"I'm an alien."
Megan choked on her tea and launched into a fit of coughing. She set down her mug on the one clear space on Diane's cluttered coffee table and blinked a few times.
Diane's wide blue eyes were earnest, her gaze unyielding. "You okay?"
Megan started to nod, then shook her head. "You're . . . what?"
"An alien. I'm, uh, from a little planet just outside the Kuiper belt. Human scientists haven't discovered it yet."
"Oh." Megan rolled her eyes. "This is a good one."
"What do you mean?"
Megan stood, limping toward the kitchen for more tea, tripping over a pile of laundry. Stupid twisted ankle. "Very funny."
Diane jumped out of her seat. "I'm serious!"
Megan turned to face her, leaning against the kitchen counter. In the three years since Diane and Megan met at the beginning of their freshman year of college, Diane had pulled some pretty good jokes. Mayonnaise-filled donuts in the engineering study room on April fool's day, taping furniture and appliances to the ceiling in their biology professor's office, gift-wrapping all the desks in the campus's largest medical lecture hall at Christmastime—she'd gotten half their dorm building residents in on that one.
But the look on her face now didn't match the look she'd had during every other prank.
"Hey, listen. Remember last November, when you had that party with Jane and Derrick and all them, and I said I couldn't make it because I had a lot of studying, and you—"
"Yeah, okay, I remember."
"I wanted to come. I swear I did. But there was this research meeting up at the station, all hands on deck kind of situation—"
Megan scoffed. "Can you take me?"
"Take you where?"
"To this 'station'."
Diane frowned. "Not enough oxygen. You'd die."
Megan laughed without smiling. "Of course."
"Okay, fine. Here." Diane crouched down beside the coffee table, opened a drawer, and pulled out a deck of cards. She held them out face down and said, "Pick a card."
"You've got to be kidding me." Megan raised one eyebrow. Diane didn't usually take her jokes this far.
Diane thrust the deck towards Megan. Sighing, Megan picked out a card and peeked at its face, keeping it well hidden.
"Eight of spades," Diane said.
"Good trick." Megan showed her the card. "How did you do that?"
Diane took a deep breath. "Mind reading. Something my species evolved into."
"Ah. Of course."
"You don't believe me."
Megan hobbled back to the couch. "It's a very good trick." Megan rolled her eyes, but she really had no idea how Diane had guessed her card, and her voice couldn't muster the same level of confidence as before.
"Okay. Fine. I'll prove it." Diane crouched down once again, this time rummaging through her backpack. She pulled out a egg-shaped plastic device with a knob on the side and walked toward Megan on her knees. "Give me your ankle."
"Alien tech. Just trust me."
Megan groaned and put her white-socked foot into Diane's hand. She pressed the device into the sole of Megan's foot, where it gently vibrated.
Megan flinched at the coolness of the plastic but forced herself to relax. "So, why now?"
"What do you mean?"
"If you're an alien, why tell me now? We've been friends for over three years."
"Exactly seven interplanetary time units today, actually. In my culture, it's the standard amount of time required to build a lifelong trust." Diane turned the knob on the side of the device and released it from Megan's foot. She stood and held out a hand. "Walk."
Megan stared at Diane.
"I trust you, Megan. Do you trust me?"
Letting her breath out, Megan took Diane's hand and stood. She took a few steps forward.
Her ankle didn't hurt anymore.
"What—but how—" Megan's voice broke, and her breath caught in her throat.
"You'll still want to take it easy on that foot."
"Where did you get that thing?"
"On my planet, everyone has one."
"Yeah. My planet." Diane pressed her lips together. "You may want to sit down."
Slowly, Megan lowered herself back down onto the couch. For a long time, the only sound was Megan's heartbeat drumming in her ears, her breaths coming in short. She should be skeptical; she should be angry. But all she could feel was awe. Against her will, the corners of her mouth pulled up into a smile.
Finally, she spoke. "You're serious, aren't you?"
A wide grin broke across Diane's face, and this time it was one Megan recognized.
"You suck," Megan said.
"Oh, I got you good this time!"
"Not funny." Megan leaned back into the couch, crossing her arms. "How'd you do the card trick?"
"Something Derrick taught me." Diane plunked down on the other couch and swung her legs. "I can show you, if you like."
"What about the—the—" Megan stared at her foot.
"Oh, right!" Diane raised her eyebrows. "Been trying to decide how to tell you about it, and decided this would be fun. This is my senior project for the biomedical engineering program. Alternative pain relief using subsonic frequencies. Pretty cool, huh?"
Megan winced. "Yeah, I guess."
Diane's brow furrowed. "You really believed me?"
"No! I mean . . ." Megan clenched her teeth. "I don't know."
Diane nudged her arm. "Come on, really? You don't believe in aliens. Little green men researching humans? Mind reading, healing powers?"
Megan swallowed hard, though she felt a little sick. "No, of course not."
Diane grinned again. "Admit it, I got you good."
"Yeah. You got me." She'd been fooled by Diane before, but this time was different. Her stomach churned, and she picked up her backpack, swinging it over her shoulder. "Hey, I've got a lot of studying to do. I should head out."
"Hey, you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine. I've got to go."
"Okay," Diane said. "Sorry I scared you."
Late that night, long after the lights in her bedroom and her holographic disguise were switched off so that her wings and tentacles were fully exposed, Megan lay alone in her spaceship and cried herself to sleep.