In Tabitha’s first few weeks at school, she’d already begun to question her initial goals.
I knew, in an OBJECTIVE way, that simply being thin and pretty weren’t all it took to make a bunch of friends. But, I guess it really is completely different when you’re experiencing it firsthand.
She realized now that in her past life, she’d associated all of her high school problems with her low-self-esteem and poor body image. Subconsciously, some part of her had attributed her past life’s social estrangement and loneliness entirely to her weight and appearance—but several weeks into school, she’d only made one friend this time.
She’d somehow thought she would easily make friends, become more important, somehow; a component of the school’s social paradigm. People would think about her, care about her, worry about her when she wasn’t around. She recognized that it wouldn’t be that straightforward, but the actual brutal truth of just how naive her line of thinking had been was disconcerting.
Even the positive attention was difficult to bear. It wasn’t uncommon to catch a guy guiltily looking away from her breasts, which was an awkward situation she’d failed to mentally prepare herself for. How does anyone prepare for that?
Contrary to her expectations—or lack thereof—when her fat receded over the summer, teenage breasts emerged. This was, in some ways, Tabitha’s first ‘real’ experience as a budding young woman. Her breasts weren’t large—they were rather small B-cups, but because they stood out on her frame in a way she’d never experienced before, and it was hard not to be self-conscious about them. She’d expected them to disappear with her weight and be unnoticeable—that’s what had happened in her past life. No, they weren’t the dream boobs that could form perfect cleavage like every girl wished for. But, Tabitha thought they made pretty good shapes, and found herself a little proud of them.
“Yeah? Well, I heard she sucks a looot of dick,” One of the nearby girls in her Biology class chuckled loud enough—purposefully so—for Tabitha to overhear. This group of gossiping teenage girls were all sitting sideways in their seats partway across the classroom, with their backs to her. One of the less bright ones kept sneaking unsubtle peeks over at Tabitha.
“Nuh-uh, no you didn’t,” another freshman girl said—but in a goading tone, rather than a voice suggesting actual disbelief. “Who said that?”
“Fuckin’ everybody I’ve talked to,” the first girl replied. “Hey, you know where she’s from... right?”
Stifling a wry smile, Tabitha ignored them, continuing to halfheartedly fill out her homework in advance.
She knew the loudly gossiping girls were inexpertly baiting her for a reaction, hoping to find a guilty conscience. A series of sexy rumors about her was making another round throughout Springton High, but she couldn’t help but regard them with more amusement than annoyance. From the bits and pieces she’d overheard, they may as well have been primitive precursors to clickbait media of the future: These girls were STUNNED when they heard these seven secrets that TABITHA MOORE doesn’t want you to know!
As absurd and surreal as the whirlwind melodrama of high school politics seemed to her, she was involved this time, by apparent virtue of her appearance and persona alone. As the social strata among their freshman year solidified and matured, she discovered being a rogue attractive entity outside of the traditional cliques made many of Springton’s upper echelon hostile by default.
I’m impressed, more than anything, Tabitha thought to herself, resting her chin on her knuckle as she reviewed her biology questions.
While her fellow high school girls were without a doubt petty, they were in no way simple. Rather than a straightforward teen-movie hierarchy one could label the queens of Springton High, these girls were mapping out a full-fledged geopolitical landscape based somehow on popularity. A proving-ground arena, complete with power plays, counterintelligence operations, third-party negotiations, and of course—sabotage smear campaigns. Tabitha found herself approached more than once by what she began to think of as investigatory commissions, rigidly smiling parties asking which guy she was interested in, and what she thought of Heather, or Melissa, or Cassidy.
Tabitha’s ignorance as to exactly who any of those girls were was treated as feigned indifference at best, and open provocation at worst. Tabitha’s public stance on relationships— ‘I’m not interested in dating right now,’—was likewise treated with suspicion. Was she posturing, in attempt to inflate her own market value? Which of the Springton guys did she have her sights set on? Or, was the other buzz about her true? Was she a total lesbian?
Tabitha was an oddity; well-known by everyone, but not ‘popular.’ Spoken to her face she was treated on friendly terms—for now—but never befriended. Because she didn’t jump to make connections and associations, she remained an unknown—there was apparently no one to vouch for her, no one who knew for sure what she was saying, or about who, or who she was after, guy-wise.
Tabitha was, potentially, a high-value girl that all the guys want—in other words, an active threat, equal parts comparison and competition. She was an unwelcome complication for the many girls staking their claims on boys, the girls affirming their positions and affiliations—which girls they were besties with, which of them were trashy fucking whores that if she gives me any shit I’ll flip the fuck out on her, swear to God!
As if any of it actually matters, Tabitha mused, wanting to roll her eyes.
“Don’t you think it’s weird how nobody knows where she disappears to during lunch period?”
“Uh, duh,” Another girl retorted. “She’s fooling around with Mr. Simmons. He gives all his other Marine Sci classes a grade curve except the one I’m in with her. He even basically came out told us she was his little beau; he waved around her test in our face for like, twenty minutes.”
“That’s so fucking gross,” A girl said, a little more loudly this time. “What a dirty old creep. I did wonder why I never see her, around lunchtime.”
“Pfft. Sure hope she enjoys her lunch today.”
“Big ol’ lunch.”
“Ewww, I hope she brushes her teeth afterwards, like, gargles soap or something. Bet you can smell it on her breath afterwards.”
“Oh my God shut up, I’m going to puke!”
“Geez, chill. Just offer her some gum or something,” a girl laughed. “Maybe a tic tac?”
I’m… in the library every lunch period, though? Tabitha barely held herself back from turning and giving them a look of consternation. It’s not exactly a big vanishing act? There’s plenty of other kids in the library for lunch that see me there all the time. Isn’t there?
Her time spent during lunch was turning a little more desperate each day, and a pressing grim feeling came down on her as she pushed open the school library’s double-doors and walked through the metal detector. As usual, the computer lab there was full of students playing primitive computer games, but today Tabitha made a point to make eye contact and compose a friendly smile for one or two of them.
They’ll eventually notice that I’m always in here for lunch. Right?
Her normal corner table was vacant as usual, and even untouched—none of the books she’d collected there yesterday had been removed and put back on shelves. Having exhausted all of her other ideas, Tabitha was finally assuming a worst-case scenario in her current topic of study. She was now reading up on how to field dress gunshot wounds.
A hopefully not-too-dated ATLS—Advanced Trauma Life Support—protocol guidebook rest atop a small mountain of related material on field dressing wounds in emergencies, all heaped upon her familiar library table. Springton High’s librarian, endlessly enthusiastic to help an eager young learner find sources of reference, had been sure yesterday that Tabitha was interested in prepping for medical school.
That would be the smart move, after all, Tabitha frowned, feeling her insides churn as she found her bookmark in the medical texts. Lots of money in it, excellent career choice. It’s just so… Ugh. So GRISLY...
A severe bullet wound wasn’t simple, and no amount of cram-studying was giving Tabitha any optimism for the upcoming situation. It was going to be bad—of course it was going to be bad. Last time through, the man had died. Fatal gunshot wound. Death. The horrifying thought that when worst came to worse, it could be her hands desperately trying to staunch the man’s bleeding threw her into a panic.
She didn’t remember hearing anything about a rifle, so she assumed the wound would be from a handgun—low-velocity ballistic trauma, in other words. Not that any of the knowledge related to that she was learning made things particularly any easier on her. Tabitha was supposed to very rapidly assess where the bullet penetrated and what specific dangers it posed, and then take the most correct action she could. But, even narrowing it down to assume a chest or abdominal entry wound had Tabitha’s hands shaking as she imagined actually being there and witnessing it all unfold. Because it was really going to happen, and dreadfully soon.
There’s going to be a LOT of blood. And, I’m obviously going to have to be actively trying to stop the flow. Somehow, Tabitha grimaced, flipping into the sections of different respiratory compromise. But, what if it hits a lung? Maybe I’ll stop up the blood loss—and then he ends up drowning in his own blood, instead.
Back then in her first life, she’d been watching TV when she heard the gunshot echo across her neighborhood. Specifics, like exact time of day, the officer’s name, and precisely where he’d been shot, however, continued to elude her. If I could just remember what freaking show I was watching at the time! Then I’d be able to match it up in the TV guide… aggh!
Unfortunately, she didn’t remember, not for sure—and the more she tried, the less sure of anything she was, progressively becoming less and less confident in any of the details she thought she knew. The future never seems quite so nebulous as it does when you start second-guessing yourself.
Did the bullet pass through too close to an artery? Did it fragment? The crux of the issue was that Tabitha didn’t know why the police officer had bled out. Was the call for emergency services immediate, or was there a significant delay?
It wouldn’t be as easy as simply tapping 911 into a bracelet PC or smartphone for another few decades, and she knew for a fact that several of their neighbors in the trailer park didn’t even have landlines. IF the cop was too incapacitated to radio in, IF there was never another officer in his squad car, IF no one in the lower park called the emergency dispatcher right away, if, if, if, if...
There was also the sobering idea that nothing Tabitha might attempt would ever save the man. Maybe he was fated to die no matter what she did, and causality was locked in certain ways beyond her understanding. Unchangeable. Would I regret getting myself involved, then, or would I once again begin to despise the hidden powers-that-be?
I hate how much this terrifies me, Tabitha admitted to herself. I don’t want to form some sort of God complex, thinking I can do anything and save anyone. But, at the same time… I’ll hate myself a little— maybe more than a little— if I know this is going to happen and remain indifferent to it.
“Hey,” Alicia interrupted her thoughts, giving a small wave to get Tabitha’s attention. “You alright?”
“Alright?” Tabitha blinked, wondering when Alicia’d come in. Her only real friend at Springton usually didn’t stop by to chat with her until after she’d eaten, but this was the first time she hadn’t noticed the dark-skinned girl enter the library.
“Yeah. You look kinda… uh. You know,” Alicia shrugged, pulling out the opposite chair and dropping her sketchbook onto the table beside the stacks of books. “Are they starting to get to you?”
“They? No, no,” Tabitha shook her head with a chuckle. “No, fine. I’m just… stressed.”
“Uhhh,” Alicia’s eyes went wide as she snatched an annotated military field dressing guidebook off of the pile nearest her. “...You wanna talk about it?”
“And how’s school goin’, sweetie?” Mr. Moore asked, punching his fork through the romaine and chicken of his salad.
Tabitha’s high school debut and her first few weeks at Springton High had come and gone with what seemed like little fanfare. Whatever it was she felt like she expected didn’t seem to be happening. No sword of Damocles had descended to put an end to her cheat-like second try at being a teenager, but nor was she universally well-loved by everyone, like she’d idly fantasized about while on her morning jogs.
And that’s okay. Her staggering routine of waking up before dawn to run, cleaning herself up before school, researching for the future, and coming home to practice Taekwondo forms, and finally make dinner for her family should have seemed a near-impossible burden. It’s rough sometimes, but once I got into the swing of it, I can manage. For now.
Although the man ate with typical aplomb, Tabitha could tell her father still wasn’t enthusiastic about eating salads, despite the extra effort she had put into this one. It was a grilled chicken fajita salad, and his portion in particular was more slabs of chicken and pepper slices than it was traditional greens. The chicken’s marinade doubled as dressing, and with as liberally as it was applied, Tabitha was forced to concede that the dish may no longer be particularly healthy.
“Perfect,” Mrs. Moore spoke without looking up, stabbing and picking at her own meal in a petulant way. “She’s doing perfect. Perfect at everything.”
“...I’m doing well,” Tabitha said carefully. “Certainly not perfect, but—”
“Nonsense,” Mrs. Moore snorted. “You’re just perfect at everything, aren’t you?”
“I’m only human,” Tabitha decided to say. “I make mistakes.”
“Oh? Well. I’d sure like to see that,” Mrs. Moore’s fork clanked against her dish a little louder than necessary, and flecks of marinade dotted the table.
“As you please. I’ll endeavor to restrain my academic perform—”
“What’s goin’ on, here?” Mr. Moore interrupted, a steely edge to his voice. “Does one of you wanna explain to me what this is all about? Honey?”
“Well, I think everything’s just fine,” Mrs. Moore replied flippantly. “We’re all just perfect here. Aren’t we, Tabitha?”
“Please excuse me,” Tabitha stood up mechanically. “I’m afraid I’ve had sufficient—”
“No. Sit down,” her father commanded, pointing towards her. “Both of you are gonna sit right there, look me in the eye, and tell me what all this is about.”
“Oh, I don’t whatsoever comprehend what you mean,” Mrs. Moore said in mocking imitation of her daughter’s manner of speech. “Pray tell if—”
“This isn’t the—” Tabitha began.
“Oh, did I pronounce something wrong? I’m so sorry, don’t be shy about correcting me, dear.”
“Both of you, stop!” Mr. Moore raised his voice in aggravation, shoving his plate towards the center of the table. “Goddamn. I mean it, what the hell is this? Tabitha?”
“...I apologize,” Tabitha said. She clamped her mouth shut resolutely and stared off at their fading wallpaper, saying nothing more.
“You apologize,” Mr. Moore repeated sternly. “For? You apologize for what, exactly?”
“My mother’s immature behavior,” Tabitha gave Mrs. Moore a sidelong glance. To her own surprise, she did feel responsible for the way her mother was acting. She’d hoped the small breakdown the woman had experienced after that first day of school would be a watershed moment—a sign that things were on the cusp of change between them.
“Excuse me?” Mrs. Moore roared. “My what?”
If only things could be that simple, Tabitha grit her teeth. Instead, it seemed now that the moment back then had been nothing more than a tantrum. Her mother was just as irritable and on-edge as before, perhaps more so. She was volatile now, in a way that suggested the woman was indeed coming to understand the source of her own deep-rooted issues—but that it was only unhinging her more and more.
“Enough!” Alan Moore stood up.
He looked angry now, angry in a way Tabitha hadn’t witnessed since seeing him lay into the hospital technicians as Emsie St. Juarez, and she found herself shrinking back in her seat. She’d remembered her father annoyed and frustrated throughout her childhood, but never angry like this. From her memory, he was a simple and stoic man, whose laidback attitude was perhaps in part responsible for how unruly his wife became.
“Whatever this is? You two better bury it, right now,” Mr. Moore swiped his plate of food off of the table in a single violent gesture, sending it against the wall of their living room with a loud crack, making both Tabitha and Mrs. Moore flinch.
“I don’t care how you do it. You two put everything on the table right now and figure it out. Both of you. Sort this shit out, and put it behind you. For good.”
Then, he turned and left, striding down the hall to the master bedroom. Mother and daughter alike were stunned silent by what had just happened, and locked eyes with trepidation for a moment before their gazes seemed to repel one another and they looked anywhere else.
“Sorry,” Tabitha said quietly, rising out of her seat. This IS my fault, too—I know it is, because nothing like this ever happened in the other life.
The thought weighed on her. Salad that would have been her father’s dinner was all over the floor, and the fajita dressing was sure to stain their worn carpet if she didn’t act quickly. To Tabitha’s surprise and dismay—she found that the plate had broken.
This is—this is wrong. This plate isn’t supposed to break, Tabitha held the dish up in disbelief. She recognized it, because it was one of her old plates. Cream-colored ceramic, with a pink floral motif adorning one corner—one of the pieces of tableware she would inherit eventually. It would have been part of her mismatched collection of tableware all throughout college, a familiar, even sentimental thing that she still used in regular rotation right up into her sixties. Now, it was in two uneven pieces, and would not be joining her on her life journey this time.
Because everything’s changing, Tabitha realized, feeling a little shaken. Things are breaking. It was never like this for them. Daddy never did anything like that. My mother and I never butted heads like this. Everything’s way, WAY off course.
Anything can happen. There aren’t any guarantees from last time, Tabitha thought, trying to stop her fingers from shaking as she picked pieces of lettuce off the floor. The new future, that had seemed bright with infinite possibilities for her, also had this darkness of the unknown to it—Tabitha had so focused herself on climbing to new heights that she’d refused to see the depths those heights created.
Knowing that tonight’s exchange came about from her actions terrified her. She felt smaller, diminished, in seeing what she was doing to their family. Even when I’m trying to make things better, some other things are just going to get worse instead. That’s just life. But... is this how it’s supposed to be? Or was last life how things should have been?
Sorry. Unlike her daughter, Shannon Moore wasn’t able to say it out loud. Her own temper got the best of her, like it always did. Those imperturbable calm eyes and that collected way her Tabitha held herself got deep under her skin, yet again. I WAS acting like a child. I still am.
Worse yet, she knew what stress her husband was going through right now. With his brother Danny arrested this past weekend, their entire extended family was in turmoil. They hadn’t told Tabitha yet—Alan still wanted them to sit down and explain to her what was happening and what it all meant.
That hadn’t happened, only because Shannon was dragging her feet about it. Sitting down and attempting a heart-to-heart with that know-it-all pretty little face was the last thing she could do right now. The very thought of her daughter’s lovely but guarded expression evoked undisguised self-loathing and malice that bubbled to the surface like a sickness.
You think that’s how easy it is? That’s all it takes to become an actress? Mrs. Moore frowned, absentmindedly watching her daughter take the initiative to clean up spots of marinade with the kitchen stash of fast-food napkins. Even facing away from her and crouching down, Tabitha somehow affected a grace to her posture that might as well have been directly mocking her. You have no idea how hard it is, or what a toll it will take. You’re young. You think you know everything, but you have no idea, Tabitha.
Everyone told me having a daughter would be worse, Mrs. Moore turned and glared angrily at the grilled chicken fajita salad in front of her. She was so hungry that it ached, so furious and ashamed and nauseous all at once that she wanted to throw up. I never believed them. I never WOULD have believed them, ‘till just a few months ago.
The salad was delicious, and she hated salads. It wasn’t normal food—there wasn’t anything Tabitha made that was normal, period. Making dinner for the family took the girl almost an hour every day, and that wasn’t normal. Everything they ate was amazing, took obvious effort to prepare, and was supposedly even healthy fare. Shannon hated it.
Somehow or other, this past summer Tabitha had learned how to push all of her buttons. All of them at once; she pushed them and then held them down, until it felt like she was going berserk. Mother and teenage daughter; deadlocked in a futile struggle through every nuance of their interaction.
Even the guarded look Tabitha wore when she was in her presence was equivalent to a line drawn in the sand. The girl was working out the scheme of her overall life alone, and the very fact that she was at it alone, that it was all kept secret made it evident to her that she was not a part of that future. Changing everything around in their little trailer was the rebellious teen’s way of trying to assert dominance, and taking up cooking for the family was a challenge; open provocation to Mrs. Moore’s position to their family.
Shannon knew that Grandma Laurie must have been behind some of those attacks— because they were done without the subtlety of a thirteen-year-old girl, yet each and every one seemed to catch her completely off guard all the same. When had the grandmother and daughter even colluded to put all of this into action? None of it had made any sense—even with practice and instruction, the Tabitha she thought she knew wouldn’t have the sheer drive to keep at something like this for more than a day or two. Certainly not for months on end like she had been. It didn’t add up to Mrs. Moore at all.
Until she found out Tabitha had seen the little blue album, that is.
Mrs. Moore was watching her daughter again when Tabitha turned her head and looked over at her. That composed expression, the subtle smug look—wasn’t there.
Looking into Tabitha’s eyes, she just looked lost and alone. Vulnerable. A hollow, defeated look on those familiar features, a look Mrs. Moore had seen exactly once before—staring at herself in the mirror some fourteen years ago when she’d discovered she was pregnant and the ignorant dreams she’d had for the future turned into smoke.
The revelation stung her, and she couldn’t help but think that for so many years, Tabitha had followed in her own current image—soft-bodied and slothful. The girl’s absurd transformation, this look in her eyes, it was like watching her own life play out in reverse. The redhead with the brilliant smile beaming out in those beauty pageant photos, the glamour shots she’d collected for her portfolio haunted her; they represented the future that would never be. Shannon felt further removed from her naive past self than she’d ever been, and it felt like the distance between her and her daughter was growing even further distant still.
“Tabitha, I…” Mrs. Moore began listlessly.
Her beautiful daughter went still at hearing her speak, however, and the look of caution settling into the young girl’s expression might as well have been a door slamming closed in her face.