Switched! - 4. Anything I Need...

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A Switcher Tale...

Switched!
Switched!

4. Anything I Need...

by Lulu Martine

The chairs closest to the charging station were occupied, but I couldn’t just stand around, being in the way of people who wanted to add cinnamon to their cappuccino. I could afford a drink myself, I decided. The menu might as well have been invisible, but I had been in this very Starbucks as Tony many times.

At the counter, I ordered a short coffee, a size that is not listed on the menu, anyway, but at eight ounces, it’s plenty, and you can drink it before it gets cold.

Damned if when I turned around, I didn’t look at Door Guy and see him smiling back at me. Was I smiling? Yeah, dammit. He moved some books off a chair and nodded at me that I should take a seat. Why am I doing this, I wondered as I moved to sit down. It was the closest empty chair to the condiment table. Still.

“I’m Nathan—Nate,” he said as I sat. “Nice jacket.”

“Thanks,” I said. “It’s got lots of pockets, that’s what I like about it.” Okay, I’m being friendly, but did I have to giggle?

I took a sip of my coffee and almost spit it out. Strong, bitter, and so hot, it was almost chewy. What the hell? I glared in the direction of the serving counter, had they given me something instead of regular coffee? Espresso maybe? No, not for the $1.65 I’d paid for a short.

“You drink your coffee black?” Nate asked.

I looked down at the steaming cup in my hand. Anthony drank his coffee black for simplicity, avoiding having to reach up from his chair to get at stuff on an elevated table. I’d even come to prefer it that way. But what fifteen-year-old girl drinks black coffee?

“That’s what’s wrong!” I said. “Excuse me.” I got up, careful not to spill any, and went to the condiment table to add sweetener and a dash of skim milk. I tasted again and added a packet of real sugar. Better.

Nate was chuckling at my ditziness. I was annoyed. It made me look like I was so interested in him that I forgot to doctor my drink. I checked my phone, nose against the screen, 2% charge. I left it there and went back to sit across from Nate.

“I don’t usually drink coffee,” I said, making my excuse as lame as possible by giggling again.

“Coffee is good when it’s cold out,” he said as if agreeing with me. “Are you a student at the U?”

I shook my head. “University High, I’m a sophomore.” Letting him know I was underage. I probably didn’t attend Uni-Hi, if my family lived in OC, but it was nearby and made a convenient lie.

“Uh, huh,” he said. He glanced at the clock. “You out early?”

“Uh.” I tossed my head. “Long story,” I said. “Stayed all night with a girlfriend and we overslept and… like I said, long story.”

He nodded. “I didn’t hear your name?” he asked.

Margaret sounded too formal and too familiar at the same time, and all the nicknames I could think of for Margaret were, like, gag me. Thinking that made me giggle. “It’s Hoa,” I said.

“Wha?”

“Hoa,” I said, giggling one more time. Oh, Jeez! “It means…” —did I know what it meant? Yes, I did, some student applying for aid had told Tony!—“flower, it means flower.”

He smiled back, and something punched me in the heart. What the fuck was going on here? I took a sip of coffee, but it went down wrong, and I coughed. I put the coffee down quickly before I spilled it and coughed again.

“Careful,” he said. “You, okay?”

I nodded. “‘Scuse me,” I said and headed for the bathrooms. Starbucks had two bathrooms, both unisex, so I hid in one while I got the coughing under control.

I tried to explain things to myself. Sitting across from the guy…. Like three feet away…. And I’ve been scared and lonely…. His smile felt like a lifeline. That was it. But why giggle?

No way was I attracted to his muscles, his three-day beard, his long eyelashes, his surf-colored eyes, that smile…. Fuck. I’m a fifteen-year-old girl, and my hormones are out of control. And I’m thinking with a female brain. I’m probably as boy-crazy as…. I didn’t want to finish that thought.

“Going to have to deal with this,” I told myself out loud. And the sound of my tiny, girlish voice reinforced the truth. I would have to deal with boys and men, as a teenage girl with hormones that made her crazy. Me crazy. I said that aloud too. “Me crazy,” I told the girl in the mirror. She nodded.

Eventually, I had to go back out to the dining room; my coffee was getting cold. But first I went and checked on my phone, 6% charge. I stared at that number for a while. It was booting up—I could probably make calls. I chickened out, went to ask Joan, “We still good?”

She nodded. “You chatting with Nate?” she asked, grinning.

“Yeah, well,” I said. “He seems nice, and there was an open chair and….”

“Uh, huh,” she said. “He is nice. How old are you?”

“Fifteen,” I said. We both looked over at Nate, and he grinned at us. I felt myself blush and hoped my skin was dark enough it didn’t show.

It probably did because Joan laughed. “He’s okay,” she said. “I don’t have any classes with him, but I see him around.” She nodded. “If he was a predator, I’d probably have heard.” She nodded again, this time indicating the chair holding her books. “You want to sit here instead?”

“No,” I said. “Thanks. And my phone is still charging. I’d like to get it to 20% or more.”

“Uh, huh,” she said. “I’m going to be here,” she looked at her own phone, lying beside her books, “another 20 minutes or so.”

“Okay,” I said. I went back to where I had been sitting and took a sip of coffee. Still warm, so I took a bigger sip, being careful it went down the right way.

“Hey,” said Nate, looking up from his books. “Phone got enough charge to make calls now?”

I nodded.

He looked toward the phone. I squirmed a bit. “You wanted to make calls?”

“Uh, huh,” I said. “But….” A reason to delay occurred to me. “I’m pretty sure someone is going to want to chew me out.” It did seem likely. Here I was, a high school kid, wandering around a college campus in the middle of the day. I frowned. What the heck was I doing here?

Then something else occurred to me, and I felt a cold chill. Why was no one talking about the shooting that had happened three hours ago, less than a mile away? A cop shot a guy in a wheelchair…it would be national news, wouldn’t it?

What had caused me to think of the shooting was looking out the window at a University Police patrol car turning at the corner. Not a city police car, it looked just like the one the cop this morning had gotten out of. The cop that had shot my old body in the head and then shot at me—Margaret me—as I ran away.

What had the cop said when he threatened me? “Run, ‘cause if they catch you, they’ll put you in a cage and never let you out. They’ll cut you apart, trying to find out how I did this.”

“They” were whoever had the means and a motive to cover up a shooting on campus. And that had to include the cops. No one was talking about the shooting of a wheelchair-bound old man because the cops had not reported it….

They must be looking for me. That fact wasn’t really evident, did they actually know about me? I had run from the murdering policeman but…. But nothing made sense anyway—impossibilities piled on impossibilities…

I had to get away. And I had to do it quick because I could feel myself teetering on the edge of the sort of fear, terror, and panic that had already gripped me more than once.

I’m a coward, I thought. A physical coward—when I’m afraid, I do stupid shit. Well, I’m small and weak and female, it’s not completely irrational…and I’m in an irrational situation.

While my mind buzzed, I drank the rest of my coffee, grabbed my phone, put the charging cable down in front of Joan, and waved a very nervous goodbye to her and Nate. “Gotta run, just ‘membered….” Then I hit the door and almost fell on my ass. When did they start making doors that weighed a ton?

Nate was up and had the door opened for me before I could brace myself to try again. He was smiling at me.

I smiled back, stuttering, “Th-thanks.”

He replied with a string of numbers. What the hell? I paused, panic mysteriously on hold for a moment, to recite the numbers back to him, and he nodded. “Call me if you need anything,” he said.

My mouth dropped open. Then I ran. I recited the numbers as I ran, but I was in the wind. Ten digits, it was a phone number. If I need anything…. Anything?

I need my head examined, I thought. But then I remembered that there were people out there that wanted to do just that…with a saw and a set of dental picks, probably. “310-555-6873,” I said, over and over and over.

Anything I need…? I kept running.

*

Running was not my best idea because it triggered my panic into full terror. I didn’t stop running until I was completely out of gas, gasping and panting and horking up some of the coffee I had drunk. I didn’t get any on me this time, at least.

I had to stop because the alternative was face-planting on the pavement. I slowed down, stumbled, caught myself by grabbing a fence, then sank to bend over a hand-width of grass on this side of the barrier. I trembled in every limb—my knees and ankles could not sustain my posture, and I ended up squatting down on my heels.

I looked around. At least I knew where I was this time. I’d run north from Starbucks, past the Village Theater, and apparently made a left turn I didn’t remember to go down an alley behind In-N-Out Burger. It was a disappointingly short distance for me to be so exhausted from running it.

The drive-thru and by-pass lanes were right there beside me, and several of the patrons were peering out of their cars at my ass. Well, not literally, I was sitting on that part. But they seemed keenly interested in me. I saw a window go down and a guy leaned out of the passenger side window.

“Hey, chickie,” he called, “you want a burger?”

I shook my head. I had to get out of there, too. I just threw up, and he thinks I want to put a burger in my mouth? I looked away, hoping he would ignore me for being rude.

I was drawing too much attention, and I was positive the cops were looking for me. Somebody might be on a phone reporting the suspicious young woman in the leather jacket to the authorities. I clambered to my feet, feeling exhausted but determined.

The little area of grass I had crouched beside had been fenced off for some unknown reason. Perhaps just to keep people from parking on it, which they surely would have done. I walked on down the driveway toward the street, turning north again. At least, I thought it was north.

My internal map of the campus village seemed a bit tattered and worn, but I did not want to go the other direction because it would lead back to where I had seen the police car like the one that had been present when this whole disaster began.

I needed to get out of the area quickly. And I needed somewhere I could sit down and use my phone. Up ahead, I saw two buses standing at the same bus stop. Just like cop cars, they came in both city and university markings, one of each.

I hurried and managed to climb aboard the city bus before it started moving. I paid my fare and moved to the middle seats, though the bus was not crowded. The driver was an older woman who had only nodded when I fed a bill into the fare meter, and the other passengers were an assortment of urban and university types. No one was paying the slightest bit of attention to me.

I sat down and pulled out my phone. Only 11% charge. Dammit. I’d have to be careful. First thing though, I entered the number Nate had given me, hesitating only over the last digit, had it been a two or a three? I made an ‘oo’ and an ‘ee’ with my mouth and decided it had been a three.

I marked the number as belonging to Nate and meant to save it but instead hit dial. Understandable, since I was working with the phone right up in my face. But…. Should I let it ring through?

Nate answered. “Hello?”

“Um, just checking I remembered the number right,” I squeaked. A giggle escaped.

“Hoa?” he asked.

I thought he had started to say ‘what’ and hesitated before answering. But Hoa was the name I had given him. “Uh, huh,” I said, a little late. “I gotta go, but thanks….”

“Wait,” he began, but I had already hit close, just as I started to giggle again. Fuck. Now he had my number, I realized.

He’s way too old for you, Margaret, I told myself which was absurd enough to get me past overthinking the situation. Another brief giggle and I could focus on my real problems and not worry about teenage angst.

Part of my problem seemed to be that in concentrating on getting myself out of the jam Margaret was in, I was becoming Margaret for real. Already, some of Tony’s life seemed like a movie I had seen.

Tony would never have noticed that Nate was cute. But Margaret sure did. I rolled my eyes when I heard myself giggle.

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Comments

Glad she's making progress

Iolanthe Portmanteaux's picture

Glad she's making progress... if that's what's happening!

Anyway, happy to see another chapter appear.

- io

Good point

At least, something is happening.

Thanks for commenting.

- Gender is between the ears, sex is between the legs and anywhere else you can get it. - Lulu Martine

Disconcerting

It's probably alarming to hear your own giggles when you've been a sober-sided non-giggler for a lifetime, though.

Before posting this, I went back over the text and doubled the number of giggles. Which caused a few giggles of my own.

Thanks for commenting, Dot.

- Gender is between the ears, sex is between the legs and anywhere else you can get it. - Lulu Martine

Giga-Giggles

My daughter told me that I had "acquired the fine art of giggling" about 13 years ago. I never really thought about it though. It just happened!
**giggle**

Giggling as an art form

I don't know about that. An art can be refined but giggles just happen.

Perhaps she meant jiggling?

- Gender is between the ears, sex is between the legs and anywhere else you can get it. - Lulu Martine

Chase restarted

Nyssa's picture

So momentum is picking up as her fear of capture has been reignited. I'm curious whether Nate is a switcher-aware ally or not.

And, sorry if this is dumb, but how is it she can see Nate clearly enough to know he's cute (even see his eyelashes) but has to hold her phone close enough to get nose prints on it in order to read it?

It is a dumb reason

I think it's equal parts exaggeration and imagination. She's probably not having to hold the phone quite as close as she's reporting and her libido may be suppling details of Nate's appearance she can't actually see. First-person narrators are notoriously unreliable. That's why I like to use them.

Thanks for commenting, which is never dumb.

- Gender is between the ears, sex is between the legs and anywhere else you can get it. - Lulu Martine

The science of attraction

is not always based upon sight alone. If so, the blind would be hopelessly lonely. A large part of the attraction in Margaret's case would be pheramones at her physical age (and yes men have them too!)
o:)

Voices

Some voices have power over others. I have a friend with an almost four-octave singing range, he can go from little-kid cute to basso-sexy in a couple of phrases, even though his normal speaking voice is low-tenor. Maye it was Nate's voice that turned Margaret's crank.

Thanks for commenting.

- Gender is between the ears, sex is between the legs and anywhere else you can get it. - Lulu Martine