The Sidereus Prophecy Part 4

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Abigail experiences the ramifications of the simple kiss as a burgeoning yet confused sexuality takes hold. Meanwhile, the divide between husband and wife widens as their roles within the slowly crumbling union are irrevocably altered. Yet, as all hope seems lost, and the first day of high school looms, a potential cure to Darren’s unique condition surfaces.

A WORD FROM THE AUTHOR:
This story is my thank you to a community that has provided me free fiction for years. It is also my first story (and probably my last), and I will warn you- it is long. My intrepid editor, Robyn Hoode, slaved through the drafts of the story, providing insightful and helpful commentary. His enthusiasm for the subject material kept me motivated. Honestly, without him and his constant feedback, this story wouldn’t exist. So, if you enjoy this story, you have him to thank, as much as me.

This story is very much a slow-burn, character-driven transformation. As I said, it is lengthy, but I hope you will stay for the entire ride.

Please feel free to leave a comment or to send feedback to the following e-mail: [email protected]

DISCLAIMER:
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Chapter 44 (part 4)

I cancelled band that weekend. I couldn’t face Ethan after what had happened on Friday afternoon. I felt ashamed that I had essentially broken my marriage vows. I told Amélie what happened at the Locke Agency, but I simply could not bring myself to tell her anything more. I withdrew both body and mind, moving to my man cave downstairs and neither speaking to Amélie nor answering any texts or phone calls. I listened to angry music, wrote lyrics, and wallowed. Much like I had done when something didn’t go my way as an actual teenager.

On Sunday afternoon, I heard my mother’s voice at the door, “Darren, we are worried about you. Please come out.”

My mother was sneaky. She knew my weakness. I could smell the heavenly aroma of her freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies. I remember as a kid, licking the beaters clean of all remaining cookie dough. The smell alone lightened my mood, as it brought me back to a time of innocence, Saturday morning cartoons and backyard hockey games, playing outside until it got dark and then slipping into a cozy bed surrounded by stuffed animals. I sighed. I really wasn’t handling my firing well at all. I realized how much I was acting like a kid. Adults and mature teens learn to use their support structures to push them through rough patches. Even worse, I realized that I was a textbook case of teen withdrawal. They had taught us in teacher’s college about how teens react to crisis situations, especially those with less developed emotional controls. They turn everyone away, exactly as I was doing.

I looked in the mirror. My eyes were still red and my hair was dishevelled, not the rat’s nest it was before, but certainly getting there if I went days without brushing my hair. I was wearing a pair of pajama pants and one of my old tattered t-shirts. I sniffled and opened the door, “Hi Mom.”

My mom embraced me tightly and as I hugged her back, she was already crying. Even though I didn’t look anything like my mother with her tall slender frame and dark hair, I had certainly inherited her emotions considering the amount of crying I had done since Friday afternoon. She said, “Oh Darren, you really had us worried. Amélie called us and said you wouldn’t come out at all. She didn’t know what you were doing and then you wouldn’t answer your phone. Please don’t worry us like that.”

I frowned, realizing that my behaviour had frightened my family. I nodded, “I’m really sorry Mom. I didn’t mean to make you worry.”

She smiled, fresh tears lining her face, “I know Darren, but- please come upstairs, your father has some news about a possible cure.”

My eyes widened, and I shot past my mother like I was in a hundred yard dash. I snaked my hand out to catch the railing as I launched myself up the stairs. My father was already seated at the dining room table. I didn’t see Chloe, so I assumed she was napping.

Amélie hugged and then scolded me, “Darren, don’t do that again. It was scary. You’ve never been like that before. You wouldn’t answer any of my texts or phone calls. I checked on you last night when you were sleeping just to make sure you weren’t dead. I- I was really worried.”

I frowned deeply, feeling a burning in my face as tears threatened to come, but I managed to hold them at bay, amazingly. “I’m really sorry everyone, I won’t do it again. I just- I’m worried about my emancipation. As of tomorrow, I have two weeks to find another job of equal or greater pay. Or go to St. Jo’s. I just can’t even consider that a possibility right now. ”

My father interrupted, “You may not need to. You know the woman I spoke to in New Orleans? Well she got back to me. She sent me the instructions for a spell. She claims to be a descendant of the voodoo queen Marie Laveau.”

Amélie said, “Marie who?”

My father continued, “In the 1830s, a woman, by that name claimed to be able to cure any ailment and remove curses set by those who followed the left-hand path, or the path of the devil. The woman who I spoke to, Mama Khalia, said that she had actually heard of something similar to what happened to Darren. This supposed voodoo queen is said to have actually cured a man who - he read from a page, “... bore the curse of Eve, for misdeeds in which he slayed the unborn, into a shape and bore from a cursed womb a child, which he came to love-”

I threw up my hands, “Okay! Just hold on a sec here. I am not getting pregnant just so I can be cured. This is crazy.”

My father shook his head, “I don’t think that’s quite what it means. I think that the man’s punishment was for killing pregnant women or, at least, causing them to abort. He was forced to become a woman who bore a child, and then see, it continues “…which he came to love and was then stripped of body and child, and returned to Earthly form.” My father said, “I don’t think that the specifics matter so much as that he was returned to ‘Earthly form’. Mama Khalia seemed to think that it was worth a try. This is at least the closest we have come to a historical account of a gender transformation, outside of Greek or Roman mythology.”

I nodded, “Right, where the gods had sex with women and men in various animal forms. Zeus being the biggest pervert of them all. I agree, let’s do the spell.”

Amélie said, “Wait a second. Richard, you said that this Marie Laveau, she removed curses set by people who followed the path of the devil. Why would someone who practices black magic help to right a wrong? I’ve read up a lot on this since Darren’s initial change. People who practice black magic always do so for selfish reasons. Why would someone change a man into a woman to teach him a lesson? Something doesn’t add up.”

I shook my head, “I don’t care. This is the closest we’ve gotten so far. I say we try it.”

My father looked to Amélie, “I agree with Darren. We should at least investigate this.”

Amélie nodded, “I am not saying we shouldn’t look into things, but I am concerned that it might be a hoax. How much did Mama Khalia charge you Richard?”

My father replied, “That’s the thing. Other than a small fee that she charged for the spell’s ingredients, she charged me nothing. Initially, I just left my contact information. In her letter to me, she requested money to buy the ingredients, but nothing else. Unlike the charlatans who requested retainers. She really seemed to want to help Darren. I told her how it had affected my son’s life and our family. She sounds very sympathetic in her letter.”

Amélie said, “So, are you going to pay her airfare or something?” I looked over at my mother who was frowning.

I jumped in, “Amélie, stop it. This could be legitimate. You’ve seen it happen right before your eyes. You didn’t marry a fifteen year old girl, so something had to change me. It wasn’t science or weird chemicals, because those would have been gradual most likely. Medical science can’t do what happened to me. Why are you having such a hard time believing that a cure could exist? You were the one who said you admired that I was still looking.”

Amélie frowned, “Because I’ve stopped looking, Darren. I just can’t do it anymore. It’s like what happened to you happened in a different world. One that has different rules than our own.”

My father replied, “That’s just it Amélie, if you look back in history, magic was far more prevalent, especially before organized religion began. So maybe it is just something long buried. When we visited New Orleans, there were people there who genuinely believe that these voodoo queens or at least their descendants can effect miracles.”

He continued, “I am not going to pay her airfare because she isn’t going to have to come here. The spell can be completed by anyone, but Mama Khalia said that they have to believe it can work. I think that we need to look more into this before considering it, but I believe it is worthwhile. We don’t have any other leads.”

We agreed to complete further research and return in a week, but that left only one more week before my sentence began at St. Jo’s. In the meantime, I needed a contingency plan, so during the week, I started calling law firms.

I knew my job at the Locke Agency wasn't a fluke. I'd been very successful there, and they'd been immensely pleased with my work until it all fell apart. However, I also knew that it had been touch and go at the beginning when I applied for Chantal's job and managed only a student internship over the summer. That, and the fact that I was very close to being a high school sophomore, made me nervous when I spoke to the receptionists trying to get an interview with the partners at each of the firms I phoned.

The nerves tightened my vocal chords so that my voice was even higher than it was normally, almost a squeak. I'd hoped to sound more mature by the end of the summer but that hadn't happened. I sounded even younger than my apparent age - not even like a high school kid but more like a middle schooler who was trying get the receptionists to buy candy to support her seventh grade Jazz band. That didn't help my case, but what made it worse was the breathless tremor caused by my rapidly beating heart. Now I came across as a middle schooler lacking both self-confidence and experience. While the receptionists were polite with me, in most cases, the calls failed to yield the interviews I desired. Some of them even offered me tips, like preparing a script before I called. How mortifying.

During the week, Ethan made several attempts to contact me, and when I ignored his texts and his phone calls, he came to the house on Thursday night. I saw him at the door, but I wasn’t sure he noticed me peeking through the curtains. I hid downstairs. Thankfully, Amélie was gone to do groceries and had taken Chloe with her. The doorbell rang a few more times. I could tell that Ethan was frustrated because he rang it multiple times in a row. He had seen me. Still, there was solid wood and glass between him and I, and he wasn’t getting through. I wasn’t ready to face him yet- maybe not ever. I started to think of my kiss with him as an indiscretion, a moment lost to lust and powerful adolescent hormones. I told myself that it wasn’t me who kissed him back, it was Abigail.

I heard the door open, and I moved upstairs to help Amélie, but when I heard Ethan’s voice, I rapidly retreated downstairs. Had I forgotten to lock the door? I hid in the closet underneath the stairs, but I could hear the conversation very well.

“Thank you, uh- what did you say your name was?” I assumed Ethan was helping Amélie with the groceries.

“Ethan, ma’am. I was hoping to see Abigail. Is she around?”

There was a pause, and then I heard Amélie say, “I’m not sure…how do you know Abigail exactly? And please call me Amélie.”

There was another pause as the two conversationalists waded through a mire of confusion. I heard Ethan’s voice, sounding surprised with a measure of hurt, “You mean she never talks about me?”

Amélie replied, “Well maybe. Abigail hasn’t exactly been talkative with me recently. And to be fair, she never talks to me about any boys.” A truer statement was never spoken.

I heard relief in Ethan’s voice, “Oh okay. Well I’m in her band. At least I thought I was, she hasn’t been answering my calls or texts. Things were going well.”

I had made certain that whenever we had band, Amélie was out of the house. With the summer months and the gorgeous temperatures, it was easy to suggest she take Chloe to a far off park with a superior play structure or to the beach across town (because ours was too polluted). I hadn’t expected Ethan to be so persistent tonight, but now he had met Amélie and I was terrified at the prospect of him telling her what happened.

Amélie sounded surprised, “You are- in her band? The one with Steven and Andrew?”

Ethan replied, “Yeah, for like two weeks now. Last weekend would have been our third jam.”

Amélie said, “Well like I said. Abigail doesn’t tell me stuff like this.” She sounded annoyed.

Ethan said, “Well can you tell her something for me?”

Amélie replied, “Sure Ethan, I owe you for helping me with the groceries. Usually Abigail helps me.” She said the last words loud enough for me to hear anywhere in the house.

I could hear Ethan’s footsteps right above me. He said, “Tell her I’m really sorry.”

He must have clued in that Amélie thought I was in the house because he said his apology at the same decibel level.

“I will tell her when I see her, Ethan.”

Ethan thanked Amélie, and then I heard the door close, followed by Amélie’s footsteps. She was headed right for me. Amélie opened the closet door and stared at me. She looked neither angry nor happy, just confused.

I said, “Uh hi, Amélie. I guess you want to know why there’s a kid in my band?”

Amélie said matter-of-factly with a hint of anger, “That is one of the many questions I have for you, Darren.”

I didn’t like being interrogated in a closet, so I quickly went upstairs. I seated myself on the couch in the TV room, and Amélie sat across from me. The couch sat three comfortably, but the space in between represented very well the growing gap between husband and wife. Amélie didn’t even let me rub her legs any longer, opting to sit apart from me on the couch to remove any possibility of contact between us.

I explained, “It’s like this, Amélie. We were having trouble finding anyone. And I met Ethan over lunch hour at work. He’s an amazing guitar player, and he really helps the band.”

Amélie nodded, “I knew you were having trouble. Laura mentioned it to me, but now I know why you’ve been so insistent that I be out of the house when you have band. That kid likes you, or he likes Abigail at least.”

I shrugged my shoulders, “Yeah I know, but it’s just a crush. I told him straight out that I just wanted to be friends when I noticed. He’s pretty cool though, for a kid. We talk a lot at lunch, or at least we did.”

Amélie frowned, “So what did he do to make you so mad at him?”

I replied, “Oh, we got into an argument about hockey. You know he likes the Bruins? Anyway, it got pretty heated, and it got personal.”

Amélie shook her head with disdain, “You had an argument about hockey, and he felt the need to come over here and apologize? Well there you go, you finally found someone as fanatical as you.” There was a hint of mirth in her last words.

She added more seriously, “Teenage crushes can be powerful though, Darren. Just be careful. They can make kids like him do crazy things.”

I shook my head dismissively, “Amélie, I’m a grown man. I think I can handle myself against a boy. I’ve told him we are friends and that’s that. You aren’t weirded out by the fact that there’s a kid in the band though?”

She shook her head, “I know you are passionate about your music, Darren. And, you are willing to do what it takes to make the band successful. He seems nice enough, and if you let him in then he must be committed. Just watch yourself around him.”

With Amélie’s words of warning, I wondered if she was noticing that I was paying more attention to the boys when we went out. I did my best to hide it, staring at scantily-clad college girls or even women my own age, but my eyes always diverted back to the boys. It was getting harder to keep my gaze on the soft supple flesh that I once adored. Even Amélie in her bikini, sunbathing, her soft skin glistening from the tanning oil; her ass actually pooling out in places where the bottoms could not contain the flesh and the slight love handles, it brought a mild tingle, but it was nothing compared to THE kiss.

I was beginning to think that having Ethan in the band was detrimental to my sanity, but especially, my sexuality. My kiss with him had awakened not only a longing to see, but a desire to touch, and to be touched.

I should have been repulsed, but that sickly feeling, like nausea combined with spiders crawling over my skin, the same sensation I had when I thought that Ethan was cute for a microsecond, it was gone, and I couldn’t understand why. It was like someone had crossed the wires in my brain. I wanted to feel tremendous disgust, not only at the gender but the age difference as well, but it was becoming harder and harder.
***

“I just don’t think he’s right for the band guys. I question his commitment. He’s more immature than I thought too.”

It was time to put a line in the sand, and while it may have shown impulsive tendencies, it was clear to me that if Ethan and I spent any more time alone, we would likely be, or rather Abigail would likely be, trying to lick his tonsils clean. The more I thought about Amélie’s words of warning, and the fact that Ethan had come to the house, made me think that perhaps Ethan’s crush was slowly getting out of control.

It was easy to blame Abigail, as some wanton teenage vixen, but there was a part of me that knew we were one and the same- that I had kissed Ethan back and not some separate entity entirely. I was extremely confused about my sexuality, and I had absolutely no one I could speak to about it. I would rather have cut my ring finger off than tell Amélie. I could not speak to my family, nor could I discuss it with anyone who knew me only as Abigail. Was I suffering from a form of gender dysphoria? Would I eventually only see girls as friends or even worse - as competition, instead of as objects of desire?

Steven shook his head, “What’s going on with you Darren? Last week you cancelled band, and you never do that unless you are really sick, and now you are saying you want the kid out? You were the one who brought him in. We wrote some great stuff with him. And now you want to kick him out?”

Andrew nodded in agreement, “Ethan has shown nothing but a firm commitment to this band. He’s a great player. I’ve played the new stuff for a guy at work, you know he’s in that band Porcelain? Well they want us to open for them. He liked the old stuff, but he says the new tracks are great. This is a fantastic opportunity for us. And this is a downtown show too. We will get mega exposure.”

I shook my head, and like a diva, the type who asks for only blue M&Ms or a dressing room that is entirely white, I said, “Play the set.” Steven counted 1-2-3-4, and we moved into the old songs, although my band mates did so begrudgingly. I had to admit, they felt stale without Ethan’s parts, and admittedly empty in places because I could no longer play what was required. After four songs, Steven stopped.

“Darren, I don’t know what happened between you and Ethan, but it’s hurting the band. If he’s out, then we are back to being mediocre.”

I shot back, “Thanks for encouraging me to pick up the guitar again so you could call my playing and song writing mediocre.”

Andrew entered the fray, “I don’t think that’s what Steven means, Darren. You clearly can’t play the songs the way you used to anymore. And because of that it detracts from not only your guitar playing, but your singing too. What did Ethan do?”

I frowned, “Nothing OK? I just want him out.” I threw down my guitar, which caused a loud buzzing noise followed by a mass of feedback. “It’s him or me.”

Andrew looked to Steven. The two exchanged worried glances, but Steven was clearly the angrier of the two. Andrew turned off my amp to kill the feedback.

“Darren, when you decide to act like a man, instead of a five year old girl throwing a temper tantrum because she didn’t get her way, then call me. If not, then I’m going to start looking for another band.” Steven's voice softened.

“Look, I still want to be your friend man. I know what happened to you can’t be easy. But I can’t be in a band with someone who thinks they run the whole show.”

Andrew nodded, “Yeah, you are kind of acting like a diva, Darren.”

I turned my back to them, “Just get out, both of you.” I crossed my arms underneath my chest, “It’s him or me.”

Andrew shook his head sadly, and Steven said nothing, but the way he stomped up the stairs told me everything about his thoughts on the matter.

***

I failed to learn anything about Mama Khalia’s spell. The Ottawa area, being a mostly boring government town, didn’t exactly have a thriving voodoo community. Despite that, I was more than willing to try it. I was so desperate to avoid repeating the tenth grade that I was willing to try nearly anything, except pregnancy, but re-reading the history behind the spell convinced me that the pregnancy was unique to the individual apparently cured by Marie Laveau.

My parents arrived, and I was a ball of tightly wound nerves. Amélie and I discussed her findings, but she had also turned up nothing. My father brought his laptop inside and my mother trailed behind him.

I said anxiously, “Did you find anything out? Anything at all?”

My father nodded slowly and sat down, “I received another letter from Mama Khalia. I’m afraid it isn’t good news Darren.”

My heart sank, but still, I was willing to try the spell. My father continued, “I’m not going to sugar coat it. Amélie was right. The translation was very poor. Marie Laveau apparently never cured this man. She said that even the story was false. If you look at the tenets of voodoo, there is nothing that speaks of physical transformations. The so-called curses can afflict a body part, but not change a body.”

I looked at my father, and then I looked at my mother who had a more difficult time hiding her emotions. My mother hated it when my father lied. I could see her jaw clench. What wasn't I being told?

Amélie was clearly upset, “Why even mention this, Richard? Why would this Mama Khalia bring something up as a possible cure and then snatch it away like that? It makes no sense.”

I nodded, “I agree. There’s something you aren’t telling us.”

My mother frowned and then said gently, “The risk is too great Darren. It’s not worth it to try. I’m sorry, but I think you’ll have to go to that school.”

I shook my head, “This isn’t anyone’s decision but mine. I don’t care what the risks are, I am willing to do this. Just tell me what needs to be done. I believe it can work!”

My mother took my hand, while my father sighed deeply, “The son I raised might be head strong, but he’s not a fool.”

I said through clenched teeth, “Tell me.”

My father replied, “The spell has been done. The translation speaks of being returned to ‘earthly form’, well depending on the one who casts it, the result can differ greatly. The man who was ‘cured’ by Marie Laveau was actually regressed. I suppose whatever spirits allowed the release of the magic felt that he had not suffered enough, or that he would better serve this world if he was forced to grow up again.”

My father shook his head, “Voodoo is very much based on a spiritual connection. According to Mama Khalia, if these spirits believe you are unworthy, the tenth grade could be the least of your worries.”

Amélie frowned, “You mean Darren would be stuck going to middle school or even elementary school? Would he be a boy at least?””

My father nodded, “He might. But the man cured by Marie Laveau stayed female. So Chloe could even have a little sister, the way I understand it.”

I shook my head, “So what have I done exactly to deserve this? The man who was transformed in the 1830s was either an early adopter of abortion or a homicidal maniac. Either way, in that time period he would have been very unpopular with the earthly and spiritual world. I am neither of those things. Even if the spell is dangerous, I have a hard time believing that the spirits would decide to punish me further. What could be worse than this?”

My father replied while reading from a crumpled letter, “Mama Khalia dug deeper, and she said that Marie Laveau was not the first one to cast the spell. The first historical record of the casting involved an African warlord who had a silver tongue. He was cursed to become a mute and lost his empire because of it. His court advisor, still loyal to the warlord, approached the witch and explained what happened, and the witch provided a spell, the same one given to us. Upon casting it, the warlord’s heart stopped. The advisor returned to the witch for vengeance, and as she was impaled by spears she said, “The spirits will tear aside petty humanity, revealing only the light or the dark within. For those cursed by voodoo’s hand, let not the caster live in sin, for if so, the caster shall lose more than his lands.”

I interjected, “Dad, wait a second here. Both of the individuals you mentioned weren’t exactly candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize. I am not a saint by any means, but I am not as bad as them. I have a hard time believing that the spirits would kill me or turn me into a little girl.”

My mother said, “But do you really want to risk it, Darren? At least this way, you could graduate high school and move right into pre-law. It is a huge gamble. At least you are still you this way. Think about Amélie too, if you become even younger that will be a huge burden on her. I know you don’t want to come live with us, but if you become a little girl, I’m afraid you may not have a choice, honey.”

The old Darren Lawrence would have balked at such a gamble, but the person who was set to become Abigail Grenier as of September 2 was still considering trying it. My eyes shifted back and forth as they always did when I was deep in thought.

Amélie interrupted my thoughts as she had five months ago, “Considering there isn’t one record of this spell actually working in a way that benefited the caster, I don’t think you should do it Darren. You’ve lived five months this way. Being a teen girl isn’t the worst thing in the world, and the other casters would definitely agree with you. One being dead and the other a baby.”

I listened to my family and my wife deciding my future and stayed quiet. In my mind, this was not over, but I wanted them to think it was.

***

“Darren, you really should come. I took the day off today so that we could pick up your uniform. You’ll need to get it sized and everything. Plus, don’t you want to see the school?”

I was sitting on the couch in my pyjamas. I gave Amélie an uninterested look, “You know my size. You can get it. Why would you want me to go anyway? I saw the way you were looking at the principal after the hearing.”

Amélie shook her head, “That’s not fair, Darren. I know you are upset about the spell, but it’s for the best. I know you can’t really see what is happening to you, but are you really willing to chance it? Imagine having to go back to the fourth grade. You’d almost be living your entire life over again, and that would change you far more than this has changed you. I don’t want to lose you, Darren.” She wiped her eyes. “Please let me know that I can trust you to make the right decision. We won’t stop looking, but in the meantime, I am legally bound to make you attend St. Jo’s.”

I nodded my head, “You can trust me Amélie. Don’t worry about it.”

Amélie nodded and then left.

***

When the day arrived for me to attend at St. Jo’s, it had come after a tumultuous weekend. During a BBQ on Sunday afternoon, in our very own backyard, and in front of my family and hers, Amélie refused to allow me to drink any alcohol. She was drinking Corona, and I wanted one too. When I took one from the fridge, removed the cap and added the traditional lime, she snatched it from me, explaining that she did not want me to be hung over for the first day of classes. I noticed that, throughout the summer, Amélie had become more and more of a nag. I had had a beer in front of her before. During the Canada Day long weekend, I even had three. I was sick the next day, but I planned on only having one. Now, she was concerned with me having one measly beer. I couldn't take it.

Instead of my family backing me up, they supported Amélie.

Even my own little sister, the one who had regaled me with tales of puking in her hair and being so intoxicated that she thought drinking rum straight was a fantastic and most elegant idea. Then, of course, there was the story of her being caught by our father while double-fisting two beers and saying she was holding BOTH of them for other people. Despite that, she had the gall to state that I needed to watch myself.

This was a family backyard party not a loud, obnoxious club full of men trying to slip something in my drink. I could understand my family feeling protective, and my little sister trying to show me the ropes when it came to drinking alcohol as a girl, but it stunk of duplicity. Amélie was as bad as my sister, and in some ways worse. I used to have to cut her off. I recall one night, with two dollar shooters and mixed drinks when I had to stop Amélie from chugging random drinks she found in the club, after I had stopped her from buying more.

I relayed all of this back to both Amélie and my sister, but they used the excuse that I wasn’t thinking straight. I needed to be careful around alcohol. This coming from my sister, who did the same thing at fifteen was the height of hypocrisy!

***

Amélie said, “Promise me you’ll go? I can trust you to go, right Darren? I’d drive you, but you don’t start until nine.”

I was buttoning the blouse, which like the skirt, was a little snug. I tied the small cravat around my neck, but I never looked at myself in the mirror. I brushed my hair and did the usual style, but I wore no cosmetics. Amélie frowned at what she saw, but said nothing. I was not putting the same effort into my appearance because honestly, I had no intention of going.

As soon as Amélie left I changed into one of my work suits, a skirt, blouse and pantyhose. Now, I cared about my appearance. I took the bus downtown and literally pounded the pavement, walking from law office to law office. I did this Monday and Tuesday. In the meantime, I received a few texts from Ethan. Something about classes. I ignored them.

When I returned home, Amélie and I would have the same argument after she had received a call that I had missed another day. She threatened me, but I knew that if I could cement a full-time job, I could still be emancipated. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend college because Judge Richter said it did not meet the supervision requirements of my quasi-probation. I knew that I was taking a risk by skipping school, especially when I was court ordered to attend, but I thought my perseverance would eventually pay off.

Wednesday morning, Amélie drove me to school. As she was dropping me off, she said, “Darren, I’m sick of fighting with you about this. The school knows you are court ordered to attend. If you miss a full week, there could be very serious consequences. Don’t you care at all? I’m supposed to be your guardian. You aren’t making this easy on me. They said if you miss a full week, they will have to ‘engage in conversation with Judge Richter.’ You really don’t want them to do that, do you?”

I shook my head and played along. I saw the uniformed students moving two-by-two into the school, like drones. Amélie had dropped me off very near the bell, likely thinking that if I loitered outside that someone would bring me inside. Possibly the School Resource Officer.

I watched Amélie’s SUV disappear and then rapidly made my way to the parking lot. I hid between a pick-up truck and a sedan, quickly taking off my white blouse and putting on a t-shirt I had stashed in my bag. As I moved to stand up to check if the coast was clear, I was spotted by a teacher pulling into a space right in front of me. There was no use running from him, since he had already seen me, so I formulated a plan.

As I watched him exit his vehicle, I saw that he was a young man in his mid-twenties. His hair was short and neatly combed. He had a professional bag, much like mine, which was full to the brim with papers, some even sticking out at awkward angles, almost begging the wind for a little gust to free them. He wore a tie, which I thought was odd, considering no one except the principal had worn a tie when I taught. He was tall, and the suit he wore, with the pants too short at the ankle, a state of fashion Amélie called ‘l’eau dans cave’, was clearly made for someone with shorter legs and a broader gut. I guessed it was probably his dad’s suit. As I caught sight of his face, I felt a little tingle. I had to admit that it was handsome, with a well-defined jaw, neatly shaven and set with light grey eyes.

He asked me in French, <<Didn’t you hear the bell? >> He had a very crisp way of speaking, enunciating all of his words.

I answered in French awkwardly, <<I have an ‘appointment” with the dentist. >> I couldn’t remember the right word, and then I realized it was rendez-vous chez le dentist.

He looked me over, obviously seeing that I was wearing a t-shirt, but that I still had my school skirt on. I could see that he was trying to determine if I was lying to him.

I said, <<You can see my pass if you like. >>

He said, <<It’s not necessary, I believe you. What’s your name? >>

I said, <<Um. Ghislaine. Ghislaine Beausoleil. >>

He said, <<Okay, Mademoiselle Beausoleil. I take it you do not like the uniform? >> He was smiling at me, and clearly trying to make a joke, and the little tingle increased in intensity.

I shook my head and then quickly was on my way. I walked four stops away to ensure no one from the school could see me. It was past rush hour, so I had to wait nearly twenty minutes for a bus. Just as it arrived, a police car pulled up behind. Thankfully, as soon as the bus turned onto a main thoroughfare, the police car continued in the opposite direction. I was paranoid at the sight of any police cars. I wasn’t sure if they acted like glorified truant officers, dragging kids back to school who were caught playing hooky. I had never skipped a class in high school, and as a teacher, I let the robotic Scantron machine phone the parents. I expected these were the same calls Amélie was receiving every evening. I recall one kid I taught was court ordered to be there, or he would go back to jail, but I doubted that anything that severe would happen to me.

By the time I arrived home, it was already past noon, nevertheless, I got dressed in my interview clothing and returned to the job hunt. Unfortunately, every single time I approached a potential employer and enquired if they were hiring paralegals, I was practically laughed out of the office. Even when I quoted legal jargon and demonstrated a clear understanding of administrative and constitutional law, they treated me like an overzealous kid. I received applications for summer internships, but nothing beyond that. I felt like I was trying to open a massive, iron-wrought door, and I could not even move it an inch. Finally, after waiting until six-thirty, with my phone buzzing constantly with angry texts from Amélie, the receptionist at Vincent, Smith and Gill said that I could come back tomorrow and Mr. Vincent, a partner in the firm would speak with me.

***

Amélie said, “This is it, Darren. The very last time I am going to let you do this. If this firm doesn’t hire you, you go to school on Friday.”

I nodded, realizing that I had gotten my way. I wore a triumphant half-smile. “Yeah. Definitely, but I feel really good about this firm. They seem really progressive. Like the Locke Agency.”

Amélie frowned, “I don’t want you to get your hopes up too much though, Darren. These are businesses. Are they really going to hire someone who should be in high school? Think about this logically. You said yourself that Stephanie had no intention of hiring you.”

I shrugged my shoulders, “Maybe this place will be different. They were the first ones not to laugh in my face or think I was trying to pull some prank on them.”

Amélie nodded, but her expression did not exactly look like a vote of confidence in my favour.

***

“Mr. Vincent will see you now.” The receptionist was the exact opposite of Chantal. She wore a beaming smile, was ecstatic to see I had returned and even offered me an iced tea from the firm’s mini-fridge. Her name was Gail. She was middle-aged, and while I didn’t like how she called me ‘young lady’, I was pleased that she spoke to me respectfully.

I entered the office and a man in his mid-forties motioned for me to take a seat. His office was what you would expect from a partner in a law firm, posh and opulent, but without the gaudiness of someone with simply too much money. Mr. Vincent had pictures of his family on the wall, alongside his diplomas. He was a family man, and I smiled at the images, although seeing him with a young girl at Disneyland, likely his daughter, caused a pang of sadness. It had been a long time since I had taken any pictures with Chloe. While she called me daddy now, no one else would see me that way.

I started, hoping that my enthusiasm and initiative would impress him, “Thank you very much for agreeing to see me, Mr. Vincent.”

He smiled, “Not at all. I don’t mind taking the time to speak to someone who is as interested in the law as you are, Miss Grenier. I have to ask though, did you get permission to miss class today?”

I nodded, “Yes, my guardian gave it, when I told her about this interview.”

The conversation continued, and as always, I gave a very good, confident interview. Something about Mr. Vincent allowed me to relax. The beautiful view from his office, and his easy-going manner reminded me very much of Anthony from the Locke Agency. We talked for twenty five minutes, and Mr. Vincent even declined a phone call from a client to continue our conversation. I could tell he was impressed by my knowledge of the law.

He said, “I have very much enjoyed our chat, Miss Grenier. I would be pleased to recommend you for our firm’s student internship program, and I would be happy to mentor you. I expect you will go pre-law?”

I blinked. “Uh, that wasn’t what I had in mind Mr. Vincent. I am here for a job. You see, I am trying to become legally emancipated. I heard that you were hiring a paralegal. I have a lot of experience researching case law and preparing cases to go to trial. I believe that I would be an asset to your firm.” I briefly explained to him my goal to become emancipated, hoping that he would again be impressed by my initiative.

Mr. Vincent frowned deeply. He looked at a picture of his daughter, we were likely very close in age. “I am sorry, Abigail, but I can’t hire you as a paralegal. And from what you have explained, a job as a law clerk simply won’t meet the requirements of your emancipation. Paralegals in private firms need to have the education. You have the skills certainly, but I can’t hire you because you don’t have a diploma.”

My world crashed around me, if I hadn’t mouthed off to the police officer, I would be sitting in a college classroom moving one step closer to getting my paralegal accreditation.

“Beyond all that Abigail, I’m sorry to say, but you are too young.” He smiled sadly, “Do you understand what the word optics means?”

I nodded sadly.

He said, “I can’t have a high school girl representing our firm. It just doesn’t look right to our clients. They would ask too many questions.” This was exactly what Stephanie and Anthony had said.

I replied snidely, “But that’s ageism. It’s not fair. I can do the job.”

He said, “People in this profession expect you to have the credentials to back up your ability. It would be different if you worked retail or in the food industry, but that wouldn’t help your emancipation.”

He explained, “I really think that, unfortunately, you will have a lot of trouble getting hired at any firm as a paralegal, most of them require at least a college degree, but because it is becoming so competitive, some are even asking for at least some university. I would have a hard time convincing the other partners to hire a high school girl in a job where we are requiring individuals to have professional credentials. I am sorry, Abigail. Please don’t hesitate to contact me again if you need a reference. You should definitely go pre-law. That will be three to four years. And then law school will be another three years. You should forget paralegal and become a lawyer.”

He smiled, likely trying to raise my severely dampened spirits, “That’s where the action is. And look at it this way, if you come to our firm again in say ten years, and get a job here, it will be quite the story to tell, right?” He was waiting for a laugh probably, but when it didn’t come he said gently, “Sorry, Abigail but I really must get back to work. It was a pleasure meeting you.”

Gail greeted me enthusiastically, “So? Was Mr. Vincent very nice? I think if you come back here in the summer, he would strongly consider you for an internship. As long as you have your high school diploma. That’s a prerequisite. You are graduating this year, right honey?”

I said nothing and trudged out the door defeated.

That night I was in a piss poor mood. Amélie knew that the interview had not gone well from my demeanour, as I stomped instead of walked around the house. Even Chloe’s unfailing cuteness could not pull me from my dark temperament. After Amélie went to sleep, I entered the band room and pulled the sleeping pills out of my guitar case, where I had hidden them all these months. I had kept my promise to Amélie that I would stop taking them, but tonight, I knew I wasn’t going to sleep if I didn’t return to my old crutch.

My dreams, after taking five of the pills, were bizarre, stranger than a gender transformation or being attacked by undergarments. I rode a unicorn that spoke in rainbows. I was Abigail in the dream, except I was both a giant and minuscule, tiny within a city of millions, but the only inhabitants were crickets. I was their queen. A massive burly arm pushed me into a funnel that was oddly shaped like a school bus. On the bus, were my childhood friends, and we were off to school, but I was still Abigail, but younger this time. I looked in the window of the bus and saw that I was missing my two front teeth. I wore a ball gown with glass slippers and a tiara. The arm scooped up the school bus and proceeded to shake it. That is when I awoke with Amélie practically screaming in my ear and shaking me as if she feared for my life.

Chapter 45

My dream, while stranger than the previous two, still lacked the feeling that I could act as a participant rather than an observer. It really was a random assembly of words and pictures. The others seemingly had a purpose, but this one was far more like an actual dream. Since my change, I had dreamt many times, usually a few times a week, but it was only more recently that I had actually seen myself as Abigail.

I muttered, still groggy from my sleeping pills, “I’m up…quit shaking me, Amélie.”

As I faded from a dream state to reality, I noticed two things: one, I could barely move. My limbs felt like my blood had been replaced with liquid metal and solidified, and the other- a debilitating depression. Even if I had been able to coax my limbs to life, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to leave the bed. I had a hard time believing that my sleeping pills could have caused my mindset, but coupled with my thorough failure to secure emancipation, it was a powerful misery inducing cocktail that flowed into my brain. The sleeping pills were actually supposed to reduce anxiety, but that was in adults- for teens, they apparently had the opposite effect in some cases. Lucky me.

I turned away from Amélie to face the window, but she got right back into my face, “It’s almost nine, Darren. You are going to be late! Get up!”

When I turned back to her, I must have looked beyond defeated, because her mouth gaped, and her pretty features tightened into an angry, yet deeply concerned mask. She took a breath, to calm herself, “I’ve been trying to wake you up since seven thirty. You took your sleeping pills again, didn't you?”

I nodded my head and instead of the rage I expected, Amélie gently stroked my hair, “I’m sorry. I know how much emancipation meant to you, and how much you don’t want to go, but please Darren, you have to.” I pulled myself into the foetal position and shook my head.

From my vantage point, I could see that Amélie had laid out my clothes at the foot of the bed. She had ironed the white blouse, which I had thoughtlessly stuffed into my bag when I fled school on Wednesday. The red and black plaid skirt lay underneath it, along with a pair of long white socks. They were optional, but I guess she figured I would want to cover my legs. The cravat and blazer with the emblazoned ‘SJ’ was hanging in my closet next to my male and female work clothes.

Amélie spoke gently, but with a firmness that I noticed more and more. It was a tone similar to one she used with Chloe when she was misbehaving- firm and in control. “Get up now.” I shook my head. Even if I had wanted to rise, my legs would have refused to cooperate in their wooden state.

She said, “I really didn’t want to have to do this- to threaten you, but they are sending a social worker here next week. Judge Richter believes that I may be an unfit guardian. Darren, they could take you away from me, from Chloe. Please, you have to go today. Even if you go for just one class, please.” I could see tears forming in her eyes.

I said, “They are probably bluffing, and if not- then whatever. Do you really want me to go in this state?” It was like a parasite has sucked out all of my drive, ambition and confidence.

I said, “Do you want to know why I don’t want to go? Beyond the fact that I have to do it as a girl, or wear a skirt, or be surrounded by stupid kids all day? It’s because I’m changing, and I can’t stop it.”

Amélie looked at me up and down, taking in my form. She would have seen no physical change. She asked me, “Changing how, Darren?”

I sighed deeply and turned my head away from my wife. I couldn’t face her as I told her. “I-I’m starting to like boys- and…men in general. I can’t help it. I get these images in my head, and they won’t go away. I’m worried that if I go, and I’m surrounded by teenage boys all the time, I’ll become- a- a real teenage girl.”

Amélie said sadly as she gently stroked my hair again, “I know, Darren. I’ve known since the beginning of summer. The way you go out of your way to talk about how sexy girls are or how great I look in my bikini, but your eyes always return to the boys.” She turned my head so that I was facing her, “I would rather have you like that than not at all, though. It’s pretty clear that we aren’t married anymore. I still love you, but I was never attracted to you like that, and now, you don’t see me that way either.

I shook my head, tears brimming in my eyes, “No Amélie, listen- if I stay away from them I can beat this. We just need to get a stay of decision and-”

Amélie put her finger on my lip, “It’s too late for that, Darren. There’s a social worker coming here next week. If I can’t show that I am a suitable guardian for you, Judge Richter said that there is a real possibility you could end up in foster care.”

I shook my head repeatedly, but depression had sapped my drive. I couldn’t even begin to formulate an argument let alone write an entire request for a stay of decision. I buried myself under the covers as a clear indication that I wasn’t getting out of bed.

Amélie said firmly, “I'll phone St Jo's and tell them you're sick but this is the last time. You are going on Monday if I have to drag you through the door myself.”

She stared through me, “Now, where are those pills?”

I mumbled in reply, “My guitar case.”

Amélie said, “And you don’t have any hidden anywhere else?”

My voice under the blanket was muffled, yet angry, “No!”

Amélie replied “OK.”

I heard Amélie leave and close the door behind her. With the overdose of sleeping pills, this was not a battle she thought she could win. Even with the threat of the social worker, I couldn’t drag myself out of bed. My limbs were starting to wake up, but my brain chained me to the soft confines of the mattress.

***

I awoke to the sound of furniture moving downstairs. I rubbed my eyes, ran a quick brush through my hair and moved toward the sound. Amélie was rearranging my man cave, moving boxes full of sports memorabilia and comic books into the storage area under the stairs.

I frowned as I watched her carry out a box of my old hockey trophies, trophies that had previously been on a shelf in the room. “Hey, what are you doing?”

Amélie replied, “Making ‘Abigail’s’ room. It doesn’t look like a teenage girl lives in this house at all. The social worker is probably going to want to see your bedroom.” I watched silently as Amélie threw my old video games in a box and took down my Montreal Canadiens flag and jersey.

I interrupted, “Hey, you know, Abigail can like hockey. If the social worker interviews my supposed peers, well they will say I like music too. You can keep my Nirvana box set and the ticket stubs. Abigail is a rock chick. She’s not going to have ponies or pictures of Justin Bieber or something. ”

Amélie nodded, “Fine, okay. Well then, why don’t you help me?”

I was willing to help, and I was actually feeling a lot better as the sleeping pills, which had seriously increased my anxiety, slowly left my system. I also understood the importance of showing that Amélie was providing Abigail with a proper bedroom. It needed to look like Abigail actually lived here. Unfortunately, neither Amélie nor I knew what a teenage girl’s bedroom actually looked like. So we did what we always did- checked the Internet.

The mismatched drapes were replaced with pink and black leopard print curtains. Once we realized that a beat-up futon would not suffice, we went out and bought a double bed. I was actually pleased to get a new bed because, as Darren, the futon played havoc with my back. Even as Abigail, the mattress sagged and I could feel the metal frame pressing into my back. I called my parents because Amélie and I lacked the skill to even put a simple bed frame together.

I took a beige teddy bear that had actually been mine as a kid and put it on the bed after it was built. My father made building the frame look easy. I usually struggled with anything that required more than a screwdriver. I knew that my parents had already been told about the social worker. They acted like it was necessary to create a room for Abigail with little explanation. Amélie was still going behind my back. I was surprised that my parents hadn't come into town to drag me to school, but I assumed it was because Amélie wanted to show that we could function without their help. I guess she was wrong.

The remodelling of the man cave continued well into Saturday, with my mother watching Chloe while we worked to turn the room into something inhabited by a normal teenage girl. Amélie had the great idea of using black cork board to spell out A-B-I-G-A-I-L in large flowery letters on the wall right above my new bed. While I didn’t like how feminine it was, it was a nice touch. It gave the room a more lived-in quality, and it was faster than painting. Painting would have been far too obvious because the smell would have been there well into next week. My father installed two guitar mounts, and I hung my old and new guitar on the wall.

Amélie insisted that we also hang a GIRLS ROCK poster with a pink background and a large white star on the other cork board that we hung on the opposite wall, which I felt was trite. Amélie felt it was empowering, and fit well with a girl who was in a band.

The real problem was the fact that we just didn’t have enough stuff to fill the room. My father pointed out that a fifteen year old girl would not read “Paris 1919”, “Hitler’s Willing Executioners”, “Teaching students with disabilities”. So, all of my books from university were boxed. The music books stayed- 'The History of Grunge', Dave Grohl’s book and a number of large photo books from my favourite bands. My sister donated her Harry Potter books.

Amélie said, “I’ll add my Twilight books too. There were so many teen girls at those movies, I felt like I was back in high school.”

I furrowed my thin brows, “Um, okay, there’s where I draw the line. Abigail has taste. She would not read something as embarrassing as Twilight. I think the music books are fine, really.”

Amélie shrugged her shoulders, “Suit yourself. The room still looks kind of empty.” She was right. The closet was empty except for my school uniform. The top of the dresser, which would usually have been covered with hair product, makeup, and perfume was barren. There were no pictures except for the one glow-in the dark peace sign poster hanging on the ceiling directly above my bed and the GIRLS ROCK.

Since Abigail was supposed to be a musician, I brought in some stuff from the band room. Music stands, my old two channel USB recorder and a mic stand. To me, this showed that someone was clearly living there. It wasn’t enough to actually put stuff in a room, you needed to place items that a person would actually use.

Amélie said, “Well Darren, what do you think?”

I shrugged my shoulders, “I think it looks stupid. But then, I am not the target demographic, so, what do I know?”

Amélie smirked, “If that’s your response then it’s near perfect. The only thing you need is a vanity, which we can bring from our room. I do my makeup in the bathroom anyway.”

I shook my head, “I don’t wear any makeup. And I'm not planning on it.”

Amélie replied, “Yes, but there’s no mirror in here. Are you telling me a teenage girl doesn’t have a mirror in her room?

I shrugged again, “Well maybe one who isn’t conceited.”

Amélie shook her head and then asked my father to bring the vanity down.

The last items Amélie took down were my framed university diplomas, Bachelor of Arts and Education degrees. I knew they didn’t belong in Abigail’s room, but it was hard to see them put in a box. Their removal represented very well the reality of the situation. The degrees were worthless to a fifteen year old girl, and while the toil to obtain the degrees had provided me with a wealth of skills, I could not reap the benefits, and because of that I would start high school for the second time on Monday.

***

My father sighed deeply, “This isn’t going to be easy Darren, but we need to discuss your finances. We can cover your mortgage payments, but we should see how you can save some money.”

He continued, “Your biggest payment is probably your car, right?”

I narrowed my eyes, but I realized I didn’t have much of an argument. The car payments were the result of a bank loan with another 24 months left to go. I had no choice but to continue paying them. “I can’t forfeit on my payments, it would ruin my credit. Also, I’ll be able to drive the car in December. I don’t agree.” I positioned my folded arms underneath my chest.

Amélie said, “I guess it’s the same thing for your cell phone. You have a three year contract, right? They’d ruin your credit and send you to collections.”

I looked to my father, “What if you cover the cost of the rest of the car?”

My father said, “We looked at our finances. With our savings, we could cover your half of the mortgage for a while at least. I think you and Amélie staying in this house is a good thing, especially with the social worker coming. You need to show stability. Amélie can continue paying her portion. We also think that you should pull Chloe out of daycare. Pamela will watch her during the day. How much will that save?”

Amélie looked at my mother, “Are you really willing to do that? It’s a lot to ask, Pam. I don’t want to inconvenience you. It would certainly help though. It would save us about eight hundred dollars a month.”

I couldn’t help but think that it was also a way to combat my truancy. I couldn’t hide out at home if my mom was home with Chloe.

My mother shook her head, “I love Chloe, and if it means helping you out, then I'm happy do it.”

I said, “I still think I should be able to keep MY car. I’ve paid it off for three years now.”

My father said, “Darren, give your head a shake and think about this. You can’t even drive the car now, so it’s just sitting in your driveway costing you money every month. Maybe you could try and sell it.”

I hammered home my point, “It’s my car, and I want to keep it. Plus, I still have two years of payments.”

Amélie said gently, “I think your dad is right, Darren. Besides, you won’t even be able to drive it without me or one of your parents sitting next to you, at least for the first year. What use would it be? You already know how to drive. Why not just get your driving experience on my car?”

My father added, “Not only that, Darren, but do you have any idea how much the insurance would be for a new driver with two prior traffic offences? We are talking astronomically expensive, and, considering your other needs, a car that sits in your driveway for most of the next two years shouldn’t factor into your finances. I think the best thing is for me to pay off the loan, and then for you to sell it. That way I will get my money back, and you can put the rest into a joint account.”

I shouted, “Hold on a second here! That’s still my money.” I was starting to get emotional, “This isn’t fair at all.”

Amélie shook her head, “Darren, it’s our money. With your parents help we just might be able to do this. But, we need to cut more.” Amélie started drawing up a proper budget.

The discussion continued from there with me having little to no say. I was going to lose my car, a symbol of my independence and a link to adulthood. It was the first car I ever owned outright, except for what was still owed to the bank, but still- it was supposed to be mine. As for the budget, it was decided that we would cut the cable entirely, which meant that my sports and music package was gone. I saw this as entirely unfair because Amélie mostly watched Netflix, which we kept. Based on the figures, as long as Amélie kept working and my mother watched Chloe during the day, we could keep our collective heads above water. Amélie’s parents were willing to help us with unforeseen expenses, like unusually high electricity bills, but they could not help us on a monthly basis.

My fear that I would become a mere spectator in my life had seemingly come true. My parents and Amélie had made all the major decisions. I suppose I was less than cooperative, but it was because I felt left out of the whole process. Their lack of respect hurt more than losing the hockey channels I liked and even my car. I feared what might come next. Maybe an allowance?

***

The remodeling had kept me busy, and it had kept my depression at bay. However, Sunday night, the reality of my situation weighed on me heavily. It was easy to blame others for my predicament, but that is how a child would react. No, I knew that this sentence was in part my own design. If I hadn’t foolishly gone to see Brad alone, I wouldn’t have ended up being seen by Dr. Alberts, and Amélie would likely not have lost faith in my ability to make good decisions. Most importantly, she would have trusted me still. My week of playing hooky had breached that trust even more severely. My treatment of her through this whole ordeal was shameful, and I saw that. She had been put in the unenviable position of trying to be both my wife and my legal guardian, and I had been less than cooperative regarding the latter.

If I had simply accepted Officer Patterson’s ticket by acting like an adult and admitting my mistake, instead of mouthing off at him, I may never have ended up in Judge Richter’s courtroom. As for my emancipation, it may have still failed, but at least I could have gone to community college. Furthermore, my hissy fit at the Locke Agency had robbed me of a reference for an entire summer of work. I had burnt my bridge there with a flamethrower, and I had never done that before. Previously, when I was unhappy in a job, I did the work and received a reference while holding my tongue.

I saw how each of my decisions led me to my current path, and I began to seriously question going through with my plan, but considering what I had lost, I felt it was a necessary risk.

I took a kitchen knife and gently cut along the underside of each of my arms in a long even motion. It hurt less than I thought, but then I had frozen the area and applied rubbing alcohol prior to cutting to numb the nerves. Blood flowed from the paper thin wound, while I rapidly positioned my arms above the chalk circle I had drawn. I watched the blood drip gently into the circle, and carefully stepped into it, cautious not to wipe away any of the chalk with my socked feet.

Obtaining the spell from my parents had been too easy. While my father was handy, I was technologically savvy. My parents, who lived in a more rural area, did not have access to high-speed internet. They had missed their favourite shows while they toured the southern portion of the United States during the summer, so I offered to download and transfer these shows to their computer.

The spell, which was in simple .TXT format, had been deleted, but my father never deleted the items from his Recycle Bin, so it was child’s play to pluck it from there and print a copy for myself.

I couldn’t imagine the spirits punishing me for asking to have my life back. If magic worked as Wicca believed it did, my request would re-establish the balance. What vengeful, cruel force would take away someone’s husband, someone’s father and someone's son? As I conducted the ritual, I willed myself to believe that the spell would restore me to my rightful body. As I chanted the ancient script, uttered by Marie Laveau and the ancient court advisor, I pictured myself back in my body. I saw my firm stomach, short hair, my brown eyes, and my lean body.

Even though it was early September, it was still warm- a so-called Indian summer, but the air within the circle was bitterly cold. I reached my hand out of the circle for a moment, and I could feel the warm air, but inside, it was freezing. My teeth chattered, and I had trouble chanting. To me, this meant that it was working. Something was in the circle with me. I could feel the air on my body, almost like ghostly hands running down my legs and arms causing instant goose bumps.

Even as I pictured myself back in my body and remained focused on the success of the spell, I began to have second thoughts. What if I became younger, or even worse, died? Would that be fair to Chloe, to have her father, no matter what his form, taken from her permanently? I thought about how my parents would react, my mother losing her only son, first in body and now in soul. I clenched my hands, trying to force the images from my mind, as my heart thumped in my chest, a marching beat at triple time.

The chill intensified. I looked down and saw the small blood pool congealing and actually freezing to the floor as it dripped from the long open wounds. I was beginning to feel light headed. The spell said nothing of the actual effect the ritual would have on the caster beyond the simple warning uttered by the witch, ‘those who live in sin, will lose more than their lands’.

Amélie and I lived together for years before marriage, and we definitely fornicated. Chloe was born before we were married as a happy accident. To an ancient spirit, would that be considered sin? I imbibed alcohol; I was selfish, and I bore grudges. Were these sins? By this point, I was unable to stop shaking. I was shivering, and the tight t-shirt and Capri pajama pants I wore did nothing. It was a bone-chilling wind, but beyond that, I felt it within my heart and my mind. Like a massive and horrifying ice cream headache, I could feel ghostly skeletal fingers pulling apart my brain matter as if trying to find the secret that would doom me.

It was at this point that Amélie burst through the door. I saw her and immediately rolled out of the circle. I felt instant relief from the warm air on my skin. I closed my eyes, my heart still beating in my chest like an homage to speed metal.

Amélie screamed, “Oh my god Darren, what are you doing?!” I had conducted the ritual on the floor of my new room. I had been sent to sleep there tonight by Amélie who thought we could get into character more easily if we assumed proper sleeping arrangements. I was upset by it, but I understood that it was best not to lie to the social worker.

Amélie ran out of the room and returned with towels, which she proceeded to wrap around my arms. She had never taken a first aid course, and it showed, her makeshift tourniquets weren’t tight enough to stop the bleeding.

I said tiredly, “You need something thinner.”

She must have seen the pool of blood and thought I had slit my wrists. While I was getting a little lightheaded, I didn’t think it was a cause for concern- I felt the same way during blood tests. Amélie returned with two of my t-shirts, and finally, she was able to tie them tight enough to exert the pressure required to stop the bleeding.

“Darren, were you trying to kill yourself?! How could you even think that! You are so selfish! If I ...”

I stopped her there, “I was doing the spell Amélie, and it was working.”

Amélie sat me on the floor and propped my head up with one of the many pillows in the room. I pointed to the chalk circle and the print out of the spell.

Amélie’s face went from anguished rage to restrained hope, “Really …? You could feel yourself turning back?”

The poor woman’s voice was so strained it came out in startled gasps.

I frowned, “Not exactly, but there was something in the circle with me. I could feel it - it was probing my memories, digesting them and trying to find out what kind of person I am.” My eyes widened, “It was terrifying.”

Amélie asked with wide eyes herself, “Why did you roll out of the circle?”

I shook my head, “I was scared it was going to find something. The skeletons in my closet. I just ...”

A tear wet my cheek, “I just couldn’t do it. Not if there was a chance it could make me an even greater burden than I already am, or even kill me. I thought of what that would do to my family, and Chloe growing up without her Daddy, and you - I just couldn’t.”

Amélie hugged me so tightly that I had trouble breathing momentarily. She released her bear hug and said, “Darren, I thought you were trying to commit suicide. And y-you aren’t a burden. You are just a little - um, challenging.” She sighed, brushing the tangled bangs from my eyes, “You did the right thing, stopping the spell like that. Unless we find some instance of it working on someone like you, with no real sins - it’s just too risky. And from your description, it really sounds like whatever was in the circle with you was looking for an excuse to make you into something worse.”

I said, “Can you break the circle? I think it’s still here. Just use your foot to wipe away the chalk.

She walked near the circle and reached her hand out, “Wow, it’s cold. This is like when I used to play Ouija board with Laura. We summoned a spirit this one time, and my bedroom was freezing. Something blew all the candles out, and we couldn’t relight them. I was so scared to sleep in there. The spirit we had called - it was furious. It said it was trapped. It sounds like the one you called. It was malevolent too. I really think you did the right thing.” She kicked at the chalk and broke the circle.

I nodded grimly. Was I a coward for rolling out of the circle, when my freedom was potentially within my grasp? I wondered if Mama Khalia could shed some light on what I had experienced. My father said she looked to be about a thousand years old, so I assumed Skype was out of the question. I decided to tell Amélie about my idea, and she agreed that we should contact the wizened voodoo practitioner. I felt that this was a turning point for us. We were no longer man and wife, but we could co-exist, and I wanted to re-establish the lost trust, which meant I had to stop keeping secrets from Amélie.

A few minutes later, my wounds had stopped bleeding. From my own first aid training, I knew how to clean and dress the knife cuts that reached from just above my wrist to just below my biceps. I used gauze and tape to bind the cuts firmly.

Amélie said gently, “You can sleep upstairs if you want.”

I nodded, and Amélie carried my comforter and pillow upstairs. “Are you OK to walk?” I nodded again and slowly made my way upstairs to our bedroom.

After half an hour of tossing and turning, Amélie reached over and put her arm round me, as she had hundreds of times before. I was shivering, and I could almost feel the chill touch that had invaded my brain a short time ago. She moved up behind me, and I could feel her breasts pressing against my back. I felt no arousal as she gently ran her fingers through my hair, softly shushing me if my limbs went into terrified spasms. While there was no arousal on my part, I did feel comforted by her motherly touch, and as I was falling asleep finally, I heard her soft breath in my ear, “You did the right thing. I love you.”

Chapter 46

My cellphone blared obnoxiously, the alarm was a cacophony of clanging bells and hockey goal horns. I had changed the alarm because I had slept through it a few times and was almost late getting to work once or twice. The ringtone, called the ‘Monday Morning Alarm’, was well worth the two dollars ninety nine I had paid for it. I groaned and rolled over. While I hadn’t been sleeping well recently, on summer weekends I had actually slept in multiple times. Amélie actually had to wake me up a few times even without my sleeping pills. I really hoped it meant I was going through a growth spurt.

I dreaded Mondays when I was in the work force, but as I lay my head back down on my pillow in clear opposition to this hated day, I realized that I wasn’t going to work- I was going to St. Jo’s to attend the tenth grade for the second time. This was only the beginning of my new high school adventure. I had gone to high school in Ontario, but I understood that Quebec students graduated secondary school in eleventh grade, and afterwards were required to complete a year of either university or college prep courses. All I knew was that it meant I was stuck in high school for two years instead of three. Yay.

There was an appetizing smell when I stepped from the shower, and it was confirmed as I dried my hair. Amélie was making her world-famous waffles, on a Monday too - that was like finding the only air-conditioned room in Hell.

She'd laid out my clothes again. She was becoming very motherly towards me and I was undecided how to feel about that. I wondered if it was only because of the impending visit by the social worker but she appeared to be sincere. Had she prepared my packed lunch? My strange life looked to be getting even stranger.

I looked at the clothing that was going to be my weekday uniform for the next two years. I was still in disbelief that it had reached this point, despite all my efforts. I was going to wear the plaid skirt, white blouse, cravat and blazer every day, unless I could find a way to become Darren Lawrence again. I opted not to wear the stockings because it was too hot. The stockings were thick and better suited to colder weather. I had two blouses, a short-sleeved one and long-sleeved one, but I chose the long sleeves for obvious reasons. I didn’t need my new classmates thinking that I cut myself. My arms were still bandaged from the previous night’s ritual.

I didn’t understand the recent teenage fascination with cutting. When I was a teenager, we listened to loud and aggressive music, and that was enough. We turned up the volume on our stereos, or we cranked the radio to the point where everyone in the house could hear it. The rage and suffering evoked by the music told our parents we were unhappy that they wouldn’t let us go to the dance or extend our curfew. I guess because I wasn’t a teenager, I couldn’t understand it. I figured that Amélie was going to be relatively lenient considering I was her husband and not her child. She also knew I was an adult, and beyond the court order, she would be, as Ethan would say, ‘chill’.

Still, as I looked in the bedroom mirror, it was almost as if I was doing so for the first time. I had caught glimpses of myself in windows, but I had never taken a long hard look. The only difference was the expensive professional looking bag that I carried. The uniform told the world what I was, a fifteen year old school girl, even though I had yet to accept it. St. Jo’s was simply the place where I had to go, but it was not where I wanted to be - far from it. What adult male in their right mind would choose to return to high school? As a teacher, I had been challenged at times, but at the end of the day, I still had Amélie to return to, and I was still looked upon as a grownup - someone who could make their own decisions and choose their own path. Now, I had the choice of Drama or Music and whether I wanted to wear a long or short sleeved blouse. I couldn’t imagine any adult choosing such a life, unless theirs was terrible. My previous life had its share of difficulties, but it was a pleasant picnic in the park compared to the reality that was high school.

If I had enjoyed high school the first time, maybe I would have been more enthusiastic to attend. The whole situation was exacerbated by the fact that I knew both sides, and would choose adult teacher over student in an instant. I knew how little power student government possessed. I had supervised the student council, and I vetted all of their decisions. If I disagreed or if the principal disagreed with it, the idea died a quick death. Always with the understanding that the adult decisions were informed and came from experience. The easiest way was to simply say, “You’ll understand when you are older.” It was sure to result in a derisive sneer from the student, but it rarely brought further retort.

Also, I was nervous and scared.

I was terrified to lose myself in the confines of St. Jo’s, drowning within a sea of teenage angst, my own hormones adding to the mix, as I not only joined, but wallowed in it, in danger of throwing away caution, experience, tact and my entire adult self to a world of constant mood swings, lascivious behaviour and immaturity. At the same time, I could not throw off the shackles of the adolescent world entirely. I had both experienced and witnessed bullying firsthand and knew what happened to those who failed to find peers. They were labelled outcasts, and their lives were made miserable. I knew that I could not act that way because if I was miserable at school, the social worker might blame it on Amélie for creating an unstable home life. I needed at least to appear to join in, to be like my fellow students but, at the same time, try to keep a grasp on my true self. The continued existence of Darren Lawrence depended on it.

So, I would have to make friends, at least a few. Alyssa would be the obvious choice, but I feared that the girl’s immaturity would rub off on me. I had taught girls like her. She had the maturity level of a seventh grader. Maybe she had changed over the summer.

Amélie called to me, “Darren, your waffles are getting cold. What’s taking so long? You look ready to me.”

I nodded, “Oh sorry Amélie, going over strategy in my head.”

Amélie’s face showed amusement, but she was clearly trying to hide it. A little tiny smirk lifted her previously neutral lip, “It’s not war, Darren. It’s high school.”

I raised a brow, “Maybe not for you, but high school was not a fun time for me. You weren’t five feet tall and a boy, and worried you were going to get stuffed in a locker or pushed into a garbage can. You weren’t froshed in tenth grade.”

Amélie said, “I doubt anyone is going to do that to you, Darren. Yes, it sucks to have to go back to high school as an adult. I am not denying that, but to keep from going crazy- I think you need to look at teensy weensy positives. Remember all those times you said that if you were given the chance to take French classes again you would listen to the teachers more closely, learn all the rules? You know how you felt disadvantaged because you weren’t fully bilingual taking French immersion? Well, now you are going to an all-French high school. I think your French will improve immensely.”

I frowned, “You know that I meant government language training, Amélie.”

Amélie shrugged her shoulders, “Eat your waffles, Darren.”

***

After breakfast, I was brushing my teeth when I heard Amélie shout from the living room.

“Hey, there’s a cop out there! You think they are finally investigating the neighbours? It’s weird, there’s always college and high school kids there, and they don’t have any kids that age.”

I spit and then wiped my mouth, “I'm certain they are growing pot in their basement. The dad looks like he’s stoned, and the mother always yells at him when she picks up the kids for visitation or whatever.”

“Wait, no - they are coming here! Oh god, do you think something happened to your parents? Early morning calls like this - they are never good.”

The uniformed police officer, a young woman, rapped firmly and Amélie hurried to the door. My heart was racing as I considered all of the possibilities. Chloe who was finishing her breakfast in her highchair took this opportunity to start crying. Amélie was going to take her to daycare late this morning, so she could take me to school. She said I would have to take the bus on Tuesday, but I was glad for the ride today. I was still feeling fragile from the spell casting last night and the subsequent after effects. I still considered my decision to roll out of the circle to be a sound one, but the memory of the ghastly fingers performing some sort of ethereal brain biopsy stayed with me.

I heard the officer speak to Amélie in French, <<Good morning, Madame Grenier, I am Constable Gagnon, St. Jo’s School Resource Officer. I am here to take Abigail to school. >>

Amélie replied, <<Mr. St-Valentin said nothing about this. I really don’t think this is the best way to convince a truant student to attend school. >>

Constable Gagnon maintained her calm yet firm demeanour, <<It was not Mr. St-Valentin that asked that I come this morning. It was Mr. Richter. I am fulfilling the requirements of Abigail’s court ordered supervision Madame Grenier. Something you failed to do. >>

Amélie had never had contact with a police officer before except when I was stopped for speeding in Ontario. She sped, but she was never caught. I hoped Amélie would be able to hold her tongue. When prodded, she could release her claws. I had seen it on a handful of occasions, but this was different - this was an officer of the law. Any attempt to keep Constable Gagnon from completing her task could be considered obstruction.

Amélie turned her back to the officer, walked up the stairs and took Chloe from my arms. She then motioned for me to enter the kitchen.

Amélie was clearly angry. Her face was tight and her eyes wide. She blew air through her nose and sighed loudly. “Darren, you’d better go with her. I am going to call the principal and seriously chew him out. I’m sorry. I knew Richter was upset that you had disobeyed his order, but I didn’t think he would stoop to such tactics. The school should have told us in advance. I know that last night was traumatic for you, and I would have preferred to take you on your first day myself.”

I nodded slowly, “It’s alright, Amélie. I did ignore the court order for a whole week. I’ll go without a scene.”

Amélie smiled gently, “That’s really mature of you, Darren.”

While Amélie had meant for her words to be complimentary, I considered them insulting. It was something you tell a kid who had recently tested their limits and had returned to the straight and narrow. I narrowed my eyes at my wife and slung my bag over my shoulder. She looked confused at my annoyance, but I didn’t give her a chance to either apologize or ask for an explanation of my behaviour.

Chloe shouted and waved zealously just as I was leaving, “Bye bye Daddy!” I saw Constable Gagnon look at Amélie, and my wife played dumb, gently shrugging her shoulders before chiding Chloe in French, <<That’s Abigail. Say goodbye Abby! >>

I had finished tying my shoes and was heading out the door, but again, Chloe said, “Bye bye Daddy!” I was secretly pleased that Chloe was still calling me Daddy, but Amélie was nonplussed, or at least acted that way.

Constable Gagnon was tall for a woman. She had brown hair tied in a severe bun, which I suppose was mandatory for a female officer. While her face was pretty, it was also business-like, similar to Officer Patterson’s before the vein started throbbing in his head. I wondered if they taught face-making in police college because so many of them seemed to have similar expressions.

She motioned for me to take the seat beside her. I didn't think she would make me sit in the back like a criminal, so I was not surprised. I understood that she was following orders. I was surprised, however, when the officer’s tight lips formed into the barest definition of a smile.

<<Your niece is really cute. That’s a funny game she plays, calling you Daddy, Abigail. >>

I answered, <<Yeah. She does it all the time. She’s at a silly age. >> I was comfortable with casual conversations in French. I searched for my words at times, but I usually had little difficulty. It was the higher level discussions involving complicated topics where I would struggle.

<<Do you know the law, Abigail? Mr. St-Valentin, he wanted you to know that it was not his choice to do this. He wants you to come to St. Jo’s willingly, but I have to do this. We are going to be seeing each other every week during the first six months of your supervision. So, I don’t want us to get off on the wrong foot. We need to work together to make sure you do your best in school. Do you understand? >>

I looked over at Constable Gagnon, and her smile had all but disappeared. Despite her firmness, there was a sincerity that I couldn’t ignore. She genuinely seemed to care about my welfare, in that, she wasn’t just doing her job to show her due diligence.

I nodded slowly.

<< Are things OK at home? I want you to feel like you can trust me, Abigail. Mr. St-Valentin, your teachers and I, we want what’s best for you. I’ve heard that you are a very smart girl, why did you skip school for a week? Did your sister let you do that? >>

I had a choice here. I could tell her the truth, that, yes - Amélie had allowed me to at least go on an interview on Thursday because I was trying to become emancipated, or I could play the tortured teen, who hates her parents, her sister and school. Since I was expected to have an extended professional relationship with this woman, I opted for the truth.

<<I was trying to free myself from school. I was following the laws and - >> I stopped and sighed. I was butchering the French. I didn’t know what emancipation was in French, and I realized that what I had just told the officer sounded like the tortured teen route. I should have just tried to explain it to her in English.

Constable Gagnon shook her head, << What you did was against the law, even if you hadn’t been ordered to be there. You have to be in school until you are eighteen. St. Jo’s is a great school, and I think you’ll like it there. What do you like to do for fun? I bet there’s a club or a sport for you. >>

She continued, <<I know it’s hard coming to a new school, Abigail. >>

I was fidgeting in my seat. I was starting to get real anxiety. There was no leaving St. Jo’s today. I was going to be sitting in a student desk in under fifteen minutes. The whole trip by car would take just over twenty minutes. I crossed and uncrossed my arms multiple times, and I adjusted the bandage on my left arm. I put my book bag over it, to hide the attempt from Constable Gagnon, as I tried to push down a section that kept unsticking. I was still fighting with the bandage as the officer looked over at me while stopped at a red light. I saw her gaze and immediately stopped trying to fix the bandage. I quickly put on my blazer, which had previously been under my arm. It was too hot for it in areas without air conditioning, but now, I wanted to hide the evidence of the ritual.

Constable Gagnon’s face showed no sign that she had seen anything potentially incriminating, but that is likely what made her an excellent police officer, especially when dealing with adolescents. Her poker face hid the secrets she knew. She said, << Mr. St-Valentin, he says that you are fascinated by the law. Well, you know what evidence is, right? >>

I nodded. I knew exactly where she was going with this.

She continued, << I want to help you, Abigail. Students like you, bright and with huge potential, but you need to help me too. I can’t understand what you are going through, what’s happened to you, unless you tell me. We always try and avoid this, but sometimes, we have to collect evidence where we aren’t wanted - to help a student. I don’t want to have to do that because it could make things with your sister more difficult. It will be easier if you tell me. >>

I realized my mistake. I had bandaged the wound with too many layers. My paranoia at the wound starting to bleed again had made Constable Gagnon think that I was a cutter. Although considering the real reason for my injury, I suppose the only other explanation involved me joining a club I knew nothing about. I had too much respect for those who were in mental distress beyond my own to pretend to cut. From what I understood, the poor misguided teens cut for attention or as part of peer pressure, but again, that was only what adults said. I never asked any of the students I taught why they did it. I just gazed at them sadly and made certain the guidance counsellors knew.

I stayed silent, and like Dr. Alberts, the officer offered a similar phrase, but with more firmness:

<< I know that it’s hard. You can tell me when you are ready. >>

We had arrived at St. Jo’s ten minutes before nine. Constable Gagnon said, <<Sorry to do this, Abigail, but I actually have to escort you inside. </p>

She continued, <<We can go through the custodial entrance if you want. >>

Constable Gagnon likely did not want my classmates seeing a new student being escorted into school by a police officer. Since I wanted to keep a low profile, I followed the officer toward a set of large metal doors. As I waited for Constable Gagnon to fish for the key to the maintenance door in her pocket, I surveyed what was to become, in five minutes time, my new school.

As if to add insult to injury, it looked a lot like the school where I had been employed as a teacher. The campus was sprawling with an uncluttered post-war design. Because many schools of its type were built in fledgling suburbs after the Second World War, the schools took up a great deal of real estate. From what I could see, the school was only two floors.

Soon enough, we were inside, and I saw the pale yellow walls of St. Jo’s for the first time. I was amazed how similar schools from the post-war era looked. The constable wished me good luck and motioned me into the main office, and as I entered, I was surprised to see Alyssa sitting in one of the ‘naughty’ chairs. These were the chairs directly facing the long wooden counter that made up part of the secretaries’ work stations. I recall seeing the worst kids sitting in those chairs, so I was shocked to see Alyssa calmly sitting there.

Once Alyssa saw me, her eyes widened and she beamed a smile in my direction. << Abby! Hi! Remember me? >> It was odd hearing her speak French, but she spoke very well, unlike the Quebecoise slang that Jacynthe and Véronique uttered. Alyssa’s French was pure and unfettered.

I nodded sheepishly. I still felt guilty for treating Alyssa so badly. I had rejected her friendship, never answered any of her e-mails, and still, she was happy to see me. I answered, << Yes, of course. Um, sorry for not answering any of your e-mails. It’s been a crazy summer. >> As soon as the words left my mouth, I realized how contrived and frankly insulting my response was.

Before Alyssa could answer, I heard the warning bell, a dull chime that signalled we had less than five minutes to get to class. Even the bell system was the same, although St. Jo’s bell was quieter.

Alyssa simply nodded and said, << We can talk on the way to history. >>

Alyssa handed me my school schedule, and then I followed her out of the office. No one had really paid me any attention. I got a few second glances as the new kid, but with my uniform, I didn’t exactly stand out. The only real difference between me and about 95% of the kids I saw was my professional bag and their backpacks.

Alyssa switched to English as we walked, “It’s fine Abby. I’m over it.” She smiled, “I’m St. Jo’s welcoming committee. Sorry, but your muffin basket got eaten. You are a week late.” Wow, Alyssa had a pretty wicked sense of humour. Maybe she had matured.

I nodded, “Uh yeah, I had some trouble at home. Listen, I feel really bad about what I did to you, Alyssa. I don’t want you to think that I’m anything like Véronique or her gang. I was just going through a lot of stuff at home during the summer. I didn’t want to bring anyone else into it. By the way, I met Véronique, and I can tell you, I don’t want anything to do with her.”

Alyssa nodded as we continued walking. She took me up to the second floor, past an atrium. “This is called the Pit. Only the seniors are allowed in there. You can eat in the cafeteria or outside, but not behind the portables. Not really sure why.”

I looked at Alyssa, and it was like a dark and cruel magic cloud had drained all of her spunk and peppiness. Where was the bombastic teen I had met at Chloe’s dance class? She was business-like in her explanations. I had really hurt her.

My shoulders slumped. I was hoping that Alyssa, and I would become fast friends, so I could show her off to the social worker this week. Even as the thought entered my mind, I knew it was wrong, but what was the alternative to using this innocent girl to create the illusion that Abigail Grenier was a perfectly normal teenage girl? Actually becoming her friend? It didn’t matter anyway because she seemingly wanted nothing to do with me.

We reached the history class, and I stepped inside. My first foray into the tenth grade was anticlimactic. I took the only seat available, which was at the very front of the class. The teacher, a Monsieur Landry, took attendance, and as my name was called, and I answered, I could hear chatter behind my back. I figured they were gossiping about the new girl who had missed the first week of school. Despite the fact I was a history major, I hardly paid attention at all in class. I was lost within my own world, worried what Officer Gagnon would say about my apparent self-harming and concerned that if I didn’t make at least one friend, the social worker, on top of my cutting, would recommend further action. Other than the hushed voices behind my back, my classmates, whose cliques and groups were already established paid as much attention to the new girl as I did to the lecture on Canadian aboriginals.

I breezed through the next two classes, math and science, in the same manner. Alyssa was in both of them as well, and I was surprised to see Ethan in them too. The lunch bell rang, and I saw Ethan approaching my desk from the corner of my eye. Again, I had been relegated to the front of the class, but as Ethan neared, I gathered my science textbook and notebook, which I had not written in all morning, and quickly fled the classroom.

I looked for a quiet place to eat my lunch. I would not brave the madness that was the high school lunch room today. I needed to complete some research on self-harming and learn what to expect during the social worker visit. I could have done it when school finished, but I needed time to compose myself. I told myself that I would try and reach out to someone tomorrow, maybe try and sit at a stranger’s lunch table.

I noticed that the girls travelled in packs, like wolves. I pondered how difficult it might be to breach their circles. I understood little of their species, and even having taught them, their customs were bizarre. I noticed in math, one girl ask to visit the washroom, and then another, five minutes later. Neither girl returned until nearly twenty minutes had passed, and when they finally did return, they entered the classroom together. Boys would be easier, but due to my confused sexuality, they were potentially deadly to Darren Lawrence’s existence.

I bit into a ham sandwich that acted only as sustenance. There was nothing appealing about the store bought meat, the splatter of margarine or the smatter of mustard. I only ate it because I was hungry. Alice in Chains’ ‘Down in a Hole’ blared in my ears, and it fit my mood perfectly. I had chosen a deserted portion of the upper atrium. The design of the atrium was unlike anything I had seen in a school before. It was circular, with the lower portion consisting of benches attached to the wall. In the centre of the so-called Pit, there were more benches, but they were attached in a circular pattern to a low half-wall that housed an indoor garden. A winding ramp allowed students to reach the upper portion, which had a few small lunch tables. I was in a corner, just to the left of the ramp entrance, which had a solid railing, virtually hidden.

Students who passed me ignored me, and I was pleased to have time to complete research on my phone. Twenty minutes into lunch, my respite was broken by a group of girls. They looked older than me. They looked down at me with surprise at first, and then disdain. Because of the noise-cancelling nature of my ear buds, when the blonde girl with a Jersey Shore ‘poof’ hairstyle spoke to me, I didn’t hear a word. I thought her hair looked stupid. It was combed back so as to create what looked like a bump covered by hair at the very top of her head. Considering her expression, a slight sneer, I figured she was trying to make trouble, so I did the mature thing and ignored her.

When it was clear that I was disregarding them entirely, the blonde girl, who towered over me in a pair of heels came over to me and popped one of my ear buds out. I stood up and took a step back from her, and then I popped it back in with narrowed eyes. She was a good four inches taller than me, but considering her heels, I wondered if she was actually shorter than I was without them. Another girl, a clear bottle blonde with dark roots showing, ripped the cord from my phone, halting my music entirely now.

The real blonde spoke angrily to me in French, « Minor niners don’t eat here. Get out of the Pit, connasse. » I sighed inwardly. My second high school experience was entirely too similar to my first. I was in the tenth grade, but these girls thought I was in ninth.

I remembered now what Alyssa had said. Only the seniors, or the eleventh graders, were allowed to eat here. I removed the planner from my bag and offered it to the blonde. I replied confidently in English, which seemed to make the girl even more upset, “Show me where it says in the planner, which I believe contains the school rules, that only you and your group of Jersey Shore wannabes can eat here.”

I hadn’t read the planner, but I would have grave concerns about a school administration that created a policy that spread such inequality amidst the student ranks. I was positive there was nothing in there about that.

The blonde took my planner and threw it over the railing of the ramp. She said, « This is a French school, Anglo. » The girls converged on me. The other one, a brunette, looked less enthused about this whole affair.

I shook my head and replied again in English, “It’s my prerogative to speak in the language of my choosing. French and English are Canada’s official languages. I choose English right now. By forcing me to speak French with intimidation, you are breaching my Charter Rights.”

By this point, we had gathered a small crowd. Apparently, the Pit was an ivory tower to the seniors of the school. This standoff threatened to upset the balance. Outside, the plebeians, the ninth and tenth graders, watched the exchange. I noticed Véronique and her crew among them.

The blonde looked at her compatriots. She gave the brunette a firm look, and she fell into line, looking more enthusiastic about bullying a tenth grader.

The blonde walked over to my lunch bag and proceeded to step all over it with her heels. I snatched it away, but the damage was already done. She had crushed my mother’s homemade cookies, turned my crackers into crumbs and skewered my apple to the point where it was leaning more toward being apple sauce than anything I could actually hold in my hands. She said, « Looks like you finished your lunch already. Get out. »

Now, I was angry. Angry and hungry. A thought jumped into my head, that I should take the remains of my apple and give the blonde some hair gel for her already greasy-looking poof. I forced it out, opting for a different solution.

I got in the blonde’s face and said, “Your behaviour is more like something you see in an elementary school yard. Sorry, am I on the senior swing? Oh no, sorry for using the senior slide. Could I get permission to use your SENIOR monkey bars? Look at how we have grown as a society. Don’t you see the parallels? By you doing this, you are reducing yourselves to the same level as people who created separate washrooms, movie theatres, even drinking fountains for African Americans. If you are supposed to be seniors, the so-called mature students in the school. Why don’t you start acting like it? True maturity is rejecting any sense of inequality or entitlement.”

By this point, we had gathered a larger crowd. Someone had opened the doors too, so our conversation was available now to the common people. I knew that I was laying it on a little thick, but I hated any sense of injustice. I disliked those who used their status to control and manipulate others, which is why I abhorred most politicians, especially our current government, who should have also heard my speech.

In response to my diatribe, the blonde told the fake blonde to grab my bag, which she did. The blonde took a thick silver sharpie and wrote NINER CUNT SLUT all over my bag, while the brunette and fake blonde blocked my way. If it was permanent marker, my bag was ruined. Still, I would not stoop to their level.

Even as I told myself this, my hands were balled into fists as adrenaline poured into my body, but before I could lash out, the blonde’s henchwomen took me by the arms, and I saw the blonde pull out another marker, this one clearly a black sharpie. I recognized it as a permanent marker. I was too shocked by their behaviour to put up a fight. Alyssa wasn’t kidding. St. Jo’s had a serious bullying problem. At the school where I taught, bullying of this nature would have resulted in severe punishments. Where were the teachers? There were supposed to be teachers patrolling the halls during lunch hour to stop events like this. I looked at the crowd helplessly, but no one moved. It was as if each one of them was a deer caught in the headlights. They looked on in the same shock, and no one moved to help. Some were even filming it, acting as innocent bystanders, but cowards all the same.

I was amazed by the scene because by sheer numbers alone, the assembled crowd could have easily repelled the assault on me. A few of them captured the event on their cell phones, which was smart, but the force of the mob could have stopped the blonde’s approach. To the casual observer, it may have seemed that an outrageous act was occurring, something that was unique to this place, but shameful memories filled my head- being shot by a super soaker full of jam, being sprayed by women’s perfume as I entered school, and being put in a full nelson while a larger boy tried to deposit me in the garbage. It seemed that no matter what my form, I was a magnet for bullies.

The blonde said, « Dites à vos amis enculés, que le Pit c’est pour nous seulement. »

I understood that she wanted me to tell my friends, likely in the ninth grade, to stay the hell out of the Pit, but I had no idea about the insult she had thrown my way.

The girl removed the cap and I flailed, much the same way I had done when bullies tried to put me in the garbage or stuff me in lockers. I hit the two henchwomen in the face with my haphazard fists, but they held me fast. They were able to restrain my short arms with relative ease, no matter how much I struggled.

The bottle blonde, who I kicked hard in the shin with the heel of my shoe, said, « Do it fast, she’s vicious! » Still, no one came to my aid. I elbowed the brunette in the stomach, and she wheezed, but the girls forced me down, one of them sitting on my legs, while the other pinned my arms down. The blonde was now inches away from my face with the marker. I tried to head-butt her in the chest. As for the marker, I knew that I could wash it off, but if I allowed this to happen to me, my reputation at the school would be forever tarnished. I would be a target of even the weakest bullies.

I heard the squeak of sneakers on a waxed floor, and a second later, Ethan was in the blonde’s face. He managed to wrest the marker from her. He threw it, and it shared the same fate as my planner.

He said, “OK, fun’s over. You guys are going too far. She’s new. She didn’t know about your stupid rules. It’s not like it’s in the welcome package that you guys own the Pit.”

Amazingly, the action of one person had halted the bullying. The two girls that held me down quickly got off me, and while the blonde sneered at me, she made no attempt to retrieve her marker. Meanwhile, the arrival of my white knight had stirred my dormant feelings for the boy. My heart thundered in my chest as that pleasant tingle passed through my body and into my brain like a powerful yet pleasant drug. As he helped me up, I practically melted into his arms.

The blonde said, « She knows now. Take your psycho friend and get out. »

She held her hand to her chest where I had head-butted her when she came close to me with the marker

Ethan retorted, “You are the one who tried to write on her face. She was just defending herself.”

A deep baritone voice said, « She can stay. »

The blonde said, « Alexandre, stop robbing the cradle. You know the rule, only seniors in the Pit. It was like that for us last year. »

I thought the girl’s comment was funny only because this Alexandre couldn’t have been more than a year or two older than me. I recall one young man in my graduating class who was called a cradle robber himself for going out with a minor niner, but apparently any grade mixing was a no-no. What a complicated yet ludicrous hierarchy.

This Alexandre stepped through the crowd of plebeians, and my eyes actually widened - he was gorgeous. I knew that I should have been repulsed by him - broad shouldered, practically no neck, thick arms straining his blazer. He had a jar head haircut and was a clear meathead, at least in my eyes. His face was clean shaven and perfectly symmetrical with a strong jaw and a set of pearly white teeth. He was tall, easily six foot four and as thick as a stay-at-home defensemen or a line backer. His eyes were green, and when I saw him looking at me, my knees nearly buckled. What was next? Was I going to twirl my long locks in front of him while gently tilting my head? A second later, this is exactly what I was doing. Oh my god. I was flirting hardcore with him. I was doing exactly what a painfully stereotypical teenage girl would do.

He pushed Ethan to the side, « Out of the way kid, before we see a repeat of last week. » and I didn’t care one iota.

The scraggily haired teen was like a distant memory. When I kissed Alexandre, I would stand on my tippy toes, he would laugh, and then he would scoop me up like some fairy tale princess. He was my Prince Charming, and I was his Cinderella come to save me from this terrible existence. It was like Ethan but a thousand times more powerful. He was like a powerful industrial strength Acme magnet, the kind you would see in Roadrunner cartoons, set up by the Coyote who had attached a metal plate to the Roadrunner. I was a collection of knives and other metal objects, from a nearby campsite, flying back at him at a hundred miles per hour. The attraction was so strong, that I almost couldn’t breathe. I smiled stupidly at him, and I forgot, momentarily, who I was.

He smiled back at me, undressing me with his eyes. He stared hard at me, practically owning me.
He said to the blonde, « Mercedes (pronounced in French Mère-ced), I can do what I want. »

So the blonde’s name was Mercedes. Were any nice girls actually named Mercedes and not absolute pretentious bitch queens? Did her parents name her thinking she would be a humanitarian?

Ethan nudged me, looking suddenly jealous, and said, “Hey, what’s with the goo-goo eyes? I thought you didn’t like guys like him.”

Ethan’s words reminded me that I didn’t. In fact, I hated guys like Alexandre. He was staring at my boobs more than my eyes. He was probably picturing me in a bikini, or lingerie. Or nothing. I had known only a few guys like him, and we never got along. So my sudden interest was both puzzling and alarming. Interest was a mild way of saying that if I somehow managed to suddenly jump out of my skin, my skeleton, organs, and even my blood would probably find a way toward him. I took a deep breath and nodded. Ethan was right, but I was powerless to stop it.

Alexandre stared down at me, his eyes darting to my boobs constantly. He clearly liked what he saw. I found myself licking my lips. He moved a stray lock of hair from my eyes. He said, « What’s your name? » Good lord, was I in some terribly written high school drama? It was like the scene was written by a Hollywood hack.

I giggled stupidly and blushed. “Um. It’s Abigail.”

He said, « If you want to stay, you have to speak French though. OK? »

I nodded again. Mmm. He could call me Fifi if he wanted.

Ethan nudged me again, and then he grabbed my hand and quickly pulled me into the crowd of students that had formed. The farther away I got from Alexandre, the more normal I felt. I could see the behemoth trying to follow us, but he was having a hard time wading through the students. Amazingly, they were blocking his path, or at least not moving as easily as they moved for Ethan. They weren’t exactly Ghandi with their non-violent resistance, but as I started to come to my senses, I appreciated that my stand against the seniors had seemingly not gone unnoticed.

Ethan dragged me through the corridors of St. Jo’s to a secluded spot under the stairs. In the hurried escape, I had forgotten to grab my potentially ruined bag, but it was the farthest thing from my mind, considering my most recent behaviour.

Ethan said, “Dude, what the hell was going on there? I’ve never seen you act like that. You might as well have been Véronique because she looks at him like that, but - well that asshole Alexandre doesn’t say much to her. Some guys in gym were talking about how he scored with her. He treats her like shit, but she’s always talking about him. It’s sick…I mean like disgusting. You know.”

Véronique’s behaviour toward Alyssa made sense now. Spurned by Alexandre, or at least mistreated by him, she treats Alyssa the same way, rejecting her and excluding her from the circle, no matter how hard she tries to be part of it.

I shook my head, still clearly dazed by the whole event, “I really don’t know. You are right, I hate guys like that. He was staring at my chest the whole time. But the way he spoke to me…it was ni-“

Ethan threw his hand in the air, “Gross. Dude, you can’t be that like that. I’ll lose all hope in humanity. I’m serious, Abby. It will make girls make even less sense. He’s such an asshole. I don’t know how anyone can like him.”

I asked, “What have you got against him exactly?”

He shrugged his shoulders, “Nothing. OK?”

I frowned, “What did you mean when you said it makes girls make even less sense?”

Ethan sighed, his slim chest deflating noticeably, “Can we not talk about this? Look, I am really sorry that I kissed you. Really sorry. I deserve to be ignored and everything- I didn’t ask you. I should have asked you. But- I- well I got some bad advice. My dad said look for the signals, so I did, and that’s why I kissed you.”

I looked at Ethan with wide eyes. The advice wasn’t bad. I had given him all the right signals, and a real girl, I am sure, would have kissed him back without subsequently fleeing and ignoring him for weeks.

Ethan said, “I’ve gone through what happened in my head a million times. I wish I could take it all back, you know? I finally met a girl that I could be friends with and not be weird around, and I screw it up. And the band too, we were really writing sick stuff. I fucked it all up because I couldn’t keep it in my pants.”

I cleared my throat. I wanted to apologize for ignoring him, agree with him that we were moving along a good path with regard to the band, but it caught in my throat.

Ethan said, “I just don’t get it. I try and be a good guy. You know, respectful and stuff. Like I don’t stare at your boobs when I talk to you. I listen to you. And, I gave you a lot of space after we kissed, but then guys like Alexandre who are one step away from being the porn kings of the world, they get the attention. Why? I don’t get it. Why do girls go for guys that treat them like shit?”

I frowned, “There’s no manual for understanding girls, Ethan. Sometimes it is just how our brains work, you know? You’ve never had a crush on a girl you shouldn’t have liked? Like she was your exact opposite?”

Ethan shrugged, “Well I guess in ninth grade, I kind of had a crush on Véronique, but that was before I found out she was such a bitch. Those feelings are dead and buried. Believe me. What I saw between you and Alexandre was unreal. You were like a different person.”

I nodded, “Well crushes can make people do stupid things.”

While I was responding calmly to Ethan, I was still distressed concerning my behaviour toward Alexandre. It was unreal.

Ethan shook his head, “Yeah well I feel stupid for kissing you. Can I just ask you why, why don’t you like me? Did I do anything wrong?”

I responded, “It’s what I told you when I said I wanted to be friends originally. I’m not ready for that. And it’s worse now. I’m going through some really heavy stuff. Like my emancipation failed, and I am pissed about that. And now there’s a social worker coming to the house because I missed school last week. So they are going to ask Amélie a bunch of questions, and they might even interview you. It’s just - there’s too much going on. I have to take this on, and I can’t be thinking about stuff like that.”

He asked, “Like what?”

I frowned, “You know what I mean. The kiss, relationships, boys. It’s too much right now.”

He said, “I could help you through it. I’ll tell the social worker whatever you want.”

I shook my head, “You need to be honest. If they think you are lying, none of your statement will be used to create the profile. Just tell the truth, please.”

He sighed, “OK.”

He said quickly, “Can we just forget that it happened, you know, the kiss and try and be friends again? It sucks about the band too. I miss Andrew, and even Steven. And I miss playing with you. Can we just hit reset?”

The band was very important to me, but I also understood the need to appear normal. If I didn’t make up with Ethan, I would have zero friends my age. If Ethan told the story to the social worker about how he kissed me, and then we became friends again, I thought it would show my maturity and stability. It meant that I valued friendship. Still, was I using Ethan the same way I was planning on using Alyssa? Ethan became part of the band again, so he got that. I considered my decision, and it was less selfish at least. My crush on the boy would hopefully go dormant again once he entered friend mode. Would my body agree to enter the same mode though?

I said, “OK. Sure.”

Chapter 47

In the afternoon, I had to carry my textbooks from class to class. I couldn’t exactly bring my black bag, which had insults scrawled all over it. When Amélie picked up my uniform in late August, she also chose my non-mandatory courses. She guessed correctly that I would prefer music over drama, but I was less than impressed when I found out I was going to have to play the flute. I was hoping to become reacquainted with the trumpet, which I had played in middle school.

Surprisingly, I didn’t take a music class in high school, opting instead for drama. It is one of my bigger regrets. I would receive a musical education, learning how to read music, gaining practice playing with others and playing in time, so I looked forward to that. Because I had missed last week, my options were limited. I could play the tuba or the flute. I had accepted that I was not a very strong girl, and tubas were heavy. Plus, there was the fact that I felt the tuba was more of a prop comedy item than an instrument. The teacher, Monsieur Lafontaine, suggested the flute. He was concerned I would have difficulty handling the tuba, which I assumed had to do with my small stature and short arms. So, I joined the woodwind section and became a flautist, just like my mother.

Unfortunately, that afternoon, I also felt the repercussions of my decision to flee from school the previous Wednesday. My Career Studies teacher was the same teacher I had lied to about going to the dentist. Monsieur Blanchard asked to speak to me after class, and he looked annoyed.

He said, «Abigail, I am a little concerned with your progress in this course. You have to understand that Career Studies is entirely assignment based. That is why class work is so important. There are no tests. I noticed that you didn’t really do any of the Career Cruising assignment. Is there a reason for that? »

I shrugged my shoulders, “I want to be a lawyer. What’s the point in exploring this? I worked in a law firm all summer. I don’t see why I even need to take this course.”

Mr. Blanchard had been very snippy with me during class. He was irritated that I was on my cell phone, but Amélie had texted me, asking if I wanted a ride, which I readily accepted. He had also barked at me when he caught me flipping back and forth between the Career Cruising assignment and a few venues I was checking out for the band. I was confident that Andrew and Steven would come back when I told them about Ethan being back in the fold.

I would have rather taken a French grammar course than Career Studies. I would have learned more. Ironically, Careers was the first class I ever taught. In my first semester of teaching, I had only one course, and supplemented my income by supply teaching at the school. I remember being ecstatic that I had landed a job when so many of my colleagues from teacher’s college were out of work. Because I had taught the course, in my mind, it was hardly fair that I should have to take it, but Mr. Blanchard didn’t know that. I knew what I wanted to do with my life, too. I was optimistic but also realistic. My band would likely not reach the level where Andrew and Steven could comfortably quit their jobs, so law was my focus. If I was trapped as Abigail Grenier, then I was going pre-law, and I was going to be a lawyer.

M. Blanchard replied, « Please speak French, Abigail. I know you are new to St. Jo’s, but it’s something I must stress. I think it’s really impressive you worked in a firm during the summer. Did you photocopy and arrange case files? »

I shook my head, « I worked as a paralegal. I helped with cases, did research. Stuff like that. For a whole summer. »

I was handcuffed in French. I couldn’t be nearly as eloquent or as clear.

M. Blanchard raised a brow, « This isn’t like when you told me you were going to the dentist, is it, Abigail? You aren’t telling me that you, a high school girl, worked as a paralegal to get out of doing the work in this class? I know you’ve had some problems recently, but lying to your teachers isn’t going to help. You’d have to prove you had significant work experience to get out of taking this course. This job you had during the summer, did you get a reference? »

I frowned. Another of my immature decisions had come back to haunt me. Now, because I had burned my bridge at the Locke Agency, I had no proof of my work experience. I might as well have been lying.

I replied, «I- well, it’s complicated. I’ve got cheques that I cashed. I can show you that. I guess you could call them, but no- I- don’t have a reference. »

M. Blanchard shook his head, « How old are you, Abigail? »

I narrowed my eyes and said petulantly, « Fifteen. You should know that though. You’ve got the enrolment sheet. »

I knew that M. Blanchard had a list of student enrolled in his class with a list of their birthdates and parental contact information. It was a standard document. I was impressed that I had actually remembered the French word for enrolment. It was amazing what even one day at St. Jo’s had done for my French. I wondered if I would gain confidence to actually use my French outside of school. Even though I lived in a French-speaking city, I resorted to using English most of the time because it was easier. Plus, whenever I spoke French, Francophones switched to English when they saw me struggling. Now, I had no choice but to use it.

M. Blanchard frowned, « Abigail, have I done anything to disrespect you? »

I shrugged my shoulders, « I guess not. Just like, I said, I want to be a lawyer. Nothing else. That Career Cruising assignment, the mock interviews and the resume. I have it all figured out. I don’t need this class. It’s a lost of time for me. »

So much for my confidence in French, 'lost of time'? The correct phrase popped into my head a second later ‘perde de temps’.

M. Blanchard replied, « Tomorrow, I want you to bring me a resume and a cover letter for this paralegal job. I will speak to my department head, and see if we can’t make a deal. I can’t promise anything, and you will probably still have to take the class, but I am going to try and personalize it for you. How does that sound, Abigail? »

I had been expecting a further battle, but M. Blanchard’s compromise was a fair one. I was surprised that I hadn’t suggested a similar concession, but I was so annoyed with having to take the class, my vision was clouded. Now, all I had to do was translate my resume and cover letter.

I nodded, « It’s fair. I’ll bring you those tomorrow. »

He nodded. I turned to leave, and M. Blanchard said, « Oh and please stay off your phone, Abigail. I don’t want to have to confiscate it. »

I didn’t understand what the problem was. I was only on it for a minute. I was used to being able to go on my phone at work. I had never let it impact my work.

I turned around, « What’s the big problem? Why aren’t we allowed to use our phones? I was only on it for a minute. »

M. Blanchard frowned, « All you need to know is that it’s school policy. »

I rolled my eyes. What a line. I was supposed to just accept that? Here was this wet behind the ears teacher, probably fresh out of his practicum, and he was telling me what to do. He was teaching the easiest class, a veritable bird course, and he had trouble with classroom management. I wanted to lay into him, explain why he shouldn’t have had us complete Career Cruising so early in the semester. He had also given us too much time. He had devoted an entire seventy-five minute period to a fifteen minute questionnaire. It took me all of five minutes to complete the assignment, or what I felt was needed to meet the minimum requirements to pass. I wasn’t the only student who was ‘multi-tasking’. Instead, I said:

“Whatever.” I turned, my hair flipping inadvertently, and walked out of the room.

***

« It’s a standard uniform, Mademoiselle Grenier. No exceptions. »

My gym teacher, Madame Menard, held a red t-shirt and a pair of brown gym shorts in front of me. She looked down at my shoes, the grimy tennis shoes.

« You also need a proper pair of running shoes. I want you to bring a pair of proper indoor gym shoes tomorrow. Today, you can wear a pair of the extras we have. »

She handed me a pair of cross-trainers.

I sighed, « Can I speak to you in English? Please, Madame Ménard? » She nodded her head gently.

I unbuttoned the sleeves of my blouse and slowly rolled them up, revealing the long bandage that hid the remnants of the ritual. My heart beat hard in my chest and my lungs burned, like I was running, but I was standing completely still. I showed the P.E. teacher my bandaged arms. “I really don’t want the others to see this. I don’t want them to know.” I wondered if real cutters were proud of their work, as if it was decoration.

My teacher’s eyes widened, “Abigail, why do you do this? You are such a pretty girl.”

Her English was excellent. The young woman looked at me with a mixture of sympathy and sadness. Madame Ménard was only a few inches taller than me, but she was all business, at least according to my other classmates who talked behind her back. There was also the inevitable charges of lesbianism that are so often aimed at gym teachers. While her hair was short, from a cursory glance, there was a picture of her in a wedding dress kissing her husband. I couldn’t believe how unobservant kids could be.

I used to hate it when students talked about other teachers in front of me. While I did chide them, I was secretly interested in what they thought of us. I suppose it was a contradictory position, but I always stopped them before the really juicy stuff.

I answered, “I- it was a mistake. Can you please help me?”

I shouldn’t have cared as much as I did. So what if these kids knew that I had cut my arms? However, there was a part of me that wanted their respect, their accolades and most of all their acceptance. It was stupid, I know, but for nearly my entire life, I had yearned for acceptance. It meant that often as a child, to be accepted I adopted a different behaviour. I hid my comic books from my jock friends when I found out I would be ridiculed for them. I was concerned now that I actually cared because, when I became an adult, I suddenly stopped caring so much about it.

Once I had established friendships with genuine people, those who accepted my quirks and foibles, I was actually happy in a peer group for once in my life. The older I got, the more I distanced myself from the plastic smiles, the more I became a real person, and not just someone acting on the whim of another. I was actually more rebellious as an adult than I had been as a teenager, at least with respect to my views on politics and different social customs (like, why the hell, do you have to send someone a gift if you aren’t even going to their wedding? Because they sent you an invitation with fifty cents postage on it?). And, of course, there are my views on body shape issues and Hollywood’s obsession with thin is beautiful. As an adult, I didn’t give a fuck, and I wasn’t afraid to tell people why. Now, I was starting to care what others thought about me. It was scary.

The fact that I was falling into old patterns was more than a little disconcerting. What did I have to prove to these children?

Madame Ménard said, “I can’t excuse you from gym, but I can allow you to wear something that will cover your arms. The problem will be with the other students in the class. They will ask questions. They will think I am playing favourites if I let you wear something other than the uniform.”

I shrugged my shoulders, “I really don’t want anyone to see.” It went beyond simple acceptance. I also didn’t want the sympathy of children.

The teacher nodded and then pulled a bright red zip-up sweater from her drawer. SJ was emblazoned over the breast. She said, “I am going to lend you this. It’s not the standard uniform, but I have allowed students to wear it before, particularly when the school’s air conditioning was malfunctioning.”

I said, “Thank you, but I can pay for it. I could give you my credit card number.”

Madame Ménard blinked and then looked at me suspiciously, “You have a credit card?”

I shook my head, “Um- I-I meant debit card.”

My credit card said Darren Lawrence on it, and my last name was supposed to be Grenier. Parents often do have different last names, but Amélie was my guardian, and was likely the only one on the enrolment form.

The teacher shook her head, “It’s not necessary, Abigail. Just give it back to me when you feel comfortable to show your arms. OK?”

I smiled, “Sure. Thanks Madame Ménard.” She was really nice. The next time a kid tried to bad mouth her, I would give them a tongue lashing.

No one said anything about the fact I was covering my arms, but they were curious about why I had chosen to pick a fight with the seniors. I said that it was not a school policy, and that the seniors had no legal claim to the area. When one girl pointed out that my black bag was probably ruined, I talked about the casualties of war. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have tried to explain it that way because I received a few odd looks. Teenage girls didn’t speak that way. I told myself that Darren Lawrence would explain it in that manner, and that is who I am. Despite the odd looks, I felt that I had gained a measure of respect from a handful of the students in my grade.

***

School finally ended. I was surprised how long it felt. When I taught, the days used to pass at the speed of light because I was so busy, either teaching, marking or preparing for the next day’s classes. As a student, today felt interminably long, and now I had an hour to kill before Amélie arrived. I looked down at my black bag, now covered with NINER CUNT SLUT in bright silver lettering. I had a feeling it was ruined, but I had to at least try and remove the offensive writing. I loved the bag. It had been a birthday gift from my sister and parents, and it was real leather.

I heard a familiar voice behind me, “Hey Abby! How was your first day?”

It was Ethan. I shared Math, Science, Music and Career Studies with him. He knew how it went, but I guessed he was simply making small talk. He sat down beside me on the curb just outside the entrance to the school.

I said, “Fine.”

Ethan laughed, “Dude, what am I? Your mother or Amélie? That’s what I tell my parents when they ask. How was it really? I mean besides the obvious. And how come you missed last week?”

I replied, “I was still trying to be emancipated. I was speaking to firms, trying to get interviews.”

The smile disappeared from Ethan’s face, “Oh. I thought you’d stopped that after it didn’t work out at the Locke Agency. Um, didn't you like being around kids your age though? I mean today kind of sucked, but tomorrow, you’ll eat with me and my friends, and it’ll be fine.”

I narrowed my eyes, “You think I am going to let that Mercedes bitch get away with what she did to me? There’s enough video evidence to get her suspended for a week. I just need to find someone who recorded it.”

The frown deepened on Ethan’s face, “I would just drop it, Abby. It’s not worth it. Plus, people will think you are a snitch. They already think you are kind of weird. If you go and tell the principal about what happened, you’ll be labelled. It’s just not how we do things here.”

I barked, “Ethan, she may have ruined a two-hundred dollar bag. She is not getting away with this. There’s nothing you can do to convince me otherwise. It’s pretty clear to me that Alexandre did something to you, too.”

Ethan nodded, “Yeah he did, and if he does anything like it again, I’ll challenge him to a fight. We don’t involve parents or teachers, ever. That’s like the golden rule. We settle things our way. That’s freedom.”

I shook my head, “What a load of shit, Ethan. That’s not freedom. That’s acting like children so you can play with your own rules. Instead of being mature and addressing issues like bullying in an intelligent manner, you resort to childish solutions that don’t really resolve the problems. Real freedom would be if those who are victimized actually felt like they had a chance for justice.”

Ethan frowned and formed a fist, “Yeah, well I’ll tell you that breaking Alexandre’s fucking nose would be justice.” He perked up, “And if you want yours, then you can fight Mercedes, or do something back to her to get even. But the fight would probably get you more respect. And girl fights- well they bring a crowd.” He smirked.

I sighed, “I want to go through adult channels to deal with this. I don’t want to fight anyone and neither should you. That’s how Neanderthals settle their problems. People like Alexandre.”

Ethan shrugged his shoulders, “Maybe. But I am telling you, no one is going to give you that footage. I don’t agree with what you said. It is freedom because we can choose how we want to handle it. We don’t have to go through our parents or teachers. We can settle it any way we want.”

I shook my head, “Let’s agree to disagree. You aren’t going to convince me. Tomorrow I am going to talk to people who saw the event and ask for the footage.”

Ethan lowered his head. He said, “Listen, kids who tell- they are treated really badly here. I heard one guy got stabbed because of what he said.”

I blinked. I was going to get a case of the stupids if I had to stay here for two years. “Don’t you see that by perpetuating a myth the ones who committed the crime can just continue to act that way, knowing that stories like the one you told, which is ridiculous by the way, will deter students from ‘snitching’. They are the ones who have the power, and the freedom. They can do what they want to us, and because everyone is so scared of breaking an asinine code, they continue to get away with it.”

Ethan looked at me and said, “Um, so Habs suck?” He was referring to my favourite team, the Montreal Canadiens.

I sighed heavily and put my hand to my forehead, clearly showing my frustration.

Ethan threw up his arms, “Look Abby, I am telling you as your friend. Don’t do this. Play within our rules.” His expression softened, “I-I don’t want to see something bad happen to you.”

I felt like Ethan’s teacher, trying to lecture him on how the adult world works, but I was beating my head against a brick wall.

Ethan continued, “St. Jo’s works like this, OK? The seniors are pricks, the French seniors like Alexandre are the biggest pricks. Next year that’ll be us. So you wade through the shit for two years, then you get the prize.”

I shook my head in disbelief, “Great, so you can treat the lower grades like trash. Lay claim to what should be a common area and teach the new students the same idiotic way of thinking. Great. How progressive. This is the exact reason why I wanted to be emancipated. I am better than this place.”

Ethan frowned, “See, that’s why kids don’t really like you, despite what happened during lunch. You act like you are better than everyone else.”

My eyes widened, “I am. Because I don’t think like I am brain damaged.”

Ethan got up, “Look, you are still free to sit with me and my friends at lunch tomorrow. But try not to be such a bitch.”

With that, Ethan left. I thought about what he said. A part of me cared that the other students didn’t really like me, but I couldn’t give in to peer pressure or my tiny desire to the accepted. Eventually, Amélie pulled up with Chloe in the back seat.

Amélie smiled at me as I climbed into the SUV. Chloe shouted “Daddy!” enthusiastically. Amélie looked over at me as I buckled my seatbelt but the smile disappeared from her face when she saw my bag. “Oh Darren, what happened there?”

I leaned back in my seat and waved at Chloe before answering, “Apparently, St. Jo’s is a school without logic or common sense. This girl and her gang of thugs didn’t like me eating in the seniors’ lunch area. When I refused to move, her thugs grabbed me and wrote all over my bag. Can we stop by Canadian Tire and get some turpentine or something?”

Amélie replied with concern, “Was it permanent marker? You might have trouble getting it out. Just in case, let’s pick up a backpack for you, too.”

I sighed, “Fine.” Great, now I was going to be like the other 95%, unless I decided to carry a big purse around all day, which is what the other 5% did.

Amélie looked puzzled at the writing on the bag, “Um, I thought you were in tenth grade.”

I nodded, “I am, but I guess because I am so short, and I didn’t know about their stupid made up rule, they figured I was a ninth grader.”

We arrived at Canadian Tire, and I bought some turpentine. Amélie took me to Zellers, a Canadian discount department store and bought me a pair of cheap indoor running shoes. I also bought a lime green backpack. Amélie questioned my purchase, “Are you sure? I mean I know you like green and everything, but this won’t match your uniform at all if you have to use it.” I shrugged my shoulders, indicative that I didn’t care.

Once home, I went right to work at trying to remove the offending marker from my expensive bag. Amélie cooked supper and took care of Chloe. Despite the fact that I didn’t have a job after my firing at the Locke Agency, I had stopped cooking dinner. I was even getting lax in my weekly chores, which involved cleaning the living room and washroom. Amélie, likely trying to carefully pick her battles at this point, had said nothing.

According to the Internet, turpentine was great at removing paint and dye from skin, but it would permanently damage the bag if applied. The problem with leather is that ink and dye tend to seep deeply into the fabric. Amélie called me for dinner, but I shouted that I wasn’t finished yet. I grew impatient, because I was famished (Mercedes had crushed half my lunch), and decided to use some of Amélie’s nail polish remover, and after that I tried hairspray. I couldn’t understand why other people had success with their do-it-yourself solutions. I grew discouraged when the areas I was rubbing became discoloured. The silver marker was smudged so the writing was less legible, but the bag was still not appropriate to bring to school. I trudged up the stairs defeated. Why was I having so little success? My rubbing had removed the finish from the leather. There were large splotches where the leather no longer matched, and a few stubborn insults refused to come off. The bag was ruined.

As I dug into my dinner, Amélie said, “Darren, is it possible those people who used hairspray and nail polish remover, were using it on pleather?”

My eyes widened, “Uh- yeah I guess it is.” Pleather is an artificial leather and since it is essentially plastic, it is much easier to remove stains from it. I shook my head at my own stupidity. Mercedes had scrawled on the bag, but I had dealt the death blow by applying the abrasive chemicals to it. It seemed like my ability to be patient was worsening by the day now, and it hadn’t been fantastic before.

Amélie said, “Sorry about your bag, Darren.” She narrowed her eyes, “Did you want me to call the school? As your guardian, I’d probably be expected to do that after you’d been bullied like that. This Mercedes girl you told me about should have to buy you a new bag, at the very least.”

I replied glumly, “I can handle it.” I wanted to gather the evidence myself to show Ethan that I could go against the established protocol, which I felt was brainless and immature.

Amélie sighed, “You don’t have to take this on alone you know, Darren. I know I’m not your mother, and I’m not exactly your wife anymore either, but I love you, and I want to support you. I really think I should phone the school and let Monsieur St-Valentin know you are being bullied like that.”

I frowned, “I told you. I want to do this myself. I don’t need any help.”

Amélie said brusquely, “Fine.” She cleared her throat, “Listen, I know that you kind of had a bad day, but we need to talk about the social worker. She’s actually going to be coming next week. M. St-Valentin managed to convince her that you should have at least one week at St. Jo’s before the interviews. You know- to get settled.”

“With that said, I got some calls from your teachers today. We have some problems, but the biggest one being, the school thinks that you are self-harming. They’ve suggested that you see a specialist. The Board has one they use on a rotating basis for cases like yours. They’d like you to see him next week.”

I blurted out angrily, “You know that I cut myself because of the spell.”

Amélie looked at me and took my hand gently, “I know, but they don’t. I think with everything that you’ve gone through, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to speak to someone, a professional.”

I pulled my hand away, “What, so they can put me on drugs to change my behaviour? No way, Amélie. I’m not going.”

Amélie replied, “You took sleeping pills that also acted as anti-anxiety medication. You said yourself that you were less anxious when you took them. Well, they are dangerous for you to take now. Maybe this specialist can suggest something else. Darren, I am worried about you. This social worker could make things very difficult for us. Do you really want to risk her putting you in foster care? I am not trying to be hard on you, but you are making this needlessly complicated. I can tell you that a foster parent is going to be a hell of a lot harder on you than I am. I know who you really are, they won't.”

I looked Amélie in the eye, and challenged, more than asked, “Then what do you suggest we do?”

Amélie replied firmly, “You need to start paying attention in class. Take notes and complete the assignments properly. Because you are at-risk, your teachers are going to be on you more. And there’s an expectation that I will check that your homework is done.”

I shook my head in defiance, “I’m not in third grade, Amélie. You don’t need to check my homework.”

Amélie nodded, “OK, Darren. I trust that you’ll get it done. I don’t want to have to look over your shoulder.”

She continued, “But I really think you need to see the specialist. We can figure out what you will tell him exactly, but M. St-Valentin said that the social worker will think I have better control over you if I can convince you to go.”

Logically, it made sense, and I was still capable of grasping adult logic. It only took a brief moment for me to realize that Amélie was right. I nodded, “OK. I’ll go.” I agreed but I did so with zero enthusiasm.

Amélie smiled, “Did you manage to make any friends? That’s important too.”

I replied, “Sort of. Ethan and I made up. I tried with Alyssa, too. She was Chloe’s dance instructor. She doesn’t seem to want anything to do with me though.”

Amélie frowned, “I notice that since you stopped being a teacher, you have a lot less respect for teens. I know you don’t really want to have kids as friends, but it’s all part of the profile that the social worker will create. You kind of have this attitude that you are better than them, which is fine if you looked like the adult you are inside but they see you as a teen, like them.”

I frowned, “Ethan said the same thing. You have no idea how stupid they can be. It’s infuriating. I am going to lose a gazillion brain cells if I am stuck there for two years.”

Amélie shook her head, “Ethan is right. Would you want to be friends with someone who thought they were better than you, smarter than you? Someone who thought you were stupid?”

I shrugged my shoulders, “I guess not.”

Amélie said, “Can you change Chloe? I need to start the laundry downstairs.”

I frowned, “But I’ve got like two hours of homework, and I wanted some time to play guitar. I think the band is getting back together.”

Amélie’s reply was curt, “Just do it, Darren. It will take five minutes. I have to do something downstairs.”

She added, “Oh, and I think you should start a Facebook page for Abigail. All teens have some sort of net presence.”

I blinked, “Uh, okay. But we don’t have any pictures of Abigail.”

Amélie said, “Then we’ll have to take some.” I hated getting my picture taken as Darren, and this had not changed as Abigail. Amélie was an amateur photographer. She had taken a course to learn how to use her expensive camera, and her pictures had improved immeasurably. She learned how to properly set pictures and how to adjust for different light, but she wasn’t going to have a very cooperative subject.

***

After changing Chloe, putting on her pyjamas and giving her milk, I set her down in front of her new obsession, Dora the Explorer. I called downstairs to Amélie, but she told me five more minutes. I wasn’t actually going to play guitar after I finished my homework. Since Alyssa and I had absolutely nothing to talk about, I planned to watch “Katy Perry’s: Part of Me” movie. The girl was obsessed with the pop star, but I couldn’t exactly watch it on the TV upstairs- Amélie would think I had lost it, but I could watch it on my computer with headphones on.

Twenty minutes later, I was fuming. I had put another Dora episode on for Chloe and got started on my homework at the kitchen table. Finally, Amélie came upstairs. She said, “Before you say anything, take a look at your room.”

I gathered up my books with an incredulous expression. Chloe waved at me frantically from the couch, “Bye Daddy!” She blew me kisses, and I returned the gesture. Despite all that had happened, Chloe would still bring me from the darkest places.

I trudged down the steps, annoyed that I was behind on my homework. I opened the door to Abigail’s room, and I was pleasantly surprised. Amélie had cleaned up all remnants of last night’s failed ritual. The frozen blood pool, which had likely thawed, was gone. The chalk marks on the hardwood floor were gone too. On my desk, I noticed a brand new lamp. I had completed hundreds of hours of homework at that very desk, but my old desk lamp had broken in one of our numerous moves over the years. It was a simple gesture, along with cleaning up the evidence of my failure, but it was appreciated. It meant she was still thinking about me. That she still loved me.

An hour into my homework, Amélie knocked on my door. I smiled, “Um thanks for cleaning up, and for the lamp. When did you have time to get it?”

Amélie returned the smile, “On my lunch hour. I went over to the mall.”

I nodded, “Don’t you usually go to the gym at lunch?”

She nodded, “Yeah, but this was important. I knew you’d need one. How’s it going?”

I said, “History is beyond easy because I already took it in French, and I probably know more than the teacher. Science is challenging because I don’t recognize a lot of the terms, but it’s all memorization, so I’ll get it. Math kind of sucks, but then I haven’t taken a math course in over ten years, and it always sucked. Music I just have some fingering exercises to do. Can you help me with the translation of my resume and cover letter? I am not sure if the phrases are right in some places.”

Amélie smiled, “Sure.” I wasn’t ashamed or humiliated to ask Amélie for help. She was a Francophone, and while my French was improving, she was still the expert.

A half hour later, Amélie left, and my homework was done. I looked down at the textbooks in front of me, amazed at their presence. I wouldn’t have completed the homework if I thought there was a sure-fire way for me to be Darren Lawrence again. For now, I had to play the part of Abigail Grenier, so I loaded up Netflix, put on my headphones and immersed myself in Katy Perry’s: Part of Me.

As I was going to sleep that night, I thought about the movie, and the fact that it really wasn’t bad. The songs were surprisingly catchy, but more importantly, it was a story of her journey. As a musician, I felt like Katy’s story could be mine. It didn’t matter that she was a pop star- she could have succeeded in any genre because of her drive. I felt the same way. Plus, she was not plucked from obscurity because of her looks or her last name. She worked tremendously hard to reach her level of success. The young woman’s rise to fame was not reached by stepping on the backs of those around her, but with them- hand in hand. She made her sister part of her show, and while her parents didn’t agree with everything she did, they supported her.

I also respected the fact that she wrote her own music, and that her lyrics were heartfelt. There was a sincerity to them that was missing in so much pop music. There were certain songs where I just knew they were written to make a buck. After seeing the movie, I felt Katy wasn’t in it for the fame or the money, she was in it for the performances and to get her music out to as many people as possible- the same reason I was in it. After tonight, mixed amongst my playlist of Nirvana, Metallica, Alice in Chains, and other hard rock and metal, were a select few Katy Perry songs. Like two maybe. OK- four.

***

My trip on the bus the next morning was mostly uneventful. A few kids asked me about my bag and what I was going to do, but I was non-committal. I knew that I was going to start asking my classmates for their footage, so I had to be cautious. I was going against the grain with this approach. I planned my strategy as I listened to my music, the loud rock music, with the occasional Katy Perry song creating a natural barrier between myself and my classmates.

In Science, I arrived early to speak with my teacher, Monsieur Leblanc. Because I was a week late, I didn’t really have a lab partner. There was an odd number of students in the class, so I asked the teacher if I could group with Alyssa and her partner, Sarah. He readily agreed, stating that he was impressed with my initiative. Phase one of my plan was complete.

The group work started a few minutes later, and I joined Alyssa and Sarah at their station. Sarah was thin to the point of being scrawny. She had reddish brown hair, almost copper coloured. Her most distinguishing characteristic was her brains. In class yesterday, she had answered nearly all of M. Leblanc’s questions, some before he even finished. In my eyes, she was brilliant, so grouping with her and Alyssa was like killing two birds with one stone. A great mark on every lab assignment and Alyssa as a friend to show off to the social worker.

I waved sheepishly to Alyssa and Sarah, “Um, hi. I didn’t have a lab partner. So, Monsieur Leblanc said I could go with you guys. Is that cool?”

Alyssa looked at Sarah, and they exchanged unimpressed looks.

Sarah looked down at me, “You aren’t going to take off for a few days a week, are you? Let us do all the work?”

I shook my head, “Uh, no.”

Alyssa stared at me, but her expression softened, “As long as Sarah doesn’t mind.”

Monsieur Leblanc heard us with the super hearing that all teachers seemed to have, « En français, les filles. » During lunch and in between class, it was our choice, but in class, we were expected to speak French at all times.

Sarah said in French, « As long as she does her share of the work, I don’t mind. »

I smiled, « Great. So…what’s first? »

Although I had a little difficulty understanding because of the terminology used, I knew that today’s lesson involved physical and chemical changes. We would conduct a number of experiments and determine if a physical or chemical change had occurred. Once we began, I started trying to change the subject to the Katy Perry movie I had watched yesterday.

I stood next to Alyssa, “So I watched that Part of Me movie last night, you know the Katy Perry one? I really liked it.”

Alyssa raised a brow, “Really? I didn’t think it would be something you’d like.” Her tone was less than friendly.

I shrugged my shoulders, “The story really got me. You know I’m a musician, right? Well, her story is really inspiring.”

Alyssa’s expression softened again, “It really is. She worked so hard to be where she is.”

Sarah cleared her throat, « You aren’t paying attention. You missed the result of the first experiment. It was a physical change. The sodium chloride dissolved in the water after a few moments. Be careful with this one, it involves the Bunsen burner. »

I nodded slowly, « Sorry, Sarah. »

She handed me the flint to light the Bunsen burner and then turned on the gas. I read the instructions carefully and then brought the flint near the burner, preparing to light it.

Sarah said, « Pay attention. Before lighting that, get your goggles on. »

Thinking that Alyssa would think it was funny I said, “What are you the teacher, Sarah?”

Alyssa shook her head and put her goggles on, « Don’t be so immature, Abby. Sarah just wants us to be safe. And you really should speak French, our group will get in trouble. »

I pouted, « Fine. »

I pulled a pair of goggles over my head and proceeded to light the burner. I then turned my attention back to Alyssa, « So do you ever think about writing Katy a letter? »

Alyssa looked embarrassed momentarily, but when she saw my eagerness, she said, «I-I already did. This summer actually. I didn’t get a reply or anything. I just wanted to tell her how much I love her. She’s amazing-I think I’ve listened to Teenage Dream probably a million times. Hey Abby, what got you so interested in Katy Perry all of a sudden? You want to be a pop star? » She had a big smile on her face. This was the Alyssa I knew.

I shook my head, switching back to English, “Um not exactly. My sister got it for her birthday. The 3D version actually.”

Alyssa raised her voice, which caused it to raise in pitch, just like mine did when I got excited, “Wow, I haven’t seen it in 3D, was it good like that?”

I nodded, “Yeah, the show parts were fantastic.”

I saw a bright flash of light out of the corner of my eye, and suddenly, I could feel M. Leblanc’s presence behind me. He was either trained like a ninja, or I was really distracted. Ironically, when I taught, I was often accused of the same thing, but I wore the ‘ninja teacher’ moniker proudly.

Sarah shook her head, « M. Leblanc, Alyssa and Abigail have done none of the work, and they just missed seeing the flame burning, so they will have to copy my description. I’ll do it by myself. All they talk about is Katy Perry. » She huffed, « They can partner together. They deserve each other. »

M. Leblanc frowned, « I’ve given you lots of chances here girls. It’s not fair that Sarah has done all the work. Were you just planning on copying her lab notes to do your report? You are supposed to witness the change, and I asked you several times to speak French. I want to see the two of you after class. »

There was no arguing with M. Leblanc. Alyssa and I had written nothing down, and we had done nothing but talk about Katy Perry for the first two experiments. I would have done the same thing as a teacher, so I couldn't fault him.

Alyssa and I were forced to restart the experiment and because of that, we didn’t get to the last two stations. Alyssa glared at me throughout most of it. I had urged her to talk, and she got in trouble because of it.

After class, M. Leblanc called us both to his desk, « Girls, I won’t tolerate misbehaviour in class. It’s especially important to pay attention because some of the chemicals we used today are dangerous. Alyssa, I’m especially surprised at you. You were never like this last year when I taught you. This is not a good way to start the year. » Alyssa hung her head.

He turned to me, «Abigail, you are new, but I doubt that behaviour was tolerated in your old school. I am willing to give you both another chance however. After school, I have to grade some papers. You can come back to the lab and finish the two stations you missed. »

We both thanked him and I went to my desk to retrieve my backpack. I turned to speak to Alyssa, but she had slipped out quickly. I assumed she was upset with me. I sighed and made my way to my next class. I would apologize to her later.

The lunch bell rang, and I was actually looking forward to sitting at Ethan’s table. I missed guy talk. Because I hadn’t spoken much to Andrew or Steven since the band broke up, I had missed out on a lot of important and stimulating conversations like- who was going to win the Stanley Cup this year. I was also eager for a distraction because my attempts at securing the footage of yesterday’s incident had met with little success. I had asked a half dozen students who I was sure had recorded the instance of bullying, but no one would give it to me.

I walked through the lunch room looking for Ethan and spotted him sitting alone. I quickly sat down.

Ethan invited me to sit, but did not address me with a smile as he usually did, “Hey Abby. Did M. Leblanc give you detention?”

I shook my head, “No, not exactly. We just have to do the stations we missed after school.”

Ethan nodded, “Yeah.” He was eating a pizza pocket, a chemical concoction that I had loved as a teenager but could not stomach as an adult. It was one step below actually being made of plastic.

I frowned, “I’m sorry about yesterday. I had a bad day. Um. I never thanked you for helping me.”

Ethan said, “Don’t worry about it. Anyone would have done it.”

I shook my head, “Yeah, I don’t think so. No one stopped my bag from being written on, and until you came, I was pretty sure I was going to have SLUT written all over my face. What’s with the kids here? They just stood there.”

Ethan shrugged his shoulders, “People don’t really like you. That’s why.”

I started eating my lunch, eating the same bland ham sandwich. Ethan’s pizza pocket actually looked really good. I looked at Ethan with a puzzled expression, twisting my brows upward and cocking my jaw to the side, “How is that possible? I haven’t even been here two days!”

Ethan frowned, “But, you spent an entire summer ignoring everyone except for me by the skate park. A bunch of times people said hey to you, and they said you ignored them. And this morning, kids said on the bus that you ignored everyone. Just listened to your music. People say you think you are better than everyone because you worked in a law firm. I tried sticking up for you and -”

I interjected, “Your friends got mad and ditched you.”

He nodded, “Yeah, something like that. It’s like this Abby, the girls think you are a stuck-up bitch and the guys think you are some untouchable ice queen. They think you are really hot, but they think like you’ll laugh in their face if they ask you out or even talk to you. That’s why no one wants to talk to you or hang out with you.”

I shook my head, “That’s not true. Alyssa talked to me in science today.”

Ethan frowned, “Because she’s the nicest girl in school. You have no idea what people are saying behind your back. Some of them are even saying that you deserved what you got yesterday. I got heat for helping you. They don’t understand why you got to take a week off school, or why you don’t have to wear the proper gym uniform.”

I finished my ham sandwich while Ethan started in on another pocket. Damn, it even smelled good. “Why did you help me?”

Ethan said, “Because I kind of know you, or at least I thought I did. I know you’ve been trying to get the footage, when I told you not to. One of the guys you asked is a friend of mine.” He tossed the pizza pocket to me and stood up, “Here, I’m not really hungry.”

He said, “See ya.”

I gobbled up the pizza pocket and then finished the rest of my lunch. I couldn’t believe how good it tasted, from the processed cheese, to the near molten sauce and the doughy sweet outside. It was like eating a doughnut full of tomato sauce, and as disgusting as that should have been- it wasn’t. It was comforting. I bought a chocolate bar from the vending machine and ate that while sitting in front of my locker. No one talked to me, and of those who looked at me, most glared, especially the girls.

Beyond all of that, I couldn’t get over how cute Ethan looked when he was mad. His eyes usually laughing, had a serious and powerful presence when he was angry. They drew me in, even if partially obscured by his hair. I was losing Ethan, though. He didn’t look at me the same way, and I was amazed that my heart actually felt like it was aching, even though it could have been indigestion from the pizza pocket. As Ethan was slipping away, I knew that I couldn’t lose Alyssa.

***

After school, I walked by the office on my way to the science classroom. I noticed Mercedes sitting in one of the ‘naughty’ chairs. I noticed her name had been called on the afternoon announcements, but thought nothing of it. Students were called to the office for reasons other than behavioural issues. Still, I was curious if someone had come forward about the bullying, and if so, why was I not being asked for my side of the story?

In the three minutes that it took me to walk to the science room, my name was not called, so I assumed that Mercedes was there for a different reason. When I entered, I could see that Alyssa was already standing at one of the missed stations with her goggles on. I had hoped we would do the experiments together, but the lit Bunsen burner told me otherwise.

I walked over to Alyssa and pulled a pair of goggles over my head. I smiled at her, but she didn’t smile back. I said gently, “Hey, I’m really sorry about getting you in trouble.”

Alyssa shook her head, « Speak French, Abby. Now, let’s just do this so I can get out of here I already have the burner lit. »

I nodded slowly. I thought that I could still salvage things if I could get Alyssa talking about Katy Perry again or nails- something she liked- that I could pretend to like.

We worked quietly and quickly, completing the first station in five minutes. M. Leblanc sat at his desk marking assignments. Alyssa whispered harshly, « Why’d you even talk to me today, Abby? You didn’t answer any of my e-mails. No one else will talk to you. Was I your last choice? »

I frowned, « Sorry, I meant to answer them. »

Alyssa shook her head, while we moved to the second (and last) station, « Just like you meant to answer Ethan’s texts last week? He told me he was in your band, and then you just stopped talking to him. He’s a really nice guy, Abby. He’s talented too. »

I replied, « Well he’s back in now, I was just going through a lot of stuff. Same during the summer. I didn’t want to bring anyone else into it. » My French was surprisingly concise. All of my previous schooling was coming back to me seemingly.

Alyssa said, « You didn’t answer me. Was I your last choice? Do you even like Katy Perry? »

I replied, « Don’t be like that, Alyssa. It’s complicated. And yeah I like her. »

Alyssa said sadly, « When I first met you, I wanted us to be friends, Abby. But, I just think you are using me now, because you don’t have any friends. I think Véronique is right about you. You think you are better than everyone here. I think you are as mean as her. I bet you don’t even like Katy. »

I pulled out my phone and opened the music app, clicking on the artist icon. I showed her the four songs I had added.

Alyssa shook her head, « I went through some tough stuff during the summer too, you know, but I still e-mailed you a bunch of times. If you wanted to be my friend, don’t you think you would have come to the water park with me, and the beach when I asked? Don’t you think that would have helped you forget about the bad stuff? »

Alyssa sniffed, « You could have at least answered- said no. That would have been better than nothing, Abby. When you say that you actually saw the e-mails but didn’t answer…well that’s worse. »

My eyes burned, tears threatening. We finished the final station, and Alyssa said nothing as she walked out of the room. M. Leblanc saw me, but I quickly turned away, hiding a face that fought desperately to stop the tears from flowing. I swallowed the familiar lump in my throat and pushed my way into the girl’s washroom. I went into a stall and texted Amélie, asking her to come and get me. I couldn’t face the kids on the bus not after the supposed ‘nicest girl in school’ had rejected my friendship.

Chapter 48

The next day, I was called into M. St-Valentin’s office. He asked me for my side of the story concerning Mercedes. I was shocked when I was unable to tell him the truth. I told him that nothing happened, and that I didn’t want anyone to get in trouble. It went against everything that I stood for, but some insane thought was planted in my head that if I told the truth, that something terrible would happen. The ‘snitches get stitches’ mentality pervaded any rational thought I had.

It wasn’t only that. My first few days at school had been awful, worse than any day I had as an actual teenager. While assholes tried to stuff me in lockers, I still had real friends to whom I could turn. I had no one here, except for Alexandre, who had seen me in the hall this morning and invited me back to the Pit as his special guest. A part of me desperately wanted to go, but being in his presence did funny things to my brain. For one, I started having these images of us, going to Dairy Queen in his car, me joining the cheerleader squad, meeting his parents, and his father in particular. The images filtered through my brain, laughing and dancing their way, as the daggers they wore for shoes poked bloody holes in my remaining masculinity.

So, I couldn’t tell M. St-Valentin the truth, not if it meant it would push me into Alexandre’s arms. I realized afterward that I had told the truth through my body language, my posture with head lowered, shoulders slumped. I looked like a girl who had been bullied. I looked like Alyssa when I turned her down that first time - desperate and hurt.

I learned that Mercedes received a one week suspension for her actions, she was kicked off the senior cheerleading squad and removed from student’s council. That is when the taunts of ‘snitches get stitches’ started. Someone drew on my locker, ‘SNITCHES GET STITCHES’. The week felt like an eternity, and not even Ethan was speaking to me. I should have told them that they were acting completely counter to adult society but I kept my mouth shut. I thought it would make it worse. I really started thinking something was going to happen to me. My teachers must have noticed it too, because they were growing more concerned. Amélie was getting daily phone calls. Was it as bad as a marriage breaking up, losing one’s identity and gender, being treated differently by those who used to treat you as an equal? In my mind, it was, in fact, it was one hundred times worse. I filtered everything through the shallow body of the high school I was chained to.

When I told Amélie about my failure to secure any friendships, she tried to spin it by saying that at least I was attending school; the social worker would have to take that into account. I agreed with her in principle, and it wasn’t her fault I wasn’t making any friends after all. I would tell that to the social worker. I was more worried about what the specialist would recommend - medication. As I finished my first week at St. Jo’s, I must have looked the very spitting image of a self-harmer. Looking at the educational material on the net, I fit the profile perfectly. I really didn’t like myself. I saw the truth in Ethan's, Amélie's and even Alyssa’s statements- I thought I was better than my classmates, and admitting otherwise was lowering myself to their level, potentially becoming one of them. I also fit the profile because I continued wearing long sleeves, even as the Indian summer stretched into mid-September.

During my second week at St. Jo’s, I also realized I had taken on a new vice - overeating. This behaviour was not new, but its effects were. It started after my firing from the Locke Agency. I was still eating the same way I had as Darren, but I was also taking on added empty calories in the guise of cookies, soft-serve ice cream, potato chips, and even candy - something I hadn’t had in years.

As a guy, I wasn’t an emotional eater. I didn’t pack away fudge because something wasn’t going my way. Instead, I turned to video games and I did the same during the first few months after my change. I found that murdering innocent pixels was an excellent stress reliever. Now, however, pixelated blood did not have the same soothing effect as a freshly-baked chocolate chip cookie.
I didn't notice the effects of my overeating until I wore my school uniform for the first time. Amélie had used my size after my initial change, but the uniform was a tight squeeze, not wholly uncomfortable, but a few pounds more, and it would be.

The situation was exacerbated by my inability to make any friends at St. Jo’s, the looming social worker profile, my fallout with Ethan which threatened the existence of the band and my relationship with Amélie, who was more mother than wife now. The result- I consumed even more fattening food. I fell into a routine, going downstairs to complete my homework and bringing a few extra cookies, maybe a bag of chips, and at school, I bought junk from the vending machine. I was amazed how it dulled my worries. Poor score on my science lab? Chocolate was the answer. I had never sought the answer to my problems at the bottom of a bottle, pill or alcohol, except for my sleep anxiety, but a peanut butter cup dampened my concerns.

Inevitably, I gained more weight. I was actually eating more than I ever had as Darren Lawrence, and while I had a speedy teenage metabolism, the pizza pockets and pop I was consuming were taking their toll on my waistline. While I had been in the body for nearly six months, I hadn’t really noticed it change. When I first tried on my uniform, I noticed my skirt and blouse had been tight, but now, at the start of my second week, I had bona fide love handles peeking out over the sides of my skirt, and a little fat roll that oozed over the front. Another few pounds, and I would need a new uniform. My bras were a little tight, and the panties Amélie had bought me were cutting into my ass.

We didn’t actually have a scale in the house. I had convinced Amélie that the devices were the devil incarnate. I told her they were just numbers, they weren’t actually a reflection of how she looked or how others saw her. They didn’t see her walking around with the scale strapped to her feet, nor was there a massive neon sign above her obnoxiously blurting out my wife’s weight. I desperately wanted to weigh myself, even though it was against everything I stood for. It was hypocritical of me to say plumper women should be happy with their bodies when I wasn’t happy with mine. I didn’t think I was fat- well not really. OK, there was a part of me that scrutinized my body through the lens of a high-powered microscope. It was the part that said I was a blubber-filled whale. The part saw me fifty pounds overweight sometimes, when I was really only ten.

Before my gain, I hadn’t really thought much about my body. I knew I had boobs and an ass, and a nice face, but I hadn’t had any self-esteem issues concerning it. I also didn’t think I was hot or anything- that would have been too weird- a thirty-two year old man finding the fifteen year old body he was in, attractive. Now, these issues were front and centre. When I leaned over, I felt more of my stomach move downward than usual. It bunched up when I sat, and it was uncomfortable. I knew what Amélie felt like now. I knew what it felt to have your stomach push against your pants, to feel the fat squeeze together forming one unflattering roll that was visible through my blouse when sitting. Oh my god, I hated it. All day long in class, that little roll was there, stubbornly refusing to hide itself. I felt like everyone was staring at it.

Tuesday afternoon after gym class, I opened my locker to fetch my uniform, I noticed objects that weren’t there before class. My eyes widened as I saw a plastic pig nose with a thin string and a pair of pig ears held together like a hair band. Underneath that was a plate of cookies and a note that said, “Pour le cochon! Mange bien! OINK!”

Véronique, the likely mastermind of the insidious plot, said, « I’m pretty sure Alexandre doesn’t like fat girls, Abby. »

Her gang moved in beside me, grabbed my arms and forced the ears and the nose on my face, as Véronique grabbed a handful of cookies and tried stuffing them into my mouth. I choked as half-chewed pieces of chocolate chip cookie slid down my throat. My face was smeared with chocolate and crumbs. The fifteen and sixteen year old girls laughed at me. Here I was in my panties with my bra showing under the unzipped top the gym teacher had lent me. There was a little fat roll peeking over the top of the panties. I wanted to die. I must have looked odd, long sleeves and no pants but it hid the remnants of the spell. I no longer needed to wear a bandage, but the long slice mark was still visible. I should have shouted at them, told them they were acting like vicious dogs, told them that this was assault, and I could bring charges. But I didn’t.

Véronique said, « Awww look, piggy looks like she’s going to cry. Do you want more cookies piggy? » She grabbed the little roll of fat and squeezed it, and proceeded to stuff more cookies into my mouth.

Véronique taunted, « You probably wear that sweater to hide your fat, right Abby? Do you wait for everyone to leave and then take it off? You think Alexandre is going to want to go out with a fat pig like you? Pull it off her. Let’s see what she’s hiding underneath. »

So, I was unceremoniously stripped of the zip-up, and now my soft arms were completely visible and the long thin scars from my wrist up my forearm almost to my elbow. I had heard that girls were more vicious than boys. Even at a young age, girls could hurt far more with words than boys could with fists. I recall one afternoon at the park with Chloe, when an older child, probably five or six had called another girl ugly. The girl broke into tears and was inconsolable. I couldn’t believe how mean girls could be, but they were, and I was feeling the full brunt of it, and since Véronique had an audience, she relished in it.

She said, grabbing my arm, « So you are an emo cutter too? You going to come to school wearing clown makeup tomorrow? »

Even after seeing my arms, the girls continued to laugh. I don’t know if it was peer pressure or a mob mentality, but it was the single most humiliating moment of my life. Instead of elbowing them or fighting back in any way, physical or verbal, I started crying. Like seriously uncontrollably crying in front of all the girls in my class, and they continued to laugh, until one of them stood up. The only one who hadn’t been laughing.

Alyssa reached out and slapped Véronique in the face, hard. «That’s enough Véronique. No one deserves this, no one. Leave her alone. »

Véronique’s hand gingerly touched her cheek, which bore a red mark where Alyssa had struck her. The other girls stopped laughing and turned to see Alyssa, who was this stick of a girl, the supposed nicest girl in class, slapping one of the meanest - right in the face.

Véronique hissed, « Pute! You tell fatty, I will leave her alone if she stops hanging out with Alexandre. »

Alyssa shook her head, « I won’t say it. You’ve got no right to pick on anyone. None of us do. We all have flaws. » She looked at Véronique’s blonde junkyard dog who was holding my left arm, « You have a fat butt Samantha. »

She turned to the Latino girl who was holding my other arm, « Rachel, you have big ears. And weird looking toes. »

One girl who laughed at this also drew Alyssa’s ire, « Brianna, you have thin lips, and stringy hair. »

By this point, Samantha and Rachel had let go of my arms. I had stopped bawling, but my cries still came in spurts like hiccups. I tried to breathe gently to stop myself from hyperventilating.

Véronique sneered, « You have the body of a twelve year old boy, Alyssa. And you keep a pair of mosquitoes in your room, so every night you can at least wake up with bites that look like tits. »

Alyssa wasn’t fazed by Véronique’s insult; instead, she turned on the taller girl. « And you have scrawny chicken legs and a big nose. Your hair is thin. You have a bit of acne on your back. Oh, and you hide it, but everyone knows you have a little moustache. You just wax it every morning. »

Véronique covered her mouth with her hands, shouting, « Not every morning! » She realized her mistake, and the game was over.

Alyssa walked over to me and pulled off the pig nose and ears, tossing them into the garbage. The other girls went back to getting dressed, some of them whispering excitedly. Véronique had been bested, and while they were in her corner while she was on top, it was easy to hate one of the meanest girls in school. Since gym fell on the last period of the day, school was over, and Alyssa waited as I squeezed myself into my skirt. A few gasp cries still escaped from my mouth. I couldn’t believe how much Véronique’s taunts hurt.

Alyssa brushed cookie crumbs from my hair, and she brought a wet paper towel to clean my face, which had been smeared with chocolate. She asked gently, “Are you OK, Abby?”

I shook my head. I really wasn’t. I felt fat. I had no friends, my teachers were worried about me, Amélie was worried about me, and now everyone thought I was a cutter. To top things off, I was in this emotional state a day away from my appointment with the specialist. He was sure to suggest something- anti-depressants, which I heard could make you gain weight. Not to mention the social worker, who would paint me as some manic depressive teen cutter. I covered my face with my hands and started crying again. I had cried before, but not in front of children like this.

Alyssa spoke softly and rubbed my back, “It’s OK, Abby. Everyone’s gone.”

I said, although with some difficulty due to my crying, “I-I’m so sorry, Alyssa. I-I only watched that Katy Perry stuff because I thought it would make you like me. And I’m sorry about the s-summer too. I should have at least told you I didn’t- want to go. But I was- it’s just been so horrible. I have to see a specialist, for this…” I showed her my arms. “And there’s a social worker too. I’m so scared she’s going to take me away from my sister. None of this would have happened if I could have been e-emancipated.”

Alyssa blinked, “Wait, you really tried to get emancipated? When Ethan told me I didn’t believe it. I didn’t think stuff like that was even possible. And did you really work in a law office all summer? I guess considering what happened to you, it’s no wonder you don’t want to be here. I’m sorry I was so hard on you, Abby. It’s just, you know how it is, people start saying stuff about someone and well I believed it because you never replied to me. I thought you were just like Véronique.”

She gently rubbed my back, “You weren’t though. You were - well a lot like me last year, trying to get with Véronique and her stupid friends. I treated you the same way, and I am really sorry about that. I can see it now.” She turned her arms over, as I had done previously, and I could see the faint traces of self-harm. “I saw some kids do it on YouTube. My parents were getting a divorce, and I wanted some attention. I don’t do it anymore. I can help you. You know that doctor they want to send you to? I met with him last year. He’s really nice.”

I sniffed, “Really?”

I couldn’t have even imagined this scene in my head, it was so preposterous. A thirty-two year old man being consoled by a fifteen or sixteen year old girl. It was at this point, I realized that I didn’t need a friend to convince the social worker Amélie was competent - I needed one to survive this place. Amélie wasn’t sitting in class with me, and neither were my parents, but Alyssa was. The reason that I was in this position is because I viewed my classmates as children, but that is exactly as they saw me. I was one of them, and unlike the adult world that had pushed back at my attempts to enter it, the adolescent world was ready to embrace me with open arms, whispering, “You belong…”

Alyssa nodded, “I’ll help you, Abby. And I want to be your friend.”

I pulled back momentarily, away from her grasp. I raised my head, and saw myself in the mirror, my eyes were bloodshot and my face still wet with fresh tears. “Because you think I’m sick? Is that why you want to help me? Or because you think I can’t take care of myself against people like Véronique? I don’t want the pity of - ”. I was going to say child, but I remembered that Alyssa thought I was her age. Calling her a child wouldn’t endear me to her.

Alyssa took my hand, “I want to meet the girl that Ethan talked about so much the first week of school, and the one from dance class. And the one that’ll go to the beach with me next summer. I want to help you as your friend, Abby - not like you are some science experiment or because I feel sorry for you. I’m sorry I believed all the mean things that the others were saying about you.”

She said, “Ethan set me straight.”

I walked out with Alyssa, thinking perhaps that the other students would treat me better if they saw me actually hanging out with one of their own. We walked to the bus stop together. A part of me couldn’t help but feel that I had made progress, but I was equally worried because of the earlier feelings I had when I first met the girl. Time spent with her threatened to change me irrevocably, to the point where I might actually enjoy the activities we would pursue. She talked excitedly about helping me with my hair, surprised that I wore the same style every day. Alyssa was potentially a path to real adolescence and genuine femininity, but she was also the only person talking to me at school, other than my teachers. I would have to walk the path carefully, cautious not to be pulled along it at light speed toward a world where even my own wife wouldn’t be able to tell me apart from any other girl my age.

***

“So how was school today?” Amélie looked at me expectantly as I picked at the food on my plate. I had taken a bird-sized portion of my wife’s pepperoni casserole.

“Fine.”

Amélie frowned, “I don’t know what’s going on with you, and I can’t help you if you don’t tell me. I’m really worried about you, Darren. I know you, there is something wrong, and you are hiding it from me.” Amélie looked at me sternly, as if trying to pry the secret from my lips. There was compassion in her gaze too, but the surprising seriousness of her expression caught me off guard.

“It’s embarrassing. I don’t think I can really talk to you about it.”

Amélie wore a confused expression, “Darren, I showed you how to use tampons. I figured out your bra size, and bought underwear for you. What else is left? Is it a boy?”

I shook my head repeatedly, “No, nothing like that. It’s just- well…do I look fat to you?”

I sighed, “I’m starting to notice myself more in the mirror now. More than before. I knew what I looked like, but I guess- well I’m getting critical. I think I am seeing things that aren’t there.”

Amélie shook her head gently, “No, you don’t look fat to me.”

I frowned, “That’s what I always told you, so you wouldn’t go on a diet. I feel fat. My clothes don’t fit the same way. I’ve got a serious muffin top, and this fat roll at the front- I can’t believe I am saying this, but I hate it. It goes against everything I have ever believed about healthy body image. It goes against everything I have ever told you. I don’t like it, but at the same time, if I give in to this dieting mentality, well that’s a huge change in me.”

Amélie nodded her head and said gently, “Well, most teenage girls have body image issues. Most women in general.”

I shook my head and said firmly, “Yeah, but I’m not a teenage girl.”

Amélie replied, “I know, but it’s clear that the change has done something to your brain. Are you still thinking about boys?”

I lowered my head, “Can we not talk about this?” Since Alyssa told me that Ethan convinced her I was worth saving, my crush had returned with increased intensity. I felt my cheeks redden as I thought about him, and then there was Alexandre, who made me actually want him to explore my anatomy.

Amélie said, “Because of this change, it is entirely possible that you will actually develop a body image problem. I can’t imagine what’s going on in your brain, but if you are seeing yourself larger than you actually are, that is really common, Darren.”

Amélie added, “And it’s hard not to notice that you’ve been eating more, turning to food to alleviate your stress. It’s OK once in a while to indulge, but you’ve seen me- I eat what I want, but in smaller portions. I do indulge, but I watch myself. You may have gained some weight, but it could be something else too. Because you eat such unhealthy food with high salt and fat content, it is possible that you are retaining a ridiculous amount of water. Is your period coming up?”

I sighed, “You know it is.”

Amazingly, our time of the month had synched. I couldn’t understand how it was possible, since we were two entirely different people, but it had. Amélie suggested it was normal, and that when she lived with a group of girls during college, the same thing happened.

Amélie nodded, “Well you retain water. That’s the bloated feeling. So, you probably did gain some weight, but at least part of it is water weight.”

I said, “So in a week, my skirt will fit?”

Amélie replied with some hesitation, “Well- I mean- it’s possible. But if you want you could always exercise. You know I go to the gym almost every day. You could go jogging or do one of my workout DVDs. That’s a lot more healthy than dieting.”

She pointed to my plate, “And you certainly shouldn’t crash diet like that. It’s dangerous first of all, and second, they don’t work. One girl at work, she got pregnant and gained about sixty pounds, well after she finished breastfeeding, she tried to crash diet, and the whole thing imploded. She lost weight at first, but because she hadn’t changed her lifestyle or anything- she gained it all back and more.

I blinked, “But you dieted successfully when we first moved in together. You lost almost fifteen pounds.”

Amélie nodded, “I was calorie counting. Eating only 1200 calories a day. But I was also tired and miserable- I couldn’t keep up with the diet, and I gained it back. I’ve accepted that I am never going to be thin, I would have to give too much up. I want to enjoy life, and that means eating the things I enjoy, but eating sensibly too. I don’t want to be much bigger than this.”

I shook my head, “I’m not sure I want to go down that road though. I would feel like such a hypocrite. I am so against the dieting industry, and the idea that if a woman has extra meat on her bones that there is something wrong with her. Hollywood makes it seem like fat is a disease. I never want to be one of those people that discusses the benefits of low-fat yogurt for fifteen minutes. Or one of those people who looks at a thin model or even a person on the street and says, I wish that was me. That goes against everything that I am.”

Amélie said, “It comes down to this, and it was the same way with me. Are you happy like that, Darren? I mean we could get you a larger uniform, and you would probably actually start to fit in some of my clothes when I was that size, but are you really happy that way?”

I looked deep within myself for the answer to Amélie’s question, and I realized that I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t happy either way, but I was even less so now that I was clearly heavier. I weighed more as a man, but I was also ten inches taller, so the weight was distributed. I didn’t want to become a fitness junkie, but I also didn’t want a fat roll oozing over my skirt.

I shook my head, “No, I’m not happy like this. I was always skinny- remember when you used to call me ‘Bones’? So, I really don’t like this feeling, but I also don’t want to get obsessed.”

Amélie nodded, “Well I’m afraid we can’t afford another gym membership. Is there a workout room at the high school?”

I shrugged my shoulders, “I really don’t want to do that there. The girls- well they are really mean. They called me fat, and I couldn’t believe how much it hurt.”

I could tell that my words caught Amélie off guard because she raised her brow and pursed her lips. It was just another indication of how much her husband had changed since the initial transformation. She nodded gently, “Well you can start doing my workout DVDs, or like I said, you could go jogging.”

I nodded slowly, “Workout DVD I guess. I don’t really want people seeing me do this. It’s embarrassing.”

Amélie nodded, “Yeah, probably a good idea. There are a lot of creepers in the neighbourhood. Guys who actually slow down to get a good look at you. Ugh, it’s so gross. Always the scuzziest looking guys too. I can just imagine what kind of looks you’ll get.”

That night, after supper, I made a promise to myself that I would get down to my starting weight. I told myself that it wasn’t a rejection of my previous beliefs, it was just a matter of comfort.

***

The next day, I was to meet with the self-harm specialist, but in the meantime I had to attend class. I had history first, and M. Landry handed back our tests. I had, not surprisingly for a history major, aced the test. Alyssa, who had taken residence in a desk next to mine at the front of the class, was upset with her result. M. Landry had stepped out of the class, so the students were chattering about their test results in both French and English.

Alyssa frowned, “This sucks. I hate history. Just a bunch of stupid dates and people nobody cares about. I don’t get this stuff at all. And M. Landry is so old and mean. He hates me. I know it.” She looked at my test with wide eyes, “How do you do so well Abby? You almost got perfect!”

I nodded, “I guess I just understand it. I don’t see it as just dates and dead people either. I mean history, and this class in particular, it’s about the birth of a nation. We can see Canada grow from being a British colony to a near superpower at the end of the Second World War. In between, there’s prohibition, the Great Depression, and of course Confederation. There’s heroes and villains in history. It’s like a great story, but it really happened.”

Alyssa laughed, “Oh my god Abby, you sound like a teacher. And what did you do, read the whole textbook? How do you know all that stuff about history?”

I shrugged, “I find it interesting, so I did some more reading. You know you’ll find if you can link the dates together into a coherent pattern it can be easier, like if you look at the Great Depression. Well, you need to know the catalyst, in this case, the stock market crash. And then if you think about the ramifications, like people going to their bank and realizing that the banks have no money. People are starving and unemployment was high. So you see, if you look at it in that way, it’s easier to remember a date because it is linked to a series of events and consequences.”

Alyssa grinned, “Wow, you should teach the class! I bet you know more than M. Landry. And yeah like I get what you are saying- when you put it all together, it’s more than just a date. You explained it better than M. Landry. He’s so boring, like a big textbook full of dates.”

I nodded, “I agree. His teaching method is really outdated. He hardly uses any multi-media in his lessons. Just overheads with way too much information on them.”

Alyssa nodded enthusiastically, “Yeah exactly. You know a lot about teaching, Abby, is your sister a teacher? You probably learned all that stuff from her?”

I had to be careful here. Abigail would not know about pedagogy, which is the art of teaching essentially. It involves the study of instructional methods, including different teaching styles and delivery methods.

I shook my head, “She’s a lawyer. You can just see it. The younger teachers like M. Blanchard use a variety of delivery methods beyond just lecture style, right?”

Alyssa nodded, “I guess.” She laughed, “I know what Ethan meant when he said that he doesn’t understand some of what you say, Abby. You are really smart. You are lucky. I just don’t get a lot of this stuff.”

I heard an obnoxious voice behind us, « Failed another test, Alyssa? You going to be a teenage drop out? You know you can actually print applications for McDonalds from the net. I can give you the link. Then you could give Abigail a discount. »

Véronique was looking at Alyssa’s test result - a 49%.

Alyssa didn’t say anything, and neither did I, but I did snatch the test from Véronique’s hands. She did moderately better than Alyssa, but 51% wasn’t anything I would be proud of either.

I quickly scanned the test, noting the differences, and within five seconds, I had my ammunition. I noticed that the class had their eyes on me. Since my humiliation yesterday, some of my classmates treated me better, I assumed because now it was known that I was a cutter. I wondered also if a select few realized that Véronique’s behaviour had crossed the line from innocent teenage indiscretion to real world crime. Were the students, and the girls in particular, actually maturing before my eyes? There was an equal amount that still laughed behind me, snickering, no doubt pointing out my fat roll, or my arms, which at Alyssa’s insistence, I uncover. It was the first step, she explained. Everyone knew now, so there was no reason to hide them any longer.

I said, “You didn’t do much better Véronique. And in fact, I would say if not for the result, you did worse. You missed three of the easiest questions on the test. You did worse on the essay, which was the hardest part of the test. Alyssa did better than you there. You wrote that Confederation was in 1983, which couldn’t be more wrong. And you thought that it was the Dutch who settled in Quebec City, which considering you are French Canadian, is really sad and kind of insulting to your heritage.”

Véronique snatched her test back and cast devilish eyes in my direction. A few students laughed at the Queen Bee of the tenth grade whose stock was rapidly plummeting, and once two or three laughed, it spread like a wildfire. M. Landry returned to a class whose laughter was riotous. Véronique’s face was red. Normally, I wouldn’t have sunk to their level, because it was not usually constructive to battle bullying with an equal barrage, but if I could sufficiently cow Véronique I hoped she would turn her attention elsewhere. If I had been a real girl, I probably would have been permanently scarred by her fat taunts yesterday. It’s not like I was lingering in front of the mirror - much.

Alyssa was the last to stop giggling after M. Landry had told the class to be quiet. Even as the teacher began going over the test, I could see that Alyssa still had a case of the giggles. It had happened to me a few times in high school, and it was always embarrassing.

M. Landry walked over to the girl’s desk and said, « Mademoiselle Moore, considering your result on this test, I would hope you would pay very close attention to the answers as we go over them. Instead of tittering like a second grader. » The class was deathly silent.

Alyssa turned bright red and covered her mouth with her hands.

After class, Alyssa said, “Hey thanks, Abby. Um, do you think you could help me with history? You are really good with it. I would go to M. Landry, but he’s so mean. Did you see him picking on me? I bet he’s never laughed in his life. He’s probably a robot.” Alyssa proceeded to actually do the robot, which caused me to giggle, uncharacteristically, especially as she spoke in a robot voice, “I-am-M. Landry, I-am-programmed-to-hate-all-kids.”

After my brief giggling interlude, I nodded, “Sure, Alyssa. I will help you with history.”

Alyssa smiled, “Great! We should study together for the next test. OK? You could come to my place.”

I replied, “Um, yeah OK.”

On the way to science class, Alyssa spoke at a mile-a-minute, and I could see her old self emerging. She smiled at me knowingly, “So, what’s happening with you and Ethan? I mean I could totally see you guys together, he talks about you a lot. Even when he was mad at you, I could tell that you were on his mind. And I see the way you look at him, and this little smile you get. And the band, he played some stuff, and I love your voice, Abby! It’s so pretty. It’s angry, and I don’t like that usually, but I really think your voice is what makes it. I kind of picture this sad girl walking on top of knives when I hear it. Oh sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. You know, it’s like your voice is the pretty thing that rises above.”

I blinked, unused to Alyssa’s machine-gun mouth, “I get a smile? Really, um- I didn’t think so. And thanks, yeah I like the band too, my voice fits with the music.”

Alyssa nodded, “You should totally try out for Canadian Idol, but I don’t think they have it anymore. There’s local competitions, I know Véronique goes to them. There’s one in Ottawa every year too. They talk about it on Hot 89.9 (local radio station). I think there’s two every year. There’s one coming up. Oh! And there’s the coffee house too. Your band could play there. Is it true you have thirty year olds in there? That’s kind of weird, but Ethan said they are nice. I know you probably really don’t like her, but I think your voice is amazing, would you think about doing a Katy Perry song for one of them? I think you could do such a good job!”

I replied, “I have a lot of respect for Katy Perry. She’s really talented. Um- I’m not sure about singing one of her songs though, it’s not really my style. I had talked about doing a hard rock version of “Fireworks” with the band, but our drummer wasn’t into the idea.” Again, I had to filter my responses, but to be honest, I couldn’t even remember all of the girl’s questions.

Alyssa scrunched up her nose, “I guess you could do that, but I mean, your voice, it’s incredible, Abby. And when I hear you sing the ballads, I just know you could do so well in a different style. I don’t want to pressure you or anything, would you think about it at least? You don’t have to tell me right away, but maybe when you come to my place, you could sing one. I would love to hear you sing any of them, but California Girls is my favourite! That wouldn’t really test your voice like “Who am I Living For.”

I nodded, “I’ll think about it - um and yeah I actually really like “Who am I Living for.”

Alyssa grinned, “Great! So when are you going to come over?”

I was backed into a corner. If I turned her down, I threatened to lose the progress I had made with her up to this point. I threatened also to lose the only friend I had in this madhouse. After yesterday, I was not eager to let her go, even if it meant playing along with what she had planned for me.

I replied, “Well, I am speaking to the specialist today after school. And my parents are coming for dinner. Tomorrow night, I need to watch my niece. But Friday night -” I knew the social worker was coming to interview me on Thursday.

Alyssa beamed from ear to ear, “Oh cool. We could have a sleepover! I know it is super middle school, but we could really get to know each other. And I could do a full makeover on you, Abby. Hey, how come you don’t wear any makeup ever, does your sister not let you? I think you are old enough. Is it because you think it is cruel? I did a project last year on animal cruelty, but you can get makeup that isn’t tested on animals. I think you are one of the only girls in our grade that doesn’t wear any.”

I put my hands up, not yet ready to spend an entire night with the girl, or be the Frankenstein Barbie doll I was to become at her whim. I said, “Um, let’s start with me just going over to your place to study.”

Alyssa shook her head, “Who studies on a Friday night? Come on, Abby. Let’s have some fun.”

I said firmly, “People who want to pass their next history test, that's who. We’ve got a quiz on Monday. I’ll help you prepare for that, and then I’ll take a look at your notes. We’ll probably have another history test in a few weeks. I want to see how you prepared for the last one.”

Alyssa laughed, “OK. Whatever. Are-you-sure-you-aren’t-related-to-M. Landry?”

I shook my head, wearing a little smile instead of a full-on giggle fest. Apparently, the robot voice wasn’t as funny the second time. “Positive.”

Alyssa replied, “OK, so you’ll ask your sister if you can come over Friday night?”

I assumed I wouldn’t need permission. I just had to let Amélie know where I was, and I had to be back by nine . I hadn’t told Ethan or Alyssa about my curfew. I was supposed to be fifteen years old, and I had a curfew of a much younger kid.

I said, “Nah, she won’t have a problem with it. I just have to let her know where I am going.”

Alyssa replied, “Really? My mom is annoying. I guess we kind of live in a bad neighbourhood. Well it looks that way, so she’s scared for me. I always have to ask, like I am a little kid. Your sister sounds really nice. My mom is really strict.”

I said, “Well she trusts me I guess.”

Alyssa nodded, “You are so lucky.”

***

After school ended, my name was called on the announcements. I was to report to the guidance office. Alyssa insisted on going with me, and she stayed with me right up until the administrative assistant called me in. I was extremely surprised how quickly Alyssa had warmed to me, since our initial fallout the week before. I felt awkward because she was so excited to involve me in her life. I made a point to ask Ethan what he said about me to Alyssa. A part of me also thought that Alyssa was being extra nice because of my perceived condition, even if she said it wasn’t because of the cuts on my arm. Alyssa wished me luck, and I entered a small office. Sitting across from me was a middle-aged man, balding and thin with kind eyes and a hooked nose. I thought he looked like a bird, and I had to suppress my desire to giggle.

“Hi, you must be Abigail. I’m happy you came. My name is Doctor Phillips.”

I said, “Um, hi.” I fidgeted in my chair. My left leg felt like it had sugar coursing through it, causing it to shake up and down.

Doctor Phillips said, “It’s OK to be nervous, Abigail. I know this can’t be easy for you. Do you know why I am here to speak to you today?”

I nodded, “Because I cut my arms.”

He nodded gently, “That’s one of the reasons, yes. But it’s also because your teachers and principal are worried about you in general. I understand that this is a new school for you, is that right?”

I nodded.

He crossed his legs and folded his hands over his left knee. It looked effeminate, but who was I to judge? He wasn’t the one wearing a skirt, bra and panties. “Did you like your last school?”

I nodded slowly.

Doctor Phillips had an inviting expression. He appeared very open to converse or to listen. I was the exact opposite, back pressed against my chair firmly with my feet on the floor and legs closed tightly. My arms were crossed underneath my chest.

He said patiently, “I want us to have as open a dialogue as possible, Abigail. I also want to help you get better, just like your teachers, your principal and the School Resource Officer. We all want to help you, but you need to give me more information.”

I raised a brow, “Then maybe you should ask more open-ended questions?”

The doctor’s expression soured momentarily, and I smirked. The smile returned to his face on cue with mine, “Your teachers say you are a very smart girl, Abigail. Why did you skip the first week of classes?”

I answered, “Because I was trying to become legally emancipated. I worked in a law office all summer, and they had promised to hire me, so I started the process to be emancipated. They backed out, so I tried other firms after that. I was looking for a job that week.”

Doctor Phillips said, “But you also knew you were court ordered to attend school, right?”

I nodded, “I had worked as a paralegal all summer, successfully. I thought if I could convince a firm to hire me, I could begin my career.”

I watched Doctor Phillips chew the inside of his lip as I spoke. I found it distracting, but I really shouldn’t have. “A fifteen year old girl working in a law firm? I’m sorry, Abigail, but I have a hard time believing that. Your Career Studies teacher said that you weren’t able to provide him with a reference. But you brought him a cover letter and a resume that had the Locke Agency on it. If I called them, they would say you worked there?”

I nodded, “I left under less than auspicious circumstances, but yes, they would.”

Doctor Phillips nodded, “Abigail, are you telling me the truth? It’s very important that we establish that we can trust each other. I could see you working a photocopier, but are you telling me that a law firm trusted a fifteen year old girl to prepare cases for them? Do you know what a paralegal does?” I couldn’t figure out why Alyssa liked this man. He was condescending, despite the fact that he was saying everything in a controlled yet gentle tone.

I narrowed my eyes and sneered at the doctor. I unzipped the back pocket of my pack sack and pulled out my cell phone. I deposited it on the desk. I said through clenched teeth, “Call the Locke Agency. Stephanie or Anthony will be there. They work until six usually.”

He didn’t touch the phone. “The only reason I am challenging you on this, is that it is clear that your failed emancipation has affected you greatly. I am wondering if this is all in your head though, Abigail. That you created this emancipation attempt to escape from a new school.”

I took my phone, dialled the Locke Agency and put it on speaker phone. I was hardly surprised when I did not hear Chantal’s voice on the line. A young woman said, “Locke Agency. Bonjour, good afternoon. How may I help you?”

I said, “Please tell Stephanie that Abigail Grenier is on the line. It’s very important.” Doctor Phillips allowed me to proceed.

The young woman replied, “Hold the line while I direct your call please.”

“H-hello?” I heard hesitation in Stephanie’s voice. I had not spoken to her since my firing.

Before I had a chance to speak, Doctor Phillips spoke firmly, “Miss Locke, I am very sorry to bother you, but I have a young woman here, Abigail Grenier, a tenth grade student here at St. Jo’s that says she worked with you over the summer. Did you hire a fifteen year old girl to as her resume states: prepare disclosure packages, complete legal research and” his tone changed to incredulous as he read the last task, “help senior lawyers with arguments? Were your clients aware of her age? ”

There was a brief pause, and Stephanie answered brusquely, “Absolutely not. I have never hired anyone under that name to complete tasks as you describe, Doctor Phillips. Now, if you will -”

I shouted into the phone. My hands were shaking and my leg shaking had gone into overdrive. “Stephanie, you are lying! What about the Sanderson case!?” I looked at Doctor Phillips, “I was hired as a student initially, but once they saw I could do the work, they gave it to me. They were too busy, so I helped them with their cases! The Sanderson case, I did the whole thing. She’s lying to you, and I can prove it.”

Stephanie spoke calmly, “Young lady, we do not hire high school students. The program you are speaking of is a post-secondary internship for pre-law students.”

Doctor Phillips said, “Miss Locke, I apologize profusely for Abigail’s outburst. Please understand that I am trying to help the girl. I will let you get back to your work.”

He moved to hit the red disconnect button on the phone, but I swatted his hand away. I took the phone into my hand and turned it off speaker. I said, “How dare you, Stephanie. I know that I didn’t leave under the best circumstances but you can’t do this to me- you bitch. I have proof.”

A second later, the line clicked. Stephanie had ended the call.

Doctor Phillips frowned and wrote hurriedly on a large yellow notepad.

I said, “I have proof. They paid me with cheques. I just have to go to the bank and ...”

Doctor Phillips shook his head. I did have proof in the form of the cheques. It was an account I had opened at the same bank that held Darren Lawrence’s chequing account. He said firmly as he interrupted me, “Abigail, that’s quite enough.” He softened his expression and continued. “Again, I want to help you, but it’s clear that you were never employed at the Locke Agency. You don’t realize it now, but this delusion- it’s making you sick. And it’s probably what made you hurt yourself.”

I said, “You don’t understand. I did work there. Just ask Ethan. He and I met for lunch almost every day from mid-July to mid-August.”

Doctor Phillips asked, “This Ethan, he was a co-worker of yours?”

I shook my head, “He’s in a lot of my classes. He’ll tell you that I worked there. Véronique will too, she’s a bitch, but she was there too. I ate lunch right outside the Locke Agency office every day. Stephanie made me because she thought I wasn’t associating enough with kids my age.”

Doctor Phillips frowned deeply. This was clearly not what he wanted to hear. “Your friends will be great for your support network, but I can’t really trust their opinion. You know what bias is, right?”

I leaned in close to the doctor, my stance becoming aggressive as I put my elbows on his desk, “Of course I do. I also understand it in the context of unbiased witnesses, also known as disinterested witnesses. I know that they aren’t disinterested, but that doesn’t mean they won’t tell you the truth. This isn’t a courtroom, Doctor Phillips.”

I was starting to breathe heavier. The shaking of my limbs had not ceased either. This man was calling me a liar, and my body was betraying me. I rattled off even more legal knowledge, facts about jurisprudence and an understanding of the common law defences.

I realized as well, that this was not what Amélie and I had discussed for my session. I was supposed to play the one-time self-harmer, accept the treatment, and move on. Now, I had been pulled into a discussion that threatened to portray me not only as a self-harmer, but also delusional. In the doctor’s mind, I was some kid who thought she had worked in a law firm all summer. I couldn’t believe how stupid I had been. This is exactly what Amélie had warned me about, but once he started challenging me, I bit- hard.

Doctor Phillips spoke gently, “Take deep breaths, Abigail.”

He said, “I am glad that your one incident was your last. But, I am very concerned about you still. So, I want to give you some tools you can use to channel those feelings. First, you need to talk to someone you trust about this, your sister, your friends or even a teacher. You can speak to me too, but your family and friends are best as your support network. Also, I understand that you love music. That can work too. Write songs or poetry about what you are feeling. That is healthy.”

He frowned, “I have upset you. I can see that. I’m very sorry. We’ll shorten today’s session, OK, Abigail? I’d like to see you next week, to see how you are doing. I’ll be speaking to your sister too. She’s your legal guardian, correct?”

I nodded. I took deep breaths and slowly my limbs stopped shaking.

I left the session furious, angry at myself for divulging so much, and irate with regard to Stephanie who had told the doctor a bold-faced lie.

I called her again, my hands shaking as I did. Instead of the receptionist, Stephanie picked up. “Hello, Abigail.”

I screamed into the phone like a bratty kid, “Stephanie, how dare you! That was a doctor who now thinks that I am very likely mentally ill. Do you have any idea what this could do to me?! They could force me to take medication. You have to call him back, tell him the truth. He’s going to speak to Amélie, and I know he’s going to suggest medication. He thinks I am crazy. Please Stephanie, please.” By the end of my tirade, I could feel the tears tickling my cheeks. God, I cried easily.

Stephanie said, “I can’t Abigail, the business is at stake. Your case is unique enough that the doctor may publish his work, if he finds out that you were really working as a paralegal. We can’t let this get out. It would ruin us. We would be the laughing stock of what is a relatively small legal community here. In fact, Anthony and I could even be disbarred because of such a revelation.”

I shook my head emotion entering my speech, causing the words to twist and turn on my tongue, “I-I don’t care about your fucking firm, Stephanie. If you have any decency, any morals at all, you will call the doctor and tell him I-I worked there because if you don’t I’m going to be a shell of a person...with a fake smile on my face. Is that what you want?”

There was a long pause, and then Stephanie said, “I-I’m sorry, Abigail. I can’t.” Click.

In a rage, I took my phone and threw it as hard as I could against a nearby brick wall, just outside the school. Despite the protective case, the smart phone’s body was cracked, and the screen had an angry looking scar across it where it impacted against the cement. When I got on the bus, I tried calling Amélie but I couldn’t hear anything. The speaker was cracked, and to make matters worse, the touch capability was gone. The phone was ruined.

***

As I arrived home, I noticed my parents’ car outside the house. I didn’t want my parents to see their son dressed like a school girl, so I planned to try and sneak downstairs and change. Unfortunately, as I entered, Chloe spotted me and shouted, “Daddy, Daddy!” This brought my mom and Amélie to the top of the stairs too. Chloe was trying to figure out the baby gate, so she could come down and see me.

I smiled at Chloe, “Hi Chloe, did you have a good day today?” The little girl nodded. I could see that she was wearing a party dress. With her second birthday near the end of September, Amélie had bought her a frilly pink party dress. I guess she was showing it off to my mom.

I said, “Wow, Chloe, you are so pretty in your dress.”

Chloe beamed and pointed at me, “Daddy’s pretty.”

She then cast a quizzical eye in Amélie’s direction, “How come Daddy’s dress?” She pointed at my school uniform.

I could smell my mom’s spaghetti sauce. It filled me with good memories of family dinners, my sister refusing to eat the delicious sauce unless it was separate from the noodles and me doing my best impression of a Hoover.

Amélie said, “Chloe, do you want to eat?” My wife was clearly trying to spare my feelings. Chloe was very curious about her world now. This was not the first time she asked why I wore a skirt, which she assumed was a dress, but it was the first time in front of my parents.

I said, “Um- I’m going to change.”

A few minutes later, I was upstairs in a pair of Capri sweats and a t-shirt. The sweats were Amélie’s, but they fit perfectly now.

Two minutes into dinner, and Chloe already needed a bath. Her face was covered with spaghetti sauce. A quick hand through her hair mussed the locks, and also added streaks of spaghetti sauce throughout. She still ate primarily with her hands, recognizing that forks were still too slow.

I looked down at my plate and saw the same portion I had always eaten. I wasn’t dieting, but I was controlling my portion sizes. I decided to eat half of it, and then take the other half to school for lunch. We made small talk at first, discussing the fact that my mother was going to be taking care of Chloe starting the first week of October. Amélie had spoken to the daycare director who suggested Chloe stay until month’s end because we had already paid. I had mixed feelings about Chloe leaving her daycare. I liked the fact that daycare allowed Chloe to socialize, but I was certain my mother would bring her to the park to meet other children. There was also the matter of cost. My savings were dwindling, down now to under a thousand dollars, so I wouldn’t have been able to afford another payment.

We also discussed my father buying out my car. He put an ad in an auto trader magazine, which also offered an online option. It was set to run the first two weeks of October. He was the contact person. As for the specialist appointment, I diverted all attempts at conversation with regard to my meeting with Doctor Phillips with the tried and true teen method of avoidance- I told them everything went fine. Soon after, the conversation turned to the social worker visit.

Amélie said, “I have thought this through. I don’t think that we can say that you guys are Darren’s parents. I am supposed to be her older sister, so Darren’s parents would be mine. I think it would look very suspicious to a social worker if we said that Darren, or in this case, Abigail, had two sets of parents. She could be adopted, but then where are her adoption papers?”

Amélie continued while my mother, unsurprisingly, grew emotional. “I think we will have to say that Abigail left home to live with her big sister because the education opportunities were better in a larger city, especially for a girl interested in law. This all fits with Abigail’s attempt at emancipation through working in a law office. If social services does any digging at all, they will realize that Abigail isn’t the daughter of Pam and Richard Lawrence.”

My father frowned and put a comforting hand on my mother’s knee, “Your parents are five hours away. Is the social worker going to believe that your parents let their youngest daughter come and live with her sister?”

Amélie said, “I come from a very small town, so it is possible that yes, based on the limited opportunities, like say a lack of law or music classes for a talented and intelligent girl like Abigail, they would have allowed her to go. I’m afraid it’s more believable than you being her parents. A lot of people don’t actually get birth certificates for their children in my hometown because they have home births, until they actually need to drive. People don’t bother. They don’t like the government getting involved in their lives. This is recognized, and, because of that, I think I could get a birth certificate for Abigail. My aunt is a midwife, and I’ve told her what happened. My parents are on board with this, and they are even willing to come in and validate the story. My aunt said she can begin the paper work required as soon as I get your blessing.”

Amélie added, “I’m sorry to have to do this, Pam, but I think it’s the only way.

Surprisingly, my mother nodded her head. “I understand Amélie. We don’t want social services taking Darren away. As much as it pains me, I know it’s the right thing. And it’s not like we won’t be in your life. I’ll be taking care of Chloe, and I will see Darren every day when he gets home from school.”

My father looked at my mother with equal surprise, “Pam, I thought you would be more upset. This is our son.”

She nodded, “I know, Richard, but I don’t see a way around it. We’ll still be his parents.”

My father said, “I still think there’s a hole in the story. There’s no way I would have wanted any of our children living five hours away from us, especially as teenagers. And what if the social worker decides that Darren should live with his parents again? He’s going to move back ‘home’?”

Amélie said, “To authenticate the story, my parents are willing to drive down, at the very least, once a month. And they will come in and speak to the social worker certainly.”

My father said, “That doesn’t address the issue I raised.”

Amélie replied, “It’s a necessary risk, Richard.”

My father looked at me, “Darren, what about school, is it going better for you now? Amélie said that things weren’t going well. The social worker will likely be more hesitant to remove you if things are better.”

I shrugged my shoulders, “Things are fine.”

My mother asked, “Are you making any friends? Amélie said that she got a lot of calls your first week. She said some bullying was going on too.”

I shrugged again, “A girl named Alyssa. She’s in almost all my classes. And the bullying stopped, I was kind of - well I was acting like I was better and more mature than my classmates. I guess they didn’t like that.”

My mother frowned, “When I heard what had happened to you, and how they ruined your bag. I wanted to march down to that school and give them a piece of my mind.”

Amélie said, “Well things are going better now it seems. I called the school about the bullying incident, and the girl was suspended.”

I turned my head toward Amélie, eyes wide and mouth agape, “It was you? I thought one of the kids came forward.” I looked her straight in the eyes, “Do you have any idea how difficult it’s been at school for me because of that? I can’t believe you told the principal! The kids say stuff behind my back about it, and they wrote graffiti on my locker.”

My father said, “Listen to what you are saying, Darren. Amélie would have had to tell the principal about what happened to you. She wouldn’t have been doing her job otherwise. We did the same thing when you were bullied in high school.”

My mother nodded in agreement, “If the social worker somehow knew that you were being bullied, and Amélie kept it a secret, the social worker would probably think she was a poor guardian.”

My father said, “You have to look at the big picture.”

I realized that I was slowly losing the ability to do just that. My perspective was skewed. I was beginning to see and care only about the world within the yellow walls of St. Jo’s. The reaction of the social worker was not even on my mind. Instead, I saw how Amélie’s due diligence had caused nothing but hardship to me. My classmates hated me because she had told.

Ironically, I had explained to Alyssa about the links between historical events, but the ability to see links within my own life was slipping away. This meant that when making decisions, I would consider the ramifications even less than I did before. I would be unable to put the pieces together that something I was doing might be inherently dangerous or stupid- like throwing my phone against a wall. Was Amélie going to buy me another one? I would live more and more in the moment, seeing only what was right in front of me. I could fall victim to peer pressure, seeing the world only through the narrow scope of high school and the friends I had reluctantly chosen.

I replied, “I know. I can see it.”

But, I couldn’t.

Chapter 49

“I don’t like it, Amélie. I don’t want you to tell people that I just left you and Chloe. It’s something I would never do to you. Walking out like some dead-beat dad, it’s so dishonourable. Anyone who knows me, they’ll think - they’ll know it’s a lie.”

My parents had left a half hour ago. Since then, Amélie and I had been fencing back and forth, trying to determine the best way to tell the world that Darren Lawrence, for the purpose of the social worker’s visit, was no longer part of ours.

Amélie replied gently, “The alternative - that you went missing is far worse. It puts a strain on your parents because there will be a police investigation. And it brings the police here. I will have to file a missing person report. It’s an ugly and convoluted way to deal with your disappearance. And what if the police undercover something else? They uncover that you aren’t actually my sister? What then?”

I blinked in surprise, feeling suddenly under attack by my wife. I knew she was stressed with the visit tomorrow, but a courtroom atmosphere had invaded our former master bedroom. I paused to collect myself, trying desperately to block the tide of emotions that threatened to spill forth. I felt like a leaky faucet sometimes.

I frowned, “Amélie, I also really don’t like the plan of telling our friends that I took off either. And why did I leave? Because I couldn’t stand being married to you, that I wasn’t ready to be a father? Or some other hackneyed reason?”

Amélie looked at me seriously. I felt that it was a patronizing glance, so I glared at her. I really wasn’t sure. I was having more difficulty reading my wife’s more complex emotions. It didn’t help that in preparation for the social worker’s visit, she had been extra hard on me. At least, that’s how I felt.

“It’s believable. There are plenty of men and women who realize that they aren’t ready for parenthood. And plenty of marriages that break up. It also has fewer holes than your missing person idea. This way, you could even write me e-mails, telling me where you are.”

She continued, “Maybe, you set off to live out your dream of being a rock star, so you moved to Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver. Or maybe even to the US or overseas. You send what money you can. That should make you look less like a bad guy.”

I shook my head, “I think it’s a stupid idea. It sounds like a bad movie. And it still makes me look like an asshole. Just less of a colossal one. What kind of thirty year old leaves their family like that? I could see a teenager doing that or someone in their early twenties.

Amélie narrowed her eyes at me, “Then come up with your own.”

I nodded, “How about this? I am attending law school in a different city. I haven’t abandoned my wife and child, but instead, I am trying to get a professional education, so I can support them better. It would have to be somewhere far away enough that I couldn’t come home every weekend or anything.”

Amélie readily agreed, “It’s better, and it paints you in a better light at least. If you were gone to Vancouver then that’s a plane trip. We could say you connect by Skype every few days. Abigail came here to help me with Chloe, but also because of the educational opportunities. And Darren’s parents take care of Chloe during the week to help us save money. Actually, I think this could work. Since, you aren’t involved with Abigail at all, there’s no reason for you to be involved in the interview process.”

She added, “This plan might make your parents happier, at least they can tell people you are pursuing higher education. Your parents, and especially your dad, looked really sad tonight. I wonder if they think they are losing you because of the story involving my parents. This brings them back into the fold at least.”

I shook my head, “I don’t get it. What do you mean they are losing me? I’m right here. I’ll see my mom every day after school, just like when I was a kid.”

Amélie quickly changed the subject, “Yeah, I guess you will, Darren. Anyway, let’s hammer out the exact details. Do you have any homework though? Maybe I should work on them alone.”

I frowned, “Amélie, I think crafting this story properly is more important than my stupid algebra homework.”

Amélie shook her head, “You aren’t doing well in math, Darren, compared to your other classes. I think you should do it. Plus, I need the social worker to think that you listen to me, and that you do as you are told. If they interview your math teacher, and they learn your grade is low because you aren’t doing your homework that’s a strike against me as your guardian.”

I shrugged my shoulders, rolling my eyes slightly as I did, “Fine, I guess that makes sense. I hate math though, and I can actually say, that I never used 90% of what I learned.”

Amélie said nothing else, and I trudged downstairs to complete my homework. It was amazingly similar to how my own parents simply stopped acknowledging me when I tried to argue with nonsense. I really didn’t think it was prattle though, I just didn’t see the point in math. I wanted to be a lawyer. I would have my accountant do the math!

A few minutes into my algebra, I heard Chloe crying above my room. This crying turned into hysterical shrieking. I heard Amélie stomp into the room and shout at her. This was the second night in a row now that she hadn’t slept well. I put my ear buds in and allowed my music to blare, drowning out the cries of my daughter. The terrible twos were upon us. The behaviour during the summer was apparently the dry run.

***

After science class the next day, Alyssa leaned over and asked me, “So, what’s going on with Ethan and you? You think he’s going to ask you out?”

I shook my head, “No. I already told him that I just want to be friends. Plus, if we are going to play in the band together, we need to keep our relationship professional.”

Alyssa laughed loudly, “Abby, you are hilarious. What does that even mean? A professional relationship? You sound like my mom. I hear her talking sometimes to her friend Theresa, and she’s saying, she has to be platonic, professional with one of her co-workers. I think his name is Jaime. Well, anyway, she’s like going on and on about it. I want my mom and dad to get back together - she’s super annoying to have to listen to.”

She added, “Plus, my mom works in an office or something, you go to high school, why the heck would you have to be ‘professional’?”

I replied, “Relationships can break bands up. Bands themselves are already like families. Everyone has to be on the same page to make them work, so if the lead singer and the guitar player start fighting, well it brings the whole band down.”

Alyssa shook her head and smirked, “You think about stuff way too much. So this band doesn’t work? Well start another one. Ethan was in like three different bands last year. It’s not a big deal. You are super talented, Abby. You’d get in another band the next day.”

I shrugged my shoulders, “This band is special. We have something - real chemistry.”

Alyssa was unconvinced, “But you haven’t played for weeks.”

I said firmly, “We are playing this weekend.”

Alyssa shook her head, “Well then you should tell Ethan because he’s been asking me about it - and you.”

I raised a brow, “What’s he saying?”

Alyssa smiled, “That he wants you and me to eat lunch with him and his friends. And he was going to ask you, but you look - how did he put it? Um, pissed off like you are shitting apples.”

I blinked, “I do? And what does that even mean?”

Alyssa nodded, “Well- you don’t look very happy to be here. Lots of kids call you emo behind your back. And um, I don’t know what Ethan meant exactly - boys don’t make a lot of sense. I guess he means you look mad. What do I know? Well you did. I notice you smiling more since you and I started hanging out. I’m just that funny.”

I smirked, “Maybe I’m just humouring you.”

Alyssa looked at me with a puzzled expression, “Huh?”

My smirk disappeared. I had to explain words and phrases I used regularly because otherwise Alyssa would just stare at me and then laugh, thinking I was trying to be funny. I said, “It means that I am laughing at your jokes, but I don’t think they are funny.”

Alyssa frowned, “Really? Why would you pretend to do that? That doesn’t seem very nice.”

I shook my head, “I was being sarcastic. I’m not really humouring you, Alyssa. It was a joke.”

Alyssa grinned, “OK. You and Ethan both, sometimes I can’t tell if he’s being serious or not. I’m going to start calling you the sarcasta-twins.”

I laughed, but this time, I really was humouring her.

Alyssa smiled, “So, are we going to eat lunch with him? Done being mad at him?”

I raised a brow, “Why are you so insistent we eat lunch with him and his friends?”

Alyssa said innocently, “No reason.”

I saw right through her. She was either trying to set Ethan and me up, or she had a crush on one of his friends. I could read Alyssa so well, she was practically see through.

We made our way to the lunchroom. I had not braved the Pit since my humiliation at the hands of Mercedes. During the walk there, I came face to face with Alexandre. Little beads of sweat tumbled down from his brow. He had likely just finished gym class. The red and brown uniform all St. Jo’s students were mandated to wear clung to his body. His muscular pecs pushed out obscenely against the front of the tight red t-shirt. My own nipples followed suit as I viewed the veritable Adonis. He filled out his gym clothes even better than his uniform. It was clear that he was juicing, as very few teenage boys had a body like his. He could have fit in well with the greased wrestlers from my youth who also took steroids. His biceps threatened the seams of the t-shirt, making it seem as if the garment was having difficulty containing the mass of muscle.

His shoulders, similarly built, had traps that extended upward removing any semblance of a neck. He stepped toward me, subtly flexing his biceps, knowing that my eyes were glued to them. The moment he looked at me I forgot that Alyssa even existed.

I felt a stupid smile appear on my face as I gently started twirling a strand of blonde hair around my finger. The instant attraction had returned. I was ready to ask him to suck my face, and he hadn’t even said a word.

Alexandre said, « Bonjour, Abigail. »

I swooned back and forth. I felt Alyssa push her body against mine to keep me up, but Alexandre’s hand was too fast. His hand in mine, I looked up at him as if he had saved my life. I licked my lips and replied, « B-Bonjour…A-Alexandre. »

Alexandre said, « You want to come and eat in the Pit, I’ll make sure everyone leaves you alone there. »

He put his hand on my hip, and I would have fallen into his arms, allowing him to carry my diminutive self, if it wasn’t for Alyssa, who quickly grabbed my hand and pulled me away. She was surprisingly strong, and the further away we moved from Alexandre, the less I fought her.

Outside the door to the lunchroom, Alyssa said, “Woah girl, what’s gotten into you? Since when have you liked Alexandre? I mean- you looked like you wanted him to do - stuff to you. I thought you liked Ethan?”

I shook my head, and the haze that surrounded me finally dissipated completely, “Uh- well, I’m not really interested in boys.”

Alyssa laughed, “Are you kidding me? You were practically panting. You’ve got it really bad- just for the wrong guy. Alexandre is a real jerk. He is mean to anyone he doesn’t want to have sex with. He had sex with Véronique apparently, and now she throws herself at him. And now you. What is it with girl musicians going for bad boys?”

I shrugged, “You mean like Whitney and Bobby Brown?”

Alyssa made a face. She scrunched her eyes, curled her lip slightly and said matter-of-factly, “Uh more like Rhianna and Chris Brown, or especially - Katy and Russell Brand. You know the second half Teenage Dream is written about him. And Circle the Drain is pretty much their life together. Ugh- what a dirt bag. Who’s Whitney and Bobby Brown?”

I shook my head, “Never mind. Ethan doesn’t like Alexandre either. What did he do to him?”

Alyssa said, “Ethan will tell you. It happened last year. Well he probably won’t. It was really, really bad.”

I said, “Alyssa, if I ever look at Alexandre like that again, slap me, drag me away. Do whatever you can. OK?”

Alyssa nodded, “Oh don’t worry, I will. I’m not going to let you go out with him. You know that he talks to his muscles, and they talk back?”

I emitted high-pitched giggle, which surprised me. Alyssa just smiled at me.

We entered the lunchroom, and Ethan waved us over. He was sitting at the table with two other boys, one of them I recognized as Eric, a tall gangly skater who I had initially asked for footage of my bullying incident, and the other, Ryan, who I had never spoken to but knew from Career Studies and Music. Ryan looked to be an athlete, but unlike Alexandre, he actually had a neck.

Ethan said, “Hey! So what’s wrong with your phone, Abby? I’ve been trying to text you.”

There was a measure of hurt in his eyes. I had unknowingly given him the silent treatment, although considering his behaviour after last week’s debacle regarding the footage, perhaps it was partially deserved. I was thankful that Alyssa had stood up to help, but apparently, it was Ethan who had told her the truth about me. He was the one who convinced her that I was worth saving.

I bit my lip gently, “Well, it’s kind of a long story. But basically, I had to see a specialist about my arms and he accused me of lying about working at the Locke Agency. Worst of all, Stephanie completely lied when I called her. Said I never worked there. So after, I kind of - well I smashed my phone. I was in this insane rage.”

Alyssa frowned, “Doctor Phillips really wouldn’t believe you? That’s weird. He was so nice to me.”

Ethan narrowed his eyes, “But you did work there. I’ll tell him.”

Eric and Ryan watched the exchange. I was surprised how easily Alyssa shared her story. Given how common it is for students to post their problems on Facebook and YouTube, I wondered if those digital media had actually altered the teenage mindset. Where teens would tell their best friends their secrets in the past, now they plastered them on a digital wall or made a video about it, seeking help from not only their peer group, but the entire Internet it seemed. Still, I couldn’t remember even one time when a student had come to me with such a problem, unless they wanted an extension on an assignment.

I sneered, “He said basically that your statement isn’t valid because it’s biased.”

Alyssa’s frown deepened, “That doesn’t sound like him at all.”

I shook my head, “Yeah, well if you just agree with what he says then he’s fine. He’s trying to convince me that I’m crazy. He says I’m delusional. I don’t want to go back.”

Eric spoke up, “Well they shouldn’t make you. It’s not right.”

Ryan nodded in agreement, “It’s like last year, M. Landry said I was cheating on a test. Well it wasn’t actually me - and he wouldn’t believe me. I even had a witness, but he said that we were both liars. That guy is a prick. It’s like teachers and doctors or whatever, they want to help us but then they don’t trust us. It’s - um - what’s the word?”

I said, “Hypocritical. They are hypocrites, but I guess it’s ageism mostly. They think just because they are older that they are right - well age doesn’t make you invulnerable to mistakes. Case in point, Alyssa - you should see M. Landry. He made a mistake on your test. When I looked it over yesterday, I realized that. You probably have five more marks. Sorry, I should have told you yesterday.”

Ethan laughed, “There’s Abby, the walking dictionary.”

Alyssa shot a dirty look Ethan’s way and replied to me, “Really?”

I nodded, “When I come over Friday, I’ll take a look at it again, but I’m pretty sure. He marked your essay really hard.” I added, “It’s always a good idea to check your answers and the calculations too. History teachers aren’t math teachers. But you should also check the addition on math tests too.”

The table laughed and between that and the shared stories, I felt a kinship - a near acceptance amongst my peers.

Eric turned to Ethan and Ryan. He showed them a video on his phone. “This is the trick I want to try next.”

Even though I couldn’t see the screen, I could hear the video.

Eric said, “Best way is to wait for a car to stop and then sneak on the back. Let it pull you for a bit, let go, and do it again with the next car. My older brother has done it a few times.”

I had seen Eric pull off impressive tricks with his skateboard. He could ride down a metal railing sideways, and he could get serious air on the half-pipe, but what he was proposing was not only idiotic - it was extremely dangerous too. Skitchin’ as it was called in the 90s, involves skateboarders, inline skaters and even cyclists hitching rides on cars by holding onto their back bumpers, door handles- anything that can be used to steady them. I had stupid friends as a kid, but none of them attempted anything that reckless and perilous.

Ethan nodded, “Yeah man, I want to see that. Do it on the bus or something.”

Ryan was also in agreement, “Dude, you definitely need to record it. Put it on YouTube.”

A quick look in Eric’s direction confirmed that the concurrence from his peers had steadied his resolve, but the smile he received from Alyssa took that resolve and turned it from brash confidence to a titanium-coated invulnerability.

Alyssa said, “I want to see it too.”

Eric grinned, full of teenage bravado, “Really?”

My suspicions were confirmed - Alyssa liked Eric. She may have talked about him before, but she spoke so rapidly and about multiple subjects that I usually chose one or two to reply to. Looking over her essay, she spoke the way she wrote - in constant run-on sentences. She was an English teacher’s nightmare. I was surprised that she was interested in watching the stunt. I assumed that most girls would consider Eric’s behaviour immature. From my experience as a teacher, high school girls were usually light years ahead of the boys, who still thought that fart jokes were funny.

I was beginning to realize that Alyssa not only looked younger than fifteen, with the pink butterfly clips she used to hold her hair and her mostly undeveloped figure, she also acted that way. She was the perfect dance instructor for kids because she seemed to genuinely enjoy playing with them even if it meant strapping on fairy wings and waving a magic wand. The girl wasn’t stupid, but she had fun on the brain. She was the type of kid who would have done better with regard to her school work if she applied herself and stopped obsessing about Katy Perry. I expected that my tutelage and companionship might help in that respect, unless it backfired, and I became like her. I couldn’t imagine myself ever changing to the point where I would think that Eric’s stunt was cool or sick, as Ethan would say. All I saw were potential lawsuits, skin grafts from major road rash, and the possibility of some, if not many, broken bones.

As the discussion continued, I said nothing. I ate my lunch as Eric spoke of the finer details of bumper holding. It was safer than car doors, apparently, because if the doors weren’t locked, they could fly open when the car turned.

Why wasn’t I saying anything? Why wasn’t I wagging my finger in front of Eric’s face, telling him how dangerous and stupid his idea was? I wanted to tell the whole table they were acting like kids, especially Ethan who I thought was more mature than the others, especially Eric, who had a serious case of stupid to even consider holding onto the back of a moving car at any speed, but I didn’t.

I didn’t say a word.

I should have been the mature one and told Eric he was being idiotic, lambasted Ethan and Ryan for enabling him, and lectured Alyssa for encouraging him with her smile. She was the worst offender because girls held the power in high school. At least that had been my experience during my first run through. Girls could control the fate of boys with subtle looks, like half smiles and furtive glances, but they could dominate them with their boobs. After nearly two weeks at St. Jo’s, I had learned that teenage boys were obsessed with breasts. OK- as a teenage boy, I really liked them- I mean really liked them, but I wasn’t worshipping at the feet of some mammary deity like this generation was. Maybe it was because I was bigger up top than a lot of girls, but I got a lot of stares, and some of them hardly subtle. I caught one kid watching my chest bounce up and down on the bus yesterday during a particularly rough patch of road.

Now that I was no longer the pariah I was last week, or even days ago, boys were starting to notice me. While Alyssa didn’t have the assets I had, Eric still clearly liked her, and I was positive that if she had come forward and said that she thought the idea was stupid, Eric would have realized there was no chance at boob and renege.

Ethan broke my train of thought, “Hey Abby, so what’s going on with the band? That’s what I was texting you about. Are we jamming this weekend?”

Ryan said, “Hey, if you guys are jamming this weekend, can we come over? I want to see you guys play.”

Eric and Alyssa nodded their heads. I was beginning to wonder if peer pressure turned teenagers into bobbleheads- agreeing with everything their friends said and did.

Ethan said, “Hey, uh- I don’t even have my answer yet.”

I said, “Well I’ll text the guys. I want to get back at it. I’ll go crazy if I don’t play soon. It’s been too long.”

I was glad that Ethan was still into the band. I was also pleased that I was not afflicted with insane lust in Ethan’s presence, the same way I was in Alexandre’s. With a complete lack of crush symptoms, I was beginning to think that maybe we really could be friends.

Ethan asked, “Isn’t your phone busted?”

I realized that it was, but it was such a part of my life that something in my brain refused to believe that it was gone, almost, and sadly, like a lost limb. I felt absolutely naked without the device, cut off from Amélie entirely and with nothing to listen to on the bus except for inane chatter and gossip. After less than day, I was already having serious withdrawal symptoms. My hand would go into my bag looking for it, and when I retrieved nothing, I felt a frown appear on my face.

I said, “I’ll just buy a new one. I made a lot of money this summer at the firm.”

With the exception of Ethan, the table gasped.

Ryan said, “Your parents would let you just buy a new phone like that? How much was your old one like four hundred dollars?”

Alyssa bobbed her head, “My mom would kill me if she found out I broke my crappy phone. And she wouldn’t let me buy a new one, even with my own money.”

Ethan said, “Hey Abby, you could have my old iPhone. It’s only an 8 gig and the screen is chipped, but it still works.”

With those words, the crush resurfaced. I lowered my head, and a little smile crept onto my face. He was so nice. And cute. Alyssa giggled beside me. I almost expected her to go “Oooooh!” I told myself that he was probably only interested in my boobs.

I composed myself and replied, “Nah, it’s alright. My sister is cool. She’ll let me. It’s my money.”

***

“Darren, I don’t think it’s a good idea. We’ve got the hydro bill coming up. And we just had to get the washing machine fixed. That was two hundred and fifty dollars. We need your savings for things like that. We shouldn’t have to rely on my parents and your parents.”

I shook my head, tossing my blonde locks in the process. Amélie gave me a strange look, as if she thought I had meant to toss my hair dismissively. I replied, “But I really need a phone. What if you need me to pick up Chloe, or if there’s an emergency?”

Amélie nodded, “I agree with that, but you don’t need one like your old one. Do you really think it’s a good idea to spend hundreds of dollars on a phone when your savings are down to under a thousand dollars? Your parents can only cover your half of the mortgage. What if something else breaks? What if we have to get the car fixed?”

I replied, “So, if your phone broke one day, you wouldn’t go out and buy a new one? I bet you couldn’t go even one day without your phone.”

Amélie shook her head, “I could, and I’d make do. Throughout everything that has happened to us over the last six months- I’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices, Darren. I’ve been really careful with my money. I haven’t bought any new clothes or anything for myself. I had to buy you a new bag, and we had to fill your closet in preparation for the social worker. We just can’t afford it.”

I narrowed my eyes, “So, I’m just going to go without a phone? That’s fair.”

Amélie offered what I am sure she thought was an olive branch, “You can use my old phone.”

I scrunched up my nose and lowered my jaw. I was disgusted with my wife’s offer. I raised my voice a few decibels, “That phone is five years old. It’s so slow…and it’s got no touch screen! And- it’s pink. Come on, Amélie, you can’t expect me to use that.”

Amélie’s phone was known as the Text-girl PRO, but there was nothing professional about it. It featured a full texting keyboard, but other than that, it was just a phone. Well, it surfed the Internet, but with painful mind-numbing slowness. It opened websites, but instead of links, it opened the entire site, and the user was forced to scroll through it like a never-ending text document. For someone who was used to the blazing fast speed of a newer smartphone, this was a serious downgrade.

Amélie nodded her head, “Darren, I’m not the one who broke my phone. I do expect you to use that phone. Maybe we could talk to your parents and make your birthday and Christmas present a new phone, but I really think you should stick with this one. There’s nothing wrong with it.”

I replied, “But-!” I was interrupted by the doorbell. The social worker.

A middle-aged woman stood expectantly at our doorway. Amélie opened the door for her, welcoming her with just a hint of insincerity in her voice. Neither of us wanted her here, but thankfully, Amélie’s acting classes from college had enabled her to play the part of the gracious hostess.

As she entered, I noticed that she had a bluster about her. She stepped into our house confidently with a leather-bound notebook and a small black purse. She was heavyset with dark curly hair and a stern disapproving manner. From the top of the stairs, I could see the woman’s eyes darting back and forth. I felt she was trying to intimidate us, but I just glowered at her. Chloe, meanwhile, wanted to greet our guest as she pulled fiercely on the baby gate, like some caged animal. Chloe had entered her terrible twos with a vengeance. I desperately hoped she would behave tonight. I thought that Amélie had been harsh with me earlier concerning the phone, but it was likely partially because she had been up with Chloe for three nights straight. She was having little tantrums over everything. She had awful timing. When I tried to pull her away from the gate, she started screaming like she was possessed- a horrifying guttural “Momma!” followed by hysterical crying. Not a good start.

As I continued trying to pry Chloe away from the gate, Amélie led the social worker up the stairs. She opened the baby gate and managed to pull the out of control toddler away from there, and then brought her to the kitchen.

The social worker greeted me with a slight nod, “Abigail, can you show me around your home while your sister tries to calm your niece? I am Mrs. Warner.”

I shrugged my shoulders and then took her on a tour of the house. At various intervals, she took notes, such as when she noticed the dirty dishes in the sink. I was supposed to have done them after dinner, but I didn’t. There were three days’ worth of dishes in the sink and on the counter. This was unusual for us, but with Amélie busy with Chloe and my stress-filled school days, I was in no mood to put on a pair of rubber gloves and scrub away grime.

She also took notes when she saw the spare bedroom downstairs that had become the junk room. It was where Amélie had stashed all of Darren’s- my things. Amélie had tried to tidy it, but we simply had no room to store it elsewhere.

I brought her to the band room.

Mrs. Warner said, “So this is where your band practices? The one with the thirty-year old men?”

My mouth opened in surprise, but I quickly shut it. I replied, “How did you know about that?”

She said, “Abigail, I don’t want you to be frightened. I’m not here to make trouble for you or your sister. I am just doing my job, and sometimes that means asking hard questions. The Big Gob Brewery owner, she thinks very highly of you, enough that she posted pictures from your two performances on the bar’s website.”

I blinked, “The Gob has a website?”

Mrs. Warner said, “Jacynthe said she got someone to design it after your second show. She wants to help promote your band. She also wants to attract other acts.” Wow, this woman had done her homework. I guess she Googled my name and found it on the Gob’s site.

Mrs. Warner continued, “I know from speaking to your teachers that you are a smart girl, Abigail. So, you probably know what a social worker does. I’m here to make sure that your sister can take care of you. I know that teenagers can be a handful - I’ve got two of my own. I need to make sure she can provide for you, give you a good stable home, and make sure she can control you. I understand that you missed the first week of school. Why is that?”

I said, “No offence Mrs. Warner, but that’s an example of faulty reasoning. Not all teenagers are like yours. That’s a personal bias. Do you not need to create a thorough profile of my home life and school life and judge Amélie’s competency based on that? You can’t base any of this on your own children.”

A little smile appeared on the woman’s face, breaking her stern demeanour, “That’s what I usually say, but you’ve seen through it. Your Career Studies teacher, he says you want to be a lawyer.”

The stern expression returned a second later, her face hardening and her brow furrowing, resetting into a tempered state. “Please answer my question, Abigail. Why did you skip your first week of classes?”

I replied evenly, “I was looking for a job. I was trying to become emancipated. I worked in a law firm all summer, and I wanted to keep doing that, instead of going to school.”

Unfazed, Mrs. Warner asked, “Did your sister know you were doing this?”

I shook my head, and chose not to say a word. Amélie and I had discussed how to approach the interview with the social worker during the tantrum reprieves. We decided that it would be best if I lied to her about Amélie giving me permission to go to interviews when I was supposed to be in school. If Amélie gave permission, she was knowingly going against Judge Richter’s order, but if I went behind her back, then I was just the reproachable, rebellious teen. This was behaviour that could be curbed. It was imperative that Mrs. Warner not see Amélie as soft or relaxed concerning rules and curfew, especially considering the court order.

Mrs. Warner frowned, “Your Career Studies teacher, he saw you in the parking lot during the first week of class. You said you were going to the dentist. Where did you go?”

I answered calmly, “To look for a job.” A hint of annoyance entered my voice, “Like I told you.”

My questioner nodded, “Did your sister drop you off at school that day?”

I nodded, “Yeah, she did.”

She asked, “Other than your emancipation, why else were you looking for a job? Does your sister have any money troubles?”

I shrugged my shoulders, “We do OK.” I could still hear Chloe shrieking upstairs.

Mrs. Warner pointed upstairs, “Does that happen often? How does your sister deal with it? Do you have any trouble concentrating on your school work?”

I said, “I just put music on to drown it out, if it’s really bad. From my experience, she waits a bit, usually forty minutes at most and then goes in. Chloe’s having temper tantrums and needs to learn that she isn’t going to get her way.”

Mrs. Warner quirked a suspicious brow in my direction. Was my answer beyond what would be expected from a fifteen year old? Did she think we rehearsed it? I had forgotten that Mrs. Warner did not see me as Chloe’s father. Amélie and I, a teenage girl, would not necessarily see eye-to-eye with regard to child rearing.

Mrs. Warner said, “Did your sister help you with your emancipation documents? I retrieved them from Judge Schuler.”

I shook my head, “No, I prepared them myself.”

Mrs. Warner said, “They say that a woman named Stephanie Locke had agreed to hire you, but when I spoke to her- she said she never hired you. That she doesn’t hire high school students- ever. Did you forge these documents, Abigail?”

I sneered, “Absolutely not. Stephanie is refusing to admit she hired me because she’s worried that if her clients or another firm finds out that they will blacklist her. It’s my understanding that she was actually being blackmailed by another firm.”

Mrs. Warner looked at me suspiciously. Her right brow was cocked, and it looked like she was trying to swallow her lower lip with the upper one. “That’s a fanciful story, Abigail. After speaking to Dr. Philips, I must say that he is very concerned about you. I understand that he also spoke to this Mrs. Locke- in your presence. She said she never hired you. Girls who make up stories like that often carry other secrets too.”

I narrowed my eyes and crossed my arms underneath my chest, “Look, I don’t like what you are implying here. My sister takes very good care of me.”

Mrs. Warner said, “Your sister told Judge Richter that your documents were lost in a move, but I’ve been unable to find any record that the documents were ever issued.”

I nodded, “My parents never bothered to get a birth certificate for me. They are getting one now, and it will all be cleared up for your next visit. I am assu-ming you will be back?” I said my last words like an ill-mannered child.

Mrs. Warner wagged her finger, “Young lady, do not sass me. This is very serious. Your two sisters, they both have birth certificates that were issued shortly after their births. Why did they wait for you?” Amélie had another sister, but she didn’t live in town.

I shrugged my shoulders, “I don’t know.”

Mrs. Warner continued her line of questioning. There was a knowing look in her eyes. She thought she had me in a lie. “You were also never issued a health card. There’s no record of your immunizations, and there’s no school records either. What going on here, Abigail?”

She softened, but the disapproving creases in her forehead fought for supremacy. We hadn’t been able to get any of the documents yet. Apparently, it took time to create a false birth certificate.

I shrugged again, “I’m from a small town. I guess they were poor record keepers?”

Mrs. Warner shook her head again. I was convinced that she thought I was lying. “You aren’t making this easy on either of us, Abigail. I did not want to turn this into an inquisition. I will get to the bottom of this. Mark my words.”

I said snidely, “You are writing them all down. Why would I need to do that?”

I tossed her a highlighter. She didn’t catch it, and the marker struck her in the forehead.

The social worker’s face turned bright red, “You insolent ... !”

Due to her round head, she looked like a ripe tomato with curly hair. I giggled.

Amélie opened the door to the band room. I hadn’t heard Chloe crying, so she must have successfully put her down.

Amélie said, “Is everything alright in here?” She was looking at Mrs. Warner, who was gradually regaining her composure.

Mrs. Warner said curtly, “I am finished for tonight. Ms. Grenier, I would like you to come to my office next week. There are many things we must discuss.” She put emphasis on many.

I smirked at Mrs. Warner and then casually waved at her. The behaviour was similar to how I acted as a kid when playing hockey. I was a grinding, scrappy player and due to my small size and tenacious nature, I drew many penalties. I used to wave to the players who had taken a penalty against me. One young man, as I recall, punched me in the head and didn’t even wait for the referee to guide him to the penalty box.

Mrs. Warner gave Amélie her card and then climbed the stairs heavily. I heard the door close a few seconds later.

Amélie looked at me sternly, “Darren, what did you do?”

I explained to Amélie what had occurred, but I left out the parts where I had acted childishly. I told her what Mrs. Warner had said about Dr. Phillips.

Amélie’s face was an angry mask. It was amazing how much older she looked to me. These six months had aged her, putting creases in her forehead and beside her mouth. She had also not been sleeping well due to Chloe’s demon-spawn toddler behaviour, so that likely exacerbated her haggard look.

Amélie said, “You know I’m not sure what’s worse. You not telling me what happened at the session with the specialist or - the school. I am going to speak to M. St-Valentin about this. First though, I’m going pay Stephanie a visit. She needs to come clean about this. Her lies are just going to get you in deeper trouble.”

I shook my head, “I can handle it, Amélie. I’ll speak to Stephanie. I can convince her.”

Amélie looked at me with controlled anger, “I need to do this, Darren. Me. I’m supposed to be your guardian. I’m going to convince Stephanie to sign an Affidavit saying that she hired you for the summer. And that’s it.”

The look on Amélie’s face told me that the discussion was over. I didn’t really feel like starting another fight, and I had homework to do, so I went to my room.

***

“Oh my god! We are phone twins, Abby! This is great.”

Alyssa and I were now both owners of pink Text-girl PRO phones. Yay. It was the next day after school. Alyssa and I were on our way to her house. The night before, Amélie called my cellular provider and got my phone switched. My number was still the same, but now my phone was a pink dinosaur. Alyssa’s model was actually newer than mine. Hers was the Text-girl 2.

I cast a puzzled look in Alyssa’s direction, “Why is that great?”

Alyssa beamed a smile and shrugged her shoulders, “I dunno. It just is. Why do you always need an explanation for everything? I guess it makes us closer.”

I didn’t understand the girl’s logic.

Before I could reply, Alyssa said, “Hey! Let’s go to the mall.”

I said, “Why?”

Alyssa threw her arms up in mock frustration. “Do you really need a reason to go to the mall? I got my allowance last night. I want to go shopping for tops.”

Alyssa tugged on my arm and pulled me toward the mall. Over the next hour, Alyssa dragged me to four different clothing stores. She asked me if I thought she looked ‘hot’ in the clothing. I thought some of the tops made her look like a junior prostitute, but I didn’t say that. I mostly just nodded my head.

Alyssa said, “What’s wrong, Abby?” I shrugged my shoulders.

Alyssa frowned, “Are you bored? You don’t seem into this.” The smile reappeared on her face in seconds, “You’ve been hanging around boys too much.”

Again, I shrugged my shoulders. My mood drained some of Alyssa’s enthusiasm, and she trudged along beside me.

We passed a shoe store on our way out, and suddenly, my attention was drawn to a pair of pink Converse hi-tops. They were just like the ones in my dream. Beyond that fact, I needed them, desperately. Oh my god, what was wrong with me?

Alyssa’s enthusiasm was rekindled, “Why didn’t you just say you wanted to shop for shoes? Those would look super cute on you, Abby. You should go in and try and them on!”

I bit my lip. I really wanted to. I loved the look of the shoes, and I agreed, I thought they would look cute on me. Thankfully, reason prevailed.

I shook my head, “I- don’t think so. My sister is mad at me for breaking my phone, and we really need to watch our money. We had to get our washer fixed, and the hydro bill is coming up too.”

Alyssa said, “So? Your sister will pay those. That’s what adults do. What do you mean our money? What about the money you made during the summer? Isn’t that yours?”

I nodded, “Yeah, it’s my money.”

Alyssa replied, “Well at least try them on. You could call your sister and ask her if you can buy them.”

I hesitated, eyeing the shoes with increasing intensity. People saw me as a teenage girl, so there was no harm in wearing pink shoes, but I felt that it might be a slippery slope that could lead to makeup and- the type of clothing that Alyssa liked. My adult and adolescent sides fought back and forth for dominance. The kid in me wanted the shoes and thought nothing of the repercussions of buying a pair of sixty dollar shoes when Amélie was desperately trying to save money.

As a kid, I was terrible with money. Once I got it, it was basically burning a hole in my pocket, and I had a thousand dollars in the bank. I remember getting a savings bond from my grandmother and spending it all on comic books- two hundred and fifty dollars’ worth.

I looked at my dirty tennis shoes and put my left foot beyond the threshold of the store’s entrance. The salesgirl smiled and approached me, but I pulled a 180 and rapidly walked away. I couldn’t believe how hard it was to restrain myself.

Alyssa looked at me strangely, “What gives, Abby? Are you going to try them on? You said your sister was cool with you spending your money. What’s the problem? You have to save it?”

I nodded, “Yeah, I guess- for university.”

Alyssa shrugged, “Oh. Well for you I guess. I don’t think I want to go. I feel really stupid sometimes. Like I just don’t get school, you know? I think I want to be a hair dresser or do makeup, but my mom puts a lot of pressure on me. I’d love to do makeup or hair for Katy Perry.”

I shook my head, “You aren’t stupid, Alyssa. You just need to apply yourself.”

Alyssa giggled, “Are you reading the same book as all the parents? Or some kind of manual? That’s exactly what my mom says! What does that even mean?”

I replied, “It means you just need to try harder. I’ll help you. I’ll see how you study and how you learn. Mostly, it’s concentration. I can show you some tricks. You know if you didn’t think so much about Katy ... ”

She stopped me and then pulled open my mouth, putting her hand on my jaw and forcing it open wide. I swatted her hand away and glared. “What was that for?”

She said with a giggle “I was seeing if you swallowed my mom. You sound just like her.”

I smirked, “You are weird.”

She grinned wide, “Yup, I know.”

A few minutes later, we arrived at Alyssa’s place. She was right. It wasn’t a terrible neighbourhood, but there were multiple houses boarded up around it. The neighbourhood was also near the burnt church. It was literally burnt down, the result of arson, although the police had failed to catch anyone. All that was left of the two-hundred year old building was the stone husk, surrounded by layers of singed and blackened pieces of wood. It was bizarre because my house, which was in a suburban area with green lawns and multiple parks and schools, was only a ten minute walk from here.

Within five years, the whole block would likely be bulldozed, including the three storey apartment building that housed Alyssa and her mother, and replaced with condominiums. The building had a sunken porch and a rusted iron railing. The front door was in serious need of a paint job, and the lawn was overrun with weeds. The flower boxes along the window sill of the third story window brightened what was otherwise a dreary scene.

Alyssa said, “It’s really not as bad as it looks. It’s all my mom could afford after she and my dad separated.” She sighed heavily, an action I thought she was incapable of performing, considering her usual beaming smile.

I said, “I’m not going to judge you because you live here, Alyssa. It’s okay.”

Alyssa replied, “Véronique calls me poor. We really aren’t though.”

I shook my head, “Even if you were, it wouldn’t matter. I’m not Véronique. She’s just cruel. She calls me fat, and you poor. She’s just a bitch who throws herself at a guy who doesn’t know she exists. She’s the sad one.”

Alyssa looked me over as she let us in the front door, “I don’t think you are fat at all, Abby. I think you are one of the prettiest girls in school. I’ve seen how the boys look at you. I wish they looked at me like that.”

I frowned, “It really isn’t all that great. They stare at my boobs. I feel their eyes on my ass. Uh- and Eric seems to like you.”

Alyssa shrugged, “Just because I said I wanted to see his stupid trick.”

I raised a brow, “So you thought it was stupid too?”

She nodded, “Yeah, definitely. It was dumb boys stuff, but I want him to like me.”

We reached the top of the stairs. The stairwell at least had been freshly painted. I frowned, “If you’d told him you didn’t like it, he wouldn’t have agreed to do the stunt. It’s pretty obvious he likes you. He wouldn’t do something you disapproved of. You should be yourself.”

Alyssa was unconvinced, “OK, so I should talk about Katy Perry with him, and how I like makeup and hair, and I want to do that for a job maybe? I really think you are wrong about that, Abby. Guys don’t think like that. They want a girl who likes the stuff they like.”

I waited for Alyssa to open the door to the apartment, but she just stood there, so I decided to respond. “You probably have things in common. Just talk to him. As for me being wrong, you’ll see one day that I’m not. People don’t want fakes, people who pretend to like something because they do.”

Alyssa raised a brow, “So you really like hockey? You weren’t pretending to like it just so they talked to you?” She sighed, “I felt so stupid at the table on Thursday, and today too. Can we sit somewhere else next week? Just me and you?”

I nodded, “Yeah, I love hockey. And there isn’t anything wrong with trying something new so you have something in common.” I shrugged, “And yeah I guess we could, but don’t expect me to be able to talk about girl stuff for an extended period of time.”

Alyssa nodded and smiled, “Keep hanging around me, and you will be able to, Abby.”

I shuddered, “Um- so are we going to stand here for hours or what? I need to be home by 9 PM.”

Alyssa blinked in confusion, “OK, your sister doesn’t sound chill at all. She’s stricter than my mom. I have to be home at ten on non-school nights. Why nine?”

I said quickly, “I have to help with my niece. Uh- my sister- she’s going out. I need to babysit.”

Alyssa said, “I’m waiting because my mom is really embarrassing. It’s not the right time yet. I don’t really- well…I don’t bring a lot of friends home. So my mom can really go overboard. I wanted to go in first and tell her we are going to my room, and just to call us for dinner.”

I shook my head, “That seems kind of rude, Alyssa.”

She said, “You don’t know my mom. I could have died last week when I saw Eric at the mall skateboarding. Well my mom asks me if that’s Eric. Right in front of him! I literally wanted to crawl in a hole and die. It was like the worst thing that could have happened.”

Just then, the door opened, and out stepped a woman in her late thirties, severely overweight, but with a bright beaming smile, which looked a lot like Alyssa’s. Other than the smile, the two were polar opposites, with Alyssa’s skinny body and her mother’s likely three-hundred pound frame. She said, “Alyssa, stop being so rude and invite Abigail inside. Dinner’s been ready for ten minutes. You should have texted me telling me you were going to be late. Oh, and that door isn’t exactly sound proof, young lady.”

Alyssa rolled her eyes, “Come on Mom, you said you weren’t going to do this.”

Mrs. Moore shook her head, “My own daughter, embarrassed to be seen with me. Oh woe is me,” she put a hand to her forehead dramatically, “What ever shall I do?”

This caused me to laugh, which elicited a glare from Alyssa. Alyssa was being a major drama queen.

We sat down to a meal of cheese and mushroom risotto, heavy on the cheese. Both Alyssa and her mother took healthy helpings, while I took a smaller one, followed by a larger one. I looked at Alyssa jealously. She never seemed to gain a pound, and she ate absolute trash for lunch, poutine, and those pizza pockets Ethan likes. Not to mention, a homemade dessert every day. Although, if her mother was any indication, it would catch up with her eventually.

Mrs. Moore said, “I’m happy to finally meet you, Abigail. Allie talks about you all the time.”

Alyssa shot daggers at her mother, “Mom! You are the worst. Don’t call me that.”

Mrs. Moore said, “I’m getting it out of my system now. You know, for when you bring that Eric home.”

Alyssa replied, “Oh my god Mom, just stop it. Seriously Mom, you are just embarrassing yourself. Abby doesn’t think you are funny.”

I quickly took another bite of risotto to hide the fact that I did, in fact, find her mother funny.

Mrs. Moore said, “All kidding aside, I’m happy you are here, Abigail. Alyssa needs someone like you, calm and mature. I hear you are also an excellent student.”

By this point, Alyssa had reached her boiling point. She snatched me from the table with my mouth still full. She pulled me into her bedroom and shut the door firmly, or at least she tried. It stuck halfway, and she was forced to push her lithe body against the frame to finally get it to close. The effect was lost as the door squeaked shut instead of slammed.

Alyssa looked mortified. Her eyes were bugging out, and she looked at me apologetically. “Oh my god, I hate my mom. She’s so annoying. Sometimes I wish I could live with my dad and my brother. She does it on purpose.”

I put my hand on Alyssa’s shoulder, “She’s really not that bad, Alyssa. She’s just having a bit of fun. I’m sure she won’t do anything like that when she meets Eric.”

Alyssa nodded her head rapidly, “She better not. So what do you think of my room?”

This was a tough question. Alyssa’s room was very similar to mine, except there were multiple Katy Perry posters. Her bed had a collection of stuffed animals over it, and like mine, there was a vanity, but it was actually used. I could see an assortment of nail polish bottles and makeup. The top of the vanity was stained with a rainbow of colours. I also noticed a shelf with a number of trophies. The miniature figures on the top of the awards were set in various dance poses.

Unlike mine, her room was also really messy. There were books and papers strewn about. Clothing that looked freshly washed lay on the floor. Her desk was buried under a pile of pop star and fashion magazines. I was amazed to see a few Tiger Beat magazines. I remember girls looking at New Kids on the Block pin-ups when I was a kid! Like a glitter-laden phoenix, pop never died. From Justin Bieber to the Backstreet Boys, and before them, I don’t know- WHAM? It never died, unlike rock which has apparently been dead since the late nineties. As for Tiger Beat itself, I couldn’t believe they still called it that. I thought it sounded stupid when I was in the fourth grade.

I said, “Um, it’s nice. So, we should study? Like I said, I have to be home by nine.”

Alyssa shrugged, “Yeah, fine.”

I started by cleaning off her desk. I pretended to throw the flashy but mindless magazines in the wastebasket, but Alyssa threw a pillow at me, striking me right in the face. This caused her to giggle. This turned into a laugh that had the girl red-faced and rolling on the floor. I stifled my own giggle. There was work to be done.

I looked over her last history test, “Hey, pay attention. Look, there’s five questions including the essay that you definitely deserve a higher mark on. You passed that test, Alyssa.”

She nodded her head rapidly, “I told you! M. Landry hates me. He’s trying to make me fail. Just ‘cause I can’t stop laughing in class sometimes. He’s the worst teacher. I think you should ask M. St-Valentin if you can teach the class.” A big grin appeared on her face, “You’d pass me, right?”

I looked at her seriously, “Only if you deserved it. Can’t play favourites. Now can we concentrate here? Show me how you study usually.”

Alyssa trudged over to her desk, “Oh my god, Abby, I don’t have to look for M. Landry in your mouth do I? Did you swallow him too?” She went over to my mouth and shouted in it, “Hello! M. Landry, can you breathe OK in there? Stop making Abby so…bo-RING!”

I frowned, “You know, you’d do better in school, if you were a little more serious.”

Alyssa looked at me with a smirk, “Yeah, and you’d be less like a forty two and half year old woman if you just had a bit of fun. Come on, Abby. You are fifteen not fifty! I can see it in you, there’s this giggly fun-filled girl just waiting to come out. I think working in that law place did something to your brain. You should totally sue them for sucking all the fun out of you!” She made vacuum cleaner suction noises.

I shrugged, “Look, I’m here to help you with history. Can we just do this? Show me how you study.”

Alyssa rolled her eyes and tilted her head to the side. “Well, I sit there and stare at the book. I turn the pages sometimes. Oh, and music. Usually, I listen to music. Oh I also like to go on my favourite sites. Like Katy’s fan site.”

I scrunched my nose and frowned, “You know teens don’t multi-task as well as they think. I bet that if you didn’t have those distractions you’d be able to concentrate much better. Music is OK, but only if you can really focus.”

Alyssa actually stuck her tongue out at me, “No one likes a know-it-all, Abby. I just don’t care. I would do it if I did, but I don’t. School is boring to me. Well I like art class and gym is OK, depending on the sport.” I was getting frustrated. I felt like a teacher again, unable to reach a wayward teen. Alyssa could see this.

She said, “I’ll make you a deal. I’ll study with you seriously, but after that, you have to try your very hardest to have some fun with me. Even if it means ... um ... ”

I interrupted, “Leaving my comfort zone?”

She smiled, “Yes. You really are a walking dictionary.”

I nodded, “OK.”

How bad could it be? I imagined that we would just watch a music video or listen to “Teenage Dreams”. I could handle that.

For an hour and a half, I went through study techniques with her. First, I gave her a lesson on taking proper notes, and after taking them, creating and answering questions based on the material to gain a full understanding of the lesson. Alyssa was a dutiful pupil, listening to my instructions, even though she had to tell herself at times to put on her ‘serious’ face, which she did like a mime. This caused a giggle to escape from me a few times, and with my small show of mirth, Alyssa took it on herself to erupt in laughter. Beyond that, I felt it was successful.

Alyssa looked at me with what looked like appreciation, not exactly awe, but a measure of pleased surprise. “Wow, you are a really good teacher, Abby. Like, I really got it. And you made it interesting too, like I’m not interested in the war, but I liked how you brought in how all the women took over for the men! I guess it helped me understand it all - everyone was doing their part.”

I nodded, “Exactly, so the essay question is easy now. You see how the home front changed because the men were at war.”

She nodded and then a big smile appeared on her face. I looked at my ‘new’ phone and saw that it was only just eight. I was going to have to follow through with my promise to Alyssa.

She walked over to a docking station and started flipping through songs on her iPod Nano. I heard “California Girls” thumping from the little speakers, but with the size of the Alyssa’s bedroom. It was plenty loud. She said, “Watch me, Abby.” Oh boy, a dance lesson.

Alyssa walked backward, with her right hand on her hip, while rolling her upper body. Then she moved forward and pretended to scratch the air. I thought she looked ridiculous, but it was in time to the music. Then she put her hands up in front of chest, bent her knees and brought her fists together in a sideways pump motion. She then restarted the song and said, “Now, you try.”

I gently bit my lip, “I don’t know about this.”

Alyssa said, “Hey, I studied and learned something. Now, it’s your turn. Come on. Get that stick out of your butt, Abby.”

She moved in behind me, and started yanking at the air, still in time to the music. She pretended to pull harder and then she fell into her closet, causing a bunch of plastic storage drawers to fall out. One of them, which held her unmentionables, landed upside down on her head and the contents spilled out- leaving a collection of thongs and panties on the girl’s head and shoulders. It started with no sound at all, but I felt a pressure in my chest and face, and then a tremendously girlish laugh escaped from my lips, and I couldn’t stop laughing. Alyssa joined me, and we both turned red. We laughed for a solid minute, and I started sucking in air. The laughter petered off with both of us sort of giggling now and then in remembrance of assault by thong and panties. I couldn’t believe how much I sounded like a real teenage girl when I laughed like that. My wife would have had a hard time seeing anything remotely ‘Darren’ in my behaviour over the last two minutes.

I had tears in my eyes from the laughing fit. I finally caught my breath, “You…totally did that on purpose didn’t you?”

Alyssa smirked, “Maaybeeee.”

Alyssa insisted that I learn the dance moves, even though I felt extremely awkward. These were not motions I ever saw myself doing, not as a straight male at least.

Alyssa said, “Loosen up. You are so tense. Just pretend your arms and legs are spaghetti noodles, you can do the moves one part at a time too. Start with just moving backward with your hand on your hip.” Alyssa was a very good teacher, and within a few minutes, I was adding the body rolls.

Alyssa said, “Ooh you look hot, Abby! You’ve got it.”

I said, “I feel silly doing the next part.” I was supposed to pretend I was scratching the air like a cat, all in time to the music.

Alyssa shook her head and looked at me with mock sternness, “Do it young lady. You can’t leave here until you can do part one.”

It took a few minutes, but I managed to learn the step. Once the next song came on, Alyssa asked me to sing it, and since I felt it would be a challenge, I accepted. “Who am I living for?” shows off Katy’s vocal range, and mine apparently. Alyssa watched me and gushed when I finished.

She hugged me, “Wow, I’m going to cry. That was so beautiful, Abby. I’m serious you should enter a singing competition, the local one. You could be famous!” I explained that if I was going to be famous, it would be for my band, not for some pop drivel. Well, I was nicer than that.

The conversations drifted from boys to Katy Perry, and back to boys. It was clear that Alyssa wanted me to go out with Ethan. When “Teenage Dreams” looped back to the first track, Alyssa jumped on her bed and invited me up. She shouted, “OK, freestyle!”

She danced silly, waving her arms about like one of the wildly flailing tube men you see at some used car dealerships. I danced like an Egyptian, jutting my head out like a chicken. Somewhere in the middle, we both collided and fell down in a giggling heap on the bed.

After the giggling fit ended, I heard my phone ringing in my backpack. I saw that I had missed two calls from Amélie. I also realized that it was twenty after nine. I texted her quickly, letting her know the address and asking her to pick me up.

Five minutes later, after saying goodbye to Mrs. Moore, who said I could come back anytime, I met Amélie outside. I was twenty five minutes past curfew now, but since I was with my guardian, I assumed I was safe.

Amélie barked as I climbed into the SUV, “You are lucky that Chloe is still awake because otherwise, you would have had to walk.”

I said, “I doubt there’s a cop looking out for me, Amélie. It’s not even that late.”

Amélie said, “With the social worker prying into our lives, we don’t need to make any mistakes. Mrs. Warner could have done a surprise visit at the house, and you wouldn’t have been there.”

Amélie said sardonically, “Did you have fun with your little friend?”

I shrugged my shoulders, “It was OK. I helped her with history. You know I am just acting as her friend so I look normal to the social worker right?” Amélie said nothing.

We sat in silence for the rest of the short trip back to the house. Amélie actually did go out, even though she hadn’t told me she was, and I was left dealing with Chloe who didn’t fall asleep until quarter after ten. At ten thirty, I got a text from Alyssa:

Alyssa: did u get in trouble 4 being late?
Me: Kind of
Alyssa: sorry mb i didnt see time (I assumed mb meant my bad)
Alyssa: i had panties on m head =)
Me: lol
Alyssa: =) my mom likes u she say u can b her anytime
Me: She didn’t think we were too loud?
Alyssa: no she amzd u got me to stdy
Alyssa: she wants us to stdy evry nitgt lol
Alyssa: we shld hve a sleepovr soon

I stared down at the screen. Alyssa thought of herself as my friend, and I was slowly coming to see her that way too, but the more time we spent together, the more I worried I would become like her - the prototypical teenage girl.

Alyssa: u still ther?
Me: Yeah. I was checking my calendar.
Alyssa: LMAO K u sure u arnt rlly 40 u look gud for 40
Me: Have I ever told you how weird you are?
Alyssa: prob once a day =)
Alyssa: did u have fun 2nite
Me: Yeah, I liked helping you.
Alyssa: did u lik dancing
Me: It was OK. I’m going to lose all my rock cred if my band hears that I danced to Katy Perry.
Alyssa: lol u r funny Abby so srious i wont tell any1
Alyssa: ur secret is safe don wrry
Alyssa: G2G have dance 2moro erly
Me: Bye
Alyssa: glad u had fun 2nite abby =) MWAH MWAH

If I was going to have more of these conversations with Alyssa, I realized that I was going to need a text speak dictionary. I also realized something else. As much as I told myself that I was only trying to be Alyssa’s friend because of the social worker, I did have fun tonight. Alyssa brought out something in me that had been buried since I left adolescence, and while I did have a good time at her place, I knew there was a real chance that Alyssa, as innocent and care free as she was, could bury Darren Lawrence.



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I am totally hooked on this story

just read all 4 chapters at once, and I'm super hooked. Who is this "He" that she's supposedly being prepared for? Why change her? What about this Alexandre boy? What about a relationship with Ethan? Arrrgg... so many questions, I can't wait for the answers ...

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Princess Belle's picture

got 2 things to say

Wow and cant wait for next post

That is all

belle

This is a great story!

I love the fact that Darren is fighting the changes and not giving in easily to them like so many protagonists in these stories do. And the characters are complex and multidimensional... Amelie is doing her best but she is starting to see Darren more and more as Abigail... did anyone wonder where she went when she went "out" Friday night after picking Abigail up from Alyssa's?

I log on every day and check for the next installment. Can't wait.

I have a couple of stories germinating in my head, right now neither has reached more than a couple of pages of plot outline for each one. If they ever do come to fruition, this is the type of story they would be... long, strong on character development, real characters learning to adapt to their new circumstances and facing frustrations and doubts. But I seriously I can do it as well as OneShot has here.

JenniL

Amazing Story

Hey, I finally made an account just to comment here.

Love the story!

.. okay I'll admit, I cheated
I contacted OneShot and got the complete PDF because I couldn't bare to wait.
No spoilers! but keep reading. This story's become one of my all time Fav's
I couldn't put the kindle down all weekend lol

There's nothing I can say that hasn't already been covered by Adoy's comment on part 3, I'm in full agreement.
Congrats OneShot, you have a real talent for making likable (and hate-able) characters into believable people.
Thanks for letting us come along for the ride.
___

Qwerky

Abigail's actions alternately make me laugh and cringe

Her actions regarding the school counselor and the phone call to the law office, her interaction with the social worker and lets not forget her skipping a week of school AFTER her run in with the police and the judge... Just find a high bridge over dry land and jump head first girl.. At least your death will be swift!

She is at grave danger of being institutionalized in some nut house. Or drugged up in some foster home for at risk teens.

Then she does something like her study session with Aylssa.

Unless her family learns of why she changed and how, I can't ever see Darren Lawrence returning.

IF she could accept her new life, as she did in this study/dance *date*, I think her new life is a second chance to be what HE failed and so wanted to be... IE a lawyer and a successful musician. I think her earlier dream of being on stage is prophetic and suggests a good future IF she can accept she is forever Abigail.

Darren need not disappear entirely. She has and can be reborn as Abby. Oh sure a fun loving girl but what's wrong with that? Just so long as she is her own kind of girl.

I swear the harder she fights and acts as if she is still a 30 year old man, the more immature she ultimately acts.. IE when she pushes too hard against her new body and life it snaps back disastrously.

Part of her problems we are just learning. As a male teen HE had a bad temper/poor judgment...EXACTLY some of the errors she has made. Only now the consequences are far worse. She could loose her wife/mom, home, freedom, future, perhaps even her life as evidenced by the voodoo spell she tried.

There are signs she may adapt and become a successful amalgam of the man she was and the young woman she is. She remembers he was fun loving but gave it up and got too serious, something he regretted. IE the revelation he gave up music for drama and his unhappiness in the end.

She had it right in helping Alyssa with history. She needs to learn the lesions of her past and of her recent actions, both good and bad.

If only she can apply the lesion to her own life.

BTW is Alyssa good at math? They can help each other both as students and as budding women.

And maybe having her *mom's* old clinker texting phone will be a good thing. She is already closer to Alyssa.

And just maybe she will be seen less of as "that girl who thinks she is better than every one" and more of "that odd but okay girl. And though she's the prettiest girl here she doesn't rub our noses in it. She's alright."

I note he remembers being unhappy and an outcast in high school as a male. And at first she has been repeating that sad history.

She need not be a sheep but she needs to realize she is no longer a 30 year old man and act more age/body appropriate.

The harder she forces others to treat her as an adult the more they push back -- due to her appearance and record/lack of records until she blows her stack and burns yet another bridge.

And she REALLY needs a good boyfriend like Ethan to help her learn to control her lust for bad boy hunks!

At the rate she is going she could be labeled a slut and pregnant in mater of weeks if she is not careful.

Another historical parallel to his past..? Was he as hormone driven at the same age?

Still wonder why he was transformed?

A curse, the universe laughing or is this intended as a gift?

Quite a treat this tale. Thanks,

John in Wauwatosa

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