And I still find myself doubting sometimes...
Callerton High School, 7:52 am Monday
"I don't see why we have to have prom in the gym this year," Shelby complained. "It's not like renting the Grange Hall would be much more expensive."
"Honey, it costs nothing to rent the gym, and almost four hundred dollars to rent the Hall. -Now- tell me that it doesn't cost more," Raine argued, looking at the cheerleader with thinly disguised disgust. The girls glared at each other, making the onlookers apprehensive about a cat-fight. Before things could escalate too much, I stepped between them.
"The gym is perfect for prom. We can take all week to decorate, and have all of the following week to clean up. With the weather being as nice as it is, all the phys ed classes will be outside anyway. If we take it to the Grange, it would be bigger and the decorations could be more elaborate, but we'd have to put them up in a day and half." I offered Shelby an apologetic smile, but she rolled her eyes and turned away.
Raine, however, smiled at me and winked. I shrugged, showing that I hadn't actually meant to side against my girlfriend, but we both knew it was probably too late. Shelby and I had been dating for all of two months, and it seemed that each passing weekend was simply another notch in our relationship. We didn't talk like normal couples, we didn't like to do the same things, and we weren't even in like with each other, let alone love.
Dating Shelby Atwood had probably been the worst decision in my life to date. When she had first approached me, I should have turned her down, but Raine had given me one of her looks and told me that I might be surprised. Sadly, it was one of the first times I had known Raine to be wrong.
So there we were, walking down the halls and arguing over the prom formal, which isn't for another month. The gym has already been booked, so the whole discussion was moot anyway. Couldn't tell that to Shelby, though. Beautiful and busty she might have been, brainy she was -not-. Maybe if she had been a better kisser, that and her looks might have been enough to keep me interested; as it was, I could barely stand the sound of her name, let alone her voice and company.
"So, Smith," Raine's voice cut into my reverie and I turned to look at her. Her red-painted lips were curved upwards in a feral grin, and I looked around to ensure that I was her chosen victim. The hall was empty, Shelby and the rest of the posse abandoning us in favor of making it to class on time with the rest of the student body.
"What's up, Robbins?" I shot back, grinning. Raine didn't scare me. I know she knew more about most of the student body than they knew about themselves, but I also knew that she had nothing on me.
She laughed, shaking her head, perfectly coiffured hair waving around her head with the movement. Raine is the perfect beauty now. I knew her from grade-school, though, and I will always see her as the pudgy little girl with dirt-smeared cheeks and grass-stained clothes. She was my play-buddy then, and she's my best friend now.
"Don't laugh at me, Rainey," I muttered, conjuring a narrow glare that she simply smiled at.
"You just missed the whole thing, didn't you?" she asked, laughing harder now.
I raised an eyebrow, unimpressed with her jollity. "What're you talking about?" I asked, taking the bait she offered. She only laughed harder, doubling over and wiping vainly at her eyes as she laughed hard enough to cry. Finally, when her mirth seemed to have spent itself, I tapped her shoulder and bent down so that my face was even with hers. "What's so funny?"
"Little head-cheerleader just broke up with you, and you spaced out through the whole thing," she informed me, then burst into another bout of chuckles. I straightened, frowning at the top of her head before turning and looking into the nearest classroom. Shelby was sitting at a desk towards the back of the room. She was frowning miserably and chatting with one of her fellow cheerleaders.
"Are you serious?" I asked. I had a tendency to wander away in thought, but surely I hadn't managed to totally phase out the world during my first official break-up? I had. Raine held out her hand, my class ring extending from her fingers. I had given it to Shelby a month ago, and she had obviously given it back.
I took it and stared down at it.
The tardy bell rang, and Raine cussed before taking off down the hall without another word. I'm sure if there had been other people present, she wouldn't have dropped her dignity so quickly, but since it was just me, she knew she didn't have to uphold appearances. I smiled faintly, looking back at the ring in my hand.
I walked on to my first class, idly picking at the yarn that was wrapped around my ring. Shelby had used the yarn to adjust the ring size to fit her ring finger.
The day passed boringly slow, and it seemed two days later, and not three hours, that lunch-time finally came around. I sat with Raine in the music room and watched the musicians, all punk-goth rockers with spiked and dyed hair, too many piercings, and the occasional scattered tattoo. We sat with them because, oddly, they seemed the group in the school most in-touch with themselves. At least, that was Raine's excuse.
Today, her personal servant was in attendance, something which only happened when she was plotting some devious thing. By the look on the poor guy's face, she was being especially mean that day. However, instead of arguing, he nodded dejectedly and quickly left the room, heading off to do her bidding.
I had asked her once upon a time what she had done to earn a slave, and she had simply smiled and said that it was the boy's guilty conscious that kept him coming back to serve her. I didn't ask further, and she never volunteered. It never really seemed important. I never saw her call to him in any way, so he must have indeed been coming back on his own, or so I thought. I would eventually learn better, but that was at least a day away.
Shelby cornered me after school. I was in the parking lot, heading towards my car, when she called my name. I turned, ready to talk to her and perform my official breaking-up duty; apologize for whatever I did wrong and say that I hope we could be friends. What I wasn't expecting was for her to haul off and slap me, hard, across the face. She called me several choice names, the kind of which I will not repeat, accused me of several things that I know I'm innocent of, or at least I'm fairly certain I haven't done, and then stalked off, but not before telling me that she didn't care what Raine did, she couldn't have held it all to herself any longer.
Confused, in some small amount of pain (my lip was actually bleeding), and feeling considerably stupid since half of the school was in the parking lot and had witnessed that lovely little scene, I went to my car, got in, and pulled out quickly, narrowly missing Raine's whipping boy in my hurry to get away from the school.
Unfortunately, I wasn't due to head straight home. I had to pick up things from the store on the way to picking up my little brother, and then we had to head back across town so that he could go to his Pokemon Trading Card meeting. It was all fine with me. I wouldn't have to explain to my mother what had happened quite yet, and as long as I didn't get pulled into Scottie's meeting, I was happy.
It was the grocery store that started it all. The dairy section was located in a back corner of the store and I had to walk at least half a mile to get there. They were out of the kind of milk we use at home (2%, because Scottie was still growing and he needed all of the vitamins and even the fat, skinny little monster that he was). I walked up and down a couple of the nearest aisles, hoping that a clerk would magically appear in front of me. What appeared instead was a tall man wearing sunglasses.
"'Lo," he greeted me, smiling. I offered a small smile in return and went to move past him, but he reached out a hand and took hold of my arm. "I'm Sven. You?"
Sven was obviously a little weird and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end, making me want to shiver. I backed up a step and pulled my arm back as nicely as I could. "I'm late. Pardon me." Instead of trying to go around him again, I turned and started back the way I'd come, but he wasn't having that, either.
Again, he reached out and stopped me, this time with a hand on my shoulder. He tugged at me until I turned back around. I opened my mouth to tell him that I had to go and would he please quit stopping me, but his mouth on mine stopped me before I could form words. I pushed him away almost immediately, and I say almost, because it took my mind a few seconds to register what was happening.
From there, things just digressed. It had been a bad day: my lip hurt where Shelby had split it and he had kissed it, my nerves were frazzled, they didn't have the milk I needed, and I'd just been accosted by a strange man. I lashed out, probably more than I should have, but the stranger had just happened across me at the wrong time, I guess.
"Listen here, you queer freak. Keep your fucking fag germs to yourself. You don't fucking touch people like that without their permission, and you won't get my permission, freak, because I'm not a gay perv like you, got it?" And then, as if bad language and name-calling wasn't enough, I pulled back my arm and then punched him, hitting him hard enough to send him sprawling on the ground.
I'm not a homophobe, at least, I'd never associated myself with being one before. I didn't know any gay people, that I knew of, but I still had no reason to think of them negatively. It was just years of hearing the stereotypes and the slang that had let me lash out so violently. I regretted it instantly, but the stranger was on his feet again before I had a chance to apologize.
He grabbed the front of my shirt and hefted me off the ground, disproving one myth for me: not all gay men were weaklings with limp wrists. "You snot-nosed little punk. See if I ever try to help you out again," he muttered. Help me, I thought. He shook me. "You're so blinded, Calvin. You need something to open your eyes, and I'm just the man to give you that something."
My thoughts here turned very bad, and I seriously considering kicking him in the junk, something that no guy -ever- does to another guy unless he's just a bastard. He set me back on my feet, though, saving his own privates.
"Tomorrow, when you wake up, you'll see the world differently than you do now. Maybe it will do you some good." And then he let me go completely and stalked away, just as a clerk rounded the corner. I must have been standing there with a dazed look, because the girl, her name badge read 'Fran', asked me if I needed any help. I considered telling her about the strange man, but ended up asking after my milk, only.
He had called me by name. He knew who I was. And he may, or may not, have threatened me. I should have been scared, and probably would have spared a moment just for that, but I realized that I was late picking up the brat-child I called brother.
The rest of the day passed in normalcy. Nothing out of the ordinary, except that I found my lip healed by the time I got home. It was odd, but I passed it off to being a quick healer. Scottie got a new Pokemon Card, something which I gather was a good thing, and my mother and father were both going away for the rest of the week. Scottie was staying with the neighbors, and I could do as I pleased, as long as I stayed in one piece and out of trouble.
I went to bed that night and pushed all thoughts of Shelby, Pokemon Cards, and strangers from my mind. I turned the light off on my blue-painted room, curled into my nice, firm mattress, and fell asleep.
When I woke up in the morning, I fell out of a waterbed and sat staring up at the black-painted ceiling for all of thirty seconds before I realized that something wasn't right. That feeling was only amplified when I stood up and gazed into an antiquated mirror above a make-up table. Raine's blue eyes stared out at me, framed by her blonde hair. I think I might have screamed, but I don't know.
I do know that I stared at the mirror for a long time before pulling on her clothes, ignoring the differences in our bodies as best I could as I did so, and rushing out the door. Oddly, I ran home, which is where I know I went to sleep, and where I didn't wake up. I didn't get all the way there, though. I found myself, or at least my body, half a block from my house. There was a car with a dent, a hysterical driver, and lots of police and emergency workers. The only thing I recognized was my body.
I was laying in the middle of the road, the side of my face bloody. I caught the words "He's alive!", and then I think I fainted. I was in Raine's body and I had just seen my own body after being hit. I think I earned the right.