Never talk to strangers on the internet. Never think that you are the one teenager who can solve the conspiracy. Never join a gang. Above all, beware of little girls in pigtails.
It’s advice he would give his children, if he ever has some. If he ever gets a life beyond her.
Perhaps, he could tell his nephews, one day, when he stops lying. But that will probably be when she’s dead.
He wouldn’t take his own advice though.
He’s forever finding Cherry-Sour lollipops in the couch and knives taped under chairs. He’s learned to pick locks and is rather adept at sneaking messages into pockets. He’s still a terrible liar, though, she says. He doesn’t know what he’s doing wrong and she refuses to tell him.
He wonders why he’s able to hide it from his family. He keeps sneaking her into Christmas and Thanksgiving. Different name, different voice, different face, and only he knows. She laughs and says, “It’s because nobody looks.”
Of course, they’ve got no reason to.
He lives a decent life in a big city. He’s got an apricot honey colored house that he rents out to a sweet makeup artist with bouncy curls, a sullen delinquent in fake leather and bleached braids, and occasionally a middle-aged woman with blunt heels and a cutting glance. Only he and a police chief in Arizona know they’re all the same alien girl. He drives to work in his own little office and puts numbers into little boxes. And listens to the police radio and writes down suspicious circumstances for her or the other members of DEBAH to investigate. He volunteers at soup kitchens across the country where people slip evidence and messages in his pocket.
His gun is always loaded and he’s surprisingly good with his fists. But mostly he ducks. She’s taught him well.
“Once upon a time, there was an alien girl who started a gang because she was bored and an Earth boy who wanted to be important…”
She wants him to write it down, wants to make sure somebody remembers her.
“And the Earth boy joined so he could be secretly be a detective. He was 14 and thought he could change the world. And she called him Pigeon and made him research paper airplanes, and he got mad and left.”
He had been furious. He hated that a mere scrap of a girl could boss him around. How did a brat like that get power? He wasn’t watching where he was going and found the wrong part of town. He was outnumbered, bruised, and bleeding.
Then she jumped in against them with that smirk and he thrilled with fear.
When it was over, she left them for the cops and flung him frozen blueberries for his bruises. She taught him to fight with a tarp and a few gallons of paint.
Then she disappeared. He would have thought it was all imaginary but cash kept coming.
She was still his mystery. He didn’t think he would be able to be a detective with gang affiliation in his past. Perhaps he could have explained, after all, he hadn’t ever committed a crime. But that felt disloyal. He started psychology classes to try to figure her out but he realized he didn’t care about being with other people that much. So, he took accounting and stared at his computer and made money. And she faded away.
He never expected to see her again.
She found him after his brother’s wedding. She hadn’t changed at all. Same strawberry blond pigtails, same jumping out of nowhere. She still looked eleven. But now, she was serious. She made some big speech about him being loyal and told him DEBAH wasn’t a real gang, just a Quaker gun, something to distract the government from her people. That she wasn’t from around here. She walked from a different world. She told him her name, “Leidia Elhara,” and turned to walk away again.
“Wait,” he said, “blueberries?”
And she stayed.
She talks a lot but she doesn’t say much. He knows she comes from a place where you can choose to grow up, but she doesn’t. She says it would get in the way of her work. He knows that she used to be someone important, that she’s seen dark things.
Wasn’t long until she resurrected DEBAH. She’s got to keep busy. Started with being a decoy for a stalker, now she’s taking down serial killers and trafficking rings.
With a make-up brush and a few hours of listening, she can be whoever she wants. She paints herself as an easy victim with precise freckles, frills, and flipflops, and comes out with knives in her sleeves.
They’re now up to 183 enemies. She laughs and gloats over it. She’s not afraid. “Who wants to be known for being beat by a little girl?”
He’s in his forties now; she’s finally 14.
Her hand used to fit his but now it feels small.
She might not be growing up but she’s getting old.
He may not have improved at telling lies but he’s better at detecting them. He knows she is lying to him. Or at least keeping secrets.
Her brokenness isn’t beautiful. It’s sharp and jagged. And hidden. But he’s always there, watching.
“She says you’re the only one who doesn’t ‘just’ her,” someone says, “That you know all of her names and almost all her faces. She’s not just an alien or a trickster or a girl to you.”
He nods. It’s strange, living with this woman-child. He chides her and obeys her. He holds her and waits for her.
She’s getting tired, testy. Playing hero’s not fun anymore. But she doesn’t know anything else, and she’s afraid to grow up.
She’s always talking about leaving. “I could disappear and you could never find me.”
He nods. It’s true. “But I would keep looking.” He tells her. He always tells her. She knows he can’t lie to her.
But they both know she would come back. She always does.
They say she’s a jerk. She proclaims it. But he knows better. She cares strangely. She apologizes in her own little ways, never in words. She’ll throw him a package of pens or frozen fruit. Or he’ll find Blistex or chocolate tucked in his desk or his sock drawer. His office will be immaculate. She knows not to touch his papers but the pencils will all be sharpened and in place. Even the vacuum lines are eliminated.
He keeps watching and listening, makes sure to keep the radio on.
She comes back, wipes a fake face off, jabs herself into him. She doesn’t grow, he doesn’t leave. She is important, he is necessary. They eat frozen blueberries together.