Still cut a pretty poor protagonist, I guess, Tabitha sighed to herself. Which is… unbelievably frustrating. Am I being melodramatic? Are the teenage hormones in control again?

    She couldn’t help but feel that she’d been incredibly self-centered and conceited to have expected anything else. This wasn’t a teen novel where the police would insist she ride along in their car so that she could be part of the story resolution and see them rush to Ashlee’s rescue or make some sort of dramatic arrest. In the real world, events simply didn’t revolve around thirteen year old girls, and she was to have no further involvement—the adults handling the situation hadn’t even thought to tell her what was going on, or what was being done.

    What seemed like this intense personal watershed moment for Tabitha as a person didn’t elicit much of the same reaction from everyone else. Mrs. Cribb had spoken over their phone with someone in a rather heated discussion for several minutes, and said her goodbyes shortly afterwards. Just like before with the shooting incident, Tabitha felt like she was out of the loop; like things went personally unresolved. She wasn’t privy to what was going on, and despite asking, information stubbornly remained beyond her reach.

   Just focus on resting and recovering, Tabitha couldn’t help but scowl at the response they gave her.

    Sharing the details about her guilt regarding Ashlee with her mother afterward hadn’t gone like Tabitha expected, either. Mrs. Moore didn’t seem to get it, didn’t seem to see any issue with her neglecting to speak up.

    Well, of course you wouldn’t, her mother had tried to console her. Tabitha—they were threatening to hurt you girls!

    Tabitha didn’t know how to feel about that.

    Everyone else would naturally treat her as if she was this naive young girl, but she wasn’t, not exactly, and there wasn’t any way to explain her own obligation to hold herself to a higher standard. It was an uncomfortable situation, exacerbated by how strange her mother was acting now. The woman was… different. Friendlier, motivated even, she did a loop walking around the neighborhood with Tabitha in the mornings, and asked for assistance in learning some basic daily exercises. In the dismal days that followed, however, Tabitha felt listless and emotionally empty, going through all of the motions of a somewhat normal life without much spirit.

    Then Saturday finally arrived, and nine different people showed up to see her.

    “Sit there and stay there,” Grandma Laurie warned the boys as they trooped into the trailer past her. She pointed sternly at the sofa in the Moore’s living room. “I hear one more foul word—from any of you hooligans—and you can forget about trick or treating this year!”

    “Have they not been behaving?” Tabitha asked with a wry smile, sharing a look with her mother.

    For trick-or-treating, the four cousins were dressed in the brightly-colored winterwear of the main cast from South Park, and from their silence and stiff expressions it seemed as though they’d already gotten themselves into trouble. The only one of them Tabitha could identify with any certainty was the youngest, Joshua, who wore the orange hoodie—the meme character Kenny who died every episode.

   The other ones are… Cartman, Eric, and…? She drew a blank what the last character’s name might be. Having never actually watched the show herself, everything she knew about it was gleaned by cultural osmosis, and she considered her partial recollection to be not too shabby.

   “Apparently, that South Park cartoon isn’t for children,” Grandma Laurie sounded exasperated. “They used to sit and watch it with their mother, so I thought it must be okay—but, it’s not okay, it’s just this… mindless, absolute filth!”

   Seems to fit perfectly with what I remember about Aunt Lisa, Tabitha refrained from wincing, instead schooling her expression into a tacit look of sympathy for Grandma Laurie’s difficult position.

    “What did they dress as last year?” Mrs. Moore asked. “The Beatles? I remember they wore those handsome little suits.”

    “Men in black,” Grandma Laurie shook her head. “Whatever that is. Shining those little toy laser wands in everyone’s faces the whole night, ‘till I took the batteries away.”

    “There’s no lasers this year, at least,” Tabitha reassured her with a slight smile. “I’ll look after them, Grandma.”

    “Well, I wish I’d known about this South Park earlier, then they wouldn’t be wearing these,” Grandma Laurie griped. “It’s not even a proper cartoon! They’re paper doll cutouts, and all they do is swear at each other and make vulgar jokes. I want to get the boys watching proper cartoons like Felix the Cat, Porky Pig, and Betty Boop, but I can’t find tapes for them anywhere.”

    “...I’ll talk with them about it,” Tabitha promised, looking at each of the boys in turn. “I know of a few series that—”

    A knock at the door interrupted. Perplexed, Tabitha crossed over to the door and cautiously opened it, revealing her friend Elena. The tall blonde was dressed rather conspicuously in black slacks and a long-sleeved black shirt... and nervously glancing around the area as though she were a cat burglar.

    “Hi!” Elena said, stepped forward to grab the surprised Tabitha in a quick hug. “We missed you this week! Did Alicia talk to you about trick or treating? Is she here yet?”

    “Hi!” Tabitha laughed. “No? Er, were you guys wanting to—”

    “Oh, we definitely are,” Elena nodded, hefting up a large handbag. “Got everything here. Mom’s waiting out in the van, though. Um... is it cool if she talks to your mother?”

    “Uh—” Tabitha began.

    “I’ll go out and see her,” Mrs. Moore had already overheard, patting Tabitha on the head. “I invited some of your friends, Tabitha. Thank you so much for coming, Elena.”

    “Thank you having us, Mrs. Moore,” Elena said politely.

    Mom—what? Tabitha was stunned enough to be unable to process the news immediately. You invited my friends? Wait, WHAT?

    It was great news, and she was thrilled, but the surprise came so far out of left field that she was blindsided into wide-eyed silence. Her mother was a reclusive and bitter woman. Or, at least—she was, she used to be. Mrs. Moore certainly wasn’t someone who took the initiative to make social calls on her daughter’s behalf.

    Did… did something I do accidentally set this off? Tabitha struggled to come to terms and adjust to the new outlook. Is this really all just from agreeing to let her teach me to be an actress? We only even did practice exercises twice since I withdrew from school!

    “Tabitha?” Grandma Laurie called over from the bathroom. “Tabitha honey, we need to get started on your hair!”

    “Um,” Tabitha remained flabbergasted.

    “Go ahead!” Elena said with a smile, stepping over into the living room to set down her bag. “Joshua. Nicholas. Aiden. Samuel. Very cool costumes, guys! I’ll be taking over the trick-or-treating mission this year, so I’d like to begin our strategy meeting.”

    The Moore household had never had so many people visiting all at once, and Tabitha was able to persuade Grandma Laurie to instead plug in the straightening iron and set up her bag of hair products in the kitchen, so as not to inconvenience anyone needing to use their bathroom. Standing as still as she could in front of the kitchen sink, Tabitha watched over the counter in amazement as Elena managed to gather the four cousins into an obedient huddle.

    “Okay! We are here right now,” Elena unfolded a black and white photocopy of a Springton map on their coffee table, and was marking notations on it in pink, blue, and yellow highlighter. “The playground where we had that game of tag is over… here. By these streets. Can one of you show me where you live?”

    “Here,” Sam, wearing a red sweatshirt and a blue-and-yellow ski cap tapped a finger at the map. “Grandma’s place is right here.”

    “Thank you! Now, I don’t know what route you all had planned, but I’d like to suggest the course I used to take back when I used to go trick or treating. Mom helped us plan a Springton route based on population density and median neighborhood income—if no one dawdles, we should be able to hit these eleven different neighborhoods marked in yellow before people start turning off their lights!”

   This got… unexpectedly serious? Tabitha couldn’t help but smile as her Grandmother gently ran a comb through her hair.

    “For this one, and this one, we’re going to have to double back after getting to the end of a street,” Elena continued. “Then, these three areas are too far apart for us on foot—Mom’s going to follow us with the van to shuttle us across. Each of you should bring an extra pillowcase or grocery bag or something for candy. If our hauls are anything like Carrie and I got in ‘95 and ‘96... each of us should be filling two whole bags.”

    “Two whole bags?!”

    “Is that even possible?!

    “Ohhh my gosh… how many pounds is a bag?”

    “Two bags of good candy?”

    Elena’s apparent commitment to help them collect the largest volume of candy physically possible impressed the boys beyond measure, and none of them dreamed of questioning her sudden imposition of authority over their prior plans. Sam, Nick, and Aiden immediately swore oaths to follow Elena’s every command for the night’s mission, and each of them warned Joshua to never lag behind or complain about all the walking.

   I was going to divide up my spoils for the boys after each house, based on how well they listened to me, Tabitha watched them interact with her friend in amusement. My carrot and stick approach really can’t hold a candle to Elena’s.

    Then Grandma Laurie’s hand carefully covered Tabitha’s eyes, using enough hairspray on her to choke the trailer with the acrid smell of Aquanet. Ariel had voluminous, gravity-defying bangs that swept over her forehead from left to right, and a worn Little Mermaid Goldenbook was propped open in the dish strainer for constant picture references. Tabitha's own hair was a more natural shade that was visually more orange than fire-engine red like Ariel’s, and she was a little nervous about how the final look would come out.

    When Alicia and her mother arrived twenty minutes later, Grandma Laurie had already washed out and towel-dried Tabitha’s hair in preparation for a second attempt, this time liberally using bobby pins before adding spray. Everyone was wowed by Alicia’s entrance, and all four of the cousins leapt up from the couch to get a better look.

    “Holy cow, Alicia,” Elena laughed. “Is that what I think it is?”

    “Are you… from Star Wars?” Tabitha guessed, staring at her dark-skinned friend in surprise.

    “I’m Luke Skywalker, and I’m here to rescue you!” Alicia flashed everyone a nervous smile. “C’mon, nobody laugh at me. Please.”

     Alicia’s outfit was an orange jumpsuit with black boots and gloves, complete with all of the appropriate harness straps, air tubes, and sci-fi doodads instantly recognizable as a rebel pilot uniform from Star Wars. A toy lightsaber hung from the belt of her flight suit, and Alicia even carried a familiar pilot’s helmet in the crook of her arm.

    “That. Is. Awesome!” Joshua blurted out.

    “I wish I was Luke,” Nick joined in. “I wanna be Luke next year. Or Han Solo.”

    “You watch Star Wars?!” Sam seemed shocked.

    “My dad and I love Star Wars,” Alicia confided, looking a little relieved at their admiration.

    “Which do you like better, Empire or Jedi?” Aiden demanded. “Because Return of the Jedi is way betterer.”

    “‘Betterer’ isn’t a word, Aiden,” Tabitha corrected him in a soft voice.

    “Oh, don’t even get ‘Licia started,” Alicia’s mother laughed, rolling her eyes. “Sorry we’re late—the gloves and boots needed one more coat of spray paint. I wanted to make absolutely sure it all dried right before anything got traipsed into someone’s carpet.”

    “You made that?!” Elena asked, eyes going wide. “Alicia—that’s amazing.”

    “Thanks! And yeah, kinda... sorta?” Alicia grinned, awkwardly tugging at her costume. “Started out as this prison jumpsuit costume—which dad didn’t find funny at all, ‘till I told him what we could turn it into. White flak vest’s cut outta this old shirt I had, wearing my rain boots and some dishwashing gloves. Rest of it’s all stuff from the junk drawer in the garage, put together with hot glue. The helmet’s my dad’s—it’s a Don Post replica. I helped repaint it, so it looks more like it does in the movie.”

    “Can I see your lightsaber?” Joshua begged.

    “No, can I see your lightsaber?” Aiden chimed in.

    “I’m sorry... but this is the weapon of a Jedi knight,” Alicia refused with a solemn face. “An elegant weapon, for a more civilized age.”

    “Can I see your helmet?” Joshua tried.

    “Nope!” Alicia grinned. “Dad will actually murder me dead if I let anything happen to it. He already started digging a grave—just in case. He said he can have another daughter anytime, but he only has this one helmet.”

    “Oh, stop,” Alicia’s mother protested. “It’s a toy helmet. Damn thing just sits up on the shelf collecting dust.”

    “Don’t let him hear you say that, or there’ll be two graves,” Alicia joked. “Tabs, you are looking awesome! Did you get the dress to go with that, or are you goin’ with the coconut bra tonight?”

    “They were seashells!” Tabitha said with an indignant laugh. “And no—we have the dress.”

    “Shame,” Alicia snorted. “And, Elena—where’s your costume?!”

    “Mine’s… actually super lame,” Elena seemed to realize, gesturing towards her long-sleeved black shirt and black pants. “I have cat ears, a tail, and a bit of face paint to put on for whiskers in my bag… I was just gonna be a black cat. Is that too lame?”

    “It... doesn’t have to be,” Alicia said, carefully passing the pilots helmet to her mother. “Don’t drop this! Elena, I mean, it won’t be lame if I do your nose and whiskers. If that’s cool?”

    “I… yeah?” Elena brightened. “You’d do that?”

    “Are we friends?” Alicia challenged.

    “...Yeah?” Elena sounded more hopeful than confident.

    “Then, duh,” Alicia smirked, looking around to size up each of the cousins. “I suppose you boys must be Tabitha’s warrior tribe? Elena, if you have a kit with white paint, I can draw them up big round South Park eyes on their faces.”

    After a round of belated introductions while Alicia was crouched down in front of half of those crowded into the living room to apply face paint, Grandma Laurie finished fussing with Tabitha’s hair with a final tie of the enormous blue bow and declared her perfect. She was shooed off to her bedroom to put on her Ariel dress, where she finally got a look at her enormous—albeit impressive—Little Mermaid hair in her bedroom mirror. This is just… amazing!

    When she returned, she received a heartwarming round of oohs and aahs as everyone praised her look. Elena now wore impressive feline facepaint, with a painted pink nose adorning the tip of her actual nose, a slender downward line that connected to her upper lip, and a series of dots artfully clustered on the inside of her cheeks that spread out to beautifully painted whiskers along the outside. In contrast, the four boys looked absolutely ridiculous with enormous South Park eyes that took up most of their faces. The Rebel Pilot helmet looked a little too big and out-of-proportion when Alicia actually wore it, but everyone agreed her outfit was the most impressive of all.

    “Pictures, pictures!” Alicia’s mother insisted, pulling a Kodak disposable camera out of her purse. “C’mon, everyone, get together.”

    “Um—” Tabitha glanced around nervously. “Is… my mother still outside?”

    “I think they’re all still talkin’ out there, your daddy just pulled in the drive,” Grandma Laurie said, stepping over to lean out the open door—while it was a brisk late October afternoon, the hairspray fumes had been a little too strong. “Alan! Get yer butt in here, we’re taking pictures!”

    “Pictures?” He called back. “Hold up, wait for me!”

    Mr. Moore appeared in the doorway and took in the strange gathering with a big smile. The moment he caught sight of his daughter, he made a tossing motion, lobbing what looked like a yellow pillow towards her in an underhand throw. Surprised, Tabitha clumsily fumbled it between her hand and her cast, dropping the thing before she could grab it. A boy darted forward beneath her hands and caught it before it hit the ground.

    “Thank you, Aiden,” Tabitha said sheepishly, accepting the pillow to take closer look—it was a large stuffed plush doll in the shape of a familiar large-eyed yellow guppy with blue markings.

    “Oh my God—it’s Flounder!” Elena exclaimed. “That’s so cute!”

    “Coworker ‘cross town mentioned his kids had it,” Alan said proudly. “Glad I caught you girls before you headed out! You girls all look lovely—er, Miss Alicia, are you from Star Wars?”

    “I’m Luke Skywalker,” Alicia answered with a beaming smile.

    “You look great,” Mr. Moore said. “Boys, good to see you all again. Mrs. Brooks, thank you so much for comin’ on out.”

    “It’s my pleasure!” Alicia’s mother replied. “You’re just in time for pictures!”

    Her four cousins crouched down in a row on their knees to better emulate the squat forms of their South Park characters, and then Tabitha was jostled back and forth until it was decided she would be situated in the center. Elena in her kitty-cat makeup stood on one side of her, and Alicia in the orange pilot uniform posed on the other side, flicking out the toy lightsaber to extend the blue plastic blade.

    Hugging the Flounder pillow tightly against her chest and looking into the camera lense with a bashful smile—Tabitha didn’t think she’d ever been so happy in her life.

    “Trick or treat!” Tabitha joined in saying as yet another door opened.

    “Holy guacamole, look at you all!” the woman said, taken aback by the small crowd at her doorstep.

    They’d arrived in full force, with the four boys packed in close and the taller girls arrayed behind them on the porch stoop of a suburban Springton home— the fifty or sixtieth of the fourth neighborhood they were canvassing. It was fun, in an exhilarating but somehow embarrassing way that still had Tabitha’s cheeks burning. There had been a brief, completely dissonant thought that candy from all the way back in 1998 should be terribly expired by now, but Tabitha was able to quickly snuff it out. The woman dropped a handful of treats into each of their outstretched bags.

    “Thank you!” The four cousins answered in chipper unison. They’d done so without any prompting after only the second house of their very first neighborhood, and Tabitha felt proud that they’d made it a habit so quickly.

    “Thank you, and—Happy Halloween!” Tabitha smiled at the woman.

    “Happy Halloween,” the woman waved. “You all look great!”

    Elena’s long legs carried her back out to the sidewalk first, and like eager ducklings Sam, Nick, Aiden and Joshua trooped after her. She no longer needed to gesture them on past her towards the next house, simply guiding them on in the same well-practiced motion she had the entire evening.

    “It’s already heavy,” Nick boasted, hefting up his bag of candy.

    “I know!” Aiden said gleefully, swinging his own.

    “Less talking, more walking!” Elena playfully scolded them. “Do you want everyone to give out all the candy before we get there?!”

    Although she’d said it a few times tonight already, it still had the same effect— the boys double-timed it to the next porch, arranging themselves in a proper side-by-side line. Like well-trained dogs with a biscuit balanced upon their nose, they all hungrily stared at the faint light of the doorbell but none jumped over to press it. Elena had decided that was her job, and with her pressing their trick-or-treating routine into clockwork efficiency, none of them seemed inclined to squabble with her for the honor.

    Tabitha and Alicia caught up—Tabitha was actually feeling a little out of breath— Elena nodded at their arrival, and she pressed the doorbell.

    “Trick or treat!” They joined together in a sing-song voice as the door opened.

    “My word,” an elderly woman stepped into view with a festive orange bowl of candy. “You all look lovely. Who are you all supposed to be?”

    “Ma’am,” Elena spoke up, “This is Eric, Stan, Kyle, and Kenny. Alicia is Luke Skywalker, Tabitha is Princess Ariel, and I’m a kitty-cat!”

    “Goodness,” The old woman chuckled, offering her bowl for each of them to grab a handful.

    Back when they’d piled into Mrs. Seelbaugh’s van for the short drive between the first neighborhood and the second, Elena had given them an updated briefing—she was appointing herself to field any and all questions regarding what costumes the group was wearing.

    All of us trying to answer at once is setting us precious seconds behind schedule! Elena admonished them, making an exaggerated stern face.

   Yes, drill Sergeant! Alicia had snapped a joking salute.

    The girls— Mrs. Seelbaugh included— had all laughed about it and poked fun at the military efficiency they were trying to squeeze out of the holiday, while the boys didn’t find anything ironic about it. They had been peeking in their surprisingly overstuffed bags with looks of naked greed.

    As much fun as they were all having trooping quickly from door to door through block after block, Tabitha was starting to feel winded. The sun had gone down but the neighborhoods at night were alive with activity, with dozens of other roving bands of costumed children interspersed with the occasional adult shepherding some kids along. There were power rangers and Disney princesses, toddlers waddling along dressed as Raggedy Anne dolls and young boys dashing around in Batman capes.

    “Elena,” Tabitha finally called out. “I’m, um. Go on ahead with the boys, and I’ll catch up. I don’t want to slow you all down.”

    “We can slow down some,” Elena paused. “We’ve been making good time. Are you alright?”

    To Tabitha’s surprise, the quartet of her cousins who had been marching like highly-motivated soldiers all lurched to a stop. A moment later, it was like they’d lost all interest in trick-or-treating for the night, abandoning their beeline for the next house and gathering quietly around her. It was… moving, in a way that almost had Tabitha choke up. It felt like she’d done so little for them in this life, considering their circumstances, that seeing them care about her, care about her more than candy, made her a little misty-eyed.

    “I’m just... a little tired!” Tabitha let out a weak laugh. “I’ll skip a few houses and catch up with you at the end of the street.”

    “Boys?” Elena asked, shooting an uncertain look from Tabitha to them and back again. “What do you think?”

    “Go on,” Tabitha urged them. “Go—I’m not in it for the candy, anyways. I’m fine.”

    “I’ll stay with her,” Alicia promised, waggling her lit lightsaber toy. “Go with Elena.”

    With a surprising amount of reluctance, the four obeyed, scurrying back into action towards the next house at Elena’s discretion.

    “You okay?” Alicia asked.

    “I’m…” Tabitha smiled. “I don’t have a lot of energy, I, um. Haven’t been taking great care of myself. It’s been hard to eat. This is—this is great, though. This has been one of the best nights of my life, already.”

    “Huh. Sooo, Tabitha,” Alicia said, idly swinging around her lightsaber in the air. “Are you a big Star Wars fan at all?”

    “No, not really,” Tabitha gave her friend a helpless shrug. “The two I liked the most were the ones everyone said were the worst of them. Phantom Menace and Force Awakens.”

    “Force Awakens?” Alicia arched an eyebrow.

    “I think that one’s… ten or twenty years away, still?” Tabitha shrugged. “They come out with a whole bunch of new movies and shows when Disney buys Star Wars.”

   “Disney buys Star Wars… Jesus. I think I need to sit down or something,” Alicia laughed, putting a hand up to adjust the oversized helmet. “But, uh, yeah. Okay. Phantom Menace. I think you pass.”

    “I pass?” Tabitha quirked her head in confusion.

    “Yeah,” Alicia nodded gravely. “They just revealed the name of the first prequel on the Star Wars official web page. Last month, on the thirtieth. Like, no one but people like my Dad seem to have really picked up on it, just yet. The Phantom Menace. I… I don’t think you would have cared enough about Star Wars to know that— you don’t have a computer, and you didn’t seem to ever use them in the library at school. Which means...”

    “I didn’t even see Episode One when it came out,” Tabitha admitted sheepishly. “Actually didn’t catch any of them in theater until Force Awakens—I just had them in a set on DVD.”

    “Does DVD end up replacing VHS?” Alicia blurted out in alarm. “I—sorry, now it’s like, anything and everything you remember could be actually huge and important. Tabitha—you’re for real from the future.”

    “I am,” Tabitha sighed. “And, DVD does, for about... twenty years? Then, they try to push a whole bunch of different high resolution formats, but none of them really stick. No reason to buy movies when you can stream things in quality from just about anywhere online.”

    “Okay,” Alicia nodded. “Okay, whoa. Stream. Resolution. DVD. I feel like I need to be writing these down, now. Should we, uh—do we buy stock in DVD? Or… uh, how would we do that?”

    “I have no idea,” Tabitha made an apologetic face. “I’m sorry. A lot of the really big things come and go so fast—Amazon, Myspace, Vega Lyrae—it’s hard for me to pin them to exact dates. As soon as I’m old enough for some kind of part-time job, I’m just going to set aside everything to invest in Alphaco.”

    “Alphaco, right,” Alicia frowned, furrowing her brow. “I remember you said that. They build the world wide web engine? Or something?”

    The girls hesitated, stepping off of the sidewalk as a Buzz Lightyear sprinted past, chased shortly after by a smaller child wearing a Simba mask from the Lion King.

    “An internet search engine, Google,” Tabitha nodded. “I hope you’ll invest with me—I think it may be our best shot.”

    “Are you kidding?!” Alicia snorted. “Of course I am, you’re like—Tabitha, you’re freakin’ from the future. Probably would’ve gone in with you anyways, even if I didn’t believe you. Just ‘cause we’re friends. Okay?”

    “Thank you,” Tabitha let out a sigh of relief. “You don’t know what it means to have someone—”

    “No, not ‘thank you,’” Alicia scoffed, thwapping her lightly with the lightsaber blade. “You say, ‘yeah, we are friends!’ Alright?”

    “Yeah,” Tabitha smiled. “We are. Thank you.”

    “You realize at some point we’re going to have to tell Elena, though,” Alicia pointed out.

    “I… yes, I’m prepared for that,” Tabitha said slowly. “But I’m not going to say anything until she figures out enough to ask.”

    “That’s fair,” Alicia agreed. “I figured it out first, anyways. Hah! I’ll keep it secret. We do need her in on this eventually though, okay? Definitely before Alphaco.”

    “That’s still years away,” Tabitha said. “I… I haven’t even started saving money. It’s honestly going to be hard to.”

    “Still,” Alicia shrugged. “She’ll think of a whole bunch of other stuff we need to do. Probably. Well, if she can even keep a secret from her Mom. Don’t think we should have too many people know. Right?”

    “Yeah,” Tabitha nodded. “It, um. I just want to say... it means a lot to me, that you believed me. I really couldn’t do this alone.”

    “I didn’t believe you, actually,” Alicia revealed. “Like, no, not even a little bit. Sorry. Don’t think I ever would’ve believed you at all, ‘til you described my artwork in the future.”

    “Wait—really?” Tabitha looked confused. “But, um. You couldn’t have possibly drawn that one here, all the way back in this time…?”

    “I haven’t,” Alicia nodded. “Yet. But, I know I will. That one’s… an important piece, to me. I’ve tried it a couple times— it’s not quite there, yet. Artistically speaking. No one else could’ve ever known about it, though— it’s stashed in with my nudie drawings.”

   “Nudie drawings?” Tabitha asked in surprise.

    “Yeah, nudie drawings!” Alicia grinned. “C’mon, Tabs. You’re supposed to be the super mature one, here.”

    “I’m... not sure I am, anymore,” Tabitha admitted uneasily. “I felt so sure of who I was at first, but lately… I mean, I know some of it’s hormones, and getting hurt, and everything going on, yeah, but—I’m kind of a wreck. Feel like I’ve had an emotional breakdown almost every day, for weeks. I make stupid decisions, I’m always crying, my moods are all over the place, I. I just can’t…”

    “How different is all this from your first time?” Alicia asked.

    “Very. Maybe completely,” Tabitha said. “I was... a very damaged little girl back then, but I rarely ever actually cried. I’m always crying, now. Back then, it was all very, um. Everything was at this distance from me, all of the bad but then all of the good, too. It was… lonely. I hated myself. I wanted things to be different, but I wasn’t able to change. I was… trapped.”

    “Tabitha…” Alicia gave her a long look. “Okay, yeah. You do need to talk about all of this, to someone. Either me, or, I dunno, someone. Not just future stuff— you need to sort all the you out. You know?”

    “Yeah,” Tabitha gave a bitter nod. “I know.”

    “Were you ever in love?” Alicia asked.

    “I… no, I don’t think so,” Tabitha admitted. “Nothing like that.”

    “Are you a virgin?” Alicia asked. “Sorry, but I’ve gotta know. Are you?”

   Am I a virgin? Tabitha tensed up at the unexpected question, but finally nodded.

    “Really? Counting both?”

    “I’m thirteen,” Tabitha said in a small voice.

    “Yeah, but—”

    “I didn’t look like this, last time,” Tabitha said. “Ever. I was—I was around the weight my mother is right now. But even shorter. It was more than that though, I… Alicia, I hated myself. I don’t know if you understand what that’s like, completely. The only way I could even remotely think about... intimate things, was by completely removing and detaching the idea of myself from the concepts. Making it impersonal. Clinical?”

    “Okay, sorry,” Alicia said after a moment of consideration. “What are we going to do about that?”

    “About love?”

    “Love can wait,” Alicia said. “I think. I’m just trying to get some perspective on who you are, what you’re going for, some basic… general idea. What are we going to do about you hating yourself? You don’t still hate yourself, do you?”


    “Tabs, If you don’t give me a strong ‘no,’ I’m going to take it as a ‘mostly yes.’ Alright?”


    “Tabitha—” Alicia stopped and grabbed Tabitha’s shoulder, forcing her to a halt as well. “You hate yourself?”

    “I… I really didn’t get to pick and choose,” Tabitha said defensively.

    “What I brought back with me to this life. I have a thirteen year old mind and body, with... a lot of these extra memories. The memories, they have a lot of issues attached to them. Do they still count? I don’t know. Are the feelings real, now that the timeline’s going differently? I don’t know. What do I do about them? I, I don’t know—I. Fuck, I never knew.

    “I don’t know what to do with all of this inside me. I’m just, kinda… well, I’m here, now. Even when I do better and fix some things—I’ve still got all this baggage that makes less and less—well, it doesn’t really make any sense, anymore. Doesn’t match up. Cognitive dissonance, in all of these… weird ways. I’m just trying to get through this. I wouldn’t have ever chosen to do any of this all over again.”

    “Okay,” Alicia pulled her into a quick hug. “Well, I’m glad you’re getting the chance to. This is good—this is all a good start. Do you feel any better, getting any of that off your chest?”

    “I... don’t know.”

    “You’re gonna get through this, and I’m gonna help,” Alicia squeezed her tight. “We’re gonna help. Elena, too—together we’re gonna work everything out. We’re friends. Where do you think we should go from here? What happens next? Anything happening soon?”

    I don’t—um. No, I guess I do actually know,” Tabitha admitted. “I need to find Ashlee Taylor. Help her, apologize to her. Ask her to forgive me.”

    “Great!” Alicia clapped Tabitha on the back. “I don’t know who that is, but we’re gonna track her down. Alright?”

A note from FortySixtyFour

   Slower-paced chapter, it's not good to have things going at full throttle for too long.

   Click for a top web fiction vote! Haven't linked it in a while but somehow we're still on the list.

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Bio: Avid reader, reluctant writer.

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