Gabriel sulked and groaned into my bedroom one evening after I got home from work. He was always in such a good mood so it was a rare occurrence to see him upset.
“Hey kiddo, what’s the matter?”
“Sure doesn’t seem like nothing. What’s with the frown?”
“I hate school!” He blurted.
“You’ve always loved school. Did something happen?”
“I just don’t fit in. Everyone thinks I’m weird!”
I became concerned as I wondered if the other children at school managed to figure out Gabriel’s secret. He saw the look on my face and quickly reassured me. “No one knows I’m an alien. That’s not why. They all think I’m weird because of Dad.”
“Because of Dad?”
“Yeah, because he won’t let me go to the camping trip cause he thinks I’ll come out of my disguise and someone will see me. But I told him I won’t and he still said no. When I told David and Lindsay that my Dad said no, they said I was lying because I was afraid to go on a sleepover. Then David called me a big baby and said I was scared of the dark! I’m not scared of the dark! And everyone laughed and started calling me big baby, big baby…”
“He’s the baby, not me! He can’t even draw a proper boat in Art class! That’s what I should have said to him and then he would be the one getting laughed at.”
“Well Gabe, it’s never good to stoop to the same level as a bully. Saying that to him would have made you feel better in the moment but it might end up making the situation worse.”
“But all the kids laughed when he said that, Ivy! They all laughed at me! If they only knew the things I can do, the powers that I have. None of them would ever make fun of me!”
“I wish I could just wipe all of their memories but Dad said I shouldn’t use my powers in public. He’s always telling me that I need to be careful and that I can’t let anyone find out I’m an alien. I can’t leave the house in my true form. I have to change into my disguise whenever anyone comes over. I’m sick of it. I just wanna be me, Ivy. Why can’t I just be me?”
I wish I could tell him that one day it will get better but that would be a lie. We all treat him like he’s one of us and it’s during moments like this when it becomes painfully clear he’s not. He is different and that’s a fact that we can’t run away from regardless of how much we try to make him fit in. I love that he’s so proud of his real self. I love that he wants to be in his real skin and use his powers. He’s so confident and secure at such a young age which is great but it must be so frustrating for him to hide the truth about who he really is.
“I’m sorry that the kids at school teased you. Kids can be cruel, I know that first hand. But telling them that you’re an alien won’t make them like you more or stop them from teasing you. If anything, the fact that you’re an alien will be another reason for them to tease you. Not to mention, Dad will get in so much trouble with the government if anyone learns who you are. I know it sucks that you can’t be yourself all the time but think of it this way, when I leave for work I have to wear a uniform and when I come home I change out of it but I’m still the same person whether I’m in my uniform or not. Think of your disguise as a uniform. You can still be yourself in your uniform.”
“As for your powers, you do need to be careful. You can’t just go around wiping people’s memories just because you don’t like what they’re saying. You must use your powers wisely and for non-selfish reasons. If the other kids laugh at you then stand up for yourself. You don’t need your powers to show that you’re brave and you don’t care about what they think. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“I do. I feel a little better. Thanks, Ivy.”
He gave me a big hug and told me I was the best. He always made me feel so important and because of that I always felt like I had to be a role model and support system for him. I took my job as a big sister to Gabriel very seriously simply because I knew he needed me more than my sisters did. Which is why I made it my mission then and there that in spite of my fear of rockets, I will overcome it so that I could travel to space, to Sixam, and try to find others like Gabriel who can help him feel a sense of belonging.
Because our own rocket ship was destroyed, I couldn’t just travel there myself on a whim. For generations, my family has been travelling to Sixam on these one-off missions to collect materials on behalf of SASA. Future Sim Labs would then acquire those goods themselves. Since the stock of some rare items were depleting it was about time to make another trip again. The officials at SASA contacted me about travelling to Sixam in the near future and I was very interested in taking on the duty but I knew I would have to rebuild our ship as well as install the wormhole generator that makes it possible to travel to the planet. I would hardly have enough time to work on such a big project in my spare time so I came up with a plan.
“So what do you think?” I asked Doctor Bjergsen.
“You want to work on a rocket ship as part of your next project? Usually, that’s something the astronauts do. I don’t know if I will get the approval so you can use your lab hours in such a way.”
“I know but we do have a launching pad right outside ready for construction.”
“It’s been there for years. We don’t know if it’s still fit for use.”
“It is! I inspected it personally and I had one of the technicians at SASA come by as well. He said the launching pad will work. I’ll also have SASA’s technical support in building it to make sure it’s up to code. Think about it Doctor Bjergsen, Future Sim Labs will have their own rocket ship. This means we can fund our own expeditions and collect our own materials without SASA.”
“But SASA will still need to authorise our travels into space and they might not be so willing to allow us to travel often to collect our own materials instead of buying from them. As much as the idea of having our own rocket ship is exciting, I don’t know if it will be worth the investment.”
“There will be a huge return on our investment Doctor Bjergsen. SASA has agreed to authorize 5 trips per year so long as we still provide them with the materials they need to sell to other labs. As long as we’re efficient in our collecting methods, we’ll receive so much material and it will save us so much money that the ship will pay for itself and then some. Trust me.”
He thought over what I was saying for a few minutes and I stood there in silence wondering what his final decision would be.
“Okay Sloane, you can build the rocket with your lab hours but you’ll still need to produce other inventions and work on the upgrades for the SimRay device as well. The President will be more impressed by inventions that can land us military contracts than venturing into space for raw materials.”
“Of course. Thank you, Doctor Bjergsen!”
I was thrilled that he gave me the permission I needed to work on the rocket. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be but I had good support from the technical team at SASA plus I also went over my great-grandmother’s notes. She was the one who built the rocket ship that we had in our backyard and she became well known amongst the scientific community for her accomplishments. I could only hope I would someday be as accomplished as her.
I had to learn to manage my time properly while at the lab. In the morning I would work on inventions and late in the afternoon when the weather was considerably cooler that was when I would go outside to work on the rocket.
Even though the rocket was halfway complete I still had a long way to go. I needed to get my rocket science skill up to where I would be able to install the wormhole generator. As much as I wanted this project to be completed in days I had to be realistic. It would be a while before this risk of mine could be paid off so I needed to pace myself properly.
Speaking of taking risks, I decided to take one when it came to my personal life.
One evening Cyrus came over to my house after work to hang out while he waited for the next bus to Willow Creek.
“This song is steadily becoming my new favourite!” He was nodding his head to the beat of the song playing on the stereo. “I love the arrangement, the tempo. It’s the best I’ve heard from him in years.”
“It’s the first time I’m hearing it,” I added. “It’s nice. Tell me again why you decided to pursue a career in science over one in music?”
“I don’t know.”
“You’re so passionate about music. I remember when you first told me you dabbled in DJing and then you sent me that mixtape. I didn’t think it would be as good as it was.”
“Glad to know you had so much faith in me.” He said with a chuckle.
“I got faith in you when I heard that mixtape. You’re really good Cy. Why don’t you take it seriously?”
“Well, I’ve always got good grades in science and well, my Mom, she said the DJ stuff was good for a hobby but you can’t have a real career as a DJ.”
“It might not be a career in the strictest definition of a career but you can still be successful and make a lot of money as a DJ once you start composing your own tracks to play at the big parties.”
“You know you just want me out of Future Sim Labs so I can stop stealing your thunder. That’s why you’re convincing me to quit my job and become a DJ, huh?”
“Darn it, you caught me!” I joked. He started laughing so hard. It was cute how his eyes squinted and his smooth lips spread against his porcelain teeth as he laughed. I just stared at him. Sometimes, I’d have to stop myself from staring for too long just so I won’t make him wonder why I was looking at him in that way.
After a while, he noticed the family photos we had on the wall next to the piano. “Is that your mom in those photos?” he asked.
“Yeah, that’s her.”
“She’s pretty. You look just like her.”
“Mum was very beautiful. I don’t think I look like her at all.”
“Are you kidding? Do you not own a mirror?” He laughed. Was that a compliment? Did he just compliment me on my looks? Does that mean he thinks I’m pretty?
“I own a mirror. I just don’t think I’m as pretty as her or my sisters.”
“Maybe we need to have you committed because you’re talking crazy.”
Again, was it a compliment? I was so confused! I was also quite flattered. To avoid having him see me blush I ran into the kitchen with the excuse of washing my plate.
When came out I heard him talking with Gabriel.
“Yes he can!” Gabe said.
“Now way dude, Llama-man can’t beat Night-Patch. It’s just not possible!”
“Llama-man has powers like super strength and super speed. Night-Patch just runs around and throws explosive devices and blows up stuff.”
“Just blows up stuff? The man is a genius inventor and he has an IQ of 200. He’s a strategist. There’s no way Llama-man can beat him even with his powers because Night-Patch has brains and Llama-man is just brawns…”
“I bet you all the toys in my toy box that when the new season of Justice Squad comes out, that Llama-man will beat Night-Patch.” Gabriel challenged.
“You know the premiere is gonna take place on Planet Destructo, right? That means Llama-man’s powers won’t work there.”
“So, it should be a fair fight. Then we’ll see who’s the greatest.”
“You’re on!” Cyrus accepted.
“Can I get in on this?” I joined in.
“Whose side are you on?” Cyrus asked.
“Llama-man, of course. This is a family of Llama-man supporters. I don’t know why you’re coming in this house with all that Night Patch talk!” I joked.
“Please, Ivy. You yourself said that Night-Patch was bad-ass!”
“Yeah but he still can’t beat Llama-man. Save your breath Escamilla, cause there’s no convincing me on this one.” I soon noticed that Gabriel quietly went upstairs. Clever kid. I guess it was pretty obvious to everyone at home, even him, that I had a huge crush on Cyrus so they all made themselves scarce whenever he came over.
He chuckled. “Don’t worry, one of these days, I’ll successfully convert you.”
“Maybe you can do something else to me instead?”
“Uh… like what?” He asked, eying me curiously.
“I’m wearing a new flavour lip balm. Maybe you’d like to try it out and tell me what you think.” I flirted. I actually flirted for the first time in my life. I didn’t know what I was doing. I wasn’t even wearing lip balm! The words were coming out of my mouth and it did not sound right at all but it’s the kind of thing Jo says to Terrance all the time and it works on him so I figured why not. Ugh, what am I doing? What if he actually agrees? Am I ready for that?
“Uh… are you for real? I mean, are you serious, Ivy?”
The look on his face… Crap! I shouldn’t have done that!
“Oh…gah…I’m just joking!” I laughed awkwardly, certain I was failing in my attempt to hide my embarrassment.
“I don’t think you were.”
“Yes. It was a bad joke, obviously, but I don’t seriously want to make out with you Cy.” Yes I do! “We’re friends, that’s all. Let’s just forget about it okay?”
“Maybe we need to talk about this…”
“Don’t make this awkward, I just…look it’s time for you to leave now. You might miss your bus.”
“I need to go to bed. I wanna get to the lab early tomorrow so I can begin working on that hover lamp design. Message me when you get home?” I didn’t want to kick him out like that but I had no other choice. If he stuck around any longer I was sure I would break down into tears. It was obvious by his reaction that he was not interested and I just wanted to be alone after that.
“Alright. I’ll talk to you later.”
The expression on his face just before he left confused me. Was he disappointed? No. It was pity, it had to be. Crap, I hope I didn’t totally ruin our friendship with my dumb attempt at flirting. At least now I have my answer.
Cyrus is not interested in me. Now I just have to get over it and move on.
Easier said than done.