In a world where the aliens never came, Casey would still get beaten up on a daily basis. He'd collect new scars and bruises every day, and no one would care except to laugh at him.
In a world where the aliens never came, Casey would still have no friends. He'd eat lunch alone on the bleachers and live through his camera and jerk off to cheap porn quietly, carefully listening for his parents.
In a world where the aliens never came, Casey wouldn't have Delilah.
Sometimes he wonders if the change was really for the better.
He doesn't know why he and Zeke started hanging out. They have nothing in common, except being the only ones the aliens never got. Maybe that's enough.
Maybe it's not, but Casey doesn't like to think about that because Zeke's the closest thing he has to a real friend.
"Do you ever miss MaryBeth?" Casey asks him, while they're sitting watching some crappy sci-fi movie on TV. The aliens have infiltrated the spaceship, but the astronauts don't know it yet.
Zeke frowns. He doesn't take his eyes off the TV. "She was an alien." A loud crash is heard on the television spaceship, and the rugged male astronaut pulls the dainty blonde female astronaut into the safety of his arms.
"I know," Casey says. Delilah emerges from the kitchen with a bowl of popcorn. "But still."
"Not really," Zeke says. He's looking at Delilah.
The rugged male astronaut and dainty blonde female astronaut share a passionate embrace, unaware of the alien lurking on the other side of the doorway.
Delilah never kissed Stan when she was all made up. She said it would ruin her perfect Max Factor lips. She needed to be perfect: perfect hair, perfect face, perfect clothes, perfect football star boyfriend. Stan helped her perfect image, but not when he insisted upon smudging her makeup.
Casey thinks she just didn't like Stan very much. Which is too bad, really, because Stan's a nice guy.
They don't talk about it. Delilah kisses Casey whether or not she's wearing makeup. He likes to think this is because she really likes him, but maybe she just doesn't need to be perfect anymore.
Or maybe kissing Casey makes her look perfect.
He doesn't think about it.
Stokely breaks up with Stan, who still loves her. She shows up in Casey's living room that night in tears. Casey doesn't think he's ever seen Stokely cry before. Did she cry when the aliens came? He doesn't remember.
"Don't you see?" she yells. "It's all too perfect. It's not supposed to be this perfect."
"What do you mean?" Casey asks. He's glad Delilah and Zeke aren't there.
"What if," and her voice drops to a whisper, "the aliens never left? What if they're making us think everything's perfect to keep us stupid, to lull us into a sense of security or something? What if we're all infected?" She looks around the room wildly.
Casey thinks about Zeke looking at Delilah, and Delilah's perfect kisses. "You're wrong," he says.
Stokely doesn't believe him.
Casey doesn't have his driver's license. His parents think driving is far too dangerous an activity for teenage boys, and won't let him even learn how until he's eighteen.
Casey skipped second grade. He won't be eighteen until the summer after his freshman year in college.
When he tells Zeke, Zeke throws Casey in his car and drives to the parking lot behind the elementary school. After an hour of Zeke's surprisingly careful instruction, Casey is inching the car around the lot at the exhilarating speed of five miles per hour.
Zeke's car smells like clove cigarettes. He laughs and slings an arm across Casey's shoulders encouragingly. It's the best afternoon of Casey's life.
Casey and Delilah kiss and cuddle and make out, but they've never had sex. Casey's still working up the courage to ask, but Delilah doesn't seem particularly interested. They're still in high school, anyway. There's no rush.
Delilah's birthday is in March, Casey remembers, vaguely amused. She'll be eighteen. He'll still be sixteen. Will that count as statutory rape?
He wonders what sex will be like, and when it'll finally happen. He wonders what Delilah looks like naked, whether or not she looks like the girls in the magazines Casey keeps hidden under his mattress. He wonders if Delilah thinks about it as much as he does.
But for now, kissing and cuddling and making out are close enough to perfect. There's no need to push it.
When he hasn't seen Stokely in school for a week, Casey goes over to her house. He looks for a doorbell for several minutes, then gives up and knocks. Stokely's mother comes to the door, eyes him suspiciously, and tells him that Stokely's gone away to a private clinic for treatment.
"Treatment for what?" Casey asks.
Stokely's mother shifts her weight from one foot to the other and stares fixedly at a point somewhere behind Casey's ear, a brittle smile frozen on her face. "Paranoid schizophrenia," she finally tells him.
"Can she have visitors?" he asks.
Her eyes narrow. "You're the kid who saved the town from the aliens, right?" Her voice is rich with sarcasm.
Stokely's mother shakes her head and closes the door in his face.
When Zeke decides he's ready, they spend a whole weekend taking an impromptu road trip, just driving and driving and stopping only to eat at cheap roadside restaurants. This is farm country, flat country, with nothing to see but cornfields and asphalt for miles. There's just the highway beneath them and the sky above them, and Casey and Zeke are the only two people in the world.
Casey doesn't have his driver's license. He coasts along the highway at eighty miles per hour, with the radio blaring and Zeke beside him laughing and smoking clove cigarettes, and he dares anyone to catch him.
Zeke and Delilah are sprawled on Casey's couch one evening, talking and laughing, while Casey tries to study for a math test. Casey's mom pokes her head into the living room, scowling. "It's getting late, kids," she says disapprovingly.
Zeke and Delilah exchange a look. "Come on," Zeke tells her. "I'll give you a ride home."
Delilah only lives two streets down, but she agrees, smiling. She kisses Casey goodbye chastely, their lips barely brushing.
He just lets them go. An hour later, he calls Delilah's house. Her father says she hasn't gotten home yet.
When Delilah kisses him in school the next day, she tastes like clove cigarettes.
"Are you fucking Zeke?" Casey finally asks her, and hates himself for saying it out loud.
Delilah gives him a calculating look. She smiles like she's satisfied with what she sees. "Yes."
Casey bites his lip and reminds himself to breathe. "I don't blame you," he says bitterly. "It looks good to date the star football player, doesn't it?"
"Don't worry." Delilah kisses him lightly on the lips. "It looks better to date the school hero." When Casey doesn't respond, she laughs. "And who are you jealous of, anyway?"
Casey opens and closes his mouth, stupidly. He doesn't know what to say.
Stan corners Casey in the locker room after gym. His eyes are wide and frightened. "Have you heard from Stokely?"
"No, man," Casey says. "She's at some clinic. Her parents won't let me talk to her."
"She's not at the clinic anymore," Stan says miserably. "She ran away Sunday night. No one's seen or heard from her since."
"I'm sorry," Casey says. He is.
"I thought maybe she would go to you," Stan persists. "You know, she confided in you during the whole aliens thing, and I thought maybe..."
"I'm sorry," Casey repeats, and turns away. He hates feeling helpless.
"You don't know anything about fucking," Delilah tells Casey, smirking. She pushes him down into the armchair in her bedroom. "It's time for you to learn."
"Just like driving a car," Zeke agrees, his arms circling Delilah's slim waist. His breath makes the wisps of hair tucked behind her ear dance. "Watch and learn, Casey."
He removes her clothing with painstaking slowness, and she shivers. She snakes her arm up around his neck and pulls him down for a kiss, sloppy and imperfect, tongues darting out to taste each other's lips. They finally break apart, breathing heavily, and Delilah slips her hands under Zeke's shirt.
Casey swallows hard.
Almost unconsciously, Casey unzips his jeans and starts stoking himself, eyes never leaving the pair on the bed.
Zeke and Delilah fit together perfectly, curves and muscles balancing each other, lean strength and careless grace. Zeke presses kisses into the curve of Delilah's neck, his hand tracing hips, ribs, breasts. They move together with one rhythm, and Delilah gasps softly. "More," she murmurs, and Zeke obeys. More. Harder. Faster. Yes, God yes.
Casey matches his pace to theirs, his breathing ragged. Zeke groans and Delilah sighs and Casey hears Stokely's voice in his ear, whispering perfect.
He shudders and comes.
They're watching TV in Delilah's living room, Delilah and Zeke tangled together at one end of the couch, Casey sipping a Coke at the other end, when the news report comes on.
Casey almost drops his can of Coke.
The police found Stokely's body in a ditch at the side of the highway. Cause of death has yet to be determined. Investigations are underway.
It's all too perfect, Stokely said.
"I always knew she was a freak," Delilah says. Zeke shrugs and kisses the back of her neck, ignoring the television.
Casey sits alone in his corner of the couch, and wonders if the aliens really changed anything at all.