Tabitha Moore didn’t remember what it was like stepping onto the bus for the first day of high school in her past life—because nothing had happened back then. She’d been greeted with indifference and summarily ignored, never given a second glance. As she climbed up the steps within the large yellow school bus at the end of her neighborhood and first laid eyes on the rows of high schoolers seated there... she realized that everything about this life was destined now to be different from what she knew. Immediately upon stepping up into view, a guy sitting at the back of the bus let out a jeering whooo that was picked up on by several other guys. Everyone turned and stared at her, and Tabitha froze.
Her coppery red hair was worn down and falling in a deliberate tangle—very subtle use of her mother’s curling iron and a little bit of product gave her hair some volume for that perfect slightly mussed look, an endeavor three weekends and quite of bit of research in the making. Tabitha’s large, expressive hazel eyes were framed with a tiny bit of subdued eyeliner and her delicate, sweet features were just a shade pale of perfect.
Despite spending most of her summer outdoors, she hadn’t tanned—with her genetics, she simply couldn’t. Her skin was either Irish white or redneck red, so in the days before school started she rearranged her schedule to put herself out of the sun. Running times were shifted to early mornings and late nights, and she’d even specifically skipped today’s run to spend time going over her appearance, paying rigorous attention to every detail.
The white top she wore had once been a discounted thrift-store dress. It showed off her shoulders and neck without revealing any cleavage, had exquisite embroidery and generally looked great on her, but had been a little too dressy for school. So, it had been sundered at the seams, cut apart and then re-hemmed into a lovely blouse. The better-fitting of her two surviving pairs of blue jeans and her new shoes made it a decent outfit. Grandma Laurie had proposed making a school bag together out of the different shades of jeans they’d cut up—the straps of her bag were real belts, worked through actual belt loops on the bag and stitched into place.
Painfully aware of everyone watching her, Tabitha picked her way down the bus aisle looking for a seat. Conversations went silent as she passed, and guys were politely shifting over to offer her a seat next to them.
For a second, that would have seemed thoughtful, Tabitha scowled inwardly. Raising her guard, she stepping past them to instead situate herself next to a lone girl who was staring absentmindedly out the window. But, none of you were ever this thoughtful last time through. Nice try.
“Good morning,” The guy across from her waved.
“...Hi,” Tabitha greeted back warily.
“You nervous?” He asked.
Do I look nervous? Tabitha wondered for a split-second, mentally re-evaluating the entrance she’d made. No. I didn’t make any expressions, or show anything at all. Must just be his way of breaking the ice.
“...About what?” Tabitha questioned.
“First day of school,” he reminded her. There were one or two other conversations going on throughout the bus as it lurched into motion with a diesel hum, but for the most part it felt like most of the passengers were listening in on them.
“Yeah, real nervous,” Tabitha replied in a clear, steady voice. “You know, my palms are sweaty—knees weak, arms are heavy.”
The guy gave her a curious look and laughed.
Half-way through chiding herself for not remembering the rest of the lyrics, Tabitha realized that it was still nineteen-ninety-eight… that particular Eminem song probably hadn’t even come out yet. Mentally grimacing, she kept her composure and turned her head away to listlessly watch the scenery roll by outside the window.
Oh, well. At least I didn't say anything about vomiting spaghetti. Everyone could tell I was quoting something... right?
Before they arrived at the school’s bus loop, another guy introduced himself, ducking forward from the rear of the bus into a nearby seat to tell her that hi, my name’s Kyle—how you doin’, and Tabitha began to understand that the attention she’d thought she craved after a lifetime of being ignored was actually… awkward and a little embarrassing. I always hated being put on the spot. Why did I ever think I wanted to stand out?
As everyone filed out of the bus and into the school commons of Springton High, Tabitha felt jittery stage-fright rise up within her. She’d hoped to have a nice moment, stepping off the bus and seeing her old alma mater once again, but it felt like she was being watched from every angle. Heads were turning as she passed, a guy in the distance elbowed his buddy and jerked his chin in her direction, people were looking over at her. It wasn’t just guys, either. Girls were sizing her up and evaluating her when she stepped into the school commons, and an older man—a teacher? Administrator? Principal?—nodded and said good morning to her.
Is this how normal people feel all the time? Tabitha wondered, struggling to not feel overwhelmed before she even made it to her first class. Like they’re the protagonists of their story? Was I not even the main character of my own fucking story, last lifetime?
The thought made her a little angry.
Despite attracting interest in spades, Tabitha was in a strange mood for her debut and didn’t want to chat with anyone or make new friends, just yet. Following her written itinerary, she strolled past the clusters of high schoolers milling about throughout the commons waiting for first bell and headed towards her classroom.
“Hi,” A pair of students were already there, both guys around her age. Her current age, anyways. “Here for Mr. Simmons, Marine Science?”
“Mr. Simmons, Marine Science,” Tabitha confirmed, waving her slip. Everyone’s just so friendly when you’re not fat and unhappy-looking…
“You new here?” the other boy asked.
“I’m a freshman, yeah,” Tabitha answered cautiously.
“Cool. Awesome, me too.”
She wasn’t able to tell whether she was meeting these people for the first time, or if they were middle school peers who failed to recognize her because of her summertime transformation. However, she would have no excuse for not recognizing them if they were people she’d should have met before in middle school, which was an awkward situation just waiting to happen. Don’t want to seem like I’m putting on airs, now.
Unfortunately, for her forty-seven years had gone by, and she didn’t remember any of her prior classmates at all. She’d become familiar with a few middle-school faces during the last few weeks of finals before summer started, but none of them had talked to her. She hadn’t bothered remembering many names.
There is one name I remember for sure, Tabitha thought to herself, pursing her pink lips. Alicia Brook. Brooks? I think it was Alicia Brooks. Fellow hometown hero.
“Got any good classes?” The taller of the two guys interrupted her thoughts.
“I have classes,” Tabitha shrugged. “Too soon to say what’s good and what’s garbage, isn’t it?”
“I’ve got bus tech next,” the tall one bragged. “Business technology—the whole first semester’s learning how to type, and I already know how to.”
“I touch type,” the shorter one said.
“Hah, chicken-pecking,” the tall one rolled his eyes. “You should transfer to bus tech. You’ll need to learn how to type someday anyways.”
“For what? I don’t have a computer,” the other one scoffed. “Probably never will. Computers are for nerds.”
“Do you type?” The taller one looked towards Tabitha.
“Um… a little bit, I guess?” She showed them an uneasy smile. A little bit as in, over a hundred words a minute. I’m a writer, and I clocked myself when I was looking into working data entry, right before Town Hall hired me. In THIS life, I bet my fingers are even faster than that.
“You should take bus tech too,” the tall guy said. “You can get a cushy job somewhere as a secretary, barely doing anything and getting paid for it. What’re you planning on doing when you grow up?”
‘When I grow up?’ Tabitha struggled to keep a straight face. Do people in high school seriously still use that phrase? I mean, I’m still thirteen until December, so I know I’m really, really young, even for high school, but still…
“I’ll be a hometown hero, I guess,” Tabitha mused.
“What’s that?” the tall one gave her a weird look. “Me, I’m gonna run a video store. I have it all planned out.”
“What, like a rental shop?” the shorter one asked. “That’s pretty cool.”
“Yeah, I love movies, so that’s always been my dream.”
“...Good luck,” Tabitha blurted out before she could stop herself. Neither of the boys noticed anything strange about the smile she wore.
A lifetime ago
“Here you are! Voila!” A woman with closely cropped salt and pepper hair in a navy blue pantsuit stepped back and gestured towards the large glass display with a theatrical flourish. “Tabitha Moore; hometown hero.”
“Aww, Sharon… I don’t know,” Tabitha shook her head and gave her boss a nervous smile. “It doesn’t seem very... appropriate?”
“What’s not appropriate about it? You’re a published author!” Sharon exclaimed, rapping a knuckle on the smudged glass.
Springton’s Hometown Heroes, the faded letters slipped into the signboard proclaimed, and the prominent glass case contained five different displays. This portion of the town hall normally featured seasonal decorations—but, in one of the long lulls between notable holidays, Sharon had come up with the idea of honoring the prominent locals residing in their tiny city.
Guess that explains why she wanted copies of both Goblina and Goblin Princess, Tabitha sighed, looking at the two paperback novels propped up beside a large, rather unflattering office photo of her that had been printed out. Makes sense, though. For a while there I thought she was actually interested in reading them. Silly me.
If she were to be honest, the paperbacks weren’t particularly flattering, either—cartoonish green goblins were baring their teeth on the covers of each of them. She’d never been satisfied with the artist her publisher commissioned, one of the many ongoing problems that had eventually destroyed their unsteady partnership.
“A published author—not a successful author,” Tabitha protested weakly. “No one ever read those old things, Sharon. Besides, all the others are, you know… they’re real heroes.”
The three displays in the middle were very obviously military ones. Service medals were laid out in neat display beside uniformed photos of veterans of the Iraqi war. Placing her photo next to these men and insisting she was the hero felt borderline sacrilegious.
“Well. Not everyone can relate to those kind of heroes,” Sharon dismissed Tabitha’s concerns with a wave of her hand. “Besides, we have Alicia here, on the other end.”
“Alicia... Brooks?” Tabitha leaned over and read from the placard.
A softly smiling African American woman wearing an oversized pair of glasses was featured in a nice portrait on that side of the display. Beside the picture was artwork—in one, inked lines formed sorrowful faces, each bold black scratch and scribble forming understated gestures and figures. In another, the scrawled lines portrayed the naked back of a woman, each muscle and detail, every strand of cascading hair defined in light and shadow and rendered in stunning etched lines.
“Our artiste,” Sharon said proudly. “She’s drawn pieces for Sports Illustrated, People magazine, and even Playboy!”
“She lives in Springton?” Tabitha asked, enthralled by the artwork.
“She’s... working in Chicago right now, but she was still born and raised here,” Sharon explained. “I thought you might recognize her—I think you two went to school together?”
“School?” Tabitha echoed, wincing slightly.
“Yeah, Springton High—you both graduated in the class of two thousand and two, right? I thought for sure you’d know her.”
“I wish I had,” Tabitha admitted sheepishly, “I um, I didn’t… talk to people much back then.”
“It’s pronounced ‘EE-lay-nuh,’ actually.”
“Sorry about that. You’re here, I take it?”
There’s still so much to do, Tabitha thought to herself, staring vacantly off into space as Mr. Simmons did his first roll-call. She needed to start writing her book. Some source of income, no matter how meager, was also necessary for her to continue surviving. October was also looming closer and closer, and she had no idea what she should do about the approaching calamity. Try as she might, she couldn’t remember what would happen in any more than the most basic details. Police officer shot in the lower park. October of this year. Don’t remember the day. He bleeds out on the way to the hospital—so, he must have been shot somewhere vital?
I could prevent it. Somehow. But, directly interfering with what will actually be a fatal shooting incident... isn’t that just asking to get myself killed? Not interfering when she had foreknowledge was probably equivalent to letting the man die, but, how could she prevent it? Providing first-aid after the fact seemed even more helpless for her. I don’t think I can deal with that much blood in person. Should I just stay out of it, after all?
“I’m present,” she answered out succinctly in her clear, lovely voice.
Tabitha Moore?...Isn’t that TUBBY TABBY? Elena was curious and turned her head to see the girl several rows across from her who’d spoken up.
Frowning, she discovered instead a slender redhead girl with a bored expression. This ‘Tabitha Moore’ was gorgeous, one of the handful who could be considered peerless beauties throughout the entire school. Dressed well, wearing tasteful makeup, attention was paid to her hair—but she wasn’t actively scoping out the rest of the class. She wasn’t feigning sleepiness, wasn’t fidgeting, wasn’t sneaking looks at the boys, and she wasn’t presenting herself in a social way, or making any effort to build a rapport with anyone. This redhead didn’t even seem to be posturing—she really came off as entirely indifferent to their class.
What, think you’re too good for us? Elena looked at this Tabitha Moore again with distaste. Same color hair as Tabby. Same name. But… it can’t be her, right?
When attendance was taken and Mr. Simmons was passing out the syllabus packet and a worksheet for them, Elena took initiative to lean over and call out.
“Hey, Tabitha—are you Tubby Tabby? From Laurel Middle?”
“Yes,” Tabitha turned to face her, not seeming irked in the slightest by her old moniker being brought to light. “That’s me. Have we met?”
Yeah, right… That reflexive scoff died in her throat, however, when Elena realized with surprise that there was absolutely no recognition in the girl’s expression. What the hell?
Elena always considered herself one of the elite of Laurel L Manu Middle School. She hit her growth spurt before everyone else, came into her boobs before the other girls. She knew how to dress well, how to wear makeup, and didn’t ever take shit from any of the other bitches there. Elena had assumed her popularity made her well-known, that everyone was familiar with her name, or at least aware of her. Guess… not?
“Uhh, I’m Elena Seelbaugh? We’ve had classes together before...?” Elena said, racking her brain and trying to recall if she’d ever directly bullied this girl back then. She’d certainly seen others making fun of her, and definitely laughed along with them—but had they ever actually interacted individually?
“I’m sorry,” Tabitha smiled at her. “I don’t remember you.”
Indignant, Elena was just about to give her a sarcastic retort when Tabitha continued.
“I hit my head, right before our middle school finals,” Tabitha explained. “I don’t know if you heard about that. So many names and faces feel familiar, but I still have trouble connecting them all.”
That’s right! Elena looked shocked. She did remember that, because Tubby Tabby—Tubby Tabby the trailer trash girl—had waddled into class one day back then with a weird head injury, looking even more unkempt than usual—almost like a zombie. They’d all snickered about it, joking that she was going to be put into the special ed class when she got to Springton High.
“Right! Yeah, I remember,” Elena admitted, eyes widening. “Just—you, uhh, you look so different! I almost didn’t recognize you!”
“Sorry,” Tabitha gave her an actual apologetic smile that stunned Elena. “I—”
“C’mon now, save the chit-chatting for after class, you two,” Mr. Simmons called out.
Although the deluge of attention to her now was unexpected, several classes through her first day of high school, Tabitha thought things were going very well. The coursework was vaguely familiar, and, as she’d expected, it only took a little bit of brushing up to refresh her memory on some of the subjects. The textbooks distributed to her were an unnecessary burden, in her eyes—thick, heavy monstrosities, last vestigial remnants of the era before digitalization, but the subjects themselves wouldn’t pose any problem..
Dozens of students had introduced themselves to her, apparently based on her new appearance alone, which was both startling and well outside of what she’d anticipated. While the handsome young men seemed rather well-assured of their own unerring charm, in her eyes... they were still thirty years or so too young for her interest. In some ways, they were children merely masquerading around in the freshly ripened bodies of fledgeling adults.
At the same time, Tabitha wasn’t able to look down on them. This was her second try on this, and even then, she didn’t feel wiser or more mature than them by an enormous margin— just a small one. She thoroughly considered her first life a miserable failure, so she couldn’t bring herself to look down on any of these teens.
Alicia hated high school so far. She didn’t sit near anyone she knew from Fairfield middle, and those that did would rarely give her more than a passing glance, anyways. Making new friends was absolutely the worst, most aggravating experience she could think of, and it didn’t help that most of the school was made up of white kids. Her parents’ idea of Springton High being a better choice than Fairfield high just because it mostly consisted of white kids was, in fact, fundamentally racist.
She’d planned on taking an ‘eccentric and artsy’ identity for this new school experience. However, looking in the mirror just this morning at the ‘artsy’ look she’d done up… it felt so contrived and fake that she wasn’t comfortable with it. Instead, she was blending in with the background, as always. Hair pulled tight into a bun, glasses, polo shirt, jeans. I’m just the bland, black girl extra again in this scene, too. No, I don’t have a speaking part. Don’t mind me.
She kept her sketchbook out on her desk, the pad as much a security blanket as anything else she owned, and hid herself away in her efforts to draw. Anything rather than meeting her new classmates, really. Unfortunately, between the anxiety of being in a new place, being surrounded by fellow teens, and a growing, untraceable frustration, all she had were senseless scribbles. Inspiration was especially elusive today—she had a page and a half of random cross-hatching, a few floating eyes with eyebrows hovering above them in the blank white void of her paper, and some random cube shapes.
Thankfully, it was all almost over—this was their last class of the day, and it was almost time to be back on the bus and off home to her parents, who would demand to know how great her day was, how many friends she made, what classes she liked, and so on and so forth. She couldn’t help but make a sour face at the thought of running through that particular gauntlet, and her mood darkened even more.
“Hello!” A pretty white girl with red hair said, interrupting Alicia’s thoughts.
“Hi…?” Alicia looked up in surprise.
“My name’s Tabitha,” the girl smiled at her, looking pleased to see her. “I noticed your sketchbook—do you draw?”
“A little,” Alicia sat up straighter, now on alert.
Upon closer inspection, this wasn’t just any pretty white girl. This was the pretty white girl, a thought driven home by the fact that all the guys in class were still discreetly watching her right now. She was young, thin, had a fairy-like face, perfect red hair, and was wearing a cool top—Where’d she even get that? Looks expensive.
“If it’s not too much trouble, do you have any drawings I could take a look at?” Tabitha asked. “I’m starting a large project soon, and I’m very much in need of a talented artist.”
“Uhh… I’m a no one,” Alicia refused, trying to casually cover today’s awful doodles with her hands while she spoke. “This is just for fun. I can barely draw anything.”
“I very much doubt that,” Tabitha laughed, a lovely sound. There was a strange, knowing look in her eyes. “If you ever change your mind, will you please come find me? I’m very interested in your work.”
What was that? Alicia couldn’t help but stare as Tabitha wandered back towards her seat and all the boys immediately pretended they hadn’t been ogling her. I don’t… think she was trying to tease me, or bully me, or anything? But, why come up and talk to me, of all people?
Oh, well, Alicia returned to resting her cheek on her hand and scribbling geometric shapes as she waited for the final bell to ring. She’ll probably never even talk to me again, anyways.
“Well, how was it, then?” Mrs. Moore asked, a hint of irritation apparent in her voice already. Tabitha had come home from school without so much as greeting her. Instead, her daughter had traipsed right on over to the trailer’s bathroom. The door was open, and she peered into the small enclosure to check on her daughter—her new daughter, the slight-figured and pretty one she struggled to recognize. “How was your first day of school?”
Tabitha was a whole new daughter, ever since the day she’d come home from the hospital after that head injury. Qualities Mrs. Moore hadn’t ever thought the girl possessed were focused, sharpened to a point and thrust into a relentless drive that Mrs. Moore didn’t understand at all. She wanted to be happy for her—her daughter was a stunning little beauty now, and just over a little bit more than a single summer—but more than anything, she wanted to feel like a mother again.
“Everything was copacetic,” Tabitha reported. The red-head girl was sitting on the edge of the bathtub working on something, now wearing only her jeans and a bra. Somehow now even her posture seemed graceful, like someone out of a renaissance painting.
“Copacetic, huh?” Mrs. Moore frowned. “What’re you up to, then?”
“Grandma Laurie and I made this blouse,” Tabitha replied, gently rubbing along fabric laid carefully in the long basin of cool water. “Out of a dress, from the thrift store. It’s very lovely, but it was never intended for casual wear. It will need a lot of special care and attention if I want to continue to wear it every week.”
“Sounds just like the new Tabitha,” Mrs. Moore muttered. Emotions roiled through the mother as she stood in the bathroom door. Resentment, at their current relationship, that Tabitha always chose to spend time with her grandmother, rather than her. Annoyance, at the flippant way Tabitha treated her now. Envy. No—not envy. She’s just a little girl. She’s MY little girl.
“That’s an astute connection to make,” Tabitha remarked, looking up at her mother in surprise. “It isn’t easy... you know?”
Tabitha held her gaze for several long seconds before turning her attention back to the garment she was carefully hand-washing, and Mrs. Shannon Moore’s discomfort intensified. Over the summer they’d been at constant loggerheads, and something about this felt like they were forcefully trying to have a civil conversation for once. She was alarmed at how frightened she was of messing things up here.
“...Why?” Mrs. Moore asked, leaning against the door frame.
There was only the sound of Tabitha displacing water for a while as Tabitha drew the blouse out of the water and turned it over. Her cute brow was furrowed, and the girl seemed at a loss as how to answer for once.
“Would you care to elaborate on your question?” Tabitha asked, an edge appearing in her voice. “Why, what?”
“Don’t sass me right now,” Mrs. Moore warned. “Why are you always doing all of this? Nothing you ever do is normal, anymore! Ever since the hospital.”
“Oh,” Tabitha seemed to chuckle to herself. “You mean that. I’ve been waiting all summer for you to ask me that.”
“The answer’s in a box at the top of your closet. In a blue album.”
Shock, anger, and then humiliation rolled across Mrs. Moore’s expression, and she opened her mouth to berate her daughter for the invasion of privacy and blatant disrespect, but couldn’t quite find the words. No. She couldn’t have. She didn’t. She—
“I’m old enough to understand why you kept it from me,” Tabitha said slowly, pulling her towel down from the bar on the wall to carefully dry her hands. “If I hadn’t stolen into your room and found your secret, I wouldn’t have known any better for another two years. When Daddy stops you from throwing the album out.”
“It’s not a secret, Tabitha!” Mrs. Moore yelled, her temper exploding out. “I didn’t want this—I just, I can’t, okay? How dare you go into my personal things without any permission, how dare you—”
“Why wouldn’t I dare?” Tabitha challenged, rising up from the edge of the tub. “You don’t have to tell me that it’s my fault. I know that it is. I know that having me made you lose your figure—made you give up on how you look. I know you wanted to do more with your life than simply settle, and settle in a trashy fucking trailer park like this, of all places. But, you had me. And, I fucked up your life.”
Mrs. Moore backed up into the wall of the hallway, startled tears of anguish rolling unbidden down her face. All the bitter and hateful thoughts she’d swallowed down over the years were unhidden all at once like an exposed nerve, and it hurt. She hated the way she felt, hated herself, and knowing Tabitha somehow understood everything from just those last few old photographs she’d been unable to part with? It made her more ashamed of herself than she’d ever imagined possible.
She sunk to the floor, crying hard enough into her hands to shake, covering her face and shaking her head. Regret and remorse flowed out of her in racking sobs as she completely collapsed, unable to keep up a stern face or motherly pretense. She sees right through me. Right through me.
“But, now I know, Mom,” Tabitha said, crossing to where her mother blocked the hallway and crouching down to take her by the shoulders. “And now—I’m going to unfuck everything. I just need you to give me some time.”
Waiting outside on the grimy concrete steps up into the trailer, Tabitha was surprised to see Grandma Laurie arrive in Uncle Danny’s old car. Well. It’s not his old car YET, I suppose. In the next couple years, she remembered the thing would be here to stay with the Moores for good, up on cinderblocks and out of commission.
Which means Uncle Danny’s probably getting convicted soon, Tabitha realized, noticing that the little faces of her cousins were peering out the car windows with interest as the car parked in front of her double-wide. I didn’t really get to know them, back then. Should I… say something to them? Warn the boys?
“What happened?” her grandmother asked, the moment she opened the door. “Is she okay?”
“We had our... confrontation,” Tabitha explained, stepping forward to dutifully hug her grandmother. “The big one, I think. I’m really sorry for calling you over like this.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” Grandma Laurie gave her a quick squeeze. “It’s just—I have the boys, today…”
“I can look after them,” Tabitha promised, gesturing for her cousins to get out of the car. “We’ll put a movie on, and I can make dinner for everyone. Do they have homework?”
“Not that they’ve told me,” Grandma Laurie rolled her eyes. “Where is she? C’mon, boys, inside.”
“I gave her a sedative, and put her in bed,” Tabitha explained, ushering them all up inside the mobile home. “She isn’t asleep yet, though. Can you…?”
“I’ll talk with her,” Grandma Laurie assured her, turning to throw the cousins a stern look. “You boys all be on your best behavior here, I mean it.”
“What’d you do?” Sam asked, looking at Tabitha in bewilderment as their grandmother disappeared into the back room of the trailer. As the oldest, over the summer Sam had grown a half-head taller than his three brothers awkwardly milling about the tidy living room. Although all of the boys were in a perpetual state of conflict with one another, they were uncharacteristically obedient today while in Tabitha’s home. “What was the emergency?”
“I had a fight with my mother,” Tabitha explained, sliding a tray of VHS tapes out from beneath the couch. “I’m sorry for dragging all of you over here. Sam, can you pick out a movie to watch?”
“You fought your mom?” Nick asked incredulously, looking around as if he expected to see broken glass and trashed furnishings from such a battle. “...Is she okay?”
“Women fight each other with their words, not their fists,” Tabitha sighed, crossing over into the kitchen and pulling that unwanted pack of hot dogs she’d been longing to get rid of out of the freezer. “It winds up more damaging than physical violence, really. You’ll understand someday.”
“Ew,” Aiden objected. “Those are the big gross hot dogs. We’re not eating those.”
“They’re only gross because they don’t have any texture or flavor,” Tabitha explained, putting two tablespoons of sesame oil onto her skillet and tilting it back and forth until the oil spread across the basin. She turning on the stovetop. “Joshua, could you turn on the television, but lower the volume? The VCR works on channel three.”
“Why’d you fight your mom?” Sam asked, more interested in that than any of the Moore family’s small VHS collection—all of their movies were recorded from television onto blank cassettes, four or five to a tape, with the titles handwritten onto labels on the side. “Won’t you get in trouble?”
“She... hid something very important from me, for a very long time,” Tabitha said, looking a little troubled. She sawed the frozen jumbo hot dogs into quarter-inch medallions with a serrated knife, and then prepared a mixture of brown sugar and soy sauce to pan-sear them in, to give the pieces of meat some texture. Then, I can use up the last of that beef base to soak them in, while I put the noodles on. That’ll be just about the last of the old pantry cleared out. “She tried to hide it from herself, too. But, doing that was only ever going to make her unhappy.”
“What’d she hide?” Nick couldn’t help but ask.
“You’ll be able to see it... once I’m able to reveal it to you,” Tabitha answered cryptically. Mom’s weight gain plateaued when I took over all the meal preparation, but she’s not going to actually lose weight until I can wean her off sugars completely. I’m sure everything else with her is going to become a struggle, too. Ugh...
“I’m a part of it,” Tabitha admitted. “Did you notice how much I changed over the summer?”
“Yeah, you’re like— almost a whole complete different girl than you was,” Nick said.
“Than you were,” Tabitha corrected, gingerly placing medallions onto the skillet one by one. “How is school going for all of you, by the way? Today was my first day.”
“Starting our second week,” Sam said, drumming his fingertips across the countertop as he watched her cook. “It’s alright, I guess. The playground at recess is way better than the one at the park.”
“No, it’s not,” Nick retorted. “It totally sucks.”
“It sucks,” Joshua agreed.
“Did everyone like, totally freak out when they saw you?” Aiden asked Tabitha with a fair amount of anticipation. “At school.”
“No—why would they?” Tabitha laughed, giving him a strange look over the counter.
“You’re like, totally different!” Aiden exclaimed indignantly. “You were fat and boring, and now you’re like, uh… it’s like from the ugly duckling to a ha— uh, the swan, you know?”
“They do treat me differently,” Tabitha mused. “I’m not really sure what to make of that, yet. The reaction you were hoping for wasn’t going to happen, though.”
“What? Why not?”
“Because no one cared who I was, or even ever noticed,” Tabitha said, pressing the medallions down onto the skillet with her tongs until they sizzled loudly. “When you’re fat, ugly, poor, or you’re fat, or smell bad, have no confidence, aren’t attractive, when you’re fat—”
“You’re saying fat more than once,” Sam pointed out.
“As I should,” Tabitha muttered. “My point is—no one ever cared about me, and that hurt. Deeply. I can deal with not having close friends, I’m… I’m used to it. But, when no one cares about you, when you go to school with a concussion and no one gives a damn, when you realize no one will miss you when you’re gone, fuck, no one would even notice…”
The boys exchanged glances before finally looking back at Tabitha, but none of them interrupted her.
“Sorry. Well. It starts to really affect you. Now that I’ve changed, people are actually just first starting to notice me. It’s still shallow—I know it’s an appearances thing, that it doesn’t have any real meaning… but, it’s a start?”
“I think you’re really cool,” Joshua said helpfully. “You can do flips, and wall-walk and stuff. And, you always play with us. Aren’t we like your friends?”
“Hah, you are not my friends,” Tabitha chuckled, starting to flip the medallions. “You’re my cousins—you’re family. You’re friends I can’t get rid of, even if I want to.”