“Are you gonna hit me?” Hugo taunted.
I lunged for him wanting to wipe the smirk off his face.
“I bet your mommy will send you off to military school.”
I was about to punch Hugo in the nose when I looked down in surprise to see a short, dark haired girl standing between Hugo and me.
She didn’t say anything, but just stood there, staring at me. She had the bluest eyes I had ever seen, and her skin seemed to glow in the California sunshine.
“Jared!” I looked up to see three teachers running towards me.
When I turned around, the girl was gone, and I was left to deal with a very angry principal.
“Jared, this is the third altercation you’ve gotten yourself into this semester.”
Mrs. Miller said. “Your stepdad told me that if you got into one more fight, he would send you off to military school. Not to mention that your grades are way below average.” The phone rang loudly.
Mrs. Miller sighed. “I have to take this. Go back to class, I’ll deal with you later.”
“For this project you will be working in pairs. Cynthia, you’ll be with Greg. Jared you’re with Amelia.” Mr. Lockwood paused.
“I forgot. Everyone, this is Amelia. She is new here, so please make her feel welcome.”
I stood up looking for my partner and came face to face with the girl from the morning.
Up close, her eyes were bluer than I remembered.
“Jared and Amelia, your topic will be the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis.”
I nodded, knowing that getting this A would be my only chance of staying in Los Angeles.
“Jared, maybe you can show Amelia around school.” Mr. Lockwood suggested, patting my shoulder.
Two hours later, I led Amelia into the garden.
“Oh, look at all the flowers!” She gasped with delight.
I shrugged. It was just a garden.
“Look at the butterfly.” Amelia sighed, staring intently at a butterfly flitting around a bed of azaleas. “People try to catch them and study them, when all they want is to just be free.” Amelia’s expression became distant and a look of sadness came over her face. But just as quickly, the look disappeared and she smiled again. I heard laughter from behind me and I braced myself for Hugo and his cronies.
“There’s the new girl,” Monica, the most popular girl in school, giggled. “What is she wearing? Look, she’s hanging out with that freak, Jared. Better stay away from those two.” I felt the urge coming on again. Amelia placed her hand over my fist.
I exhaled, feeling myself calming down. Amelia pointed to a bench. “Come on, tell me about yourself.” I sat down next to her and we talked. I learned that her parents had died in a plane crash in the Arizona desert when she was young, much like my father had died in a car crash. She had been living with foster parents for many years and she moved around a lot.
Amelia and I hung out more over the next few days. She listened to me and offered advice. I wanted to confide in her and tell her everything about myself.
But, I sensed that there was something lingering underneath her calm persona. Often she would get a dreamy look on her face and mumble about “home.” I knew that she had a past and that there were things I didn’t understand about her.
Three days later, Amelia and I were in the park working on our physics project. Amelia seemed to know more than I did about physics, history, and pretty much everything.
I found myself staring at her intent face, her glossy black hair swaying in the autumn breeze and her long fingers moving diligently across the keyboard.
My thoughts were interrupted by the screech of a black car pulling up near us. Amelia looked up, a pained expression on her face.
Two men got out and walked over. “Amelia, it’s the day of your appointment.” The man who spoke stared at me suspiciously. He was wearing dark sunglasses and a suit.
“Right now?” Amelia stared at me helplessly. I looked around confused.
“What’s going on?” I asked, suddenly feeling protective of Amelia.
“We’re working on a project right now.” Amelia spoke, her voice firm.
The second man sighed. “Okay, fine. He can come too and you two can work in the car.”
Amelia and I climbed into the car hastily. I was confused and I didn’t know if I should be in a stranger’s car but it was too late.
The car had heavily tinted windows. It worried me that I couldn’t see outside, but Amelia didn’t seem to care.
Forty-five minutes later, the car stopped.
We were ushered into a building. I found myself in an empty reception room. The two men whisked Amelia into an elevator. I scanned the room, unsure of what to do. The woman at the front desk looked up and smiled at me.
I sat down and waited.
Sooner or later, I got bored. I was looking for the bathroom when I overheard two women talking in a back room. The tone of their voices made me curious.
“I know. Project Bluefire has really got to stop. It’s just not right.”
The door opened and I raced back to the lobby.
Amelia’s appointment ended and I leapt up to greet her. A woman rushed over to her.
“Good job today. Your test results seem to be pretty good.” she seemed excited about something. “Are you going to the Halloween Parade on Friday?”
Amelia shrugged. “I don’t really like watching people pretend to be something they’re not.”
“Well, I think you should go. It’ll be fun.” she winked. “Watch out for the Space Invader!” Amelia winced and the woman looked immediately regretful.
I grabbed Amelia’s arm. We walked out to the front and climbed into the waiting car.
I turned to Amelia. “Are you okay, what happened?”
“Nothing, I have these checkups every so often.” I stared at her. It bothered me that she was hiding something.
“Why didn’t your parents take you? How did those men know where you were?” Amelia didn’t answer.
“What’s Project Bluefire?” A look of alarm flashed across her face.
“How do you know about that?” Her voice trembled.
“I heard the nurses talking about it.” I suddenly felt uncomfortable.
“Jared, listen to me. There are some things you can’t understand. Just drop it.”
We didn’t say anything for the rest of the ride home.
The next day at school I found Amelia waiting for me by my locker.
“Jared, I think I owe you an explanation. I have a condition that requires me to have regular checkups at the hospital.”
“What condition?” I asked.
Amelia was quiet for a long time. “It causes me to age really slowly.”
I considered this for a moment, not knowing what to make of it.
“How old are you?” I asked, bewildered.
“I am biologically 14, but . . . ” her voice trailed off.
“Jared, I’ve lived for 38 years.” She said quietly.
I stared at her incredulously. “You can’t be serious.”
I looked into Amelia’s face. It was to me the face of a 14-year-old girl not a 38-year-old woman.
“You are 14, Amelia, the same age as me.” I said.
We walked, a strange silence hanging between us.
Upon reaching home I grabbed my computer. I searched for health conditions that caused slow aging but nothing came up. The phrase Project Bluefire came to my mind and on a whim, I decided to do a quick search.
All I could get were construction projects and power companies. But as I continued to scroll the results, I stumbled on a blog written by sci-fi enthusiasts. The first few paragraphs mentioned UFO sightings. Then I came upon something that made me pause.
We all remember the crash of 1982. We all believe it. Our government is covering Arizona up. We know the leaks about Project Bluefire. There were survivors and their lifespan is far beyond our own. They are out there.
I puzzled over this. 1982. Arizona. Didn’t Amelia mention that her parent’s plane had crashed in the Arizona desert when she was a young child? If that was in1982, it would make her about 38 years old today.
I stayed up for a long time thinking this over.
The next day at school, I confronted Amelia.
“I know what Project Bluefire is.”
Her face dropped.
“Amelia.” I spoke softly. “Who are you?”
“I don’t know.” Amelia got up and walked away.
My mind was spinning in a million different directions.
I couldn’t take my mind off Amelia so I went to her house after school.
She refused to look me in the eye.
“Look, I don’t care what you are, okay? I like you. I haven’t known you that long, but I feel like we’ve connected. I’ve never had any friends and I’ve never felt this way about anyone before.”
I held her hand and looked down at our entwined fingers.
“The Halloween Parade is tomorrow. You want to go?” I grinned.
She smiled and laid her head on my shoulder.
Something came to my mind.
“Tell me. Why do they want to do tests on you?”
“They want to study my DNA to find a cure for human aging. ”
My mouth dropped open. “Wow, an entire race of people who age slowly.” Amelia nodded sadly.
“Do you consider yourself lucky?”
“No. Do you know how hard it is to stay frozen in time while everybody around you grows older?”
We sat there, for I don’t know how long, and talked. I realized that she was aching for home. I made a silent vow that I would do whatever it took to help her find her way home.
But, somebody else was already one step ahead of me.
On Friday evening, Amelia and I went downtown. The plaza was crowded and a full moon loomed. Kids in costumes were racing around grabbing candy at every opportunity. I spotted a popcorn vendor in a space alien costume handing out samples to a swarm of young children. As we passed, the vendor spoke out.
“How about you young lady? Don’t you want a treat?”
I cringed, not knowing how Amelia would react to this.
I gave Amelia a small nudge. The vendor reached into a side pocket and produced a piece of candy in a pink wrapper. Amelia’s face lit up and she dropped the candy into her bucket.
“Come on!” We raced across the plaza.
Back at my house we dumped our piles off candy on the living room floor.
Amelia stared at the candy in the pink wrapper. She picked it up and unwrapped it. Then she gasped as a small, black bracelet fell into her hand. The bracelet had a tiny screen on the front like the face of a watch. As Amelia held it, I could see squiggly lines moving across it. It was unlike any bracelet I had seen before.
The next morning Amelia called me anxiously.
“The bracelet!” She exclaimed breathlessly. “I wore it to sleep last night and I woke up in the middle of the night with a strange feeling. I walked out into the backyard and I just stood staring at the night sky. It was like the bracelet was sending off vibes.”
“Jared, I think I have to go.” Her voice ached.
“Wait. What do you mean you have to go?”
“I think I’m being summoned. I recognize the bracelet. When I was younger it was brought up in one of my appointments. It was among the wreckage after the crash. But they could never figure it out.”
“Who’s summoning you?” I asked.
Amelia did not answer. “Jared, I will come over later. I’ll need your help.” she hung up.
That evening Amelia and I stood in front of my garage.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“I don’t know.” Amelia replied. “The bracelet guides me. Do you have a bike or something?”
I glanced at my stepdad’s motorcycle in the corner.
“I have something better.” I handed Amelia a helmet, not able to contain the grin spreading across my face.
Amelia looked scared. “Are you sure about this?”
“Yeah. Just hold on tight.” I slid the keys in and we were off. I knew that we were too young to be racing on a motorcycle at night, but we needed to get wherever we were going fast.
The bracelet was taking us far away from town.
As we approached a desolate field, Amelia’s bracelet was literally alive with movement.
“This is it.” Amelia sighed.
I stared at the field, a realization dawning on me.
“Amelia, I don’t want you to go.”
Amelia looked into my eyes, her face flushed.
“Jared, you have to let me go.”
“But—” I pleaded, racking my brain for anything I could say to make her stay, but I knew there was nothing. Amelia could never really belong here, and we both knew it.
We both scanned the sky. The faint light in the distance looked like another star but as we watched, it grew brighter.
The spacecraft landed with a soft thump. It was unbelievably tiny, no larger than a bumper car in Disneyland.
Amelia smiled wistfully.
“Bye Jared.” She climbed aboard.
“Bye Amelia.” I whispered, something tugging at my heart.
I stood there watching the light grow faint until all that remained was a night sky full of stars and a dark empty field before me.
I headed back home and was parking the motorcycle in the garage when the screech of a car’s brakes broke the silence. Two men in black suits raced up to me.
“Where is she?” One of them demanded urgently.
“She’s gone.” I replied.
“What do you mean she’s gone?”
“Amelia’s back where she belongs.” I said quietly.
“The bracelet . . . ” the other man started to say, a despairing look on his face.
“Yes,” I nodded.
“Look. Whatever you think you know, it doesn’t mean anything. Nobody will ever believe you.”
I shrugged. The men turned to leave.
I felt exhausted and longed for sleep. But, the light around me was changing. The moonlight had given way to something else. I looked at the horizon and found myself staring at a beautiful, pink and orange sunset.
I glanced at my watch. It was past midnight.
The words from our physics report came to me. It’s a rare occurrence to see the Northern Lights in Los Angeles. They can generally be seen around midnight.
I was overcome by a sense of wonder and then almost immediately, a pang of regret as I realized that I was experiencing the Aurora Borealis alone, without Amelia.
Then I smiled, because I knew that wherever Amelia was in the vast, mysterious universe, she was smiling too.