1 - No Time to Say Hello, Goodbye
“Aw, fricklestein,” I grumbled under my breath, reaching down with one hand to inspect the rip up the leg of my shorts. It wouldn’t have been quite as big a deal, I suppose, had I not just bought them earlier that week. Luckily, despite how short they were - I’m not going to lie, I consider my legs the most attractive part of me, and I don’t mind showing them off - the tear stopped short of actually revealing anything I’d prefer to leave unseen.
“What did you say?” Lela giggled beside me, adjusting her glasses. Despite having been my best friend for pretty much all my life, apparently she had never heard me curse, or had, possibly, just forgotten.
“Cheap piece of junk,” I ignored her question, my fidgeting finally drawing her brown eyes down to the site of the tragedy. “Two days. Can you believe that?”
She shrugged. “I’m seeing it.” A brunette ponytail pendulummed halfway down her back as she shook her head. “You should see about getting a refund.”
“Probably won’t do anything,” I said sourly. Annoyed, I brushed a strand of golden hair from out of my blue eyes. It was always the blonde that got in my face - the black was nice and obedient, hanging there right above my shoulders, but the one little patch of yellow right at the front I’d left alone just had to be sassy. “'Sides, I think Rita’s working today.”
“She might not be doing returns,” she suggested, so sweetly, so very naive, obviously unaware of the way the real world worked. She had such an innocent look on her face, I couldn’t bring myself to enlighten her, just smiled sadly down at her. She was about six inches shorter than me, even though she was a couple months older, and still had a smattering of freckles, and a touch of baby fat, all of which sometimes made it hard to take her seriously. It did explain why she was such a popular babysitter, however.
Speaking of which, it was about then that her latest charge, an unquenchably energetic little six year old boy, ran up to us, hands full of various leaves. “Look, look!” he called, thrusting them up into Lela’s face.
“Great job!” she complimented him, slipping a ziplock from her purse to put the leaves into. “Do you have enough for your project yet?”
He hesitated for a second or two before nodding, so Lela said, “Why don’t you go get a few more, just in case?” He nodded, then quickly turned and scampered off. At a distance, even I couldn’t deny he was quite adorable. That’s when kids are the best - when they’re far away.
“I’ve missed this,” Lela said, tucking the bag away into her purse.
“Leaves?” I teased. “There’s usually quite a few of them in the park.”
“But we haven’t been here in so long,” she stuck out her tongue. “Smart ass.”
“I’ve just been busy,” I shrugged, staring up into the branches of a nearby tree. “You know how it is… I’ve got ballet all the time, and when I don’t have that, the band’s wanting to practice, and then I still had to do homework and spend some time with Keith.”
“At least it’s summer now, right? And tell Keith you spend enough time with him in the band - you need some Lela time, too.”
I smiled. “Yeah, I’m sure that’ll go over well.”
The kid came running back while we were giggling at that, and after Lela took his latest haul, she decided it was time for them to get going. I didn’t really have anything else to do, but getting sucked into some weird daycare art project wasn’t high on my list of things to do for that day, so I parted ways with them there.
“See ya,” Lela waved.
“Bye, Skye!” the boy chirped.
“Bye… you…” I answered, drawing a blank when it came to actually remembering the kid’s name. I don’t know how Lela ever managed to keep them all straight.
I tugged gently at my shorts, wondering if I’d be able to talk my mom into sewing them up. She wasn’t a fan of them in the first place, and I’m not entirely sure she knew how to run a sewing machine, or if we even owned one. Grandma could do it in about 15 seconds, but she lived all the way across town. Not to mention that she would be more likely to throw them away if I told them they were mine. My family, if you hadn’t guessed, is a bunch of prudes.
Lela, on the other hand, was pretty good at all that domestic crap. Maybe I could take them over to her house later on. I turned around to see if she was still within shouting distance - she wasn’t - before fishing my cell out of my pocket.
As I lowered my gaze to the screen, I noticed something, or rather someone, from the corner of my eye, sitting on a park bench. I glanced back up to get a better look, and make sure it was really her. I could’ve sworn the bench was empty when we’d passed it a minute or two before, and yet there sat the girl, long brown hair blowing softly in the wind, reading.
She either always read books with similar covers, or had been working on the same book for a couple weeks now. I’d seen her a few times, almost as if she were following me around, though she never got close enough to make me too nervous, nor did she ever look up from her reading, at least while I was watching.
Still, it was odd enough that, having nothing better to do, I decided to get a little closer to her, maybe even strike up a conversation with her. At least that was my intention, until my phone began its violent spasms, nearly jumping out of my palm before I could flip it open.
“Hey, babe,” Keith’s voice came from it.
“Come on, we don’t need…” I could hear our drummer, Martin, saying in the background.
“Shut up,” Keith hissed before speaking to me again. “We were just wondering if you’re planning on coming today…”
I had already worked out what had happened, of course, so I quickly went on the offensive. “You told me we weren’t rehearsing until Wednesday! How am I supposed to keep up with all these surprise practices if nobody tells me anything?!”
I heard him sigh. “It -is- Wednesday, Skye.”
“No, it’s not,” I told him, matter of factly. “I watched The Office last night.”
There was a pause, some muffled talking I couldn’t quite make out. Finally, he got back to me with a question: “Was it on DVD?”
For once, I was glad neither of us had video phones, though I’m pretty sure he could actually -hear- my blush as I quietly said, “I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
“See you then.”
And that was that for my investigation of the book girl for that day. Which was just as well, since, when I tried to get one last look at her, she was already gone. A moment later, so was I.
Luckily, Martin’s house was only a couple blocks from the park, and I knew the way to his basement by heart, since Keith had used to take me there to hang out, since Martin’s parents were rarely around. It was also fortunate that, other than my voice, which I was prone to carrying around with me all the time, I didn’t have any instrument to have to go home and fetch. While I would have loved to know how to play the bass, I’d never gotten around to actually learning.
They were already playing by the time I got there, Keith and Martin, with that weird Chris, who was the actual bassist. I’m not sure where the boys had found him, or where he lived - truth be told, I’m not 100% sure Chris was his name. I think that was what Keith called him when he introduced us, but I could be mistaken, and I had never spoken to him myself, or even heard him speak to anyone else.
“Glad you could join us,” Martin snarked from behind the drums once they’d finished the song, and Keith set aside his guitar, walked over to give me a kiss. While I like being on the tall side, it’s still nice to have a boyfriend who is bigger than I am - standing next to him still makes me feel a bit delicate, and even cute. His hair, which was very light brown, almost blonde, was longer than mine, and he probably spent more time on it than I did on mine, despite usually keeping it in a ponytail when we weren’t at rehearsal.
“Sorry,” I smiled up at him. “I was out with Lela. And I ripped my new shorts.”
“The ones you just bought?” I saw his eyes move downwards.
“Those would be the new ones, yeah.”
“Can you two discuss this later?” I glared over at Martin, but he was more than willing to return it in kind. “Chris has gotta be out’ve here in an hour.”
“Chill,” I rolled my eyes. “I’m ready whenever you are.”
I’m not sure if he meant for me to hear the “We were ready half an hour ago,” he mumbled under his breath, but I have a feeling he did.
2 - I’m Just A Soul Whose Intentions Are Good
“All right, it’s just about quitting time, so let’s call it a day, all right?” I clapped my hands a couple times, happy for having gotten through that sentence without making it rhyme, as it usually ended up doing, much to my chagrin. I might be teaching a bunch of kids, but I had no desire to do so while sounding like a Dr. Seuss character. Also, I’m not fond of hats. Mess up my hair.
Truth be told, as much as I hated to admit it, I was feeling a bit proud of the little brats as they filed past me, clad in their leotards and tights, little tie-on skirts fluttering. There were a couple who were getting pretty good, or at least in the range of not-bad that would lead to them being upgraded to a different class. And they’d all managed to keep their little panties dry the whole hour, for once.
At least as far as I knew. I couldn’t help but snicker as one walked by, the slight bulge of a diaper pretty evident around her bottom. She looked up at me with a hurt expression, which I countered by pretending not to know what her problem was. Seriously, she was probably at least five or six, maybe older - I never have any clue how old children actually are. And it wasn’t like she was the only one who had problems, nor was she the oldest in the class. Admittedly, the older ones, some almost teenagers, were, as a whole, much better at getting to the bathroom on time. They also tended to be fairly geeky and awkward, and probably would have rather been reading at home than with me.
I can’t say my feelings were hurt by that thought, considering I would also have rather been at home. But I got to take my own classes for free by teaching them, and I made a little spending money as well. Nothing stunning, but it’s better than flipping burgers or something. So, all in all, not a bad deal. And it gave me a healthy appreciation for the true level of Lela’s insanity, actually choosing to spend almost all of her time around these - literally, in some cases, since she babysat some of my students - loud, disobedient, leaky little beasts.
One of which had not followed the others out, and was, instead, standing in the middle of the room, glancing up expectantly at me. Perfect.
“Miss Skye?” she spoke up after she realized I wasn’t going to do so, as I was busy doing a few final warm-down stretches.
“Yeah?” I tried to avoid actually looking at her, yet that proved more difficult than you might imagine, considering the mirrors lining the walls.
“Umm… Next Monday, I’m going to visit my grandma, and she lives way over in Springfield, so I might be late.” Finally, those little green eyes vanished as she ducked her head to stare at her fidgeting foot.
“You know the policy,” I sighed. “Either show up on time, or not at all.” I guess I might have sounded a little meaner than I needed to, but I didn’t make the rules, they were the dance studio’s. Not that most teachers bothered to enforce them.
“Okay,” she said quietly, slinking off with her eyes still downcast. She wasn’t a bad kid, really - in fact, she was always very quiet and polite, and not half bad with the whole dancing thing.
“Megan?” I called as she reached the door.
“It’s Melanie,” she corrected me.
“Yeah, okay. You did good today.”
She brightened up considerably. “Really?” I nodded, and she was actually smiling when she left.
“That was very touching,” Dale clutched at his heart as he came into the room. “Are you two going to be BFFs now? Get those little necklaces, and come up with your own secret codes?” Dale wasn’t the only male instructor at the studio, but he was the only one who I was pretty certain was not gay. He made up for it by being nearly as annoying as he was cute. He was a couple inches shorter than me, despite being in his twenties, which might be why he felt the need to pick on me. Or he might have just been a prick. It’s hard to tell.
“That was the plan,” I told him. “Maybe we’ll go see the Barney movie together.”
He nodded, furrowing his brow in his own weird little way. I think he thinks it makes him look extra-serious, which is a warning sign that he’s about to attempt to be humorous. “Well, I promise I won’t tell her you’ve already been. Wouldn’t want to ruin that for you.”
“You’re a doll.” His students were starting to come in and set their stuff down, so I began my own exit. Mom was probably already waiting for me in the car.
His voice followed me as I left, and in my mind I saw him nodding again. “You speak the truth.”
I had wasted enough time that, by the time I actually left, all of my students were already gone, and their mothers as well. If this job had taught me anything, it was that parents, even when they weren’t yours, almost always had something to complain about. And everything was always my fault. One mom had even pulled her kid from my class within the first couple weeks. It hadn’t mattered much to me, though I’d been nervous it would get me fired. Luckily, and obviously, it did not, so all was good.
“How did it go?” mom asked when I climbed into the passenger’s seat. She was still all dressed up from work, and she looked quite pretty.
“It was fine,” I shrugged, fastening my seat belt so she would start the car.
Being polite, I inquired about her day, knowing that I was inviting a deluge of real estate talk. It was all right - it wasn’t like I had to pay attention to it, and it kept me from having to make any real conversation with her during the trip, leaving me free to devote all my attention to staring blankly out the window.
We were almost home when I saw her, and in my surprise, I couldn’t help but blurt out, “That’s her!”
“Patricia Hartman?” My mother sounded quite confused.
“No, just… umm… someone from school.” I settled back down, readjusting my MP3 player’s earbuds, and watched as we passed the long haired girl, reading even as she walked down the sidewalk. I tried to get a glimpse of the cover of the book, see if it was anything I recognized, but, unsurprisingly, it wasn’t. Then again, I didn’t spend much time cruising the stacks at the library, either. Big loss on my part, I’m sure. I couldn’t quite tell what the picture on the cover was meant to be - I thought it was probably one of those books that tried to seem smarter than it really was by pasting some abstract thing on the front and leaving the readers to figure out how, or if, it related to the actual text on their own.
I didn’t really have time to finish listening to even one song before mom pulled into our driveway. I could have walked, and probably should have more often than I did, for the exercise, but mom had offered to bring me home, and I figured, “Why not?”
Mom tossed the keys over the roof of my car. I caught them easily, giving her an uncertain, “Thanks,” in return. I wasn’t sure if that was really what I was supposed to say in that situation or not; maybe she should have, seeing as it was her who was borrowing my car, until hers got out of the shop. That seemed like it would be a bit awkward, though.
Even though my nose couldn’t decipher just what it was, a pleasant smell greeted me upon going in the front door, along with my dad’s call of, “Welcome home, honey!”
“Thanks, dear!” I replied, giggling as mom shoved my shoulder lightly. She was a few inches shorter than me, but probably a few pounds heavier.
I tossed my MP3 player onto my bed after going to collect a kiss on the forehead from my dad, who -was- still taller than me, and checking to see what he was making. I still wasn’t positive, but I knew that if he was making it, it would turn out delicious. I kicked off my shoes, started wriggling out of my ballet clothes so I could put on something normal, all the while heading towards my desk to see if my cell phone had finished charging yet.
Except that my cell phone was not where I’d left it. The charger was still plugged in, cord laying stretched across the desktop, but it wasn’t attached to anything. I slipped the leotard back up my arm, kneeling down to look under the desk, then standing back up to look in the drawer.
“Mom!” I yelled, storming back out of my room. Sure, she had been at work since well before I’d left, but there was no way dad would have done this by himself. It had to have been her plan, though what she was expecting to find on there, I had no idea - numbers for drug dealers, maybe? An orgy hotline? It wasn’t like she didn’t already know Keith. He’d eaten at our house a bunch of times, and as far as I knew, she liked him well enough.
“What is it, Skye?” she asked, stepping out of her room, taking off her watch.
“Is there anything you want to ask me?” I asked icily. “Anything you’re wondering about?”
Mom sighed. “Skye, what is it?”
So she wanted to pretend nothing was going on. Fine. “I want my cell phone back,” I said, holding my hand out.
She sighed again, turning back towards her room. “I just got home,” she reminded me, like I had forgotten somehow, “I didn’t take your phone.”
“How do you know it went missing when you were at work?” I inquired suspiciously. “I didn’t say that. Maybe it’s been missing all day!”
“I’m pretty sure if it had been, I’d have heard about it before now.” She used her Look on me, and her annoyance actually made me wonder if it really had been dad on his own. “I don’t appreciate being accused of things under my own roof.”
“Well, somebody took it,” I glowered, crossing my arms. “The battery died on me, so I left it here to charge, and now…” But as I spoke, glancing back towards my desk, I saw something sitting there, connected to the little black cord snaking down to the outlet below.
“And now what?”
I looked back over at her, not quite meeting her eyes. “I, uh… It must have fallen off of my desk or something… Sorry,” I managed to mumble before backing away and closing the door. Sure enough, my cell was sitting there, right where I’d left it, as if it had been there all along.
“I must be going crazy,” I said to myself, unplugging it and flipping it open. I had a voicemail waiting for me from Keith - nothing too long, just saying he wanted to see me later that night. My eyes darted over to my MP3 player as I listened to it, making sure it was still on my bed. It was.
Even so, I set my phone down on top of my dresser, where I could keep an eye on it while I changed.
3 - The Clouds Come And Go
“Look, I know you’re upset, hon,” Lela said, patting my hand, “but could you be a little quieter? Olive is trying to take a nap, you know.”
For a split second, I almost did the exact opposite, just to spite her, but somehow I managed to remind myself that none of this was actually her fault, nor was I even angry at her. I even managed an only partially hissed, “I’m not upset.”
“Whatever you say,” Lela shrugged, picking up the knife to resume cutting apples. “So, what happened after that?”
I took one of the apple slices, snapped it in half. “Nothing,” I replied, popping one of the halves into my mouth, nearly throwing the other half at Lela when she pointed a reproachful finger at me, as I’d seen her do when telling kids not to talk with their mouths full. “Except he asked me if I could drive him to some party this weekend.”
She gave an involuntary chuckle, immediately giving me an apologetic look after. “Seriously?”
“He said it, but I don’t know if he was joking or not. We were both still sitting on his stupid porch swing in silence, and you know how he hates the quiet. He did mention yesterday his parents weren’t letting him drive their car anymore, though, so who knows?” I ate my other bit of apple, rolling my eyes at Lela’s expression. “No, I didn’t say I’d do it.”
“But did you say you wouldn’t?” She raised her eyebrow briefly, before turning to set the plate, Olive snack for after she got up, in the fridge.
“Does leaving count? 'Cause I did that.”
“That might be close enough.” She smiled. “Now, are you sure you’re all right?”
“I’m fine,” I told her.
“Then we’ll talk tomorrow, okay? Olive gets really needy after a nap, and I don’t need her telling her parents I spent all day hanging out with my friends.”
I sighed. “What do they care?”
“Well, I’m supposed to be hanging out with -her-, you know. Plus, her parents are actually paying me for it.”
“Whatever,” I shrugged, grabbing my purse and heading for the door. “Like I care.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she promised.
“Whatever,” I repeated, barely loud enough for her to hear it as I closed the door behind me. Like I needed her anyway. Let her play with that annoying little Olive girl - I could certainly live, and quite happily so, without having to put up with her any more.
She was in my ballet class, somewhere in the middle, age-wise, but damn close to the bottom in terms of skill. She wore these huge glasses, and always looked uncomfortable. I’d assumed she was just embarrassed because she knew that most of the younger girls were better than her, and would continue to be so until she miraculously grew new, less klutzy, legs. But even at her house, she looked awkward, like she just didn’t fit into her surroundings.
And if she was more needy after a nap, I definitely didn’t want to stick around for that! Every three seconds she’d been interrupting me, as I told Lela about how Keith had broken up with me for no real reason, wanting more water, or to know if it was all right if she ate lunch in her room, or wanting to know why the sky was blue. Well, I don’t remember that question specifically, but it wouldn’t surprise me if she’d asked it, since she wanted to know everything else.
The first few times I just told her to go Google it, but after a few unamused glares from Lela, who would then precede to explain whatever to the girl at ridiculously great detail, I gave up, and, from then on, just sighed, folded my arms, and got real comfortable on the couch whenever I heard those clumsy little feet approaching.
And stupid boys, for that matter. I guess, if I thought about it, Keith actually having me come over to his house to break up with me was better than him just doing it over the phone. But I didn’t want to think about it. If he wasn’t going to give me any reasons for doing it, or any chance to apologize or try to make whatever I’d done wrong up to him - not that I probably would have, of course - he might as well have just left me a voice mail.
I realized I had stopped walking, and started to laugh at myself, only to find that I couldn’t. Instead, I just felt my chest heaving, inches from sobbing.
“I don’t need him,” I growled to myself. “I’m better off without him.” I didn’t really have a hard time believing that… But it was still a few minutes before I could get myself to start moving again, without feeling like I was going to fall apart. What was so wrong with me that he’d just had to get away?
And why did I even care, if this was for the best? I tried to stop, but as I walked slowly back home, my mind kept going returning, unbidden, to the subject.
The house was, of course, empty, at least for an hour or two more, depending on when dad managed to get out of work. I grabbed the remote and laid down on the couch, only to find, a few minutes later, that I’d already flipped through all of the channels, and there was exactly nothing good, or even brainlessly entertaining, on.
Though the inner debate leading to my decision was quite intense, I ended up not hurling the remote through the television screen before grabbing a Diet Coke from the fridge and closing myself into my room. There was equally nothing interesting to do there, unless I wanted to flip through the books that had been sitting on my shelf probably since I was 8 or 9.
I didn’t, nor did I have any interest in laying in bed, staring at the ceiling - too much chance of thinking about things I’d rather not, at least if I was just there, in silence. But perhaps with the right accompaniment… Much as I loved it, my MP3 player wouldn’t do the trick, either. I wanted to let it be loud, without actually blowing my eardrums out. So I pulled out my CD book, opened it to a random page, which turned out to be pretty much the last.
Of course, the first CD I saw while flipping through my collection was one of Keith’s. I stared at it for a minute or two, unsure of what to do, or even what to think, and then nearly put them all away. First, I took Keith’s CD out and threw it to the other side of my bed, like a Frisbee.
I cracked a little smile; there was no reason to be down, after all. Why should I let him ruin my afternoon?
The next page held another of his CDs, along with one I decided would work for background music, while I continued to look through my collection. It was surprising how many of his CDs I’d ended up with. I guess I’d borrowed them to rip onto my MP3 player, then forgot to give them back. I could be vindictive, pretend I didn’t know what he was talking about when he inevitably asked for them back, maybe put a couple through the microwave and toss out the rest, but I was better than that.
I had almost made it to the beginning when I spotted a CD I didn’t recognize, mostly plain silver, but with a ring of red. Curious, I replaced my (nearly over) current selection with it, only to find that the music, while nice, was equally unfamiliar.
I guess Olive was still being “needy”, because it took Lela a few rings to answer her cell. “Are you okay?” she asked, all urgent and scared, like she thought I was calling her from the edge of a bridge or something. Just how delicate did she think I was?
“I’m fine, Leels,” I rolled my eyes. “Look, did you ever lend me a CD with this, like, red ring on it?”
“It’s silver, and it has a red circle.”
She paused for a second, though my assumption that she might actually be thinking about my question was shattered when I heard her whispering, “Oh, that’s pretty, sweetie.”
“You know, a CD,” I reminded her. “It’s round, got a hole in the center, makes…”
“I don’t think it’s mine,” she interrupted. “Is it what you have playing now?”
“Yeah,” I said, holding the phone closer to the stereo for a second. “Sound familiar?”
“Nope, not mine. It’s probably…” She cut herself off. “Hey, did you find the cookies I made you?”
“What? You made me cookies?”
“I snuck them into your purse. Thought they might cheer you up a little.”
“If they’re shortbread, I’ll love you forever.” I dug through my purse, eventually finding a little container.
“Hmm… Well, I was going to give you more tomorrow if you came to see me, but if you already love me forever, what’s the point?” I smiled a little at her giggle. “Look, I have to go. You sure you’re all right?”
“Would you please stop asking me that?” I sighed, starting to get annoyed.
After we hung up, I stared at the CDs for a little longer, before deciding I’d gotten far enough for one day. It wasn’t like Keith was breaking down my door to get them back or anything.
I ended up back outside, not entirely sure how or why I’d made that decision. My car wasn’t there, of course - mom’s car was still in the garage, probably would be for a little while longer. Had to replace something that seemed pretty important, since its name had two complicated sounding words.
I picked a direction - any of them other than the one that went by Keith’s house was fine - and started to walk, not really paying any attention to anything I was passing. So it came as quite a surprise when I nearly ran into somebody only, when looking up to apologize, to realize it was the reading girl.
She stared at me with a blank, almost awed, expression, mouth hanging ever so slightly open. I honestly don’t know what came over me.
“Why the hell are you following me, you freak?!” I screamed, right in her face. “What do you want from me?!”
I shouldn’t have been surprised that she turned and ran after that; I was more surprised to find myself following her. Her legs weren’t quite as long as mine, but she was quite fast anyway, and much better at dodging around the other people hanging out on the sidewalks, like they didn’t have anything better to do. I nearly knocked a couple kids down, which slowed me enough that she managed to get up the steps and into the library, which I doubt I’d have even noticed otherwise.
I forced myself to calm down as much as possible, not wanting to get thrown out before I reached my prey, while my heart did its best not to explode in my chest. The library was, as usual, not particularly busy, which made it easier to hear where the girl was, even though she was doing her best to be quiet. It also made it harder to pursue with any kind of speed, since I knew if I wasn’t careful I’d just bring the librarians down on me, thus prematurely ending the hunt.
I tiptoed through non-fiction, listening to her footsteps a few shelves over. Turning slightly, I could see her, or at least a strip of her chest, against which she was clutching that book, through the empty spaces between tops of books and bottoms of shelves. She was breathing hard, finally giving me reason to believe I wasn’t horribly out of shape for feeling a little tired.
She was walking the opposite direction as me, and a little faster. If it came down to it, I could probably have caught her if I’d turned around, met her when she hit the aisle. Instead, I kept going to the aisle on the opposite end of the shelves, turned the corner and stopped, peaking again to make sure she was still there. Sure enough, she was, and now just right on the other side of the shelves I was looking through. She’d stopped moving, was now just standing there, all wide eyed, shaking.
Part of me felt bad; it wasn’t too difficult to ignore that part until later. After all, she’d been following me for way too long for me to consider it a coincidence. Didn’t I deserve to know what in the world was going on?
I took it even more slowly then, keeping her in my sight in case she should happen to hear me and dart. Her gaze kept leaping all over the place, and a couple times I was certain she’d seen me, but it wasn’t until I was almost to her that I saw her eyes widen in fear.
Knowing my luck had run out, I jumped forward, snaking my arm through the shelf, taking out a few of the taller books on it in the process, and grabbed her arm. She gave out a strange sound, like a wounded animal, and began to writhe wildly.
I could hear the librarians descending on us, so, when her arm broke free of my grip and she took off, I somehow resisted the urge to give chase, pleased enough with her expression of terror. That is, however, not to say that I minded the little bonus of noticing that she’d dropped that book of hers.
“Did you see what got into that girl?”
I glanced over with a blink and an innocent shake of my head to the librarian. “No clue,” I said. “Can I help you pick those books up?”
“Well, sure,” the old woman smiled.
I had knocked over more books than I’d realized, and, somehow, even after seeing her with it so many times, I couldn’t quite remember what it actually had on the cover. Just some random thing, against what I thought might have been a blue background. There were a couple that looked familiar, so I left them until last so I could decide between them.
Finally, the title of one caught my eye. “Oh, this is just what I was looking for!” I chirped, a little too loudly, earning myself a disapproving glare.
“That’s kind of an odd spelling,” she said, though, once we were at the circulation desk.
“It’s how my name is spelled, actually,” I told her.
“Oh! How interesting!” And, amazingly enough, she actually did sound interested.
“It’s just a weird coincidence,” I said, mostly to myself. It would be a neat little curiosity, perhaps, if the person who had been reading it last hadn’t been stalking me.
I managed to make it out of the library, just barely, before cracking open the book. I was tempted to flip through, hoping for some pictures, but decided instead to start with the first page, not sure what I was expecting to find. Certainly not what I actually found, anyway, that’s for sure.
“‘Aw, fricklestein,’ the girl grumbled under her breath, reaching down with one hand to inspect the rip up the leg of her shorts. It wasn’t that the girl particularly minded showing off her legs - they were, undoubtedly, the best part of her otherwise large and gangly body - but she’d just bought the shorts three days ago.”
I stared at the words for a few minutes, unblinking. I tried to tell myself it was all a coincidence again, but the words dried up in my throat. What was going on?
I tried to read on, but my head was already swimming, and the words began to blur and dance until I felt dizzy enough to fall over. I decided to put it off until I got home, and could devote more time and energy to it. So, I closed “Skye’s the Limit”, and started the slow walk home, alone with my increasingly confused thoughts.
4 - Feels Like I’m Livin’ In The Middle of Doubt
It seemed to be a theme for me that day, and not a particularly original one, but that didn’t change the fact that I found myself storming out of Mrs. Brown’s office in the dance studio and slamming the door. To be honest, I likely could have avoided that, if I hadn’t done it earlier in my classroom, and I might have been able to prevent -that- if it weren’t for an earlier incident with Lela. If I had just taken the time to think about it, I would’ve recognized how ridiculous the whole thing was, considering what had set it all off, but I wasn’t quite ready for such introspection.
“Hey, Skye, what…?” Dale started to say before I brushed past him, hardly in the mood to trade barbs with him, nor to answer why my classroom was empty while there was still half an hour until his class. He wasn’t about to let me go that easily, however. He reached out, grabbed my arm, tried again. “Skye, what in the world is going on?”
It started at some little girl’s house, some kid I didn’t actually know, though that honestly wasn’t hard to believe, looking at her. To put it kindly, she wasn’t the most… athletic of children, and I couldn’t quite imagine her as even a preliminary a form of ballerina as the kids who passed through my class. Lela had introduced us, of course, but I can’t say that I remembered the girl’s name, and I find it doubtful that she was interested enough in me to even listen to my name.
Lela and I hadn’t really been doing anything special, but I would have been doing straight up nothing if I hadn’t been with her. Much like it had been the past few days, when I’d gone to find her at wherever she was babysitting that day. The people in this house didn’t even subscribe to any interesting magazines, so I’d been stuck looking through the newspaper, listening to the music from that CD I’d found the other day - it was strangely relaxing, so I’d decided to rip it to my computer, which, oddly, couldn’t find any information on it, then put it onto my MP3 player - and snacking on one of the shortbread cookies Lela had baked for me.
Unsurprisingly, there was no interesting news to be reported that day, nor, did it seem, any other day. It was amusing to skim through the movie listings, for a minute or two, wondering if I should even bother trying to see if Lela wanted to go see anything that weekend. Even if the answer was yes, we’d probably have to see some kids’ show, since, chances were, she’d be babysitting. Again. I’d asked her once what she did with all of the money she made, but she hadn’t answered that any more than she would tell me why she worked so much. Her parents were pretty well off, after all, and it wasn’t like she ever had free time to go out and spend much of her hard earned cash.
“Do you wanna catch a matinee Saturday?” I’d asked finally, deciding the momentary conversation it would spark would be a better diversion than trying to muddle through some old woman’s article on the correct way to plant tulips.
“Is there anything good playing?” Lela had glanced up from the game of Candyland she and the girl were playing on the coffee table.
“That’s not the point,” I’d rolled my eyes. “We should just go to the movies together, you know? We used to go all the time!” That wasn’t strictly true, but I remembered going with her family a couple times when we were little, back when the theater was in a completely different and far cooler building, even if it’d had much fewer screens.
“So that means there isn’t anything good, huh?” she’d asked, sharing some secret smirk with the girl.
“Oh, come on,” I’d whined, moving from the armchair I’d been sitting on, flopping down on the couch behind her, at least until she cleared her throat and I sat up with a sigh, to get my feet off the upholstery. “You’re no fun, you know that?”
She’d smiled at me, friendly enough, shaking her head slightly. By all accounts, her comment was innocent enough. Unfortunately, I hadn’t quite been able to see it like that.
“You know,” she’d said, moving her piece on the board, “maybe I should start charging your parents.”
She’d shrugged, pulling another card from the deck. “Well, all this time I’m spending with you, it’s almost like I’m babysitting -you-.”
I didn’t say anything for a while, but I’m pretty sure she could feel my eyes boring into the back of her skull, because she turned around. “I was just joking…” she’d said upon seeing my expression.
“Yeah, whatever. If you want me to leave you alone, just say so.”
“Why would I want that, Skye? Come on, it was just a stupid joke.”
But I couldn’t help thinking of the book, and what I’d read there. “Skye,” the passage began, “was often afraid that her friend, despite being the more physically child-like, saw her as just another kid to watch, and that was part of the reason they had stopped hanging out as much. Perhaps, that part of her mind thought, Lela was finally accepting that Skye was growing up, and, as such, wasn’t interested in being around her anymore.”
Ever since reading that, I’d been trying to convince myself I didn’t really think that way, nor did Lela. After all, it was just a book, right? Never mind the fact that it had described me and Lela exactly - it wasn’t like we were unique, no matter what our kindergarten teacher had tried to tell us. And never mind that it had detailed the incident with my shorts, though at that point things -were- getting a bit freaky. But I’m not the only person in the world to rip an article of clothing in the park, I’m sure. To be honest, I hadn’t gotten any further than that before stuffing the book into a desk drawer.
Hearing Lela say that, after reading that part of the book, was too much for me, I guess. “I have to go,” I’d told her stiffly, getting back off the couch and heading for the front door.
“It was just a joke!” she’d repeated.
“Yeah, you’re a freakin’ comedian,” I’d said, before slamming the door shut behind me. I don’t think I really intended to be quite so dramatic with it, but it was a windy day outside.
By the time my ballet class rolled around, even I had to admit that I wasn’t in the best of moods. And, considering I hadn’t done anything else that day besides mope, occasionally staring at the drawer I had hidden book in, it was pretty clear what I was unhappy about.
To me, at any rate. My students weren’t in the loop, so when I saw one doing pretty much the complete opposite of what I had just told them to do, I don’t think she picked up that my yelling at her was more me working out my own frustrations than me actually being angry at her. I didn’t really get a chance to find out for sure, however, before she ran out of the room in tears.
“If anyone else here can only listen as well as her,” I’d told the rest, “get out.”
One timid little girl, not particularly talented, took my advice.
“Well then,” I’d said, “now we can all concentrate.”
But any expectations that the remaining students would perform any better were quickly shattered. “Did you practice what we learned last time?” I’d demanded after a particularly frightful attempt from them of reproducing it. A couple of them were actually honest, shaking their heads shamefully. Some of them nodded. Most of them didn’t do anything.
“You can’t just do this during class and expect to get it!” I could remember all the hours of training I’d done, and felt a bit like an old woman, though I managed to prevent myself from saying, ‘Kids these days are so lazy! Back in my day…’, out loud. “I can’t teach you anything else until you learn this!”
I’d turned the music back on and walked past the rows of confused girls, following me with their eyes. By the time I’d gotten the door open, one of them had the courage, and stupidity, to ask, “What are we supposed to do?”
“Practice!” I’d barked at them. “Get it right so you don’t waste my time next class, too!”
But I wasn’t going to be there for the next class; I could tell that pretty much as soon as I closed the door, only to find Mrs. Brown, the owner of the dance studio, waiting for me in the hall. The angry looking parents, two of which already had their sniffling kids with them, were a pretty big clue as well.
So, when I left Mrs. Brown’s office, I can’t say that I was in the best of moods, nor that I was thinking straight. The latter was made perfectly obvious when, after a minute or two of glaring at Dale after he’d asked the question, I suddenly found myself kissing him.
I pulled away, just as surprised as he appeared to be. “I-I have to go…” I said, blushing, before I turned and ran away from him, trying to ignore the desire to lean back in towards his lips. What was I thinking?! I didn’t like Dale… I liked Keith. Even if Keith didn’t like me, which I still couldn’t bring myself to believe, not after how long we’d been together.
I slowed down pretty quickly, as soon as I’d gotten out of the building, a little annoyed at myself to find that I was kind of disappointed he hadn’t followed me. I stared back towards the door, but the only people to come out was the mother of one of my students, with her daughters in tow. I’d seen the older daughter before, since she was in my class, and pretty decent, but I hadn’t seen her younger sister. Even I had to admit she was pretty cute, if a bit silly looking dressed as she was, with a tutu skirt on over her cut-off jean shorts, which were themselves over a pair of rainbow striped tights.
I shook my head, telling myself I hadn’t really wanted to see anybody else anyhow, and turned around to start the walk home. After a couple minutes, I thought to pull out my cell and call mom. She didn’t answer - probably in a meeting or something - so I left her a message, telling her I didn’t need her to pick me up at the studio.
I thought that I was walking slowly, just trying to clear my head, but even so I managed to beat my mom home. I went straight to my room, closed the door - quietly, this time - and over to my desk. I stopped there long enough to question what the heck I was expecting. Did I really think the book actually had all the answers, or -any- answers, for that matter? It was just a book, that, by some weird coincidence, had a few similarities to my life. That was it.
But, of course, if that was the case, then there would be no harm in looking at it, now would there? Surely after the first few pages I’d realize that those coincidences were just that, when that Skye and Lela went off and had some kind of strange, magical adventure together.
I’m not sure if I was expecting the book to have vanished or something, but I felt a sigh of relief escape my lungs when I opened the drawer and found it still there. I started by just opening to the first page again, making sure that it was still the same, then I started to flip through it.
I stopped a little ways in, a certain paragraph catching my eye. “She stormed out of the house, slamming the door on her way. The sound scared her, so, in her mind, she blamed it on the wind, assuring herself that she wasn’t -that- touchy about having her fears confirmed. It became much more difficult for her to believe that, however, when she found herself still angry enough by the time her ballet class had started to start taking it out on her students. All of whom, most likely, Lela would rather spend her time with, since their parents -would- - and in most cases, did - compensate her for paying attention to them.”
I very nearly closed the book then, and I considered following that up with setting it on fire, though I didn’t actually go through with either. How could this be possible?
Still, I had pretty much been hoping for something like that, something to tell me that there was more to the book than just featuring characters that were similar to me and Lela. But now that I had that confirmation, I had a new question. Had I gone too far, or not far enough? What question was I really looking for the answer to?
Finally, I decided to go back a few pages. I had intended to go a little further, but Keith’s name came up quicker than I’d expected.
“'Listen, guys,” Keith said from the shadow of the doorway, not even daring to go inside, ‘I don’t think I can do this.’
‘What the hell are you talking about, man?’ Martin asked. ‘You already did it. She was holding us back and you know it, man.’"
I stopped there, staring down at the words in shock. Was that what they really thought? -I- was holding -them- back? Please… My singing was no worse than Martin’s drum playing. Maybe I wasn’t perfect, but did they seriously think they could find someone better in this town?
“‘Yeah, I know,’ Keith agreed with half of a shrug, though his shoulders didn’t quite find their way back down. ‘But I can’t be around all this, not now. It reminds me too much of her.’”
My heart stopped there, along with my eyes, while my brain did its best to censor out the first part of his response so it could focus on the end. He missed me!
Martin and Chris must have forced him to break up with me, I decided. One of them probably had some hot chick they wanted to impress, and they were planning on offering to let her take my place in the band, once I was out of the picture. That had to be it!
But now that I knew it, what was I supposed to do with that knowledge? I couldn’t very well go up to Keith and say, “Hey, I read in this book I found that you still liked me, so why don’t we both tell the stupid band to go screw itself so we can go out?” If he missed me so much that he couldn’t stand to be in Martin’s basement, though, maybe just seeing me would be enough to make him do all the work for me.
Of course, I couldn’t just go over to his house, not without some sort of an excuse. I sighed, eyes wandering around my room while I tried to think of one, until they landed on the stack of Keith’s CDs sitting by my CD book. Perfect.
I started to stand, only to pause over the book for a moment. Should I look forward, and see if this was a good idea? Maybe just a peek, to be sure? Would there even be an answer there? I hadn’t gotten far enough into the book to know if there was anything in it past that day; even if there was, would looking at it, especially if it told me that going to see Keith now was a bad plan, change things? If that changed things, had my looking at the part that told what happened in the basement while I wasn’t there done anything?
Honestly, thinking like that made my head hurt, and wasn’t getting me anywhere. I slipped a bookmark in, then closed the book and stashed it back in my desk drawer. There was only one more of the cookies Lela had made me left, so I decided to eat it for good luck, and resolved to call her back - she’d left me a few voice-mails that afternoon that I’d ignored - and apologize when I got home.
“I’m going for a walk!” I called towards the kitchen after quickly changing into some normal, slightly nice, clothes. “I’ll be back in time for dinner!” I didn’t wait for an answer.
I noticed my hands were shaking when I opened the door, so I put my earbuds back in and started playing the music from that CD again to try and calm down. I’d have to remember to ask Keith where he’d gotten it, or at the very least, what group it was.
A block or so away, my car pulled up next to me. “Where are you going?” my mom asked through the window.
“Just going for a walk,” I told her.
“Do you want a ride?”
I shook my head. “I’ll be back for dinner.”
She nodded, pulled back out into the street. I watched her drive away, then continued on towards Keith’s house, turning the volume on my MP3 player up a little to try to cover up the sound of my heart thumping in my chest.
5 - The Past Ain’t Through With You
I blinked a couple of times, a great number of questions running through my head, not the least of which was, “Where am I?”
Looking around gave me a quick, quite basic answer - on a sidewalk - but that didn’t help me very much. It seemed like a familiar sidewalk, yet there was something strange about it, something that made it feel unfamiliar at the same time. That feeling only grew worse when I stood, making everything start to spin slightly.
I reached up to take my earbuds out, wondering if it might not help to be able to hear as well. It might have worked better, were I on a less boring street, but it’s the thought that counts.
I was starting to get a headache just from looking around, as my eyes tried to take in everything, something it normally would have had no problem with, but now, when everything looked wrong in some way I couldn’t quite place, I wasn’t surprised. I wanted to sit down; other than the sidewalk, however, there wasn’t really any place to do so.
What had happened to me? My memory felt fuzzy, hard to focus on. I wondered briefly if I’d gotten mugged, but that wasn’t really the sort of thing to happen in this place, certainly not while it was still bright out.
So what then? I could recall looking at the book, and grabbing the CDs, and heading out, and I thought I remembered a car pulling up next to me, but there didn’t seem to be anything connecting any of that with where I was now. In fact, I realized, looking around, I didn’t even have the CDs anymore. Had I gone to Keith’s already? Why couldn’t I remember it? Could it have gone -that- badly?
But wait, there was something else, something right on the edge of my memory. I had a feeling it was important somehow, if I could only figure it out. I decided to sit down after all, even closing my eyes as I did my best to concentrate, putting everything into trying to salvage that one piece of the puzzle, before it was too late and my memory erased it forever, overwriting it with some insignificant little thing, like how many lights were on in the house behind me, or the sound of a car a few streets over, or the shape of the mailbox a block down.
That last thought made me pause, heart fluttering momentarily as I realized that perhaps it was a clue to what I was trying to remember. Before I could figure out how, unfortunately, I found myself pulled out of my meditation by a sudden feeling of warmth around my bottom.
My eyes sprang open as I forced my bladder back under my control. I hadn’t had an accident in… well, I couldn’t even remember how long! Certainly, a very long time. What was wrong with me? How serious was whatever had caused this sudden loss of memory?
I glanced down at the crotch of my pants, making sure I couldn’t see a wet spot there, while lifting my bottom and feeling there as well. Luckily, it seemed as if I’d stopped myself before causing any serious damage to anything beyond my panties - not that that wasn’t bad enough. But while I was checking, I noticed a few other things.
First of all, my pants had seemed to have grown appliques of ladybugs on the pockets, staring up at me with smiling faces. Secondly, my shirt, which was a bit low-cut, I admit, had grown an extra patch of fabric, nullifying that act of immodesty. However, the third thing made that rather irrelevant, as I realized that, somehow, I no longer had anything to show off with a shirt like the one I had originally put on.
My hands darted up to my chest, as if expecting to find my breasts hiding there. “Wh-What’s happening?” I asked out loud, followed by a gasp as I heard how high my voice had suddenly become. A slow, impossible realization dawned on me considering why everything had seemed so odd when I’d come to, or whatever I’d done. Everything looked huge, far bigger than it should.
I reached up further, to my hair, pulling some in front of my face. All of it was blonde, as was the handful from the other side I looked at. My hands looked smaller, too, more soft and fragile somehow, my fingernails painted bright pink, a color I hadn’t tolerated in years.
“Oh, crap,” I whispered, letting go of my hair before clenching my little hands into fists. “What the hell is going on?!” At another time, it might have been funny to hear my kiddy voice cursing, even as lightly as that, but I wasn’t in the mood to be amused.
It was the book. It had to be. This was some kind of punishment for looking at something I wasn’t supposed to, and trying to use that knowledge for my own gain. I should never have chased that girl down… She was probably a guardian angel or some weird thing like that.
Or… Even if it wasn’t the book’s fault, it had to have the answer as to what actually -did- do it. Right? And some way to change me back. Assuming, of course, that I ever could do that… Then again, if the book was somehow the cause of this in the first place, would trying to solve it with the book just make things worse? Or maybe using the book like that was something she wasn’t supposed to do, so there wouldn’t be anything in it about this at all.
Of course, it was possible the book had no connection to this whatsoever. But people didn’t just become younger, no more than they just found books about their own lives. Having both things happen to you, in so small a span of time, seemed like much too big a coincidence to ignore.
But really, I reasoned, people -didn’t- get younger. That was impossible on a whole other level than the book, since I’m pretty sure it broke a few laws of physics or something. I was dreaming, most likely, or I’d done some weird sort of drug while I was at Keith’s - which probably meant we had patched things up, at least. A quick and painful pinch ruled out the first.
Common sense should have ruled out the second, since, as far as I know, Keith wasn’t into any crazy, illicit substances, nor would I normally have partaken in them if he’d offered. If he was, though, and we’d just made up, then I guess I might have been a little more willing to try. I must have been…
But that didn’t help me at the moment. What was I supposed to do? Should I go home, not knowing what I was going to wind up seeing next? If this stuff was powerful enough to make me actually -feel- like my body had changed - I tried to ignore that I’d never heard of anything that powerful, consoling myself when I failed by reminding myself I didn’t have an extensive knowledge of such things - who knew what would happen? My parents were going to know something was up if I started seeing my food get up and dance on my plate or something, because I doubted I could just pretend that I -wasn’t- seeing something like that.
I’d just go back to Keith’s, then. I’d call my parents, tell them I was going to eat at Lela’s, maybe even spend the night, then head over there. I could get an explanation of just what the hell he’d given me at the same time. It was as good a plan as I was going to come up with, so I reached into my pocket for my phone.
But what I found there wasn’t my phone. Sure, it was -a- phone, and it probably worked, but it was much clunkier, and cheaper looking. My real phone was probably made mostly of plastic, too, but it wasn’t nearly as obvious as it was on this one. I flipped it open, and was greeted by a couple frames of an animated sun smiling and waving at me.
My stomach began to tighten up into a knot. “I’m going crazy,” I mumbled out loud. Maybe I should have Keith come get me instead of trying to make it to his house… If he wasn’t fried, too.
His number wasn’t listed in my contact list, though, nor were the vast majority of my friends’ numbers. Home was right on top of the list, with my parent’s cells under that. My grandparents were in there, too, but other than that, the only other number was Lela’s.
I tried to remember Keith’s number, but all I could come up with was the area code, and the first four numbers, which didn’t do me a lot of good. I looked through the phone numbers again, and finally I bit the bullet and pressed dial.
“It took you long enough,” Lela answered her phone, sounding a little annoyed. “I was wondering how many times I was going to have to call and apologize to your voice mail…”
“Lela, you have to come and get me!” I blurted out, surprised to find myself sniffling. “I don’t know what happened, but I’m freaking out!”
“Calm down,” she ordered, going into the voice she used when she was babysitting. Any other time, I’d have found it annoying, but it actually was a little soothing. “Where are you?”
I glanced up and down the street, trying to figure out the answer. “I-I think this is Oak Street.”
“I’ll borrow my mom’s car,” she said. “I’ll be there in a minute.”
“Thank you,” I sighed in relief. “Thank you so much.”
“No problem,” she assured me. “See you in…”
“Oh!” I interrupted. “Can you call my parents and tell them I’m eating at your house tonight?”
She paused for a moment before answering. “Are you?”
“Then I guess I can. Just sit tight.”
I hung up, set the phone down on the sidewalk beside me, and hugged my knees to my chest. How did I get myself into this stuff? Or, rather, why did I let myself get talked into it? Was I really that helpless to Keith’s (admittedly not-inconsiderable amount of) charm? I had only let him talk me into trying marijuana once while we were going out, but after getting him to take me back - or perhaps during the course of convincing him to do so? - I’d let him talk me into whatever this was? How desperate was I?
It literally was only a minute or so before I heard a car on the street, and looked over to see that it was Lela’s mom’s. It might as well have been Lela’s, really, since her mom and dad worked the same schedule and rode into work together in her dad’s car, but every once in a while her mom would take it out somewhere. A moment later, I heard my phone ring.
“Your parents were acting really weird,” Lela informed me as soon as I answered. “But it’s fine. You’re clear for staying over tonight if you need to, too.”
“Thanks…” I said, confused. “But why are you calling to tell me?”
“Well, I’m on Oak Street, but I don’t see you, so where do you think you really are? I thought you might mean Oak -Drive-, but that’s all the way on the other side of town, and…”
“I see you,” I told her, feeling the knot in my stomach twist, and tears start coming to my eyes… “I’m right here!”
“Where? The only person I see outside is some little girl…” She stopped as she saw me wave to her, then her voice took on a chilly air. “Is this some practical joke?” she demanded. “You really had me scared, Skye!”
“It’s not a joke,” I whimpered, star