by Lillian Csernica on May 29, 2018
Today’s fortune cookie says:
The love of your life is stepping onto your planet this summer.
A LEAF ON THE WIND
Kathleen sat cross-legged on the shabby old blanket in the middle of an empty meadow near a farm that boarded horses. It was a twenty minute drive from her apartment, just far enough to feel like she’d gotten away. Overhead the June sky was midnight blue, speckled with thousands of stars. If she squinted, Kathleen could just make out hints of red or blue, stars that were really suns with cool names like Red Giant or Blue Dwarf.
She sighed and took another sip from her bottle of Blue Moon. She’d drunk half the six-pack. The remains of a sausage calzone sat on a paper plate beside the cooler. This late a slight chill gave the night air an an edge. Her jeans and Blue Moon Brewing Company sweatshirt kept her comfortable. Her long black hair often hung in a simple English braid down her back, but tonight she let it fall loose. Sometimes the braid gave her a headache. Sometimes it was just life.
The emptiness inside continued to nag at her. Thirty loomed, the days passing like seconds on some giant Doomsday Clock. Thirty years old. No husband, no steady boyfriend, no roommates, not that many friends. Dad had walked out when she was three. Mom died of cancer five years ago next month. Her strongest relationships were online. It was like that old saying about grandchildren. You could play with them all day, then give them back when you were done.
Her coworkers at Greenhaven Labs were nice enough people. They invited her to the parties that marked the various rites of passage for people who had found love and paired up, or in the case of Tim, Wei Ming, and Sanjay, created the menage that suited their needs. Sometimes Kathleen worried about being out of touch with her own needs. She didn’t seem to mind being alone, regardless of the onslaught of advertising that tried to inspire the insecurities that in turn created needs met by the products being sold.
The truth was, she just hadn’t met anybody who made her feel that way, whatever that way actually felt like. Sure, there were actors who caught her eye, like the guy who played Captain America. Too bad his character had commitment issues due to the whole unnatural lifespan thing. The Winter SoldierShe usually was pretty hot too, but even reformed psychopaths seemed a little too out there. Kathleen grinned. She’d had these conversations online. Everybody said she was too careful, too cautious, too practical.
Twenty feet in front of her, the air rippled like a heat shimmer then split open down the middle. Out stepped a figure that wavered for a moment, then resolved into tall, long-legged, broad-shouldered. A gloved hand reached up to pull off the helmet. Waves of dark brown hair spilled down across those broad shoulders. The face that regarded Kathleen was such a happy combination of Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan she was immediately suspicious.
“Good evening, Kathleen O’Bannon.” Rich baritone music, like hot fudge poured over brown velvet.
“Good evening. Who are you?”
“To translate my name into modern American English, it loses some of its meaning.”
“What Earth language works best, then?”
“You lucky devil. I’m one of the few gaijin you might run into at this time of night who can speak Japanese.” Kathleen stood up, wobbling only a little. “Hajimemashite. Anata no onamae wa?”
“Watashi no namae wa Yugure-ji no Ochiba.”
Kathleen’s brow furrowed in concentration. “Leaves that fall…at sunset?”
“Dusk. Or twilight.”
“Good name. What do people call you? Leaf? Fall?”
“Leaf would be acceptable, if that is what you would prefer.”
“Leaf it is.” Kathleen nodded. “I’m guessing you’ve come a long way?”
“Indeed. I have traveled thousands of light years, past the brilliant embers of dying suns, to find you.”
Kathleen blinked. Which old movies had this guy been watching? “Let me guess. Mars needs women.”
“Mars?” Those dark brown waves rippled as he shook his head. “Mars needs water. Those canals dried up a long time ago.”
“So where are you from?”
“A planet as yet unidentified by your scientists. I assure you, the climate is enjoyable and the atmosphere compatible with your biological requirements.”
“That’s wonderful news. Why would I want to run off with a total stranger who is also an alien capable of reading my mind and shapeshifting into a form he knows would be highly attractive to me?”
“Doesn’t that question answer itself? I can anticipate your wants and needs far better and more quickly than any male of this planet.”
Kathleen snorted. “Some days I think that wouldn’t be too difficult.”
Leaf took two more steps closer and pulled off his other glove, stuffing both into his belt. “Kathleen, there is a yearning inside you. None of the ways your companions have met their needs appeals to you. You think you are lonely, needy, ambivalent, insecure. You think the problem lies within you.”
“And? Am I right or wrong?”
“You have made a wrong equation based on initial assumptions that don’t apply. There is nothing wrong with you. If anything, you are overqualified for life on this planet.”
Kathleen blinked. “Overqualified?”
“The problem is simple. You are bored, Kathleen. You have yet to find a challenge worthy of your intellectual gifts. The same is true of a life partner who could hold your interest for more than a week or two.”
Kathleen swayed, then dropped back down onto the blanket. Boredom. Not ADHD. Not ASD. No learning disability. Those were all worthy explanations for her inability to get excited about what life in 21st Century North America had to offer. She leaned back to look up at the stars.
“That’s right,” Leaf said. “Above us, just outside the Earth’s atmosphere, awaits what writers of escapist fiction might call my chariot or my white charger.” He walked to the edge of the blanket, then sank down on his knees. “I’m here to carry you off to the life you’ve always dreamed of.”
Caution sent up a flare inside Kathleen’s brain. “Why me? What do you get out of this?”
Leaf smiled. Up close that was enough to carbonate Kathleen’s dormant hormones.
“I’m looking for a simple country girl with wholesome, old-fashioned values. A fair maiden untainted by the wiles of a corrupt world.”
“You must get cable on your planet. I can guess which shows you’ve been watching.”
“I accessed your queues. I wanted to be able to talk to you about your interests.”
This was way too good to be true. “Really? You’ve watched every single episode of Once Upon A Time? Who is my favorite character?”
“Not, as so many would think, Captain Hook. Your favorite is the Mad Hatter.”
“And Supernatural? Do I like Dean or Sam better?”
“Neither. You like Castiel.”
“That was too easy. What do I watch when I’m so stressed out I want to punch a wall?”
“Haunted asylum movies.”
“Because they follow a pattern. The same pattern. That lets you yell at them and throw popcorn or M&Ms at your plasma screen. Which is a dangerous idea, by the way. The salt on the popcorn or the fats in the chocolate could cause considerable damage.”
“Most people would just say I might break the screen.”
“That wouldn’t start a fire.”
Kathleen shook her head. “Do you always look like this? Or are you really some kind of space squid, like the aliens in Galaxy Quest?”
Leaf laughed out loud. “I can be whatever I want to be. Or, more to the point, whatever you want me to be.”
“My lifespan is maybe one hundred years. Is that a problem?”
“Not with our medical technology. You can live far longer than that if you choose to.”
“Do I have to decide right now?”
“I realize you feel some obligation to your family and your employers. Can those be resolved by email?”
Kathleen mulled it over. No houseplants. No pet. No subscriptions to cancel. That was really depressing, but it was also a plus.
“And if it doesn’t work out? What happens then?”
“I realize you are of a scientific turn of mind, but I feel I must ask you to have a little faith.”
“No probes? No weird crop circles?”
“No bizarre alien breeding program. No Man With A Cigarette.”
An X Files reference! Gorgeous, a sense of humor, and similar interests. Kathleen would be a fool to miss the opportunity. She got to her feet.
“All right. Let’s go be a leaf on the wind.”
Leaf grinned. “Ooh, shiny!”