories I unfold in the future, sensations that will probably not seem real to me, and I will have to hold on to them.
We will have to leave this room soon - this moment will end, as all the others have - but for just one shining second, this one last moment, I will allow myself the ultimate luxury. I will believe, just for now, that the fact that he and I are together is the one thing that matters.
The gods went to see Demeter, one after another, to try to turn her from her anger, but she listened to none of them. Never would she let the earth bear fruit until she had seen her daughter.
-- from the myth of Hades and Persephone
"Hurry up. We have to leave in ten minutes."
Isabel vanishes as quickly and as silently as she came, and I roll over onto my stomach. I'd never thought I'd say this, but I miss my alarm clock at home. Its incessant chirping beep is friendlier than Isabel is.
I get out of bed and stare blearily at the door. I'm going home. Today. I try a quick "Yay" but it comes out all funny and I get dressed quickly so I don't have to think.
I didn't sleep very well. Last night, I'd spent most of the evening sitting with Isabel and looking at Michael. Home. That's what I wanted to think about, but all I did was remember everything he and I have said to each other, everything we've done. I wanted to memorize his face because I am sure I won't ever see him again.
He wouldn't look at me. I told myself that feeling hurt was ridiculous, and felt hurt anyway. Isabel finally noticed me looking at him and took me to the room that's been mine all this time. "We're leaving early," she told me. "Get some sleep."
I looked around the room for a while, looked out the window for a while, and then made a mental list of all the things I would do when I got home.
1. Take a long shower.
2. Make mom order pizza and eat most of it.
3. Watch tv till my eyes hurt.
4. Never go near an alien again.
5. Never think about who is out here in the desert.
Never think about Michael.
I got up and wandered to the door every time I got to the end of the list. I could open the door, I'd finally figured out how to do it. I could go find Michael and...do what?
I don't know if it's even possible for Michael and me to do what I was thinking about. I figure it is, but it's not like the subject has ever been discussed at school, in training, or god forbid, at home. For all I know, I'm the only human who's ever thought about it.
Then I would realize that maybe I am the only person who's even considered such a thing and I would walk away from the door and sit back down on my bed. I did this six times, and then I realized that Michael could have come to me - and that he hadn't. It took me a long time to fall asleep after that.
I woke up in the middle of night. I heard voices outside my room - which meant that whoever was talking was shouting. That couldn't possibly be good.
I got up and approached the door cautiously. I opened it enough so I could hear what was going on.
"Max! I didn't think I'd see..."
"Where have you been?"
She sighed. "None of your business."
"Fine, Max. I stole some food. Are you happy now? You and Michael may have too much pride," (she sounded furious about this - but almost as if she was jealous, not angry) "but I'm not willing to starve, and I'm not above taking what I need. Sure, the Valentis made all sort of promises, but who knows what will happen after we take her back, Max? What makes you think that things will be better for us?"
"Something happened." Max sounded worried, really worried.
"What?" Isabel let out a little laugh. "Nothing happened."
"Something happened to you." I always wondered how Max ended up being the leader of whatever sort of clan thing the aliens had going, but hearing his voice at that moment explained a lot.
"Don't lie to me Isabel." I heard the sounds of a scuffle, then a gasp. "There's blood on you, and it's not yours."
"Don't! I mean it Max, just let it go. Please."
There was a sigh, and then footsteps. I backed away from my door, only to let out a small shriek of surprise when it opened all the way and Isabel stepped inside.
I never even noticed if there was blood on her, to tell you the truth. What I noticed was that her hair was messed up. I've been here, out in the desert, for weeks now, and I've never seen Isabel look anything less than perfect. But her hair was messed up, and her eyes were wild, confused.
"When you get home," she hissed at me, "you tell your brother that if I ever see him again...." She trailed off and I just looked at her. I had no idea what to say. After a moment, she turned and stormed out of the room.
I thought about Kyle - hotheaded, 'I hate all aliens' Kyle - and wondered what the hell he'd done this time. It took my mind off Michael for a while, and I was grateful for that. But it still took me a long time to fall back to sleep.
I'm actually ready to go before Isabel comes back, and I decide to go find her. The sooner I find her, the sooner we can leave, and the sooner I am home. I open the door and head down the hallway.
The only way I know how to get outside is by going down to the very bottom of this big rock. I don't see anyone as I walk, and I breathe a sigh of relief. I can't handle being the object of scrutiny this morning. I walk down endless flights of stairs, which make me think of that Escher print you see everywhere, the one with all the stairs that don't seem to go anywhere.
I pause halfway down the last flight of stairs and look up. All I see is the gentle slope of the stairs as they spiral up to the top. I press my hand against the wall till the cold passes into my palm, and then I tell myself that I'm being stupid and sentimental and that I'm not really expecting Michael to come and find me.
I finally get to the bottom and start walking down the last hallway. It's much colder down here - I suppose because this area doesn't get much sunlight. I'm not even sure exactly what is down here - I was always distracted when I was with Michael, and Isabel isn't the type to offer to take you on a tour.
I can hear Isabel talking as I reach the end of the corridor. I stop and listen for her voice, and realize she's in a room at the very end of the hall. I go and stick my head in the room, open my mouth to speak..
And don't. Isabel is in the room with another alien, one I don't recognize and they are looking down at a table. "You're sure it's all ruined?" Isabel asks.
"Yes," the other alien tells her. "I just finished checking. We don't have anything."
Isabel picks something off of the table. From where I'm standing it looks like a tiny piece of black paper. She closes her fist around it, and her hand glows for a second. She opens her hand up, and looks down at her palm. "It didn't work."
"How could it?"
"I just don't understand how this happened. We worked so hard at getting all the seeds sorted and separated - Max even had people working on the irrigation system, just to make sure everything was ready - and you're telling me that he's known since..."
Isabel curses and throws the seed back down on the table. "I thought the frost just ruined some of them, that only some of the seeds froze and then rotted. That's what everyone was told. That's what *I* was told."
"That's what Max asked me to tell everyone. He doesn't want anyone to worry."
Isabel shakes her head. "Max and his damned god complex."
No wonder the aliens have all looked so worried. No only do they not have any food, it looks like they don't even have a way to grow more. Now I know why everyone looked even more worried after that frost. My foot slips a little on the stones, and Isabel looks up and spots me.
"I've got to go" she tells the alien, and I pull back and stand in the hallway.
She comes out and stares at me for a moment. "How long were you there?"
I look at the wall behind her head. "Not long."
She sighs. "It doesn't matter anyway. I suppose everyone in Roswell can guess what's going on based on what we asked for. Come on, we've got to go."
When we get outside, Max and Michael are already there, waiting in the Jeep. I didn't expect to see Michael - I figured that since he didn't say anything to me last night, didn't come to see me this morning, that yesterday was the closest thing to good-bye that he could give me. I guess I was wrong. I guess that a nice impersonal good-bye is more his style. I glare at Max because I'm afraid that if I look at Michael I will cry.
"Let's go," Max says, and Isabel gestures for me to get in the Jeep. I do, and I sit in the back, next to her. Michael hasn't said a word, hasn't even looked at me. I pretend I don't see him either, and ask, "Where are we going?" I know damn well where we're going, but I want to hear it said. I want to realize that it's the truth - I'm going home.
No one speaks for a moment, and then Max answers my question. "We're going to pick up two trucks that Valenti left on the outskirts of Roswell. We're going to get the trucks and leave, and you'll stay and wait for someone to come get you or you can walk into town. I know you probably thought your family would be there to meet you, but I didn't want to risk an ambush."
No apologies for kidnapping me, no "We really want to find ways to work together" - nothing like that at all. And that's how it will always be. I've somehow managed to avoid really seeing this till now. Humans will never trust aliens, and aliens will never trust humans. I've been a fool, imagining that things could be different, were different for Michael and me.
We drive back across the desert, and I watch the outline of Roswell come into view. The trucks are there, on the bluff where Michael and I drove to all those days ago. Two large convoy trucks, the kind the army uses to move troops. Isabel lets out a little gasp when they appear. "Max! It worked."
Max stops the Jeep and turns back to smile at her. "It did." They both get out and head towards the first truck. Michael looks back at me for a second, his expression unreadable, and then he gets out and heads towards Isabel and Max.
I sit in the Jeep for a second and then curiosity and anger get the better of me. What exactly is in those trucks that's so great? What is it that the aliens were willing to steal me away from my home for? What is it that Michael is willing to give me up for?
I hate myself. I hate myself for being stupid and angry and jealous over something that he needs to survive, I hate myself for even caring what he thinks, and mostly, I hate myself for being so stupid and so impulsive in the first place. How could I have thought what I had with Michael was just a series of moments, that it would not impact my life? Moments, my ass. Did I really think that I could do all the things I've done and never think about them all again?
I hop out of the Jeep and walk over to the second truck, swing myself up and into the back of it. My feet land in something wet and cold and I look down in surprise. There is water in the back of the truck, and it reaches up to around my knees.
There are bags stacked inside, the kind the government uses for supplies - enormous burlap sacks - there must be almost a hundred of them. The pile of them reaches up to around my knees also, and the water is all around them, has ruined them. Along the side of the truck are huge plastic drums. I reach down and touch whatever it is I'm standing in, a sick feeling in my stomach.
I hold my finger up to the sun, to the light that shines in through the back of the truck. Yes, I'm standing in water. I don't even need to look at the containers that line the sides of the truck, but I do anyway, just to make sure. The sides have been slit, and water leaks slowly from the incisions. All those containers held water, and they're almost empty now. I'm standing in what is left of their cargo.
I look down at the bags. The water has washed away most of the lettering, but I can make out some of the words. Seeds, neatly labeled. Wheat. Corn. Flour. Sugar. Everything the aliens needed, all ruined because of the water, something else that they needed, something else they don't have.
There's a note attached to one of the water containers at the far end of the truck. I walk over to it, hearing the faint sounds of the water lapping against the ruined bags as my legs slide through it. I pick the note up and open it.
The handwriting is instantly recognizable to me. I know it as well as my own.
Send my daughter home.
My mother has written hundreds of letters to Washington, asking for funds to support alien/human peace initiatives. She has worked for years towards this one goal. She has supported Jim in every attempt he has ever made to improve relations between humans and aliens.
And she has turned her back on all of it because of me. Because she misses me, because she wants me home. She destroyed everything the aliens asked for out of fury and pain. She doesn't trust them anymore, doesn't care about working with them or making peace with them. I think of how I let Michael lie, how I was willing to stay with the aliens longer because I wanted more time with him, and I blink to fight back the sudden hot tears threatening to spill from my eyes.
"Give me that."
Michael is behind me now, and I turn to face him. He looks stricken. Of course he does, because he has realized what I have too. There are two people responsible for what has happened, and they are both right here in this truck.
There is a scream, a sudden, loud shriek of pain and fury, and I wince at the raw sound. Isabel. I hear a low murmur, and I can tell Max is trying to calm her down. The other truck is the same as this one, then.
"Give me the note, Maria."
I hand it to him mutely. He looks at what it says and closes his eyes briefly. Then he drops the note. It lands in the water; my mother's words are looking up at me. Send my daughter home. The ink blurs, and the words fade.
I look up at him and he looks back at me steadily. "If Max finds out that your mother did this, he'll think that Valenti agreed to it."
'He didn't. I know he didn't, he would never...my mother is just upset.."
He reaches out and takes my hand, smoothing his fingers over it, forcing my fist to unclench. "Don't say anything about the note. It'll be ok."
"You really think so?"
As soon as I finish saying the words, my stomach twists suddenly, violently. It remembers before the rest of me does. Weeks ago, I had a conversation that echoed this one, and everything hadn't turned out ok, it hasn't turned out ok at all.
"Yes," he tells me, but his mind - oh, his mind tells a different story. It's thinking the same things mine is, is wondering the same things that I am.
He gets out of the truck and reaches back towards me, offering his hand. I take it, even though I don't need to, and let him pull me down. Isabel and Max are standing beside the Jeep. I should probably go over to them and try to find something soothing to say, something to save myself, if nothing else, but I don't move. I just stand there, feeling Michael's hand against mine. His skin is warm, and his touch is comforting. I suppose that's a big part of my problem - that I have been able to find comfort out here, in the desert. With Michael. With an alien. And even though I know that, even though I know that I am in some way responsible for what has happened - I still can't bring myself to let go of his hand.
"What are we going to do, Max?" Isabel is crying. "How are we going to tell everyone that not only are we almost out of food, we also lost our last chance to grow any more?"
Max rubs his eyes. "Let me think for a minute!" He rests his head in his hands for a moment, and then looks up. "Ok, what about this? I'll go and talk to Valenti. Tell him what happened. Tell him we'll send his daughter back, no questions asked."
"That's your plan?"
"What else do you suggest, Isabel? More demands? Do you see this?" he gestures at the trucks "Do you see how successful we've been so far?"
"We could kill her."
Max laughs. "Sure Isabel. If they won't give us food when we take Valenti's daughter, what do you think they'll do if we kill her? Send us flowers? Face it, we don't have a choice. If we take her back and explain what happened, we might - just might - have a chance at him offering to help us."
"Then take her back now. Now, right now."
"And what do we tell everyone else? Sorry, no food, but we took Valenti's daughter back. Hope you don't mind." He shakes his head. "No. Everyone has to agree to this. Everyone needs to see that this is our only option. There's so few of us left, Isabel. If we start fighting among ourselves - we won't have to worry about the humans, will we?"
She shakes her head, tears in her eyes. "I was so sure this would work."
"I was too, Is, I was too. But what we have to do now is try to salvage what we can. That's all we can do."
She nods. "I know. Let's just go and get this over with."
He reaches out and squeezes her hand. "It'll be ok."
She lets out a watery laugh. "Oh Max, how can you even say that?"
"I have to believe it's true."
They both seem to remember that Michael and I are there at the same time. As they look at us, I am suddenly aware of the way we are standing next to each other, I am suddenly aware of how my hand is still touching his.
His hand pulls away from mine and he walks over to Max and Isabel. They all talk for a moment, their voices pitched low enough so that I can't hear them.
And when we all get back in the Jeep and head back into the desert, when we leave the trucks behind, when Roswell fades into the distance - I look at Michael - and I'm not half as upset as I'm pretty sure I should be.
It's chaos when we get back. There are questions. "Why is she still here?" "Where's all the food we were supposed to get?" "What's going on?"
I have been unable, in my time here, to separate the aliens into individuals. For the most part, they appear as a sea of faces that turn away from mine, as eyes that look at me with scorn or fear or anger.
But I can see them now. There is a girl whose eyes are tired. An older man, who weeps when he sees that there is no food. A boy who looks at me with hatred. A mother, with a child in her arms, who weeps.
I watch as Max and Isabel circulate through the crowd, trying to speak to everyone. I watch as shock sweeps over the faces, I listen as their voices start to build.
I retreat to the edge of the crowd, and I look for Michael. In spite of it all, I want to be by his side.
And there he is, right beside me. He doesn't say anything, but neither do I. We just stand next to each other, and there is comfort in that.
The angry voices are building, and I watch as Max and Isabel are swallowed up in the crowd. "We should fight!" "We fought before, and we won! We got respect! Not this - not begging and pleading."
"And those of you that did fight - you never told us what really happened!" Isabel shouts. "We only heard rumors and half-truths. What sort of war was it that we fought? Is it something that we should be proud of? Is it something that makes us better than humans, or is something that makes us just as bad as they are?"
A few voices murmur in agreement, but there are still cries of "Fight! We have to fight! We can win - we did it before!"
"At what cost?" Max's voice is clear and strong, and I watch as space clears around him, as everyone turns to listen. "What did it cost us? How many of those that fought are left now? How many? Five, maybe ten? Sure, you fought the humans, and you won - but what did that victory cost us? The humans were terrified of us, wouldn't talk with us, much less trade with us." There's a murmur of voices, a rising chorus of agreement. Max continues to speak.
"And then the rest of us came - and we were only children. Who could work the fields? Who could make sure that we kept the irrigation system going? Who could make sure that we had a safe place to live? No one. Do you know what I remember about my first few years on earth? Hunger. I was always hungry. How many of us died in the five years after we 'won' our fight against the humans? What sort of victory was it?"
Michael turns to look at me, and his face is drawn, sad.
The history between humans and aliens can't be ignored. It is there, it lives and breathes every day, it colors everything we've done, everything we do.
Except for what Michael and I have found together. Those moments, as few and as brief as they've been - they have nothing to do with what we are and everything to do with who we are.
The other aliens are all agreeing with Max now. I see it in their faces, I hear it in their voices.
It's all over then. I am going to go home. This is an ending.
Michael's hand wraps around mine, and he turns to look at me. "You'll be leaving soon."
I nod. Yes, this is an ending.
He leans in towards me, and I feel myself moving towards him. Here, now - in spite of this ending, or maybe because of it - I just want one last moment.
And he wants it too. I can see it in his face, I can see it in his thoughts, which offer up images of the two of us together that would make me blush if I wasn't thinking the exact same thing.
Yes, this is an ending. But we can still have one last moment.
We walk down the hallways quickly. I am sure that what we are planning on doing must shine forth, our intent must be clear on our faces. But no one stops us. We pass by others - aliens whose faces I'm suddenly able to recognize, faces I will most likely never see again - and no one tries to stop us. No one even glances at us. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just an alien and a human.
Totally extraordinary, and no one wants to see it.
I think we will go to the room that has been mine for all this time. I have thought about it - I've lain in bed at night and wondered how we would fit together in it. But we end up in a different room, one I haven't been in before.
I start to ask him where we are, but I know as soon as I step inside. I see him everywhere - in the clothes that sit piled on the floor, in the lack of decoration on the walls, in the very air of the room itself. The door shuts behind us and I go into his arms willingly.
As with every other moment we've had, this one is hurried too. I wish I could slow time down enough to savor it all, to take it and store it all somewhere, to make a ribbon of memory that I could tie to myself and always carry. But there is not enough time; we've been living on what little time we've been given, what little time we could create.
I've had sex before. Living in Roswell - the constant tension that's in the air, the continual worries - it raises you to believe, in the back of your mind, that each day could be your last. I've thought I was in love before, I've thought that maybe I should seize the day and try to find enjoyment before.
This is different - not the act itself, but the part of me that I bring to it. Inside me, despite the world I live in, despite what I've seen, despite what I've lived through, is a girl who believes that maybe the world can be a safe place. That there is hope, that one day there could be a world that doesn't revolve around fear. And in this hope there is joy, and I've never been able to share that part of myself with another.
Until now. There is joy in touching him, in letting him touch me. There is joy in seeing each other, in the way our bodies fit together. And they do fit together - it doesn't matter that I am human and that he is alien. Here, now - it just matters that he is Michael and that I am Maria. There is joy in the fact that together, for just a while, we are able to forget the world we live in and hope together.
Afterwards, we lie there. His legs are tangled with mine; the sheets are twisted around us. Our minds wrapped around each other, our thoughts, finally, for once, totally at peace. I have waited my whole life for this - I have waited to know that the hope I have always carried isn't a cruel joke.
His lips are resting against my ear, and he murmurs my name. It sounds like a song, and I turn towards him, place my lips against his throat, listen to him as he murmurs things that make my skin prickle with delight.
Do I dare to let myself be happy? Do we dare to steal another moment?
Yes, I do. Yes, we do.
I fell asleep afterwards and I wake up as the sun is setting. Michael isn't there, and I get dressed, wander back to the room I've been staying in. I'm sure he'll come to see me. How could he not say good-bye to me now?
I wait. The sky darkens completely, and I watch the stars come out. I look out at them, not really thinking about them, just waiting. When the door opens and Michael comes in, I smile at him. How can I not?
He doesn't return my smile, doesn't come near me, and I feel my expression falter and fade. "Michael?"
"I thought..." he looks at me for a second, then looks out my window. "I thought that maybe things would work out. We would have gotten what we needed, you would have gone home, and Valenti would have known that we can be trusted. There'd be more deals, more chances to talk. I would have come to Roswell - would have walked down the streets and seen you. And you would smile at me, and it would be ok, people wouldn't wonder at that. But now.." he turns to look at me. "Now I know I was...I don't even know what I was thinking. Humans and aliens are never going to get along. I'm never going to be welcome in Roswell. You're never going to be welcome here. It was all just a big stupid mistake."
"And what happened earlier?" I'm going to cry. Please, no. I hoped - don't take that away from me. "That was a mistake too?"
His eyes move away from mine, focus on the wall beside my head. "Yes."
"What do you want me to say, Maria? That it was the best thing that's ever happened to me, and that I'll never forget it? That the fact that you're human doesn't matter to me? Well guess what? It does matter that you're human and what you and I...it's the stupidest thing I've ever done, and I've done a lot of stupid things. If I could find a way to forget it, I would."
I've felt everything inside me stop before. I thought it was the worst feeling that a person could ever have -that horrible sensation of having everything suspended for a moment, the waiting for everything to seem real again. I was wrong. It isn't the worst feeling ever. The worst feeling in the world is having someone say something that makes you want everything to stop - and nothing happens.
I'm still standing. I'm still breathing, I can feel my chest rising and falling. If I listened closely, I'll bet that I could hear my heart beating, hear the faint echo of my blood pumping through my body. It's not fair, because I am sure that everything inside me is dead. But I keep on living anyway.
I sit down on the bed and look at the wall. Until I came here, I never really noticed that rocks have lots of different colors in them. I stare at the colors till they all run together, till my vision blurs. I wipe my eyes with the back of my hands, and finally remember to blink.
"I'll be back in five minutes" he tells me.
"I'm taking you home."
I don't say anything, and he finally leaves the room. I sit and listen to myself breathe, listen to myself live. This is the worst feeling a person can ever have - to live when you're pretty sure you're dead inside.
He comes back, and I stand up and walk out of the room with him. I walk outside with him. I get in the Jeep with him. Max is there, and he says something to Michael before we leave, and then he says something to me. I don't respond, and Max leaves after a moment, I watch him disappear back into the rocks. I look straight ahead after that, and I wait for Roswell to come into view.
And here I am. Right on the edge of town. He's stopped the Jeep and is looking at all the lights that shine out from the base.
"I want to tell you something," he says.
We haven't spoken to each other since he told me he would forget everything we've done if he could and that he was taking me home.
"No," I tell him. "No. It's too late, Michael, and I don't want to hear it. You were right." I laugh. "I can't believe I'm saying that, but it's true. You were right. It was all a mistake, and I'm glad I'm going back to Roswell and that I'll never see you again."
He grabs my hands, and I can feel him pushing his way into my mind, looking at my thoughts. I pull away from him angrily, but he holds on, his fingers wrapped around mine, his memories falling into me.
He's in Roswell, because Isabel and Max have decided on some stupid plan and they are supposed to be figuring out the Valenti family's schedule. He's supposed to go to the base and figure out what Kyle does every day from three till eight. He didn't want to go, but he didn't want Isabel or Max to go either. He's expendable. They aren't.
He walks down the street, making sure to stay in the shadows. He grits his teeth, and thinks about how much he hates the town, hates humans, hates having to be near any of it, any of them. And he hates himself for being such a liar. He doesn't hate humans - he fears them, he envies them. He passes by the Crashdown and looks in the window.
There's a girl there. She's laughing and talking. He knows who she is, he's seen her picture before - when her mother came out, full of grandiose plans and visions of a world he knows will never be - but the reality of her is even better than he thought it might be. He looks at her for a long time, because she is beautiful and happy, and he's never seen anyone like her. He looks at her till it's dark and he can't see her anymore. He goes back home and lies about what Kyle does, and Isabel and Max believe him.
The plan is set. Isabel assures them that she's safe, that she has everything under control, that all she needs is for Michael to come and make sure that Kyle shows up at the jail.
He doesn't, he can't. He goes and watches the girl again. He watches her till her brother comes down the street, till he remembers that he's supposed to be somewhere else.
And when she shows up, appears where she isn't supposed to be, he speaks to her because he has to. Just to hear her voice, just to stand near her for a second.
His hand falls away from mine.
"I love you," he finally says. "I hate you for it. You're human - you're everything I've ever been taught to fear and despise. But I look at you, and I can't see you as just a human. You're Maria. You make me happy. And I love you."
The lights in Roswell are so bright, and they are beckoning to me. All the safety, all the security, my entire world is there. It would just take a few steps, and I would be back there. I could be the Maria I've always been. It would be for the best if we forgot each other. It would be easier. It would be safer.
"I'm sorry," I tell him, and I am sorry - sorry that we have found happiness together, sorry that we have hurt each other, sorry that we love each other and that we are both unable to turn away from it. "I love you too."
And then I turn and walk towards Roswell.
It didn't take me long to get home. I will never forget the look on my mother's face when she opened the door - the wild joy that flashed across her eyes, the way she hugged me.
My first night back, even Kyle was nice. He gave me a hug and let me sit in the comfy chair - the one that sits in the corner of the living room, the one that he and I always fight over. He also asked me about Isabel, which made me remember the way she'd looked the last time I saw her, the way she'd asked me questions about him. I didn't say anything - I just looked at him. He got up and left the room abruptly. He hasn't asked me about her since, but I still worry just the same.
Liz came over the next day with Alex in tow. She brought me brownies, and Alex told me that he was willing to let me sing in his band. I laughed and hugged Alex, ate brownies with him and Liz. I was doing normal things, regular things. It was good, it felt good.
And Mom...Mom was so happy to see me, and I....I'd missed her. More than I thought possible. When I asked her about the trucks, asked her point-blank about what happened to them, she just smiled and told me "I'd do anything for you. Don't you know that Maria?"
I started to cry then, and she held me. I don't know who I was weeping for - myself, her, everyone in Roswell, the aliens, Michael - but I wept and it felt good. It didn't change anything, but I needed to do it.
Jim gave me a hug, and it didn't feel as awkward as I thought it would. He didn't say anything to me about what happened till after breakfast the next morning, when he asked me to help him dry the dishes.
"Are you all right?" was all he said and I almost told him. He was the only person brave enough to ask me anything close to "What happened?" Even Mom couldn't do it.
But in the end, I couldn't - I couldn't tell him. I couldn't break his heart, I couldn't destroy all he has worked for. He needs hope, he needs to believe that things will one day be resolved. He wants to believe in a future that shines forth, a paradise delivered, a world that is just human, a world where there is no conflict. The aliens are as complex and as flawed as we all are, and Jim already knows that. The rest of the knowledge -everything I've learned - is mine, my burden.
And now, at night, I sit here in the desert. I do this every night; I leave my room, my house, my world, and I wait on the hill that Michael and I sat on all those weeks ago, talking and pretending to wait for help, for answers.
I wait for Michael to come to me. And he does, and he swears that this is the last time he will come, that there is no future for us. I listen, I believe him, I take him into my arms and lift my mouth up towards his. He tells me he cannot live without me, and I don't think he is lying.
As I sit here, listening for his footfalls, waiting for him to say my name, I know that love is a complicated thing. It isn't something that can be neatly boxed into areas of right and wrong, of who you should love and who you shouldn't.
My eyes are opened now, and I see it all. The truth is that love is horrible and beautiful and you cannot look away from it, no matter how much you want to. That's why no one ever really wants to see it, and why once they have, they can't live without it.