Several days had passed since revealing her story to Elena, and Tabitha was getting more antsy by the moment. The teenage girl sighed, brushing her red tangle back from her face with her good hand and tucking her hair behind one ear as she surveyed her boring room within Springton General Hospital’s inpatient ward. The decor was bright and clean but in a forced cheer way, somehow sterile of coziness and comforts to put her mind at ease.

    An oversight on their part, to be sure, Tabitha thought to herself with a wry smile. A big picture of a bunch of corgi puppies on the wall right there would do wonders for my recovery. I’d even settle for a HANG IN THERE, KITTY!

    Her father had brought her a bouquet of chrysanthemums that overflowed from a small vase—reportedly at Grandma Laurie’s behest—that failed to combat the strained optimism of the hospital. Sighing with an impatient smile, Tabitha stretched her legs beneath the blanket again, nearly toppling her Goblina notebook onto the floor. She’d managed to spend some of her ample free time streamlining her ideas, but her heart just wasn’t really in it right now.

    I want to DO things, Tabitha thought once again. Nothing sets your mind on going out and living your life to the fullest quite like an intimate brush with death.

    As her long days of convalescence gave her ample time to mull over her thoughts, Tabitha had come to a number of conclusions about herself. She wasn’t making the most of her do-over— her actions since traveling back in time were too timid, too passive, so focused on avoiding some of the specific things she feared that she entrapped herself in a mindset that was even more dreadful; that she was letting so many opportunities slip through her fingers!

    I don’t mean money, either, Tabitha chuckled and shook her head. After all, as the saying goes— you can’t take it with you.

    Her now suddenly gothic friend Elena’s questions had more or less all revolved around eking out every possible financial gain using her future knowledge, to the point that Tabitha grew exasperated with the girl’s line of thought. As un-American as it apparently was, Tabitha knew she had no desire to become obscenely wealthy. Though she’d grown up in poverty and fantasized in her childhood about such a rags-to-riches turn-around, she’d already experienced an adulthood of modest comfort and had the benefit of some rare gems of hindsight on the matter.

    I want to fill up my life with moments like when us three girls were just giggling in the dark of my cramped little bedroom for that slumber party. The things that are truly priceless in life are friendships and family; loved ones. Money and EXTRAVAGANCE will honestly just complicate those relationships. I won’t allow any of us to be poor enough to suffer hardship because of it, but I also don’t think I want us to be rich.

    The things I want in life right now are as cheap as an ice cream cone, Tabitha thought wistfully. To go around Louisville and see the sights in people, to hold hands with my Mom and Dad on either side like I’m a little kid again. Maybe go swimming somewhere, when it’s warm again. Go camping. Watch movies together in the living room. To do all the FAMILY things we never ever did in my past life. Want to go somewhere scenic with them, watch a sunset maybe, while we have ice cream cones.

    Tabitha really wanted ice cream.

    Money is necessary to an extent, of course—but what I want to focus on is MAKING MEMORIES, Tabitha had decided. Pursuing a fortune just isn’t something I feel called to. I remember a bigger TV screen just made me feel smaller when I watched things. A more spacious, fanciful apartment would just be even emptier space—it’s scary to even think that I’ll probably be able to afford my own house in this lifetime.

    The point her mind kept returning to was the Williams family lakehouse. It was nice in a rather extravagant way and she loved visiting, but she didn’t think she’d ever want to actually live there. It was alien to her, and a place like that would never feel like home. In contrast, Elena had seemed to immediately internalize the experience of seeing the mansion on the lake as a sort of personal goal. Dwelling over their differences in perspective was a fruitless endeavor, however, because her thoughts always returned to the current rift between her and Elena.

    She doesn’t believe me. Of course she wouldn’t—we talked and argued and debated, but honestly how COULD she believe me? It really just is too absurd. It’s probably crazier that Alicia accepts it already.

    Tabitha didn’t regret telling her the truth, though. Getting everything off her chest felt amazing, and wherever their friendship went from here, their interactions wouldn’t be slowly poisoned by the uncomfortable knowledge of everything she was withholding from Elena. Agghh, I just wish that there was some way to—

    “Knock knock, Tabitha!” A cheerful woman’s voice called out. “Are you accepting visitors?”

    “Good morning, Mrs. Williams!” Tabitha’s face lit up.

    “What do you mean?” Mrs. Williams joked. “Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not, Miss Tabitha? Or, is it that you feel good this morning?”

    “You’ve—you’ve read Tolkien,” Tabitha observed in a breathless voice, feeling a little more floored than she should have.

    “Of course I have dear, everyone my age has,” Mrs. Williams tut-tutted, bustling into the room wielding a fruit basket. “Look, I’ve brought you fruit. Doesn’t it just look like something out of a high school art painting? Tacky! The grapes looked delicious though, and I thought, oh, Tabitha’s been cooped up in here with nothing but—”

    “My parents haven’t,” Tabitha confided with a bitter smile. “Read Tolkien, I mean. Dad doesn’t read, and Mom just… doesn’t feel passionate about reading the way I do.”

    “Ugh, I know just what you mean—hubby dearest and even my Matthew are terribly uncultured bores in that regard,” Mrs. Williams griped as she plopped down in the chair beside Tabitha’s bed and began unfastening the plastic of the gift basket. “Football. Basketball, dreadful action movie nonsense on TV, anything Schwarzenegger with shooting and explosions and all that.”

    “What else have you read?” Tabitha sat up with interest.

    “Goodness—promise you won’t make fun?” Mrs. Williams tore away the last of the wrapping and presented the basket to Tabitha.

    “Anne Rice?” Tabitha guessed with a chuckle. “Laurell K. Hamilton?”

    “Tabitha—my word you’re a touch young to be reading those, aren’t you?” Mrs. Williams looked startled for a moment before erupting into boisterous laughter. “You’ve caught this old lady red-handed, I do enjoy my Anita Blake. I gave the Anne Rice stuff a try, but it was just too dry for me. Sometimes she just goes on and on and on!”

    “She does, sometimes,” Tabitha agreed. “Stephen King?”

    “Oh, I have to be in the mood for him,” Mrs. Williams waved a dismissive hand. “The man’s a brilliant writer and I love a good visit, but his books aren’t someplace I want to live, you know?”

    “I loved his book The Talisman,” Tabitha confessed. “It was my favorite book, for a long time.”

    “That was a good one!” Mrs. Williams exclaimed, leaning forward to steal a grape. “Just listen to you— a long time, hah, you’re still so young! Have you read any Anne McCaffrey, or Barbara Hambly?”

    “I’ve read Dragonriders of Pern,” Tabitha nodded. “I haven’t even heard of Hambly— what does she write?”

    “I didn’t care for the dragon rider stuff,” Mrs. Williams admitted. “But, McCaffrey wrote a different series I just adore, the Crystal Singer trilogy. Barbara Hambly writes these fantasy books with Sunwolf and Starhawk—oh, I’ll just have to lend them to you. I don’t want to spoil anything!”

    “Please!” Tabitha nodded eagerly. “I’d love that—I don’t know how long they’ll keep me here.”

    “Well,” Mrs. Williams leaned in and gave Tabitha a conspiratorial look. “We have this unofficial little book club between some of us old hens at the church group. I think you’d just love some of the… now wait a minute, you’re just fourteen years old! We can hardly be pressing John Varley books into your hands and just insisting you read! It’s honestly scandalous to think you’ve read Anita Blake at your age!”

    “I always preferred Meredith Gentry to Anita Blake,” Tabitha chuckled. “And, I’m actually still thirteen. My birthday’s in December.”

    “Meredith Gentry?” Mrs. Williams pursed her lips in thought for a moment. “Are they much like Anita Blake? Who writes them?”

    Ah. Right, Tabitha remembered, sheepishly reigning in some of her wayward enthusiasm. It’s still 1998. Probably can’t mention Neverwhere or American Gods—and I guess Laurell K. Hamilton hasn’t started writing Meredith Gentry yet. I’m too fuzzy on book release dates. At best, I’d only remember when in my life *I* read them, not when they actually came out.

    “I… I don’t remember the author,” Tabitha lied with an apologetic face. “They just seemed, um, similar in writing style to the Anita Blake ones. I think.”

    “I’ll have to look them up!” Mrs. Williams said. “As you can imagine, quite a few of us church ladies just love the Blake books. Don’t you go telling anyone, though!”

    “I won’t,” Tabitha promised with a grin. “Um. Actually… I’ve been trying to talk my parents into joining a church. I want them to be part of a community, to—”

    “We’d love to have you!” Mrs. Williams gushed. “My word, I already go on and on about you to all the women in choir. Are your parents Methodist?”

    “My father was raised Baptist, but I don’t think he’s been to a service since he was little,” Tabitha said. “They both believe, they just… never got into attending services and being part of something bigger. I’d really like them to, though. I think it’d be good for them.”

    “Just listen to you,” Mrs. Williams remarked, rocking back in her seat. “Shouldn’t they be the ones looking out for you? Tabitha, you’re just fourteen years old!”

    “Thirteen,” Tabitha corrected again with a wince. “Thirteen, but… I dream big. Actually, I’ve been working on writing my own novels! This here’s the outline I’ve been putting together, I keep all my thoughts and ideas right here in this binder. I think by next year I should—”

    “Hello in there,” a nurse interrupted, pushing a wheelchair in through the doorway. “Oh, you have company! Looks like things weren’t so bad in the X-rays, but we do still need to get a proper cast back on your wrist for a few months so we can be sure your hand heals correctly. I’m here to bring you over—but, your mother’s welcome to accompany us!”

    “Oh, I’m actually not—” Mrs. Williams began in a fluster.

    “She’s one of my Moms,” Tabitha quickly insisted, shooting Mrs. Williams a smile. “I mean, you don’t have to if you’re busy… but I’d love if you came with.”

    After a short session and some mild discomfort with a doctor gently examining her wrist and hand, Tabitha’s temporary brace was replaced with another cast. The weight of it was almost familiar, it was fragrant in that peculiar way only new casts are, and at her request it was once again blue. The only complaint she had about it was how bare it looked—completely bereft of her friend’s signatures. That would be fixed as soon as she could find someone with a marker and see everyone again.

    “It’s so dreadful thinking what happened!” Mrs. Williams sighed. “That awful girl. What she did to you. How close we all were to losing you!”

    The heavyset woman had waved away the nurse who’d intended to wheel Tabitha back to her room, insisting she take Tabitha herself. She seemed to have been touched by Tabitha’s willingness to consider her one of her Moms, and determined to play her part in the role to the fullest at the first opportunity.

    “I’m just sorry I ruined your party,” Tabitha said. “It really was a great—”

    “Oh, don’t you ever say that!” Mrs. Williams fussed. “You were an absolute doll, you didn’t ruin anything. I can’t believe we didn’t get a polaroid of you in your Ariel costume—you looked so pretty!”

    “You know what I mean,” Tabitha smiled. “I’m sorry that things happened like that and ruined it for everyone.”

    “I think we really need to talk about your priorities,” Mrs. Williams retorted. “Didn’t you just tell me you have a December birthday? It seems to me like we should be planning a big party for you!”

    “That…” Tabitha’s reflexive refusal stuck in her throat. “Might be what I’ve always wanted more than anything in the world.”

    “Really?” Mrs. William’s voice rose in excitement. “Well, hm hm hmm. Don’t you worry your pretty little head about that, Missy. You let Mama Williams take care of everything.”

    “You really don’t have to,” Tabitha laughed. “God only knows what would go wrong this time. Some new crazy person’ll climb out of the woodworks to make a big mess of it.”

    “We’ll pack the whole place full of angry cops,” Mrs. Williams insisted. “Wall to wall. I’ll make sure they’re all armed to the teeth and on the lookout to shoot up anything that so much as looks at you funny.”

    “Goodness,” Tabitha remarked, shaking her head. “It’ll sure be a loud party, then.”

    “You know, we really weren’t kidding back then,” Mrs. Williams said. “They want to have a big ceremony and give you some kind of award—they were really only waiting on our good friend Mr. Macintire to be up and on his feet again for it! Do you want to roll on by and see if he’s awake? I remember I took you all the way out to that Louisville hospital to visit him, and he didn’t even have the good decency to be conscious so you two could talk!”

    “Not exactly his fault,” Tabitha replied with a wry smile. “I’d love to actually meet him, though. Mrs. Macintire and Hannah come in almost every day to see me.”

    “I still haven’t figured out how to break it to the Macintires that Hannah’s too good for them and that I’ll have to just keep her all to myself,” Mrs. Williams laughed as she slowly guided Tabitha’s chair down the hospital hallway. “Did you know the other day Hannah said she prefers Mama Williams cooking over her mother’s? That’s how you always win them over, you know.”

    “I’m just fortunate that my parents have tolerated my cooking,” Tabitha laughed. “Trying to get them to eat healthy is like pulling teeth, sometimes.”

    “Aw, that’s so sweet!” Mrs. Williams patted her shoulder. “You even cook for your family?”

    “Well… not lately, no,” Tabitha sighed. “With everything happening. I really hope they’ve been eating okay.”

    “Just listen to you,” Mrs. Williams said, sounding exasperated again. “You’re going to be a great Mom someday, I can tell.”

    “Me, a Mom?” Tabitha retorted. “Yeah, right. As if.”

    “Well, I’ve never been wrong about anything before,” Mrs. Williams joked. “Ask my husband! But, who knows? I’m sure there’s a first time for everything. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be wrong someday—that’ll be something.”

    “I bet.” Tabitha wore an amused smile as she let the woman whisk her down the corridor towards the ward where Officer Macintire was staying.

    “Knock knock knock!” Mrs. Williams called into the room before entering. “I brought you a visitor, you ungrateful dirtbag— make yourself decent so I can wheel her in!”

    “Yeah, right—just let me shower and shave real quick,” a male voice called back. “You know how it is getting halfway presentable around here.”

    They were apparently joking, because Mrs. Williams abruptly pushed Tabitha’s wheelchair into the room. It was almost identical to the layout of Tabitha’s own hospital room, although she noted that Officer Macintire still had one of those tall rolling stands from which an IV bag hung just beside his bed. The man himself wasn’t like Tabitha remembered from that fateful day over a month ago, nor did he resemble the clean-cut photograph they’d put up on the news channel so often.

    He sported a beard now, which made him look older, and the ordeal he’d been through seemed to have added additional age lines along his face. Officer Macintire was still handsome, though, he still had the rugged if slightly drooping good looks one expected to see from an actor, and Tabitha could see why he’d made such a presentable posterboy for the media to flaunt in the weeks following the shooting.

    “This is Tabitha Moore,” Mrs. Williams presented the wheelchair forward a little too proudly. “Tabby honey—meet Darren Macintire.”

    “Hi,” Tabitha said with an embarrassed wave.

    “Oh, wow, hi,” Officer Macintire seemed startled but pleased to see her. “It’s great to finally meet you— it’s an honor. The girls tell me about you every day, and I can’t thank you enough for what you did for me back then.”

    “It— it was nothing,” Tabitha said. “Really. Anyone would have—”

    “Oh shush, you,” Mrs. Williams scolded her. “You’re a hero, and we’re getting you a medal, and that’s final.”

    “I’d just gotten transferred here to Springton General when we got word here what happened to you at that party,” Officer Macintire said. “Everyone was completely heartbroken when we thought you weren’t going to make it. I’m really, honestly glad you pulled through. Look at you, they’re already letting you roam around! I keep telling them I’m fine, but no one will let me out of bed. I’m ready to face the galloping hordes, fight a thousand bad guys with swords!”

    “That sounds suspiciously like yet another Disney song,” Mrs. Williams remarked.

    “It’s all I know anymore! They have me trapped in here, at Hannah’s mercy, all day every day,” Officer Macintire chuckled. “You’ve gotta get me out of here!”

    “As you can see Tabitha, he’s doing just fine,” Mrs. Williams rolled her eyes.

    “It is really nice to finally meet you,” Tabitha said politely. “I’m glad you’re feeling better. Hannah has been just amazing, she visits me all the time.”

    “She thinks the world of you,” Officer Macintire gave her a handsome smile. “I do, too. We all do. What you did was amazing.”

    “It, it really wasn’t,” Tabitha denied in a fluster. “I just helped a tiny bit, the paramedics did all the actual—”

    “No, she’s in fact the most incredible young woman I’ve ever met,” Mrs. Williams interrupted again.

    “I can tell!” Officer Macintire nodded with a slight grin. “Actually, Karen here tells me you might just have an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme at your place that might need a bit of work. I love cars. I’d be more than happy to spend some time working on it while the force has me off-duty. Honestly, you’d be doing me a favor—I’m already going nuts cooped up all the time with nothing to do.”

    “I… appreciate the thought,” Tabitha smiled. “But, I think that Uncle Danny’s old car is headed straight to the junkyard. I really wouldn’t want to trouble you with something that just can’t be fixed.”

    “Can’t hurt to take a look,” Officer Macintire seemed undaunted. “I don’t mean to brag, and Karen’ll vouch for how gosh-darned humble I am—”

    “Uh-huh,” Mrs. Williams snorted.

    “—but, I do have a way with machines,” Officer Macintire finished. “Back when I was in my teens, I was big into rebuilding classic cars. Whenever a friend of ours needs something looked at, they always take it to me first.”

    “I heard it was something with the battery,” Mrs. Williams spoke up. “But they swapped it out for another one, and it still wasn’t working right?”

    “Could be an issue with the alternator, then,” Officer Macintire surmised. “Easy way to tell— disconnect the positive terminal and see if the engine quits.”

    “It’s a problem with the alternator,” Tabitha nodded, taking a deep breath, “...and a small leak in the fuel line. It needs new tires, the brakes need replaced. The controller for the idle air intake and the entire electronic control module itself are both shot. Even if we could find junkyard replacement PROM chips for a ten-year-old control module computer, they’d need to be reprogrammed. As far as I’m aware, only General Motors can do that—and they wouldn’t do it for cheap. Considering all the costs involved in getting it running again, it’s really just not worth the effort.”

    Darren Macintire blinked, seeming to reevaluate his first impression of Tabitha, and then turned to throw Mrs. Williams a look with an arched eyebrow.

    “That’s—well—” Mrs. Williams looked speechless. “Your parents didn’t say anything about any of that!”

    “I know,” Tabitha winced. “I, um. Secretly had a… neighbor look into what it would take to get it running again. I really don’t want the car rusting in our yard forever. It makes us look like trailer trash.”

    “You are not trailer trash,” Mrs. Williams insisted.

    “Trying really hard not to be,” Tabitha said with a weak smile. “Dad felt obligated to buy the Oldsmobile to help out our Aunt Lisa, because Uncle Danny’s headed to jail. But, as soon as she had the money... she walked out on her four kids and just disappeared. It’s… yeah, no matter how you look at it, it’s all a pretty trashy story.”

    “She what?” Mrs. Williams exclaimed, looking personally affronted. “Surely there’s some way of contacting her?”

    “None that she’s answered,” Tabitha said with an uneasy shrug. “We mostly don’t talk about it. It’s a sore subject for Dad, and I don’t ever want to make Grandma Laurie upset. She’s the one who’s taking care of those four cousins right now.”

    “That’s terrible!” Mrs. Williams shot Officer Macintire a glare. “There has to be some way for authorities to track her down right away.”

    “No,” Tabitha shook her head. “Please don’t. I, um, I know it sounds cruel of me to say, but. Aunt Lisa wasn’t a good mother, and I hope we never find her. Anyone who’ll abandon their children isn’t someone I can trust with them, and the boys deserve better than her.”

    “Well—she can still be held accountable,” Mrs. Williams fumed, unwilling to let it go. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Let’s not talk about this now, I didn’t mean to bring everything down today with all of this. I’ll speak to your parents about it later.”

    “I really do want to take a look under the hood of that Cutlass Supreme now,” Officer Macintire tactfully changed the subject. “I’ve never run into a problem I couldn’t fix, and hey, you never know—maybe whoever checked it out before was exaggerating the damage.”

    “Maybe?” Tabitha nodded, trying not to sound too doubtful.

    “I’m really in your debt, Miss Tabitha,” Officer Macintire said with a determined smile. “There’s gotta be some way I can start to pay you back a little. Heck, between us cops and Karen here, you wouldn’t believe the kind of pull we have around town.”

    “Look at you being humble again!” Mrs. Williams huffed, putting her hands on her hips. “I really don’t know how Sandy puts up with your ego.”

    “There... is something important you can do for me,” Tabitha said after a moment of thought. “I want you to be the best Dad ever for Hannah. She almost lost you forever, an-and it terrifies me imagining what that would have done to her. How things would have been without you for her and Mrs. Macintire. For the Williams family, for all of the people who care about you.”

    Officer Macintire shared another meaningful look with Mrs. Williams for a moment before turning back towards Tabitha to regard her with a solemn look for several moments.

    “I can absolutely promise you that,” he finally said.

    After exchanging some parting pleasantries with the recovering cop, Mrs. Williams took Tabitha on a bit of a stroll— or at least, a roll—aimlessly meandering through the building. Anything to get the poor thing out and about and away from the cloying cabin fever of her room for a bit! The redheaded teen seemed to enjoy seeing even the lackluster sights around Springton General Hospital, but Mrs. Williams wasn’t content to allow them to lapse into contemplative silence—she still had a mission to perform.

    “Since you’ve read Anita Blake I should probably assume… but oh, I’ve just got to ask anyways,” Karen Williams let out an easygoing laugh. “You’re thirteen years old—has your mother had… the talk with you? About the little birds and the little bees?”

    Steering the conversation in that direction felt dishonest, because Karen knew Mrs. Moore had not sat down for that particular discussion with Tabitha. The flustered Mrs. Moore had in fact asked Karen to make this discreet enquiry on her behalf! Extraordinary change was on the horizon for the Moore family, and there was apparently some awkward distance between parents and daughter that needed to be very carefully addressed before the big topic would be broached.

    “She has not,” Tabitha replied in good humor, tilting her head back to give the woman behind her an amused grin. “I believe I have a firm idea of the um, the mechanics of it, but I don’t have any personal understanding of that, and don’t intend to for some time.”

    “Okay, phew,” Mrs. Williams pantomimed wiping sweat off her brow in relief. “I’m so sorry, dear—it really is just such a dreadful thing to come out and ask a young woman!”

    “It is,” Tabitha agreed with a chuckle. “And, it is dreadful. I’ve really been... struggling to wrap my mind around a lot of those ideas, lately.”

    “Oh?” Mrs. Williams prompted, lighting up with interest.

    “I think… I’d given up on all of that,” Tabitha mused. “For a long time. I honestly didn’t see personal intimacy in my future at all. Ever. Then, I worked out so hard and fixed my diet and transformed for high school, and… well, I don’t know what I expected. My body’s attractive now, apparently, but I feel like I already missed out on getting the user manual for how to deal with that, or… I don’t know. Maybe I changed too fast, and I just can’t keep up?”

    “There’s this…” Tabitha trailed off as she struggled to find the words to express herself. “Gap, I guess, in my formative… um. It’s like, expressing interest in boys, and what to do with their interest in me—it’s, it’s like I don’t even know what to do with it.”

    “In my first month at school, I’d get compliments from guys, and—” Tabitha cupped her hands out in front of her as if she’d been handed something unexpected, “—I don’t know what to do with compliments.”

    The teen shifted in the wheelchair uncomfortably.

    “It feels like... an inbox piling up in a department where no one’s been manning the desk,” Tabitha said. “I know it’s not good to just leave it unattended until it becomes a problem, but... I’m leery of picking up the slack over there. Because I’m not trained for that position, and good lord what if I start getting expected to actually do that job in addition to everything else I’m trying to figure out, here? That... probably doesn’t make any sense, does it?”

    “No, no,” Mrs. Williams quickly patted the girl’s shoulder. “Honestly Miss Tabitha, you make a lot more sense than you should! At thirteen years old, how are you relating your feelings to the workplace, of all things? What are they putting on television for you kids these days?!”

    “Yeah,” Tabitha blew out a weary sigh that seemed uncharacteristic of a girl her age. “Television…”

    “So, you have trouble accepting compliments,” Mrs. Moore said. “That’s not so unusual. Do you feel like you don’t deserve the compliments they give you, or are you just uncomfortable with boys being interested, right now?”

    “I—I don’t know,” Tabitha admitted. “Both, maybe. I may never manage to get over… this bizarre age dynamic that doesn’t make any sense and probably never will. Also, psychologically speaking, I think I have this… severe case of imposter syndrome in regards to who I am and who I present myself to be. It may even be totally warranted, I… I don’t know anymore. I don’t belong with my peers, in a lot of ways, and improving my body image may have exacerbated the problem rather than helped it, I think.”

    “Aw, Tabitha…” Mrs. Williams fretted, momentarily at a loss.

    Conventional platitudes and reassurances weren’t going to cut it here, and Mrs. Williams felt herself taken aback all over again. This girl’s mind always surprised her, but now Mrs. Williams could see that Tabitha’s intellectual development had so far outstripped her emotional growth that the poor thing was completely floundering on the delicate matters of adolescence.

    “Sorry, I—sorry,” Tabitha apologized. “Weird thing to bring up, I’ve just been—”

    “You stop that,” Mrs. Williams chided, patting the girl’s shoulder again. “You’re fine, don’t you ever apologize for needing to talk.”

    “I… I think I really have needed to talk,” Tabitha revealed in a quiet voice. “I really didn’t mean to bring up the whole trailer trash subject or the drama with Aunt Lisa before and make things weird there, either. I just… I feel like almost dying changed things for me. Just the other day I kind of poured my soul out to Elena, and now I’m worried I might have freaked her out a little. Or more than a little. I’ve spent too much time cooped up in here with my thoughts. Unable to do anything about anything, and now there’s just, there’s just so many things to get off my chest. About everything.”

    Mrs. Williams paused, guiding the wheelchair to a stop and stepping around in front of it to face Tabitha. Without hesitation, she kneeled down beside the surprised girl so that she could envelop her in a crushing hug.

    “Get it all off your chest then, honey,” Mrs. Williams said softly. “Whenever you need to— about anything. I’m sure your friend Elena understands, and I’ll be here anytime you ever need to vent. I can understand how it could be tough to talk about some of these things with your parents! Well, I can tell you; your family’s not trailer trash, you’re not trailer trash, and I don’t think you’re any kind of imposter, either!”

    “Thank you,” Tabitha squeaked out. “Mrs. Williams, I—”

    “You call me Mom or Momma Williams like Hannah does from now on, okay?” Mrs. Williams huffed. “You’re really in luck, because talking about things just so happens to be my favorite thing in the world! About getting that old clunker in your yard fixed up, about introducing you to the church group, about boys. I have stories that even make my husband blush!”

    “We can talk about your family troubles, or about that story you’re writing, about faith, I’ll talk your ear off on any subject, and I might even listen to you, too! I mean, my word—I can’t wait to skedaddle over real quick to pick up some of those novels for you to read! You don’t know how thrilled I’ll be to have someone new to talk about them with! All Sandy ever reads are those dull old The Cat Who... books!”

    You’re an amazing young woman, Miss Tabitha, Mrs. Williams sighed to herself as she gave Tabitha one last big squeeze. I don’t know why your mother’s fussing so much about how you’ll react to the news—this really might be just what you needed. You’re going to make a GREAT big sister when that little one arrives!

A note from FortySixtyFour

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   Bracing for reader outrage this time. Not only do I continue the lull in story before the next rising action, I clarify that Tabitha isn't particularly obsessed with using her advance knowledge for financial gain! Nani the what?! Many readers who've made it this far into the story without dropping may have already sensed that this was the case.

   RE: Trailer Trash is in a lot of ways a subversion of the do-over fic genre⁠—but that may not be immediately apparent here on Royal Road, where the LitRPG is king. Do-over fics are more a staple of sites with an older average readerbase (40yo - 60yo) such as StoriesOnline. Common tropes include the flat or gamemode+ protagonist (when their character arc has already concluded prior to where the story begins), easily attaining enormous wealth using their advance knowledge and near photographic memory, wowing everyone with their innovative new tech company, political regime, or private version of NASA, and including sixteen metric tons of sex throughout their chapters because male protags are gonna male protag.

   All of those make for great wish-fulfillment power fantasy, but aren't quite the guilty pleasure I've been gunning for with RE: Trailer Trash. This is a different sort of second chance fic⁠—more about challenging past assumptions, late-blooming personal self-discovery, connecting with others, and redefining oneself. Tabitha wasn't miserable in her first life because she was poor, and those arguing that money could solve most or all her problems are missing the major points of this fic. Alright, author rant over⁠—time will tell how this winds up tanking my rating, I guess.

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Bio: Avid reader, reluctant writer.

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