Jasmine Woods phoned home, wondering when her parents would pick her up from college. Her dorm was packed. Except for the boxes on which she sat, it seemed foreign to her. No, worse, her room should have been familiar but now reminded her of nothing so much as a cage. She felt a claustrophobia she recalled only from dreams, of being trapped, immobile, somewhere too bright.
Chrys answered and assured Jasmine. "The ’rents are on their way. You must chill if you don’t want your heart to explode before you’re twenty-one."
Her parents arrived within the hour. After loading her worldly goods into the back of her father’s car, Jasmine fell into a deep sleep, losing an hour to the hum of the engine.
She awoke just outside of Pine Bush, Jasmine’s home since before Chrys was born. Passing the Cup and Saucer Diner, Jasmine swore she saw her sister in the embrace of a scruffy man and felt protectiveness flare through her chest, but her mother turned too quickly for confirmation. Chrys had not seemed too keen on boys when last Jasmine saw her, to the latter’s relief. A semester apart was not likely to change that.
Jasmine unpacked in her bedroom, feeling like a visitor in the only home she could remember. She was a year away from graduation, an adult in her own right. But all through dinner that night, as she stared across at Chrys’s vacant seat, Jasmine could not shake the feeling someone had abducted the softness of childhood and in its place implanted a stinging nettle.
After dinner, Jasmine flipped through her address book, leaving messages she couldn’t hope would be heard until someone answered her call. Kathleen was not someone Jasmine liked especially-a sharp-featured girl with ears like a mouse, who seemed to have grown this odd look to suit her personality. But time with Kathleen had to be better than staring at her ceiling on this first day of summer break.
Jasmine met Kathleen at the diner for dessert and distraction. Kat was no different from the day they had graduated, seemingly frozen in time both mentally and physically. She told Jasmine she remembered her as so beloved by boys that she could hardly swat them away fast enough. It wasn’t true, as far as Jasmine thought, but it felt relaxing to be someone else’s myth.
They talked frivolously, Jasmine catching up on all the local gossip she never really cared about but which ruled her friend’s life. Jasmine’s only interruption was in asking whether Kat knew if Chrys were dating anyone.
"What do you care?"
"I don’t. It’s just... I guess I wondered."
"I don’t know. I only keep up with people a bit more mature. Plus, she’s your sister. Why wouldn’t you know?" Kathleen asked, seeming almost affronted.
"She’s a kid, like you said," Jasmine said. "We don’t really have much to talk about. We’re barely on the same planet."
Jasmine arrived back home after midnight, swearing to start fresh tomorrow and see if her other social accounts had gained interest in her absence. She mounted the stairs, noting the darkness in every room. Her parents must have gotten more boring in her absence. She nestled into her bed, and then noticed the faint glow from beneath her window shade. She opened it and saw something hovering over her backyard, the lawn tapering into a vast field of wild wheat. Without consciously willing, she pulled her clothes back on and tiptoed down the staircase, taking pains to mask her footfalls, as she had not on the way up.
She slunk around the corner, seeing the object in the sky for only a moment. The fiery afterimage stained her vision. As though it sensed it had been spotted, it tipped to one side and extinguished all lights. When her eyes adjusted, she could not find anything in the sky, no absence of stars that could justify what she had seen.
Jasmine exhaled slowly, and she decided it was an atmospheric phenomenon of which she knew little. She thought she had heard about swamp gas or will-o’-the-wisp. Pine Bush surely had enough rotting vegetation to make this a possible, if not likely, explanation.
In her ignorance, she felt there was ample room to explain away whatever had just been in the sky. It was nothing she should let worry her, she decided.
As she turned to go in, whispering to herself to relax and forget, she smacked into a yielding obstacle. She jumped back, flailing, smacking the boy several times as her fight-or-flight response became confused from the collision.
She knocked him to the grass. "Who the hell are you?"
"Dylan," he answered, making no effort to rise, as though he had meant to be on the ground this whole time. "You?"
He seemed flustered for only a breath. "Chrys’s sister? I’ve heard some about you. It’s nice to meet you."
"I’ve heard nothing about you. What are you doing in my backyard?"
He raised his eyebrows, both as indication of direction and incredulousness. "I guess the same thing you are."
"What do you mean?" she asked, feeling suddenly defensive.
"The UFO. You saw it too. I watched you."
Jasmine backed up as though these words were blows from a bat. "What are you talking about? I don’t know what I just saw."
"And it was flying. Which is why we call them Unidentified Flying Objects." He gave her a warm smirk that only irritated her further, as she knew this must have been how he charmed Chrys. He wore an Xir T-shirt, a local band made good that Jasmine managed to not dislike, and jeans that were not artfully frayed as much as left to utter disrepair. Around his neck hung a pair of expensive-looking binoculars Jasmine briefly worried she had broken in shoving him.
"Wait, you were sitting in my backyard looking for UFOs?" Jasmine asked. "You didn’t break anything, right?"
Dylan finally rose from the ground and began to brush grass from his clothes, checking the lenses of his binoculars for damage. "Nothing that can’t be brushed off. Chrys told me it was okay."
Dylan crinkled his brow as he looked up from the lenses. "Seriously? UFOs love Pine Bush. This place is like sugar to ants."
"You believe in aliens?" she asked as though he had admitted to eating these ants.
He shrugged. "I don’t know what I believe yet, but there are UFOs. You just saw one."
"Maybe it was light off a cloud. We are directly on the flight path of Stewart Air Force Base, you know."
He nodded absently. "I do, actually, know that. I just think it’s kind of cool, you know? That this is the Roswell of the Northeast. Mostly, though, I think the people here are hilarious. I’ve never been anywhere with better people-watching capabilities."
Jasmine crossed her arms over her chest. "I don’t think my neighbors would be happy with you laughing at them."
He loosely brushed errant strands of his hair back with his fingers and gave what she assumed to be an apologetic smirk. He seemed like the sort to have a vast arsenal of smirks, shaped over a decade of nonverbal conversation.
"You really didn’t know about the UFOs in Pine Bush, did you?"
"Of course not!"
"Why do you think the diner is the Cup and Saucer?" he asked, pointedly, one eyebrow raised.
"That’s reaching. It’s obviously after a tea saucer, not a flying one. Anyway, I think you should get out of here before my gun-toting father comes out to investigate all the noises."
Dylan looked up at the dark windows, angling his eyes exactly on Jasmine’s parents’ bedroom window. "Fine, I’ll see you."
As she showed him to the yard’s edge, the object returned. In the glow of the two streetlights, there was no question this was not a cloud. Smooth and metallic, the silent triangle hovered fifty feet above their heads. Jasmine could hear nothing but her heart pounding in her ears and Dylan’s breath coming in even gasps. There were no crickets chirping, no frogs singing their pickup lines. The object tipped toward them again as if to get a better look. Jasmine thought she could see small windows and behind the windows were-
There came a bright flash. Within a blink, the object had vanished to nothingness as though it had been nothing more than a fancy.
Jasmine’s breath returned in shallow bursts. She fell onto the grass, hyperventilating and weakened by her inability to reconcile. Dylan sat beside her and rubbed her back, tentatively and kindly, until her breathing normalized. She wished she had remembered to put her bra back on before coming outside again, but she did not wish to call attention to this by rejecting appreciated comfort.
"We need to call the police," Jasmine said when she felt she had air enough to spend on words.
He laughed without malice. "And tell them what exactly?"
"That we... We saw a...an object."
"The spotters see them all the time. The cops don’t care. I don’t think the ship broke any earthly law. On the other hand, it is a misdemeanor to ’sky watch’ in this county."
She looked to him, accepting this as an unfortunate probability. "So what do we do?"
"Nothing. It’s all we can do."
Dylan helped Jasmine onto her feet and led her to the front door. She had no more words for him, not even a "thanks" or "goodnight." She locked the door behind her. Once in her room, she pulled the sheets over her head as though to evade a monster under her bed and wished without success for the blankness of sleep.