Girl Reinvented – Chapter 1 & 2

Girl Reinvented

Ann Moore

Copyright © Ann Moore 2013

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

C&R Publishing

Toronto

Author’s note: This story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event, except for the part where Tabitha thinks her dissection is female because it has nipples. That part came from the life of Ann Moore, unfortunately. The rest is entirely imaginary.

ISBN 978-0-9917855-2-0

Follow and contact Ann @amoorewriter or www.annmoorewriter.com.

 

 

 

 

Cheers to Phil

Chapter 1

Tabitha was concentrating so hard she had bitten the insides of her cheeks until they were raw.

 

Her wrists and ankles were tied tightly to the railway tracks with thick ropes. Her pretty head thrashed back and forth, messing her naturally perfect blond hair, as she struggled to escape the bonds that would otherwise guarantee her own destruction. Her tightly laced bodice creaked in complaint as her chest panted, expanding and contracting repeatedly in terror. The train, it was coming. She had just heard the whistle in the distance.

Her eyes were wide open, looking for any opportunity to escape, but she was at a loss. Who could save her now? She was nowhere near a place where someone could rescue her; Drake Deveraux the Third had seen to that. He had stolen her from her cottage in the dead of night, and had made sure that even the most experienced tracker would never be able to follow their trail. The horse had crossed streams and ponds and had circled the same landmarks so many times that even she, a girl who had been raised in the forest, had lost her bearings. She was, for all intents and purposes, doomed.

But suddenly, she heard a whisper. More of a rustle, really, somewhere in the bushes. She tried to tell herself it was only a bird, but the sound was far too loud. A young fawn? A magical centaur perhaps? Although she would have been happy to have found a centaur on a normal day, in her current situation Persephone Pureheart had no time for supernatural creatures. She listened intently, but now all she could hear was the train whistle, and it was getting louder.

She craned her neck toward the bushes, the knot in the gag over her mouth pulling at the back of her hair, but for a long time she saw nothing. And then there was a brief glint of light. She stared intently until she saw a pair of gorgeous blue eyes peering at her from behind the nearest tree trunk. It was her one true love, Colby Everest, who had somehow found his way to her predicament. Deep in her heart, she had always known he would come, and he had. And now she knew for sure that she truly loved him.

Before she could allow herself to feel hopeful about her ordeal however, a black cloak appeared with a flourish. It was Drake, and he wasn’t willing to let her go without a fight. [Insert big fight with Drake here. Drake probably gets a couple of good whacks in with a thick broken branch or a stray railway tie before he loses, like the big loser that he is. Although he’s not really too big, physically].

Colby, bruised but not broken, ran before the train as it barrelled down on both of them. He brandished his sword [Were swords and trains around at the same time? Maybe a dagger? Can you brandish a dagger? Why didn’t he use the dagger on Drake a minute ago?], quickly cutting the ropes from Persephone’s delicate wrists and ankles. He swept her into his arms, and she felt safer than she ever had before. Just seconds before the train overwhelmed them, Colby lifted Persephone to safety, where they gripped each other in an embrace that seemed to go on forever.

Eventually, Colby let go and gently removed the cloth from Persephone’s mouth. He took her hand, staring into her eyes with a love they knew would never leave either of their hearts. They paused for a moment, but their magnetism slowly drew them closer together. Persephone could do nothing but gaze steadfastly into Colby’s eyes. He looked down at her with confidence, raising his hands to her expectant face. They kissed passionately, joining deeper and deeper in their commitment through their physical bond.

Colby could no longer restrain himself, even though he was nothing if not a gentleman. His hands slid from Persephone’s flawless flushed cheek southward [southward?] to her bodice, searching, roaming, to find what he was looking for. Her boobs [Boobs? No way, thought Tabitha. Am I four years old? Tits? Not even a possibility. She hated that word, and couldn’t believe it had crossed her mind. Breasts. She guessed that was the best choice, but it still made her think of a chicken.] Her breasts…

Ugh. Tabitha had to take a break. She looked around the coffee shop where she was trying to write on this Sunday afternoon. It was hard to write love scenes when her only inspiration was a weird guy talking to himself and an overtanned, wrinkly lady barista who was such a nasty person that when Tabitha had walked away from her four cents change, the barista had held the pennies a foot above the tip jar and dropped them in slowly, one by one, looking at Tabitha with disdain the entire time. Tabitha had quickly dug into her purse for another fifty cents and gone back to drop the quarters into the jar in an effort to make peace, but the witch had walked away without glancing back, pretending not to notice. What a waste of money, she thought.

Tabitha cracked her fingers and stared at the coffee server now because she needed to procrastinate. She tried to look like she wasn’t looking, peeking out from behind her long hair. The barista was a skinny, hard-faced, fifty- or even sixty-something, dressed in an oversized men’s sleeveless undershirt and worn black polyester pants who had obviously smoked her complexion away. Her veins popped out all along her emaciated yet muscular arms. If Tabitha had been writing about her, she would have described her as sinewy. The veins were especially blue and disgusting on the undersides of her wrists, which drew her attention as the woman stacked cups because of a giant, blurry purple tulip tattoo on the inside of one forearm. She tried to imagine Ms. Wrinkly-Coffee as a teenager like her, sitting around in a garage full of bikers, telling them it would be a great idea to give her a tattoo where everyone would see it for the rest of her life. When they asked her what design she wanted, she had probably said, “Whatever you want, I don’t care,” with what she would have hoped was a cute giggle that was far too loud to be natural. Tabitha silently forgave her for getting annoyed at the tip, empathizing with what could only have been a rocky personal history until Ms. W-C caught her staring and called out, “You can put your eyes back into your pudgy little head, my dear.” Tabitha quickly looked away without answering, mortified (and a little scared), reneged her forgiveness, and wondered how much longer she would have to sit there so that her exit didn’t look like a direct response to being yelled at. She’d give it another minute.

She stared back at her laptop, willing herself to concentrate. Breasts. Bosoms. What else? She looked down at her own large ones that she tried to hide every day underneath a dark, billowy shirt. No matter what they were called, she thought hers were far too big. Knockers. Jugs. Funbags. None of these words were really appropriate for Persephone Pureheart, she thought.

Tabitha had been writing for a few years now, although trying to write romantic stories was new to her. She wrote because she liked it, but there was even more to it than that. Writing fed Tabitha’s secret fantasy, one she had never voiced out loud, one she had barely admitted to herself. Tabitha subconsciously believed that writing could be her ticket to fame and fortune.

She instinctively knew it was the perfect job for her – she could connect with people without having to deal with them in person, and people would know her name and maybe even like her without ever really knowing who she was. She had always found legends about hermit-authors dropping manuscripts on the doorsteps of publishers in the middle of the night alluring and mysterious, and she felt like if she kept at it, she could one day become the recluse that everyone was whispering about. She had even half-imagined paying a demure, dark-eyed waif of a girl to do her TV interviews, later leaking the fact that the girl was an imposter to the press, making her true identity even more provocative and intriguing.

The main reason she suppressed these dreams though, was that to become a writer, she would have had to acknowledge that she had the potential to be great, and to Tabitha that would have meant that she was cocky. She felt strongly that there weren’t many traits more unattractive than being cocky, even though she wasn’t judgmental – she truly believed in “live and let live” and all of that. Other people may have needed or wanted to be confident and showy with their skills and attributes, but as far as she was concerned, when it came to her own identity, modesty was the best policy.

Her writing had started as a diary, using good old-fashioned pen and paper, but after a while she became discouraged with non-fiction. She had sworn to write in her diary every day to make sure she was disciplined about the writing process, but she ran into problems whenever she had a slow day, which happened far too often. Determined to always write something, rather than skipping days or leaving blank pages, she had captured moments like:

“I stayed home from school today because I woke up with a cough that was so horrible it sounded like my lungs were drowning in their own juices. I took some Buckley’s cough syrup and a few Tylenols and felt better. By lunchtime, I was so tired of watching ‘You are NOT the father’ DNA tests on TV that I decided to walk to the corner to get some fresh air. I bought some soup. I came home, ate most of the meat chunks out of the soup but left the carrots, and then got started on my English essay.” Riveting, Tabitha remembered, annoyed.

She had decided instead to write fictional stories about imaginary people to escape the depressing monotony that was her life. She always started with the most exciting scenes, thinking that by the time she had written the best parts she would understand the characters well and the rest of the story would fly from her fingers onto the keyboard like she was possessed. It hadn’t worked out that way yet, but she felt like she was getting better with every attempt.

She had chosen to write romances because she knew they would eventually overcome the hype of futuristic fantasies or even vampire thrillers – she thought that a pure romance, straight up, was more realistic and so more honest than stories that disguised their sexual tensions as something else. Also, she didn’t think she could keep a reader’s attention unless they were in it for the smut. Why would anyone care what she had to say otherwise?

In the weeks before today’s writing session, she had written two completely different romantic passages, but then she decided to start over, eventually deleting her earlier attempts. She thought she had gotten the descriptions just about right, and she congratulated herself on having strong grammatical skills, but she hated her depictions of the romantic climax in each story.

The truth was, she struggled to know whether the passion was realistic because despite wanting to write for a hormonal target audience, she wasn’t personally very experienced in that area. The closest she had come to making out with someone was when she had played spin-the-bottle at the back of the schoolyard in Grade 6, and even then she had known she was only pecked politely when the bottle pointed her way out of the players’ respect for the game – she could tell that all the guys who briefly kissed her were only hoping that if they respected the rules, the hot girls would too.

She told herself that plenty of authors wrote about what they didn’t know, like in period pieces about famous people who were long dead, and at least she had access to countless movies on Netflix that could help with her research. She had already spent far too many Saturday afternoons studying kissing scenes, trying to be objective for research purposes only of course. But watching scenes and writing them were very different. With kissing, she thought, if you wrote with lots of detail, things started to sound really revolting (tongue searching teeth, or salivary juice discussions, for example). At the same time, if you didn’t write enough, the romance got boring. And so went her process. 1. Observe. 2. Imagine. 3. Wonder when she would write from a position of experience and feel like a loser for a while. 4. Write. 5. Hate what she had written. 6. Delete the passage out of frustration before the virtual ink was dry.

It wasn’t because Tabitha was a complete hag, though; at least, her hours upon hours of self-analysis didn’t bring her to this conclusion. She was sure that if one or another of her personal characteristics could have been removed she may have been quite kissable, and would have found herself to be a novice, or even intermediate kisser at this point in her life. But she felt it was her perfectly imperfect brew of challenging traits that secured her standing in the beginner kisser category.

For example, as the barista had so rudely pointed out, Tabitha was large. She wasn’t gigantic, or huge, or anywhere close to being enormous, and she was of average height, so it wasn’t like she looked like a scary overgrown Amazon creature, either. If she were to allow herself a compliment, which she wouldn’t, her waist might even have passed her standards as acceptable. But she knew she was large enough everywhere else that boys probably wouldn’t glance at her twice, even though she also had thick caramel-coloured hair and clear, warm-toned, even skin. And she always made sure her eyebrows were shaped nicely. But it’s not often that a guy says, “Hey, hot eyebrows,” and if they do, it’s probably not girls they’re interested in.

As much as she wanted to blame her XXS love life on being L, Tabitha had seen plenty of big girls who had boyfriends and associated kissing experience, so she knew it wasn’t an impossible dream. She was sure some guys even preferred girls with a little more meat on their bones, who could go toe to toe with them at a buffet or an ice cream parlour. Tabitha knew she’d be annoyed if her best friend, Zoe, only ordered a small salad (dressing on the side) when they went for fish and chips, and she was sure lots of guys must think the same way. Fortunately, Zoe would order a double fish with extra fries and eat it all with gusto, double tartar sauce, and no regrets. But any heavy girl Tabitha knew who had a boyfriend was pretty outgoing, and here was the crux of her problem. Tabitha was not only heavy, but she was also shy.

Introductions were a nightmare. They were often necessary because she went to a large high school in urban Toronto, so teachers liked to pretend the school was too big for any of them to have met anyone before, even though the students had all known who everyone was and where they stood socially after the first three days of Grade 9.

Whenever Tabitha had to present herself in these situations, she very nearly puked from having to be in the spotlight. She was sure that well-adjusted people didn’t gag over public speaking for thirty seconds, probably choosing a more reasonable root cause for a hurl like bulimia, or maybe a stray chicken bone, but so it was.

To decrease her odds of throwing up, she always arrived at a new class very early so she could sit in the most inconspicuous seat in the room, which was usually close to the back. She would stick her nose into a book to kill time before the class started without having to talk to anyone. Eventually the teacher would get started by presenting his or her gimmick for the introduction process – the old tired ones only wanted names and what might interest them about the class while the more perky creative ones wanted something she considered to be far more nerve-wracking, like sharing a personal story no one in the room knew about them. Tabitha never listened to a single thing anyone in the room said during these introductions because she was far too busy strategizing about what she would say when it was her turn. She would make careful, point-form notes to prep for her twenty-second speech, and as people closer and closer to her were called to speak, her armpits got sweatier and her hands got shakier.

When it was finally her turn, she would pin her arms to her sides and grip a pen tightly to make it look like she wasn’t nervous. She would stare down at her paper, afraid she would lose her train of thought if she caught someone’s eye, and she always spoke as quickly as she could. In the middle of her talk, she would often improvise and erase any creativity she had included in her notes because when she was on the spot she second-guessed her original thoughts as far too risky to share. When she was finished, she couldn’t remember a word of what had actually come out of her mouth.

She always found relief as the next person began to speak, happy to hide in silence once again. Her main goal, every time she presented herself, was actually to make the least impression possible. She didn’t want them to remember anything about what she had said, good or bad, and so far, she had accomplished this with most students in the room after every single introduction. Including the boys, of course.

Tabitha stared at her keyboard, cursing herself for daydreaming rather than typing, but she continued to sit idly and analyze her romantic roadblocks. Pretending she was invisible probably didn’t help. She wasn’t insane or anything, she knew she wasn’t actually invisible. But she would often go somewhere, alone, and act like she didn’t exist, just observing what was going on around her. She would try to stay separate from her surroundings so that what she was watching would happen even if she wasn’t there – even if she hadn’t left her house, or if she hadn’t been born, but she was sitting right there, watching it. She was a ghost – a non-dead, irrelevant person prowling her way through the land of the living.

A while ago she’d gone to the Greek street festival to stand in the crowd and watch events unfold (God knows she wasn’t there to enjoy the greasy, rotating mystery meat). She had sat on the curb in the middle of hundreds of strangers, looking around, watching people, intrigued by the fact that she was in the thick of things without having to mingle with a single person. She had made sure she didn’t make eye contact with anyone.

She’d seen one woman tiptoeing on one foot because the heel of her shoe had broken off. “Cheers to you,” Tabitha had thought, because she had done a stellar job of pretending, without having even the slightest limp.

She had eavesdropped behind a couple holding hands who were just starting out in their relationship. The woman was cute, in her late twenties or so, wearing a pretty little bright green dress, and the guy was acting like he was really into her, asking about her job at the bank, and her brothers and sisters – she had four. When the woman headed off to the bathroom, though, Tabitha had watched over the guy’s shoulder as he texted, “Free tonight? What are you wearing?” Frowning, she wondered if she should find the woman and tell her what he was up to, but she decided instead to move to a different part of the street and let it go. She had given the back of the guy’s head a really dirty look as she left, though, which felt reasonably satisfying.

Next she had seen a furry bunny mascot who had been playing with a bunch of kids take his head off to reveal a waist-length mullet and no front teeth. After that she had heard an extremely short woman with bushy black eyebrows and a faint moustache brag that she worked in burlesque. Even though lots of what she had seen had been slightly disturbing, she had still enjoyed herself. She had felt like she was an extra in the middle of a real live movie, watching everything unfold, with no lines and no mention in the credits. “Crowd member number 357,” that was her. Her enjoyment had ended in an instant, however, when she was socked in the shoulder by a busker’s stray bowling pin. She had smiled, reassuring everyone that she was perfectly fine, making a strong-arm muscle motion, awkwardly saying, “good as new!” as joyfully as she could, before slipping away at her first opportunity to ice what would soon become a giant purple bruise.

Despite her shyness, Tabitha was disorder-free as far as she knew. Usually she could function and interact in her quiet, understated way, even though what went on inside her head was often the opposite of quiet or understated. She wished some kind of “outgoing drug” existed, and she guessed it did. What did they call it … Vodka? Ecstasy? Probably neither would work very well in a school setting.

She closed her laptop, leaving her story hanging on the word breasts. Colby and Persephone had seen enough action for one day, she thought. She packed up and made her way to the door, giving the weird guy a wide berth, trying not to notice his smell while also making sure to look anywhere but at the angry barista. Sundays. They were way too almost-Monday for her liking. And if Tabitha had known what was in store for her on this particular Monday, she might have stayed at the coffee shop despite the nasty bitch behind the counter, if only to enjoy her anonymity for a little while longer.

Chapter 2

Early the next day, Tabitha stood scowling in front of a piece of furniture she hated — the full-length mirror in her bedroom. It was yet another morning before school, and once again she was trying to decide which outfit would make her look less gigantic. She started out with confidence, throwing on a big, white wide-necked shirt with “Give it,” written across it in giant pink letters that slid down to expose one shoulder, but within seconds she decided she couldn’t go an entire day looking like a lumpy, glowing human billboard. Where had that shirt come from, anyway? Probably from her overly optimistic mother, who would have thought Tabitha looked adorable in a size 4 string bikini. Not quite.

Next, she tried some black leggings, a sky blue jersey dress, a wide brown belt, and a pair of beaten-in cowboy boots. Her eyes started at the bottom of the mirror and slowly moved their way up her body as she thought, Boots are great, okay, yup, okay. But the higher she looked, the more annoyed she became. She thought the leggings would work if only her knees were a bit pointier. And the belt was all wrong. She tightened it another notch to give herself more of an hourglass look but that only made her fat hang over the top and squish out below. She got even angrier with herself knowing she had been responsible for buying this outfit. One hundred of her hard earned movie-theatre-candy-girl dollars, thrown away. She silently promised herself not to get swept up in compliments from perky salespeople again.

Finally, she decided on the boots. She ditched the leggings (ridiculously bad knees) and ended up in the jeans she had already worn once in the past seven days. It was a new week so no one would remember, she told herself. She topped the jeans off with a simple, black v-neck t-shirt. She turned sideways and stood as tall as she could, sucking in her stomach and raising her chin, thinking that would do, even though her feet would probably swell and blister by the end of first period. She let out her breath and slouched back to her normal self, giving one final glance over her shoulder into the mirror as she left her room. Well, if she ever managed to find a boyfriend, at least she’d know he loved her for her personality.

She plodded her way downstairs to find her mother buzzing around their small kitchen wearing a frilly pink apron over an even pinker pantsuit, slapping together sandwiches for their lunches. She continued to do this each and every morning even though neither she nor her older brother, Jake, had eaten any of the lunches their mother had prepared for the past three years. They both felt it would crush her feelings if they told her, so they always pitched their home-made lunches when they got to school and bought something at the greasy restaurant around the corner just like everyone else did.

Tabitha caught a whiff of what their mother was doing and wondered briefly how a woman who was so good at so many things could be such a bad cook. To name just two of her talents, she was currently past Level 10 in World of Warcraft, and she could also sit on her own head in yoga class. And it wasn’t that her mom didn’t give cooking her best efforts, Tabitha had to admit. She even blogged about cooking and had lots of foodie followers, but despite the positive attitude, the results usually tasted like crap.

The “meat” she was now adding to the sandwiches was multicoloured, and smelled slightly fishy. Tabitha hoped today’s lunch selection wasn’t something raw that should have been cooked. Had her mother slaved away chopping and kneading it, or had she found it in the discount section of a Chinese health food store? Suddenly, Tabitha came up with a brilliant idea.

“Mom, could you load me up with fruit, please? I’m on a new health kick where I’m only going to eat fruit and vegetables from now on.” This could work well in many ways, thought Tabitha. Her sudden veganism would let her mother down easy, and Tabitha would actually eat her mom’s veggie lunches in an effort to become healthy. She could save money and also be down a size in what, like, a week?

Tabitha saw her mother quietly assess how to make the best of the fishy flesh she had so carefully prepared to enable the growth of her young.

“Well this has fruit in it, Tab. Mango. And avocado, which I think is also a fruit. But if you’re okay with veggies, then it doesn’t matter whether avocado is a fruit, now, does it? It’s all good!” She smiled like she had just figured out the Caramilk secret, putting the fishwich into a purple reusable lunch bag. Tabitha was too tired to get into a food debate, so she surrendered, accepting the bag from her mother.

Jake suddenly appeared from behind the door to the basement, where his bedroom was, flashing his giant, shiny white teeth in a game show host-type smile, almost like he was making a paid celebrity appearance. He was a complete slacker, but he was an artist at smoothing things over with their mother after he had done something wrong — like getting caught half-dressed by a girl’s parents or failing his basic math credit for the third time, just to give two not-so-random examples. Jake’s charm went a long way in rescuing him, but, Tabitha thought, it was a bonus for him that he was the main man in her mother’s life. Tabitha’s father had been almost entirely absent for the past ten years, and there was no one else on the scene, except maybe for the flirty twenty-year-old at Pottery Barn who kept their house full of expensive candles but who probably giggled to himself every time they cashed out, later going home to the candle-free, immaculately decorated loft studio he shared with his partner Chad. Or so Tabitha imagined, anyway.

Their mom was so happy to see Jake now that her face glowed almost as much as her pantsuit. He breezed through the kitchen, making sure his expression acknowledged each of them deliberately before saying, “Mom, you made me lunch? Has anyone ever told you you’re amazing?” And then he was gone almost as suddenly as he had arrived, probably to cut class and smoke dope for much of the day in somebody’s basement. Oh, Jake. Although she was a bit jealous of his rockstar lifestyle, Tabitha couldn’t hate him either. He was just too adorable.

Tabitha realized she was hungry and would have to do something about that, but she silently cursed herself for it at the same time. Why can’t I just ignore my stomach? she asked herself. All she really had to do was prevent food from passing over her tongue and then all of her problems would be over, but she didn’t think she could actually pull it off – she had tried before. She cursed those fit people on TV who were always saying that a big breakfast and small meals throughout the day would solve all of her weight loss problems because she had tried that too. Nothing worked.

Her thoughts returned to toying with veganism. She hadn’t really believed she would follow through on the idea when she had presented it to her mother, but maybe if she were to dedicate her whole being to doing it, it would actually work. Even better, she could add wheat to the list of foods to avoid, and then she’d lose weight for sure. With meat, milk, and wheat out of the picture, all she was left with were fruits and vegetables, and she would allow herself to eat as many of those as she could handle so she wouldn’t get hungry. One day she might even write a book about how she had successfully veganed her way to losing nine hundred pounds.

She walked over to the fridge and opened it with determination, grabbing an apple, biting it firmly to solidify her new resolution. Then she added an entire bag of grapes, two more apples, and a zucchini to her lunch bag while she held the door open with her hip. She wasn’t sure whether raw zucchini was doable, but what the hell. Vegans had probably gotten creative when they found themselves at a ribfest or something, and she was willing to roll with the punches too.

“I’m going to the grocery store tonight, Tab, so I’ll be sure to get all the fruits and veggies I can think of,” her mom said apologetically, even though she had only heard of this new diet thirty seconds ago. “Fries count as a veggie, right? And pizza has lots of veggies on it… I know you like a more traditional diet most of the time.”

“Sure, mom. I’m sure whatever you pick will be fine.” Tabitha knew that fries and pizza would violate her new approach, but she quickly decided it might be a good idea to have some sustenance around in case all the fruit ended up giving her diarrhea or something. She shoved the lunch bag into her oversized grey purse and made her way out the door, immediately digging for her phone. She could still hear the clicking sound of her mother’s pink heels as she marched back and forth across the kitchen, struggling to get out the door for a day spent convincing doctors to buy the latest and greatest in plastic surgery equipment.

When Tabitha had passed only a few houses (which hadn’t taken her very far down the street because in her neighborhood the hundred-year-old houses were really jammed in there next to one another), she remembered something and froze, wondering if she should go back. Ugh. Today was track-and-field day. The outfit she had so carefully chosen was all wrong, because even when she wasn’t taking part in her mandatory events, she would be sitting outside on the grass in the spring sun, which lately had been starting to act a lot more like a summer one. Oh well, she thought, maybe she would get a little sweaty, but she wasn’t about to go through three more outfits trying to find one that would keep her cool while still hiding enough of her legs to make her feel comfortable. She would just have to keep the jeans on and be warm until she was forced to change into her gym shorts (which she thought were far too short for someone her size). Her events weren’t until the afternoon anyway.

She looked at her phone and sent the first text. She always walked to school with Zoe, so that each school day started with a text from Tab to get Zoe out of bed. “7 mins,” was the first, and it was the first every day, because nothing changed about the fact that it took Tabitha exactly seven minutes to get to Zoe’s front door, and then took them both a further four minutes to cross the street and make it to their grade 11 classes. The time between those intervals, however, could change from day to day, depending on the degree of chaos that faced Zoe in getting ready. No matter what, the disorganization was always significant – some days were bad, other days were ugly bad. Today seemed to be the latter.

“In your hall,” was what she sent next. She didn’t expect a response to any texts she sent at this time of day, but for some reason, she always sent them.

Tabitha had walked right into Zoe’s skinny old Victorian house, knowing that the door was never locked. Zoe’s hippie-like parents loved to go on about how they had no earthly possessions worth stealing, and that if a thief chose to rob them, the universe would bring them beautiful gifts in return. Today the hippies were nowhere to be found, which was strange, because usually in the mornings they welcomed Tabitha with a hug that seemed a little too strong and much too long, and then tried to get her to drink some sort of restorative tea. “Here, babe, this one will make your blood think it’s just slurped up a big bag of liquid spinach.” They actually said that once. Another time they claimed, “This one will suck every toxin out of your crannies and ‘flush them away,’ if you know what I mean.” But the worst was, “This one will make your periods flow free, like an untamed river.” Tabitha usually felt shy, and in any event she was too polite to say no to someone’s parents, so she had even taken a few sips of that period tea before mumbling an excuse and making her way up the two flights of stairs to Zoe’s loft-like room, which was where she needed to go now, because, like her parents, Zoe also appeared to be missing.

“At your door,” she texted, but all she got in response were three beeps on the other side of the bedroom door, probably right beside Zoe’s sleeping ear. She went in to find that the phone was indeed on the pillow beside a sleeping Zoe-shaped lump that obviously hadn’t made any attempt at getting ready. But while Tabitha was the type who would have been embarrassed to have been found by her friend snoring louder than a seventy-year-old truck driver sleeping in granny panties and a too-small tank top, with near-dreadlock hair that hadn’t become dreadlocks on purpose, Zoe didn’t care. And it wasn’t just because she felt comfortable enough with Tabitha not to care; she really didn’t care much about anything, including diet, exercise, grades, clothes, or other people’s opinions. That’s why Tabitha liked her. She was easy to be around, and she helped Tabitha to relax. And they could be big together, because Zoe was even bigger than Tabitha. Even better, she was fun. She said things to the skinny-bitch girls at her school Tabitha wished she had the courage to say, like the time Zoe had told Morgan the new shoes she had been bragging about from New York looked like ones she had seen at Payless for $9.95. Everyone thought that had been a joke, but she had followed up by pasting the flyer to the front of Morgan’s locker, and they did look almost identical.

Tabitha picked up a shirt and shorts from the floor she didn’t think she had noticed on Zoe the previous day at least and dropped them on Zoe’s head. The beast stirred, and the snores coughed their way into complaints.

“Jesus, Tab, can’t you wake me up nicely? Give me a chance to get used to the light for Christ’s sake.”

“Whatever, Zoe. I’ve already texted you three times, picked your clothes, and gotten you up. What more do you want? I’m not going to find your underwear for you.” She looked at the door. “Where are your parents? Not like anything would be different if they were here anyway.”

The old hardwood floor was barely visible beneath a knee-deep sea of clothes, and every available surface was covered in leftover food and the occasional homework handout. Of course no completed work was evident because that would only be printed a few minutes before it was due and started a half-hour before that.

“I have no idea. They said something about rhubarb picking, crack of dawn, this and that. I stopped listening at rhubarb.”

Zoe finally got up, taking the clothes Tabitha had picked into the tiny bathroom in the back corner, where there was the sound of a flush and a quick toothbrushing. She came out looking pretty much the same as how she had gone in, but at least now her appearance met the requirements of York Collegiate. Barely.

They went downstairs and Zoe grabbed two Pop-Tarts out of the cupboard, lobbing one into the air so it landed on the counter in front of Tabitha. Zoe did most of the grocery shopping in her house because her parents believed in encouraging Zoe’s independence. Zoe’s take on shopping was that it was to be done quickly, and with the goal of finding whatever required the least amount of cooking. The hippies did try to “help Zoe help herself,” by leaving fliers on the benefits of organic sprouts and evils of factory farming lying around the house, but so far this well-intended suggestive sales job hadn’t done any good.

“So what’s on for today?” Zoe asked between bites, mostly because she relied on Tabitha to notify her of anything that was due or scheduled for the school day. There was the odd time that something was important enough for Tabitha to quiz her on it in the four minutes before school, or super-important enough for Zoe to turn on her heel to go home and take a sick day.

“Track and field today,” Tabitha mumbled through her Pop-Tart. She had decided to take only four measly bites and throw the rest out because the apple hadn’t really satisfied her hunger. But of course she would later regret the bites she was taking now. “Better get working on your triple jump.” She said this as a joke, because she knew Zoe would rather get kicked out of school than triple jump. Teachers knew this too, having strategically added bowling, golf, and table tennis to help bring the phys. ed. grades of the non-athletic up to a 50 per cent.

“Well, this should be interesting,” said Zoe, putting on a pair of large white sunglasses and suddenly looking half-awake. “What are our excuses for today? Painful periods? Breast tenderness?”

Tabitha had never made a false excuse in her life. She always tried in phys. ed., even though the results were often disastrous. Her classmates had learned quickly not to pass the ball to her in any of the team sports, so she usually escaped the high-pressure shot clock type moments, but she was left with no choice but to try and subsequently fail with the individual sports. Not that she was keeping score, but in the past two years alone she had crashed into a tall shrub in cross-country skiing, gotten stuck on the rock wall in climbing, and twisted her neck in yoga badly enough that she had walked around with her head tilted to one side for two days afterward.

Failing at a sport was something she expected from the start, which erased any hope of enthusiasm for athletics, but what could she do? It was a box on her report card that had to have a grade in it, and she felt bad lying to her teachers like Zoe did. But now she pretended with Zoe for the sake of the conversation. They both knew how the other would act through track and field, since they had hung on the sidelines together since middle school.

“I say we go with unpredictable puking,” Tabitha said with a straight face.

The thing with Zoe is that you never knew when she would take you seriously and act on something. Before she knew it, Tabitha was standing beside Zoe while she explained to Ms. Singh that she couldn’t take part in track and field because she could puke at any moment.

“My doctor says she’s never seen anything like it, Miss. One minute I’m in the middle of a sentence, the next minute I just puked all over the shoes of the person I’m talking to. It’s happened to me, like, six – wait a minute … seven? – yeah, seven times in the last forty-eight hours. I almost forgot about that time in the shower, which was handy, but still not much of an improvement over the other seven times. Wait, a minute … the other eight times?”

Ms. Singh’s expression reflected an appropriate level of revulsion, so Tabitha knew before the teacher said anything that Zoe’s argument would be successful.

“Why didn’t you just stay home, Zoe?” the teacher asked in exasperation-disgust, her top teeth nearly exposed by a retracted upper lip-scrunched nose combo.

“Well, the doctor says I don’t have a fever, so he wouldn’t give me a note, and my absences this term leave something to be desired …”

Zoe could be detail-oriented when she really wanted to, that was for sure.

Ms. Singh made like she had something else important to do, which she probably did, and Zoe was encouraged to be a “spirited cheerleader.”

As an afterthought before completely running off, the fit, middle-aged teacher paused. She put on a fake smile and asked with forced sweetness, “So, Tabitha, are you looking forward to a whole day of exercise in the sunshine?”

Tabitha wondered if Ms. Singh sometimes wished she and Zoe didn’t exist. It certainly would have made her job easier. Well, she probably needed someone to fill out the lower end of her bell curve, so maybe they were useful, at least.

She answered quietly, “Of course, Miss, I’ve been looking forward to this for a week.” Zoe rolled her eyes and started to walk toward the high jump, even though various events were happening simultaneously at different locations around the field and track. Tabitha flashed a submissive smile before following Zoe. Tabitha wasn’t into Ms. Singh’s area of expertise, but she didn’t want to be disliked. The teacher finally made her escape with relief, looking satisfied that Tabitha was at least pretending to enjoy herself.

Tabitha took a seat beside Zoe (who was now lying back in the grass, apparently trying to go back to sleep) and watched as all the sporty kids got warmed up. There were maybe fifteen of them, prancing around with their friends and then taking the occasional backward leap over the bar and into the crash bag, pretending like it was effortless. She wondered why the high jump was so popular, but it definitely was, having attracted a big crowd of spectators. She couldn’t imagine contorting herself over the bar like a flying marlin. She was sure that if she were to try it, she would have landed smack on the bar in a reverse belly flop and snapped her backbone in half, having to be carted away by two paramedics straining under the weight of the stretcher, much to the amusement of the entire school. No thanks.

“There goes Morgan,” Tabitha said to Zoe, which made her lift her head and open one eye, hoping for an opportunity to make a cutting comment or two, which was her favourite pastime.

“Hot skirt, if you’re looking to high-jump at the yacht club and get knocked up right after,” Zoe said. Morgan, a small, perfectly formed, silky haired brunette, was wearing a white tennis skirt instead of the mandatory gym shorts, and the undershorts were cut so that every time she jumped they lifted up just enough to give a glimpse of the lower half of her well-toned butt cheeks. Maybe it wasn’t the excitement of high jump that had encouraged a crowd after all.

“What are the teachers thinking?” Tabitha said out loud, but both girls knew the obvious answer to that question. Morgan was one of the best track-and-field competitors at their school, so she could do whatever the hell she wanted. Last year, she had brought home medals in three events at the provincial championships, and she was training to qualify for the national rowing team in her spare time. Her parents were also very influential – both lawyers – so conflict with Morgan was usually avoided at all costs, not that there was ever much that was disagreeable. So if Morgan wanted to wear a hot little tennis skirt, the teachers were probably already holding a meeting to decide if tennis skirts should be the official girls gym uniform for next year.

Zoe lifted her head slightly higher and whistled a cat-call as loudly as she could at the exact second that Morgan’s legs flipped up and over the bar. Morgan looked around after she landed to see which of her adoring fans had cheered, so Zoe stood up, batted her eyelashes at her, and blew kisses. Morgan narrowed her eyes, looked at her friends, and said, “Fat bitch.” They all laughed. Original.

Next they watched as James went up and over. In Tabitha’s opinion, James was all right. He was sporty, for sure, but he never seemed to be right in the thick of things with the nasty ones. He didn’t really go out with any of the girls at their school, for example, although it wasn’t like they weren’t interested. She saw him running in her neighborhood sometimes, and although he didn’t really acknowledge her at school, she knew that he knew who she was because the few times she had seen him on the street he had given her an almost-smile, and that was more than what most guys did. Also, his best friend was Winston, a short little pimply Chinese guy with an accent, so Tabitha figured James was someone who might be able to see past appearances — but maybe that was just a fantasy coming from someone who wished a guy would take the time to learn what her insides were all about.

“Ooh, that little package would be half hot if it wasn’t for that giant penis hanging in the middle of his face,” Zoe said, watching James. And it was true, although Tabitha never would have put it the way Zoe had. But if you could find a fault about his appearance, his nose was a bit … well … generous.

Ms. Singh came over again and started barking orders at people, so that it seemed like the event was about to start. She scanned the crowd and suddenly locked eyes with Tabitha, saying, “Tabitha, if you’re not involved in this event, would you mind helping me to reset the bar after each jump?”

Never being one to call attention to herself, Tabitha wasn’t overjoyed at the prospect of having to participate in any way at all, but she didn’t want to disappoint Ms. Singh. “Sure, Miss,” she said, just as Zoe stood up and said, “Going to take a piss,” before walking across the grass to the school doors.

The actual event was straightforward enough, similar to how it had gone during the warm-up, except that there were longer breaks between jumpers while each one psyched him- or herself up to make it over the bar. Every time the bar got knocked off, Tabitha would chase her end of it, replacing it cooperatively with Ms. Singh, who would grab the opposite end. After a while, Tabitha noticed the odd snicker coming from behind her. When this had happened a few times, she turned her head to look at the audience sitting on the grass and noticed most of them trying to hold back laughter. One guy was so red in the face she thought he was going to pass out. At first she thought this was because people weren’t making it over the bar, and she was determined to keep up her job with a straight face to support the poor jumpers who were knocking the bar off, but soon she had the feeling that something else was going on. She looked at her teacher’s face to see if she had figured out the joke, and she looked stern, but she also seemed unsure about what was happening.

Soon, the laughs were loud, and they were punctuated with whistles. Tabitha felt like a substitute teacher trying to catch troublemakers every time a jumper would jump, picking up the bar and then turning around (yet trying to act casual about it) to figure out what the joke was and how she could prevent it. But she didn’t have any luck, and there was no real reason for her to sit back down, even though by now she was sure the joke was something to do with her. She felt tears of frustration burn at her eyes, but she was completely unsure what she should do. There was no obvious reason for her to stop what she was doing.

She noticed Zoe sit on the grass as she returned from the washroom, and Tabitha made eye contact with her to see if she knew what was going on, but it didn’t seem like she was paying much attention. She turned to watch James run, jump, and unfortunately knock off the bar. Tabitha picked up her end and replaced it.

Suddenly, Zoe yelled, “Jesus, Tab!” and quickly came over to grab Tabitha’s arm to pull her away from her post.

She lifted her sunglasses above her eyes so that she could look at Tabitha directly, and then she said in a loud whisper, trying not to move her lips, “Your ass crack shows in a big way every time you lean over!”

Despite Zoe’s attempt at covert speech, the audience knew precisely what she had just told Tabitha, so now they had no reason to control themselves. Everyone laughed loudly while people called out, “Nice work, fat ass!” or, “that’s some booty!” each jerk trying to outdo the other.

For what seemed like hours, Tabitha just stood there in the middle of a bad nightmare come to life. In slow motion, her eyes moved from one image to the next. She saw Morgan hiding high-pitched peals of giggles behind her perfect little hand, glaring at her through those icy blue eyes. Some kids had their phones up, recording the whole thing, including her reaction. James had missed most of what had happened because he had qualified to keep jumping each time until his last fall, but he had figured out what was going on by now and was just kind of standing around, trying not to look at her. Tabitha looked at Ms. Singh for some kind of support, but in the moments before she remembered she was a teacher and barked a reprimand, she just stared and looked sorry for Tabitha. This was what made the sobs voice themselves from the back of her throat. For some reason, it was always pity that made Tabitha most upset, and today was no exception.

The tears came, and they came in front of everyone. Even though it must have been less than a minute before she found her feet and hurried to the bathroom, it was enough time for the crowd to see they had gotten to her, and she hated that most of all. She raced through the halls to the washrooms and finally pulled the bathroom door closed behind her, locking herself into the last stall, sitting on the toilet seat and crying silently, not wanting anyone to hear if they should happen to come in. She told herself firmly to stop crying, to just shut up, but her body refused to listen. You should have figured out what was going on sooner, you idiot, she chastised herself, but as the tears continued she traded in her regrets for bitterness. What does it matter, she thought. They never liked you anyway. You have no one to impress.

After a while, she heard a noise. She automatically lifted her feet, pressing them against the stall door, and tried to be quieter. She had thought the washroom was empty until now. She wiped her face and told herself angrily that she had to calm down and straighten up so that she could get off the school grounds with at least a hint of composure to make it home.

Almost eerily, a messy tangle of sandy hair silently rose to greet her over the stall partition, followed by Zoe’s dark brown eyes, looking cautiously like a bomb inspector wondering if there was anything left that was going to blow.

“You okay?” Zoe asked.

“What do you think?” Tabitha spat at her. “Half the goddamned school just saw my giant, naked ass, over and over again! Would you be okay?”

Zoe paused, pretending to actually consider Tabitha’s question. “Well, whether or not I would be okay would completely depend on whether seeing my giant naked ass would get me some action. I’m pretty sure I’d attract some sick freak who would be into my giant ass, so yes, I think I’d be fine. Maybe even better, as a matter of fact.”

Tabitha still couldn’t smile (she refused to admit that this “pep talk,” was helping, even though if she really thought about it, she did feel a tiny bit better), and she was annoyed that Zoe couldn’t take her problems seriously, even for a minute. But her anger quickly turned to envy, because even though Zoe had been joking when she said she wouldn’t have been bothered by what had happened, Tabitha was sure she really wouldn’t have been upset. She probably would have pulled her pants all the way down and mooned the crowd as the coup de grȃce, and then slept like a baby as soon as she got home, whereas Tabitha was sure these tears were going to confine her to her bedroom and a wet pillowcase for God knows how long. And that made Tabitha angry not at Zoe, but at herself. Why did she have to let everyone get to her, and why did she let them see her cry? What was it about the person she was that made things hurt so much?

And then something changed in her; the result of an idea that had suddenly come to light. Her face relaxed and some of the tightness in her chest found relief. She forgot about Zoe for a second and stared at the round silver lock on the back of the stall door to collect herself. Her breathing became more regular, and she felt her diaphragm’s convulsions begin to level out. She reached for some toilet paper and dabbed at her face. She pressed her palm to her forehead and breathed almost naturally a few times, forcing her shoulders down her back and away from her ears. Then she stood up and threw the paper into the toilet, taking one deeper breath to ground herself. She had made a decision, and a plan.

It had happened just that quickly, and while she had almost no confidence that this plan would actually make a difference, she decided she would carry it out with dedication and absolute perseverance. She consciously transformed her face into a soldier’s face, firm and without emotion. She opened the door to the stall. She came face-to-face with her reflection in the mirror, and although she didn’t like the blotchy, tear-stained image that she saw, she did like the new resolve she saw deep behind the eyes. She walked toward the door glancing back at Zoe only once. Zoe looked like she was wondering whether her friend had suddenly been possessed by a toilet-dwelling ghost like the one in Harry Potter. Tabitha tried to let the door slam behind her, but Zoe caught it and followed close behind, even though her footsteps sounded like they were trying not to try too hard.

“Taaabitha?” Zoe asked cautiously. No response. “Hey, Tab!” she said, this time more worriedly. “What just happened in there? You got somewhere to go? Did you learn karate when I wasn’t looking and are going to find retribution or something?” Zoe laughed uncomfortably. Tabitha wondered if she was mentally checking whether there were any firearms she could possibly have access to.

Tabitha spun on her heel slowly and faced Zoe directly in the empty hallway. “I’m not Tabitha anymore, Zoe,” she said.

Zoe would normally have looked amused, but this time she looked concerned instead.

“Okaaay. So who the fuck are you? Angelina Jolie? Wonder Woman?”

Tabitha decided to give her the honest answer. “I’m the anti-me,” she said, her voice low and slightly gravelly. She realized her face looked as though she was angry with Zoe, which wasn’t fair, but Zoe didn’t appear to hold it against her. “I’ve just become completely different from the Tabitha Eleanor Mahony you once knew.”

Zoe looked doubtful, but she bit her tongue.

“What, you think I’m kidding?” Tabitha said. “The way I’ve been to this point isn’t getting me anywhere, and everything I do just makes me feel awful about myself. I try hard in school, but good marks have never gotten me anywhere, except that they make me look like even more of a loser. I spend tons on clothes, but I still hate the way I look. I try to make conversation, but everything that comes out of my mouth sounds stupid, so I just shut up and keep to myself, and then people don’t notice me at all, and I’m lonely. I try to be helpful, but it totally backfires and I get laughed at. And now, best of all, I cry in front of everyone like some kind of baby! I’m totally, completely, and absolutely sick of myself. So I’m done. I’m a new person, as of right now.” She turned and continued on her original path with determination, so much so that Zoe almost had to increase her speed to a canter just to keep up, which was a sight in itself.

“Your middle name is Eleanor?” Zoe asked.

And? Yours is Rainbow!”

Zoe shook her head, but stayed on topic. “But Tabitha, I’m not sure this will really work. You can’t just change who you are. You are who you are, and I happen to like who you are, as a matter of fact.”

“Well, it looks like you’re the only one,” Tabitha threw out over her shoulder. “Welcome to the new Tabitha.” She opened the doors that led back to the field and began walking toward the bleachers, where the entire student body had now gathered.

“Well giddy-up, I guess,” said Zoe, who had become slightly out of breath from all the hurrying. “Can I be someone new too? I’ve always wanted to be a blonde with an eyebrow ring.” And of course, Zoe was just as serious as Tabitha was.

 

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