By Michelle M Denham
He could not bear to buy her diamonds because they were ugly and common. Instead, he chose a large, labradorite stone for her engagement ring because its color always reminded him of the last glimpse of his planet from orbit, just as he left it forever for the greater cause.
In a human body now, and doing his best to follow human customs, he fell in love with a woman who never made him feel like he was alien. He once was a living flame without flesh, and now the man who called himself Hassan genuinely loved the woman who made him remember what it was like to burn. That was why he had to tell her the truth, even as he proposed they stay together for the rest of their lives.
“My love,” he said. “Before you give me your reply, I must tell you the truth about me.”
“Don’t ruin this, Hassan, you never let me have my moments,” Ophelia fake pouted, drawing attention to her lips that were always so red, as she tucked one blonde curl behind her ear and looked down at the ring on her finger. She never could meet his gaze when she was happy. Only when she wore a masking smile or when she was swept up in wrath had she ever met his gaze full on; genuine pleasure was best kept hidden. She was the first one who taught him that.
“You’ve just gone and done something lovely, and you’re not going to ruin this for me. You’re not already married, are you?”
“Decidedly not,” he said, as marriage was not a custom in his world.
“You’re not gay?”
“I would like to think you have sufficient evidence to the contrary.” Gender was a human thing. He still never fully understood the difference. Only that he loved her because she burned like stars.
“Then nothing else matters right now.”
“I am not human.” He paused for just a moment to reflect that the words came easier than he expected, despite how long he’d held that secret. “I come from another world, far from earth. I know you won’t believe me—”
“Which world?” Ophelia demanded, green eyes fixed on him.
“I can’t quite pronounce it with a human tongue,” Hassan hesitated, thinking that her reaction didn’t seem like human disbelief, but not quite sure, “but the common galactic name is Hae’ai’yre, and—”
“The evangelists?” Ophelia exclaimed, getting to her feet. “You’re one of those missionaries? Oh. Oooh. Oh, that explains so much. I just thought you were—foreign.”
He could, perhaps, be forgiven for taking so long to line everything together. “You are not human.”
Her laugh was short, sharp, and bitter—so much like knives clanging on marble. Once, he would have pulled her to his chest when she sounded like that, to try and soothe away her hurt.
“Darling,” Ophelia purred, her lips twisting viciously. “could a human woman look this good outside of a magazine?”
His mind rapidly shifted through the available data of travelers currently residing on earth. He would know if they were from the same world, and Ferutians always disguised themselves as house cats, and not too many worlds had access to interstellar travel and complete body mimicry—
“You’re one of the Invaders,” Hassan said, and Ophelia (not her name, he realized now) raised her glass of champagne in a toast and then downed the whole thing. In a subdued voice, he said, “I had not thought you would reach so far. Earth did not seem worth you conquering it.”
She snorted and adjusted her legs. “And I would not have thought this planet worth your preaching. But as it happens, you are quite correct. I’m not a scout, I’m an exile. This,” she gestured to her bosom—it was always her habit to draw attention to her breasts during an argument, she said it was a strategy for winning—“This is prison.”
Abruptly, she stood up. “Well, it’s been fun. I’ll remember this for next time. If a man seems too good to be true, he’s probably not human. Have a lovely life, darling.”
“Wait,” he said, standing up. He would not grab her; he would never risk hurting her, even now when he knew she was war-trained and could most likely flatten him with a flick of her wrist. “You could love a human. Could you love a missionary?”
“Who said I ever loved you?”
He swallowed, surprised that it could hurt even when he knew her cruelty was a weapon, Because, he wanted to say, but didn’t, whenever we looked at the stars, I would search for that quadrant of space where beyond was my home world, but you only ever looked at me. You only looked when you thought I couldn’t see you, so I looked to the stars and thought only of you.
She turned from him, golden hair hiding her face. “This could have worked only as pretend. Good-bye, Hassan.”
He watched her go. The labradorite ring was still on her finger. And he can’t help but think, even now, that if none of it had been real, she would have left the ring on the table.