The moment the Camaro pulled into the drive and Ron got out of the driver's side, Judy knew. It wasn't just the fact that Ron was driving that tipped her off; it was the fact that Sam was smiling, joking around with his father, totally at ease as he had not been since puberty had hit hard five years ago. Not that Sam was particularly snappish by nature – it was just that as boys became men, there was that whole alpha male wannabe thing to add to all the hormones swimming around.
But tonight, there was no sign of that special teen-aged beta-male sullenness that came of being chauffeured about in his very own car by, of all people, his dad. And as she watched from the kitchen window, she saw her husband glance quickly left and right, and then give the car an approving, almost paternal, pat on the hood.
Oh yes, he knew. They knew. Judy could just imagine how the day had gone. A little squabbling, a little driving, a little male bonding over a shared, yellow secret…
About time! she thought, though she didn't say anything about it when the pair came in. But when they sat down for dinner, she did ask about getting safety glass in all the house's windows, and a newer, sturdier set of doors. She'd already put in an order for an updated security system.
In the end, home improvement went as it usually did: Judy got a professional to install the alarm system, while Ron insisted on doing the rest himself. "Save-ty first," as he was fond of saying, and at least it kept him busy lugging large panels of wood and glass around, which Judy thought was good for him. They weren't as young as they had been once, she and Ron – a fact she groaned over every morning now after her new habit of mile-long runs. One of these days – maybe next month? – she was going to push it up to a mile and a half, and in under fifteen minutes.
Sam and Ron, of course, twitted her about it a bit, though Sam did suggest an adult soccer team might be more fun than solitary trots on the sidewalk. He even left a phone number and the team roster of the city-run adult league, which was nice of him. Judy, however, was quietly looking up boot camps in Baker and wondering whether there were some pretext under which she could enroll without Ron getting suspicious. Also, she wondered whether the boot camp people would accept her if she refused to put bullets in the guns…? Was there a policy about that?
Six months came and went, and Sam went to school, and Ron went to work, and Judy put a fence up, bought a steel bat, ran her mile in the morning, and played bunco with her club. She planted her flowers, chatted with Mikaela whenever she came over, and watched the news, which, after awhile, stopped trying to track down the aliens that even the government was finally admitting existed.
"They're rather shy," said a spokesman, a statement promptly undermined by the chartreuse alien who nonchalantly stepped over and past the man, waved to the camera, and headed off on its way to who knew where or what out-of-frame task. And the red and blue one didn't seem shy either, as it explained their reason for being on Earth. It wasn't a very reassuring explanation, but no one could say it wasn't explained with a certain calm, un-camera-shy flare. Judy added "purchase non-perishables" and "look up bomb shelters" to her list of things to do. Once the eleven o'clock news was done, she took her favorite folding chair and a glass of wine, went out onto the patio, and sat there, watching the stars, wondering who had thought a few dots in the sky looked like a bunny. Or was it a camel? Where was Orion again? When midnight struck, she got up, drained the last of the wine, and picked up her chair.
"Good-night," she said to no one, and walked back into the house.
Three more months passed. The news reports were filled with stories about some new 'Star Wars' system under UN control: a listening station aimed at the stars, a truly habitable space platform, open to all member nations – the first collaboration between human beings and aliens. That was nice. Judy poured herself Scotch this time and took her chair out to the yard.
But instead of setting it on the patio, she dragged it down the walk and over to where the Camaro was parked. For a little while, she sat sipping her drink and trying to figure out whether she should be able to see Pisces, and which stars among the ones visible past the smog and suburban glare counted as two fish attached on the same line.
"That was some pretty quick work," she said after awhile, "building that space station. Usually, with government contractors, it's like you never see the end. Seven years Caltrans spent putting up the 105! But space station? Nine months! Was that symbolic?"
No answer. Judy took another sip. "It's ok, I know you're one of them, you know," she declared. "I mean, how could I not, when Ron's actually splitting the gas bill with Sam just so he can afford the high octane stuff at the gas stations? And that's why I want to ask you: is there something we should know about all that stuff on TV?"
Still no response, and Judy sighed, setting her glass down as she stood up. Hands on hips, she glared at the car a moment before saying, "Look, Mr. Camaro, whatsisname your leader explained it all awhile ago, even if he didn't really name names. And we did get arrested, remember? So I know. And it's not that I'm not grateful for anything you, personally, might've done, but there's something you have to understand: Sam's my baby boy. He may be seventeen, but he's still my baby."
She shook her head. "I'm glad you or somebody kept him safe last summer, but I'm his mother. I don't know if you know what that means; I don't even know if those people in suits know what it means! Nobody tells us anything: we're just the parents!" Judy sniffed contemptuously. "For all I know, Sam saved the world last summer. But I'm his mother – I don't care if he did save the planet. He's still only seventeen, and you can bet your tires, Mister, it's not happening again. He can go and be stupid and get shot at legally when he's eighteen, but until then, that's my job!
"So," she finished, "if it means something that you're still here and all your friends are out there in orbit, waiting for something, then you'd just better think about telling me. Because whatever's coming, it's gonna have to get through me first before it gets to him – and that means you, too. I'll ground him if I have to and take his keys! And just you see if I don't take a bat to you if you try anything! A steel bat."
With that, Judy snatched up her glass and her chair and marched back inside. The TV was still on, showing a shot of Earth from one of the space station's cameras. With a miffed harrumph, she punched the 'off' button and went upstairs to bed. But first she checked to be certain Sam was in his room. And he was, face down in his trigonometry book, fast asleep. At his side, homework lay unfinished, the last equations trailing off in a scrawl.
Definitely grounded, she decided, blowing him a kiss from the doorway. Tomorrow.
Maybe she shouldn't have had that Scotch, though, because she slept through her alarm the next morning, and, wonder of wonders, Sam was already pulling out of the driveway to go to school by the time she made it downstairs.
"O-oh!" Judy sighed disappointedly through her fingers before lowering her hands from her face. And today was Friday, too – Fridays meant Mikaela and he would go off somewhere together and Sam wouldn't be home until just before (or just after) curfew.
Well, if he came home ten minutes after curfew, like usual, at least it'd be easy to ground him!
Much to her surprise, and Ron's, too, however, she didn't have to wait until 11 p.m. before their scapegrace son pulled into the driveway once more. It was barely even six thirty as the Camaro rolled to a halt.
"He feelin' well?" Ron asked from over her shoulder, as the two of them stared out the window, watching as Sam hurried around the side of the house, making for the back door.
"I don't know," Judy murmured, suddenly worried indeed. She grabbed Ron's hand and tugged. "Come on!"
So saying, she hurried toward the back door, Ron in tow. "Sam?" she called, as she heard the door shut. They rounded the corner to see their son leaning back against the door, lips pressed anxiously together.
"Sam, honey, what's the matter? Why are you home early?" Judy paused, eyes widening, and her hand flew to her mouth once more. "Is it Mikaela?" Sam blinked once, twice, stared at her like a deer in headlights. Oh God, it was! "Oh, honey! Come here!" she said, opening her arms to teen-aged heartache. And Mikaela had been so nice, too...
"Um, Mom?" Sam managed after a moment, slipping free of her embrace, face red. He glanced past her to Ron, then looked down at her again, stepping back a bit. "Thanks, but Mikaela's fine – Mikaela and I, we're fine still. No problems there."
"You are?" Judy cocked her head. "I mean, you are. Good! But... why are you home, then? It's Friday!"
"I know," Sam replied. Drawing a deep breath, he straightened up, reaching to rest a hand on the doorknob. "It's kind of a long story, but short version – there's some stuff I need to tell you. I've been kind of sitting on it since last summer because it's... it's really kind of on the freaky side, I guess, if you, you know, look at it closely... or at all. Um, just a lot of little things... and some bigger ones."
Sam paused and looked anxiously at them. Ron's brow was furrowed, and with his lips all pressed together and mouth all scrunched, he looked like nothing so much as a puffed out horned toad, in Judy's opinion. As for her, she could just imagine her own face, but after a moment, she held out her hands to Sam once more, and when he had hesitantly taken them, she squeezed tightly.
"Honey," she said, as firmly as she could, "it's ok. You can tell us. We'll still love you even if we ground you permanently."
At that, Sam smiled faintly, laughed a little, and he seemed to relax just a smidgen. "Yeah, I know, Mom. Thanks."
"So what's this news?" Ron asked.
"Well," Sam replied, drawing a deep breath, "it's about Mission City. And it's about my car. And... if you could come out back for just a minute, I think this'll all be a lot easier to explain." And at his parents' blank looks, he added: "Please?"
"You want us to go outside?" Ron asked.
"Why?" Judy demanded.
"Because," Sam replied, as he opened the door... and Judy's mouth dropped open even as Ron muttered 'Oh my God!' into her ear. The huge yellow robot crouching in front of the porch cocked its head at them, then raised a hand in greeting.
"I knew it!" Judy whispered. Ron just stared.
Sam, however, gave a lopsided smile, as he swept an arm toward the alien, and said: "Mom, Dad, this is Bumblebee – and he's really been wanting to talk with you..."
Why is Judy thinking of boot camp in Baker? You may well ask. Baker will forever be remembered as the town of two billboards:
Billboard # 1: "One day submachine gun course by World Class Firearms."
Billboard # 2: "No one has taken a closer look at this town. Except maybe the Feds."
I kid you not. Baker may well be a very nice town; I just don't think it'd be my kind of place. And you have to admit – those are some frighteningly funny signs.
Also, a belated acknowledgment - in an e-mail exchange a few weeks ago, An Cailin Rua mentioned something about the difficulty of integrating Sam's parents into a dramatic story, which set me off on one of my usual rants about the problems with having children save the world, which then led directly to this plotbunny attaching itself to my ankle. Thus was Judy's chapter born.