When Yvette finally dragged Noel from the lab, the sun was reluctantly settling behind the horizon. Red flares soared over the sky, fluffy and brilliant. After all the white cement walls of the lab, Noel was very glad to see color. She only wished it wasn’t red, since that was unfortunately the color of her once-blue shirt.
Carrie was the first to notice. Her face breaking into a smile worth gold. “Oh my god! You guys made it! How did you get out?”
Yvette stiffened. “I, uh, contacted some superiors and they settled the matter for us.”
“Oh yeah,” Noel said, trying to get onto the ground. She felt uncomfortably light. “You should have seen what Yvette’s people look-”
“No! No! Don’t tell them that!”
The others gathered in around Yvette, begging for details, but Theo ignored Yvette’s paranoia and headed straight for Noel.
“Hey,” he said softly, kneeling to meet Noel at eye-level, “Are you okay? That’s not blood-oh, it is.”
“I don’t have to answer, do I?” Noel croaked. Now that everything was over, and she didn’t have to worry about aliens keeping her friends as witnesses, the exhaustion was really setting in.
Theo wrapped his arms around her shoulders, hugging her close to his chest. She could even feel his heartbeat slowing in relief. “Of course you don’t,” he murmured, “I’m just glad you’re safe.” To say his gentleness was surprising would be an understatement.
Suddenly giggling burst from the others. Noel was suddenly very aware that uh, hello, Theo was hugging her. A public display of affection, eww! Theo drew back, just as flustered as Noel was.
“W-what are you laughing at?” he snapped.
Noel couldn’t help but join in everyone else’s fun.
One Week Later:
“So what actually happened?” Carrie asked, stabbing her slice of cheesecake vehemently.
Yvette stubbornly refused to say anything, and Noel saved her by bringing a piece of cake.
Through a full mouth, Theo also demanded to know what happened.
“Why are you even here?” Noel said, slapping his head, “I thought I said this was going to be a girls’ party.”
“I wanted some cheesecake.”
Lillian snickered. “Sure you did. I bet you just wanted to one-up that guy who started hitting on Noel yesterday. Assert your position as her-”
“Shut up!” Theo yelled, drawing back and nearly impaling his fork in the wall.
Noel gracefully avoided the fork and walked to the head of the table, a piece of paper mysteriously appearing in her hand. Carrie wasn't about to guess where she'd hid it until then.
“Oh no,” Yvette said, “You are not showing them that, don’t even-”
“I drew you all a picture of Yvette’s people!” Noel announced, holding it up triumphantly. Carrie thought it looked like a beaver with a cat face, only rusted-copper-green.
Yvette looked like she might bury her face in her cheesecake while Lillian burst into uncontrollable laughter.
“Are you serious? They look like green beavers?”
“Oh yeah,” Noel said eagerly.
Carrie was amused by the picture, but she still wanted to know what happened.
“Oh? What happened?” Noel said, “Uh, I guess Yvette called in some haughty superior who reprimanded Mr. Wills and Mrs. Johns for misunderstanding their mission.”
“Yeah, they were only supposed to find the quantum device and monitor it, not try to take it back,” Yvette added, sending a murderous glare at the picture of her people.
“That’s a little anti-climactic, don’t you think?” Carrie said. She was planning on writing a story to document their adventures, though she knew Noel had already beaten her to it.
“I guess, but that’s what happened. Mr. Wills was about to bring a chainsaw to my skull when this little cat-beaver popped up and whacked him in the back of his knees,” Noel explained, laughing sheepishly.
“Don’t call him a cat-beaver!” Yvette said, “It’s insulting, and besides, we have prehensile tails, not awkward flat things.”
Carrie listened calmly to the arguing, wolfing down a second slice of cheesecake.
Four months later:
Theo was temporarily pretending to be mad at Noel. Her birthday invitation had been insensitive and teasing, and just so… irritating.
“Hey did you know,” her e-mail had read, “The Perseid meteor shower peaks on my birthday this year. Please come stargaze with me because Carrie went through all the trouble of setting up a place without a lot of light pollution just for my party.”
She signed with a little attachment file of a smiley face, and Theo drew back in disgust as soon as he finished reading. Really? he thought, Meteor showers are still a sensitive subject for me. That stupid girl.
But at the sight, with all the sagebrush surrounding them and the rest of the gang, he was pressed into setting up a lawn chair right next to Noel’s.
In the background, Lillian was teasing Yvette over a new drawing Noel had done. Yvette seemed quite embarrassed that her species looked so ‘cute’. Dieter was puzzling over a seven-by-seven rubik’s cube while Carrie and Doug tried to catch flashing meteors on their phones.
“I saw one!” Noel whispered excitedly, gazing up at the clear night sky. Her hand rested on the armrest between them.
“What did you wish for?” Theo asked.
“If I tell you, it won’t come true!”
They laughed and settled back down, Theo’s hand covering Noel’s. There seemed to be some picture-taking from the others, but Theo didn’t care. Instead, looking up at the Milky Way, he decided that maybe Noel’s birthday e-mail and the meteor showers hadn’t been so bad after all.