It’s not better to be safe than sorry…Take on Me
The rest of the day is a kind of blur. Michael and i got away from the Crashdown fast enough that no one comes after me to ask questions. That i couldnt handle. I feel sick and agitated and drop off into an early sleep full of hot erotic fantasies about Liz Parker and nightmares of being experimented on in a flying saucer by little green aliens that look like ET. When the alarm goes off i whimper like a whipped dog and cover my face with a pillow before i jump out of bed cursing. And i arrive at school fashionably late. My first class is biology where i sit next to my lab partner. And that’s Liz Parker of course. Who else would it be?
Mr. Evans, the lab teacher says with gentle but thick sadism. How nice of you to join us.
Everybody laughs and i feel myself flushing. When i sit next to Liz she gives me a look that appears both dry and poisonous. I’m so nervous i find myself chewing on a pencil.
Our prunefaced instructor says, everyone on the left get a toothpick and obtain a sample from the inside of your cheek. Everybody on the right get a sample of that vegetable paste and put them on a slide and compare them.
I look at Liz, who pointedly ignores me. Suddenly the blood drops away from my head and i have to hang on to the lab table to keep from falling. What’s left of the spare breakfast i had rises and i fight it down. The air in here is humid and close and the room is suddenly and unbearably claustrophobic but i manage to stand up.
Pruneface says, Yes, Mr. Evans?
May i have a bathroom pass? Please? I stammer.
High maintenance today, arent we? Pruneface says as she hands me the pass and i stumble out into the hall and struggle to breathe. It’s only when i am heaving into a commode that i realize i left everything in the lab or i would have not have gone back.
I have made it thru most of the day without running into Liz when i walk right by her in the middle of a crowded hall and think she doesnt see me until i hear her cry out behind me.
Max? Max? She bellows. Excuse me. Excuse me.
I just keep walking and cursing but i hear her feet behind me and she grabs my arm and says, Max! Didnt you hear me? I called out three or four times…
I could hear you in Santa Fe, i say brusquely.
Come on, she says, bullying me past milling crowds of humans and i feel her hot breath on the side of my neck. We go into a part of the building that should be deserted at this time of day, the place where band instruments are laid out and the bass drums command the whole room. But the room that should be empty isnt empty.
Her bf Kyle is there, beating aimlessly on the bass drums like he has nothing better to do. He’s not much bigger than i am but there’s something about him that makes me wonder instinctively if i could take him barehanded or if i’d need a baseball bat.
But the worst is that Kyle Valenti is the son of Jim Valenti, sheriff of this whole county. I couldnt have picked a more dangerous rival. If he is a rival.
Kyle! Liz ejects in a tone that bears guilt and resentment in equal parts.
That tells me she’s probably a bad liar. Too bad.
Hey, he says to Liz. Hey, Max.
Hey, buddy, i say cheerfully.
He turns to Liz. Did you get my message? He says.
Oh, yeah, she says. I did. I was just a little…er…
Shaken up? He offers.
That’s what it was, she says, touching his shoulder. Shaken up.
My Dad told me about the gun going off, he says.
Oh, yeah, she says. It was just loud and then it was over.
Kyle gestures at me and says, So you guys are just…
Um…we’re looking for a place to study. For a bio midterm.
Oh, i see, he says, scratching his head. Bio.
Yeah, she says.
Alright, he says resentfully. I was just leaving anyway. Oh…i got my costume for the Crash this Friday. You should see it…
He is talking about a part of the crash festival where the alleged crash of a flying saucer in ’47 is reenacted. Same thing, every year. Like church, it was always something i hated but never had the nerve to just refuse. This week. I had almost forgotten about it.
Kyle, she says in the tone of the mother of a six year old, We gotta study.
Right, he says, deflated. He gives Liz a funny look and says, See ya, Max.
Later, Holmes, i say. And then i start breathing again.
When Kyle is finally gone i sigh and say, So you’re going out with the sheriff’s son.
Yeah, she says, her back to me. He’s steady and dependable and loyal…
Sounds like you’re describing a dog. RU trying to convince me or yourself?
Well, it’s kinda like this casual…OK. Max, could we just focus here for one minute, please?
She reaches down and pulls up her top and uncovers the part of her abdomen where she was shot and i healed her. When i see it i’m hit by a gust of bitter loathing and terror and bright green hatred.
She doesnt say anything. She doesnt have to. Right there is my left handprint in an unearthly silver blue-green metallic hue.
Uh-oh, i say, breathing rapidly.
Those opaque brown eyes regard me with mute accusation, seeking an apology or explanation or whatever she doesnt know how to ask for. I hate brown eyes. Except hers. I cant read them. And they terrify me the more unearthly this scene gets.
When she lets her top down she finally looks away and then at the floor and the taut agony i am feeling disappears. Almost.
I just noticed you’re left handed, she says absently.
The great thing about being a lefty is you dont have to be right, i say.
She does not laugh but walks away and circles the room and lifts her hand at nothing in particular, a socratic, peripatetic pilgrim stumbling toward some infernal truth.
Finally she says, I…scraped some cells from that pencil you were chewing.
You saw some epithelial cells, i say.
She scratches her head and long black hair falls in her face and she pushes it aside. She says, Those cells werent normal.
You mean the cells were pathological? I say innocently. I dont feel sick…
Dont be coy like that, she snaps at me. Anyway…
RU sure it wasnt an artifact of the staining procedure?
Anyway, she goes on in a near hysterical tone, Ummm…what i’m suggesting is that we go back to the lab now so that i can take another sample and see that what i’m thinking is wrong, you know…that…that maybe i just got the wrong cells…
Slowly i bring my eyes up to hers and say in holy dread, You didnt. You got the right cells.
She looks at me and up and around her observable universe and tries to digest what she thinks she knows. She says, OK, ummm…
I do not say anything.
So, so help me out here, Max. I mean…what…what RU?
Well, i say quietly. I’m not from around here.
She nods suspiciously and says, Where RU from?
Feeling undone and unmanned, i look at the floor and bring my left index finger up by the side of my head and point it at the ceiling.
As my eyes meet hers she says, You’re from up north?
I move my arm as high as it will go until it is well overhead.
She looks sick when she says, You’re not…you’re not an alien, RU?
Well, i say. I prefer the term ‘not of this earth.’ Sorry. Not a good time to joke. Especially when it comes out lame like that.
She says nothing.
Yes, i say finally, uncomfortable in silence. It’s so weird to actually say it.
It’s too much for her. She looks at me like i’m a giant praying mantis and yanks her book bag over her shoulder and starts walking rapidly away and says, Actually i’m going to be late for class so i’m just gonna…
I reach the heavy double doors before she does and i put my hand against them, blocking the way out. She looks at me in cold horror . I force earnestness into my voice and say, Listen to me. You cant talk to anyone about this. Not your parents. Not your BFF Maria at the Crashdown. Nobody! I’m begging you. You dont understand what would happen if you did. Liz, please. My life is in your hands. It always will be, now.
I move my hand away and she goggles at me and walks out, leaving me in a room with bass drums.