There’s a knock at the door. It startles me awake, but at least it doesn’t bother Darren, who already was awake, just sulking a little, trying to hide the tremors under the blankets. There’s another knock, and I realize that I need to answer it to make it stop. I shake myself into alertness.
“Treats!” Jenny says, when I open the door.
“Yes,” Darren calls out, “you are a godsend, Jenny, give it here.”
“Darren,” I say, “did you wait until I was asleep and text Jenny?”
“No,” Darren says, drawing it out. “Anyway, you should have bought banana, then.”
I wave her in, and take her grocery bags to start putting them away. “I don’t know why you don’t just invite her to take care of your demanding ass all day. I could’ve gone to work.”
“Monday,” Jenny says. “Kids are in testing all day.”
“See?” I tell Darren, “she knows that.”
“Yeah!” she agrees, “I get to give an alternate universe lecture tomorrow!”
“Yeah, well, it’s an important part of the curriculum, and I wish they would teach it in school, it’s not like everyone shouldn’t know.” Jenny peels open a banana ice pop and hands it over.
“I love you, Jenny,” Darren says.
“You owe me fifty bucks for all that, asshole,” Jenny says, and pats him on the head.
“Darren,” I say, “did you text Jenny and demand she go shopping?”
“No,” Darren says, sullenly, “she was already at the store when I texted.”
Jenny laughs. “It’s okay. I still haven’t gotten over supermarkets. They’re like department stores for food! Amazing.”
“She’s lying,” Darren says, “everything out of her mouth is a lie. They totally have supermarkets where she comes from.”
“Well, you’ll never know, will you?” Jenny says, “it’ll be decades before anyone can replicate conditions, assuming they’re even trying.”
“You made Jenny do our shopping,” I accuse him.
“You only buy hippie crap,” he accuses me, eating his ice pop. “Jenny buys the good stuff.”
“If you keep eating the shit you make Jenny buy you, you’re going to get sicker,” I say.
“Jenny’s right here,” Jenny says, “and Jenny expects you to return the favor if Jenny’s ever indisposed due to Top Secret Shenanigans. And Jenny bought you maple sugar, anyway, Travis.”
I look in the bag and pull out the box of candies, and grin. “Thank you, Jenny.”
“It’s not that secret,” Darren says, “I’ll tell you all about it if you get Watkins off my back.”
Jenny laughs. “I’ll get Harvey to scare some sense into him, how’s that? What are you watching? Back on my home planet we don’t have any channels devoted to puppies.”
“Jenny, stop trying to sound like an alien,” I tell her, “you keep scaring the interns.”
“That’s because you don’t have puppies back on your home planet,” Darren says.
“Who steals a wolf?” Jenny says, “oh, look, a vicious scary predator, let’s kidnap it!”
“You domesticated bears,” Darren says.
Jenny grins. “Oh, did we?”
“Better not have been a lie,” Darren mutters, “that was the best documentary ever.”
“It really was,” Jenny agrees, “they had me working with animators for a year. The head animator had me out to lunch every single day trying to get me to sign onto her freelance project.”
“Was it about bears?” I ask.
“Nope,” Jenny shakes her head. “No idea why she wanted me. My top contenders are: name recognition, secretly an evil plot, and secretly a sexy plot.”
“Not that last one,” I tell her, “she’s a friend of a friend and strictly dickly.”
“Aw,” Jenny says, “I thought she liked me. I was going to get her to jumpstart my film career.”
“Well, if you’d rather, the friend she’s a friend of wants to do a World War Two thinkpiece and needs big names,” I tell her.
“That’s right,” Jenny says, “Jenivere Marstotter, saving the world, educating the public, making pretentious-ass films about how everything changes but everything stays the same.”
“She likes you,” I tell her.
Jenny fans herself. “Likes-me likes me?”
“Oh my god, what are we, in eighth grade?” Darren says, “oh, who do you have a crush on, Darren, oh, Isabelle, for sure, shh, don’t tell her.”
Jenny cracks up. “I’m going to tell her you said that.”
Darren looks her right in the eye and says, “I just told you not to tell her.”
“You better not tell,” I joke, “he’s going to get fired for sexual harassment.”
“For fuck’s sake, Travis, I don’t actually like her!” Darren snaps.
“Uh-oh,” I joke, “now he’s going to get fired for gender discrimination.”
Darren throws his popsicle stick at me. “Go to hell, fuckface.”
“I don’t see why you don’t like Isabelle,” Jenny teases, “she’s the only one on your team who can manage not to leave dead links everywhere.”
“Look, that’s why we have Ben, okay?” Darren says, “we have a lot of things to do and he gets paid to clean up all the things and make things legible.”
“Mm-hmm,” Jenny says. “You know you don’t need to double-check if you do it right the first time? Like the saying goes, if you cut right, you never have to measure.”
“Are you saying I don’t know how to run my team?” Darren grumbles.
“Are you saying you believe that’s a real phrase?” Jenny shoots back.
“I’ve learned to ignore all your ‘common phrases’, Jenny,” Darren tells her, solemnly. “Your people and mine are alike in our hearts, and that’s all that matters.”
“This,” I say, “this is the alien stuff again.”
“Oh, come on, it can’t scare them that badly,” Jenny protests.
“What, after the refugees off Invasion Mars Twelve?” I ask her.
Jenny rolls her eyes. “Those aren’t even our aliens. Hell, that wasn’t even an Earth.”
“There was an Earth,” Darren says, still solemn, “there was.”
“Oh, that was tasteless,” Jenny says, and shoves his legs over so she can sit.
“Well, it’s not like I’m doing stand-up at a Parallel House, is it?” Darren asks, then shivers, and pulls the blankets up. “Shouldn’t have had that ice pop.”
I put on some more tea, the kind with flowers mostly, not lemongrass.
“What, after you made me go all the way to the store to get them?” Jenny asks, but she pats his leg when she says it.
“Well, you know,” Darren tells her, “like they say back on your home planet, if you can’t put in the time, don’t try to solve crimes.”
She shakes her head at him and clicks her tongue. “That means the time for detectiving, Darren, not the time for wandering through themed food hallways.”
“No, no,” I tell him, handing over his cup of tea, “the one you’re looking for is, an apple a day means shopping anyway.”
“A pomegranate,” Jenny corrects. “We don’t have your strange pineless apple-fruits.”