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This place doesn’t have to be trashy, Tabitha thought as she knelt on the edge of the street, picking pieces of garbage out of the weeds and tucking them into the plastic bag by her knees.

Wearing a pair of jeans over her flannel pajamas and bundled up again in her father’s oversized sweatshirt, Tabitha’s efforts began just outside the steps of her trailer in their sparse yard, where she filled a little grocery bag up with weeds as she painstakingly tugged them up one by one. It hadn’t been easy—each stubborn thing had to be pried from the cold, hard ground and often simply trying to pull them up with her fingers rewarded her with only a fistful of ripped out plant matter, while the actual root of the weed remained firmly planted and unyielding. Tabitha didn’t have a spade yet, but she did discover a forgotten and somewhat rusty flathead screwdriver in the shed when she was pulling out bricks to examine. Stabbing and scraping into the frigid November soil saw many of the weeds destroyed, and the ones that weren’t were certain to have a terrible winter.

Nothing was really growing this late in the year, but Mr. Moore had been remiss in keeping up with the yardwork throughout fall and then apparently content to leave things be through the winter. The sentiment was reflected throughout the entire neighborhood of the lower park, which made it difficult to fault her father for it. Any casual glance at the lots just on either side of them or across the street showed the same trifecta of scraggly undergrowth, littered garbage and random ugly bald patches of bare earth that stood out. The Moores didn’t have a bad yard, in her opinion—it was simply neglected. Neglect characterized the state of the entire trailer park, and to an extent the people who made their homes here. The relationship between a person’s state of mind and their immediate environment was interlinked in a lot of ways. Cleaning out the inside of their trailer those months ago had done wonders for her.

I don’t have to be trailer trash! This can just be a… you know, a community of manufactured homes. It doesn’t HAVE to be trashy. I don’t know how things even got this bad around here, but like with me… with just a little bit of work, things can be better.

Tabitha gritted her teeth as she fished out a piece of trash—a soiled bit of cloth from something or other—and gingerly dropped it into her bag. She wasn’t sure if it had been someone’s discarded shirt left out by the side of the road for who knows how long or what, and in truth didn’t find herself keen on investigating further.

I don’t think I can clean up the entire park, though, Tabitha couldn’t help but grimace at the prospect. Probably? Or, maybe I can, just yard by yard? Yep, that’s me, community service volunteer groundskeeping and maintenance for Sunset Estates! I’m gonna go stir-crazy cooped up inside and I want to DO something—it might as well be something productive. Right?

Unfortunately, as she’d expected in recovering from an operation Tabitha found her energy quickly flagged. She had the drive and she had the motivation to do things, but there just wasn’t enough in her tank right now; she was coasting on fumes. Before she’d even finished weeding around to the other side of the trailer, she found herself feeling listless and more often than not simply crouched in the cold, staring across their small and somewhat ugly plot of grass.

Ughhh, or maybe not, I guess? Tabitha wanted to take it upon herself to make a difference, but her enthusiasm was at a deadlock with her exhaustion. With a long, slow sigh that became visible vapor in the air before her, she resumed her thankless task, this time moving slowly and with more deliberation to each of her movements.

For the next half hour she hunkered down at the edge of their side of the little road in front of each of her neighbor’s mobile homes, slowly filling up a second little shopping bag with trash. Tabitha’s broken hand remained tucked into the front pocket of her father’s sweatshirt, but her free glove found cigarette butts—so many cigarette butts—along with unidentifiable scraps of mushy paper that may have once been fast food cardboard of some kind. A few smelly discarded beer cans had been crumpled and forgotten, and twisted bits of wire that looked to have been the frame of one of those campaign signs people plant in front of their house—the sign itself was long gone.

Creeping along the length of yards beside the street she retrieved pebble-sized chunks of broken glass, pages of junk mail advertisements that had been left out in the weather, and dozens of tiny bits of blue plastic she couldn’t quite place. Until she discovered a blue action figure leg, the rest of the toy having been apparently abandoned to be run over by cars, smashed and forgotten.

There were small pieces of metal. Splintered chunks of wood that must have broken off of someone’s porch steps, with a scrap of outdoor carpeting still tacked to them. A mashed and rotting styrofoam takeout container, leaking bright orange fluid she hypothesized might have been hot sauce from someone’s order of wings. A broken disposable medical syringe that Tabitha refused to touch, instead gingerly scraping it into the mouth of her collection bag with one of the moldering pieces of discarded mail. Another beer can. Two more beer cans. More cigarette butts, so many cigarette butts, the soggy stubs of mushy paper were so ever-present throughout the wild crabgrass that one could be led to believe the things grew from the unwelcome vegetation.

Progress was slow, but less because the task was difficult, and more simply because Tabitha was taking her time and pacing herself in a methodical manner. Cleaning up the area wasn’t fun or pleasant, but it was rewarding in a certain sense—she felt like she was accomplishing something. She’d craved that in her time spent recovering in the hospital ward, and finally she could do something and feel productive again.

There was something inherently satisfying in the weight of the plastic bag as she crept her way along and filled it with plant matter, garbage, and the miscellaneous trailer park curiosities that painted low income Americana in colorful strokes. The weight of her bag represented her determination, and glancing back across the stretch of street to compare their little yard against the neighbors, it did look a lot better.

Not by much, but you CAN tell if you’re looking, Tabitha decided with a faint smile. Every little bit helps! Every little bit contributes. In some small way.

When her ears were stinging from the cold, Tabitha finally—carefully—stood back up, stretching her back and releasing a huff of contentment, her breath still visible in the air. She hadn’t finished the area—not quite—but a good deal of the lots on their side of the street were tidied up, and her second bag was almost full to the brim. She’d balked before at being told she was only allowed to take baths instead of showers, but now after even just some forty or so minutes here out in the chill, taking a nice warm soak right now sounded positively decadent.

Tabitha trudged the short distance back home, weary and feeling hollow but at the very least not discouraged. She’d made visible progress at something, and now when she rested for the rest of the day it would feel earned. I think that’s what I really needed.

“Momma?” Tabitha called out immediately upon returning to the heat inside the trailer. “I’m gonna take a bath in a bit to warm up—would you take a quick little look with me outside, first? I did a bit of weeding and tidying up. I want to show you.”

“Is that what you were up to out here?!” Mrs. Moore asked. “Peeked out to check on you earlier and couldn’t figure out what on God’s green earth you were up to. Tabitha, you can’t clean up the entire neighborhood.”

“If I don’t, then who will?” Tabitha chuckled.

“Tabitha…” her mother warned. “I know you mean well, but what if our neighbors don’t appreciate you poking around their private property?”

“I’m sure some of them won’t,” Tabitha said with a wry smile, before dropping her voice down into a low, gravelly range. “This is MY pile of garbage, asshole. Back off!”

“You watch your mouth,” Mrs. Moore said, but she was rolling her eyes and wore an exasperated smile.

They had resumed practice sessions where Tabitha attempted to act, and although she didn’t have much natural talent for expressing mannerisms or controlling her facial expressions, Tabitha did have a knack for creating natural-seeming personas and staying in character.

She was cheating, somewhat, in that she had sixty years of experience to draw from and therefore quite a range of memorable personalities from future films, shows, podcasts, and even memes to draw from. For the most part Tabitha would either attempt to portray an impersonation or spin her own little distinctive character up on the fly, and her mother would critique her performance and teach her specific ways to improve.

I just need to be careful to never ever do it around Alicia, because she’ll probably be able to catch me quoting something familiar, Tabitha thought. Or, wait—maybe that’s even more of a reason to do it?

“Tabitha—I know you’ve been bored these past few days, but I’d much rather you were here inside writing your book thingamajig while you recover. You’re liable to catch a cold out there!”

“It’s just in our little area,” Tabitha said with a faint smile. “I didn’t go far, and I paced myself and stopped as soon as I felt like it was time to stop. I really just… want everything to be a little nicer. And, I have the time. I have nothing but time, right now.”

With some motherly consternation that Tabitha found surprisingly pleasant in comparison to their bitter quarreling earlier in the year, Mrs. Moore fussed over her daughter’s winter attire for a few moments before consenting to allow Tabitha back outside. The woman’s efforts still seemed silly to Tabitha after having been out there and left to her own devices for so long, but it was honestly a good kind of silly.

In the early morning today, she’d begged for permission to spend some time out getting fresh air without being under strict supervision. Only her exemplary behavior in the days following her return home had given cause for her mother to finally relent. Tabitha had been forced to promise not to push herself too hard or do anything outrageous like stroll around on her normal exercise loop around the neighborhood. In hindsight, Tabitha thought she could have probably snuck away to enjoy a long peaceful walk instead of how she’d spent her morning. Weeding was probably even more strenuous!

But—I didn’t go on a light jog, or even a power walk for some exercise, Tabitha mused to herself as Mrs. Moore finally found a scarf for her to wear. Before, I would have. With the way things were between Mom and me.

“Tabitha Anne Moore, just you look at this—your cheeks are completely red, you’re practically frozen!”

“That’s just the honey glow in my cheeks!” Tabitha grinned.

“Oh, you think you’re so funny,” Mrs. Moore tightened the scarf around her daughter with a good-natured grumble. “You’re a real comedian.”

I wasn’t REBELLIOUS or striking out against her authority or anything—just, I didn’t care to obey. Her words didn’t use to mean anything, we didn’t have this, this... trust. Now, it’s like just because I know she cares, it MEANS something. It meant I wouldn’t just go on my exercise loop anyways, even if I really, really want to be getting back into things.

Shannon Moore donned a shabby old winter blazer herself and then made sure to hold Tabitha’s hand as they opened the door and went down the steps. Being bundled up at this point seemed like a quintessential too little, too late gesture, but it was a gesture all the same and Tabitha was rapidly discovering that ever since the evening of trick-or-treating—or maybe even a little before that—she absolutely loved any indication of appreciation or heartfelt care her parents had in them to express. It felt childish and embarrassing to have gone from her fierce push for stoic independence back in May to now desperately craving any attention her parents had to spare, but Tabitha couldn’t help it.

This is just the way my feelings are, now, Tabitha told herself as she eagerly guided her mother to the middle of the street so that she could see all that she’d gotten done. It’s not mental regression, it’s… emotional growth. Right? Whatever, I’m thirteen for now—I’m allowed to act like it!

“Well, it does look very nice,” Mrs. Moore sighed as she surveyed the now slightly cleaner trailer park and clucked her tongue. “And, I’m proud of you. But, I didn’t think you’d be getting up to all this out here for so long—it’s always something with you—and I don’t want you out here toiling away in the cold, or thinking any of this is your responsibility. Your only responsibility is getting your rest and recovering.”

“Kneeling down and picking things up isn’t exactly toiling,” Tabitha smiled. “I think it’s just about all I can do with how woozy I feel still.”

“Tabitha—if you’re feeling woozy, then we’re getting you inside and right into the tub!” Mrs. Moore frowned. “Look at you, you’re practically turning blue!”

“Mom. It’s forty-three degrees,” Tabitha rolled her eyes like the teenage girl she currently was. It was even more fun than she expected. “In Canada, they still wear shorts and tee shirts in this kind of weather.”

“Well, this isn’t Canada, it’s America!” Mrs. Moore fumed, giving Tabitha a gentle swat. “You get your butt right back inside this instant!”

“Yes, Momma.”


Her long soak in the bath was every bit as decadent as she imagined, and Tabitha nearly dozed off as she reclined back in the tub. The warmth of the water stung at first, but after a few minutes the heat permeated through her skin and seemed to soften up the chill from her muscles until she was positively basking in the steaming bathwater. Adding a folded water-soaked towel to help cushion her back against the less forgiving angle of their mobile home tub helped her relax, and she kept her left hand up resting on the lip of the basin, the plastic bag from a delivered newspaper affixed over her cast with a rubber band.

In the entirety of her past life, Tabitha had only taken a handful of actual baths, instead preferring the expediency of standing up for a shower to wash her hair and scrub herself. As someone who’d been ashamed and disgusted of her own body for most of her life, she’d always tried to see as little of it as possible. That had changed in a big way with her dramatic weight loss here, and Tabitha enjoyed seeing herself naked more than she wanted to admit.

Never quite got to getting a COMPLETELY trim stomach with visible abs, or anything, Tabitha thought as she inspected her tummy. But, I was definitely getting there. Before the big setback. My arms are still looking great, my legs look pretty amazing. I never really appreciated toned and athletic legs, until I got myself a pair. I’ve already tried shaving them a few times, it’s not so bad. Just kind of tedious. Maybe this Spring I’ll start experimenting with showing them off a bit? Shorts, maybe. I’m not ready for skirts, no way.

Her boobs? They were still there. Existing. She didn’t know what to do with them.

Sometimes she would stare at them in the mirror—they were a curiosity, and Tabitha was never completely sure how she felt about them, or how they looked. Sometimes, their shape looked surprisingly nice, sometimes they just seemed completely foreign and weird, and there were also many times she just wished she simply didn’t have them or have to deal with fitting them into bras. They were probably around the same size as they had been in her first life, maybe even a little smaller, but with the majority of her body fat sloughed off of her frame to drastically change her figure, these oddities now seemed proportionately much, much larger than she was used to.

For as much as I hated being the invisible fat girl last time through, going to high school this time, as a slender teenage girl—one with BREASTS? Absolutely mortifying, at times. Too many times. Whew boy, was I not ready for that. At all. Freshman boys weren’t careful about where their eyes went, and that level of even accidental, um. SCRUTINY. Wasn’t something I was prepared for. Honestly I’d always thought the ‘hey, my eyes are up here’ thing was a joke, or a flex, or something. IT’S NOT.

I wouldn’t mind being thought of as attractive! The PRETTY girl. That’d be kinda nice. Or, so I thought. Actually getting THAT level of attention right off the bat from the first day wasn’t something I knew how to deal with, at all. That definitely impacted my initial plans to socialize and be normal... and instead had me hiding away in the library for that first few weeks. Maybe something I should talk about with Elena?

To date she’d had little conversation about her breasts in this life, so far really only with Grandma Laurie when they were trying out different dresses to turn into blouses for her. Well, even calling them conversations might be a stretch, as they’d consisted entirely of an embarrassed Tabitha just shaking her head and looking completely mortified each time a too-revealing design was offered. Much to her grandmother’s amusement.

Tabitha wore a wistful smile at the memory, idly plunking a fingertip down across the surface of the water in repetition just to hear the noise it made. There were so many strange moments like that that she was growing to appreciate more and more. After she was all grown up those situations just didn’t really happen. She’d been worrying for the past few weeks over mental regression, or even brain damage, and whether or not her mind was actually reverting back to that of a pubescent teenage girl, but if she really was—so what? The added perspective of a lonely and miserable adult life seemed to only serve to make all the experiences of growing up this time more and more intoxicating to her. These happy times with everyone probably weren’t going to last forever, and she needed to make the most of them.

After relaxing in the bath until her fingertips were pruny and the water became only lukewarm, Tabitha finally decided it was time to get out. She toweled herself off, then brushed her hair with care—leaning in towards the mirror to examine the stitches along the side of her head as she did so. A little time was spent checking herself out naked in the mirror, turning this way and that. In her own admittedly biased opinion, she simultaneously looked lovely and gross. Her features were pleasing, and her body had a form that was pretty nice to look at, but what had previously just been pale was now a ghastly white. She could see her veins in too many places, there were all sorts of bruises and weird marks, and parting her hair in the different way to make sure it covered the shaved part of her head made her look a little weird.

But, still. Mom’s right—a lot of beauty isn’t really in any of those things, Tabitha tried to turn her hesitant smile into a beaming one in the mirror. So far, it was still awkward.

It’s in the eyes, it’s in the way I need to carry myself. My body language and my posture and the amount of attention I put into my expressions. I’d heard of having ‘resting bitch-face,’ but what I’ve had until now was honestly ‘resting BLANK-FACE.’ Now Mom has me learning to let myself emote more, and that sort of confidence won’t come naturally, not at first. You have to grow into that. I’m growing into it for the first time, and she’s learning how to come back to it. And we’re doing it together, which is even more important.

Tabitha stepped out of the bathroom and padded down the short trailer hallway into her room. She dressed in new pajamas, climbed into bed where she could protect that glow of warmth from her bath under winter blankets, and hugged her pillow against herself so that she was completely cozy.

She’d earned this nap.


“Honey… I have something important I want to talk about with you,” Mrs. Moore said with a nervous expression, letting her spoon clink against the porcelain of her teacup.

“I have something important, too!” Tabitha revealed, easing her own teacup and saucer back so that she could slide her notebook in from where it had been off to the side.

It was now late evening, and the mother and daughter were finishing off the remaining ice cream together at the dining room table. At Tabitha’s insistence, they only enjoyed dessert from these tiny teacups normally buried in the back of a box in the closet, both because it kept their portion size down to very small increments, and because Grandma Laurie’s old tea set was dainty and cute.

“Well, in that case—you go on,” her mother insisted. “You go first.”

“Okay,” Tabitha tried not to give her mother a wary look. “I think I’ve more or less finalized what I want my story to be, and—I want you to read it. My goblin story that I’ve been working on all this time.”

She pushed the notebook across the table towards her mother.

“Are you sure?” Mrs. Moore accepted the binder and then hefted it up gingerly in her hands. “I know when you got this back from that woman from the school board, you mentioned that this was very… personal.”

“It is,” Tabitha nodded. “I’ve been wanting to share it with you because of that. For months. Just, it never all quite felt ready until now. I’m really dying to know what you think of it—in how it pertains to me and my life, and just as a story on its own. Right now, this is like how your blue album is for you, but for me.”

“Thank you,” Mrs. Moore said. “I have been very... curious.”

“Just, please promise me you’ll let me know what you think,” Tabitha pleaded. “Like, don’t even wait until you’re through the whole thing, give me all the feedback you have, whenever it pops into your mind. About any of it. Anything.”

“Okay, okay,” Mrs. Moore chuckled. “I will.”

“Okay,” Tabitha let out a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding in. “Thank you. Now, it’s your turn—what did you want to say?”

“Tabitha, I’ve… I’ve been meaning to have a big talk with you,” Mrs. Moore said after a long moment of hesitation. The plump woman fidgeted, taking the stem of her spoon pointing up out of her teacup and fiddling with it.

“Now that you’re home, and things are… getting back to normal. Somewhat. For our family. We’d been waiting to tell you some big news, and… and your father’s been a big baby about it, since he doesn’t know how to talk to you about this, and I don’t either so I’m just going to come out and say it. Because I want you to know.”

“Okay...” Tabitha said, giving her mother a curious look and feeling herself fill with tension all over again. “I’m listening. What is it?”

“Tabitha—” Mrs. Moore paused. “You’re... going to be a big sister.”

Tabitha froze, staring across the table at her mother in disbelief.

“I’m going to be… a big sister?”

“Yes, honey.”

“I’m... going to be a big sister,” Tabitha repeated with a blank look. “You’re—what, you’re having a baby? You’re having a baby?!”

“Yes, honey.”

Shock didn’t quite begin to describe what she was feeling—her mother having another child was impossible, it had never happened before and could in no way conceivably happen now. Her parents couldn’t have sex. It was a series of concepts that didn’t fit together in any way, shape, or form. Suspension of disbelief was broken forever. What the fuck. What the fuck.

“You’re… having a baby?” Tabitha said again. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m very sure,” Mrs. Moore let out a nervous chuckle. “I was just as surprised as you are!”

Somehow… I doubt that, Tabitha took a deep breath and raised her good hand to her forehead as she frantically tried to think. This is… this came about from my actions, somehow. Somehow. Changes have consequences. Jesuuus do they ever have consequences.

Mom’s lost weight. No, not even just the weight—her mentality has changed. A lot. I guess I didn’t even realize how much until Halloween. Last lifetime, she was just totally swollen up with self-loathing and bitchiness and petty spite and she’s been gradually… deflating from that. Her and Dad are a lot more, um. They’re...

I mean, I knew Mom and Dad weren’t really usually, uh, TRADITIONALLY INTIMATE, not for a long time I guess, so I just assumed they were always going to stay that way. Big psychological blind spot, and—yeah I don’t even want to think about it now, either. Ever. Ew. EW EW EW. But. She’s having a baby. A BABY. I’M GOING TO BE A BIG SISTER. Not just a cool older cousin, A BIG SISTER. That’s—it’s—this is completely different. Who’d have ever even thought? I mean, sure yeah she was super young when she had me, but isn’t a thirteen year difference in siblings pretty—

“Tabitha?” Mrs. Moore sounded worried.

“Sorry, um,” Tabitha floundered for words. “This is just… you’re really sure?”

“I’m really sure,” Mrs. Moore nodded.

“Okay. Okay,” Tabitha breathed, taking the initiative to reach across the table and clasp her mother’s hand before the nervous parent could grow any more uneasy. “This… this changes everything. What are we going to do? Are we moving to a bigger place? What are we going to do?!”

“Whatever you want to do,” Mrs. Moore said, squeezing Tabitha’s hand. “We have settlement money coming in—the Seelbaughs helped with that. Everyone did. But, that’s, it’s your money, for your future. Your father wanted to set up a college fund for you, but—”

“I’m not going to college,” Tabitha shook her head as she disengaged. “I have—well I had—other plans. Not college.”

“Okay,” Mrs. Moore agreed. “Whatever you want. The money—it’s a lot of money, Tabby Honey. If you want us to move, we’ll move. If you want to go to school in a different district, we’ll do that. Whatever you want to do, we’ll make it happen. I was just—we were just, we don’t want to pressure you, or make you think you need to make any big decisions when—”

“We’re staying here,” Tabitha decided immediately. “I want a few thousand dollars for immediate expenses, and the rest kept available for me to invest in stocks in the next several years.”

“That’s fine,” Mrs. Moore assured her. “Investing is smart! If that’s what you want to do, that’s—”

“Can Dad take some time off from work?” Tabitha asked. “There’s so much for us to do. I’ll pay to get Uncle Danny’s Oldsmobile hauled to the junkyard, we don’t have space for it. I’d like you to call the management of Sunset Estates and get them to approve some changes to the property, and I’ll need someone to take me to Springton town hall so we can file for a construction permit. For just a few thousand dollars, we can get a simple deck add-on built and covered and turned into an extension of the trailer. The Jamesons down the street did it, super cheap way of adding an extra room, and we need—”

“The Jamesons added a room onto their trailer?” Mrs. Moore looked up in surprise, leaning forward at the table slightly to cast a look out the window and down the darkened street. “When?”

“Err—no,” Tabitha carefully winced, clamping her mouth closed for a second. “They, uh, they will, though, they were talking about getting it done. I think maybe they’ve done it before, somewhere else? They sounded very, um, it’s a pretty certain thing. Just trust me.”

“When have you spoken to the Jamesons?” Mrs. Moore asked, giving her daughter a doubtful look. “You were in the hospital for—”

“Before that! I talked to people, sometimes, back when I did my morning runs,” Tabitha said quickly. “I know Mike and his family, kind of. And others. Some people were, um, up and about early in the mornings back when I did my morning routine. Basically.”

“Oh.”

Anyways, we need permits first, and we need them fast, before it gets any colder. I think I’d like to get a little fence around our lot as well—if memory serves Sunshine Estates used to let the Upper Park homes have fences. We can get it installed, and then if we plant some thuja green or leyland cypress now, we’ll have several feet of privacy shrub coming up by the time the baby’s here. If we need the roof sealed, any flooring or windows or electrical replaced, I want you and Dad to tell me now so we can get it done sooner rather than later. We’ll have our hands full when he—or she—is born, and I don’t want us putting anything off.”

“Tabitha honey—do you think it’s wise sinkin’ more money into the trailer instead of us just up and finding a better place to live?”

“Yes, and no,” Tabitha frowned. “I’ll do some more research for a more thorough cost-benefit analysis, but the key to take away from this, is that settlement money is just a one-time windfall. Our actual flow of income isn’t changing, so when you consider—”

“Okay, okay!” Mrs. Moore chuckled, holding up her free hand in defeat. “It’s your money right now, anyways. Whatever you want to do with it is fine. Just, please sit down and have a talk with us about everything first, some of these things—well, like taking your uncle Danny’s car to the junkyard. We wouldn’t have to pay for that. The junkyard would pay us for however much in parts it’s worth. If you want it gone, we can get it gone, we won’t waste any of your money on it.”

“Right. Right,” Tabitha laughed to herself. “Guess I forgot what—uh, what kind of times we live in here. Of course they’d pay us—they can still use the scrap. In these times.”

“...Yes?” Mrs. Moore said with an unsure laugh. “Of course they can?”

“I was just thinking, in the long view, where the automotive salvage industry will someday have to deal with—no, you know what? It doesn’t matter. You’re having a baby. I’m going to be a big sister! There’s so many more important things to think about, right now!”

“So, you’re excited?” Mrs. Moore asked.

“Of course I am!” Tabitha gave her mother a quizzical smile. “Why would you think I wouldn’t be?”

“Just, with the, um. Timing, of everything that’s happened,” Mrs. Moore said with a difficult expression. “We weren’t sure how you’d feel about it, or if you’d feel that we were trying to replace you, or—”

“Wouldn’t even blame you if that was the case, and I know it’s not,” Tabitha squeezed her mother’s hand again in a show of support. “Honestly, this might be the best news I’ve gotten in a long, long long long time. Thank you. I needed this right now.”

“Well, that’s a relief, then,” Mrs. Moore smiled.

“Also, I’ll need both of you parents really distracted with something for a couple years,” Tabitha laughed. “My late teenage years are going to be super suspicious. So, this is perfect!”

“I… don’t even know how to respond to that,” Tabitha’s mother laughed, shaking her head and rolling her eyes.

Mom, I’m actually Tabitha from the future, Tabitha thought with a small smile. I came back in time.

I’m just gonna keep layin’ down this breadcrumb trail of not-so-subtle slips and misspoken words until you can get to wondering, and HOPEFULLY maybe more receptive to the truth, someday. This is what I should have done with Alicia and Elena. It’s just—frustrating. And, I’m still a terrible actress. Maybe that’ll make it stand out even more to you?

“You know, you haven’t even asked how big the settlements were,” Mrs. Moore chuckled.

“I haven’t,” Tabitha said. “I’ve just been really focused on, you know, enjoying the fact that I’m still alive. Which is great just by itself! Why, how much was the settlement?”

“Settlements,” Mrs. Moore corrected her with a smile. “Plural! Don’t forget about that Thompson boy and what he did! And, in light of the near medical diagnosis mishap and some people being thrown under the proverbial bus, the fees for your surgical procedure and hospital stay have become... very agreeable. The law offices of Seelbaugh and Straub—your friend Elena’s father, he’s apparently a very scary man. Having the police and the school board behind you here in town is support that runs deeper than you know. Things have been… surprising.”

“I’ve been very lucky, and very unlucky,” Tabitha said, taking a deep breath. “I think that’s just how things are going to be, from now on. With little in-between. How much do the settlements come out to in the end?”

Mrs. Moore told her the number, and Tabitha felt her eyes go wide as the teacups full of melting ice cream, the table, her mother across from her and their quaintly furnished mobile home around her all suddenly felt distant and unreal.

Uhhh. Okay, wow. My conservative guesstimation was off by an entire zero. Wow, just… wow. Holy fucking shit. THAT much, in 1998?

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A note from FortySixtyFour

Said I was gonna post this one soon as it was ready, and I meant it. Now to struggle to finish revising the next long chapter so that it can hopefully be ready for January 1st and we can be back on a regular schedule. Sorry again for the several month disappearance there before December, 2020's been rough.

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FortySixtyFour

Bio: Avid reader, reluctant writer.

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