By Erin McGinnis
“Come on, A, this could be your last,” I could see Rachel’s breath in the gray autumn air as we walked. “Spend it with us.”
“I probably will. I dunno. We’ll see.”
“You think so?”
I didn’t. I really didn’t. All I could think about was July.
“I’m glad you changed your mind.”
“Yeah. Me too.”
I wasn’t. I was reliving another walk. A warmer one.
Staring down at the brown leather on my feet, my blue socks peeked out, their graphic, warm peaches matching the crinkled leaves in the cracks of the sidewalk. Rachel continued on about our friends and their plan to reach the Hundred Acre Woods this year.
“Who’s all doing this again?”
“Ben. Grace. Kerri, Greg, Mads, Sky–the usual crowd.”
“He’s not coming, A.”
“I know what you’re thinking. Better stop while you’re ahead.”
“Wishing for fiction.”
The irony was incredible.
“Stop that. I know you. I see the way you guys talk.”
I didn’t know that everyone else did, too.
The familiar feeling of sunshine on my skin was another version of home, calming my nerves as I waited on the splintering porch. Digging my blue nails into the cedar of the railing, I stared down the street at the shiny blacktop. Steaming. The trees were vibrant and dry, glowing in that warm, golden shine I appreciated so greatly.
That was something he would always shared with the sun. Warmth.
And there he was.
His sharp, black converse rubbered their way to me, immuning him to the steam of the street. I wished the sun would go away for a moment; just kindly tuck itself behind the clouds and match the sky to my mood. Foreshadow. Fade his dopey smile in the tiniest way. Maybe even reduce my inevitable sweat.
Make it all go away.
Clean rubber squeaked closer. Closer.
Make him go away.
There was no chance now. The sun shone on, and the auburn hair poking through his hat stayed matte, unmoving, unshining. Light seemed to have no effect.
Step by step, I made my way down the stairs to meet him on that damned pavement. Instead of him, I watched my tanned feet, dodging the splintering wood and crooked nails.
Avoiding eye contact, trying to stall a second away, I took note of the hat he had chosen that day. Guilt engraved my gut when it was mine. My hat. I wished I’d never picked out that stupid hat.
I wished he was still the brick walled boy I didn’t know.
“You’ve got a funny look on your face.”
My stomach hollowed. Instead of answering, I looked to the pavement below, ugly and rough.
“Where are your shoes?”
Did I need them?
“Inside. I’ll be back,” I lied.
But I did not know it was a lie when I said it. It was honest at first, until I my actions turned those innocent three words into a lie.
I couldn’t face it. I couldn’t hurt him.
I could leave him right there. On the sidewalk. I could pretend it had never happened. I could hurt him by staying inside, by not acting whatsoever.
So I did.
The doorbell rang until it didn’t.
My reflection in the mirror didn’t have goosebumps yet. None on the outside, at least.
“Think I should wear a pink sweatshirt under my dress? I don’t want to be cold, but I’d make a cuter Piglet without the bagginess, don’t you think?” Rachel’s voice was irritatingly loud over the phone. Brushing away the airy curtain, I looked down the street. Cold tonight. Not quite dark yet, but the little munchkins in furry and neon and caped costumes were already making their way towards the Change Center.
“Sure. Does it matter?”
“Well yeah, A. It does. Piglet is known for being cute. And this might be our last Halloween being able to Change. And I’d like to have a costume that enables me to do so.”
The outcome of her sudden attitude was an inevitable tension.
“Ditch the sweatshirt, then.”
“Fine. How’s yours?”
I didn’t know how to tell her.
“I hope you have a detachable tail. You’ll be able to Change for sure.”
- Did not. Know how to tell her.
I had no intentions of spending the night in the Hundred Acre Woods. How did the Hundred Acre Woods differ from the woods in our backyards, anyway? I wouldn’t be missing much, and it wouldn’t matter. It wouldn’t matter. I had something I needed to fix.
It was the only way.
This was the only way.
“You see, Rachel, uh—”
I untied my shoes, slipping them off one at a time, my socks following. My summer clothes would not be comfortable on the short walk to the Change Center, but I could deal with it for a few minutes.
“–I really don’t think my costumes’ good enough.”
Yeah. That could do it.
“Oh. Why not? Do you want me to come over and help you with it?”
“We’ve still got an hour before we’re meeting at Ben’s, and I don’t want—”
“No, no. It’s alright, Rachel, I’ll figure it out. Thanks, though. For offering.”
“Yeah, of course.” She took an audible breath, just long enough to make me question whether or not she knew. “Yeah. I’ll see you later, ‘kay?”
I spent the hour applying tanner. It reminded me of the easy spring, a time when it was appropriate to be bronze, but no one yet was. Grace and Rachel would lather up on weeknights , hoping to impress jerk boys in their classes, the ones that never ended up sticking around.
When did I ever try so hard? They’d have to understand.
I lied to Rachel again at the end of the hour, crying and tired, fifteen minutes late to meeting with people I didn’t plan on meeting. A familiar feeling engraved itself in my stomach after that phone call, but it didn’t diminish my decision. I had a plan.
It was a relief when my bare, newly tanned feet reached the tile of the Change Center. Goosebumps outside and inside now. It had to work.
When it was my turn, I stepped up to the grey foot pad in front of the wall sized mirror.
I stared at myself, holding my breath.
No one–at least not to my knowledge–had used the Change pad to go back in time on Halloween. It was only used for fun, for transportation between fictional universes. Someone needed to toss me a bone, to turn the pad green like it had for the lions and tigers and bears before me.
I closed my eyes.
I opened them, and the world was a vibrant, new color. Summertime.
Looking down at my feet, I no longer stood on a gray Change pad, but my splintering front porch. I held onto the warm, wooden railing, smiling. I did it. I watched as my blue nails dug into the porch’s cedar, just like they had months before. I waited for him.