Ever since he could remember, 14-year-old Robby Fitzgerald wanted to be a scientist.
The workings of the human mind fascinated him. Being quite the advanced student, it was only a matter of time before he was conducting experiments rather than simply making observations.
Preoccupied with his research, he often found it difficult to maintain any pretense of normalcy. He was a scientist, not an actor!
At least, that’s what he told himself.
The darkness of the early morning was the only time he could shed his disguise and feel comfortable in his own skin. It granted him a certain freedom. He could jot down findings and come to conclusions in private, without anyone scrutinizing his odd noises and curious behavior.
One morning, while deep in thought, rocking and clicking and whirling away, his mother surprised him when she lost her grip on the glass of warm milk she had been holding.
She stood frozen, arm raised in mid-air like a department store mannequin, hand still cupped even though she’d dropped its contents. Her eyes wide, face as pale as the spilled milk seeping into the cracks of the hardwood floor.
Robby’s mother had a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Which is why he’d given her strict orders to never enter his room uninvited, under any circumstances. But, on that particular morning, for reasons Robby would analyze later, she had decided to ignore his instructions.
“Robby?” An almost inaudible whisper came from behind him. Although Robby didn’t have ears at that particular moment, he had heard her.
She’d entered his room unannounced and, in the dim light of a half moon, he suspected she had seen the back of his head, which, just then, had been much larger than what she would consider to be normal. He knew she would have also seen nothing but smooth gray skin where perpetually tousled, copper colored hair should have been.
As he slowly twisted away from his desk, the pallor of his cheeks warmed from bluish gray to fleshy pink. Ears materialized on each side of his head, which, by this time, had reshaped itself just in time for thick, curly hair to sprout into place.
Robby reached for his glasses. He didn’t need them but they added to the illusion. His pinky and ring finger had already lengthened from the side of his hand before he settled the spectacles into place. He blinked his large black eyes. Another blink and he was peering at his mother with hazel irises flecked with green.
“Hi Mom,” he said, mouth already broadened and plumped, in stark contrast to the small and lipless orifice that had been there only moments ago. The pitch of her voice told him she’d seen something strange. He hoped he sounded calm enough to convince her that she hadn’t.
“Robby?” she said again, her voice cracking.
But before he could respond, he noticed a small glowing orb in the distance through his bedroom window. Its luminescent green aura trailed behind as it made its way across the sky. When it finally stopped, it hovered silently in the backyard.
Well that was fast, thought Robby.
His superiors had come. They were waiting inside that little green orb, and unless he could come up with a plan quick, he would be forced to abandon his work. He wasn’t ready to give up the test subjects he had been studying for the last fourteen years. His mom and dad, his grandparents, teachers, even the bullies at school—they were all so fascinating.
He silently chided himself for having been so careless. He made a mental note to start using the extra set of eyes on the back of his head more often. He wondered again why his mother hadn’t listened. But he concluded it wasn’t her fault. She was supposed to be complex and unpredictable. She was only human after all.
Then it came to him. He didn’t like conducting experiments unprepared, but if it worked he could continue to collect data uninterrupted—no abduction, no probe, no memory swipe on his mother would be necessary.
“Look, mom, I’m sorry if I scared you,” he said, drawing her attention away from the window and back to him.
“I know I’m weird. I’m doing my homework in the dark when I should be sleeping. I’m different, I get it, but just because I act like I’m from another planet doesn’t mean I actually am,” he lied, not because he wanted to, but because he had to.
Robby blinked both eyes and wrinkled his nose in an attempt to shift his glasses upward. When his facial contortions failed, he pushed them up with an index finger instead.
“Besides,” he went on in that matter-of-fact way he had about him, “Even if I was… I’d still be your son.”
Robby waited. His mother held her breath. One second, two seconds, three… four.
Then, exhaling loudly, she nodded her head in agreement. His plan had worked!
It didn’t matter what his mother had seen a few minutes ago, that she had just fit the last piece of the puzzle she’d been trying to solve for the last fourteen years. He could continue his experiments.
She’d told Robby plenty of times how, after being informed she couldn’t have children, she had fallen to her knees and beseeched the heavens for him. And because her prayers were answered she’d made a promise to love him no matter what.
She hadn’t accidentally seen a small, gray-skinned scientist from another planet—she had seen her son.
“I know, honey,” she said. Then, after a moment she asked, “Do you want pancakes or waffles?”
“The usual,” Robby answered. “But with blueberries this time,” he added with a lopsided grin.
“You got it,” his mother replied.
Then, in the purplish orange light of dawn, they smiled at each other. And the glowing green orb that had been floating outside his bedroom window shrank and disappeared with a pop.