Upon arriving home, the door behind me slid shut.
My father stood from his bunk bed. “Are you okay?” He crossed the room with my mother trailing behind to greet me near the entry.
“I’m okay,” I offered as my dad reached out and hugged me.
He shook his head and added, “I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright,” I lied as I pushed back and we broke apart. “I’ll be okay.”
They stared out me cautiously and I felt my face blush with a mix of anger and appreciation.
“We know that you must be worried,” my mom added. “We’re worried too.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” My dad raised a fuzzy dark eyebrow peppered with grey hairs.
“I’m okay,” I reassured them as I took a deep breath, finding it difficult to be mad at them. “I had just kind of looked forward to this Arrival.” I went over and took a seat on the bottom bunk.
My mom followed first and sat next to me. “It’s a lot to process.”
My dad followed and put an arm around my shoulder. “We’re sorry. We really are. It’s a lot that’s asked of you to be here.”
I felt the irritation building. “It’s all right. I can handle it. We’ll be out of here soon enough. I can make it another year.” I looked up at my father and saw the pain in his eyes. “It’s not like they were going to send a kid anyway.” And I turned to my mom who looked equally as teary. “And if they did, it probably wouldn’t have been anyone near my age.”
“You’ve done amazingly well here. In the most difficult of circumstances.” She broke into a smile as she pulled me closer and kissed my head. “You have no idea how proud we are of you.”
Feeling slightly guilty, I pulled away before my dad tussled my hair or something else like that. I didn’t need to be treated like a little kid today. “I’ll be okay. Really. It’s still better than middle school.” I didn’t want this to be about me and I drew a deep breath. “What do you think happened with Francois?” I offered as a change of subject.
My mom shook her head, “Whatever Francois did, he has them worried. Worried to the point that they think that the entire mission was or is in danger.”
“What do you think he did?”
“I don’t know, but it wasn’t good and he clearly has leadership rattled.” My father reached out to put his hand on my shoulder, “Look, sometimes you joke about things— but I want to be very clear, I think it’s a time for all of us to exercise caution here. When regimes are rattled, they can be more… unpredictable.”
“Your father’s right,” her mother added. “We all should be a little more careful in the days ahead until things return to normal.”
“Yes, normal.” I then caught myself. “You’re right. I can see that Pablo and Roy are on edge so I can bite my tongue a little more. I definitely won’t mention Arrival— I can see that people are sad and I definitely can understand that.” I paused. “And it’s not like I have anything to say about crazy Francois...”
“It seems pretty clear that they believe that Francois was engaged in some really dangerous activities— and we have to make sure that they know we didn’t have anything to do with anything that happened.”
The three of us sat on the bed together as I looked from one parent to the other. “I can keep quiet about him. He seemed nice enough… a little weird, but better than most of them here.”
“Looks can be deceiving,” my father responded as he wrung his hands. “But we’re going to make sure that we stay far away from whatever happened regarding Francois.” My dad put a hand on my knee and patted it a few times.
“No problem. I’m not a little kid…”
“No one thinks…” my father began, but my mom shook her head and he stopped.
“We know that you understand and we know that you’ll make good decisions.” My mother looked at the time on the device around her wrist. “I have my therapy appointment and clearly I need to be there on time.”
My father nodded as well. “We are proud of you. We just want to make sure that we are doing everything we can for you here. If you want to talk more about the meeting, promise us that you will let us know.”
“I promise dad.” I nodded. “I promise, I’m really okay. And I’m going to steer clear of any conversation about Arrival or Francois.”
“Good.” He stood up. “This is usually when I go to the fitness room so I’m going to head over to workout.”
“And I need to get to the lab for a shift after my appointment so I won’t see you until dinner,” my mother added as she stood too.
They looked at me seated below, “And I’m going to…” I was just about to make a sarcastic comment about breaking into the greenhouse and binging on blueberries, but the earnest concern in my parents’ faces changed my mind. “…sit here and draw until lunch.”
“Love you Dee,” my mother smiled as I stood up to face them.
“Love you,” my dad added as he stepped backwards.
“Love you too.”
The pair turned to head out and the door slid shut behind them. I felt a deep sense of emptiness after they left the room and I sat alone on the bunk.
I walked over to the window and watched as a rover wheeled through the sand— Franky appeared to be headed out for a shift in the Martian desert. A wave passed through me that caused me to shiver as the voice of Pablo from this afternoon echoed through my mind.
Reaching up, I put a hand on the glass as a thought that I didn’t share with my parents tumbled through my mind.
They didn’t tell us everything. They’re hiding something about that Arrival.
Still frowning, I stared out. Although the news was crushing, there was somehow a small tingling of excitement in the back of my mind. Life would not be as boring in the weeks ahead, because there was a mystery that gnawed at my thoughts as I began to wonder where I might find some answers if I were to investigate.