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Jeri

Jeri

by Brooke Hartman

The aroma of day-old fish nuggets and burned Tater Tots wafted from the lunch line. I sucked in a breath, trying to forget that tomorrow I would be watching reruns of SG-1 while every other guy in the universe (well, every other guy in my school, which was my universe) would be going to the Homecoming Game and the Homecoming Dance and making out with Homecoming Cheerleaders.

But this was my senior year. Time I got some action. The kind of action Kirk got from Uhura. The kind of action Gaius got from Number 6. The kind of action Billy the Poet got from scores of Junoesque Virgins.

Pounding back my OJ, I set my sights on Britney Faulk (the girl who smells like cherry lip gloss even after cheerleading practice). As she strode by my table, lunch tray balanced in her manicured fingers, I rose, intending to ask her in a smooth, Billy Dee Williams-kind-of-way to the dance tomorrow night.

By some misalignment of space-time continuum, Britney and I collided head-on. The world went into slow motion as her pint of 1% Darigold dumped down the front of my shirt.

Britney glared at me in disgust and stalked off, while the rest of the cafeteria, including Brian Webber and his army of General Thade-esque knuckle-draggers (also known as the varsity football team) erupted into a roar of hysterics that turned my insides into ectoplasm and made my cheeks burn hotter than a Mustafarian Volcano.

By mid-afternoon, I reeked so badly of soured milk everyone I passed in the hallways said things I instantly blocked from memory. At last, the day wound to a close in Homeroom. As we took our seats, Mr. Dal handed us each a piece of paper covered with something between Pictionary and a quantum physicist’s nightmare, then went on to explain it was a cipher. As usual, the other students paid no attention to Mr. Dal whatsoever—until he mentioned the cipher was homework.

Gasps of protest came from the class, but not from me. Because I’m the sort of freak who spends his weekends poring over Neal Stephenson instead of the latest has-been with a reality TV show. Though I acknowledged the possibility that, when decoded, the cipher would end up saying something morally idiotic, like “Brush Your Teeth.”

* * *

That night, I lay in bed, trying to smother the mental replay of Britney’s milk dripping down my shirt. Out of desperation, I pulled Mr. Dal’s homework from my notebook and held it up to my window, squinting at the cipher through the filtered moonlight, but the jumbled symbols didn’t help settle my already jumbled thoughts.

With a long sigh, I rested my forehead against the cool glass and stared up at the stars. A twinkle brighter than the others caught my eye. I blinked. There it was again, winking with a greenish pulse. A satellite, I thought. Or a defunct space toilet from the Mir.

The light began to grow. I shut my eyes. I must be hallucinating. When I opened them again, the twinkling thing was hurtling toward me. I dove under my bed. A flash of ghostly green light flooded my room, followed by a mild tremor. Then silence.

Well it would’ve been silent, except that every car alarm on the block honked and every dog within a square mile barked its furry face off.

Heart pounding, I snuck from under my bed. One by one, the dogs shut up and the car alarms silenced with bloop-bloops! from their owners’ key chains, but there was no sign of any green light. My dad warned me that reading comic books would melt my brain. Apparently, he’d been right.

Then I saw her. She stood in the far corner of my room, staring at me with green, fawnlike eyes set among the mossy-hued features of her otherworldly—yet stunningly beautiful—face.

Batting lashes long as fern fronds, she held out her hands and said, “Purr twee lee?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand—”

I stopped talking as she came toward me. Not because I was afraid, but because she was smoking hot. Her limber figure was swathed in some kind of spandex that accentuated her long, green legs, her tiny, green waist, and her flawless, green rack. She glided closer, holding out her hands and repeating, “Purr twee lee?” like the bird in Slaughterhouse Five.

All right, I might have been a little scared. Just because she was a supermodel alien didn’t mean she wasn’t a flesh-eating supermodel alien. I edged toward the door.

As Alien Babe neared my bed, she plucked up the notebook paper from where I’d dropped it. “Purr twee lee!” she chirped, waving the paper in excitement.

I took the cipher from her, quivering like Salacious Crumb. “Is—this what you wanted?”

“Twee!” she cried, launching into a frenzy of whistles and hoots that sounded like a Tagalog-speaking canary being strangled. Grabbing my wrist, she dragged me to the window and pointed toward the backyard. “Twee.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am.” (Do you refer to Alien Babes as ma’am?) “But I still don’t—”

My words vanished in a clap-bang of decompressed air and suddenly we were standing in the backyard outside my dad’s tool shed. My head buzzed, but I seemed to be intact. Just to be sure, I reached into my pajama pants. Yep, that was still there too.

Alien Babe led me into the shed. I followed diligently, banging my shins on all sorts of sharp, unpleasant things. Then I saw it: sleek as a Naboo Cruiser, candy-apple red, and embraced by a polished chrome bumper.

I let out a low whistle. “Wow, fantastic ride! I bet you even have those cool lights like in Close Encounters, huh?” I knelt down to check. “Sure do.”

I was so engrossed by the hotrod spacecraft, it took me a while to notice the smoke trickling upward from a long gash in the craft’s flank. I raised my brows and cast Alien Babe a sympathetic look.

“Purr twee lee,” she trilled, frowning.

“Well.” I scratched my head. “I don’t know much about fixing spaceships—or cars, for that matter—but we can pop the hood, or whatever you call it, and take a look.”

I don’t think she understood a thing I said, but she must’ve guessed, because she pressed a button on the side of the ship and a section of chrome slid back.

“Whew!” I exclaimed, staring at the complex array of circuits, tubes, and converters. “I don’t think NASA or Pimp My Ride would know what to do with this!”

Dewy, green tears condensed at the corners of Alien Babe’s eyes. With a long wail, she threw her arms around me and buried her sobbing face in my chest.

“You know, Earth isn’t so bad,” I said, patting her. “We’ve got great movies, like Logan’s Run and Waterworld. And good restaurants, too, like Hooters.” She gave me a funny look when I said ‘Hooters.’ I wonder if some slang terms are universal.

Wiping her eyes, she drew away and stared at the maze of buzzing tubes and blinking knobs. I followed her gaze and saw something I hadn’t noticed before. Unlike the rest of this MythBusters experiment gone wrong, this thing I sort-of recognized.

“Is this the cause of all the trouble?”

Alien Babe nodded.

It was about the size of my head, semi-spherical, and tapered on both ends.

Exactly like a football.

A football with a big, smoking hole in it.

“You know, I might know where we can find one of these.”

Alien Babe’s eyes grew wide. “Purr twee lee!” she cried, jumping up and down and making squeaky noises.

“Maybe,” I said. “But don’t get your hopes up yet. Let’s get some sleep and I promise I’ll try to ‘purr twee lee’ this thing tomorrow morning, okay?”

She must have gotten the gist, because she pressed the button again and the whole dang spaceship became invisible. For a second, I wondered if she could make me invisible, too, but then remembered that, to most people, I already was.

In another clap of air, Alien Babe and I materialized in my room. I examined our surroundings with eyes open to the explosion of geekdom that comprised my domain. RPG models cluttered my desk. Autobots and Decepticons battled for the future of humanity atop my dresser. Alternating Marvel and DC posters coated the walls like designer nerd wallpaper.

“You can sleep here if you want,” I said, picking stuff up in a last-ditch attempt to show that, while I might be a nerd, I was at least a tidy nerd. I caught Alien Babe regarding me curiously. Dumping a pile of tattered Dragon Lance novels in a corner, I turned to her and said, “I just realized I don’t know your name.”

She cocked her green face sideways.

“Your name?” I pointed to a poster. “Gambit,” I said, and, “T-1000,” pointing to another. Then I pointed to her.

With an enlightened grin, she launched into a series of chirrups and squeaks I couldn’t reproduce if someone dipped my testicles in ice water.

“That’s your name, huh? Well, we might have to come up with something—er, shorter—for now.” I studied her, trying to think of something that would do her justice. But as I took her in—those curvy hips, those pouty lips—I could only think of one thing.

“Jeri Ryan. But I’ll just call you Jeri, if that’s okay.”

Alien Babe smiled, which I took as a yes.

Despite the excitement, my eyelids had transformed into weights like the ones in gym class I can never lift. I made a nest of blankets on the floor and motioned for Jeri to take the bed. I had just settled down when, to my shock and delight, Jeri slid her willowy figure beside me. My breathing ceased as Jeri snuggled against my chest, let out a coo like a dove, and fell asleep.

I rolled onto my back and stared at the ceiling, trying to think about Mrs. Haggis the Librarian and name the presidents of the United States. It took a long time for my heart rate to get under one-ninety, but eventually I fell asleep too.

* * *

Saturday morning dawned. I was about to roll over for another hour of slumber when memories of the preceding night came rushing forth. I bolted upright, staring at the pillow beside me. Empty.

“Jeri?” I whispered.

A knock sounded at my door, and I almost wet myself.

“Honey, are you awake?” It was my mom. “It’s almost noon. Your pancakes are getting cold.” She stuck her head in my room and wrinkled her nose. “Ugh, it smells like rotten milk in here—”

“It’s just my laundry!” I ran to the closet to get my hamper, and my jaw dropped to the floor. There stood Jeri, rifling through my clothes—stark naked.

“Well, you should’ve given it to me yesterday,” my mom said, leaning through the doorway.

I snatched up the hamper and shoved the reeking laundry at her, ignoring her raised eyebrows as I slammed the door in her face.

The rattle of hangers came from my closet. I darted over and peeked in. “Jeri?”

She had on a pair of my gym shorts in the style Prefontaine wore during the ‘72 Olympics. They made me look like I swung both ways, but Jeri made them look good.

She made a pose. “Twee?”

“Definitely,” I said. “But let’s get you a shirt, okay?”

* * *

We managed to sneak out of the house without my parents noticing by the almighty power of Judge Judy reruns on TV. From the garage, I retrieved my bicycle—the same ten-speed plastered with Incredible Hulk stickers I’d had since I was ten—and hopped on. Jeri situated herself behind me and wrapped her arms around my waist like she was Leia and I was Luke and we were racing through the forests of Endor on our Speeder—forgetting they’re brother and sister, of course, because that would be gross.

As I pedaled, I wondered if Jeri was like E.T. and suddenly we would soar into the clouds, our silhouette against the sky as perfect as if Spielberg had choreographed it himself. Apparently she wasn’t like E.T., because I pedaled like Lance Armstrong all the way to the school. But Jeri wasn’t bug-eyed and squashy, she was gorgeous. So I forgave her.

As we neared the school, the off-key blatts of tubas and clarinets rose from the field. I ditched my bike and tucked Jeri into a secluded spot behind the bleachers, motioning for her to wait.

Then I snuck to the locker rooms.

The boy’s locker room was my own ninth level of hell. The combined odors of Clorox and Lamisil elicited painful memories of bearing my hairless, underdeveloped body among a communal shower of testosterone-fed muscle. But Brian Webber always kept a football in his locker, covered with signatures supposedly from cheerleaders he’d gotten to fourth base with. His locker was number 69, same number as his jersey. Of course, locker 69 was locked. I once heard someone say all you had to do to open a locker was jiggle the handle. So I jiggled, and jiggled, and swore, and jiggled again. That someone had lied.

In my frustration, I kicked the locker door and, lo and behold, it opened. There, buried beneath a mess of hair products and scented body sprays, lay Brian Webber’s football. As legend proclaimed, it was covered with signatures—signatures that suspiciously appeared to have been made in the same handwriting.

Then the locker room door burst open and Brian Webber marched in, accompanied by the entire varsity football team.

He stomped over and hauled me up by my shirt. “What do you think you’re doing?”

I dangled there, trying not to pee my pants.

“Answer me, milk fart!” Spit flew from Brian Webber’s mouth and splatted against my cheeks.

“I was—uh—I was just looking for—”

“For what?”

“A f-f-f-f-f-f-football.”

A dark and sinister smile stretched across Brian Webber’s face. “Well I can’t just give you a football. You gotta get one yourself. Isn’t that right, boys?”

The rest of the team grunted in unison.

“You want to get a football?” asked Brian Webber.

I nodded. (Why? Why did I nod?) Next thing I knew, some sort of mattress was draped around my shoulders and my cranium was engulfed in a helmet so big, I could’ve dispensed Pez. Then about twenty beefy, sweaty hands dragged me, screaming at the top of my lungs, out onto the field. Someone spouted football lingo. When the shouting stopped, I was jostled around until I found myself facing the biggest guy I’d ever seen. If he ever managed to graduate from high school, he’d probably forego football for a career with WWF.

I tore my eyes from Goliath and gazed helplessly at the bleachers. There, surrounded by a group of guys attempting to look cool and muscley, was Jeri. Apparently, the fact that she was green was overruled by the fact that she was hot. Then a whistle blew and Goliath knocked me twenty feet in the air. I collided with the earth in time for him to come back around and squash me flat. As I staggered to my feet, the football landed in my arms.

Brian Webber appeared out of nowhere. “Give me the ball!”

I glanced toward the sidelines and happened to see Britney Faulk, paused mid-cheer, staring at me with an expression caught between awe and disbelief.

I looked at Jeri, jumping up and down and crying, “Twee!”

Then I looked at the football in my arms. I turned around and started to run.

“What the—?” muttered Brian Webber as he chased after me.

Like a herd of banthas, the opposing team barreled down the field toward us. Luckily for me, Brian Webber must not have wanted them to have the ball any more than he wanted me to have it. As they neared, he knocked them off one by one until it was just the two of us. We passed the twenty yard line, then the ten, then we reached the end zone and the ref screamed “Touchdown!”

And the crowd went wild.

Brian Webber came to a halt by the goal post to bask in the unexpected victory. Me, I kept running. I ran all the way behind the portable classrooms, where I ditched my helmet, then circled back around the bleachers until I found Jeri. I snatched her away from the group of guys who, in the excitement of the score, had forgotten her. Typical jocks. Once Jeri saw the football, she threw her arms around me and planted a big, juicy kiss on my cheek that made me go all woozy. Then we rushed to my bike and pedaled home.

* * *

Back in my dad’s tool shed, Jeri pressed the button again and the spaceship reappeared. I held the football next to the damaged part. A perfect match.

“Well, this looks like it might work,” I said, “but I don’t have any idea how to install it.”

Jeri pushed the button again and a metal panel appeared that looked like some sort of owner’s manual. Many of the symbols on its surface resembled those from my homework. Then I realized, somewhat downheartedly, that Jeri hadn’t come to me because she thought I was some kind of interstellar MacGyver, but because she thought I was some kind of interstellar Joe’s Garage.

She studied the manual, then took the football and dove headlong into the engine. After a few banged thumbs and a series of dolphin squeals, the busted part had been replaced with the football.

“Purr twee lee?” she asked, crawling out of the engine.

“I dunno,” I said. “How do you start this thing?”

With an agile hop, Jeri settled into the driver’s seat and fiddled with the controls.

The engine smoked. Sparks flew everywhere. At last, with an ear-splitting shriek, the engine cranked to life. Jeri revved it a few times and soon it was purring like a tribble.

“Woo hoo!” I shouted.

“Twee!” Jeri cried. She turned off the engine and jumped out of the cockpit, grinning with triumph.

“Well,” I said, ruffling my hair. “I guess you don’t need me anymore.”

Jeri’s lips stuck out in a pout. Then her eyes grew bright and she started chattering away, gesturing to me and then to the ship.

“You want me to go with you?” I pointed to the sky. “Up there?”

“Twee!”

“Wow, that sounds great—”

She nodded.

“—But I don’t think it would work. My parents live here and, backward as they are, they’re kind of useful sometimes. My mom makes a mean meatloaf. Plus, I’m waiting for Winds of Winter to come out.”

Jeri looked down at her feet. Then she looked up again, emitted an incomprehensible cluck, and pressed her palms against me. She did this over and over until at last I understood.

“You want to do something to thank me?”

“Twee.”

My cheeks grew hot. “Oh, gosh. You don’t have to do anything. Really.”

Jeri gave a little shrug.

“Well,” I stroked my chin. “There is one thing you could do—”

* * *

We arrived at the Homecoming Dance just as the band finished playing Cheap Trick’s I Want You to Want Me. Theme song of my life. Then some sappy romance song started playing and, before I could protest, Jeri dragged me onto the dance floor.

Our bodies swayed in rhythmic time (which fortunately she could keep, since I couldn’t) as every guy in the auditorium stared slack-jawed at the stunning, green creature in my arms. But Jeri and I were alone in our own galaxy, floating off in an orbit of dreams. In hindsight, I wonder if we actually did float a little. She might not be E.T., but she was still an alien.

When the song ended, Jeri and I glided off the floor. Then Mr. Dal went on stage and announced that Britney Faulk was Homecoming Queen and Brian Webber was Homecoming King like it was supposed to be a surprise. But before the applause ended, Jeri and I were back on my bicycle, pedaling under the stars toward home.

* * *

The moon shone bright overhead as we walked hand in hand to the tool shed, not saying a word—because we wouldn’t have understood each other if we did. When we reached her ship, Jeri turned to me and sighed, “Twee.”

“I know,” I said. “It’s goodbye for real this time.”

She gazed up at me with those green eyes and I swear that sappy music started playing all over again. With some kind of instinct I didn’t know I had, I took her by the waist and drew her toward me. Her lips met mine, and we shared one of those sensational mind-blowing kisses you make gagging noises at during movies, but secretly hope one day you, too, could kiss like that.

When at last we separated, I walked Jeri to her spaceship and helped her inside. Big, green tears started to roll down her cheeks.

I lifted her chin and looked into her eyes. “It’s all right. We had a great time. I’ll never forget you.”

With a tearful wave goodbye, Jeri cranked the ignition and the engine vroomed. Blowing me one last kiss, she peeled out of the tool shed and up into the night, leaving a long, glowing track in the air as her spaceship shrank to a twinkling speck and vanished.

I stood there for a long time, staring up at the star-studded sky, listening to the dogs go berserk and the car alarms honk and their owners cursing out their windows in an effort to shut them all up. Finally, after the night quieted and Jeri’s kiss had faded to a tingling memory, I turned and ambled back to the house.

* * *

I first noticed Monday might be different when I got to school and was mobbed by every male in the student body. They pretended to congratulate me on my impromptu football victory but, of course, were really asking about Jeri: Was she my girlfriend? Did she have a boyfriend? Was she into soccer guys? Was she into Mathlete guys? Was she into guys and girls, and, if so, would she be interested in making a video?

In homeroom, Britney Faulk and Brian Webber waltzed in on the final bell and made their way toward their place of royalty at the back of the class. At the last second, Britney plopped into the empty seat beside me. I tried to look nonplussed, but must’ve failed, because she looked at me and said, “I know, it’s a total shocker that I’m sitting here. But I just wanted to say I’m, like, really sorry about that milk thing on Friday.”

I nodded. Or I gaped at her like a moron. I don’t remember.

Then Mr. Dal asked about the homework and received a lot of blank stares from the class. I retrieved the decoded cipher from my notebook. It read, “Don’t Do Drugs.”

I showed it to Britney. Did you do this? I scribbled on the bottom.

She shook her head. So I gave it to her to copy and she gave me the prettiest smile she’d ever given me—which was also the only smile she’d ever given me.

So Britney was being nice to me now. So what? Compared to a White Star like Jeri, Britney was a Borg Cube.

That night, I put up the sign Jeri had made. The Homecoming Dance had been my idea as a way for her to thank me, but this was hers. After deciphering her nonverbal cues, I had given her the Cyclops poster on my wall (I used to think Cyclops was a badass, but not since the X-Men movies when he listened to N’Sync and cried like a girl). While I got ready for the dance, Jeri had penned a long stream of alien symbols in black sharpie on its back.

I taped the poster against the window so the symbols faced the glass and stared through the opposite pane up into the night. There were countless other worlds out there. In space, the final frontier. In galaxies far far away. To infinity and beyond. In all those worlds, there were even more Jeri Ryans and Robin Leflers and Carrie Fishers. And it was just a matter of time before they had an intergalactic fender-bender off the Milky Way, and their X-Wing Convertibles would sputter from ludicrous speed down to warp drive, and they would get upset and maybe cry a little. But then they would notice this speck of a planet hanging in the darkness, and dry their lovely green eyes, and set a course for my window, where I would be waiting with my sign:

Purr Twee Lee.

51-w0FMbdnL._UX250_A 2004 APU MBA graduate, Brooke Hartman now resides in Chugiak, Alaska with her husband, daughter, and nuttier-than-a-fruitcake chocolate lab. Her short science fiction satire, Jeri, was a finalist in the F Magazine and Pacific Northwest Writers Association annual fiction contests.

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