I flop onto my messy bed, hitting bare mattress instead of the crumpled sheet. I get back up and straighten the covers, tucking in the blankets, annoyed. Today’s tortures crowd my brain and for the millionth time I wish I didn’t have to go to high school. The only good thing about Hollywood High is my boyfriend Jimmy, but he’s graduating next June. I really need to look into passing some GED test so I can escape too, I think as I slide back into my now-made bed and yank my comforter to my chin and breathe in a sigh, trying to forget about yet another lame-ass day. The usual pulsing glow of the Hollywood skyline beyond my window calms me like a lullaby when I snap off the bedside lamp.
Headlights illuminate my room. It’s Mother, pulling into the driveway, home from her weekly meeting. My jaw clenches; I know she’ll stop by my room to say goodnight. Maybe I will close my eyes and pretend to be asleep. I really don’t have anything to say to her. Did she see the light go off? I hear her coming in, kicking off her heels, putting down her purse, the jangle of her keys up the stairs.
“Goodnight, Jessica,” Mother calls from behind the closed door. She doesn’t come in my room but I can feel her hovering in the doorway. “I know you’re awake.”
“‘Night,” I say in a tired voice, keeping my eyes shut as she opens the door.
“How was your day?”
“Get some sleep, then.”
There is a pause, as if she wants to say a quadrillion more things to me, and I know she does; that meeting was about me, after all. But neither of us is up for that kind of conversation. She closes the door and as I hear her walk down the hallway, my eyes pop open. Outside my window the palm trees bend, illuminated by street lamps and blown by soft Santa Ana winds. I watch the breeze moving leaves around, and hear the tinkling of wind chimes on our front porch. I breathe in to make myself relax, alone at last.
As I wait for sleep to take me, I hear a weird humming noise in my room. At first I assume it’s the wind, but it’s not a sound I’ve ever heard before. Now what? I sit up and look around, hoping to discover what that sound is, when my heart clutches in fear. I see a vague blue outline of . . . something . . . and realize there’s a tall willowy figure standing at the foot of my bed, with big eyes staring at me! My first reaction is to scream but it sticks in my throat and I can’t. My mouth is locked open like Edvard Munch’s painting and I’m freaking out on the inside, but all of a sudden I get strangely calm, because somehow I now know I don’t need to scream because it is only my granddaughter. Wait, what? My granddaughter? I can’t have a granddaughter. I’m sixteen! I’m completely flipped out because in my mind I am being told that this granddaughter of mine is, like, from millions of years in the future. My great-great-great-great-infinity.
“What are you doing here?” I ask in a shaky voice, recognizing her for who she is as if we’d just had a sit-down chat at Starbucks earlier and she’d forgotten to tell me something. I feel like I’m in a dream, but I know I’m awake.
“I am here to warn you, Jessica,” she says in a voice that comes into my head without her opening her mouth. Not that she has a mouth, not really, just a small slit that could be either nose or mouth in the middle of her intelligent blue-gray face. Her luminous eyes bulge in the darkness. Now that I have my voice back I feel as if I should keep with my original plan and try screaming again, but suddenly I feel even calmer, as if she put some kind of mindspell on me. In a weird way she is beautiful and I am transfixed by her being.
“Warn me about what?” I ask, the shakiness in my voice gone, and when she blinks at me there is a small death as she closes her eyes, as if the lights have gone out. I realize I don’t want her presence to leave me.
“You know who I am to you, because I have told you through telepathy,” she says with her mind. “I am your kin of what you call the future; you are my direct ancestor. You are the link that brings myself and thousands of others forth into life. I have been searching for you. I am what you will become.”
“You look like an alien,” I tell her, wondering if that’s an offensive thing to say. I used to watch Roswell as a kid before it was cancelled . . . I’ve seen pictures of aliens and she does look like one . . . big head, big eyes, thin body. But the small flap in her nose/mouth region moves gently at the sides and I am amazed . . . she is smiling. My heart leaps with happiness at the sight of it. I must be under a spell, I’m not even afraid anymore as her words fill my head.
“We are, what many of you Early Humanoids, call aliens, but we are not from another galaxy . . . we are the Humans of, in your version of time and space, the future.” Her words in my mind are slow and deliberate, as if she is trying to explain something very complex to someone very stupid. But I get it.
“Oh . . . cool! You mean, you can, like . . . time travel?” I’ve seen Back to the Future with my dad about a million times. That’s “our” movie, so I’m no dummy about stuff like that.
“There is no such thing as Time . . .” she begins to explain, but she stops herself. Re-boot. I’m curious about what she means by that but she’s too quick for me. “That is of no consequence now. I am here to warn you of your current relationship. You must use caution Jessica. You have many paths, and only one of them leads to me. The others . . .” Again with the already annoying habit of censoring herself. “The other paths lead to things I cannot tell you now. Heed my words: You must end your relationship with Jimmy Becker immediately. Our lives depend upon it.”
I don’t know what to think when she then touches me on my upper arm with three of her four long fingers, and her touch feels both chilly and hot at the same time. With a really cool wavery blue shimmer she vanishes and I’m all alone in my dark room wondering what the hell just happened. My eyes are bugging, almost as big as hers, as I think of what she said. Beware of my relationship with Jimmy Becker? What’s my boyfriend got to do with my future relatives? How can Jimmy be bad for me? Maybe I’m hallucinating-they did drug me up pretty good last year in the hospital. Maybe it’s a flashback of some kind. My mind tumbleweeds as I finally fall into a fitful sleep.
“Jessica Allen, we’re late! Get out of bed!” Mother screams into my bedroom as she runs through the hallway. I bolt upright, my heart racing. What the . . . ? I look at the clock. 7:40! Hell, my alarm didn’t go off . . . again. I get up and throw off my nightshirt. I open the closet door–nothing to wear. Just last year’s rags. Not even a decent shirt. I grab for the laundry pile under my bedroom window and start digging. I find my favorite jeans . . . just a hint of ketchup. Fixable. A retro “Foxy Lady” glitter T-shirt –totally wrinkled–I sniff the armpits . . . and stinky. Dryer sheet in the dryer? Maybe. Man, I’m so late! Yesterday’s bra drapes the chair. I throw it on with some miraculously clean panties from my drawer and run downstairs toward the dryer with my laundry/outfit, barely remembering to grab my plugged- in cell in case I get a text from Kara or Jimmy. Thank God my undies are clean. I sponge off the ketchup stain on the knee of my jeans, put the T-shirt in the dryer with a fresh-scent sheet and get lucky finding my sandals by the refrigerator . . . no socks required, because finding a pair of matching socks in my house has eluded me since kindergarten and now I’m a sophomore in high school, so it’s been a long time since I’ve worn matched socks. I’m dressed and scarfing down my Pop-Tart and OJ when my wretched brother Keith comes in and starts his morning harassment routine.
“So, Jimmy called, after you passed out last night. I told him I thought you took a drug overdose and might be dead.”
“Did he really call?” I ask mildly, knowing Jimmy never calls our house phone; he just leaves me a message on my cell. My blood is starting to simmer anyway and I stare moodily at the kitchen knives for effect. Lucky for me I have gone off the deep end a couple times so Keither is really deep down afraid of me since I attempted suicide last year. My therapist, Michael, says he just hides his fear of me because my presence emasculates him, whatever that means. I think it has something to do with sex. I really don’t want to know so I haven’t asked Michael to explain. Thinking about Keith in that way just makes me ill. Keith sees me staring at the knives and he flinches. Round one, and I won it. That was almost too easy. But Keith isn’t done with me yet.
“Mom!” Keith yells when Mother pops her head around the corner. Her eyes glaze and I recognize her Lost-Keys-in- the-Morning-Look. I suddenly remember a dream I had, a weird-ass dream about some ghost or something in my room. . . what the hell was that? I frown, trying to get the mental picture clear, but it’s all a blur.
“What?” Mother is testy. I wouldn’t be messing with her if I were Keith, but he likes to “ride on the edge,” as Michael says.
“Jessie just threatened me with a knife!” he says, and I’m pulled away from trying to remember that dream. My mouth drops. Mother looks at me.
“Not even,” I say, and Mother looks back at Keith, her expression a question mark.
“Well, not physically, but she looked at the knives and then at me,” he explains weakly. Mother and I roll our eyes in unison. She leaves, and from the dining room I hear the ring of jangling keys. “Let’s go!” she calls, and we’re out.
On the way to school, Keith and his whiny snot-nosed friends sit in the back seat and snicker while I try to piece together the dream. A ghost dream, but not a ghost . . . I’m lost in thought when suddenly the vision of two large black eyes swims into my brain, a remembrance not only from a dream but from life! The fragments fall into place, and I remember my granddaughter, and how I thought she was an alien, and how she told me there wasn’t such a thing but that she was a human being from the future. And she warned me about something . . . what was it? Right. She warned me about Jimmy. And then she touched me before she vanished . . . wow, that dream seems too real. I’m really freaked but trying to stay cool as Mother speeds toward the parking lot at our school, while other moms glare at her recklessness. She stops the minivan with a screeching halt alongside Hollywood High’s Sheik Territory mural. I get out of the car absently and touch the spot on my arm where The Granddaughter touched me. Keith is getting out of the car and he pokes me hard as he passes.
“Did ‘oo get an owie?” he mimics in a baby voice as he and his freshman cronies walk on. I glance down at my arm. There are three long chevron-shaped silvery purple welts there, the same shape as The Granddaughter’s fingers. I stare at the marks, astonished, as Mother yells, “close the door, Jessie! I’m late!”
I’m still standing there staring at the welts long after she’s driven off.