Ana’s house felt wrong without her in it. Mel had moved back in temporarily to clean it and put it up for sale, but it didn’t look right with the furniture packed up and Ana gone. It was less than empty – it was like its soul had been sucked out of its walls, and had left it devoid of life. This wasn’t the home where I’d met Bee and Mel for the first time, and it definitely wasn’t the same place as where we’d discussed war strategy and the existence of aliens on the sofa right fudging next to me.
When Mel had told me he was selling it I hadn’t been happy about it, but now I could see that it was for the best. It simply wasn’t the same without Ana.
Mel’s own belongings were packed in three suitcases, each smaller than the last. It hadn’t occurred to me before, but how much did he own? Had they expected to go back to their planet after a while? Everything he owned, the people he cared for, his memories – none of that was here, on Earth. I couldn’t imagine leaving Earth and ending up stranded on another planet; my family here, my friends back on Earth. He had to be lonely.
The bathroom door opened, and Mel joined me in what used to be Ana’s living room.
“I’m glad you could make it. I’m sorry I can’t really offer you anything to drink.”
“That’s all right. How’s everything going here?”
I’d offered my help, but I was in the middle of finals at school, and Mel had insisted I focus on that. It seemed like a silly priority to have after everything that had happened, but I still had no idea how to explain everything to Mum and Dad, so I studied my butt off. I’d been lucky with the concussion. Bee had covered for me at the hospital, and we had told my parents that I’d stayed over at hers before she moved to Bridgeport. But I was a pretty bad liar – or I had been before all this – so I didn’t want to push it.
“I’m almost done. I’ve just finished packing up her bathroom stuff, but I have no idea what half the things even are. Do you think it’s okay to throw them out?”
I shrugged. That was really a question for my sister more than me. “Probably. Hygiene, and all that.”
Mel looked so different now, but really it was just the colours that were different. His features were still there, his personality was unchanged. The hair dye had almost washed out completely now, the rest of the tan had disappeared, and he no longer bothered with brown contact lenses, but Mel was still there. The colours were trivialities, and with them gone I felt like I was finally seeing the real Mel.
“I see you kept some brown in your clothes.”
“I guess I’m just used to it now.”
His sad smile made me close the gap between us, and pull him into a hug.
I grinned when he hugged back.
“I’m glad you’re okay. How are you feeling?”
“Better now,” he said, and for some reason I blushed.
“I’m sorry you’re stuck here. On Earth, I mean. Not this town.”
“That’s okay.” The look on his face told me it wasn’t. “It’s something else to get used to.”
“Is Earth very different to your home?”
A wistful smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Yes. It is. But not necessarily for bad reasons. There are good things here, too.”
I desperately wanted to know more about his world, but I decided to wait. He’d been through enough; I didn’t want to add to it.
“Where will you go?”
He looked so lost. “I don’t know. I’m not sure it matters, they’ll find me sooner or later. I need time to prepare more than anything.”
“You said Ana had plans should she–” Nope, I still couldn’t finish that thought. I knew she was gone. That didn’t mean I had to say it out loud.
He nodded. “There are a few other people willing to fight. They’ve taken in the people we rescued, and they’re building their numbers. Olive and the vampire went there, too. They want to help.”
Just like that, my mind was made up. “Then I’m coming with you.”
“I want to help, Mel. We can fight and survive together. I can–I can write! I can slowly get people used to the idea, maybe we can win over some people that way. And if they find you anyway, we’ll figure something out.” I had never felt this much purpose in my entire life. This was what I wanted. This was what I needed to do.
“I don’t know. I can’t ask you to do this.” But his voice had lost all conviction, and I smiled. He wanted me to come with him.
“You’re not asking, I’m telling you. I’m coming with you, like it or not.”
His smile met mine, and my stomach erupted in nervous giggles. Who knew that was even possible? “Thank you.”
I wasn’t stupid enough to think that Earth could ever replace the home he’d lost, but if I could help I would. Bee had moved to Bridgeport, but maybe she could join us when she had finished her degree. We had both lost Ana, and I wasn’t sure how well he knew the others who had survived the raid, but I didn’t think he was close to any of them.
In a way, I was all he had.
“Listen, Poppy, there’s something I’ve been meaning to say.”
“I was wondering… Maker, this was easier when I was on painkillers in the hospital.”
Well, I never! Mel was lost for words! He was cute when he was speechless.
“We haven’t had a chance to really get to know each other. You’re willing to give up a lot for me, and I really am grateful. I want to get to know you better. Maybe over coffee?”
I couldn’t keep the smile off my face. I’d no idea Mel could be this adorable. “Like a date?” Just saying it out loud did funny things to my legs.
He smiled. “Yeah. Like a date.”
“I’d love to. I have my last exams on Tuesday, but after that I’m free.”
“Then I’ll pick you up Tuesday evening. We can celebrate.”
I loved how his arms felt around me. I knew there was a lot of danger waiting for us, but I felt safe when he held me.
In that moment soft footsteps walked down the stairs, and I smiled when Mara joined us.
Her hair was growing back, and she looked healthier.
“I thought I heard your voice. It’s good to see you, Poppy.”
“And you!” I gave her a quick hug in greeting. I never thought I’d be a hugger, but here we were. “What are your plans now?”
“I will join the others. Ana rescued my friends from the facility, and I miss them. I’m excited to see them again.”
“Don’t be a stranger,” I said.
“What does that mean?”
“I means make sure you let me know you’re all right from time to time.”
She smiled. “I can do that.”
“I’ll be leaving with Mel. Perhaps we can invite Bee, too. We could all catch up together.” It sounded too good to be true, but right now I had the overwhelming feeling that I’d miss them before the week was over.
“That’s excellent news. I’m glad neither of you will be alone.”
I looked at Mel. “Me too.”
“How long do you have?” he asked. Mara asked me to check the time for her–it was almost 2pm.
“Are you going somewhere?” I asked. I knew she said she’d join the others, but I hadn’t thought it’d be so soon.
“Yes. One of Ana’s friends is coming to take me to my friends. I’m sorry I can’t stay longer. It feels like such a long time since I’ve seen them.”
We said our goodbyes when we saw a car pull up outside, and promised to see each other again soon. Then it was just Mel and me.
For the first time ever, I was truly excited for the future. Humanity wasn’t quite ready to hear the whole truth just yet, but we’d get them there. In the meantime, we’d protect Mel and Mara’s people and fight for them. I was thrilled to be a part of it. I didn’t care that it was dangerous; it was important, and that was all that mattered.
Whatever was coming for us, we’d be ready, and we’d face it together.