other safe—or will their star-crossed romance start another war?…
I wiped off the mess I’d made of my makeup for the second time, and stared at the pallor of my skin in the mirror. The scar high on my cheekbone wasn’t as bad as the ones on my back, but it was a visible reminder of the attack that gave me nightmares. Each time I’d jerk myself out of sleep, I’d fallen right back into the disturbing images again. No high IQ needed to guess why. At dinner Dad had talked in detail about the destructive nature of aliens. As if I needed to be told.
His stories and warnings alone weren’t the reason I didn’t like aliens. I knew firsthand that they killed, that they left humans scarred. I didn’t blame my father for my injuries, but my mother did. I pushed away the memory of what happened during that awful camping trip in New Mexico. That night had forever changed all of us and made me look at aliens differently.
Aliens were mysterious, powerful beings who were hunted by the government but more often than not, we humans were the prey. While there were a lot of pro-alien groups around that spouted on websites and to anyone who’d listen that we had nothing to fear from these “visiting creatures,” the scars on my body were living proof that was a lie.
A strange premonition swept over me and I shivered, then tried again to reapply my makeup fast so I wouldn’t be late for school. One more year, and then I was through.
I couldn’t wait to get out of Wayside, Nevada, far away from my father, and his job as lead agent at the Alien Eradication and Defense Department. I didn’t want to live with the reminder of aliens at every conversation. I needed a clean slate, a place where I could build good memories. I wished we could go back to our lives before the Great Extinction.
That war between the humans and aliens sucked the laughter out of our family like a tornado had spun through. Aliens had killed my uncle during one of the battles. My father hadn’t been the same since his brother’s death but he’d tried hard to keep himself together. But then after me nearly dying during that camping trip because of an alien attack, my father had unraveled in ways that baffled and sometimes even scared me.
I finished applying my makeup, checked my arms and back in the mirror to make sure my scars were hidden, and gave my face one final glance. Good enough. Grabbing my backpack, I made my way down the stairs to the living room where Mom lay curled on the sofa beneath a blanket. She had the same shoulder-length black hair and brown eyes I did, but where she was cover-model confident, not even photoshopping could erase my self-consciousness. I was a little on the nerdy side so I’d never been that confident, but after I was scarred, it had only gotten worse. I didn’t wear sleeveless shirts anymore and I wouldn’t dream of ever wearing a bikini again.
With a frustrated sigh, Mom sat up and muted the television, silencing the anchor mid-report on the frequent earthquakes striking our area. I stood behind the sofa and lip-read the closed captioning for a few seconds.
“Anything new, or are they rehashing yesterday’s news?”
“Not much new other than the United States Geological Survey is monitoring the area. Nevada is the twenty-first state hit with a wave of them.”
“That’s a lot of earthquakes.”
“There’s nothing to worry about, Cassie. If there were, the USGS would inform the right people who would then inform the public.”
I didn’t believe that. Because of Dad’s job, I had insight into how the government hid things. The rash of unexplained earthquakes made me edgy. “Where’s Dad?”
To my surprise her lips tightened, and I wondered if there was trouble again in Alienville. “He slept at the office last night.”
“Chasing little green men wore him out?” I pushed my hands through my out of control hair to corral it into a ponytail.
She tried to hide it, but a ghost of a smile flitted across her lips, and for a second we were unified in the knowledge Dad was acting weirder than usual. “You know your father.”
My stomach dropped. They’d been fighting more lately and the fights were getting uglier. “Did he sleep at the office because of his work or…”
“You should eat. I’ll make you something.” She got up and went into the kitchen. Mom was a great cook, but she never took the time anymore because she always had to leave the house before I did. I didn’t know what she was still doing home.
After taking the milk out of the refrigerator, she poured a glass, and then reached for the box of pancake mix. When she pulled the eggs out and set them on the counter, I said, “Mom? What’s going on?” Different what-ifs flitted through my mind while I waited for her to answer. Dad was having an affair. Mom was sick. Or Dad’s grouchy, could-never-be pleased mother was coming to visit. That last one made me feel sick. “Is Grandma coming for a visit?”
She glanced over her shoulder, shook her head, and laughed as we shared a look of mutual thank-God relief. “Speaking of aliens,” she muttered.
I laughed again. “Seriously, Mom. What is it?” I covered her hand with mine to get her to stop trying to make breakfast.
She hesitated, as if trying to decide how to answer. “Your dad thinks there’s a connection between aliens and these earthquakes.”
I rolled my eyes. Their power wasn’t something to be underestimated, but I wasn’t stupid enough to think they could control the Earth. “He thinks there’s a connection between global warming and aliens, power outages and aliens, rising taxes and aliens. When doesn’t he think things are related to aliens?”
She shook her head as if trying to shake off the sudden heaviness blanketing both of us. “You don’t want breakfast?”
I moved to the pantry and scored the last chocolate chip granola bar from the box. “I don’t have time. The class hike is today. I have to rush, or I’ll be late.”
“You’re wearing that?”
I glanced down at my jeans with the myriad of artful cuts. “These are retro. Everyone’s wearing them.”
“I meant the T-shirt.”
I put a hand over the image of ET. I’d unearthed the shirt at the secondhand store. “It’s a joke.”
“Make sure you change before your father sees it. No use throwing gas on the fire.”
Dad was exactly the reason I’d bought the shirt, and I didn’t care if he saw it. Yes, I was afraid of aliens, but I was tired of my fear holding me hostage and I was trying to find my way back to the me I’d once been. There were so many things I didn’t do anymore since that camping trip because I was too afraid.
“Cassie?” Mom said.
“Fine, I’ll change before he sees it.”
“Are you riding in with Mark?” She sounded hopeful, not yet knowing my status as the alien hunter’s daughter wiped out my dating life once again.
“Um…no. Gotta run.”
for exclusive excerpts, guest posts and a giveaway!