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Journey

The chairs by the principal's office are the most uncomfortable.  Thick plastic meant to make your butt ache as you wait. As I bring my knees up to my chest hoping to alleviate the pain, I watch Ms. Bowman. Her chestnut brown hair is beginning to show her age with a thin gray line at her scalp. The school secretary multitasks as she buzzes in one parent, writes an excuse for Tom back from his orthodontist appointment and talks with another parent on the phone who apparently thought that today was Saturday. 

“Come on in Kim,” Principal McLowry holds his door open for me.  He points to another uncomfortable chair across from his desk. I notice that his chair appears very comfortable, soft black leather supporting his back with built in lumbar support.  I sit down on another flat bottom chair with a sigh.

“Do you know why you’re here?” He asks while flipping his pen in his hand.

“I know why you think I’m here,” I reply.  He shakes his head and clicks his tongue. Then he waits and watches me.  I think he wants me to share my side of the story.  But the truth is that I hit Trent hard.  Really hard. Twice.

It was Monday when I saw Trent and his posse follow Doug into the boy’s bathroom.  They did this often.  Doug usually emerged with a bloodied nose or wet hair.  Afterwards, he almost always went home.  I liked Doug.  He was the most interesting person that I had met since I arrived on Earth.  So this time, I followed Trent and his posse into the boy’s bathroom.

“Why don’t you get it through your head that you don’t belong here?” Trent said, shoving Doug against the bathroom wall.  Doug’s hair was already dripping with toilet water.

“Why don’t you leave him alone?” I asked as I stepped in between Trent and Doug. Trent was taller than my form by a good foot or so. So he glared down at me.

“A girl?  You think I’m going to listen to a girl in the boy’s bathroom,” Trent snarled. Like Earth dogs this expression is used to drive people away. But I’m not from Earth.

I didn’t budge.  Instead, I gave him one of my Haumaen stares.  This stopped him for a moment as if he was waiting for something.  When nothing happened, he took another step towards Doug and me, so I hit him hard in the solar plexus. It amazes me that human beings have been able to survive for so long with all of their vulnerabilities and inability to get along. It seems that the combination would have led to their extinction centuries ago. My punch took his breath away and caused Trent to stumble towards us.  I followed it up with another jab to his ribs, which doubled him over.

“You’re not going to let her do that to you,” one of Trent’s lackeys yelled.  

Trent staggered and leaned against the wall.  “I’m not gonna hit a girl,” he sneered.  His friends shrugged. Disappointed that they didn’t get to watch a show, they strolled out of the bathroom.

“I’m sorry,” I said to Trent.  “I fought dirty.  I know that your Dad’s an a -hole.”

This made Trent start to laugh until his side reminded him that he was in pain and it wasn’t really funny. 

“Yeah he’s an asshole,” Trent said and started to walk away.  When he got to the door he turned for a moment.  Then his face morphed into a side smile which actually looked sad.

“Are you okay?”  I asked, turning my attention to Doug who had slumped to the bathroom floor. I slid down the wall and sat next to him.

“Thanks for your help,” Doug choked. Doug used to be Denise.  Now I’m no expert on human behavior since I just arrived, but I think that this is the reason they pick on him.

“Maybe I don’t belong here,” Doug leaned his head back against the bathroom wall.

“I know I don’t belong here.  This girl suit makes me feel all itchy,” I said, leaning my head back like he did.  “It shouldn’t be this or that, black or white.  People who think like that miss that the universe is composed of all different colors.  Even this puny little planet Earth has so many colors.” 

Doug turned to look at me, “you’re weird”.

“I’m an alien,” I said proudly.

I don’t share this story with Principal McLowry, who continues to glare at me sitting in his comfortable chair behind his desk.  He wouldn’t understand. I’ve watched enough science fiction movies in my short time here to see what they do to aliens. So I keep my lips sealed up tight.

“I’ve tried to call you father again,” Principal McLowry says, tapping his pen against the tablet.

“Yeah, he’s working,” I say.

“I thought you said he works from home. So why doesn’t he answer the phone?” Principal McLowry stops tapping his pen and leans towards me.

“Yes, but he’s working on a podcast from home.  He can’t have the phone interrupting him,” I reply and squirm in my chair.

“I’d like to hear his podcasts.  Are they on Youtube?” He leans closer to me.  His nose twitches like he can smell me lying.

“He wants to make a few of them before he drops them.  He has to edit the copy, splice clips together, you know it takes a lot of work for a single episode.”  I say.

He relaxes back into his large chair, disappointed.  His head nods towards the door, so I stand up.

“I expect you to tell him that he needs to bring you to school tomorrow.  You can’t return to class until I have a word with him.”  Principal McLowry swivels in his chair away from my face.

I shoulder my backpack, give a nod to Ms. Lowry and walk out to my car.  Doug meets me at my Volvo.

“Well, what did he say?  This is all my fault,”  Doug hits the side door.

“No, it’s Peter’s fault.  He’s the one that told the principal that I hit Trent.  He’s just an emotional tick.  He likes to feed the flames of conflict and suck on all the emotional energy.”

This makes Doug laugh.  

“I won’t be able to check out your new gaming system though.  I have to find a dad.”  I slap him on the back.  He trudges away and slinks back into the building. He only has another hour left to endure the small minded humans. 

I drive through the underpasses near where I live. The house I rent is pretty run down, but that’s part of the journey.  I came here to try to understand the human experience. Besides, I made pets out of the couple of mice that cohabitate with me. They seemed extremely put out when I caged them up until Evie, a local feline, slipped in the door one evening. Then they appreciated the glass wall that kept them safe.  I suspect that Evie is a traveler like myself.  In hindsight, a cat suit may have been more comfortable than a seventeen year old girl suit.  

I see the perfect father candidate huddled around a fire spewing from a large tin can.

“Hey you want to make a couple hundred dollars?” I ask while staying in the car.  I could electrocute any a-hole who tried to mess with me, but I hadn’t worked out how to limit the voltage coming through my fingertips.  A dead body would seriously complicate things. So I keep a safe distance and the car engine running.

The old man staggers towards me.  He doesn’t say anything, he just nods.  Judging his height and weight, I think he’ll fit the suit I have at home for these occasions. I unlock the door and he piles into the seat next to me.  

“So I need you to talk to my principal tomorrow morning so I can get back into school.  I hit another kid, who deserved it by the way. But I need a parental figure to get me out of a suspension.”  He nods so I assume that he agrees. The smaller beings of the planet definitely got a raw deal when it comes to justice, I reflect as we drive home in silence.

He stumbles out of the car, when we arrive at my house. Once inside, I point to the bathroom with the spare towel. Again he nods and walks through the bathroom door.

“Remember to use soap. There is a fresh bar in the cabinet.” I say as he shuts the door behind him. As he cleans up I make spaghetti and meatballs. I like the noodles, they remind me of Tagarian worms from my home planet. We gobble them down in silence. I remind him that he has to wake up early and we turn in.

The next morning, I’m pleasantly surprised when he is dressed and sitting at the kitchen table when I come downstairs.  I pour a bowl of Lucky Charms for each of us and splash it with milk. He gobbles his down.  I’m more finicky and look for the marshmallows. They should just make a box full of marshmallows, but I’ve come to understand this is the capitalist way, profit and waste.

“Okay, this is the deal.” I say as he climbs into the car.  “I’ll do the talking. I’ve told them that you aren’t from around here and don’t understand English.”

He nods in agreement.

Principal McLowry looks pleased with himself as I stroll through the doors that morning,  until he sees the man behind me. Principal McLowry frowns and points towards his office.  The man and I follow him.

“Mr. Armand, your daughter should be expelled for fighting. We have a zero tolerance rule at this school.  However, I’m willing to make an exception as the fight wasn’t witnessed by an adult.”

“I shared what happened with my dad last night.  He agreed that I should take responsibility for yelling at the other student.  But that is all I did.”

The man stares straight ahead.  His silence unnerves Principal McLowry more than if he had spilled into a tirade. More familiar with the emotional explosions from parents than the quiet reserve from the man next to me, Principal McLowry excuses us from the office.

“I’ll need to take my dad home so I can have the car,” I say to Ms. Bowman.

“That won’t do,” she replies.  “You’ll be tardy then.  Can’t your dad come pick you up today?  Afterall you’re kind of on shaky ground.”

“I can come pick you up,” the man says.  

“I left my backpack in the car,” I say. I have my backpack on me, so everyone knows it’s a lie. I don’t care. My fingertips ache with the voltage that I would love to use now.  When we get to the car I lean in close to his ear.  Ms. Bowman probably thinks I’m a dotting daughter giving her dad a hug.

Instead, I whisper in his ear, “If you take my car, I will hunt you down and kill you.”  I kiss him on the side of the cheek.  My lips, while not as deadly as my fingertips, can pack a pretty powerful sting.  He rubs the side of his cheek and nods.

Truth is I can get another car, but it is a pain and takes time. First I have to find a bar and wait until someone is so drunk that they take an Uber home. Then I start the car with my magic fingers and drive it home. After I drive it home, I change the license plate. Okay, so it doesn’t take that long in this town, but it is a pain.  And I’ve grown attached to my Volvo. But the real reason I'd kill him is for having to ride the bus home today.  All of the smells and all of the noise are too much for my alien senses.

At the last bell, I hustle outside and scan the parking lot for the gray Volvo. Fortunately for him, he shows up right on time.

“I’ll drive,” I say walking around to the driver’s side.

“That lady is watching. Are you sure? I know that you want to fit in,” he says.

I look over my shoulder and see that nosy body of Ms. Bowman scrutinizing me, so I hop in the side door.

“Maybe I should stay one more day. Just in case.”

“I’m not cooking tonight.” I say. “Doug’s mom invited me over for dinner tonight and I want to see how normal Earth families interact. Still want to stay?”

“I guess not,” he drives to the place where I had picked him up the first time.  He slowly gets out of the car.  I dart to the driver’s side and avoid eye contact. 

Doug’s home is wonderful.  His mom made lasagna, my second favorite food that reminds me of Nesterbeads from my home planet.  Doug and I clear the table and slip away, while his mom does the dishes.

“Why did you say that you didn’t fight fair?” Doug asks me as he takes his X-box off the shelf and plugs it into his television.  I’ve heard about these things, computer games.  I overheard a teacher saying that they suck the intelligence out of kids.  So I’m a little terrified at first. 

“I saw his father beat him up the other day.  I can see his garage from my back window.  His dad’s a real a-hole.” I say and pick up a controller.  “Why do they make aliens look like upright alligators? Without my girl skin I look more like a soap bubble.”

Doug laughs and says,” you say the weirdest things.” 

“But it’s true I counter.”  

“I feel sorry for Trent.”  Doug looks at his controller.  I think he’s distracted but he ends up killing my avatar, so he must not feel too bad.

The next day, we have a pop quiz in physics. Not a problem for me. I’m a scholar of mathematical history. In 2024 Earth terms it would be like taking a math test from the Renaissance area. No that’s not right, more like the Stone Age era.  Anyway, I’m grateful for my knowledge of history. I can tell that Trent didn’t study.  He has that look that a Micleaner fairy has before being swallowed by a Traegenerean beast on my planet. Or the look of my mice when Evie crotches by their cage. I sit by Trent. As we take the test, I push my paper over to the side so he can see my answers. We would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for that a-hole Peter.  Peter coughs, drawing the teacher’s attention right as I look over Trent's paper to make sure that he saw all of the answers from mine.

“Kim Armand, you’ll need to go see Principal McLowry,” the teacher says with a smile.

I grab my backpack and trudge past the other students staring at their papers and into the hallway. 

“Kim, I don’t understand it.” Principal McLowry actually seems perplexed.  “You had the highest score on the placement tests.”

I’m afraid that he may follow the logical conclusion that I didn’t cheat, but was helping Trent.  I think about how Trent’s dad treats him and that sideways smile from the bathroom.

“I didn’t get a chance to study,” I quickly blurt.

Principal McLowry gives me a look, like he really knows the truth.  “I’ll have to suspend you. Normally it’s for two days, but sense, it’s your first offense….” He doesn't finish and nods towards the door.

I drive home wondering what I’m going to do with the long lonely weekend. It’s crazy, but I like going to school.  The mice are terrible communicators. Evie pretty much ignores me unless she's hungry. When I reach for the door to my house it is unlocked.  My spare key is on the side table by the door. This worries me some at first. Until I see the man standing in the kitchen.

“The principal from your school called,” he says.

“Why are you here?” I ask.  Then I smell the chicken.  I haven’t had chicken yet and that seems remiss on my part as they say everything on Earth tastes like chicken.  

“I need to ground you,” he says and pulls out the small bird.  It looks significantly different without its feathers.  It’s so much smaller.

“Okay,” I say.

“After dinner maybe I’ll tell you a story"  he says and cuts the bird into pieces. He sits down in the chair across from me. He sits across from me and smiles. The warm vegetables melt the butter on top. It smells delicious despite not being anything like what we have on my planet. 

“Is it one about the Terrabeast?” I ask. I really like that story. 

His stories begin imagining me as a child with a bubbly personality. As he sips more of the single malt beverage, his stories become more fantastical. He shares my favorite story about how he fought the Terrabeast while serving at the Lunar Four outpost. 

“People on Earth don’t care about the people up there,” he nods towards the ceiling of the small living room. When he does, his glass of single malt splashes over its edge staining his shirt.  He doesn’t bother to wipe it away. I’m tempted to head to bed, but I’m drawn to the story of the woman with glowing hair, like a moth to a flame of a winkerbelly to the largemouth driller fish. Dazzled by its light, despite the fact that it will break my heart, I stay. I stumble to bed that night and dream of her, traveling the stars.

After serving my banishment of the long weekend, I return to school. Strolling by my locker, I see Trent and Doug comfortably chatting. Doug turns away from me. I hear the word, “alien” as I walk by them. At first the word stings, but then I realize that these small minded humans couldn’t imagine an alien, they aren’t a threat to me. As I spin the dial on my locker, I watch them. Doug is accepted into the circle of high school power. Slaps on the back and playful jabs will replace the bathroom tortures. This makes me smile. His influence will spread through the group. Perhaps there is hope for this planet after all.

I’m bored the rest of the day as the primitive lessons no longer hold my interest.  I have all the notes on the species that I planned to gather. Every vacation and trip gets to the point where all you want to do is go home. I’m ready now, I think.

I leave school before physics. Arrogance in knowing something that is so simple, so obvious to the rest of the galaxy, is depressing. I don’t bother signing out with Ms. Bowman. Silly that she may be the only one that notices I’m gone.

He is asleep on the sofa when I get back to my domicile. I see the empty bottle of whiskey at his feet, so I don’t bother to wake him up. Instead I kiss him lightly with only a slight shock on his forehead.

Evie follows me up the stairs. 

“Do you want to come with me?” I ask her life form, still convinced that she is a space traveler.

She meows and begins giving herself a bath. I take this as a maybe.

“I’m going back to Haumea.” I say. I take a knife from my backpack that I have been carrying around during my stay on this planet. I press it against the girl suit and allow it to slide off of my form. There is no pain, only a sense of freedom. As a bubble, I float to the ceiling, through the ceiling and higher into the sky. Everything on Earth looks so small now, insignificant. I turn away from the Earth. I’m going home. 


 

 



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