As the pounds steadily disappeared, Tabitha found that everything was becoming easier. What began in her first days as a walk became a slow jog, and then a run. By now, her daily run was laced with sprints to get her heart rate up, and even that didn’t feel like enough. Holes had worn into the crease of her sneakers where they bent with her step, and she had to superglue the soles several times as they were starting to peel off.
Over the course of her summer before high school, she spent a large fraction of time visiting Grandma Laurie, wishing only that she’d appreciated the woman more in her past lifetime. They had so much in common! Although she’d initially planned on making long treks to the city library to start writing her novels, Goblina and Goblin Princess, she found herself too distracted with stopping over every other day to chat, and then dutifully taking her four cousins to the playground.
There, they played the most ubiquitous game in existence across playgrounds everywhere; tag. Despite her initial overweight appearance, Tabitha had an uncanny ability to predict the timing of their lunges, and was able to outmaneuver her opponents into being cornered when she was ‘it.’ As time went on and her weight steadily fell, her increasing speed and stamina made her almost unbeatable. When they started playing team tag, she took only the youngest cousin, Joshua onto her side to even the odds.
Eventually, the teams seemed set at all four boys against her; any one of the boys could tag her for a win, but then she had to tag out all four in succession. She never thought herself above playing with the children; the boys loved having someone to play with. Besides, scampering around in an energetic young body—one that became a little better-looking and more able with each passing day—was simply intoxicating.
What affected Tabitha’s increasingly positive mentality the most, however, was seeing that new face in her mirror every day, trying out hesitant smiles. Over the weeks as the fat began to recede from her face, a surprisingly lovely young woman was emerging somehow from within. A girl with features she could vainly admire for hours, if she didn’t stop herself.
Whatever asinine genetic trait it was that had stored so much fat in her face had gradually been overcome by Tabitha’s zealous weight loss regimen. Her neck had gone from being a bulbous distraction to a slender thing, and her chin and the line of her jaw looked more defined and appealing to her every single day.
The incessant burning of every stored calorie her nonstop efforts could reach seemed to have a direct impact on every aspect of her body. Rather than her old toad-like blob of a nose, the center of her face was now adorned instead by a cute button nose. Her figure—not slim yet by any means, but definitely slimmer. Tabitha’s eyes looked bright now, large and expressive now that her cheeks had slimmed down and the very proportions of her face were changed.
Unfortunately, Tabitha wasn’t sure exactly what her current weight was at. Weighing herself twice a mere ten minutes apart had revealed a fourteen-pound difference! Which was, obviously, impossible.
To her dismay, she realized that accidentally shifting or nudging their beaten old bathroom scale at all would yield a drastically different result when next stood upon. None of the flooring in the trailer was level, the patchwork plywood and particleboard beneath their linoleum and carpets all uneven in different ways and angles. Which meant now she was no longer confident in what her initial weight had actually been, or how it would be best to calibrate the scale without something of exactly predetermined weight.
As much as the visual results of her tireless effort put a smile on her face, however, it wasn’t all good news. She was constantly aching all over, and it was evident that the rapid weight loss was dangerous, because it was wreaking havoc on her young body. The first menstrual cycle of her new life had come and gone, and it was very irregular from what she’d ever remembered having.
Enough to send her into a mild panic. If she were to classify the periods throughout her past life, they would rank into simple light, or heavy. This one was a weird thanks for trying, or maybe a reply hazy, try again later.
Well, deal with it, body, Tabitha scoffed to herself. I know what I’m doing isn’t very healthy—but what about my mental health? I NEED to change. So what if it throws off my cycle? I don’t have time for your bullshit anymore anyways, uterus. AT BEST, you were nothing but dead weight to me; an obnoxious monthly inconvenience that I lugged around for no reason for almost sixty years! Don’t go thinking that I won’t just go get those tubes tied this time through. I totally will. I’ll do it, just try me!
“Sweetie… I know you’re going through a lot of changes right now,” Mr. Moore began awkwardly, frowning. “But, you don’t have to try to do everything all at once, okay?”
“...Are you trying to discourage me from improving my life?” Tabitha asked, pausing mid-pushup. She held herself there, waiting for his answer. An uncomfortable distance had formed between her and her parents. She didn’t know how to act when she was around them, and in turn they seemed to have no idea how to treat her. Mrs. Moore was caught up in following the explosive Monica Lewinsky/Clinton scandal that was dominating the news, and her father was… well, he was trying.
“Of course not, I—it’s just—well,” he sighed. “Can you sit up, so we can talk properly?”
She completed her pushup, then rose to meet his eyes. She knew she was drastically thinner than he was used to seeing, as though she’d shrunken a size, all over, and it was obvious that it was worrying him.
“We... don’t think it’s healthy, you losing weight this fast,” he said. “You’ve been at this for weeks, now. You’re working out, what, five? Six hours a day? You’ll kill yourself, Sweetie.”
“Six hours a day,” she admitted, sliding a notebook out from beneath her bed. “Which is another way of saying that I’m also resting the other eighteen hours every day. My exercises rotate through different muscle groups throughout the week to prevent excessive damage. I wrote myself up a schedule, if you’d like to take a look. It may ease your concerns.” She passed the notebook up to him.
“I, uh... still don’t think that—holy cow,” he mumbled, looking at the fitness routines, reptitions, hours and numbers she’d crammed the pages with. “This is… well, Sweetie, what are you—where are you going with all of this? Are you aimin’ to become an athlete?”
“No,” Tabitha said, looking away. “I want to be pretty, for just once in my life. I know all of this must seem… impatient, to you, but I’m done waiting for some fantasy dream world where I’m beautiful and things work out and I matter. Dad, I’m going to make it all happen.”
“I believe you can, too, Sweetie,” he said said after a long moment of silence. “You know we love you just the way you are though, right? No matter how you look.”
“I know what you think. And... I tried that. It didn’t work out,” she said, in more of a brisk tone than she’d intended. Feeling a little ashamed of herself, she dropped back down and positioned herself to resume the push-ups. “I’m… sorry. I love you too, Daddy.”
“How about I take you out this weekend, get you some new clothes,” He offered. “Since you seem hell bent on changin’ yer whole figure before high school.”
“I’d… I’d love that, thank you,” Tabitha heaved herself back up and rocked back to sit on her heels. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
As Tabitha leapt up into the air and snapped out a neat and precise jump-kick, the most she felt now was a slight, almost imperceptible wobble, rather than that unpleasant jiggle from several weeks ago. Landing steadily, she twisted positions and performed a low crosshand block with both arms. Though she’d lost a significant amount of weight and was finally seeing it in the mirror, the pounds weren’t exactly melting away. Rather, they were being wrung out of her, exhausted out of her through the rigors of her exercise and diet plan.
I feel like I need to be doing even MORE, though, Tabitha thought, unable to shake the anxious feeling that’d been plaguing her. She was working through her exercise rotation, she was practicing her katas, and running to Grandma Laurie’s and then playing with the cousins made for good cardio in between. What else can I do?
Glancing up and down the street of nearby mobile homes to see no cars were coming and that no one was in sight, she took a couple careful steps and—attempted a handstand. Her palms planted on the concrete of the sidewalk, her legs kicked up into the air... and flailed. After a short, fleeting moment with all of her blood rushing to her head, she lost her balance and fell forewards, her shoes slapping onto the sidewalk.
Ow. That… wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be, Tabitha thought, lurching back up to her feet and looking around with an embarrassed expression. Maybe I don’t need to try it out here on the sidewalk, but… I can probably do flips. Cartwheels. Actual gymnastic stuff, now. Looking thoughtful now, Tabitha brushed herself off and resumed her Taekwondo forms.
Lately, her thoughts had begun to stray while in the midst of doing her katas, and even moreso as she ran the loop around the lower park neighborhood. She couldn’t stop thinking about parkour. Somewhere between a movement technique and a training discipline, parkour was a rather eye-catching method of traversing various obstacles along a course. Although here in 1998 it was more or less completely unknown, several decades in the future it would feature prominently in almost every single action movie. Tabitha hadn’t even actually learned parkour was the name for it, until she was already in her fifties. During belt promotions one fall at the Taekwondo school, a few of the youngsters had set up a demonstration for everyone.
Damn my old bones. Should’ve at least tried their little obstacle course, Tabitha thought to herself in dismay. Now that the Taekwondo and running felt virtually effortless to her—a race against boredom more than an effort of exertion, her mind kept wandering. If they could do it, I can figure it out. The cousins are going to get tired of tag, sooner or later.
A week later, Tabitha pursed her lips as she pushed hangars of clothing down the rack one by one, carefully working her way through the aisles. Even though she’d coerced her father into taking her to the thrift store rather than anywhere else for her clothes shopping... on the stated limit of ten dollars, there wasn’t a whole lot she could afford to buy. Either one new pair of jeans and a shirt to go with it, or maybe several shirts. She needed much more than that, however. After asking the sales clerk for clearance items, she was told that items with certain colored tags were further discounted to half-off.
Which led her to her next dilemma: she didn’t even know what size she would be by the time her freshman year started. Her waistline was steadily shrinking, but she didn’t know what size it would stop at. As if the issue weren’t already complicated enough, she was also still growing in other ways—the ravages of puberty wouldn’t complete her adolescence for another two years, at least. There were only three pairs of jeans that fell into her projected size range that were also half-off, so she picked the best looking two and threw them over an arm to try on. She would likely just barely squeeze into them now, but by the end of the summer she might have to pull them apart along the outer seam and re-tailor them to a smaller frame.
All of the preparation and planning for high school is finally starting to pay off, though, Tabitha thought to herself, absent-mindedly stroking at her red hair. Some of the ingredients she’d budgeted into their grocery list had nothing to do with the meals she was cooking for them. It had taken some experimenting, as she hadn’t perfectly remembered the instructions, but sifting a tablespoon of light rye flour through a tea strainer, and then adding it to a tablespoon of warm water made a hair wash that was supremely effective as a substitute for shampoo. She was now diligently scrubbing the oils out of her hair, every three days. After a few more weeks of care and treatment, her hair would be looking better than it ever had before.
I wonder if Grandma Laurie has a sewing machine, Tabitha paused, pulling a rather cute dress off a nearby rack. The upper part of this is a lot like a modern-day blouse. Er, modern like they’ll be in the future, I guess I should say. Hey, it’s half-off.
“Girls are all dumb and have big fat butts!”
“Sam, that’s a rude and hurtful thing to say,” Tabitha scolded. “Please behave yourself until we’re at the playground.”
“What’re you gonna do about it, sissy?” Sam taunted. “Hit me like a girl?”
“I don’t think you’d like that,” Tabitha warned.
“Yeah right, like I’d even feel it,” Sam scoffed, stomping towards her with his hands raised in a provoking way. “Betcha can’t hit me! Betcha can’t hit me!”
It was the middle of summer, when Sam, the eldest of her cousins, made that mistake of slapping a sharp spank on Tabitha’s undefended bottom. All of his brothers watching were just about to shriek with laughter and join in on teasing and messing with Tabby...
But, unfortunately for Sam—Tabby didn’t hit like a girl, anymore. She hit like someone trained in the correct way to punch, like someone who spent time each day practicing throwing that exact strike over and over and over again in studious repetition. So, the boys watched in surprise as their angry redhead cousin pulled back her fist like an action movie star—and threw a punch into Sam with a twist of her entire body that put every ounce of weight in her body behind it.
She put Sam down in the grass beside the road, hard. Clenching and unclenching her hand, she then scowled and left for the day, without saying another word to any of them.
“Jesus,” Nick mouthed.
“Is… is he dead?!” Joshua prodded his eldest brother with the toe of his sneaker.
When the boys saw Tabitha again days later, she wasn’t angry. She smiled sweetly at them, and pulled Sam aside, apologizing for losing her temper. She then warned him to never, ever do that again. To her, or any other girl, ever.
“If I hear that you have, I’m going to hit you again, just as hard,” Tabitha promised, examining him with deadly seriousness shining in her eyes. “But, you’re not a child anymore, so you’re going to have to take it right in the face, next time. Got it?”
She ignored the way Sam subconsciously flinched back, and then brought them to the playground and played tag with everyone like nothing had ever happened... but the social dynamic between her and the boys would never be the same again. Aiden sided with Tabitha—it felt to him like she was in the right, like she’d had a good enough reason, and to his surprise, both Nick and Joshua quickly agreed with him. Sam sneered and called them all wussies, but he never tempted fate with Tabitha again.
After all, over the course of the summer, the tubby Tabby they were used to making fun of was transforming into an angel of death. What seemed like a third of her body weight simply melted away, sloughed off beneath a relentless onslaught of physical activity that would have seemed olympian to them, if they’d understood the concept. The girl wasn’t just fast anymore— she was jumping, she was kicking off of the sides of playground equipment, she performed dive-rolls to avoid their tags, and they’d even seen her do a hand-spring to get away, once. Tabitha was working out and improving every day, and the hours of playtime she spent with the cousins that left all four of them completely exhausted.
She wasn’t an ugly duckling anymore, either, but despite how pretty she was becoming, they never thought to compare her to a swan. A hawk, or an eagle, maybe. Some fierce bird of prey that had beautiful wings but also sported powerful talons, the kind that could rend flesh with ease. The cousins might have not grasped the finer nuances of concepts like respect just yet, but the fear and awe they felt when they looked towards Tabitha was becoming profound.
The bruise on Sam’s chest was a deep purple for weeks before fading away in sickening yellows and faint greens, and they told their father, Tabitha’s Uncle Danny, that Sam got hit with a softball. Everyone was warned to pay more goddamn attention, and watch what they were fucking doing.
This time, they did.
Tabitha had already set the table and was putting the finishing touches on their dinner when the phone call came. Turning the heat off the stove but continuing to whisk the noodles, chicken, and the pesto sauce in the skillet, she couldn’t help but glance up with interest as her father received the call.
“Moore residence,” he said, frowning.
She looked back down, giving the noodles and chicken one last stir—they were done enough. Telemarketer, perhaps? We don’t get a lot of calls.
“She what?” Mr. Moore said, turning and looking directly at Tabitha.
She paused for a moment, but he was still listening to someone on the other end of the line talk. She scooped a portion of chicken pesto into bowls for each of them, gently dipped the skillet into waiting soapy sink water, and brought dinner to the table.
“I thought we were having noodles and chicken,” Mrs. Moore complained, glaring at the bowl placed before them. “Noodles aren’t supposed to be green, Tabitha. What is this, green pepper?”
“Honey—I’m on the phone,” Mr. Moore said, throwing his wife a look.
“They’re zucchini noodles,” Tabitha whispered in a low voice. “I spent almost an hour with the peeler preparing enough for us.” I wish you could understand how precious every hour of my time is.
“Zucchini?” Mrs. Moore sighed, picking a slender piece of green out of her bowl with her fingers—which Tabitha found exceptionally rude—and examining it. “Tabby, you can’t just replace noodles with zucchini in a recipe out of nowhere. How are we supposed to eat this?”
“I’d appreciate it if you tried, at least,” Tabitha whispered, trying not to scowl.
“Well, of course you have Tabitha’s permission,” her father told someone on the phone, causing Tabitha’s head to snap around. Narrowing her eyes, she took her seat at the table and waited for him to finish.
“Alright,” her father continued, nodding to the person he couldn’t see. “Uh-huh. Well, thank you. I’ll let her know. Goodbye.”
“Alan, Tabitha didn’t make any noodles,” Mrs. Moore pointed out in an accusing tone. “All she made was zucchini.”
“Dinner is chicken pesto, served with zucchini noodles,” Tabitha calmly explained. “I worked very hard on it, and I’d like you to please try it.”
“And what about those of us who don’t eat zucchini?” her mother exclaimed. “What are we supposed to eat?”
“We still have steamed broccoli from—”
“Enough, Tabitha. I’m sure you think this is real funny.”
“It looks good, Sweetie,” Mr. Moore sat down, clearing his throat. “We’re very proud of you for making dinner every night. No matter how it turns out.”
Unsure whether to thank him or object to the backhanded compliment, Tabitha bowed her head and led them in saying a simple grace. Both of her parents had been rather incensed the time she launched into a lengthy grace, insisting she was being disrespectful, so she kept her thanks short and sweet.
“That was someone from the school board, calling about one of your essays,” Alan said, turning the zucchini over thoughtfully with his fork.
“It’s very thoughtful of them to call,” Tabitha said, trying not to smile.
“They’re going to send it to The Tribune and publish it,” he said, looking up at her. “And they want to put you in AP English when you start at Springton High. They’re recommending you. Do you know what all this is about?”
“Aye-Pee English, what th—”
“It stands for advanced placement,” Tabitha elaborated, interrupting her mother. “I put a lot of thought into the essay on my exam.”
“They said it was seven pages,” Mr. Moore said, popping a fork full of zucchini noodles into his mouth. He looked like he was going to continue his thought, but instead chewed distractedly. “You know... this isn’t half bad.”
“They made you write a seven page essay for your exam?” Mrs. Moore asked, still reluctant to taste her noodles.
“Oh, no,” Tabitha said, relishing another bite of the pesto chicken she’d worked hard on. “It’s a middle school Language Arts examination. They asked for a minimum of three paragraphs. Like I said... I just had a lot of thought to put into that essay.”
“Hope you’re all actually ready, this time,” Tabitha said, looking from cousin to nervous cousin standing in the playground with her. Sam, Aiden, Nick and Joshua eyed her warily but didn’t speak—they were prepared to burst into motion the moment she made her move.
“Okay… and, go!” Smirking, she turned and broke into a sprint across the playground, and her four cousins dashed after her, chasing the now-familiar bob and sway of her bouncing red ponytail. She seemed to run on effortlessly, however, and the slim girl widened the distance between her and her pursuers in an instant.
The three-foot tall chainlink fence at the edge of the park looked like it would be an obstacle for the five-foot four girl, but she planted both feet heavily in front of that fence and leapt, launching herself up to land on the fence’s top rail with both of her worn shoes. Her arms flashed out momentarily for balance, and then she flipped, twisting sideways through the air to land on the other side of the fence with what seemed like the natural ease of a born acrobat.
She called it parkour, and promised to teach them all how to do all of it—when they could keep up with her. As Aiden led the others in struggling to clamber over the park’s fence, he knew that it wouldn’t be soon—he knew from experience now that if she’d kept running, she wouldn’t even be in sight by the time they all cleared the fence. She was waiting for them now on the other side, taunting them with her proximity—because none of her cousins had been able to tag her in days.