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   Is it possible to boil broccoli for TOO long? Mrs. Moore pursed her lips thoughtfully. Everyone knows uncooked broccoli has dangerous things like arsenic in it, but I may have been a little... overzealous in boiling them a little EXTRA all the same. Just to be sure.

    When she endeavored to pick up the slack for them tonight and imitate Tabitha’s healthy cooking, the results were… underwhelming. Whatever she’d done wrong cooking this chicken and broccoli, it was bland. It wasn’t hard to imagine that her husband was measuring the pace of the unappetizing dinner with constant sips of water just for a little flavor.

    No one was touching the rather soggy-looking vegetables, which seemed to have begun to liquefy into grotesque green paste. The family shared an unspoken agreement to simply pretend they didn’t exist, to tactfully not mention the too-mushy-looking broccoli florets and the way the stems drooped like runny noodles.

    “Well, don’t force yourself to eat it if you don’t want to,” Mrs. Moore chided, gesturing at her daughter with her fork in exasperation.

    She’d meant that to sound light-hearted and joking—the food really did look terrible—but she was honestly a little upset. Mrs. Moore considered herself no stranger to cooking, but she was also used to preparing meals like the good Lord intended, the way a normal person did. Using the microwave.

    “No, I think… I think I need to,” Tabitha said, frowning in determination. The girl seemed to be punishing herself by cutting the unseasoned chicken into absurdly tiny portions and working her way through them one by one.

    Shannon Moore wanted to put on an affronted look, but even after the nap Tabitha had taken at Grandma Laurie’s place, the teenage girl seemed woozy, listless, and completely lacking in energy. The constant ordeals Tabitha had gone through in the past several days were putting Mrs. Moore on edge, and she couldn’t help but cast fretful glances at the way her daughter cradled that awful cast against her body.

    “Gonna drive up to the school tomorrow and see what they have to say for themselves,” Mr. Moore announced, taking another long draw of water. “You did the right thing leavin’ when you did, and I’m proud of you. Want you to just concentrate on resting and feeling better for a few days, Sweetie.”

    “I need to be doing all my exercises,” Tabitha said in a small voice.

    Alan looked like he was about to object, but Mrs. Moore silenced him with a fierce glare.

    “Tabby, honey...” Mrs. Moore spoke up softly. “I understand, I really do. But, you really do need to rest, just have a few days off without workin’ yourself to death. You’re not going to lose your figure just from skipping your routines for this little while, Sweetie. Your body needs to recover.”

    “I—I apologize, I failed to explain myself,” Tabitha said, staring down at her plate with bleary eyes as she picked at her food. “The lack of proper exercise was affecting the quality of my sleep. Last night, I…”

    Tabitha trailed off with a frown and blinked, seeming to lose her train of thought, and Mrs. Moore shared a worried glance with her husband. This wasn’t normal for their daughter at all. Not only was she defaulting again to what Alan had once described as auto-pilot Tabitha, where she seemed to retreat way back into her own mind and go through life with mechanical motions—it seemed like even that was on the verge of shutting down.

    “You look plenty tuckered out to me,” Mr. Moore said, sliding his chair out and rising from the table. “Why don’t we get you to bed, Sweetie?”

    “I-I’m sorry,” Tabitha choked up. The girl’s eyes were wet, and she unsteadily stood and started gathering her plate with her single remaining hand. “I’ll put this in the tupperware.”

    “You’ve got nothin’ to be sorry for—you leave it be,” Mr. Moore took Tabitha by the shoulders and gently guided her away from the table. “We’ll clean up. You go and get them teeth brushed and we’ll get you settled, okay?”

    “Sorry,” Tabitha apologized again, retreating down the hall.

    Alan watched his daughter leave, then turned and gripped the back of his chair until the wood creaked, glaring vacantly across the table at nothing. When he finally sat down again, he did so heavily, looking like he’d aged ten years over the course of the week.

    “Sorry about dinner,” Mrs. Moore slid her plate away with the back of her hand, unable to keep up any pretense of interest in the meal.

    “Don’t you start, too,” Alan sighed, giving her a weak smile. “Nothin’ to be sorry for. It was fine.”

    “You’re full of shit,” Mrs. Moore shook her head in dismay. “Really goes to show how spoiled we’ve gotten with Tabby cooking, huh?”

    “It was fine,” he chuckled, before holding his hands up defensively as she gave him a withering stare. “Alright, alright. The chicken was… a little dry.”

   “Thank you,” Mrs. Moore said, appreciating the honesty if not the truth of the sentiment. Probably should’ve just boiled the chicken breasts in with the broccoli instead of microwaving them. That’s probably how she’d’ve done it. “What are we going to do about Tabitha?”

    “Well...” Mr. Moore stewed on his words for a moment. “If she’s set on withdrawing from school for good, I’ve half a mind to let her. I was worried she might get picked on when she started senior high, because she’s so… different, but this whole nonsense going on is just… it’s completely beyond the pale. These other kids, they’re goddamn animals. Who knows what they might get up to next?”

    Mrs. Moore shifted uncomfortably in her seat, remembering that icy spike of raw terror she’d felt when she’d heard about Tabitha getting pushed at school and needing to go to the hospital. That terror struck deep and then began to percolate over the past several days, disturbing all of those long-buried remembrances of her own trauma from all those years ago—when the film producer had insisted on… touching her.

    The way Tabitha’s peers were mistreating her was already atrocious, but she was also growing into a lovely young girl—the horrible idea that bullying at school could possibly escalate to things like that made Mrs. Moore turn sick with rage. What happened on those studio sets all those years ago wasn’t something she was ever prepared to discuss with her husband. She’d been worrying herself into nervous fits over how to explain her current fear and paranoia to him without sounding like a crazy person.

    “I don’t want her at that school,” Mrs. Moore finally admitted.

    “We need to have a talk with her about it tomorrow,” Mr. Moore rubbed a hand across the stubble along his jaw. “She does have friends there. Think it needs to be her decision, and we’ll havta support her no matter what she decides. She’s… she’s just so damned smart that it scares me, and I hate thinkin’ of her bein’ here at home instead of out getting a proper school education.”

    Mrs. Moore bit her tongue. She wanted to argue that her Tabitha would thrive with or without school simply because of her single-minded focus and drive for improvement, but she knew that the feeling was mostly likely just her bias as a mother.

    “There’s… there’s somethin’ else I haven’t told you,” Mr. Moore sighed. “Promised Tabby I wouldn’t, but… I think it’s a part of all this goin’ on, think it’s important.”

    Shannon Moore felt herself go stiff with fear, and her grip on the edge of the table tightened until her knuckles went completely white.

    “This past summer, Tabby didn’t fall off of that trampoline jumper,” her husband revealed. “Those Taylor girls, they pushed her. Threatened to make her pay if she told anyone, really put a scare into her. But, she told me. Made me swear not to say anything. She was blubbering and wailing and completely beside herself—I had to promise her.”

   “What,” Mrs. Moore bit out.

    “I was still gonna look into it anyways,” Mr. Moore tried to explain. “Maybe go talk to the parents of those girls. But, then…”

    He shook his head in disbelief.

    “Then it was like Tabby hit this critical mass, this… this point way out past her hysteria an’ breakin’ down and something changed inside of her. I keep wanting to think it was such a… I don’t have the words for it. Such a transformation, that it put the fritz on that MRI machine, like the thing just didn’t know what to make of the goings-on in her head that night at all. Maybe nobody but Tabitha knows.

    “She fainted dead away in there. When we got her out of there and she came to, she wasn’t sobbin’ and caterwaulin’ like when she got in. She came out, and she was so calm, cold, distant, there was this… this patient sense of… I don’t know, purpose to her. You know how she was, that night I brought her home from that. How she’s been. It’s like, whatever happened, whatever decision she came to that night, she looks around now and sees everything with these new eyes, this completely different perspective.”

    Mrs. Moore remembered the strange new Tabitha glancing across the dinner table in surprise all those months ago. ‘Oh? You didn’t know? Everyone calls me tubby Tabby. They always have. I’ve been made fun of for being fat and smelling bad my whole life.’

    “She was being bullied, all along,” Mrs. Moore realized, filling with emotion at how stupid she’d been. “All this time. She tried to tell us—she tried to tell us, and I couldn’t even listen. Said they were calling her tubby Tabby, back then. Didn’t she!”

   All this time, I thought it must’ve been Grandma Laurie. But, it wasn’t—Tabby was DRIVEN to this, she was pushed to this point, Mrs. Moore covered her face as she began to cry, sagging forward over the dinner table. How totally fucking stuck on myself could I have even been to ever think she was trying to spite me somehow?! This all, this was never about her seeing the album, or thinking I was keeping her from her potential. She NEEDED to change, living as who she used to be was BREAKING HER.

   Just like being who I was broke me, Shannon Moore sobbed. This whole stupid tragic story played out for my life, and now it’s playing right back over itself in reverse for Tabitha. Why can’t it all just—what do I have to do to put a STOP to this?


   Tabitha always steamed the broccoli. Why did I try to boil it? When Shannon Moore sat up abruptly at two AM in the morning to a mobile home of still silence, it felt like her mind was more clear than it’d ever been in her whole life—it was just like she imagined Tabitha had felt coming home from that concussion this past summer. Like she’d been reborn.

    The bewildering realizations, epiphanies, and misunderstandings had crashed through her for hours last night like a hurricane, displacing, uprooting, and even destroying the stagnant, ingrained mindset that had become her own prison. Everything after sitting at the dinner table was a blur—she remembered weeping and weeping beyond her husband’s ability to console her, and her muffled tears and choked cries didn’t stop until long after he’d managed to bring her to bed.

   When’s the last time we all WENT somewhere, just to get away from it all? Mrs. Moore glanced around the dark, increasingly claustrophobic enclosure of the trailer’s master bedroom. Taken family pictures together, made new memories? What have I been DOING here, besides being miserable and petty and waiting to die? What’s been the point?

   I could go out and start looking for a job—we could use the extra income. Why did we even stay in this trailer park for so goddamn long? Want us all to go somewhere tomorrow, DO something together. Tabby’s writing that story of hers—I want to read it. That blue album I had hidden away… I’d forgotten, but there were GOOD memories in there, too. So many of them—I want to actually go through and share them all with her. How have I been living?

    She turned the covers carefully so as not to wake her husband, and slipped out of bed. In the fourteen years she’d spent holed up in this mobile home, she’d never before felt so restless, and as she crept down the narrow hallway and through their tiny kitchen she found herself staring at all the once-familiar odds-and-ends and random detritus of their time here and seeing nothing but a life never lived.

   Tabitha was doing stretches at first. Going on walks. Sit-ups and things like that, she had a whole chart drawn up. I wonder if she still has it?

    It didn’t seem like enough.

    Shannon Moore whirled in place, looking around at the now-stifling walls with a sense of dread. The only reason the tiny chamber of space barely resembled a home at all was because Tabitha had taken down the blankets blocking out the sunlight, then scrubbed the mildew off the ceiling, repositioned the aging furniture, and cleaned the carpet so thoroughly.

   How have I been such a fool, all this time? I want to wake Tabitha up, just to tell her how much I love her.


    Tabitha woke up confused and completely disoriented. It took her several moments blinking herself back to full awareness to figure out when she was, who she was, and she still needed to sit up in bed and clutch at the rigid encumbrance of the cast on her left hand to be completely sure.

    It had been another strange dream—or maybe more accurately described as a very dull nightmare. She’d been seated at the row of bartack stations at the safety plant, working on some order, but filled with a strange sort of gnawing dread. Afraid that someone would notice she didn’t belong there, that someone would find out she was lying about being from the future. It made no rational sense, because she only ever worked at the plant in her mid and late-thirties, which was in the future. Also—she wasn’t lying to herself about being from the future. If she was making it all up, how would she even have memories of the safety plant at all?

   ...Right? Tabitha blearily ran a hand over her face.

    Unfortunately, the logical parts of her mind that would have immediately worked that out had apparently been sound asleep, leaving her subconsciousness to experience the dreary dream while disarmed of reason.

   Ugh, the safety plant… Tabitha remembered, making a disgusted face.

    Since crossing over into the past, she’d hardly put any thought at all into her time spent at the plant. There were possibly aspects she could take advantage of there using her future knowledge and experience—but they were rendered moot, because she didn’t ever want to work there again. It had paid well, but the production floor was noisy, it smelled terrible, and assembling safety harnesses for eight hour shifts was unbelievably monotonous tedium.

   Plus, I hated everyone there, Tabitha mused, as she slipped out of bed. And they all hated each other.

    The floor of her tiny room was incredibly cold as she got dressed—fuzzy wool socks, sweatpants, the undershirt she’d slept in, and an oversized sweatshirt borrowed from her father. She felt more than a bit lost forgoing both her normal preparations for school as well as her usual morning workout routine. Now without even her Goblina outline to focus on for a welcome distraction, she couldn’t help but feel frustrated and directionless. She needed all the distractions she could get, right now.

   Okay. Safety plant. Safety harnesses. I’ve… admittedly been trying real hard not to think about them. Rolling back the large sweatshirt sleeve from her cast, she uselessly tried to dig and wiggle a fingertip down the back of her cast towards a persistent tickling itch.

    The itch taunted her, remaining just barely out of reach.

    Like many of her future memories, her time working at the production plant just didn’t seem useful here in 1998—she’d acquired a number of skills there, but they weren’t pertinent to the life she wanted to lead now. Tabitha knew how to use the cut table to measure and mark nylon material, and the pressurized hot knife to separate nylon pieces and sear the ends to keep them from fraying. She was proficient in operating several different kinds of industrial sewing machines for sewing leather pieces to nylon webbing, and could use the rivet machines to affix leather pieces together.

   Which is great, okay, Tabitha grumbled to herself. But what do I DO with all that?

    As a storyteller—and particularly as someone experiencing something as fantastical as being sent back in time—she sometimes found herself obsessing over everything in terms of narrative meaning. Each aspect of her past life, even her time at the safety plant, should have been an element that contributed a purpose to her overall story as a whole.

   Is that really all just wishful thinking, or… Tabitha frowned, stumbling out of her room and down to the bathroom. Maybe sunk cost fallacy, driving me to look for a purpose, where there is none? To tell myself that it wasn’t ALL a total waste of life?

    Almost five years of her previous life in the two thousand twenties had been spent filling orders for different models of harnesses for lineworkers—but, none of them would have the same specifications back here in the late nineties. The exact measurements and methods of putting together all of the harnesses updated constantly, and they’d often required her to swap out material data sheets in the workstation books for each of them. Multiple times, every year.

    Future safety innovations introduced here would potentially save a lot of lives, but they largely relied on technological advancements she had no way of replicating: improved materials that made for tighter, stronger weaves of nylon webbing, rigorously tested new configurations of harness, and bartack machines programmed to spit out complex stitching patterns in seconds, rather than needing to be manually—painstakingly—sewn in with the heavy-duty machines. The job was impossibly boring, yet any momentary lapse in concentration, the machine jamming up mid-stitch, or other simple human error could easily foul up the process and become an aggravating setback.

   I could POSSIBLY introduce the basic concept behind the shock-absorbing stitch to one of the engineers there, Tabitha thought as she washed her face and then started brushing her teeth.

    It’s incredibly simple, and got worked into all the harnesses while I was there. But, in what universe would a guy with an engineering degree listen to the ideas of some dumb thirteen-year-old girl? ESPECIALLY regarding safety products customers are going to be relying on. Doubt Mrs. Crow—err, Mrs. Macintire will even be there in the office this life. Why would she, if her first husband lives, this time through—

    “Tabitha?” Her mother yelled from the other side of the trailer. “Do I hear you up and about?”

    There was something… different about her mother’s voice, and Tabitha paused in the middle of brushing her teeth, staring blankly at herself in the mirror for a moment as she tried to puzzle out what was off. She sounds almost… chipper? Growing concerned, Tabitha quickly spit into the sink and rinsed out her mouth.

    “I’m awake,” Tabitha called.

    “Can you come out here, please?”

    “Oh,” Tabitha lurched to a stop just at the end of the hallway. “Hello.”

    “Good morning,” There was a woman seated at the kitchen table with her mother, and she was already rising out of her seat to introduce herself. “I’m Pamela Cribb, and I’m here on behalf of the school board.”

    “It’s... a pleasure to meet you,” Tabitha found herself mechanically moving forward to shake the woman’s hand. “May I call you Mrs. Cribb?”

    “Oh, anything’s fine,” Mrs. Cribb laughed with a careless wave.

   Is this… not an official visit? Tabitha might have expected one due to her abrupt departure from class yesterday— but that didn’t quite seem to be the case based on how informal the woman was being.

    “I apologize—am I interrupting?” Tabitha asked awkwardly. “Or, did I keep you waiting on me?”

    “Neither, neither,” the woman assured her. “Please, come sit with us, whenever you’re ready. I’m glad you were able to get some rest, your mother was just telling—”

    Mrs. Cribb stopped mid-sentence, sucking in a short breath at the sight of Tabitha’s hand.

    “My word, you’re—honey, are you alright?”

    “Sorry,” Tabitha said quickly, embarrassed, starting to roll her sleeve back down over her cast and hand. “I—wasn’t expecting we would have company.”

    “Nonsense, come let us have a look at that,” Mrs. Cribb hurried to stop Tabitha and then guided the girl to the table, even pulling out the chair for her. “Is it hurting, or, ah, do you have enough circulation?”

    “It’s... fine,” Tabitha explained, fidgeting beneath the sudden and intense scrutiny. Last night, a mottled and somewhat sickly shade of yellow had become noticeable along her mostly immobilized pinky and ring finger, but by now darker purplish-blue shades were becoming apparent along her skin. “Just the bruise spreading.”

    “This looks like it’s too tight—your fingers are all swollen,” Mrs. Cribb fretted, carefully turning Tabitha’s cast over to examine it. “Is this hurting?”

    “It’s… um,” Tabitha tried to hide her discomfort. “I have codeine tablets for three more days. I’ll have one with breakfast. I just... need to keep my hand elevated for a bit after waking up—and not bump into anything.”

    “Of course, of course,” Mrs. Cribb withdrew her hands, looking troubled.

    “I’m sorry you had to see that,” Tabitha carefully rolled the sleeve back up over her cast and hand.

    “No, no, it’s…” Mrs. Cribb looked like she was at a loss.

    “Could I offer you anything to drink?” Tabitha asked. “Mother, as we have a guest—may I turn the thermostat up to sixty?”

    “Oh no, I’m fine,” Mrs. Cribb said. “Don’t worry about me.”

    “Sixty sounds perfect,” Mrs. Moore gave the woman from the school board an apologetic look. “Normally, we—”

    “Please, please, don’t worry about me,” Mrs. Cribb repeated. “I don’t mean to impose at all. Tabitha, I’m—I’m sure you know why I’m here?”

    “Yes,” Tabitha nodded sadly, finally slipping back into her seat at the table. “I was… distraught yesterday when I left school, and remiss in acquiring whatever paperwork might be necessary for my withdrawal from the school system. I’m prepared to justify any absences in the short term while I withdraw, and I’d like to seek accreditation for home schooling before I can be declared truant. I imagine you, or someone else on the school board, could help expedite that process.”

    Speechless, Mrs. Cribb turned her wide-eyed stare from Tabitha to Mrs. Moore.

    “She’s like that when she’s stressed, and… she’s been under a lot of stress,” Mrs. Moore sighed. “I do agree with her, though.”

    “Well, before I say anything at all, I’d like to return this to you,” Mrs. Cribb said, reaching down to a bag beside her purse and drawing out—

   My story notes!

    Surges of surprise and relief had her standing up so abruptly that Tabitha’s chair nearly toppled over, and when Mrs. Cribb passed it to her, she found her good hand sagging beneath the familiar weight of her blue binder. Relief fell over her like a curtain of exhaustion, and she dropped back down into her chair heavily, hugging the binder tightly against her chest.

    It was stupid to start crying over such a little thing, but she did anyways.

    The story outline had at some point become a treasure she’d taken for granted, never appreciating what it was to her until it was suddenly and unexpectedly gone. Goblina and Goblin Princess had been good but never great, in her past life. Revisiting them in this one had become an endeavor equal parts new perspective and enthusiastic inspiration—many parts she had little confidence in attempting to recreate while in her current mental state.

    “Thank you,” Tabitha choked out, not daring to look up. “Thank you.”

    “Well,” Mrs. Moore spoke up with forced cheer in her voice. “Let’s get some food in you—what can I make you for breakfast?”

    “Wh-whatever I had leftover from last night is fine,” Tabitha managed, trying not to sound alarmed. Mom… making breakfast?

    “Oh,” Her mother had the decency to sound embarrassed. “I’m sorry, sweetie—your father and I—we finished up all of the leftovers.”

   Either thrown out as completely inedible, or she’s too ashamed to have this lady from the school board see the state of her broccoli, Tabitha surmised, suppressing a hapless laugh.

    “That’s… that’s fine,” Tabitha nodded. “If the other half of my banana is still on the refrigerator door, that will be more than enough for me.”

    “Are you sure?” Mrs. Moore sounded disappointed as she stood with the fridge door open. “I’m sure I can whip up… something?”

    “It’s fine, but thank you.”

    To Tabitha’s amusement, their entire exchange seemed to make their visitor Mrs. Cribb visibly uncomfortable. Especially when the half banana—its peel browned enough to be blackened on one side—was placed atop a napkin in front of her, along with a small glass of water and her bottle of pills.

    “One of your classmates took your book there while you were distracted,” Mrs. Cribb revealed. “Clarissa Dole—she snuck it out when asking for a bathroom break, and tossed it in the trash can of the nearby ladies room. She’s been suspended, pending an expulsion hearing this coming Monday after Halloween—along with Chris Thompson, Kaylee Mendolson, Brittany Taylor, and Erica Taylor.”

    “I—” Tabitha blinked as she tried to wipe away the last of her tears with her good hand. “I’m sorry, I don’t know who Clarissa or Kaylee are.”

    “Clarissa’s in your fifth period class, she admitted to stealing your notebook. The Kaylee girl was guilty of spreading that malicious rumor regarding you and Mr. Simmons.”

    “Malicious... rumor?” Mrs. Moore’s expression darkened.

    “Yes, given the intent behind it— Mr. Simmons could have lost his job—and in light of the current circumstances, Kaylee will now be up for expulsion, as well,” Mrs. Cribb frowned. “Tabitha… I’m very, very sorry for everything that you’ve been put through. The school board will also have a formal apology for you after the hearing, I’ll expect. Springton High’s administration acted too little, too late, or not at all in situations which should have been immediately addressed with their full attention.

    “You’re an extremely brilliant young girl, and several of your teachers have recommended we advance you up a grade level. I’m told that the freshman curriculum simply isn’t challenging you. We very much want you to continue at Springton High, and we’re doing everything in our power to make sure it becomes a completely safe environment for you to learn. Would you be interested in returning after a short break, possibly as a sophomore?”

    “No, I—no, I’m not brilliant,” Tabitha denied, shaking her head in firm refusal. “It’s just that—”

    “Tabitha,” Mrs. Cribb interrupted softly, “I read through what you have in that book—I was very surprised to discover that Mrs. Albertson wasn’t aware of your project. Please believe me when I say that you are, in fact, brilliant.”

    “You… read it?” Tabitha looked completely mortified.

    “Yes, I’m sorry if it seems like an invasion of privacy, but…” Mrs. Cribb shook her head. “Honestly, I’m still just completely stunned. What you’ve compiled there is well beyond what I was capable of as a college graduate—and I majored in Education. If you’ll allow it, I’d really like you to share it with some of the better minds in Springton High’s English department, so that we can find the best teacher for you—whatever grade level that ends up being.”

    “You… um. What did you think?” Tabitha asked in a timid voice, furrowing her brows. “When you read it.”

    “Oh, would you like to discuss it?” Mrs. Cribb smiled. “There’s quite a bit I’d love to talk about, if you have time.”

    “I…” Tabitha stopped and stared at the tabletop for a long moment. “I need to think about that, I’m sorry. I’m not sure if you could tell, but… I want to turn this into fiction.”

    “Yes, it’s one of the most outstanding—”

    “No, no. I mean,” Tabitha quickly interrupted. “Some of what’s most important to the story is... what isn’t written in here. What I’ve been going through, the ways people have treated me, it’s not fiction, but I’ve been, I’m trying to, um. This project is to turn all of that into fiction. It’s... a very personal project.”

    “I’m so sorry!” Mrs. Cribb covered her mouth in shock and alarm, turning to Mrs. Moore and only seeing confusion and worry on the woman’s features. “I hadn’t even thought to look at your narrative from that perspective. Of course, it makes so much sense that... oh, Tabitha I’m—I’m so sorry.”

    “Thank you for returning it to me,” Tabitha said in a slow voice, gripping the binder even more tightly. “I… I really didn’t know what I was going to do without it. This book, it’s more than just a coping mechanism, it’s… I can’t explain how important this is to me.”

    “I’m so glad we were able to find it!” Mrs. Cribb admitted, putting a hand to her chest and looking more anxious than ever. “How about you stay on a leave of absence—rest as much as you need, spend some time recovering—until after these expulsion hearings, and then we can meet up again and discuss what you’d like to do?”

    “Please,” Tabitha nodded in agreement. “I’d like that. Thank you again for returning it.”

    “Um,” Mrs. Cribb hesitated. “I almost hate to ask, but… several of these girls who were bullying you, they had some unexpectedly serious… enmity towards you that I found myself just baffled by. Tabitha… do you have any idea where all of this started?”

    The muck of guilt mired deep in her subconscious seemed to suck at Tabitha’s feet again, inviting her deeper, but she had to try. Maybe they would believe her, maybe there was enough gravity to the circumstances that they would really dig into this, and maybe, just maybe, this wouldn’t all rebound back on an innocent girl in terrible retribution. Tabitha couldn’t even remember the face of the childhood friend she’d abandoned, but seeing the discoloration creeping out from under her own cast certainly brought to mind what she did remember.

    It was long past time to swallow her fears and come clean, forty-seven years past time.

   I’m not afraid of the bullying anymore. Even if I get hurt again, Tabitha’s thoughts were whirling now, and her facade of forced calm began to unhinge itself as repressed things boiled up from deep within her.

   What terrifies me now is… the thought of living with what I’ve done—with what I failed to do—all over again. The trailer I lived in, what I looked like, how people treated me—none of those things are what made me TRASH. Deep down, I’ve always known what made me trash.

    “There’s…” Tabitha’s eyes watered, and she wet her lips as she struggled for the words she needed. “There’s a third Taylor sister.”

    “A third Taylor sister?”

    “Yes,” Tabitha nodded, unable to look up at the woman. “Ashlee Taylor. I was her friend. Was her friend. I—I don’t fucking get to call myself that anymore. She—you need to find her, please, I think she should have been a freshman with me but she isn’t, I don’t know where she is. Can’t even picture her face anymore. I was her friend. She was in sixth and seventh grade with me. The same grade as me. She should have been. She, she—”

    “Tabitha, honey—”

    “Find her, please, and—check beneath her clothes,” Tabitha sobbed. “Beneath her clothes, her back, um, under her shirt. Look for—look for bruises. I-I don’t know if it’s still going on, but—”

   “Excuse me,” Pamela Cribb shot to her feet with a horrified expression, shoving her chair back out of the way. “Mrs. Moore—I need to use your phone, right now.”

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A note from FortySixtyFour

   Alright, this should be the last of the stuff I wanted to add inI feel like the circumstances and perspectives are a lot more grounded than if I'd just rushed headlong from where we were back then in October right into the Halloween event.

   Thank you everyone who gave [email protected] a try on my recommendation last month! Irony was a reader of mine I badgered and coerced into trying to write his own fiction some time ago, and now he's taken some of our late-night banter poking fun at Royal Road tropes and turned it into something truly monstrous and sinister. I've been doing my best to support and encourage his writing, and I appreciate so many of you helping out.


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FortySixtyFour

Bio: Avid reader, reluctant writer.

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