The mouthwatering smell of the freshly baked cupcakes cooling on a nearby rack was enough to make Monica smile as she polished the stainless steel mixing bowl she’d just washed. With her impending retirement only a week away, she looked forward to transitioning from being a switchboard operator to becoming an amateur baker. Soon, she would pull out the frosting that was chilling in her refrigerator and set about finishing off her birthday treats. Patricia, the orange and black tabby that circled curiously around Monica’s feet, clearly didn’t appreciate the honor of being Monica’s only guest at her birthday party, if her annoyed mewing was any indication. But Monica appreciated her being there nonetheless. She didn’t have any living family or children, and hadn’t wanted to bother any of her neighbors, even if that meant having to eat all twelve of her cupcakes by herself.
As she set the mixing bowl back into the base of her brand new stand mixer, she was interrupted by the sound of her doorbell ringing.
“Who could that be?” she asked Patricia, who offered no response beyond the feline equivalent of a shrug. “Did someone actually get me a birthday present this year?”
Monica wiped her hands on a dishtowel, then undid the knot in the front of her apron. She lifted the blue gingham over her head and hung it on the hook near the kitchen doorway before heading toward the front hall. Her one-story, clapboard bungalow was small, but fastidiously tidy. Despite this, Monica still brushed some imagined dust from the small table that sat in the hall near the front door. As she peered through the peephole toward her front porch, she belatedly realized that she’d left her glasses on the kitchen counter. All she could see was a brownish, person-shaped blob standing outside her door. Perhaps it was a delivery after all, although she wasn’t expecting one, and couldn’t think of anyone who would’ve sent her something. Still, it wouldn’t do to keep them waiting any longer.
She opened the door, which protested with a faint creak. “Yes, hello? Can I help you?”
It was immediately clear to Monica, looking at the person on her doorstep face to face, that he wasn’t a delivery driver. The clothing he wore matched none of the delivery companies she was familiar with, although it appeared to be a uniform of some kind. But she couldn’t make out any details without her glasses. While she couldn’t clearly see any of the features on his face, she could see that he was as dark-skinned as the Clarks, her neighbors across the street. Maybe he was one of their sons?
“Monica Webb?” asked the stranger. His voice was deep, and raspy, and he had a strange accent.
“Yes, yes,” she replied. “Are you one of the Clark boys?”
The stranger made a noise, like a huff combined with a hiss. “I am Vrostrol, of the Phaedruth Collective, from the planet Ahlos.”
Vrostrol? Phaedruth Collective? None of that made any sense to her. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Are you here to collect something?”
The stranger made the hissing huff noise again. “You are Monica Webb, of the State Department of the United States?”
“I am. Are you here about my retirement?”
“I am here to present our credentials to you, Monica Webb of the United States, as ambassador of the Phaedruth Collective.”
Suddenly there was a loud crash behind her. It sounded like it came from the kitchen, and Monica instantly worried that Patricia had gotten into her cupcakes. That wouldn’t do at all. “I’m sorry, Mr. Vrostrol, would you excuse me for a moment.” Then, before the man could answer, she turned away and hurried back to her kitchen, where she saw Patricia batting around the pieces of one of her cupcakes on the floor under the table. Next to her was the cooling rack her cupcakes had been sitting on, and the remains of several of the cupcakes. When she looked around the kitchen floor, she saw that the rest had rolled away.
“Oh, Patricia,” she said quietly, as tears welled up in her eyes. The cat ignored the sound of her name, as she was wont to do.
“Is there a problem, Monica Webb?” asked the voice of the man from her doorstep, startling her. Apparently, he had come inside and was standing behind her.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Mr. Vrostrol. It’s just that today is my birthday, and I made these cupcakes to celebrate, and now they’re ruined. Bad girl, Patricia. Bad girl.”
The man in her kitchen made a low moaning sound, almost like a growl. “Patricia is the animal?”
“Paricia is a bad kitty,” Monica replied as she bent and scooped up the orange and black ball of fur. She turned to the man and held her cat out to him. “Would you be so kind as to put her outside? I have to get this mess cleaned up.”
Vrostrol stood there quietly for a moment. She couldn’t quite see his expression, but something about his face seemed a little off to her. Maybe she shouldn’t be offering him her cat. But he gingerly reached out and took hold of Patricia, who moaned quietly, then hissed as he took her. “I will do so.”
Patricia hissed again, and Monica clucked in response. “You behave, Patricia, and let the nice man take you outside.” Then she turned and surveyed the remains of her cupcake. She heard Vrostrol walking back toward the front door as she bent down to retrieve her cooling rack. Then she had to grab the back of a nearby dining chair to help herself back up. Her sixty-five-year-old back just wasn’t up to the task on its own. Once she set the rack back down on the table, she tried to remember where she’d left her broom and dustpan. Were they behind the pantry door? Or had she left them in the front closet again? But she found the broom in her pantry closet, and pulled it out as she heard the footsteps returning.
“The animal Patricia is now outside of your dwelling,” he said.
“Mmm-hmm,” Monica mumbled as she once again surveyed the wreckage of her cupcakes. She’d so been looking forward to them, and would have to start baking them all over again if she wanted to eat one. She felt a tear start to run down her cheek, and sniffled involuntarily.
“I am sorry for the damage to your cupcakes, Monica Webb. Please allow me to assist you in cleaning this area.”
Monica sighed, and handed him the broom. He took it in a gloved hand, and began to push the cupcake pieces into a small pile. “Thank you, Mr. Vrostrol. You’re very kind. I think–” She sighed again, then pulled out one of the dining chairs. “I’m sorry. I think I just need to sit down for a moment. I’m being silly, crying over a few cupcakes as if I was a little girl.”
“There is no need for an apology,” he said, as she sat down. “Among my people, celebrating the date of one’s birth is also meant to be a joyous occasion, praise be to Grars the All-Knowing.”
“Of course, dear.” She watched him as he swept. His uniform seemed to be some kind of long coat, belted at the waist, with tall boots that disappeared under the lower hem. Several small, colorful items that could’ve been pins or medals of some kind decorated the right breast of his coat. Was he in the military? “Where did you say you were from again?”
“I am from Ahlos, of the Phaedruth Collective,” he answered, then turned to face her. “Is there a receptacle for this waste?”
“Oh, yes, I’m sorry. The dustpan is in the pantry there,” she replied, pointing to the pantry closet, “and the trash bin is there next to the door. If you’ll pardon me, Mr. Vrostrol, I don’t believe I’m familiar with the fay-drooth collective.”
“So it was intended, Monica Webb,” Vrostrol replied as he went into the pantry to get the dustpan. “We felt that advance knowledge of our arrival would cause unnecessary panic and confusion. We meant no disrespect.” He placed the dustpan on the floor and swept the crumb pile into it. “Also,” he said, as he stood back up, “it appears that one of your cupcakes fell on that seat next to you. Perhaps it is not sufficiently damaged to warrant disposal?”
Monica immediately perked up, and looked to see that, indeed, one of her cupcakes was sitting, whole and pristine, on the seat of the chair next to her. “Oh, how wonderful!” She grabbed it and stood, then walked over to a cupboard and pulled a small plate from it. Then she pointed to her fridge. “Mr. Vrostrol, would you mind getting me the glass bowl of frosting from the refrigerator?”
“I would be honored to do so.” Vrostrol put the broom and dustpan back in the closet before walking over to the refrigerator and standing in front of it for a moment in silence. Then he reached out with a gloved hand and pulled on the handle.
Monica opened the drawer next to her and pulled out a small rubber scraper. Vrostrol held the glass bowl of frosting out to her. “Is this what you requested?”
She smiled. “Yes, yes, and it looks perfect. Please, Mr. Vrostrol, have a seat. This will only take a few moments.”
“As you wish.”
Rubber scraper in hand, Monica scooped a generous portion of sweet frosting from the bowl and swirled it around the top of her cupcake. “I’m sorry, Mr. Vrostrol, but did you actually say why you’re here?”
“I did not,” he replied from his seat at the table. “The Phaedruth Collective received the messages your leaders sent out and, as such, have come to evaluate your planet for membership in the galactic community. As an esteemed representative of your people, you were chosen to be the first we contacted.”
Messages? Galactic Community? Was he from one of the neighborhood association? She knew that they’d recently sent a flyer around about their upcoming elections. “That sounds lovely, Mr. Vrostrol, although I’m not sure how esteemed of a representative I’d make.” Finished with the frosting, she took a knife out of the silverware drawer and cut the cupcake in half. Then she grabbed two forks and turned back toward the table and her guest. “But I’d be grateful if you would share this cupcake with me.”
“It would be my pleasure, Monica Webb. I assure you that our research was extensive, and that you were deemed the most appropriate representative to make contact with on our welcome mission.”
Monica set the cupcake down on the table and then handed Vrostrol one of the forks before sitting down. “Welcome mission? Are you saying you’re new to the neighborhood?” She stabbed her half of the cupcake with her fork, cutting off a generous piece with a large glob of frosting on top of it, and put the piece in her mouth. It was heavenly.
“I suppose it would seem like that from your perspective, Monica Webb,” he replied, then emulated her actions, taking a bite for himself. He moaned appreciatively, not unlike Patricia did. “This cupcake is excellent. I’m am honored that you’ve chosen to share it with me.”
Monica smiled at him. He was such a nice man, which she appreciated, especially if he was about to be one of her neighbors. “I’m glad you like it, Mr. Vrostrol. I wish I had more to offer you than just this, but I hope it helps you feel welcome here. I would enjoy having more neighbors like you.”
“You would permit my kind to dwell here?”
She clucked softly. The poor man had clearly already spoken to some of her other neighbors, the ones who had quietly complained when the Clarks and Nguyens moved in. Well, she would have none of that, not on her street. “I’m not a racist like some of my neighbors, Mr. Vrostrol. Many different people have made their homes here, and I say the more, the merrier.”
Vrostrol set his fork down, carefully balancing the tines on the plate. “You are a kind and enlightened individual, Monica Webb. I see now why your people have chosen you to represent them. They have done well.” There was a sudden buzzing in his pocket. He moved a hand toward it, then stopped.
Monica waved a hand at him. “Please, go ahead and answer that. It’s fine with me.”
He nodded and pulled a slim, black rectangle from his pocket. It must’ve been one of those smartphones her coworkers were always using. She was perfectly fine with the ten-year-old Samsung flip phone she kept for emergencies. Vrostrol held the smartphone out in front of him and spoke. “It is done,” he said. “Monica Webb and I have shared sustenance, as is the custom of her people, and she has given her blessing to our presence on this world. Prepare the landing craft.” Then Vrostrol stood up. “If you’ll excuse me, Monica Webb, I have many preparations to make.”
She smiled then pulled herself from her chair. “Of course, Mr. Vrostol. Let me show you the door.” As she walked toward the front hall, she thought she spotted her glasses on the counter. “I’m so pleased you stopped by,” she said, as she reached down to grab them. “I hope we’ll be able to do this again.”
“It would be my honor, Ambassador Monica Webb,” he said as he stepped out onto her front porch, then turned to face her as she slipped her glasses on. Her eyes went wide as she finally saw the creature that stood in front of her. Dark, greenish-brown scales covered his hairless head, save for a thick row of black fur along a prominent ridge that ran from front to back. His slightly pointed face, almost as if he had an animal’s snout, featured large, unblinking, solid black eyes. Two rows of sharp, pointy teeth lined his wide mouth, which only became more menacing as he spread his mouth into an improbable smile. “I will have one of my subordinates contact you at the United Nations very soon. In the meantime, I bid you a joyous celebration of your birth.”
Monica found herself unable to speak as she watched him turn and walk down the steps toward her front walkway. Part of her mind immediately realized Vrsotrol’s error. The newest US Ambassador to the United Nations was also named Monica Webb, she knew. It had even caused a bit of confusion with the HR people at State. But she was too overcome with shock for those thoughts to make any sense. As the alien turned back toward her and offered her a friendly wave, she could only respond in kind, wondering what she’d just done.