I have read many things about race, about how comfortable people like me are in their skin. How do they feel that way? I am five feet, six inches. My hair crinkles like tiny springs, the colour of mahogany. The steam had begun to fade from the mirror. My pretty face was left distorted. My brown eyes shimmered. I love my bathroom, because it is one of the only places I feel as if I am allowed to be vulnerable – not even my bedroom is so sacred, and I am an only child.
My belly knotted up as I perfumed the air, and my soft skin with warm vanilla sugar. I would graduate from high school that year, but I was taking college courses in a branch system. My high school pays for it all. I unplugged the hair dryer and stashed it under the sink.
Opening the door to my bathroom, I walked down the staircase that lead down from what I mentally had come to consider my part of the house. Upstairs was my room, the guest bedroom, and my bathroom. The guest bathroom, if you want to be technical about it.
I stepped down the wooden stairs, admiring their deep amber curls. My skin is close to pecan, not nearly as deep as it would be that summer. It would be a lot simpler, if only my skin would stay the same tone, all the time. The smell of pancakes filled the air, dragging me out of my thoughts. My bare feet patted against the hardwood as I moved through my house, admiring some of the paintings on the walls. I did not know if any of them had been painted in the United States, my dad traveled so much for work.
His work was what let my mama stay home and be the sweet, middle-age, suburban mama she always dreamed of being. The whiteness of the kitchen was almost blinding – why does she never close the blinds in the morning? In the evening, the wall of glass looking into the backyard was nice, but the sun rose so that its rays shine bounced the light off of the walls. I glanced at my phone on the counter, plugged into the wall.
Mama hums her favourite song as she slides a pat of I Can’t believe it’s not butter onto my two pancakes. “You took long enough, Tiana,” she said, her southern drawl carefully hidden by middle-class charm. “Summer break hasn’t started yet!”
I sat down at the table, smiling towards her with good humour. “But you still knew when I would come down,” I countered.
“Of course I did. You don’t think that after eighteen years, I don’t know my own daughter?” She danced to some ‘hip’ tune as she made her way over, her hair teased to being straight, stiff as boards on her shoulders. “Da-da-daa!” she sang, placing my breakfast before me, three delicate blueberries strung over it like the perfect garnish.
I was a little surprised. “No syrup?”
“Oh. You noticed.” I wondered how anyone could not notice the absence of maple syrup on their pancakes. Mama assumed one of those looks. You know the kind… quietly judging you for asking for something. “You don’t eat the regular Kroger brand, you know.
You only eat that expensive kind. I was so thoughtful, though, I bought you blueberries instead.”
“It was one of those instances where you knew you had to be grateful, even though the blueberries would go bad in a few days, and you could last on a single bottle of maple syrup for more than a month – but you had better not ask for any syrup after the blueberries were gone, else you were ungrateful and should not have let the blueberries go bad. All the while, your mother is smiling at you, knowing that she has fooled her darling little angel.”
“Thank you, mama.”
“You don’t need all that sugar, anyways. I know you’ve been trying to lose weight.” “Yes, mama.”
“I don’t like those jeans, Tiana. Why don’t you dress in the respectable clothes you get for Christmas and your birthday?” We had that conversation a lot.
I took a bite of my pancake before answering, feeling the flatness of it on my tongue before I answered. “‘Cause these are comfortable, mama. Don’t you like for me to be comfortable?”
A little flustered, she replied. “Yes, of course I do! You shouldn’t talk that way, you know it isn’t presentable.”
As I walked to the bus stop, I finally had the freedom to answer my phone. I saw that I had a discord message from Demi-god. I grinned slightly at the nickname, shouldering my pack more securely. Sliding my thumb across the screen, I unlocked the phone.
Demi-god: where u at?
Sent: 7:32 PM
I was only a little annoyed that he forgot my curfew… again. I messaged with one hand, tapping against the gently vibrating keys with my thumb. Maybe it was actually something important, this time.
Tiana: You know I can’t have phone after five
Sent: 7:44 AM
Tiana: What’s up
Sent: 7:45 AM
Almost immediately, he replied.
Demi-god: Gotta tell ur parents to stop that shit
Sent: 7:08 AM
The bus pulled up shortly after I arrived. As I sat down, alone, in my seat, watching my bus pass the houses in my neighborhood like it did every other house in every other neighborhood. Occasionally, we would stop to pick up a package. The houses were jostled close together, all with two or more floors. Most were pristine white, their slats appearing brand new. The lawns were immaculate. Buzz.
Sent: 7:13 AM
Tiana: Omw to school
Sent: 7:14 AM
When the bus dropped me off, I went to stand in front of the school, waiting for my ride. Once the original stream of students had filed in, I glanced around. Only a handful of students were also taking the classes, and they seemed miserable to even be going. One boy with curly hair rubbed his nose, with deep shadows under his eyes. The gray sky made him look dead. Buzz. Suppressing a groan, I glanced at my phone.
Demi-god: can u text now
Tiana: Aren’t you in class?
Tiana: Pay attention!
Demi-god: lol why are u so nerdy
The college bus pulled up, coming to an exhausted stop in front of the lot of us. We were some of the only ones that had been crazy enough to take the morning classes. Or were forced.
My college was not only the cheapest in the state, it happened to be the one getting paid to give high school students courses. College credits are college credits, mama had said. And she said I knew that I could do it, I just didn’t apply myself enough! What a bore. At least today would be our last day before spring break.
The class of the day?
The five of us were scheduled gathered in the park, our chosen place. Green had returned to the area, and I looked up at the tall trees fondly. Of course, I was the first one there. I could faintly hear the care-free screaming of children on the nearby playground.
The spot where I stood was between two trees, their roots slightly entangled to create a… well. A spot, where five people felt semi-safe. Standing there over the years had made the soil dent in towards the center, packed hard. Jeremy was the second to arrive.
He had always been nice to me, though he was a bit quirky. He had pale, indoor skin and badly cut black hair. It was jagged – I had always believed that he did it himself. His shoulders were slumped, his blue eyes avoiding mine carefully. That was normal. “Hey, Tiana,” he mumbled. “Guess we’re early, huh?” The boy jammed his fingers into his jeans, his plain white t-shirt wrinkled.
Smirking, I quipped, “I think the others are just late.”
He gave a short, awkward laugh. “Yeah. I guess so.”
I always wondered why he had not come out of his shell, but did not find the courage to ask. He looked at my shirt for a couple of moments, idly reading the text. I glanced down as well, realizing that I had forgotten what I was wearing. A wine-coloured t-shirt with the words ‘Born Wild’ on it.
“Ironic,” he grunted. “Never seen you wear that one before.”
“I bought it with my allowance this weekend,” I replied, proud that he had noticed.
“Maybe you… should actually show your wild side… if it actually exists. Just a thought.” My smile fell off of my face, and I saw him wince.
“I am this weekend.” I felt slightly better when he gave me a smile to soften his words.
“I know you can – no one can cage you for long.”
Finally, Hannah arrived, her messy brown hair waving this way and that! “Helloo!” she cried to everyone obnoxiously, running over to hug first Jeremy, and then me. Her clothes were nice, but looked as if she had folded them all wrong. Just like every day since middle school. I nearly coughed from the amount of perfume following her in a cloud, so heavy its scent was nearly indiscernible
Venice was fourth. She was the shortest of our group, with nearly white-blonde hair that had neon blue frosted tips. “Are you really going to do this, Tia?” she asked me, without saying hello.
I puffed out my chest a little. I returned Jeremy’s little grin, thinking of how we were just discussing that. “I am an adult now, Venny. I can do what I like.”
Demetrius poked his large head out from behind one tree, absolutely startling the group with his booming “HALLO!”
Jeremy rubbed his ear, grumbling, while the other girls squealed! I glared towards him, not taking any of his nonsense. He was taller than all of us, his skin deep mahogany. He was wearing a custom t-shirt with his football number printed on the back of it – his football number from three years ago: 18.
“You’ve been doing that for a year – it never gets any funnier,” I scolded. He came around, putting his arm around me like a giant tree trunk, and pulled me against himself. Our fifth member. His arms did not fit like puzzle pieces around me, but they were warm. Everyone else was looking at us with those somewhat expectant expressions, and I quickly moved away from my boyfriend.
“Aw, Tia, why are you bein’ shy?” Demi asked, ruffling my hair playfully. I grit my teeth. The group – and others outside our group – had been ‘shipping’ us for years, since middle school. I had caved this fall, being careful to mask our relationship to my parents’ eyes. Dating a man four years older than me? Preposterous.
Eyeing him with narrowed eyes, I retorted, “I am not shy – I simply do not want your monkey arms crushing my spinal cord.”
Demetrius glared at Jeremy as he went to speak, eyes narrowed in a territorial air. I could see his muscles tense slightly.
Jeremy sighed tiredly. “Did everyone bring everything?”
“Yes!” Hannah squealed, her shiny bracelet gleaming in the light as she raised her hand up. “I brought the tents, the chairs, and everyone’s sleeping bag.” She smiled towards me. “I hope you don’t mind sharing with Demi – he is your boyfriend, after all.”
Demetrius’s previous demeanor faded a little as he looked at Hannah. His lips curled into a smile that I found bothered me, to some extent. “I don’t know anyone that would share a sleeping bag, even with their boyfriend,” I complained.
“So ungrateful!” she sniffed, before flashing another one of her man-catching smiles at Demetrius.
“Sorry, Hannah – I’ll just sleep in one of the chairs.”
Everyone was silent for a moment, before Venice offered, “I brought all of the drinks, and s’more materials.”
Jeremy had brought the ‘real’ food, as well as a cooler. Demetrius, as usual, had brought nothing. He seemed to think that his very presence would sustain us.
“I brought soap, and toilet paper,” I chirped, proud to have been able to make a contribution. Hopefully, my parents would not be too mad when I returned from this silly expedition. Jeremy dug his hands into his pocket, and hopeful jingling was heard as he brought out the ‘keys’ to our salvation, his eyes locking with mine, his expression knowing. They jingled in the light as I turned off my phone.
The inside of the car was black, and had soaked up the sun. A 1998 Honda CR-V.
Jeremy sat behind the wheel, glancing backwards. The two other girls had insisted on riding in the back together, but Demi did not want to ride in the front – it all had been decided before I had even gotten to call the back right seat, like I wanted. Everything was loaded at the gate, and I felt uncomfortable in the seat. The vehicle was a nondescript black, sitting away from the other cars in the lot. I was very aware of Jeremy, fiddling with the A/C, focusing himself in on every task.
Already, Venny and Hannah were chattering, their mouths moving to the beat of a hummingbird’s wings. Jeremy smiled with some chagrin at me. We had always wondered how we had gotten caught up with this group. We had no classes together, but were both at the branch this year. Somehow, I felt as if our bond could only grow.
“Okay, everybody!” he called back. “Are we ready to go?”
After a trio of cheers, he started the vehicle. It was nothing fancy, but purred just like a song to our young ears. My belly twisted – it was four o’clock… I should have been home thirty minutes ago. However, I found myself joining in on everybody else’s excited cheers. With this act of defiance, I was declaring to my parents that I was independent, and ready to be out in the world without their constant supervision. Over the past couple of years, I had had to bloom quietly, in silence, or else they would tear off my delicate petals with more rules. No more!
Pressing the 2 on the radio, I was surprised to find that one of Hannah’s favorite pop artists was blaring through the speaker – at least, I think it was pop. I could hardly hear over Hannah and Venice. Glancing into the rearview mirror, I could see that Demetrius was unsatisfied with his spot, glaring into the rearview mirror at Jeremy. However, he did occasionally engage in the girls’ conversation. His words were generally directed towards Hannah. The truck pulled out onto the road, and the world spun.
Our campsite was deep in the woods, far away from our little college town. We got out of the vehicle, and I asked Venice for the time.
Swiping some of her bright hair out of her face, she checked her new iPhone. “Six thirty-two now – no one knows where we’re going, Tia. Don’t be so worried… they won’t be able to find us out here. Just think! A whole week to ourselves, and you get to have time with Demetrius!”
Demetrius nodded in agreement, shoving his hands into his jeans pockets. “Yeah, Tia.
We never get to go anywhere together, and here we are in the woods!” I swallowed thickly. “Don’t get any ideas,” I said sassily.
Jeremy made a face. “Come on, you guys – we have to set up camp before it gets dark. Unless you want to sleep in the Honda.”
Hannah immediately volunteered, “I’ll carry the marshmallows!” She walked over to the open gate, picking up the marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolates, with Demetrius on her expensive heels.
I bit my tongue, picking two of the four tents.. It truly looked like I would be sleeping outside for a week. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea? Jeremy picked up his blue cooler, catching my disappointed expression. “You can have my tent, if you like,” he offered. I blinked at him in surprise. “What?” he asked, brow furrowing itself. “I remember that, for a whole year, you would give me most of your lunch because I was hungry.”
“Maybe we can trade days.” I curled my lips in a smile, but was inwardly burned by the kindness. “Sure.”
Demetrius put the soaps and toiletries I had gathered, in front of Jeremy’s face, his movement unnecessary aggressive. “Here. Now, these tents…”
Luckily, all of us managed to waddle in one trip with all that had been brought.
“We should have found our spot before we started carrying all this stuff!” Venny complained, two of the foldable chairs being a struggle for her.
Hannah laughed. “This isn’t that much stuff, you guys.”
I think everyone gave her a sour eye at that. However, Jeremy interrupted our annoyance. “There! I think there could be a place.”
We had been going downhill for a while, but the land began to level out. Indeed, this would be a good place… it was flat, and there was nearly a circle where trees happened to not grow. It was nearing dark, with it getting more difficult to see by the minute. It seemed like a good spot. “What if other campers show up here?” I asked, feeling nervous. There was the remnants of a fire pit in the center of it, but it looked as if it had been empty for a long time. I realized, privately, that I was making excuses for myself, and clenched my jaw. None of my friends could understand the softness I had beneath the skin.
“This isn’t a campground, it’s private property in spring,” Demetrius said, dropping three chairs and two tents. I shuddered at the thought of carrying that much, and found myself watching his muscles move as we began to set up camp. He caught my gaze, and grinned as I looked away. Hannah snickered, still holding onto the epitome of any camping trip.
We erected the four tents in a rough square, while Venice and Jeremy went into the woods together to gather firewood. Meanwhile, I set up the chairs all around. I realized at that point that there were only four chairs. My neck prickled as I look Hannah in the eyes. “Am I supposed to share that with Demetrius, too?” I practically growled.
The girl held her hands up defensively, her made-up face twisting in mock confusion. “I thought that I brought five! But – but you could still use one, when no one else is sitting down.”
Demetrius, clueless as ever, chimed in, “You could share with me, though.” “I don’t want to!” I whirled on my boyfriend, feeling my face heat up.
“Don’t talk to me like that!” he snapped back. “I was being nice!”
Hannah smirked from behind Demetrius at me, her eyes sparkling with mischief. I huffed, turning away from the both of them. “I don’t have to argue with you two.”
Feeling spurned, I moved into the woods myself. A short way out, I felt my foot clang against something metal. Glancing down, though, I found it was too dark to tell what I had kicked.
. . .
When I returned to our camp, I found my friends all sitting around a fire, now built up, its flames comforting. Jeremy had a frown on his features. Everyone glanced at me in surprise.
“You didn’t die out there!” Venice cried. At least she sounded happy.
Hannah said, with a marshmallow stick in hand, “After your little fit, we were worried.”
Demetrius beamed over at me, and gestured for me to come out of the near darkness. “C’mon! I made you a s’more – I ate it, though. So I’m making you another one right now!”
Even I could see the kindness behind the offer, and I smiled, moving to sit on the ground between his chair and Venice’s. Perhaps this get-away would be fine, after all.
I had nearly forgotten the metal I almost tripped over in the woods.
. . .
I woke up with a chill. I was curled up on the cold ground of the tent, my muscles feeling stiff. With some difficulty, I sat up, sliding my bare feet across the bottom of the tent.. Beads of dew hovered along the outside of the pale red tent. I became aware of an itching in my palms, and ran my clear-coat nails over them in turn.
The itch only grew, and I gritted my teeth irritably. I realized at that point that I probably needed to pee, so proceeded to unzip my tent and tumbled out, my hands bracing against the cold ground as I went to stand. Camp was quiet, the air so still that it seemed to buzz, every moment begging to break the tension of silence.
The thing that broke that silence were my own footsteps, moving across the clearing. The firepit smoked lazily, but my eyes were fixed on a point in the woods – the very place I had stormed out of camp towards. I was surprised when Venice’s arm landed on my shoulder, and looked at her in a daze.
“What are you doing?” I asked her in confusion, keeping my voice at a whisper.
Her eyes rounded innocently. “Nothing! I was just wondering where you were going! A pee break?”
“Quiet down! You’ll wake the others.”
It was too late. The others, one by one, their bodies zombies awoken by the midnight moon, began swinging themselves up. I noticed Jeremy twitching his sleeping bag, in a chair. He squinted up at us, the shadows under his eyes deeper than ever before.
Demetrius stumbled out of his tent like a bear, swiping at invisible insects.
“Breakfast?” he called. He had always had such a one-track mind. “Where’s breakfast?”
Hannah was shifting around in her tent as well, the sound of hair being brushed coming to our ears. My palms shivered from the itching feeling in them. I turned away from them all, staring into the forest with a sort of tunnel vision. My voice was hollow. “I need to go get the box.” It was a metal box I had kicked. They all stared at me as I walked away, but they did not understand. The more aware I became, the stronger the feeling became. I needed that box . Perhaps there was some great treasure in it – yes! A treasure. It was fate that I would find that box.
At long last, I saw that box, and nothing else. It was partially covered by dirt, new grass nearly covering its surface. Organic material had nearly hidden it from me completely. I still would have found it, though.
It was surprisingly light as I picked up the metal box – I had expected it to be heavier, like my responsibility to bring it back to camp. I was the one who had found it, after all.
I made my way back to our tiny camp. The box was comfortingly warm, its presence finally soothing the itching to my hands. Now, there was only a dull throb in my chest that I had not noticed before. Was it my heartbeat, or could it be something more? I had never thought in such ways – my thoughts had always, admittedly, been shallow, and on the surface of things.
“What is that?”
I was surprised, looking up from my box at Hannah. She was immaculate, as usual, not a speck of dirt on her. I beamed. “The box that I was supposed to get – I kicked it yesterday.”
Jeremy rubbed his temple of scrappy hair. “I don’t… remember you bringing a box.” Venice was already building up a fire again. Perfect – everything seemed just right.
“Demetrius,” I said, gesturing to a small log on the edge of camp. “Bring that here – for the box.”
It took forever, but he finally rolled it before me. After I had him turn it up so that I could safely set the smallish box there, I felt a great relief. All in all, the box was simple, and had no visible openings. We all gathered around it. An electric energy was filling the air, and I looked at everyone in turn, feeling expectant. Something important was about to happen.
The energy grew with every passing second. Venice swallowed nervously. “What – are we waiting for?”
No one answered. No one moved. No one knew.
Then, I felt myself falling through a spectrum of light.
I was dizzy as I set up. An aqua color filled part of my vision, and I impatiently swiped it away. The synapses of my brain began to light up slowly. Making connections.
Adjusting dials. The world was spinning.
To my left, Hannah sat up. “Holy SHIT!” she squawled, and then promptly covered her mouth. “What’s wrong with my voice?” she continued, her squeaky voice muffled.
When I opened my mouth, I found my voice was not my own, either. “What- what happened?”
Finally, I saw myself for who I was. My hair was mostly blonde, with neon-blue frosted tips. My skin was the color of buttercream, which through me for a loop, as if I suddenly had been vaulted out of reality. It was when I stood up that the thoughts and memories assaulted me. I was adopted by a single, lonely bachelor that would give me anything in the world. I never wanted much, though – just to be myself without the interference of tutors. I begged to go to public school; I soon found myself a reject from all of the cliques. Fast forward to my college years, I had finally found a semi-stable group of friends, and Hannah had taken me under her wing. Teaching me how to do makeup, encouraging me to dye my hair any color I wanted. It was a gentle step in this process.
“With this act of defiance, I was declaring to my parents that I was independent, and ready to be out in the world without their constant supervision. Over the past couple of years, I had had to bloom quietly, in silence, or else they would tear off my delicate petals with more rules. No more! “
The treetops were so far away when I stood up. I became aware of Demetrius’s frightened screams, and I looked over at him, trying to comprehend the fear on his face.
“Oh – my – GOD!” he was squealing, his round eyes bugging out of his head. “WHAT’S HAPPENING?! – GROSS!”
I understood, somehow, what had happened. The others were all disorientated. I felt in tune with my new body, as if Venice and I were one character. It was actually very simple. I was being projected into her. So where was Venice? Finally, I did see her: Jeremy. I realized how well she and he fit together, how their minds would mesh. “Venice!” I called to her.
She looked at me through Jeremy’s blue eyes, and I could see confusion, fear in them.
“Why is this happening?” she asked. I knew the answer. “For a reason.”
“I understand him,” Jeremy’s voice said to me, and I was surprised when his cheeks flushed. “His feelings…”
Hannah’s eyes were wide. “Jeremy,” I said to her, reaching out to squeeze her hands, careful to avoid the acrylic nails. She jumped in surprise!
“Help me, Tia,” she said, her voice fearful. “I don’t want this!”
“It will be fine,” I replied. I knew it would be. I was confident in the fact.
Demetrius had big, fat tears rolling down her face. “Get me OUT of here!” he groaned. I realized suddenly that I had seen no reaction from… me.
Demetrius. I looked over at my frazzled, muddy body, and was surprised. She – me – stood up, and walked over to me, her expression stormy. “Get me OUT of this body!” she ordered, eyes filled with fury. Towards… me. I was surprised, confused. It was not myself – but this was supposed to happen. So why was she so hurt?
“Calm down, Demetrius,” I told him firmly.
“Why didn’t you tell me that you didn’t return my feelings?” At that point, tears filled up her eyes. “– Why am I crying?” She hastily tried to wipe them away. “I can have- ANY girl. I don’t need your approval – why do you think I’m stupid?”
“I don’t,” I said in surprise. Venice did, though. She secretly thought that he was the biggest lunkhead that she had ever met, and regretted going along with Hannah’s plan to ship us. “I just think…” I smiled peacefully. “That you aren’t the one for me. We’re too different – our personalities clash.”
Demetrius’s true body was sitting on the down, with Hannah within him. He was sobbing uncontrollably.
The spectrum overtook us again, and I let it happen.
I began to come back online, slowly. This time, I was in Hannah’s body. I wasn’t terribly surprised, but it was unpleasant, like sticking your hand in filthy sink water. Her memories and thoughts came to me more slowly – they had greater significance.
Hannah was born to a rich family, but that wasn’t her fault. From a young age, she was ignored, and only had rich, fine things thrown at her. She was never taught value, manners, or empathy.
Her lack of feelings for others had led to her being the head of a friend group in high school that had hated her. She did not know what to do when she graduated and was left with no one – she had not seen a single one of her friends since graduation day, and most of her fellow college students could not handle her selfish ways – but she was learning, and expected everyone to fall upon her in return for perceived acts of kindness. I became aware of what bodies my friends had found. Demetrius was now in Venice’s body, and I could see him struggling to be within such a small frame. She hugged herself, dragged her fingers through her hair, struggling to cope.
Venice was inside of Hannah, and I saw her frowning thoughtfully, wanting so badly to hug her. And so, she walked to Jeremy, and embraced him. I listened to their quiet, panicked voices.
Jeremy flinched within the body of Demetrius, his eyes meeting mine. He walked over, towering over me; but I knew that he was feeling incredibly small. A large hand came to rest on my shoulder. “He doesn’t realize what he has.”
Hannah whimpered from within my body, full of confusion as understanding flooded over her.
And so it went. I phased through Demetrius, surprised to find that his home life was not what I would have expected. He was scolded every day by his parents, and told never to cry from a young age. His father drank every night, while his mother was a lady of the night. All of the stress often caused Demetrius to act out – it was why he had stopped playing football, as well, and had lost the scholarship money. I suddenly felt bad for always thinking the worst of him – especially after we had started dating. ‘Dating’.
However, I suddenly became aware of his more recent thoughts. How he wished that I would flaunt myself, like Hannah did, that I possessed the money she did.. My chest tightened with hurt. It seemed like my lack of attention towards him had inadvertently drove him away, caused him to seek another; who better to choose than a privileged young woman like Hannah?
My last switch was Jeremy. I thought that I would be prepared to mesh with him, but I was not. He had three siblings, all brothers, and was a middle child. As a result, he was chiefly ignored throughout most of his growing up, especially when his father lost his job. As a result, he became more introverted, and did not know how to defend himself when his siblings would roughhouse with him.
Lastly… many of his most recent memories were filled with something strange. Me. Within his – my – chest, our heart thudded uncomfortably. It was me. I became aware of the admiration he had for me – how I could talk to others in our grade with such comfort, but never forgot our friendship. He did not know how he would have made it without me to rescue him from awkward situations, or occasionally to share a snack.
He was in my body, then, and we met eyes. It was supposed to be just like that, too.
“I think we are ready to switch,” I said, surprised at the shyness in my now deeper voice. The world seemed so much more complex, suddenly. This was not just about getting away from my parents – it was about knowing the people I had actually surrounded myself with, and understanding them.
I knew the body was my own when I stood up. I finally understood how it felt to feel comfortable in my own skin. As my brain settled back into its own cavity, I realized that the box in the center of the clearing had collapsed in upon itself: a simple square of scrap metal.
I walked towards Jeremy, feeling my knees wanting to buckle. Everyone was surprised – they all were still absorbing all of the information they had seen. Not I – there would be time for that. I wrapped my arms around Jeremy, yanking him in for a hug. “I understand, now,” I said. I looked at each of my friends, repeating it as I felt Jeremy’s arms tighten around me – it felt perfect. “I understand, now.”
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