As night fell, we gathered around the bonfire and Mr. Santos led us in telling ghost stories. I didn’t listen. I sat on a blanket and hugged my knees to my chest and wished Zach had never existed. When it was time to get ready for bed, I walked with the other girls to the bathroom, but when we got there they all looked at me and one of them—prissy Kayla Moore—said, “Maybe you should wait till we’re done.”
I glared at Kayla—Morgan was sort of half-hiding behind her—and I was about to say, Afraid I might turn you gay? when I saw Morgan flinch. My anger died, and all I felt was lonely.
I turned away to go back to my tent. I heard them whispering about me as I left.
When Morgan returned a while later, I heard her unzip her tent and toss her bathroom stuff inside. I thought she was going to ignore me and go to sleep, but instead she said in a low voice, “Can I talk to you?”
I sat up, hope crashing through me. “Sure.”
She unzipped my tent and knelt down, halfway inside. Her face was in shadow as she said, “Is what Zach said true?”
I could deny it. Would that make things okay? But I’d already lied to her about so much—about practically everything real about me—and I didn’t want to lie anymore. With this, at least, I could tell her the truth. “Yes,” I said. “What Zach said is true.”
She sighed, seeming to deflate a little. “You know I don’t feel that way,” she whispered.
Maybe I had expected her to be disgusted, because the tone in her voice—the sadness in it—took me by surprise. And then I remembered: This was why I liked her in the first place. She was honest. She was a horrible liar. I always knew exactly how she felt about me, even without my Imrian abilities. Maybe that gave me the idea—false, I now understood—that she was like my people. “I know you don’t feel that way,” I said. “That’s why I never told you.”
“How did Zach know?” she asked.
I thought about it. Josh told me about you, Zach had said. “I guess Josh told Zach that I didn’t want to make out with him when we went to the movies.”
“But not wanting to make out with Josh Taylor doesn’t make you gay,” Morgan said. “Are you sure?”
She wanted so badly for it to be a lie that I was tempted to give in to her.
“Maybe we just need to find you someone else,” Morgan said. “What about Matt Steiger? Don’t you think he’s so cute?”
“Yeah, he’s cute,” I agreed.
This seemed to encourage her. “That’s great! Maybe you’re beyond the boys at school. I mean, other than Zach, they are kind of annoying. Maybe you’ll find a guy you like in high school.”
I laughed in a half-choked kind of way. “Maybe.”
“You don’t think so?” she said, sounding unexpectedly fierce. “How can you know for sure that you’re—that you don’t like boys? You’ve never gone out with anyone except Josh. Have you?”
“No,” I admitted.
“So you don’t know!”
Her denial made me cringe. “But I do know,” I said.
“How?” she demanded.
“How do you know you’re straight?”
She thought about that for a moment but shook her head. “You’re so pretty. All the boys like you. Why would you—? It doesn’t make any sense.”
My heart seemed to stop. I knew that she was basically insulting me. She thought I was too pretty to be gay—as if all gay people were ugly. But the only thing I could feel was a thick, sad wonder at the fact that she thought I was pretty at all. She thought I was pretty. “Morgan,” I whispered. I took a deep breath, preparing myself. “I like girls. I know you don’t, but this doesn’t change anything. We’re both the same people we were yesterday. Are we okay? Are we still friends?” I reached for her, wanting to touch her the way I would touch an Imrian. I knew I shouldn’t do it, but I couldn’t help it at that moment. I had to know how she felt.
She pulled away from me, leaving my hand hanging in the air. She crossed her arms. I drew my hand back, and my heart sank.
“I don’t know,” she said softly.
My eyes were hot. I was glad she couldn’t see my face.
“I better go,” she whispered, and before I could stop her, she left my tent and zipped it shut.
I wake up to the sound of bells chiming in the vaulted ceiling of the shelter. When I open my eyes, it’s still dark, but as I shift in my hammock the lights come on. I climb out of my hammock and see Nasha do the same. I didn’t think I would be able to sleep at all, and now my head feels muddy—half-awake, half-asleep.
Nasha looks tired too, but she shoots me a smile as she pulls on her pack. “Did you dream?”
I shake my head. “No. I didn’t even realize I was asleep until the bells rang.” I sling my pack over my shoulder and we head toward the exit. “What about you?”
“I don’t remember anything. Some people say that dreams during kibila are prophetic, but I’m not sure if I believe that.”
The air is cool and smells like early morning, fresh and sharp. I take a deep breath as we strike out on the steep trail, and the oxygen and movement begin to shake away my drowsiness. “I bet humans would think we’re crazy to believe in things like that,” I say. “They think aliens are either super high-tech and emotionless, or scary insectlike monsters.”
“I’ve heard about that,” she says. “But why? I don’t get it.”
“I think it’s a projection of their own fantasies. Or nightmares, I guess. A fear of difference?”
“So we’re either robots or monsters?”
“Well, there are also the grays. Those are my favorite.”
She’s ahead of me, and she glances back over her shoulder as she says, “I’ve never heard of the grays. What are they?”
“They’re these aliens with gray skin and giant, bulbous heads and huge eyes.”
She laughs, the sound of it tinkling brightly down the trail. “That’s funny. Where do they come up with this stuff?”
“The grays are the smartest of the aliens. They’re like all brain, and they do experiments on humans too. Sometimes they have telepathic powers.”
“Hmm. Why do you like them?” She sounds amused.
“Well, they’re not giant ugly insects bent on destroying all of humanity,” I point out. “And… they’re mysterious.”
“You like mysterious things?”
“Yeah.” I slow down as we negotiate a rocky portion of the trail in the near dark. “You’re mysterious.”
I can tell she’s smiling as she says, “You think so?”
“Sure. I’ve been here for more than eight months, but you’ve never really talked to me until last night. Why?”
“Why didn’t you talk to me?” she counters.
“I thought… I guess I didn’t think you were interested in knowing me. I mean, you never touched me. I thought you were trying to hide that.”
She pauses and turns to face me. Behind her, the sky is beginning to lighten. “I’ve been interested in you since I was born,” she says.
This startles me. “Why?”
She takes a step closer. “All my life, I’ve known that you would be my kibila partner. That assignment was made at birth. And every time I thought about this night, I thought about you. Who you were; what you were doing; where you were. But when you came back eight months ago, you had changed so much from when we were little. I didn’t know how to talk to you. If I was trying to hide anything, it was only that.”
“Oh. I’m… sorry.”