It was New Year’s Eve. 19-year-old Lilo Pelekai switched on the alien communicator screen hanging from the wall of her dorm. Her roommate wasn’t here today; she’d gone home for Christmas, so Lilo didn’t have to worry about her getting annoyed with the conversations she had with the galactic half of her Ohana.
The screen flickered to life after a brief, buffering Connecting, please hold… in Tantalog. Luckily she’d spent most of her time growing up learning to write and read in both English and alien.
A fluffy, round blue head appeared, too close to the camera. “Lilo!”
Lilo laughed. “Stitch, I can see up your nose! Back up.”
“Ooh, soka.” Stitch did as he was told, grinning at her.
He was in his Armada Suit. He’d been given a special mission by the Galactic Alliance, something about tracking down the source of a star pollution, and he was looking sharp in red and gold. Behind him were the metal walls of his room in the BRB 9,000. Gantu and Ruben were assigned to the mission as well, and had been glad to give their little friend a spot in the ship instead of having him ride solo in his own craft. At least he had someone else to talk to on his trip. He’d been gone since Lilo had left for the University of Honolulu nearly a year ago. Neither of them had been back home for all the holidays and events; life got in the way.
“Did you get my present?” Lilo asked him, sitting on the side of her made bed.
“Ih!” Stitch ducked out of view and popped back up again with her letter in one hand and a crumpled-up wrapper in the other. “Coconut cake!”
She’d sent him an entire cake she’d baked herself, because she knew the crew of the BRB wouldn’t really do Earth food for the voyage. Stitch loved coconut cake. He prob’ly hadn’t had it for a long time. By the time it had been warped to his location—she’d mailed it to Jumba first because he had the technology to do that—it must’ve been a little stale. But of course that wouldn’t matter; Stitch would eat almost anything.
“Agaba!” Stitch craned his head, ears rotating backward a bit, trying to observe her background. “Lilo not home?”
Lilo shook her head. “I know I said I’d go back for New Year’s, but there’s lots of stuff to do here. I’m gonna have to stay.”
His ears flattened at that. “Ohana!”
Lilo sighed. “Nani said it was okay. Jumba’s going to that convention in Maui and Pleakley sleeps through the whole thing anyway. She’ll probably invite David.”
Stitch growled. “Naga bootifa.”
“Stitch! I can’t help it; I have tests to study for.”
He folded his arms and just glowered at her.
What could she say? The truth was, she didn’t have enough money for the plane ride to Kauai. Besides, she couldn’t see the point in going home if he wasn’t going to be there. Not even for holidays. It wasn’t home without Stitch. If even one part of her Ohana was missing during the holidays, it felt wrong. She’d gotten used to that half-heartedness after her parents had died; but without Stitch it would be like that all over again, fresh, and she didn’t see the appeal of ruining New Year’s or Christmas because her blue buddy was off in space.
Lilo decided to change the subject. “I got your gift.”
Stitch’s ears flicked back up. “Yeah?”
She smiled, holding it up. It was a tiki carving he’d done of her and Elvis. He’d probably shredded a whole palm tree back in Kokaua Town just to overdo it for her. She adored it; she kept it on her nightstand for the world to see.
Stitch clapped his hands. “Egalagoo!”
“It’s the coolest thing ever, Stitch,” she promised. “I love it. But it’s heavy!” Quickly, Lilo set it back on the nightstand. “So did you find what was causing all that gunk out there?”
Stitch squinted, shaking his head. “Naga.”
“We’re gettin’ there!” A chubby, golden-furred face pushed its way onscreen. “If ol’ Fish-Face’d ask for directions once in a while…”
Lilo giggled. “Hi, Ruben!”
“How’s it goin’, Lilo! Y’know, we’re flyin’ over those islands o’yours later tonight. Gantu got a little lost. Hey, maybe you’ll see us.”
“I hope so. What time?”
“Right around midnight.”
“Magata—go away!” Stitch shoved his cousin from view.
“Happy New Year to you too,” Ruben grumbled somewhere off to the side.
There was a knock on her door. Lilo glanced at it, confused. Who would be knocking? She was practically the only person who had stayed here for the Christmas season. At least, the only person in her circle of friends. She looked back at the screen.
Stitch had obviously heard it too. “Gaba?”
“I don’t know. Everybody else went home.”
He waved a hand dismissively, the way David had taught him, in a p’shaw manner. Then he bounced a little, as if a thought had occurred to him suddenly.“Oh, oh, ikiba! Jumba and Pleakley!”
“I was gonna call them next.” The knock came again. Lilo tried to ignore it. “I already called Nani. She made those eyeball dumpling things again.”
Stitch made a gagging sound.“Bleh!”
“I know!” Lilo made a face. She whispered the next part, a hand to the side of her mouth, as if Nani were actually there to hear it. “I tried to talk her into baking something really good. Like mango mayonnaise dip. But she said it was easier to make something Pleakley would approve—”
Knock knock knock.
“Ugh!” Lilo huffed, throwing her head back dramatically so her bangs fell off her forehead. “I gotta go, Stitch.”
Stitch pouted. “Aw.”
“I’ll talk to you soon! Promise.” She held up the American hand sign for I Love You. It was similar to the Shaka hand sign, and they’d been using it for years now. “Aloha.”
He signed it back to her. “Aloha.”
The screen dipped to black. Irritated that someone was so impatient that they had to interrupt her call, Lilo strode to the door, frowning, and swung it open. Her frown deepened in confusion.
“Huh?” Lilo tried to make sense of what she was seeing. There was a really big present at her door, but it had…legs. In jeans. Black ones. And shoes; orange-red sneakers. The gift was wrapped in green and tied with a blue ribbon. She finally noticed two hands gripping both sides of the box, clearly masculine.
An unruly head popped around the side, almost purposefully comical. Brown-black hair, button nose, big chocolatey eyes, huge, straight-toothed grin. Lilo’s heart did a very complicated hula dance.
Speaking of things that looked sharp in red.
“Hi,” he grunted out, staggering just a little with the gift still in his arms.
Lilo took it from him without as much effort and dropped it onto the floor inside her dorm. She stepped out into the hallway and gave him a nice, tight hug. Zeke Lau was one of her good friends now; not as good as Stitch or Victoria or even Mertle Edmonds—though that was probably because he wasn’t a girl—but he was still an incredibly welcome face. Especially on a lonely New Year’s Eve.
“What are you doing here?” Lilo demanded, delighted.
He shrugged, still smiling simply. “My flight landed like an hour ago…”
“No—I mean, how come you’re not spending New Year’s with your Ohana?” Lilo blinked at him, feeling sorry for her pal.
Zeke glanced at the ceiling. “I had a feeling a friend of mine needed some cheering up.” He cocked his head slightly and opened his arms in a gesture to himself, letting them slap back down against his sides. “So—here I am.”
Lilo grinned. “Thanks, Zeke.”
He grinned back. There was a moment of quiet, then he nodded to the present still in her doorway. “I got you something.”
“Wow.” Lilo took another look at it, hands on her hips. “That’s a really big gift.”
“Open it up!”
She tore at the wrapping and he helped, too eager for her reaction. She told herself to make it good. Lilo raised an eyebrow and pulled out a handful of the sea of Styrofoam packing peanuts, letting a few squeeze through her fingers and flutter back into the box.
“We could make a mountain out of these.”
Zeke nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah, we could. Maybe later. Come on, look inside!”
Lilo really enjoyed grabbing fists of the peanuts and flinging them over both shoulders like they do in cartoons. Zeke sat back on his palms, on the other side of the box, half of him in the hallway and half of him in her dorm. Watching her. At last she reached the object inside and jerked it out from the bottom. It was sort of heavy, not as heavy as Stitch’s gift, but probably as fragile.
It was a very polished, very large, antique gun of some kind, obviously not a real weapon. Lilo recognized it immediately and felt a scream building in her throat, ecstatic. Her eyes came up and struck Zeke, wide and shocked.
“A 1990’s Wasp Mummy Carbine?” Lilo’s voice went unusually high-pitched in her excitement. “They discontinued these!”
Zeke shrugged one shoulder this time, looking very shy suddenly. “I know it’s prob’ly not as cool when you’ve seen real alien guns and stuff, but I thought you might—”
“What? This is so great!” Setting the gun on the carpet gently, Lilo got up so fast to hug him she knocked over the box of packing peanuts. The scattered all over the floor as she threw her arms around his neck.
Zeke laughed. “Now look what you did!”
She picked up another handful of the Styrofoam and threw it in his face. “Who cares? Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!”
He hugged her back with one hand. “You like it?”
“Great.” She got off him and he surveyed the floor. “Wanna make that mountain now?”
Lilo thought about it for a minute. Then she smirked. “I have a better idea.”
“This is General Wezine’s gun, right?” Lilo draped another handful of packing peanuts on the cement, examining her present in her other hand.
“No, uh, that one’s from Episode IV. See, it’s got the little clicker on the top?”
“Oh yeah. The holster’s greener, too.” She looked up. “Spread out more. No, not toward me—go that way!”
Zeke obeyed, sprinkling his own peanuts onto the Quad. “What time are they coming again?”
“Any time now.”
Zeke checked his wristwatch. “5 minutes till New Year.”
Lilo’s smile wavered a little bit. “You should be with your family, Z.”
Zeke’s eyebrows nit; he flapped his hand in a no biggie, reminding her of Stitch. “Nah, it’s all right. There’s lots of us Laus. Minus one isn’t really a big deal.”
“Ohana means nobody gets left behind,” Lilo reminded him sternly, channeling Nani. “One person’s not worth getting left behind by a whole Ohana, Zeke.”
Her family was big too. Way bigger than he could’ve imagined, however many times she’d described it to him. But if just a single one of them were absent, as aforementioned, it wasn’t as good as it could have been. She felt guilty that he’d thrown his family off balance on the biggest night of the year. It was sweet of him to come, but whatever cool Chinese-American traditions the Laus had—hopefully something with dragons and those sugary donut things—must have been better than a spontaneous craft on school grounds in the middle of the night. He was blowing off a lot, she guessed, flying down to hang out with her.
Zeke didn’t seem disturbed. “I think one person prob’ly can be,” he suggested lightly, as if thinking aloud. “You know, if it’s the right person. Besides, I didn’t get left behind.”
“You left them behind,” Lilo agreed. “Big difference.”
“They wanted me to come, honest.” Zeke adjusted the color of his red-orange jacket. “I told them I’d rather be here anyway.”
“Because Lau parties stink.”
“Because we don’t do anything different.”
“I don’t know! All we do is watch Cousin Rufus drink ten gallons of soda till he passes out.”
“Not when you’ve seen it like twenty times!”
“My Uncle Jumba can drink his weight in grape juice,” Lilo bragged. She paused. “Which is probably more than ten gallons.”
“See? Even your family has more fun than mine.” Zeke laughed. “And since you can’t go see them this year, you’re gonna have to settle for me.” He stopped, pointing at her in a warning, amusement making his eyes sparkle. “But I’m not drinking my weight in grape juice.”
Lilo held up a hand. “Sh! Do you hear that?”
Zeke frowned. “Hear what?”
He dropped his voice to a hiss. “But you asked if I—”
They listened, and sure enough, the sound of thrusters started to echo in the night sky. Lilo dumped out the rest of the packing peanuts and arranged them frantically. Zeke felt the wind pick up, checked his watch. Forty-five seconds till midnight. They tilted their heads back, watching as a huge red ship flew into view, pushing through the clouds. Lilo jumped up and down, waving. Zeke put a hand in his hair as if to hold its spikiness in place, jacket flapping. “Woah!”
Lilo cupped her hands around her mouth. “Aloha, Stitch!”
Stitch, up at the nearest window, squinted. When that didn’t work, he blinked, eyes hazed red, to see further. There, on the ground, were two little figures, swishing their arms about. “Lilo! Achakaba!”
And behind them, spelled out in Styrofoam packing peanuts all across the Quad, were the words:
HAPPY NEW YEAR STITCH!