Allergic to Astroturf (Preview Only)

Dara came home from school and slammed the door behind her. A lump twitched next to one of the throw pillows on the sofa. It raised its head and blinked its little ink-dot eyes. Dara dropped her backpack, paced over to the couch, and let the alien hop into her lap. "I can't believe what Keli said about you. You wouldn't hurt anybody, would you, Turf?"
Ridges formed along the strips of fur on his skin, and pixels of red and blue lit up across his back. He spread his tentacles over Dara's arms and rumbled in what felt like a purr. Dara calmed down while she stroked his back. She'd first found him in the backyard a few weeks ago, while playing with her friends Willow and Keli. His hair had felt like grass that time, so she named him "Astroturf"—or "Turf," for short. Whatever he was, there couldn't possibly be anything on this earth like him.
Owning an alien was exciting enough, but the best part was that even with his fur, he never set off Dara's allergies. Every other pet in the world, from dogs to gerbils, had made Dara feel as if she'd come down with the flu. Not Turf, though. Dara had finally found a pet that let her breathe.
Which made what Keli had said earlier that day all the more infuriating.
Mom's head popped out from the hallway door. "Dara, did you slam the door?"
"Yeah, sorry." Dara watched the colors flow on Turf's back. "It's Keli."
"You two are still fighting?"
"She's saying she's allergic to Turf now. I know she doesn't like him, but she doesn't have to make stuff up like that."
Mom put a hand on her hip. "Hm."
"Mom, she fakes allergies all the time, ever since seventh grade started. Last month it was nickel. The month before that it was strawberries. She always forgets about it a couple weeks later. She's just doing it for attention, I know it!" It especially hurt considering Dara's own allergies. Dara couldn't afford to forget.
"Still, though," Mom said. "I know it means a lot to finally have a pet, but we still don't exactly know what Turf is. Somebody's bound to be allergic to something on him, and it's possible that somebody could turn out to be Keli."
"You weren't listening to her at lunch today. Acting all smug. Like she's finally got a real reason to hate him." Dara gave Turf a little squeeze. "I wish she'd never seen him."
"You've only told her and Willow, right?"
Dara nodded. And neither of them had told anybody. "Willow loves him." Dara leaned her head back against the couch. "She asked if I could spend the night tonight… but Keli's gonna be there." And the more Keli complained, the more likely she'd blow the whole secret to someone else.
"You should go," Mom said. "Wash yourself up, put on some clean clothes, and try not to bring up your alien squid pet. You've gotten along fine with Keli before. I don't want to see you lose a friend over this."
 This is a preview. To read more, please order the collection Unheard Of, or the standalone edition of this story, now part of my Quick Fiction series!