Jack and Beth got home just in time to watch Ellie leap off the bus and run full bore up the drive.
Apparently, she didn’t notice that the station wagon wasn’t parked where it usually was, and was waiting with hands on her hips, foot tapping, as her mother rolled up the driveway and parked.
“Hurry UP, mom, our place was on TV! We were on the news!”
“Ellie, what did you say to your friends at school today?” her mother asked her.
“Um… Well, I know I promised, but that was before they said we got on the news, and…”
“Eleanor Margaret, inside. Now,” Jack’s mother motioned her daughter through the door. “Beth, dear, do you think you could manage to keep him out of trouble for a little while while I have a chat with the youngest?”
Beth and Jack ambled through the hedgerow, stopping short a few steps across the yard.
A man was sitting on the porch. He stood up when he saw them approach, buttoned down his coat, smoothing his tie as he strode across the yard.
“Hi, there!” he said, giving a wave. It was supposed to be friendly, Jack thought, but looked entirely too… practiced.
Jack stepped slightly in front of Beth.
“That’s close enough,” Jack said, as the man got to just beyond arm’s reach.
The man produced a business card from a pocket, held it out to Jack.
“Alan P. Waters, I’m with the Daily News. Heard there was some excitement around here, thought maybe you kids saw something.”
Jack took the card, and Beth looked at it over his shoulder. “What’s the ‘P’ stand for?” she asked.
The man smiled. “Looks like I’m not the only reporter around here. What’s your name, young lady?”
“You answer my question, I’ll answer yours,” Beth said, giving him a smile.
The reporter laughed. “Fair enough. It stands for ‘Philip,’ named for my grandfather.”
“Alexander the Great’s father was a Philip. The Second, of Macedon. Did you know he was assassinated in 336 BC?”
Alan Philip Waters’ eyelid twitched. He smiled, but it wasn’t quite as bright as before. “And your name is…?”
“Well, you already know it, since you looked through the mail.” Beth pointed to the stack of mail on the front porch, near where the man had been sitting. “How is my father doing in Peru?”
The smile faded completely.
“Sir, I think you should go now,” said Jack. “Nothing happened here.”
“People saw a light shine from this yard. They have a right to know—”
“Then how about you tell them in your article that it was aliens?” asked Beth. “People like aliens. It’s okay, Jack. We can tell this nice man about the UFO that landed here last night.”
“That’s absurd,” the man said. “There’s no such thing as aliens, or UFOs.”
“Beth. We talked about this,” Jack said, grinning at her. “Don’t lie to the man. It wasn’t aliens.”
“Do you—” the reporter dug into another pocket, produced a digital recorder. “Do you mind if we talk on the record?”
Jack gave a worried look at Beth, but she just smiled. “Lets go sit over on the porch,” she said.
Jack scowled at her as the man turned his back on them. Beth ruffled her hair. As they passed through the shadow of a tree, Jack saw the very slight dusting of golden, sparkling motes trailing in her wake.
She mouthed the words “Still mending” and smiled.
Beth picked up the mail, sat on the top step. Jack sat on the step just below her, leaning against the railing. The reporter sat opposite, setting the recorder down.
“Now, for the record, your names are —”
“— Spelled just how they sound,” said Beth. “And surely you can remember mine since you read it on my mail.”
The reporter cleared his throat. “Yes, well. So, Jack, you were going to tell me what really happened here?”
“Yes, sir. It wasn’t aliens. My friend Beth here likes to make things up.”
“So I gathered,” the man said. “So? What’s the scoop?”
“Sir, it was an angel. Come right down from the clouds. You know, everyone says they saw the light, but the singing was really the best part.”
The man sat up straight. “Look, if you kids are just going to waste my time, then—”
“Then maybe you should be leaving?” suggested Jack.
“All right, if you really want to know,” said Beth. “We promised not to tell. So if we get in trouble then it’ll be all your fault.”
“But think of the good you’ll be doing the public,” the reporter said.
“Right. My thoughts exactly,” said Beth with a nod.
“It’ll be all right. I could report this without using your names, you know. Confidential. You know what that means, right?”
“From the Latin, loosely, ‘for the trust,’” said Beth, with another smile. Jack was glad he wasn’t on the receiving end of those. “Say, what are the shield laws like in this state?”
Waters just stared at her.
“Well, it does you no good to invoke journalist-source confidentiality if a little pressure from the police, or courts, will have you spilling your guts.”
“You will be protected. You have my word.”
That seemed to satisfy Beth. She took a deep breath.
“It was a being from another dimension.”
The reporter’s shoulders slumped, and his forehead creased in sudden anger. “Look, if you’re not going to take this seriously—”
“My dad was testing out a new high-powered halogen floodlight they might sell at the store where he works. It just fell over, is all,” said Jack in a rush.
“Yeah. But, please— you can’t let them know he was using it. He could get fired!”
“Well, thats at least plausible,” said the reporter, getting to his feet. “I’ve probably kept you kids from your playtime long enough. Thank you both for your time.” He took his recorder, pocketed it, held his hand out, but neither Jack nor Beth took it.
“Right. Well, take care, you two,” he said, turning to go.
“Alan Philip Waters,” Beth said, rising to her feet.
Jack could have sworn he saw the reporter give an involuntary shudder as he stopped and turned.
“Yes?” he asked.
“One of us has told you the truth today.”
He nodded slowly, then smiled a sly smile of his own. “You know, I think sometimes people are happiest with a truth they are most comfortable with.”
Beth smiled, and waved as the reporter turned and left.
“Maybe I should have told him it was a gas pocket,” said Jack.
“You sounded thoroughly convincing with that whole ‘dad might lose his job’ thing. That was a nice touch.” Beth gave her hair a toss. “I just hope he can hear it well enough through the static.”