“I remember you,” Tabitha said, deciding to display a polite, somewhat distant smile. “We spoke, back on the first day of school.”
“Uh, yeah!” Elena flashed her a cheery smile.
Forty-five years ago, Tabitha would have been both frightened and enthralled by the sudden attention of one of her peers in this situation. In a lot of ways, she wished she still was that naive. The forced enthusiasm she was able to discern in Elena’s expression now was yet another wet blanket cast atop Tabitha’s already dampened spirits today.
“We haven’t talked since then,” Tabitha pointed out, maintaining her courteous mask.
“Hah, uh, well... yeah,” Elena offered her an exaggerated wince, and then the girl’s eyes shifted away in apparent guilt.
Whatever, Tabitha inwardly groaned. The additional perspective Tabitha possessed made Elena’s overacting seem particularly unsubtle, and she wasn’t sure how she was supposed to react. Am I expected to call her out on it? Is this some hamfisted litmus test of my social viability? Whatever, I just… whatever. Not today, I’m not up for games.
“It’s okay—I get it,” Tabitha quirked her lip. I now tacitly agree that we should gloss over my awkward standing within Springton High, let’s please move on to whatever topic is at hand. Don’t bother to fabricate excuses—I’ll start to resent you for real. “Guess you were watching the news last night?”
“Caught the whole story this morning, actually,” Elena’s sheepish smile seemed slightly more genuine, this time. “Did everything really happen like that? I mean, yeah—I know it did—‘cause they played the dispatch and everything, but like… wow. What was it like?”
Immediately surfacing in Tabitha’s mind was this morning’s footage of Jeremy Redford, stumbling out of his Lincoln Continental after it’d been forcibly smashed off the road by police cruisers. His face was mercifully not visible to the camera, but the panic in the way he attempted to level his firearm upon his pursuers was clear. Disoriented, he fired his gun, once into the hood of his own car, and then once into the windshield of the cruiser just beyond it. It was desperation, a cornered animal fearfully baring its fangs, and finally—
“...It was bloody,” Tabitha admitted, feeling sweat on her palms. She anxiously crossed her arms in front of herself to stop from fidgeting. She wasn’t about to forget the actual blood she’d seen yesterday either, of course. After the paramedic had taken over her position above the fallen officer, Tabitha had simply stared in horror at her own bloody hands, unsure of what to do with them. Officer Williams noticed her predicament and rushed to her assistance with a gallon jug of water and some towels from the trunk of his vehicle.
“Bloody?” Elena repeated, both awe and disbelief in her voice. “Whoa.”
Tabitha could still picture Jeremy Redford in the moment right after he’d been pulled over, the man swearing loudly and slamming his hand against the side of his steering wheel in frustration.
You tried to kill a cop, I don’t need to feel sorry for you, Tabitha told herself.
“Yeah,” Tabitha finally said, not wanting to talk about it any further. “Bloody.”
“Well, it was real cool what you did,” Elena seemed to take the hint and not press for details. “Just wanted to tell you that I saw the news, and all. We should hang out sometime. Where do you eat lunch?”
“I don’t really eat, anymore,” Tabitha put on a wry smile. Not at school, anyways.
“Yeah!” Elena exclaimed, her eyes lighting up at another topic to latch onto. “Definitely noticed that, too. They put up your old Laurel school picture, and then had your little interview thing right after, and it’s like—is that even the same person?”
“Almost doesn’t seem like it, does it?” Tabitha uneasily chuckled.
“You definitely look amazing, now,” Elena giggled. The tall blonde’s hesitant facade was already gone, and she’d deftly switched tacts into a familiar act, as if the two of them were old friends. “So—what’s your secret?”
Stomach ulcers, Tabitha was tempted to say. A dietician. Time travel. Taekwondo. Nutrition, meal-planning. Forty-some odd years of learning how to plan and structure goals for myself. Having a REASON to even try; magically being in this thirteen-year-old body again, having this impossible second chance at my entire life.
“Um—” Elena noticed Tabitha’s awkward pause.
But yeah, most of all it’s just the time travel.
“G’morning, ladies,” Mr. Simmons brushed past them, loudly jangling his lanyard of keys to unlock the portable their Marine Science class was held in. “‘Scuse me, watch out, comin’ through, hot coffee here, watch it.”
“Mornin’,” Elena nodded her head.
“Good morning,” Tabitha greeted.
“You two hear ‘bout that shooting last night?” Mr. Simmons asked, opening the door and stepping back to let the girls through. “Happened right here in town.”
“Yeah, I saw the news this morning,” Elena beamed, shooting Tabitha a pleased look.
Tabitha mustered a weak smile, feeling unsettled as Elena followed her into the classroom. She made her way across the aisles of empty desks and settled into her assigned seat, trying not to feel self-conscious.
“Scary stuff, scary stuff,” Mr. Simmons grunted, shuffling on past them up to his desk at the front of the room. “Happens every other year or so in Sandboro, but here in Springton? Very unusual.”
“We should talk, after third period,” Elena proposed in a whisper, pausing beside Tabitha’s desk and presenting her with a confidential smile. “Where do you normally chill during lunch?”
“I’ll be in the library, today,” Tabitha answered, giving the other girl an appraising look. Now it’s supposed to be like we’re sharing a secret, and we have this special bond between us? “I was gonna meet up with my friend Alicia.”
“That other girl that was on the news?” Elena’s voice was full of feigned excitement. “Awesome! Meet you guys there, then. Cool.”
So, Elena really wants to be buddies, now? Tabitha mused, withdrawing her textbook from her bag and flipping it open. The timely nature of this teen’s approach wasn’t much of a coincidence, which made the friendly effort seem rather... lacking in sincerity. But… it’s not exactly like I didn’t have ulterior motives when I first introduced myself to Alicia. Who am I to talk?
Just a few hours later, Elena was checking out their surroundings in Springton High’s library, looking across the rows of books at the lunchtime regulars sitting in the central computer lab in thinly-disguised disapproval. Not a fan of Oregon trail and Carmen Sandiego? Or, is it that we’re not as VISIBLE to the general student populace when we hang out in here?
“Hi! I’m Elena,” Elena said, giving Alicia a small wave despite them already being close enough to shake hands. “Alicia, right? Saw you on the news, too. I love your blouse!”
Do high school girls not give each other handshakes? Tabitha wondered with a tired smile as they sat down at one of the study tables. Is that the wrong common sense to use here? Maybe I spent too many years in a professional setting?
“Uh. Yeah. Hi?” Alicia said warily, looking from Elena to Tabitha for explanation.
“This... is my new friend, Elena,” Tabitha gestured. “She used to bully me in middle school.”
“What?” Elena gave Tabitha a shocked look and playfully slapped at her shoulder as if to say you sure know how to kid around. “I totally did not! You said you didn’t even remember me!”
“It’s okay,” Tabitha shrugged. “Everyone bullied me. I’m getting past it.”
“I didn’t pick on you, though,” Elena insisted, looking personally aggrieved. “I didn’t! Name one mean thing I ever said to you.”
“Like I said, it’s okay,” Tabitha chuckled. “I get it. Just wanted Alicia to have some perspective.”
“Is this... supposed to happen?” Alicia broke into a nervous grin and looked at Tabitha. “What’s the story, here?”
“I don’t know?” Tabitha sighed. “I think I only got two hours of sleep—I’m just trying to keep up with everything, at this point. Don’t even remember what I’m supposed to have read last night for AP English.”
“You’re in AP English?” Elena asked in disbelief. “You can’t be. I’m in AP English.”
“Then, you probably have the other teacher, Mr. Cooke,” Tabitha said. “There’s two freshman AP English classes; I’m in Mrs. Albertson’s AP English.”
“But… like, I remember you from Mrs. Hodge’s Lang Arts class, before,” Elena said, her brow furrowing in apparent confusion. “Your grades weren’t that good.”
“Got a recommendation from the school board, because of the essay I wrote back for the Language Arts final,” Tabitha revealed. “Part of the essay got published in the Tribune over the summer.”
“Are you serious?” Elena’s mouth fell open in surprise. “What was it about?”
“Small world, then, huh?” Alicia commented, giving them both a suspicious look. “Old classmates? What a coincidence. Let me guess, Tabitha—was your essay about the future? Can I read it?”
“Small town. Small towns are like this, it’s not that unusual. And… it was about the future, yes,” Tabitha grudgingly admitted. “The essay’s called Social Media. Mrs. Albertson has a full copy of it printed out somewhere, if you want to read it.”
“I want to read it!” Elena jumped back into the conversation. “Social Media, you said? I’m planning to be a journalist, once I—”
“Are you one of the girls spreading rumors about Tabs?” Alicia interrupted, leaning over to rest her chin on her knuckle as she observed Elena. “There’s a lot of real ignorant talk going around.”
“Of course not!” Elena appeared indignant. “That was all Kaylee. Her and her little cronies that’re in Marine Sci with Tabby and I. They already got called up to the office and got a warning. Oh, and Carrie. Tabby, do you remember Carrie? She was with us in Laurel, too. Carrie’s always been talking shit about you.”
“I wonder why?” Tabitha frowned. “I don’t even remember what she looks like.”
“It’s ‘cause she feels threatened?” Elena shrugged dismissively. “Because of the way you look, now? She sure remembers you.”
“No,” Tabitha shook her head. “I don’t think that’s it. It would’ve been the same either way—they’d still find some reason to pick on me, some new angle. I just don’t understand why, really. Back then, I was bullied directly. I wasn’t a person, I was a goblin, a concept, I was the metric of person that defined the bottom of their power hierarchy. I didn’t like it—I don’t like it—but, I understand it.
“As far as I can tell, the way I’m bullied now is very different. Indirect, this time. I’m being intentionally excluded, others are being pressured not to become friends with me. Malicious rumors are spread about me; attempting to embarrass me, to harm my perceived reputation. It’s never been like this.”
“That’s just what it’s like being a normal teenage girl?” Elena spread her hands in a helpless gesture. “Hah. Welcome to the club?”
“People don’t treat me that way,” Alicia argued.
“You’re invisible, no offense,” Elena gave the dark-skinned girl a false smile. “You don’t wear makeup, you don’t dress up—before today, anyways—and, you don’t talk to anyone.”
“I wear makeup,” Alicia growled back. “Anyways, speaking of all that, Tabitha—these two girls in my second period class were asking how I knew you, today.”
“How you know me?” Tabitha blinked.
“Probably just from me wearing this,” Alicia added, tugging at the collar of the cream-colored blouse for emphasis. “It’s like... I went from innocent bystander, to enemy in their midst in like, zero seconds flat. They were all pissed off, now they have to whisper instead of just bullshitting out loud like they usually do.”
“Which girls, who asked you?” Elena asked, leaning forward with interest. “What’d you tell them?”
“The truth, of course,” Alicia smirked at Elena. “What’s it to you?”
“I’m just trying to be friends with you guys,” Elena said defensively, turning to Tabitha for support. “C’mon, what’s your problem?”
“She doesn’t trust you,” Tabitha smiled.
“Can you, like, say something to her, then?” Elena growled. “Geez.”
“Elena—I trust you even less than she does,” Tabitha gave the blonde an amused look. “Listen, what do you really want from us?”
“I just wanna be friends,” Elena explained in exasperation. “I want to hang out with you guys, do friend stuff, have each other’s backs, you know? Is that so much to ask?”
“I don’t think I like you, though,” Alicia stated with a smile.
“You don’t even know me yet!” Elena gave her a frustrated look. “That’s not super fair of you, now is it?”
“I don’t care?”
“Hold on,” Tabitha held up a hand. “I’m sure Elena has some sort of reason for coming to us—let her explain.”
“It’s Carrie,” Elena blurted, as if sensing this was her last chance to win them over. “Carrie and I used to be best friends. Back in middle school. Like, we were a team. Slumber parties, traded diaries, practically sisters, and all that. But now, we don’t have a single class together, and she’s too busy sucking up to all the juniors and sophomores to even say ‘hey, what’s up’ when we pass in the hall. She’s this total... backstabber sell-out. Now, it’s starting to be like everyone hates me and school’s going to really suck.”
“Sounds rough,” Alicia rolled her eyes. “So, you and Carrie used to bully Tabitha, am I right?”
“Sounds like you’re being very rude,” Elena folded her arms across her chest. “I don’t bully people.”
“I sympathize with you, Elena,” Tabitha sighed. “Really. Losing a friend is hard. But, I don’t know what you expect from pariahs like us. I don’t imagine we have a lot in common, and I doubt we’re the social capital I think you’re looking for, either.”
“You are, though,” Elena argued, not dissuaded in the least, “and, we have plenty in common. You’re in AP? I’m in AP. We have Marine Science together, we had classes together in Laurel. I’m pretty popular—or, I was—and, you’re more popular than you think. You’re this ugly duckling gone all swan, everyone loves that kind of story—”
“Apparently someone in Springton High doesn’t,” Alicia interrupted. “Maybe a lot of someones? Apparently?”
“—You wear all these amazing tops, and no one can figure out where you even buy them from. You’re apparently top of the class in more than just Mr. Simmons’, and, you just saved a cop’s life, probably. You were on the news, so, everyone’s gonna know about that, soon.”
“All of that’s just about me, though,” Tabitha’s eyebrows rose. “No wonder Alicia doesn’t like you.”
“I wasn’t tryin’ to diss you with any of that, Alicia,” Elena turned and held up a hand to forestall Alicia’s response. “Just, like—I don’t really know anything about you at all. Okay?”
“Easily remedied,” Tabitha said, tugging her backpack off the table and out of the way. “Alicia—show her your new portfolio.”
“Tsk,” Alicia made a playful face, sticking out her tongue at them. “Do I have to?”
Grudgingly, Alicia took her art book out of her bag and slid it across the table to Elena. The slender blonde opened it and respectfully flipped from page to page in silence, enduring Alicia’s teasing stare for several minutes. Finally, she closed the book and passed it back.
“Those are beyond amazing,” Elena admitted bluntly. “You have a lot of talent, and if you’re in art electives—well, everyone’s gonna know it soon. I want to be your friend just as much as I want to be Tabby’s friend, okay? I like, never meant for it to seem like I was brushing you off, or anything.”
“I still don’t like you, though,” Alicia said in a flat voice. “Sorry.”
“Fine, whatever,” Elena helplessly threw up her hands. “What do you guys want me to do?”
“Apologize for bullying Tabitha back in middle school,” Alicia decided. “For starters.”
“I didn’t bully her in middle school, though,” Elena exclaimed, rolling her eyes.
“Yeah, uhh—I don’t buy it,” Alicia countered, crossing her arms. “At all. Seems to me like you just had a falling out with this girl Carrie, who decided to be all against Tabs. And now in your head, that makes us friends. But—we’re not. To me, you’re exactly the same as all those other girls who’re always talking shit about Tabitha.”
“It’s okay, Alicia,” Tabitha said, glancing from Alicia to Elena and back again in surprise. I never thought there would be so much contention between the two. “I really don’t mind what anyone says about me, anymore.”
“Well, I do,” Alicia scowled. “Elena... look us in the eyes and tell us that coming and talking to us has nothing to do with your stupid little prom queen power games.”
The day rolled on, detail and definition escaping Tabitha’s attention as she floundered her way forward in a distracted daze. Tabitha attended her classes, filled in her worksheets, trudged to her bus when the final bell rang, and rode it home. She had been hoping these past few weeks that a girl like Elena would reach out to her at some point—but today, of all days? She felt unprepared, off-balance, mired in an exhausting mental struggle between guilt she didn’t think she deserved and the search for any shred of affirmation that she’d actually done the right thing.
But, there is no RIGHT thing, not to them, Tabitha sighed. They don’t have the context, no one else knows how things were supposed to go. No one but me, it’s just me here with my dirty little secret…
The phone rang several times before she snapped out of her reverie and she stared at it, reluctant to answer. Her parents weren’t home when she got back from school, but now she couldn’t remember why that was. With a tinge of superstitious fear she found incredibly silly, she finally stepped into the kitchen and picked up the receiver.
“Moore residence,” Tabitha spoke slowly into the handset, “this is Tabitha speaking.”
“Hi Grandma Laurie,” Tabitha’s shoulders relaxed from a hunched posture that she didn’t realize she’d been holding.
“We heard the news last night,” Grandma Laurie said, “I wanted to make sure I called you as soon as you got home from school. Are you okay? Have you heard anything about the police officer?”
“I’ll be okay,” Tabitha slumped down across the kitchen counter and exhaled slowly. “I just didn’t sleep much—it was hard to calm myself down.”
“You don’t know how proud I am of you, sweetie!” Grandma Laurie exclaimed. “I was going to drive over last night, but I figured with all the fuss going on over there you didn’t need me being a bother, too. Are you okay? I almost had a heart attack when I saw that you were involved in all that mess.”
“You’re never a bother, Grandma,” Tabitha said. “I’d love to see you soon.”
“Was that colored girl that was on the news with you one of your friends from school? Or does she live in the park there, too?”
That COLORED girl?
“Alicia. She’s a friend from school that was hanging out with me,” Tabitha explained, slapping a palm to her own face in embarrassment. “Uh, Grandma—please don’t call her a colored girl, or a person of color, or anything like that. She’s just a teenager like me, you don’t have to make any sort of racial distinction. Please.”
Mr. Moore had once related a conversation he’d had with Uncle Danny to her, with her father certain that African-Americans preferred being called blacks and Uncle Danny insisting that it was more politically correct to call them negroes. Tabitha remembered it being a discomforting topic back then, and it was many times more mortifying now. Her family wasn’t actually racist—well, maybe Uncle Danny was—but the casual remarks they made out of ignorance were all the more difficult to bear after experiencing the next four decades of American culture.
“Sorry, Sweetie. I’m so glad you’re making friends at school! And that you weren’t alone for all of that nonsense! Did you say her name was Alyssa?”
“Alicia,” Tabitha corrected with a wry smile. “She’s an artist.”
“I can’t wait to meet her. Both of you are safe and sound and everything? Are you okay?”
“I’m… yeah. I’m just, sorta… waiting for the other shoe to drop,” Tabitha admitted, rubbing her face in a bleary way. “They don’t know if Officer Macintire’s going to make it or not. Critical condition, still.”
“Oh, Honey. I’m sure that he’s in good hands, and that they’re doing everything they can.”
“Yeah,” Tabitha gave a helpless sigh. “I guess.”
“Well, it’ll be just me and the boys over here for a good long while Danny’s in county waitin’ on his court date. We’d love to see you some weekend! The boys really got attached to you over the summer, you were such a big help.”
“Court date?” Tabitha went stiff.
“Yes, his—didn’t your parents say anything to you?” Grandma Laurie asked in surprise. “Danny was arrested, a week and a half ago.”
“No. They didn’t say anything to me,” Tabitha grit her teeth. “At all.”
I was supposed to be ready for this. I even knew in advance that it was happening sometime around this year, and it STILL just slipped right on by me! Why the hell didn’t they tell me about it? I remember them sitting down and us having ‘a talk’ about it last life. Is there too much distance between my parents and me, this time?! What’s the God damned point of being back in time if I miss out on fixing the things that matter?!
“Well, they caught your Uncle Danny on surveillance cameras, stealing electronics from a pallet in the back of that Service Merchandise department store. Over in the Sandboro mall,” Grandma Laurie explained with a heavy sigh. “Thirty-thousand dollars worth of IBM, Compaq, and Toshiba personal computers. He doesn’t know a damned thing about computers! I don’t know what on God’s green earth was going through that mind of his.”
“Are the boys okay?” Tabitha asked, trying to swallow down her frustration.
“They’re all little troopers, we’ll be alright over here,” Grandma Laurie assured her. “So long as I can keep them away from their momma—Lisa keeps trying to twist things around and tell them ‘oh, it’s a victimless crime,’ and ‘your daddy did right because he was doing it for us,’ which is all just nonsense. Right’s right and wrong’s wrong, not a one of those computers belonged to him. Stealing’s stealing, and that’s all there is to it. Sorry hun, I’m sure you don’t want to hear me ramble on right now.”
“No—no, you’re absolutely right,” Tabitha said. “Try to keep them away from Aunt Lisa. I’ll think of something.”
I barely even remember Aunt Lisa, but I know she’s going to ditch her incarcerated husband AND all four of her sons in short order for some new boyfriend. And, I don’t think we ever hear from her again, Tabitha thought to herself with a frown. Should I try to go meet her, talk to her? I don’t even know her, I never did. How the hell am I supposed to salvage this?
“You’ll think of something?” Grandma Laurie sounded confused. “Honey…”
“I—yeah, tell the boys I’m going to take them out to the park playground this weekend, so we can all catch up,” Tabitha said. She felt a headache coming on. “I’ll think of something.”
“I’ll tell them, but… well, I don’t want you to go thinking you have to try to fix everything yourself, okay, Honey?”
“I—I should probably at least try, though. Right?” Tabitha said. “If I don’t, then… then what’s the point?”
“I’ve gotta go, Grandma. Love you. Don’t forget to tell the boys, alright? This weekend.”
“Alright, dear. Love you too.”
Although Tabitha managed to keep her composure until the end of the phone call, she couldn’t help but pull back her trembling hand, ready to hurl their cordless phone handset against the wall. She stood there in the kitchen, poised to throw, for several long, tense moments before turning and clapping the device back into the phone dock.
“Fuck,” Tabitha sniffled, swiping angrily at her watering eyes. “Fuck!”
All these second chances, these opportunities to make things right, and I’m just mucking them all up, Tabitha swayed on her feet as she strode forward, almost stumbling. She needed out—out of the kitchen, out of the trailer, out of this town and this time period and away from everything for a breather.
I lost weight. Tried so hard to look nice and be pretty—and high school finds new ways to make me miserable, instead. I try to play hero, change the whole shooting event thing, MAKE A DIFFERENCE, and someone else gets killed, instead. Maybe the cop even dies anyways! It’s all just getting worse!
She left her mobile home behind, pacing past the aging trailers lined up beneath the waning October sun. Taekwondo practice didn’t look like it was happening today, and she instead absentmindedly watched cigarette butts and clumps of weeds pass beneath her feet with each directionless step she took. Before she realized what she was doing, Tabitha found herself standing in front of yesterday’s crime scene, a small section of parking lot and roadside median sectioned off with driveway markers and yellow tape.
Blabber everything to Alicia like an idiot, so of course now she thinks I’m a mental case. My mother avoids me like I’m diseased, we haven’t spoken in what—days? Weeks? I start getting close to my cousins, because I want to be a part of their life, to be there for them, and where the hell am I when they need me the most? Going back in time, doing all of this over again—what’s the point? Where’s the damn meaning in this? Why am I even—
“Tabby! Hey, Tabby!” Mike yelled out, hurriedly braking to a stop next to her on his bicycle and sending pieces of gravel skittering across the asphalt. As always, the boy was barefoot.
“Hey, you okay?”
Tabitha reluctantly turned to look at him, a little ashamed to find her eyes were wet all over again.
“Mom saw you and told me to run out and tell you right away—the police officer made it, the TV said his condition’s stable,” Mike blurted out in a single breath. “And that means, he’s not gonna die.”
“He’s okay?” Tabitha tried to blink away her tears. He’s okay.
“He’s okay, yeah,” Mike confirmed, nodding. “Are you okay? You’re crying.”
He’s okay, Tabitha felt stunned. He made it. He MADE IT!
With a lunge, she stepped forward and wrapped Mike up in a fierce hug, nearly toppling the eleven-year-old boy off of his bike.
“Ah, geez!” Mike protested, trying to squirm his way out of Tabitha’s embrace. “Hey, cut it out, lady! I have a girlfriend, already.”
He’s alive. Yeah, I feel like I’m running myself ragged, and like nothing’s ever working, but—but he’s alive, Tabitha told herself, letting warm tears roll down her cheeks. Like in that parable. Encountering the boy on the beach, the boy who’s picking up the starfish who’ve washed ashore, and then throwing them back into the ocean.
‘Thousands of starfish dry up and die here on the sand every day, and there’s only one of you,’ the man says. ‘You’re not making a difference.’
The boy picks up another starfish, throws it out into the waves, and says—‘Well, it sure made a difference to that one.’