A Song of Yuletide
“I know I told you to die,” Maria said, pulling her bathrobe tighter around herself, but not before I saw a hint of her diaper’s waistband above the top of her pajama pants, “but I didn’t mean for you to do it on my back porch, Devlin.”
“What?” I glanced around, somewhat surprised to find snowflakes dancing through the moonlight all around, piling up quickly. It was the kind of snow that I always wished for, the kind that could make the next day, Christmas day, like some beautiful storybook. I had never gotten that wish before; perhaps having lived in Florida until just a few months before had something to do with that. “Oh, I’m fine.”
“I’m thrilled,” Maria sighed. “Why the hell are you here?”
Even though I had gone to her house with one very clear purpose, something I knew was right, and that I probably should have done long ago, now that the time to actually do it was upon me, I could feel the words crumbling on my tongue. How did I phrase it? What could I say to possibly make up for everything I’d done, and said, already?
“Why don’t you come back when you decide?” Maria shook her head, backing further into the doorway. “Or better yet, why don’t you go tell someone who gives a crap about what you think?”
“I’m sorry!” I blurted out, those two simple words somehow busting the flood gates of my mind wide open. “I’m so sorry about everything! I know I was horrible, but…”
“Yes, you were,” she interrupted, her voice colder than the air outside, which I was finally beginning to feel. “You have no idea…”
“No, I do!” I nodded quickly. “I know what I put you through now, and I’m…”
“Sorry? Yeah, sure. You just had some big personal revelation, huh?” She shook her head. “Do you honestly think I’m going to fall for this?”
“But I did!” I reached for her hand, only to have her pull it away. “This is going to sound crazy, I know, but you have to listen to me…”
It had all started earlier that night, after my big brother, got “home”, though, to him anyway, it could hardly be called that, since he had never been there before; I was still barely able to think of it as home, and I’d been living there almost six months. At any rate, the tree was all trimmed, there was a pair of stockings, marked Ashley and Cheyenne, hanging at the fireplace, and we’d both opened our traditional one present, in honor of Christmas Eve. I’d gone to bed, but wasn’t quite asleep, just drifting happily in that space right at the edge of consciousness, nimbly dodging dreams of sugarplums - it was pretty easy, since I can’t honestly say I know what a sugarplum actually -is- - in favor of listening to the strangely comforting sound of the twin symphonies of snoring coming from dad and Ash.
I can’t say I had anything in particular on my mind, though I was, at least a little, probably still being amused by the fortune I’d gotten the night before when I’d gone to China Garden with Laurell and Ivy. “An alien of some sort will be appearing to you shortly!”, it had claimed, and was, for whatever reason, much funnier at the time. Still, I had, of course, shown it to Ash when he came in and told him he was certainly the fulfillment of this most astute of prophecies.
I don’t put any real stock in that sort of thing, or astrologies even, no matter how fun they can be to read from time to time, but this time it stuck with me. Seeing as I also don’t believe in aliens, I can’t really say why.
“You’d better get to sleep,” a voice said suddenly, plunging me back into full awareness. “It’s Christmas in just a few hours. Do you still get up at 3 to go look at the tree?”
“Holy Jesus!” I shouted in response, flinging my blankets aside and starting to roll out of bed before my brain registered a pair of facts - first, that there was a strange shadow at the foot of my bed, which seemed to be the source of the voice, and second, that the shape had just been propelled across the room.
I allowed myself a moment or two to calm down before continuing to stand, detouring over to my desk to grab my vase, dumping out the fake roses I kept to brighten up my room a little, before moving over to the shape’s landing spot. “What are you?” I asked, as civilly as I could manage while holding a hunk of glass over it threateningly.
The shape stood, on four legs, shook itself off before looking up at me calmly, clearly not thinking of me as dangerous. “Nice to see you, too, Cheyenne.” It’s wings shook a bit, too, as if clearing themselves of dust from the floor. Then the shape sat, and slowly began to lick it’s front paw, so that it could then use it to clean behind it’s large, triangular ears.
“Fido?” I whispered, blinking. “Is that you?”
“Of course it is,” she said, sounding none too amused. “Hmm… I keep forgetting how horrid humans are with their eyes. Maybe this will help.” She shook her head, and a tiny halo appeared above it, raining light down on her tiny, calico body. “That better?”
I knelt down, setting down the vase to reach out, almost brushing against her fur, but stopping just short. “But…”
“Yes, I’m quite aware of my status, as far as life or, in my case, lack of it, goes,” she told me. “I’m also aware that, last time you saw me, I couldn’t speak, so please don’t bother to bring that up, either.”
“But…” It sounded just as stupid the second time around.
“Tell yourself you’re imagining all this, if that will help,” she shook her head, starting to walk around me. “I can assure you you’re not, but then, I’d likely say the same thing if I were a hallucination, so I may not be completely trustworthy.”
“Or I’m not, since this is all coming from my head,” I countered, happy to have finally found something less monosyllabic to contribute. “I just don’t know what in the world made me think of you, after all this time.”
“It’s good to know you forgot about me so readily,” she huffed. “Glad to have made such an impact on your life.”
“I was, like, eight,” I shrugged.
“You were nine,” she corrected me. “And at least you were broken up at the time. I guess that silly fish was enough to help you get over your grief and forget about me.”
She was right, I suppose; my young mind, previously so enamored with my pretty kitty, had quickly moved on to other things, blocking out that particular bit of early trauma associated with her death. However, I had other things on my mind than agreeing with her. “What are you doing here? Are you my guardian angel or something?”
“What? No, don’t be ridiculous. I’m just doing you a favor, this once, because you weren’t half bad, as people go. You know, back when you remembered I existed…”
“Well, it’s nice to see you, I guess, whether it means I’m losing it or not, but I’m not sure how that works as a favor.”
“Oh, the favor’s not me,” she said with a little, knowing smile, the kind only a cat can do right. “I’m just here to tell you it’s on it’s way. I’ve got three… acquaintances coming tonight, to help you out with a little problem.”
“Acquaintances?” Though, I guess if a cat can come back as an angel, she might as well have friends, too. “So they all have to come tonight? Honestly, I’m kinda tired, and…”
“Yes, they have to come tonight,” she interrupted me irritably. “After Halloween, Christmas Eve is pretty much the easiest time for us less-than-physical manifestations to… Well, manifest. At least to people who aren’t kids. I thought about bringing them by on Halloween, but I thought that maybe you’d do the right thing by yourself.”
“The right thing?”
“That’s what this whole thing is about. The others will show you more. I’m pretty much just here to tell you that you’re gonna want to pay attention.”
I got the distinct impression that, if she could, she would have rolled her eyes about then. “Are you going through that phase again? Really? Just trust me on this, okay? We’re all trying to help you out. If I could explain it all to you now, I would, but it just isn’t that easy.”
She glanced upwards, in the direction of my clock. “Damn, I have to go. Listen, the first one should be by at midnight. The second will get here at one, and the last ought to make it by two.”
She shook herself again, and her wings started to spread out, as light poured from them as well. “Wait!” I begged. “I still don’t understand…”
“You will,” she assured me. “It was nice to see you again, Cheyenne.” And then there was a bright flash of light, and Fido was gone.
“Goodbye,” I said, a second too late. Typical, I thought. She always had been the impatient sort, even as cats go.
After staring at the space where she’d been for a moment or two, I turned to follow her last gaze, towards my clock, sitting on my bedside table, reading 11:58 in bright yellow numbers.
“Man, I must’ve eaten too much,” I muttered to myself. I’d never actually had that sort of thing lead to weird dreams before, but I had heard that such a thing was possible. I’d always kind of assumed it was an old wives’ tale. I’d been wrong before.
Still, there was an easy way to find out for sure that I was either still hallucinating, or that I wasn’t. I stood back up, set the vase back on my desk, though I didn’t bother trying to put the flowers back in it. I turned back to the clock, which had helpfully changed to 11:59.
I walked over to my bed, sat right on the edge and stared into the face of the clock, waiting. My eyes seemed somehow drawn into the blank space surrounded by the yellow sticks that made up the top of the number 9, and I allowed myself to slump down a little, getting closer, staring deeper and deeper into the darkness, only vaguely aware of the light around it until that light suddenly exploded outwards.
I jumped back a little with a blink, which gave me enough time and clarity to see that the 9 had changed to a 0 before I noticed that it was still getting bigger. I scrambled back on my bed, somewhat hindered by the pile of blankets, still sitting where they’d been thrown earlier, as the number grew too large to be contained by the clock, and so, naturally, broke loose, to hang in front of it instead.
Finally, it settled on a size, which was, honestly, a bit of a relief, as I was beginning to wonder if it wasn’t going to wind up growing larger than my whole room. Once it had stopped, it hovered there for a moment, and then something came flying - or, rather, swimming, though in the air - out. Once it had made it’s way free, the zero quickly turned, so that only one of it’s sides was visible, and retreated back into the clock, making it 12:01.
“Dr. Fishenstein?” I don’t know why I was so surprised, considering my first encounter of the night, but even so, I have to say I was glad I was sitting down when I recognized the goldfish floating in front of me.
“Hello, dear,” he bubbled - literally, as he didn’t actually speak, but rather bubbles came from his mouth, with his words written on them. They were a bit hard to read from time to time, since they had a habit of spinning, and, eventually, popping, as bubbles do, but I got the hang of it pretty quickly.
“What are you doing here?”
“Did Fido not get here yet? I swear, cats…” His little mouth was puckering quite rapidly, so I decided I should probably calm him down.
“No, she was here,” I assured him. “She just didn’t actually explain anything to me.”
“Well, what did you expect? Cats aren’t exactly known for giving straight answers, are they?”
“And fish aren’t known for their long attention spans, either,” I shot back, my pride feeling strangely wounded. I guess I shouldn’t have expected something I’d named after a monster, or rather, the creator of a monster, to be the nicest person… thing.
“I am a doctor,” he pointed out. “But, at any rate, I’m here to show you a few things.”
I waited, but after the clock changed to 12:03, I realized that was all he was planning on saying. “Like…?”
“Things from your past,” he expanded. “Important things.”
“I’m pretty sure I haven’t done anything important.”
“Are you a doctor?” he asked, bubbles suddenly sporting tiny spikes. “They’re things which you will soon recognize the importance of. Or not. They’re things you need to see again, at any rate. Now, we’ve wasted enough time already, so come along.”
There was a flicker of motion, but he had to repeat it before I recognized it as him holding one of his flippers out. “Do I have to?” I asked with an apprehensive shudder. “Your skin always felt freaky…”
“They’re scales, not skin,” he informed me, as if that made any real difference. “Come along.”
I still hesitated, so he sighed, the first real noise I’d heard from him, and swam over to me, brushing up against my hand. I could feel my skin crawl, even before the top of the 4 opened up and swallowed us whole in a flash of yellow light.
If I’d had time to consciously think, I probably would have advised myself to endure Dr. Fishenstein’s slimy touch until we got to wherever he was taking me, but we got there before I had the chance. I pulled my hand away from him, wiping it on my pajama pants. “We didn’t have time for me to change into some real clothes?”
“Nobody will be seeing you but me,” he told me.
“That’s not really the point…” I trailed off to try to disguise the fact that I wasn’t entirely sure what the point actually was, taking the time to look around. We were standing in the middle of a department store, one I had a vague recollection of, I think from when we were living in Oregon.
“Just wait,” he said, “and see.”
I heard laughter from behind me, and I turned to find a younger version of my mother there, chatting with some older woman I didn’t recognize. “Oh, there’s me!” I pointed out, surprised at how tiny I was, and how adorable, with my little round cheeks, clutching at my mom’s coat. I was maybe four, maybe three.
“You are correct.” He floated past me, closer to the little group. I followed, kneeling down to get a closer look at myself.
“Do I get a cookie?” I asked absently, trying to straighten out little me’s coat, only to have my hand pass through her.
“It’s so good to see you,” my mom gushed above me. “I keep meaning to call you, but you know how it is.”
But if the other woman did, in fact, know, I would never find out, because the little me suddenly tugged at mom’s coat more severely. Mom bent down, nearly bumping heads with me, if my head had been solid at the time, and little me whispered something into her ear, too quietly to hear.
“Excuse us,” mom said, taking the little girl’s hand.
“Oh, no problem,” the woman smiled. “Gotta get to the potty?”
Mom’s expression turned slightly embarrassed as she shook her head. “Well, no, she already did.” When the woman looked down at me - both mes, technically, since I was still down by myself - with confusion, mom clarified, “She’s still in diapers.”
“Oh,” the woman blinked, but managed to cover. “Well, some of them can be pretty difficult. She’ll get it eventually.”
“I hope so,” mom sighed. “It doesn’t seem like it sometimes.”
The woman gave her a sad smile and patted her arm, smiled down at me and headed off into the vast jungles of the store after saying her goodbyes. “Let’s go, sweetie,” mom said, leading the other me away as well.
“It’s not like I’m the only person in the world who potty trained late,” I told Dr. Fishenstein. “What’s the big deal?”
But he didn’t answer; perhaps he didn’t have time, because the yellow light chose that moment to show up again.
After a sharp rush of wind, the light became the rays of the sun - or had it been all along? - and I raised a hand to shield my eyes before thinking just to lower my gaze. By doing so, I was able to see that we were now standing in the middle of a playground.
The other me, which we were obviously here to watch, was about six, pigtailed and short-alled. If it wouldn’t have sounded so conceited, I might have pointed out how cute I was.
I didn’t see my mother, but I assumed she was around somewhere, and even left myself alone for a minute looking around the playground for her. At least until I noticed Ash, hanging out by the slide, already chatting up some cute girl, with freckles and a tiny little nose, but a horribly annoying laugh. Assuming he was supposed to be watching me instead, I settled back down into the sandbox.
“If you look closely,” Dr. Fishenstein said, “you can tell that you’ve managed to get yourself into some big girl panties at this point.”
I shuddered a little. “Okay, that’s a little creepy.”
“I’m just helping you find your path,” he claimed. “Believe me, I take no pleasure from discussing your underpants.”
“Then don’t do it,” I begged. “Please.”
“I’m only trying…”
“Yeah, I’m well aware. But if you could…”
“Bloody hell, now we’ve gone and missed it.” If he’d had a voice, it would have sounded annoyed. Instead, I guess his bubbles popped a little more quickly. It’s probably difficult for a fish to get emotions across.
I turned back to myself, only to find a large wet spot spreading across the seat of my short-alls. Somehow, I didn’t find myself too surprised at the situation, despite my fish’s claimed indifference to the state of my panties.
The smaller me didn’t seem shocked at the development, either. In fact, she didn’t give any indication of noticing at all. She continued working on her sand castle, though at the time it looked more like just a random pile of sand, as if everything were normal.
“That’s just how little kids are,” I reasoned out loud. “They have accidents. Why is this some big deal?”
But I think Dr. Fishenstein was mad at me, because he refused to answer, and he didn’t take us anywhere else. We just stood - floated, in his case - there and watched.
All of a sudden, I saw myself fall down into the sand. I figured it was simple klutziness until I heard the giggling.
“What do you think you’re doing here, baby?” the little boy asked. He looked to be a touch younger than the young me, and an equal touch shorter, but by the way I was cowering, you’d have thought he was Ash’s size.
“Don’t call me that!” I sniffled, scrambling to my feet.
“Why not?” he asked, moving closer. “That’s what you are, if you need diapers.”
I had been holding out a slim hope that I was saving up some brilliant move to show the boy who was boss; instead, as I backed away, I stumbled back and landed on my already sand-coated butt and started to cry exactly like what I was claiming not to be. Honestly, I was starting not to like six year old me - I had forgotten what a pushover I used to be.
“I don’t need diapers!” I protested. I guess it probably sounded a little less absurd to me when I was that age, but looking at it now, it was hard not to laugh, or cry, at myself, making such an absurd claim. And even just needing to, especially to defend myself from that little boy.
I watched myself stare up at him, eyes quivering and shimmering, and I begged myself not to do it. The boy wasn’t even doing anything, just looking down on me as I sat there in my wet pants. Apparently that was enough, however, as the younger me quickly disregarded my request and began to bawl.
“Can we just go?” I asked Dr. Fishenstein. “Please? I got past all this, I really don’t need to see it again, no matter what you and Fido think.”
“Just a little longer,” he said.
Ash glanced over towards the sandbox, apparently remembering what he was at the playground for in the first place upon hearing my cries of distress. I was a little surprised to see him bolt away from the freckled girl and over to my side, where he stood towering over the little boy.
“Why don’t you go find somewhere else to play?” I doubt he would have actually hit someone so much younger than himself, but upon standing up and moving to get a better look at the scene, I began to wonder. His eyes had a strange fire to them that I could remember way in the back of my mind, my knight in an almost-white T-shirt.
“Fine,” the boy pouted. “The sandbox is all gross now, anyways. Plus, swings are better.” And with that, he ran off, leaving me and Ash alone. Only long enough for him to help me to my feet, though, and then the freckled girl wandered over from the slide, all dreamy eyed.
“You’re so sweet,” she gushed at my brother, then wrinkled her nose when she saw the wet spot on my clothes. “You don’t actually know her, do you?”
Both of me looked up at him, wondering what he was going to say. And for the briefest second, likely too short for me to have noticed the first time around, I could tell that he was wondering as well.
He wiped the tears from under my eyes and gently took my hand. “She’s my sister,” he informed the freckled girl.
“Oh,” she said, unsure of what else to add, and so finally she just wandered off.
“Are you okay?” Ash asked in the mean time. I nodded in response, and he smiled down at me. “Let’s get you home, okay?”
I tried to follow as he led me away, my little face upturned towards his with a look of pure wonder and awe the whole time, but even as I took the first step, the light began to flood the area, slowly this time, washing out the background of the playground first, then consuming the sky and the ground, and then, finally, the image of me and my brother.
“I forgot we were so close,” I said quietly.
“Then I would bet you also forgot this.”
As the last bubble popped, we were in a school room - somewhere in the first through third grade range, though to be honest they all sort of blended together, so I couldn’t honestly say which. Looking at myself, seated at my desk, intently working with some crayons, didn’t help, either. I did notice there was a tooth or two missing, which I thought meant I was closer to the first grade than third, but I wasn’t entirely certain.
I braced to watch myself have another accident, sure that when I raised my hand after the teacher asked if anyone was ready it was to ask, too late, for permission to go to the bathroom. Instead, when I was called on, I got up from my desk and picked up the drawing I’d been working on, holding it up for the rest of the class to see, and try to decipher. I could tell it was supposed to be a person, but other than that, I have to say the current me was just as baffled as the former me was pleased with her work.
Luckily, apparently part of the assignment was explaining, as I then started to talk. “This is my hero,” I said, talking too quickly and without much in the way of volume. “It’s my big brother Ash, and he’s the best big brother in the world. He’s in the Boy Scouts, and he has a bunch of badges, and he always looks out for me. When I grow up, I want to be just like him.” I started to set the picture down, then picked it back up again, looking nervously around the room until at last I declared, “The end!”, about three times as loud as any of the rest of it, and sat down again.
I was expecting a little more, but the light was already bleeding through the room, this time seeming to originate from the clock on the wall - the old kind, with hands and all. “That’s it?”
The room that replaced the classroom was my own, and the one I had come from earlier that night, not one of the many others I’ve lived in over the years. “I don’t think I get it.”
If I thought that would encourage any kind of explanation, I was sadly mistaken, as there was no real help to be found in, “I’m not surprised,” nor in the, “Perhaps later you will,” that followed shortly after.
“Is this what this whole night is going to be like?” I asked. “I think I’d prefer to just go to sleep… I can only watch me pee on myself so many times. That may be how you roll, but honestly, I just don’t…”
But when I looked around, Dr. Fishenstein was already swum back into my clock, as it changed from 12:58 to 12:59.
“Yeah, thanks a lot,” I grumbled. Stupid fish. He didn’t even give me a chance to point out that he wasn’t a real doctor.
In a way, I kind of wished Dr. Fishenstein had stuck around for an extra minute or so, instead of running off so soon. Not because I particularly liked him, now that he’d died and learned to communicate with me, or because I wanted to sit through more pointless flashbacks of my rather inglorious past, but so I wouldn’t have been stuck on my own, wondering what to expect next.
I hadn’t had any other pets after Dr. Fishenstein’s untimely demise, mostly on account of our relocations, from dad’s job, growing more frequent again, after a fairly long - by our standards, anyway - stay in Maryland, where Fido had lived out her life, and Dr. Fishenstein had started his. What, then, would be coming to see me once 1:00 rolled around? And what was it going to show me? What was all this leading to?
At the time, I couldn’t for the life of me see the point, which only made me even more certain that it was all just some strange, elaborate dream. Perhaps, as dreams sometimes did, it would end up going in some new direction. Maybe there wouldn’t be a third visitor, much less a fourth. After all, there were no more memories of pets for my sleeping mind to exploit; it might simply give up.
I nodded, feeling somehow sure that was what would happen after all, up until I heard a throat clearing behind me. “Or maybe not,” I muttered under my breath, turning around slowly.
The first thing I saw as I turned was a large mound of white fur. As I got further around, I saw even more white fur. Once I had gotten all of my next guide in my sight, I saw still more white fur, with a large black nose seemingly stuck haphazardly on one end. As I was staring, two eyes open, blue as the morning sky, and finally, I realized just what I was looking at.
When I was about twelve, we were living out in the country in Texas, near a sheep farm. We’d visit the older couple than owned it every now and again. Or, rather, my parents would visit them, and me and Ash would go out and explore the farm. The sheep themselves were not particularly interesting, though the lambs were cute, but there were also a couple of big, white dogs that lived with the sheep. They were about the same size as the sheep, sometimes bigger, and there was one that had the prettiest blue eyes I’d ever seen.
I’d wanted more than anything to have that dog for my own. I was still having trouble with bullies at school then, and I wanted to take him with me every day, and just wait and see if they picked on me then. I also thought that he might be big enough for me to ride, which would also have been pretty cool. I had, obviously, never gotten around to “liberating” him from the farm, though, and once we moved away, I’d pretty much forgotten about him.
And yet, here he was, laying on, and taking up nearly all of, my bed. I was pretty sure he’d gotten a little bigger, but I wasn’t sure exactly how much, since he had been pretty large to begin with.
“What are you here to show me?” I asked, after staring into his eyes for a silent minute or two. He stared at me for a little longer, and then he blinked, plunging my room into darkness for a split second before he opened them again, and I found myself somewhere quite familiar.
“You know where you are, don’t you?” he inquired, his voice both loud and slow, like lazy summer thunder. He was still laying down, on the sidewalk now, looking even larger than before as people walked through him. It wasn’t long before one of those people was me, hands wrapped into fists and then stuffed into the pockets of my jeans, looking ever so much as if I had absolutely no idea where I was, or even what I should be searching for to correct that.
“First day of high school,” I said quietly. The dog didn’t bother to answer; he didn’t have to. Now I was really confused. Did he really think I’d have forgotten this? It had only been a few months ago, and my memory wasn’t -that- terrible. Well, obviously, since that was where all this was coming from…
I began to follow myself up the steps to the front entrance, only to overtake myself very quickly. I decided to go all the way up to the doors, then turned. The other me hadn’t gotten much further, and my head was ducked down, like I was being marched off to my execution, and didn’t have the courage to take one last look at the world before leaving it.
The dog apparently decided he’d better catch up with and stood, shook himself off, and took a couple of huge, lumbering steps that would have wiped out about half of the freshman class, and sat back down beside me. “You look scared,” he pointed out.
“No, I’m getting used to this, I think,” I shrugged. “I mean, it isn’t like I haven’t had weirder dreams than this. One time, I…”
“That you,” he interrupted, nodding towards the figure still struggling up the steps.
“It was my first day,” I said defensively. “I didn’t know anybody, and I didn’t know what to expect. I think most people would be at least a little scared.”
“Perhaps you’re right,” the dog agreed. “Do you think she was, then?”
He didn’t give any indication who he was talking about, but I didn’t need it, since it was right then that I caught sight of Maria, taking the opposite tack as me, and trying to get up the steps as quickly as possible. I tried to look away from her, only to have her pass right through me on her way inside.
“Well, yeah, I suppose so,” I answered. “But its different.”
I opened my mouth a time or two before settling on, “Do I really need to explain?” By then, the other me had made it to the top, and thus stopped dead in her tracks, right in front of me.
“Hello?” I held up one hand, waved it slightly. There was no response, though that could have been from the shock of seeing a slightly older version of herself and a gigantic white dog, so, to be sure, I turned to the dog. “Can she see us?”
My answer, such as it was, came as the younger me’s hands clenched even tighter in her pockets and she walked inside. I jumped off to one side - having one hand briefly inside a younger version of myself was freaky enough for me, thank you very much.
The dog got back to his feet, something that puzzled me for just a moment. “We’re following, huh?” He nodded, and proceeded to step through the outer wall of the school. I took the more civilized route, joining the other students, although I had to cut through several of them in order to catch up with myself. Even then, I was too late to see that fateful collision, coming in only on the aftermath.
Me and Maria were on the floor, her backpack open and upside down, notebooks and folders encircling us. Luckily, most people were ignoring and going around us, making us a sort of eye in the storm.
“I’m so sorry,” I was babbling, gathering up the nearest folder. “I must not have been looking where I was going, and…”
“No, no, it’s my fault,” Maria insisted, eyes darting madly about at the chaos surrounding us before snatching for her backpack.
Except that I, trying to be as helpful as possible, already had ahold of it, and was starting to turn it back right-side up. I hadn’t been paying her much attention then; now I could see Maria’s mouth working anxiously, eyes large as the dog’s, arms outstretched, but not far enough.
“I’ll just put these back,” I mumbled, narrating my own actions for some strange reason. I stuffed the folders back into her backpack, my attention almost turning immediately back to the rest of them down on the floor. Somewhere in that almost, however, my eyes picked up just the slightest hint of something strange inside the bag and, without thinking, I took another look.
I only had a second or two until Maria started moving again, with her first action being to tear her backpack away from me, yet that was long enough for me to see all I needed to, and for my eyes to go just as big as hers had been a moment before, telling her instantly that she’d been too late.
“Th-They’re not mine,” she stammered. “I live with my grandmother, and I just… I mean, I guess I just accidently put those in there.” She gave a nervous, totally unconvincing, laugh.
Unfortunately for her, my eyes had gone from her backpack to her waistband, the top of which was still visible since she had yet to readjust her size and a half too big for her shirt after plopping down on the floor to get her stuff. She remedied that as soon as she let her gaze follow mine, but again, she was a hair too late.
Her voice got quiet as she scooted closer to me, and I could see tears welling in her eyes. “Please,” she started. “Please, you can’t…”
I’m not sure what I was thinking. Maybe I was happy to find someone worse off than me, or maybe I was feeling charitable. “Don’t worry,” I winked. “I won’t tell a soul.”
She sighed and slumped back in obvious relief. “Thank you so much! You have no idea how freaked out I am.”
“A lot,” I wagered a guess, getting a smile. We finished getting her stuff picked up and put away before either of us spoke. “If you don’t mind me asking,” I said, my tone showing that I obviously figured she -would- mind, “why…?”
She shrugged uncomfortably. “It’s a long story,” was her answer, short and simple, and I could tell that was all she planned to say on the subject, even before she abruptly changed it. “So, where’s your homeroom?”
“115?” I’d written it down the day before so I wouldn’t have to remember, and then, of course, forgot to bring that piece of paper with me. “Something like that.”
“No way!” she giggled. “Me, too!”
Maria and I walked away, nervously chattering away, as I did my best to keep from staring down at her diapered ass. I could tell I was being a little more reserved than usual, and not completely because of what day it was.