"Gimme," the toddler girl screams, half-playing, half-totally serious.
"But it's miiiiinnee," the older boy taunts her by holding it over her head, just past her reach.
She jumps up in futility. Her red curls bounce in waves up and down. A glob of jelly lands smack dab in the middle of her forehead. He laughs, but stops short when he sees mom giving him the stink eye. The girl doesn't seem to mind. She's relishing her half-victory by licking her fingers after retrieving the sweet grape gooeyness from her forehead.
As I watch Agatha and Kipp fight over the last PB & J sandwich, it's almost like I'm looking into a mirror of my old life. The one I had before.
"What are you looking at?" Kipp's lips try hard to smoother another smile. He can't help it. He knows I adore him, though he doesn't know anything about my past life. But he know he hold a special place in my heart even though we barely know each other. And the feeling is reciprocal.
For most of his life, Kipp migrated in and out of different foster care families until just this past year when he was adopted only two days after I entered my new body. This family will be his 'forever family', whereas, for me, it will only be temporary. But of course, they don't know that. That's information I've learned to keep to myself.
Even though it wasn't ever spoken, I like to believe that he somehow senses that I in those first few days I was new to this family too. It's probably wishful thinking, but it's what keeps me sane in this insane world. Either way, there's a bond between us that I'll miss soon enough.
Even though technically his new 'sister' had lived with her mom and dad for 17 years, that I -- the person who lives inside her body -- have not. He said I reminded him of his biological older sister who was around the same age as me, but I knew the real reason -- we were both misplaced in the world.
Other bodies I've lived inside didn't always start off with such a sweet start. Not at all. This family was different. This family I would miss.
Agatha snatched a handful of the sandwich's crust as Kipp stared off at some boys from school playing at the nearby baseball field and fell back in mom's lap.
"Hey!" Kipp lowered his other hand to snatch it back.
" C'mon, don't engage the 2 year old, Kipp." I reasoned with him. "You got the best part of the sandwich anyway."
He glared at me for a second, but then relented and took a bite of the mangled sandwich.
"Why did you want to celebrate your birthday a week early anyway?" he asked with his mouth full and his lips covered in peanut butter.
" Kipp, chew your food before you start talking," Dad commanded. He was sitting next to mom on my favorite picnic blanket -- the checkered one that made picnicking feel like something out of the movies. Picturesque and perfect. The way I wish it would always be.
After he swallowed, he repeated the question. But I already know I don't want to answer with the real reason. I couldn't tell them that after next week I wouldn't be 'me' anymore. That is, I mean 'her'. I'm always me, but I'll just be inside a different body after my 18th birthday. Somewhere far away from red and white checkered picnic blankets, far away from Kipp, Agatha and the people I so easily called Mom and Dad; parents so amazing they would adopt a foster child. Far far away from the happiest life I've had since I left my real one. One that with each passing year was feeling more and more like a dream while this new strange life became more real.
I call it 'insiding' now, but when I was younger I called it body hopping. After a while I thought 'body hopping' sounded too much like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or demon possession, so I took on a more politically correct term. I'm not an alien or a demon. I'm just a girl; lost. Of course, I haven't used the term 'insiding' with anyone but myself. I learned that lesson the hard way.
"Scissors! Look at me!" Agatha said, breaking my revelry, and then did a half somersault, half awkward roll on the grass next to the blanket. 'Scissors' is the name Agatha has called me for the last six month since she started talking this year. She means 'sister' and I don't have the heart to correct her. Neither does mom and pop, we think it's cute when she messes up words.
"Good job, Aggie! Can you do another one?" I say.
I watch as she puts her head on the ground before her, pushes her tiny butt into the air, dangles upside down in mid-air for a half of a second then lands with a thud straight on her back.
I wince, but when she pops up, she throws her hands in the air and proclaims "Tada!" I let out a sigh of relief that her fall only sounded like it hurt.
"Are you gonna answer, Caddy?" my dad asks me.
I've forgotten the question. Or maybe I wanted to forget it. I wrinkled my brows.
He repeats it, "Why did you want to have your birthday early this year? And why the park? It's not like you at all. Don't you want to celebrate your 17th birthday with your friends? Have pizza? Go to the movies?"
"Well, yeah, but, you know..." The string of random words spill out of my mouth as I try to stall. Trying to think up an excuse to tell them. I've never really been good at lying. There is something deep inside of me that propels me to tell the truth, so it really sucks to have to lie to them. But I have to. They wouldn't believe me anyhow.
Instead of saying what I really want to, which is, "I am having my birthday a week early with the family I've fallen in love with since I got inside this body of a 17-year-old-girl that is not mine, who happens to share the exact same birthday as I do, because next week I will be 'insiding' into the body of another girl. Another girl that has my same birthday and I will have a new family that I may or may not like. And I'm unsure if I'll ever see you people again and I want to cherish these last moments with you."
Instead of all that I say, "I dunno. Maybe I'll go out with friends on my real birthday. But now I don't have to feel guilty for not making time with my family when I decide to do something else that day. Is that okay?"
That sounded like a good 17-year-old response, slightly selfish and selfless all at the same time. Like someone stuck between childhood and adulthood. Perfect.
The lying doesn't happen often, but when it does it scares me how easily people believe me. Of course they should, why wouldn't they? I look, smell and sound like their real daughter. Wherever she is.
I hate to think that my presence in this body has somehow shoved this person out into the cosmos -- into nothingness. I like to think they are just sleeping until I leave. Truth is: I have no clue where the person this body belongs to is.
I see Kipp pop a piece of gum into his mouth. When he notices me looking at him, he grins. He knows I hate the sound of him smacking his gum.
"Kipp..." I say in a warning tone.
"What? I didn't do anything," he said smacking harder.
"Better not." I gear up for a pretend chase.
"Whatcha going to do?" He taunts me with his gum sticking out between his teeth.
He laughs and blows a bubble. When it bursts he has to pick pieces of the gum off of his cheeks.
I chuckle and lay back on the whimsical blanket next to mom whose been in deep conversation with dad while Agatha has gone off to play with a ball nearby.
"What you two guys talking about?" I ask.
"Do you really want to know," my dad asks.
"We were talking about how we were going to pay for college after you graduate. We never did set up a college fund."
"Oh." I pull up and huddle my knees.
Mom sits up with me, "Oh hon, don't worry. We'll figure out something."
I turn to her and give her a weak smile. "I know. It's just..." I let my voice trail off as a tear trickles down my face. I want to tell them not to worry, that I don't care about college, but I can't. The person I reside inside does care. Her entire room is decorated with banners and photos of her dream Alma Mata.
"Hey peanut, don't cry." Dad is up too, putting his hand on my knee which releases the floodgate of tears out of my eyes. In my peripheral I see Agatha and Kipp stop what they were doing and watch me. I dry my cheeks.
"I'm okay. I just feel bad that you have money problems. Maybe I could go to a community college for a little while before I go."
"Don't be silly, Caddy. You've wanted to go to LSU since you started high school and you swore you wouldn't go to a community college, remember," mom reminds me.
"Oh, yeah. I did, didn't I," I hesitate. "Maybe I don't care anymore. I don't know. Let's just drop it. It's my birthday party, remember?"
"Of course, peanut," dad says again.
All of a sudden, I feel Kipp's hand sliding around my shoulder. I crane my neck to see him standing above me. I thought he was comforting me in my pain, but instead he starts smacking his gum in my face.
"I'm going to get you!" I say.
With that he was off in the distance -- at least thirty feet -- before I could even stand up.
"Just you wait until I catch you!" I sprint in his direction.
"If you can!" He stops long enough to turn and smack his gum some more.
I love this game. I will miss this game.
As the cool November whips my hair around my face, I can feel the hot tears pour down my face again. I am no match for Kipp's small athletic body. He's more than 100 yards ahead of me know, but I keep running so that I can keep crying without anyone asking questions.
I sprint over a hill as Kipp rounds the pond trying to gain enough ground to make it fun for him. And to keep him running. Because I have to run. Memories of the horrors of my previous insiding experiences send a fresh set of tears to prick my eyes. I pray a silent prayer to God. If He will listen.
"Just get me back home."
Many times I had tried to call home. I mean, I knew my old phone number. But I just couldn't bring myself to say anything. Every time someone answered, I just hung up. It wasn't until I was in my 16-year-old body that I tried to tell someone about my situation. In desperation sought out my 15-year-old body because I was being physically abused by both my parents. I wanted to get help, but I didn't know where to go. Even though they never let me have privileges, I was allowed to have a driver's license so that I could run errands while they did drugs. I had it all planned out, I would drive four hours away to where I knew I used to live and tell my 15-year-old body what was going on. My 15-year-old family weren't the best family, but they were better than what I had.
I didn't know what I thought she could do to help, but I think I also wanted to know if she was still me. If somehow she knew the pain I was going through, not with the abuse, but the pain of insiding. Changing families. Knowing, but never really being known. When I caught up with her after school one day prepared to tell her my story. I wanted to feel her out. Play it safe, but it didn't turn out that way.
"Hey, Nadia" I said to her.
She walked the same route I always had home from school. She cocked her head sideways and said, "Do I know you?"
"Um. Yes. Kinda. I, um...I'm the girl that used to live inside your body." I blurted it out. Looking at her was like a mirror, so familiar but two dimensional. I couldn't read her reaction right away.
She kept walking, now with her head down.
I wondered if she knew. If she was hiding something from me.
I made me hopeful.
"I don't really know where you went when I was inside, but I lived in your body for one year," I started and continued to tell her stories that only she could know.
"Remember that scar on your upper thigh? You got that when you first learned to shave," I said. I had read that in her diary once. "Remember the crush you had on your pediatrician when you were 12? You didn't tell anyone because you didn't want them to think you were gross for thinking he was hot."
She stopped short and glared at me. "I don't know what you think you are doing, but I have no clue what you talking about."
I knew I had gone too far. Said too much, but I couldn't stop myself.
"I've been jumping from body to body since my 12th birthday. Even if you don't know who I am, you have to help me. My parents are drug addicts and they are abusive. I'm stuck in a world that I have no clue how to navigate. Since I used to live in your house, I just thought I would be safe with you and your family."
Her pace quickened and I fell back.
"Nevermind, I'm just joking. I don't know..." I started to recant. Too broken to be rejected by my old self. Who was me. But wasn't anymore. It was all just too confusing. Too much. I covered my face with my hands and started to cry.
"I might know something..." she said.
I looked up. The way she bit her lip made me think that I wasn't as crazy as I felt.
She brought me back to her home -- the one that used to be mine. The bedroom still looked the same, though their were a few things I didn't recognize.
I picked up a throw pillow on her bed. "Where did you get this?" I asked her.
"My last birthday," she replied.
"Oh." I said. I wasn't there then. I was already gone by that day.
"How's Satiya?" I asked as she unloaded her backpack on her bed.
She looked up at me with a raised eyebrows. "Um, fine, I guess. She's started training with a new coach."
Satiya, a friend I'd spent most of the last year with, trained in competitive gymnastics and had been on the lookout for a coach that could train her for the Olympic trials.
"I'm glad she finally decided. Who did she choose, Hector or Pete?"
"Yeah, I liked him the best."
She fiddled with her notebook a little bit, "I have a lot of homework to do, would you like to watch some TV? A movie?"
A little deflated, I agreed to watch TV. I had so many question, not just about what was going on with friends and family, but about Nadia. What did she know? What did she not know? Where did she go? But I guess they could wait until later.
That night, the family fed me. For the first time since I had 'insided' to my new body I felt like I was at home again. Until the cops arrived.
"What did you do?" I accused Nadia.
"I'm sorry. I had to tell my mom," she said pulling closer to the familiar woman. "I didn't know what else to do. I didn't want anything bad to happen to you. You seemed so, I don't know, confused."
"I'm not confused." I said. "You just don't understand. I don't know how or why it happened, but my soul or something keeps jumping around every year on my birthday into the body of some other girl who is the same age as me and who has the same birthday as me. It started on my 12th birthday. One night I just went to sleep and then the next day I woke up in someone else's body. It's like Freaky Friday, only worse. And I don't know how to make it stop. Last year, I was in your body."
"No, you weren't," Nadia said. "I was."
"Prove it," I challenged.
I searched my mind for something that only the last-year me would know. Then, I thought about a tiny detail that would only be know by me.
"Last year, when Satiya's mom went to her lawyer's office to finalize everything with your parents divorce you came to my house and we watched Paper Towns but what movie were we going to watch?"
Nadia scrunched up her face in thought.
I crossed my arms almost in triumph until she started to blush. Then I realized that she knew.
Against our parents wishes, Satiya and I had acquired a extremely racy R-rated romance movie from a friend. We were seconds away from popping it in the BluRay player when both of us chickened out. Being a devout Catholic, Satiya's conscience got the better of her. Of which I was glad because I knew that my parents probably would be able to smell that I had watched the movie and I'd have to lie again. Living a lie was enough falsehood for a lifetime.
Nadia put her hand on her hip and jutted it off to one side. "I don't know what you are talking about! How do you even know we watched a movie that day. Did Satiya tell you?"
I blurted out the name of the forbidden movie.
Nadia's mother gasped.
Nadia laughed, "Mom, you know I'd never watch that movie. She's lying."
Obviously the real Nadia had no problem with lying.
The cops stepped towards us as they noticed the situation escalating.
"Nadia," my old mom scolded. "She's obviously sick, please, be gentle."
They were speaking about me as if I wasn't even there.
The cop prodded me gently to the door.
"Mom, please. Don't let them take me!" I screamed heaving my body towards the woman in a last ditch attempt. I fell at their feet sobbing. "Please. I'm telling the truth. I'm swear."
And that was it. I'd said and done too much. After the cops told my parents what happened, I was committed to a mental institution for the duration of my stay in my 16-year-old body. My current family could have cared less. They hardly ever visited, but when they did they asked me if I could give them any pain medication. Since I was constantly given medicine at the hospital that I didn't really need, I started getting pretty good at faking its consumption.
As long as I handed them the pills I was at least out of their corrupted meth house. I was more useful to them in the hospital than out so they continued to ask for a prolonging of my government financed stay at the facility.
"She's not well yet," they'd say.
And I played the part well enough so I could convince the nurses that I wasn't ready to leave treatment. I didn't even see their house again. I counted down the days until my 17th birthday.
But one good thing did come out of my miserable 16th year, I had a few of my many questions about insiding answered. Nadia may not have known that I had taken over her body, but somehow, she had retained all the knowledge of the previous year.
And perhaps because of my suffering, I earned a spot in this new family because I couldn't have been more pleased. Despite my tears and my memories, I would rather stay in this moment, running after Kipp then let this next week move forward toward my birthday, but Kipp eventually got bored of outrunning me and my mom and dad told us that the baby needed a nap, so we packed up the SUV and head home.
When we got inside the house and mom rejoined the family after setting the baby down, my dad informed me that he had a present for me.
"But mom already bought me some new clothes and gave me a gift card to download music," I said.
"This is something really special," he told me, motioning for me to follow him.
I walked into the garage where he pulled out something from his car.
"I got this on my last trip to Baton Rouge," he said pulling out a long chain from a brown paper bag. "Sorry I didn't wrap it." He set the necklace in my hand.
I held the necklace up so I could admire it. Suspended from the long gold chain was a red stone about an inch and a half in length and an inch diameter.
"It's beautiful dad. And I don't care if you didn't wrap it."
"Well, I know red is your favorite color." He looked down at his car tire, kicked it and then wiped something off of the driver's side mirror. He wasn't a sentimental person, so I knew this was a special effort he'd made for me.
"Thanks, dad. I love it." I give him a great big hug. "Will you put it on me?" I turn around so he could attached the two ends.
"No problem, peanut, because I love you," he says hugging me again after clasping it.
"I know you do, daddy. I know you do," I say. We walk back into the house and the family wishes everyone else a good night.
I grip the railing as I walk up the stairs putting every ounce of my weight on it, dragging my feet. This next week was going to be the hardest week of my life. I wanted to tell them so bad. Just so I could say a real goodbye. But I couldn't. Not ever.
"Caddy, are you paying attention?" my teacher, Mrs. Englebrook, asked.
"Well, then, is it true or false?"
"Can you repeat the statement?"
"A neutron has no net electric charge."
She scrunched up her face and adjusted her scarf.
"Henry?" She called on the boy in the front whose hand shot up.
"Of the three subatomic particle types, two -- protons and electrons -- carry a net electric charge, while neutrons are neutral and have no net charge," Henry answered as he looked back my way.
"Correct," the teacher replied.
I lowered my head and pretended to look up the answer to the next question in my science book.
I hate school. Always have, but never as much as since my 'insiding'. What did it matter if I knew the electrical charge or lack thereof of a neutron. I mean really. In the grand scheme of things it doesn't really matter.
I never understood why I hated it so much, until I met Kipp. He explained as a foster kid, he was always having to jump from school to school. He never really belonged. And since every school was different, half of his time at a new school was spent trying to figure out where he fit in, both academically and socially. As a result, he was always struggling to get good grades and make friends.
Once he told me that, I knew that was exactly what was happening to me. Even though my body had been to those schools before, my insides had not. Each body came with its own set of friends and social cues, none of which I had previous recollection.
Usually during those first few weeks I learned to stay as quiet as possible, fake an illness that would give me an excuse to opt out of normal everyday activities until I could figure out who 'the new me' was. Anything that people noticed 'off' about me, I would always blame it on my cycle. No one questioned a teenage girl about anything once they hear the word 'period.' It was like a magical free pass.
This is part of the reason I liked Kipp so much, he was new to the family much like I was new. I didn't have to pretend to be 'Caddy', I could just be who I always was. I won't let myself say my real name anymore. It just hurts too much.
I figure the stone around my neck. I haven't taken it off since dad gave it to me. Not even in the shower. I'll only be able to wear it for one more day, so I don't worry about it rusting in the water.
Tomorrow is my real birthday. And tomorrow I'll be somewhere else.
The bell rings and everyone piles out of the class, but none quicker than me. I rush to city bus stop so I can pick up Kipp from elementary school. Even though I know how to drive, I don't have a license in this life. My parents only have one car anyway, and dad takes it to work everyday.
I see that Kipp is already waiting outside when the bus turns the corner toward the school. He's wearing his favorite ninja shirt and a pair of khaki pants that look too big for him.
"Hey little dude, how was school?" I ask.
"Okay, I guess," he says kicking a rock.
"No. Not really."
"I got another letter from the counselor to give mom."
"Do you know what it says?"
"No. But I bet it's bad."
"Why do you say that?"
"Caddy," he stops to look at me with the maturity of an adult that only years in foster care can give a child, "I know because that's just want happens. Counselors only send letters home when something is wrong, okay."
"Fine. Sorry I asked," I say and continue walking.
We walk in silence for a block before he finally tells me what is really bugging him. "Caddy, what if mom realizes that I'm too much work for her. That I'm not worth all the extra tutoring and money."
Now it's my turn to stop and stare him down. "Kipper Nicholas Medina, don't even go there. Mom loves you. You are worth all the effort."
"But how do you know? You belong to this family, in real life. I'm just an outsider."
I have to bite my tongue. He doesn't understand. I have to remember that to everyone else I am an insider.
"You are not an outsider anymore. You are a part of this family. They aren't going to un-adopt you."
"Are you sure?"
Kipp bends down and picks a dandelion growing between a crack in the sidewalk. He twirls it between his thumb and forefinger.
"It's probably the last dandelion we'll see until next spring," I say.
He hands it to me. "I don't know what I'd do with out you, sis."
I smile and under my breath I say, "You'll do just fine."
Dad is already home when we arrive at the house.
As soon as we enter through the screen door, he says 'shhhh' and we both know that means the baby is napping.
"Where's mom?" I whisper.
"At the grocery store," he says flipping the pieces around on a Rubix cube. "Damn this stupid thing." With that he throws it to me. I prove to be just as useless at solving it.
"Why do you keep doing this if it frustrates you so much?" I ask.
"Some mountains must be conquered."
It made sense, even though I don't know why. "But is this the mountain you really want to conquer?" I said throwing the cube back to him.
He just snorts.
"What are you laughing at?" mom asks coming into the house with an armful of groceries.
"Oh, nothing." Dad starts flipping pieces again.
"Don't 'nothing' me," she says. "What were you two talking about?"
"We were talking about which mountains we want to fight in life. Which mountain is worthy of 'the climb,'" he tells her.
"Are you referring to that stupid toy, Doug?" she asks him
"It's not a toy, it's a puzzle!" He holds it up like a trophy. "Look! I got three in a row."
"Didn't you have an entire side done last night?" she asks.
"You have to undo stuff to get the other side to match, you don't understand. I think I have it figured it out now."
I watch their playful bickering and suddenly I have to leave or I'll cry. I don't want them to start asking questions.
Thankfully, right then the baby starts to call from her crib.
"Hey, mom, can I take Agatha for a walk before it gets dark?" I ask.
"Sure. Just make her a sippy and take a bag of goldfish before you leave. I should have dinner ready when you get back."
As I leave the room I can hear them talking about me. They are wondering how they were lucky enough to have a daughter that enjoys her family so much.
It's easy, I think. When your family has been ripped away from you, you cling to any semblance of family you can find. I only wish I had known that sooner, then maybe I wouldn't have started insiding in the first place.
Agatha's fat leg is propped up on the crib railing trying to find a way to scale the structure and be freed from her prison.
"Oh you little stinker!" I call to her when I enter her pale pink room.
"Scissors!" she squeals in delight. "Out! Out! Gaga out!"
'Gaga' is what she calls herself. I guess Agatha is kind of hard for a toddler to say.
I lift her up from her bed and lay her on the changing table. She's almost too big for it. "When are you going to pee in the big girl potty," I ask.
"No!" she screams. "No potty. Gaga diaper."
"But diapers are yucky." I hold my nose closed in feigned disgust.
"Diapers yummy," she replies.
I laugh as I pick her off the table. We go back and forth arguing 'yucky' and 'yummy' for a while. I let her win.
"Do you want to go for a walk in the park, Aggie?"
"Park! Park!" She wiggles out of my arms and rushes for the shoe bin.
"Okay, but lemme get your snacks first."
"Snacks! Park! Scissors!"
"Yes, all the important things in life, right? Food, fun and family."
In the garage, she sits like a statue as I latch the three-point harness on the stroller. I close the overhead door and start walking down the driveway. The air is crisp, but not too cold that I have to retreat for a different type of jacket. Agatha has already pulled off her socks and I have to stop to put them back on.
"No, no. Socks on."
She pouts, but sits back and doesn't fight.
As I walk through the neighborhood, I try to take it all in. The houses. The trees. I struggle to recall all that has happened this past year. Who I met. Places I've been. But none of it seems to matter. I only have one thought: family.
I try so hard not to get attached, but every year since it started happening I find myself heartbroken at the year's end. Every year except year 16, of course.
The first time it happened I was twelve. I thought it was some kind of a sick joke, that is until I looked in the mirror.
I read Freaky Friday in middle school, but that story didn't even compare to what I was in for. Beside, at least Anna and Tess were mother and daughter. They still were in the same house, same family, just different bodies.
Once during that same year, my new friends and I watched the movie with Lindsey Lohan at a slumber party. They thought it would be cool to switch places with people. They even listed off people they would switch places with for entire year -- mostly the popular girls. When they got to me I couldn't even speak. I told them I didn't feel good and went home.
"I just want to be me," I say aloud. "And I can't get back to her."
I pray to God all the time. I ask Him 'why me'? What did I do wrong? But I know the answer: I ran away.
That's when this whole thing started. I ran away the night before my 12th birthday. Of course the police eventually found me under the rickety bridge near the creek by my house. My mom made me my favorite peanut butter and syrup sandwich on oatmeal bread that night. After I ate I crawled into my bed wishing I could be someone else. I lay on my bed with my back to her as she stroked my hair and cried.
"I love you," she had said.
I never did get to respond. I fell asleep and woke up in a different place, with a different mom, in a different body.
From then on I vowed I would always respond when someone expressed their affection toward me.
Before bed that night, I made sure to wrap my arms around everyone in my family for one last time.
"What's with all the love, Caddy," mom asked.
"I just appreciate what I have," I tell her.
"That's good. I need to do that more," she says. "Well, goodnight Caddy-bug, I love you."
"I love you, too, mom. I really do."
I tried hard not to fall asleep thinking that if I could just stay awake passed my birthday that I might be able to stay where I was, but I guess sometime between 4am and 5am I dozed off in my chair with my celebrity gossip magazine on my lap because when I woke up I was snuggled in another person's bed with the shades drawn extra tight making the entire room pitch black. It was extremely cold despite the mass of blankets and hum of the nearby space heater.
I didn't even bother to investigate further. I just lay there and cried myself back to sleep.
I'm sitting looking at a plate of eggs. Or what is supposed to be eggs but really just looks like a yellow booger with a side of white snot jiggling around the plate.
It's not that my new mom doesn't know how to cook, that's just the way she likes her eggs. Gross.
I put the blobs of white goo off to the side and try to stomach the better part of the meal.
"Mom, I don't think I like eggs anymore," I say with a mouthful of toast.
"Huh?" She has the lost look in her eyes again. It's been two weeks since I've been in my new body and there are two things that I know for certain: my mom is majorly depressed and my body has some sort of weird sickness.
I repeat the egg statement again.
"Oh, I'm sorry," she says. A second later I regret that I said anything because she starts to wipe a tear away from her cheek.
She turns to me, red eyed but trying to hide it with a smile.
"I love you." I say it even though I don't mean it, but because that's what daughters say when they see their mom in pain.
Her mouth twitches and the tears start pouring down. I respond by immediately getting up and hugging her. I try my hardest to be a good daughter because I have no clue if these are the things my 'real' mom could be struggling with. I would hope that someone would hug her if she was depressed too.
"I'm sorry, Felicity. I wish I wasn't like this. I just can't make it stop." She embraces me harder.
"You know you can get help, mom, right? They have pills for this sort of stuff." I push back her bangs and wipe away a lone tear.
"You know we can't afford it. After your dad left..." Her voice starts to warble and she excuses herself despite my hold on her.
"I'm going to get a job, mama. We're going to fix you, okay?" I call in desperation. I want this family to work, not just for her sake, but for mine. I shake off my own tears and try to forget about my old family. This is my life. Right now. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. All I have is right now. It's all I'm promised.
I get ready for my last day of school before the Thanksgiving holidays and determine to get a job at Munchy's Burgers. They'll need holiday help. A nice family owns it, but their son, who was the manager, has almost graduated med school and decided to move an hour away to the hospital in Portland to complete his residency.
There is one thing that I like better about this life: the small town. I don't know why but I never got used to life in a bigger city. Since I started insiding I have always ended up in bodies that live in major metropolitan areas, until now. This is the first small hometown I've been in. I love the cozy feeling. Everyone knows everyone else. And their business. But I don't mind that news travels fast. I makes it easier to find out what is what.
Like, I already know through the grapevine that my dad left my mom for a local bartender. They quickly left town and moved to the city so they could escape the gossip, but it doesn't matter because he hasn't been able to find a new job and still works at the factory.
I, also, know that a new company just started at the marina and the foreman was a widower with three little kids. All the single moms talk about him openly at the local coffeeshop.
My mom and I have bumped into him a couple times at the grocery store. He seems nice enough. I offered to babysit his kids and he gave me his number. His youngest daughter looks so much like Abigail that I almost called her Abby. I hope he calls me.
I hear my mom leave before me. The old wooden screen door makes the entire house shake when it slams shut. Doesn't go to work until 9 am. It's only 7:55 and I know where she's going. She going to drive by dad's work -- just to see if she can catch a glimpse of him. I think she's making this harder on herself and making her depression worse, but I'm not going to tell her that.
I'm not positive, but I think her depression contributed to him leaving her. I find myself getting a little bitter at the man known as my dad even though I haven't met him since coming into this body. Doesn't he understand that marriage is through sickness and in health.
But it's easy for me to judge now. I didn't understand how important family is until I left mine.
We live four blocks from the high school. I don't have any siblings, so I just leave whenever I want.
On the way I see a couple of people that are my friends, but I'm hesitant to talk to them. I still don't really know what to say. Not only that, but I think my body has fallen into the wrong crowd of people. Fortunately for me, a month before I came here, my boyfriend broke up with me so at least I don't have to deal with breaking up with him. I did that last year. It wasn't fun.
They wave me over.
"Hey," I say.
"What's up?" Ricca asks.
"Just dealing with my mom."
"Sorry, chick," Mae says and gives my back a light tap. "She still sad about your dad?"
"Sucks," Ricca says.
That's all I say the short walk to school, partly because my heart is racing and I'm already out of breath and partly because the two girls chat about the party tomorrow night at some guy's house.
Before we part ways to go to our lockers they ask if I'm going with them.
"No, I think I'm going to get a job. I need to make some money for mom to get some help." I tap my head.
"I'll pray for her," Mae says.
I smile, but I'm skeptical because Mae also prays to score alcohol from the local guy who sometimes buys for underage kids.
I walk into my Trigonometry class because in this life the one thing I have going for me is my brain. I'm not pretty. I'm kind of overweight, but man, is it easy to do everything when it comes to books.
Don't get me wrong. Usually I'm not a dumb person, but the brain in this body is lightening fast. I get thing I've never been able to understand before. I think back to my conversation with Kipp about moving around a lot. I guess there is an exception to every rule, because most days I don't even have to try to make an 'A'.
I sit down next to a quiet girl. Her name's Harper. This is her first year in school. She's been homeschooled her entire life. She would have been homeschooled this year too except that it's easier to get some college credits since we don't live close enough to a local community college. I don't pretend to understand it all, but she seems nice enough. Her parents are the ones that own Munchy's so I figure it's a blessing in disguise for me. I start to make small talk.
"So, you work at your folk's place, right?" I ask as she's flipping through her notes for the test.
"Yes. I do." She doesn't look up.
I've always been a friendly person, so it's hard for me when people don't respond, but I press in. "I bet it's super busy during Thanksgiving time. You know, with all the people coming into town for the holidays. Especially since your brother moved."
"It's okay. My mom took over his job. Since she doesn't have to homeschool me anymore she's free to do a lot of the work." She still doesn't look up.
"Oh." I feel deflated.
The teacher gets up from her desk. I've lost my chance to get an 'in' for a job at Munchy's, but then the girl turns to me. "If you want a job, we are hiring."
"Cool. I was kind of thinking I'd like a job." For the first time, I get a good look at her. She's pretty, but in an understated way. Her wide-set eyes remind me of a Disney princess, but I'm not sure which one. I sit up a little straighter and suck in my tummy.
"I'll be there this afternoon helping my mom if you want to swing by."
"That'd be perfect. I want to help my mom. Since my dad left we don't have tons of money and she needs to go to the doctor."
"Your going to give your paycheck to your mom, then?" She sounds surprised.
"Well. Yeah. I guess."
"You are better than I am. I wouldn't do that."
The teacher tells us to be quiet as she starts handing out the test.
When I leave class I'm on cloud nine, I know that I aced the test and I am pretty sure that I secured the job I wanted, but then something happens.
I start to feel a little dizzy and I can't help myself, but I sit down in the middle of the hallway. Everyone just steps over me for a minute. The passing feet start to blur and I heard someone ask me if I'm okay.
That's the last thing I remember until I wake up in the hospital.