TG Universes & Series:
A Minority Of One : 7 / 9
[ Melanie Brown’s Switcher Universe ]
By Iolanthe Portmanteaux
And no one who knowed you would want to see you go back now.”
— Zane Grey, The Trail Driver
When I woke up the next morning, I looked to see which outfit Lois had laid out for me. In this short span of days, it had already become a habit. Each night — often after I’d fallen asleep — Lois would choose an outfit for my day, an entire outfit: everything from a top and pants or shorts to my underwear, socks, and shoes. I really appreciated not having to decide. I’d just slip into the clothes, and knew that they were right: everything “went together,” was appropriate for the weather and the day’s activities, and all that.
Today there was no outfit.
Maybe Lois was just too tired last night. Yesterday was long and emotionally draining. She was entitled to skip a day, especially after a day like yesterday — a day that featured Simon (again) and the awful Feds (again).
Still, I couldn’t help but feel that Lois hadn’t laid out any clothes for me because she hadn’t gotten over my confession. The absence of today’s outfit made her alienation from me palpable. The sense of her disappointment hurt me, weighed on me. It was worse than a slap in the face. I’ve never been a sensitive person. Theresa often said I lacked empathy. She was probably right: this feeling of suffering was all about me, wasn’t it. I wasn’t sure. In any case, Lois, like Theresa, was capable of creating a bleak, frozen distance between us that I had no idea how to navigate or even approach. With Theresa, I came to ignore it. I got to the point of welcoming her cold shoulder: her silence was infinitely preferable to her shouts and recriminations.
With Lois, though, I felt dismay. It was a new feeling for me. Dismay, guilt — even sorrow. I’d hurt her, when she was already hurting. Without meaning to, I brought that awful Simon back into her life — the man responsible for her daughter’s death, at least in part. And after her death, he ghoulishly animated her body (as I was doing now).
There was no reason to think Simon would visit me again, but then again, there was no reason for him to come today.
Why on earth had he come? It was absurd to think that he’d want an accomplice. Wasn’t it? It had to be something else.
I didn’t know why, but after mentally turning our conversation over in my mind, I came to feel certain that I’d meet Simon again.
What a mess! Simon was the first person I ever met who I had no idea how to handle. His power to switch was beyond my comprehension, but worse, far worse, was the fact that he was a psychopath. I’d never met one before, and it was seriously creepy. As if you touched someone and found their skin as cold as ice and their pulse as dead as a piece of marble. And yet, they move and talk. They’re happy to inflict pain as a whim. I didn’t fool myself into thinking I was some sort of exception. He regarded me as a stepping stone, nothing more.
Or maybe, a potential stepping stone? Whatever test he subjected me to, I failed, and I was glad I’d failed.
In the end, meeting Simon, talking with Simon, was disturbing. But what disturbed me far more than that, was how I’d let Lois down. I didn’t want to. I didn’t mean to. I was trying to be honest, to take responsibility. After all, she and Ken asked me to be honest with them.
Unfortunately, at least so far, every time I tried to be honest, I ended up feeling bad.
This time, I left Lois feeling worse.
I let out a resigned sigh. After I made my bed, I went to the closet. I needed clothes. As I opened the door, the first thing that struck me was how many dresses I had. It threw into highlight the fact that Lois had never set out a dress for me to wear. Was she being considerate? Did she think I might be uncomfortable wearing one? Who knows?
At the same time, it struck me that choosing a dress would be a far simpler outfit choice, since I’d only be choosing *one* thing: I wouldn’t need to coordinate (or attempt to coordinate) a top and shorts or pants. Or skirt, for that matter.
It seemed safe to assume that all the dresses would fit me.
So how could I go wrong? I looked at the colors and chose a pale blue. When I pulled it from the closet I saw it was pale blue with white flowers. Pretty. Light cotton. I spotted a pair of sneakers that were also blue — not exactly the same blue as the dress, but still blue. Underwear and socks, also blue.
Choosing closthes wasn’t so difficult after all!
For breakfast I ate a big spoonful of yogurt right out of the container, two handfuls of granola, and two big glugs of milk from the carton. I felt like a pioneer.
Then I sat down to read some more of The Trail Driver. The story was pretty close to the end — they were almost at Dodge City, which was the end of the trail. It was there that the cattle would be sold, the cowboys would be paid, and everyone would go their separate ways. The pace of the book had picked up considerably: most of the adventure and action was packed into the last quarter of the book: the shooting, the stampedes, the wild weather, the chain lightning, the massive hailstones…
After an hour I closed the book. The house was so silent that I feared for a moment that Ken and Lois had run off and left me alone. I quietly padded to a front window, and found the driveway empty. Ken’s car was gone, and presumably Ken with it.
I tried to quiet my anxiety, and thought I’d wait another hour before peeking into their bedroom, to see whether Lois was still here.
As it turned out, I didn’t need to. When I returned to the kitchen, Lois was there, studying the contents of the fridge. I said, “Good morning,” but she didn’t answer or turn. Okay. Give her space.
Lois turned, eyed me up and down and said, “That’s a cute dress. I could never get Celine to even try it on, let alone wear it.” I smiled. She didn’t smile back.
“It was a gift from my mother,” Lois added, watching me for my reaction.
“Oh!” I said. “It never occurred to me that there were more people in this family!”
“Yeah,” Lois said laconically, “if you stick around, you may meet them.”
I scratched my cheek. Emotionally, she was like a wall today: leaden. I couldn’t blame her, but the situation was distressing. I didn’t know what to do or what to say. Did she need to yell at me? Did I need to leave her alone?
“So, you decided to take a day off from cleaning today?”
“Um, no. Why do you say that?”
“That’s too nice a dress to clean house in.”
“Oh, um, well, I can change.”
“No, don’t bother.”
“I was going to tackle the basement.”
“No. No. Not in that dress.”
“He went in early today.”
I was at a loss. She wasn’t even moving. Not a single muscle. She was responding to what I said, but in a way that was so neutral, so devoid of expression. She ended every back-and-forth by letting the conversational ball simply fall to the ground. The phrase flat affect came to mind. It was like talking to a robot. Her lifeless demeanor left me in dismay.
“Well, maybe I’ll go out for a walk,” I said.
“Be careful where you walk and where you sit,” she told me. “You don’t want to get your pretty dress dirty.”
“Should I change?” I asked, uncertain. “I — I can run upstairs and change.”
“No,” she said. “Don’t bother. The dress survived Celine, I’m sure it will survive you as well.”
Almost without knowing what I was doing, I turned and left the room. I walked out the front door, gave a wordless wave to Mr. Waters, and kept going in a straight line. I needed to put some distance between me and Lois.
When I first started walking, there were only houses around me. I didn’t come across a single store or office. Just house after house. After maybe half an hour, the houses thinned out, and I began to see more warehouses, garages, storage units, and the like. There were people around: not many, though, and they were all minding their own business. Here, the town was petering out. If I kept going straight soon I’d see empty lots and woodland. So I turned left, walked a few blocks, and turned left again, heading back toward — well, not toward home, but toward life, civilization, commerce, people. I kept going straight until the neighborhood improved. Every few blocks I’d take a right and a left, to shift over one block. I wasn’t familiar with this part of Lambeth. I didn’t know where I was headed, but I didn’t want to go home.
My throat began to get dry. I stopped for a minute to think. I realized for the first time that I didn’t have any money or phone or really anything at all, except for the clothes I was wearing. I was too young to have a drivers license. It was still two months before school started, so I didn’t have a school ID. I wondered whether I should be carrying a health insurance card. In any case, I had nothing. If I was in an accident, it would take a little time for the police to figure out who I am. At least I’m wearing clean underwear, I told myself, with a wry smile.
Time to take stock of where I found myself. Up ahead, the hill that defines Lambeth stretched across the horizon. At the bottom of the hill was a church tower that I recognized. If I headed in that direction, eventually I could find my way to the Kenderley neighborhood. The main library was there — a good place to stop and rest. Once there, I could get a drink of water and find a clean chair to sit on.
Once there, once I was sitting down and hydrated, I could try to figure out what to do. It really looked as though I’d blown it with Ken and Lois, with my stupid Rom-Com Rule. Honestly was clearly not always the best policy.
I’d been walking for a while, but the church tower didn’t seem to be getting any closer. A sudden refreshing breeze cut down a side street and flowed over me, and in that moment I realized that I didn’t *need* a plan or a strategy. I didn’t have to find a move to make: it was all on the the Morstens. If they didn’t want me, if they were through with me, they would have to send me away. Lois couldn’t ice me out. She could make me uncomfortable, but she couldn’t make me leave. I was the minor here: they were responsible for me. They couldn't simply cut me off and push me out. They couldn't do it with the real Celine, after all. They were stuck with me.
Oddly, that realization was a relief. It took all the weight off me. I’ll just keep living there until they get rid of me, I decided. As perverse and backward as it sounds, that resolution allowed me finally to stop worrying.
I didn’t need to do *anything*. I couldn’t do anything. It wasn’t my move to make.
Feeling lighter, unburdened, I walked a few blocks farther and came to a busy intersection. While I waited for the light to change, a police car pulled up next to me. “Hey, Celine,” a familiar voice called.
“Dad!” I exclaimed. (I almost slipped and called him Ken.)
“What are you doing so far from home?”
“I just felt like walking,” I said. “Just to give… Mom some space.”
“Ah.” A thoughtful, concerned expression flitted across his face, and then, after a glance at his partner, he asked, “Are you hungry? We were just about to stop for lunch.”
“Lunch would be great!” I said. In fact, I was hungry. I must have been walking for hours.
A few minutes later the three of us were settling into a booth at the Lucky Diner.
“That’s a pretty dress,” Ken observed.
“Yes, it’s a gift from Grandma,” I told him.
“Oh, yeah, I guess it is,” he said. “I didn’t recognize it at first. Um — first time you’re wearing it.”
Ken’s partner, Dave, asked. “Where were you heading?”
“The library,” I told him. “I want to see about getting a library card.”
“How about that!” Dave exclaimed. “My son tells me that books are obsolete nowadays. That’s his excuse for not reading.”
“Libraries have other services besides booklending.”
“Oh, my gosh, Ken, listen to this one! Booklending! She talks like an encyclopedia! Listen, Ken, Celine — my son, he *never* cracks a book if he can help it. To him, homework is torture. Torture! I try to tell him that procrastinating only prolongs the agony, but does he listen? Then, on the other hand, here you are — you up and decided to go to the library, all by yourself!”
I shrugged. “What does your son like to do?”
“Baseball. He’s all about baseball. Shortstop. Good stats. He’s about your age, maybe a little older? He’s thirteen.”
“How about that? What a coincidence! Are you going to Tallmadge High this Fall?”
I glanced at Ken, who helped me out with an almost imperceptible nod. “Yes,” I said.
“You know, you could come watch him play some time! He’s in a summer league. If you two get to know each other, it won’t be all strangers for either of you, first day.”
At that point, the waitress came to take our orders, then Dave got up to use the restroom.
The moment we were alone, Ken leaned forward, and in a low voice asked, “Did something happen between you and Lois?”
“I just wanted to give her space,” I said.
“Hmm,” he said. “You know she’s depressed, right? Mood swings are a part of it. You never know which Lois you’re going to meet.”
“I got that,” I said. “I went through all that with Theresa. There isn’t much you can do but wait it out.”
“There’s one important thing you can do — that WE can do,” he said. “And that’s to not give up on her. Don’t give up on Lois, Celine. She needs us. Both of us.”
I wanted to protest. I wanted to say, She needs us? *I* need her. I’m the kid in this situation! Of course, I didn’t say it. I’m selfish, but not THAT selfish. I knew he was right. Then he asked me, “You don’t have a phone, do you?” I shook my head. “Money?” I shook my head again. He pulled out his wallet and handed me a $20 bill. At first I wasn’t sure where to put it, then discovered that the dress had pockets!
“Thanks,” I told him.
“We have to get you a phone, and I guess we should talk about allowance.”
“What did you give Celine?” I asked.
He laughed. “Celine was a thief,” he replied. “You don’t need to give money to a thief.”
Dave returned. “It hit me, while I was in the can: I didn’t tell you my boy’s name. It’s Alfie.”
I almost asked why? but instead said, “That’s an unusual name.”
“Yeah, my wife picked it.”
I sang the first few bars of What’s It All About, Alfie? and Dave’s jaw dropped. “How do you know that song?”
I realized I was in danger of play the smartass, the girl “wise beyond her years” so I dumbed it down in my reply. “Is that a song? Wasn’t it on a commercial for something?”
Then, to forestall any more talk about his son, I threw out a joke, the first one that came to mind: “Hey — Who is bigger? Mr Bigger or Mr Bigger’s baby?”
Dave gave a barking laugh and slapped the table. “I know this one! The baby! The baby is a little Bigger.”
I laughed — more at his excitement than anything else. For the rest of our lunch, Dave ran though every joke he knew, or so it seemed.
A long time ago, I found that if you get other people to do most of the talking, they feel a lot better about the conversation. Still, Dave wasn’t stupid, and I hadn’t completely put him off his goal. I hit a joke that flopped, and Dave pulled out his phone and found a photo.
“See? This is my kid. Alfie. The red-hot babe is my wife.”
I had to admit, Alfie was a good-looking guy. A nice-looking guy. An interesting mix of both his parents’ features, although he favored his mother. He was wearing a shirt with the number five on it, which struck a chord in my memory. Who did he remind me of? It came to me in a flash, and I found myself exclaiming, “He looks like Aidan Gallagher!”
Dave shook his head. “Who’s that now?”
“Aiden Gallagher. He’s an actor. Do you know The Umbrella Academy? He plays Five.”
“He plays five what? Is that his number?”
“Five is his name.”
“Ehh — never heard of the Umbrella — thing.. Is it a movie?” He had a dubious look.
“TV show. It’s very cool.”
“So… in other words,” Dave said, smiling, “Alfie’s not bad looking, right?”
I blushed like a stop light and looked down at the table. “Right,” I admitted in a quiet voice. What a surprise! How did I get ambushed like that? Look at me: having feelings and attractions and all that...
Dave nodded and put his phone away. He had the sense to not pursue his advantage and make me feel more awkward.
Dave paid. We left. I waved as they drove off.
From there, I made a quick stop at the library, to ask about getting a library card.
“You need proof that you live in town,” the librarian told me. “That could be as simple as a postmarked letter addressed to you. Or, you can come with one of your parents. In that case, they will need proof of address: a utility bill, a postmarked letter addressed to them, or a drivers license showing an address in town.”
Outside the library, I stopped at a kiosk that displayed a map of town. Although I’d walked a long way, at least an hour, my path showed on the map as a long, narrow V. Although I'd walked for nearly three hours that morning, it only took me fifteen minutes to get home.
“Where were you?” Lois said. Her manner had utterly changed. “You've been gone for hours! I was worried!”
“I’m sorry,” I told her. “But I left without money, and I don’t have a phone. I thought that Ken would call you?”
“No,” she said. “Your dad didn’t call. Why would he?”
“I had lunch with him. And his partner,” I told her. She noticed my blush when I mentioned the partner, so she wanted to hear all about it. When I was done, and she’d ferreted as many details about Alfie as possible, she gave me a big hug.
I’d say her hot-and-cold behavior was confusing, but as I’ve said (more than once), after a year of living with with a depressed person, I’d learned it was best to roll with their mood. There wasn’t any point in questioning why the sun was shining. Anyway, Ken had it exactly right: You never knew which Lois you were going to meet.
So… we were friends again. Mother and daughter. For right now, anyway.
After Lois had squeezed all the my-little-girl-is-growing-up juice out of my surprising attraction to Alfie, she had some news to share with me.
While I was out walking, Mr. Waters, our next door neighbor, had stopped by to talk about his daughter’s visit. She was arriving on Tuesday and leaving Friday. When Mr Waters first spoke with me, I kind of expected to have one or two sleepovers with his granddaughter Daphne, and spend time with her during the day, but the plans had changed.
“As it happens, Mr. Waters has two grown daughters, and the older daughter lives in Mystic. She’s got three kids. They’re all just a little bit older than you. They’ve got all four days planned out, and from the sound of things, it will be non-stop fun.”
“Hmmph,” I grunted in disbelief. “Non-stop fun?” The phrase itself boded exactly the opposite. “Mystic, Connecticutt does not sound like a hotbed of non-stop fun. Have you ever been there?”
“No,” Lois replied. “Have you?”
“Well, no, but come on — it’s Mystic Seaport. It sounds like a great place to watch the paint peel off a bunch of old wooden boats.”
Lois laughed. “I guess Mr. Waters suspected you might have such a jaded, old-man-like reaction, so he printed these out for you. And for us as well.” She laid them out on the table.
There were two pages about Mystic Seaport, about the aquarium, the various museums, and the old town. Then came the real payload: ten pages about — among other things — Fields of Fire, a huge park featuring climbing platforms, paintball, ziplines, and other amusements, and Fearless Flyers, where we’d get to try circus acrobatics, such as tightrope walking, the flying trapeze, and much, much more.
“Wow!” I exclaimed. “I didn’t expect anything like this!”
“Yeah, pretty boring, huh,” Lois said, laughing.
I was surprised by how excited the trip made me. I wanted to pack my bag right then, right now. Lois was delighted. “Look what a teenager you are! You can’t wait!” And she hugged me again. I bit my tongue to keep from making snarky comments. I didn’t want to ruin Lois’ good mood. She was really enjoying my teenage embarrassment and awkward feelings. This was exactly what she missed with the original Celine. I had to let her revel in it.
And Lois’ vicarious delight was far from over! Ken called with the news that his partner Dave had invited the three of us over for a cookout that evening.
“Obviously, he wants you to meet your new boyfriend,” Lois teased. “And Ken and I get to meet your future in-laws.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Lois said. “It’s okay if he kisses you, but if he tries anything else, sock him.”
I gave another inarticulate groan. “I’m not ready for boys.”
“No one is ever ready,” Lois said. “It’s always a baptism of fire.”
I don’t know why Lois said that thing about a “baptism of fire.” It wasn’t that way at all. It was just one step after another. Nothing was sudden or unexpected or unwanted.
Lois helped me pick out a dress. She asked, You do want to wear a dress, don’t you? And, yes of course I wanted to wear a dress. Together, we settled on a navy gingham shirtdress. (She had to decode that designation for me: The fabric was white with navy-blue checks, about an inch square. It almost gave a school-uniform vibe, which was just the slightest suggestion of sexy, but not any more sexy than a girl my age should be.
“Do you want some lipstick?” Lois asked.
“Uh, no,” I responded. “Do you think I should?”
Lois shrugged. “It’s up to you.”
“I better not,” I decided. “I might smudge it all over my face or do some other stupid thing.”
On the way to the barbecue, Lois asked, “What’s the wife’s name?”
“Pamela,” Ken replied. “And the family name is Mustone.”
“Dave, Pam, and Alfie Mustone,” Lois said to herself, and repeated it twice to be sure.
“Are we the only guests?” I asked.
“As far as I know,” Ken replied.
We were the only guests. When we walked into the backyard, Dave did a six-second introduction, pointing to each one of us in turn and saying our name. Then he said, “Alfie, get Celine a Coke or whatever she wants. I’ll take care of the adults.”
I walked over and joined Alfie while Dave chatted with the adults, making them welcome, getting their drinks. Alfie lifted his head to look at me, and a shock of full, dark brown hair swept down across his forehead. My breath caught in my throat — luckily, that was my only awkward moment. For the rest of the evening, our conversation ran smoothly, all by itself. It all just happened, as naturally as you like.
“We have Coke, Diet Coke, Fanta, and Sprite,” he told me. His voice was a little shaky. I couldn’t tell whether he was shy or trying to be cool.
“Wow, a full-service bar,” I quipped.
“We aim to please,” he said, with a hint of a smile.
I looked at the selection and asked for a Dr. Pepper. “Huh,” he said. “I didn’t mention that one because I didn’t think you’d want it. You know what they say about girls who drink Dr. Pepper?”
“No,” I replied, taking the drink from his hand. “What do they say?”
He stopped for a moment, took a sip of his Coke, and said, “I don’t know. I don’t have a follow-up. I kind of thought you’d have a comeback. It just sounded funny. To me. Until I said it.”
I shrugged. “It was funny enough.” Alfie was wearing pale blue shorts and a light gray t-shirt. The logo on the shirt was a cartoon goat’s head.
“What is the goat munching on?” I asked him, gesturing to his shirt. “It looks like a brown carrot.”
“It’s a baseball bat!” he explained. “This is the logo for the Hartford Yard Goats.”
“Is that a minor league team?” I asked.
His eyes lit up. “Yes! There’s no major league baseball in Connecticutt, so I go to as many of the Yard Goats games as possible.”
“Are they good?”
“It’s live baseball,” he replied evasively. “They play with a lot of heart.”
I nodded. “Your dad said you’re a shortstop.”
“Right,” he said, “It’s a demanding position. I like it.”
Just as I was about to wonder whether we’d be stuck talking about baseball all evening, he asked me what *I* liked, what I was into. I was at a loss. What was I into?
So I told him that I liked to read. He asked me what I was reading, so I told him.
After I’d pretty much told him the whole story of The Trail Rider, I stopped.
“Oh!” I said. “I’ve been talking a long time. You shouldn’t have let me do all of the talking!”
“Did I?” he asked. “I was interested. I like listening to you. That’s why I kept asking questions. Why did you choose that book? Do you like Westerns?”
“No,” I laughed. “I don’t. I’m reading it because my fa—” I stopped. My father. My *father* liked Westerns. But my father isn’t my father any more. Ken is my father. So, I finished the thought: “My grandfather liked Westerns. I have a bunch of his old books.”
He nodded. “Cool.”
We ate. We talked. I asked whether he’d seen Umbrella Academy (he hadn’t). We talked about TV shows, movies, the Avengers.
“Hey,” I said, remembering, “Your father said that you wouldn’t know anybody at Tallmadge High. Why is that? You’ve lived here all your life, haven’t you?”
“Yes,” he said. “The reason is embarrassing, but I’ll tell you. All my classmates are going to private high schools. I can’t, because my grades aren’t good enough and because it’s too expensive.”
“Oh,” I said. “Sorry!”
“I’m not,” he said. “The public high school has a better sports program. They’ve also got a better music program, and I want to learn an instrument.”
“Sax, I think. But I’m open.”
At one point, after the sun had set, the adults went inside to have a look at the house, leaving me and Alfie alone. At some point, he took my hand. “Your skin is so soft,” he said, and turned his face toward mine. In a kind of magnetic moment, I moved my head a little toward his, and he moved his head a little towards mine. I moved a little, he moved a little, and by slow, cautious degrees we arrived at a kiss.
It was soft and nice. The only awkward part was that neither of us knew when it was okay to stop. We were saved, I guess, by the return of the adults. We heard them and separated before they could have seen us.
“I’d give you my phone number,” I told him, “but I don’t have a phone.”
“Neither do I,” he confessed with a smile.
Ken, Lois, and I went home soon after, but not before Alfie invited me to a baseball game he was playing tomorrow.
It wasn’t as though I made a decision to like boys. In fact, I don’t know whether I like boys in the plural, but I know that Alfie and I hit it off. We were like gears that instantly meshed. It wasn’t exciting or awkward or embarrassing. It was natural. We were simpatico. We were simply friends. Friends who kissed sometimes.
That night, as I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, I thought of Reddie, who started off in disguise, dressed as a boy. Then she revealed herself as the girl she always was, out in the open, known, recognized — and soon she was courted by one of the cowboys. When she lay in her bedroll, underneath the stars, she was tormented by the uncertainty of Does he like me? Does he respect me?
I didn’t suffer that torture. It was pretty clear that Alfie and I were on the same wavelength. A cool, quiet wavelength. It wasn’t passionate, but it sure was nice. Would it last? Would it survive the immersion into high-school life and the high-school population? I didn’t know. I wasn’t worried. I was probably too young to have a boyfriend. I certainly didn’t plan it.
In the end, I figured that it was Celine’s body, Celine’s inclinations, that responded so warmly to Alfie.
Then I wondered how long I’d think of “Celine” and Celine’s body as somehow separate from me. At some point, I'll just *be* Celine, won't I?
Lois was only too glad to help me pick out a cute dress for the baseball game. Although she wore a pleased smile, she surprised me by not asking any questions or teasing me. I appreciated her discretion.
The teams were still warming up when I arrived at the baseball field. There were boys everywhere, but Alfie and I spotted each other right away. I smiled and gave him a low-key wave hello, but some sharp eye on his team saw our mutual smiles, and soon they were all ribbing him, chanting: “Alfie’s got a girl-friend! Alfie’s got a girl-friend.” He was embarrassed, and so was I, but I couldn’t help but smile.
Luckily, they didn’t know my name, so they couldn’t resort to singing Alfie and Celine, sittin’ in a tree…
I stood there like an idiot, smiling and blushing, looking back and forth. Somehow I couldn’t figure out where to sit. Alfie came over to say hello, accompanied by hoots and calls from his team.
“I’m glad you came,” he told me. “Just ignore those morons.”
“I’m not going to ignore them,” I told him. “I like it.”
He laughed at that, and then I said (surprised by my own boldness), “Why don’t you kiss me, so we can hear what kind of sounds they make?”
He put his hand on my shoulder and came in for a kiss. The bench went wild. They were hooting and cheering and shouting, “Go, Alfie! Go, Alfie! Go, Alfie!”
At last we broke off — we were both laughing too hard to keep our lips together.
Of course, now that I was beginning my first relationship as a girl, I had to go away. Sunday was the cookout. Monday was Alfie’s game. Tuesday I left for four days with Mr. Waters’ family, visiting Mystic, Connecticut.
It was a great trip. I really needed it. The adults planned it very well. “The adults” in this case were Mr. Waters’ two daughters and their husbands. Each of them took turns shepherding us kids. “Us kids” being me, Daphne, and her three cousins: a sixteen-year-old boy named Tim, and a pair of fourteen-year-old twins, Esme and Hazel. Most of the time, we were on the go: swimming, hiking, climbing, taking ziplines… We only spent one day in Mystic itself, mainly at the Aquarium.
I think I’d be hard pressed to find a time — even in my own childhood — when I had that much fun. Honestly, there hadn’t been much fun — much joy — in my life for a long while. The past ten or fifteen years, at least. My life had become an endless struggle, and one I wasn’t very well suited for. The emotional battles with Theresa were exhausting, and her year-long bout with depression was soul-killing. But here and now, on the other hand, I had people looking out for me, people whose mission (if you could call it that) was to make sure I was safe, fed, and happy.
Also, the fact that we were so physically active made it easy for us kids to get along. I didn’t worry even once about fitting in or knowing what to talk about. I realized that Lois’ suggestion that I join a sports team had a lot of merit. It could be like this trip, where everything was physical, concrete, very much in the moment. It was glorious.
I’m sure that Lois and Ken needed a break from me as well. I lay awake on Thursday night, my last night away, reflecting on all the recent upheaval in their lives. I made a list:
- Celine pulled a stunt that was severe enough to force Ken to find a new job in a new town
- The abrupt move meant selling their dream home, their “forever home,” at a loss
- They bought a house in one of the least desirable parts of town
- They found out that their daughter had been shot dead after provoking the police
- The person they believed to be their daughter, the person they traveled with and lived with, was actually a body-swapping psychopath
- The person now living with them as their daughter was a 42-year-old con man
Did I leave anything out? Oh, yes: Lois’ depression. She started out depressed before everything on my list, and none of it helped her, not in the slightest. Each element only made things worse. Oh, and there were three more things:
- Before the con man became their daughter, he was planning a major heist
- All the elements of that heist are still in the field
- The psychopathic body-swapper had sought out their current daughter, for reasons unknown
Would Simon come back? What did he want with me? Did he even plan to swap with me in the first place? He said he had little control over switching.
I puzzled over those questions. I didn’t think Simon would come back, but then again, I never expected him to look for me at all.
My mind replayed the scene with Simon in that backyard, when he held my arm. As I got closer to sleep, the world of dreams wrapped around my thoughts, and the scene with Simon became fanciful and complicated in ways impossible to articulate. I had the mistaken impression that I somehow understood Simon’s intentions and plans, but it was only the onset of a dream As my mind opened in wonder, I drifted into the depths of sleep.
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