John Meiners, Jr.
The next morning Clarice rises early, makes coffee, and sits down. She is deep in thought, but surprised she slept as well as she did after last night’s bombshell. Clarice’s mind races as she reconciles the reasons Stefan kept his true identity from her. They met when they were 27. If you meet and fall in love, do you tell someone something so unbelievable that it sends them reeling and running away from you? Even now it’s too difficult to believe, and part of her still refuses to accept it even after Pamela changed into a deer before her very eyes. If Stefan had changed to God knows what to prove he came from another world, would she have accepted him? Maybe it was better not to know. Stefan protected her from something she couldn’t have handled and in the process filled her life with love. Shouldn’t she consider herself lucky?
Pamela walks in. “May I join you?”
“Of course. I’ll get you some coffee.”
“No, no… I’ll get it.” Pamela pours a cup while she watches Clarice. “Listen, I’m sorry I shocked you last night. I hope you’ll forgive me. What I had to say… I can’t blame you for not believing me. If I were you, I wouldn’t have. I thought it the fastest way.”
“You’re right. If you hadn’t turned into a… deer… You could have tried to convince me all night long, and I would probably have pretended to humor you then waited for my chance to slip away, thinking you all are insane, but actually seeing you change with my own eyes... well, pretty hard to ignore that. You have nothing to be sorry for. It sounds as though you saved Stefan years ago along with many others before your planet was destroyed. I should thank you. It’s…it’s just so hard to believe. I have never been a fan of sci fi, and now I find myself in a sci fi world.”
“I understand, as well as I can. I’m surprised you didn’t slip away after I changed.”
“I thought about it.”
Pamela and Clarice share a small laugh for the first time.
Clarice is no longer angry and wants to learn more about how it affected Stefan. To say she is curious is an understatement. Clarice asks, “What was it like… when you left your planet? Stefan was too young to remember, wasn’t he?”
Pamela tells her, “Probably… He knows what Bob has told him… I believe when he boarded the ship, Stefan probably was the youngest boy ever to witness the destruction of a world… and live, but I can’t say how it affected him.”
Clarice sees the melancholy on Pamela’s face and the sadness for her lost world, but she sees also her joy in discovering Stefan is alive. Clarice reminds herself that Pamela learned of this only days ago.
Stefan comes downstairs, followed by Bob just a few steps behind him. They both take a deep breath when they see Clarice and Pamela sitting having coffee, looking rather comfortable. They seem much calmer now compared to the shock of last night’s revelations.
Stefan prays, “Please let this tranquility continue.” He could use some tranquility.
Cautiously Bob and Stefan pour themselves a cup of coffee, sit down, and they all begin to plan their day even though the ‘elephant is in the room.’
Bob thinks if someone overheard their conversation this morning, they’re never guess what happened last night. He suggests, “Let’s go to the River Walk. We’re visiting, and that is what visitors do in San Antonio. Lunch on the river will be fun.”
“You two go get ready,” urges Pamela. “Clarice and I will clean up down here.”
Bob realizes Pamela wants to talk to Clarice without them so he and Stefan finish their coffee and go upstairs.
Pamela and Clarice wait until Bob and Stefan are out of ear shot then Clarice turns to Pamela and asks, “Please tell me how Stefan came here. What was it like for Stefan?”
“I brought Stefan to this world, but it was Bob who saved his life. If it were not for Bob, Stefan would never have been on board.”
“Yes, Stefan told me. He told me he was on the only ship that left the planet. Why didn’t more leave?”
“Alerts went out continuously. ‘Our world is ending! It is the apocalypse!’ The news went out constantly, but by the time it was supposed to happen, much like news on this planet, the sensationalism just wore off. Politicians slandered other politicians and ridiculed their warnings. Other stories though meaningless and not nearly as important, were given precedence. Accusations went back and forth. What was really happening? No one seemed to know. People gave up on learning any reliable information from the news, and what warnings they heard, fell on deaf ears. Then suddenly it was too late. The time remaining had been miscalculated. This news was devastating. An asteroid was headed toward our planet, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. Our world was in denial; they’d lost belief in their government’s ability to save them. Lost belief in the leaders themselves. It’s a shame because so many more could have been saved. My father as a government official was able to commandeer a spacecraft with me in charge. I tried to save as many as I could. Bob got Stefan on board. It was at that moment Stefan was given a chance to live. Bob and Stefan were both unknown to me. Bob really is the one who has all the information concerning Stefan and his upbringing. I know only what Bob told me on our trip here. My link to Stefan, as I mentioned last night, was Stefan’s mother. She was my dearest friend, and I was heartsick when I couldn’t reach her to save both her, her husband, and Stefan. We’d lost contact almost a year before. My father was a government scientist, and he always knew the asteroid was on its way, but no one would take his warnings seriously enough. Suddenly in the last five months, the asteroid’s speed increased. New calculations predicted collision and destruction a good year earlier than was previously anticipated. There was no time for the mass evacuation that officials had considered. Clarice, I have lived for 60 years with the regret of not being able to save Stefan, and he has been alive and well all this time. You have had 34 years with him. He is the man you fell in love with and married, and he is truly part of this world…your world.”
Clarice nods and asks, “Your parents?”
Pamela shakes her head. “No… all gone.”
Stefan and Bob join them. While waiting on Pamela and Clarice to get ready, Bob looks out the front window. It’s a perfect San Antonio day for the River Walk. The sun is shining, it’s not too cold, and no chance of rain. Suddenly Bob notices a grey car driving by rather slowly with two men inside. The passenger looks carefully at their car. Bob calls to Stefan, “See that grey car? Have you seen it before? Maybe it’s one of your neighbor’s cars?”
As Stefan looks, the car picks up speed and drives off down the street. “No, I don’t recognize it. Not one of our neighbors.”
Bob doesn’t want to jump to conclusions but the old adage ‘Better safe than sorry’ applies here. “Let’s keep this to ourselves. After all, they could have been looking at houses. It could have been as simple as they like the car or possible are looking at addresses trying to find a friend’s house. You all have Ring or some type of security cameras, right?”
Stefan nods. “Yes, but they could also be waiting for us to leave the house so they can follow us. What do you suppose they want? Worries me, but Clarice already has been shocked, and just when she may be coming ‘back to earth’, the last thing I want to do is tell her unsavory characters are checking out our house.”
Arriving at the River Walk, they park on the street across from the stairs leading down to the water. As soon as they reach the river, Bob realizes dark clouds have come in. “Looks like rain after all,” says Bob. “I’m going to get my umbrella from the car.”
Stefan points at a bistro on the river, “We’ll get a table and meet you over there.”
Bob thinks, ‘It looks like a good place to relax and enjoy a margherita.’ He goes back up to the street, pausing at the top to peer through the thick shrubbery overhanging the top of the stairs. Before going to his car, he checks the street for anything suspicious like the car he saw drive by this morning. ‘I’m probably overreacting,’ he thinks, but when you’re dealing with unscrupulous people who would just as soon see you dead, you just can’t be too careful.’ He worries mainly about Pamela Lawton. She’s such a well-known figure in Community and has a wealth of knowledge about serums and drugs such as Doesonear which facilitate the change in aliens. No doubt those behind the kidnappings and experimentations in their hometown of Community would like to pick her brain. If they try, they will pay with their life, promises Bob. He watches for one more moment, then satisfied that no one followed them, he starts toward his car. Suddenly he freezes as a grey car passes moving slowly. Bob steps back out of sight, watches and waits for them to make another pass to validate his suspicion. They do. He takes out his phone, “Stefan, you know that grey car we saw drive by this morning?”