County Hospital, 3:18 pm, Friday
It took several moments and a lot of concentration for me to finally wake up, and at first, I was disoriented. The last thing I remembered was talking to Zach at school, but upon waking, I found myself in a bed, surrounded by sterile white walls. There was a smell like rubbing alcohol and a hushed quiet, like a library or a hospital.
That's when I remembered, or realized, and I sat up and looked down on -my- body. Not Raine's, but -mine-. My first feeling was surprise, followed quickly by happiness, and then worry. If I had my body back then Raine was in hers, and I didn't know if Zach would realize that. I didn't want him saying anything to Raine, thinking she was still me.
Feeling suddenly worried and jealous, I sat up fully and swung my legs over the side of the bed. And regreted it instantly as several bruised or broken ribs protested, and every ache and pain in my body made itself known. Seeing my body look like it had been run over by a truck was in no way comparable to -feeling- it. I had to remind myself that Raine had borne the pain for several days, and I had no right to complain. That was followed by the selfless thoguht that at least she wouldn't have to suffer anymore.
From there, my brain went back to Zach, and I forced myself to move again, this time just scooting along the bed until I'd reached the phone. I picked it up and ran into the small problem of who to call. I set the phone back in the cradle. I could call the school and ask for Zach, but that would seem odd and they might not let me talk to him. I could ask for Raine. They'd be more willing to let me talk to her, I think.
Before I'd finished talking to myself inside my head, the phone rang. I jerked back in surprise, and then picked it up. "Raine?" She was the only person I could think of who would call. Maybe Zach...
"Try again, honey," said the masculine voice at the other end of the line. It took me a moment to place the slight accent. "Hi, Cal, baby. Miss me?"
"Sven?" I said questioningly, just to make sure. I heard a laugh and took that as affirmation. "Listen here. My best friend is back in her body and is about to be confessed to by the guy who likes -me-. If he tells her before he tells me, I'm going to be really mad."
There was another laugh. "Glad to see you have your priorities in check. Aren't you the least bit curious as to why I'm calling?" His voice was almost flirty, like that day in the grocery store.
"I want to know that everything's okay," I said in reply, trying to keep my voice firm.
"Depends on your definition of 'okay'," his voice was more serious, though. "I'm calling to give you a few options, Calvin. You can decide for everyone, but you have to choose quickly. Understood?"
I wanted to say 'no', but I voiced a 'yes' instead. I had a feeling that my 'options' wouldn't be given to Raine, and it might have been the only chance we had to make everything right. I could hope, at least.
"Option one. You can have your boyfriend and your body, but your friend must suffer with the consequences of her actions." That sounded terribly foreboding, and I shook my head, even though I knew he couldn't see it. "Option two: you give up your boy toy and your best friend, and things rewind themselves to where the paths of your lives never touch on blackmail and deceit."
I glared at the stand where the body of the phone was, unable to believe that my only choices involved losing one or both of the people I considered important to me. Lose Raine, or lose Raine and Zach. "What's the third choice?"
"Third choice?" Sven repeated back to me.
"You said a 'few'. Two is a couple, a few is three or four, so I get at least one more choice," I said sharply, hoping he wouldn't call my bluff and tell me that I had all the choices I was going to get.
"Third option is: you give up your boyfriend and get to keep your best friend, who will be free of blackmail." Lose Zach and get to keep Raine. Why couldn't I have an option where I kept them both? "Choose quickly, Calvin."
I closed my eyes. "I just want everyone to have happy, normal lives. Why can't that be an option?" If I had to choose between them...it wasn't an easy choice, but it wasn't impossible. "I choose option-"
"Option four, it is!" Sven said, before I had a chance to finish.
I was struck instantly by a wave of pain and nausea, and I dropped the phone a mere second before falling back on the bed, brain shutting down under the onslaught. For a long time, it was like riding the waves of the ocean, and once the discomfort was gone, there was nothing but the waves carrying my body. Then a feeling like the earth shuddering, and everything went black. Again.
Smith residence, 6:31 am, Monday
I woke up early and wished instantly that I could go back to sleep. Prom was coming up, and I was on the committee. I didn't relish the though of sitting through a two hour meeting on top of school itself and practice.
Blue jeans and a T-shirt had already been laid out the night before, and I put them on quickly, before going downstairs. I still had an hour before I had to leave for school and thirty minutes before I had to wake Scottie. In the time I still had to myself, I poured cereal and milk into a bowl, and then took my breakfast into the living room to watch morning cartoons. Cartoons have always been fine in my book, as long as it wasn't Pokemon. I had enough of that with Scottie to last me a lifetime.
I woke the brat up at seven and then talked at him, not to him, for a good five minutes until he got out of bed. He might have been stubborn, but I was moreso. As I liked to say, "I'm bigger, meaner, and more patient. You -want- to test me and see how long I can go?" He hadn't won a battle to date, which was lucky for me, because I would have had to learn a new way to intimidate him.
While he was getting ready for school, I went down stairs and friend some eggs. Mother always prefered that we eat 'good stuff' for breakfast, and while I was addicted to cereal, Scottie liked eggs and ketchup. He was also addicted to Pokemon, so I figure it was all a phase he'll grow out of eventually.
By the time I arrived at school at ten minutes to eight, I had remembered the homework from the night before that I hadn't done. It was for a class I didn't have until after lunch, though, and I'd have time to do it, or at least fake that I'd done it. The teacher wasn't particularly picky about it as long as it was turned in.
"Yo, Calvin!" I turned and grinned at Robbie Jenkins, one of my friends and teammates. He ran up to me, obviously excited about something. "Dude, have you heard?"
I shook my head at him and kept walking. "Heard about what? Did you finally score with the prudish Ms. Atwood?" He'd been chasing the girl forever and that was the only thing I could think of that would have him so excited.
"No," he was quick to refute, looking down for just a moment. "She said she was going with someone else to prom." He cheered back up quickly. "This is worse, dude." Worse? He's excited about something that was 'bad' to begin with? "Dave and I stayed late last night to clean up after practice and bring the equipment back here to the school, right? Well, we get here, and there's this nerd still in the music room. You know thow some of them stay later, for practice or something? Anyway, he heard him -singing-, so we thought we'd sneak up on him and give him some shit, you know? And the little fuck is drawing and do you know -what- he's drawing?"
I shook my head and laughed. "I don't know. A picture of Ms. Randall naked?" Half the male student body had the hots for the music teacher. It wasn't any great surprise that the music room was busy even after school.
"No," Robbie said, and the way he spoke gave me a tight feeling in the pit of my stomach. "It was -you-, dude." The feeling only grew worse, and I frowned, not getting it. "The geek's a freaking -queer-, man, and he's digging -you-." Robbie laughed as we walked up the steps and into the school. "Anyway, the fag comes to all our games, and some of the guys are going to corner him tonight and 'teach him a lesson', if you know what I mean. You gonna join us?"
"No," I refused the invitation with a shake of my head, feeling lightheaded and ill. "You guys know I'm not big on beating the shit out of people. You can have fun, though. Don't get caught." I went on to my homeroom, my mind spinning. Everything up to coming to school had seemed normal, but there was this odd sense of unreality that had been following me since I'd stepped onto the sidewalk leading to the building.
I couldn't figure it out, though, and I blocked the feeling as best I could for the rest of the period. When the bell rang, I stood up and left at my normal pace, putting me at about the middle of the group struggling to escape. In the hallway, I slipped a bit closer to the edge, not feeling up to fighting for a space in the middle of the hallway.
"Watch it, Smith," a feminine voice said suddenly, and I stopped and took a quick step back as I realized that I'd almost run over the girl who had spoke.
"Sorry, Robbins," I said by force of habit, looking down at her. She wasn't much shorter than me, but short enough. I knew her, of course. We'd actually been best friends once, in junior high, but her parents had gotten into an accident and they'd all moved away for a few years, and when she came back, we just...never hung out again. Odd, how things go.
She rolled her eyes and stepped past me, moving fluidly despite the heels and tight skirt she always wore. Once upon a time, I would have classifed her as the type of girl who put out, but she didn't date, as far as the school gossip mill was aware, and so it didn't seem likely. Just another person trying to be an 'individual'.
I continued on for a few steps, and stopped suddenly. I turned around and Raine had stopped, too, and she was looking back at me with the same confusion I feel welling up deep within me. The feeling from earlier had returned, and it was heavier than before, weighing down on me. Why did everything seem so wrong? Like I was missing something.
She shook it off first and turned back around. By the time my head stopped spinning, the hall was clear and I was alone and late for class.
At lunch, I sat with the rest of my team. We were only a month into the baseball season, and we'd already won the three games we'd played. It was kind of sad, thinking it would be our last season together, but life moved on.
It was a normal lunch, with the guys laughing and joking about their prom dates and about the last game we'd played, where there had been some really good plays, but also some really bad ones. I was about to get up to throw away my trash when everyone else quieted, and I looked up to see who they were looking at. The object of their attention must have realized it, too, because he looked in our direction about the same time, and his eyes glanced across everyone else and settled on me.
"Ah, here's the boy himself!" I heard Dave announce. I was too busy trying to figure out why my stomach dropped again, the way it had with Raine in the hallway earlier.
"Zachary, right?" I heard one of the other guys say. Brown eyes swiveled away from mine and I saw him swallow.
Zachary Taylor. I didn't really know him or anything about him. He didn't answer the question, and instead turned, cheeks a dark pink. Poor guy. He was so mousy and timid. The guys aren't going to have any trouble making him their miserable little punching bag. I swallow the sudden anger I feel and rub my head. Nothing is -right-. I stand up suddenly, attracting their attention to me before they can make Zach stop again.
"I'm going to go see if the coach wants us to run drills for practice, and then see if I can't talk him out of it." I grin, and I see Dave grin back at me. The ring leader, it seems, because everyone else settles down.
As I left the cafeteria, I took note that Zach had escaped and Raine was watching me closely. That's what Zach must be like without Raine to corrupt him, I thought to myself. I had to stop as the words clicked inside me, but I couldn't make sense of them, either. Since when had Raine the Ice Queen protected geeky little Zach?
And why did I care suddenly about either of them?
After school. I had to run to the grocery store for my mother, and then I had to pick up Scottie. No Pokemon meeting, thankfully. I smiled as I drove towards the grocery store. To imagine that my little brother's favorite card was the one I had given him for his birthday.
I was confused when I parked the car, as I tried to figure out where that thought had come from. I couldn't remember ever having asked Scottie, and he talked all the time about -all- of his cards. What was worse was that the thought seemed important, like I should remember it.
But every thing seemed like that. I couldn't figure it out. It's like something...
...was missing. I wasn't seeing everything in my life.
As quick as the thought came to me, it disappeared, and I was left standing beside my car, the door open, without a clue.
I growled and shut the door, feeling pissed. I was playing head games with myself, and I didn't like it one bit. Determined to ignore myself, I stalked into the grocery store and headed straight for the dairy section. I was halfway there when I remembered that I was picking up tomato juice and pasta for dinner, not milk. Confused and angry with myself, I turned back towards the aisle I would need and then stopped sharply. A tall man wearing sunglasses was standing two feet in front of me, leaning lazily against one of the support beams for the store and staring at me over the rim of his glasses.
"'Lo," he greeted me, smiling with eyes and mouth. "I'm Sven."
I smiled back out of habit. "I'm la-" I stopped and stared at him, suddenly angry at him. "This wasn't what I meant!"
He simply kept smiling. "This is what you said. Everyone's life 'normal'."
"I said -happy- and normal. How is Zach going to be happy if he's getting the crap beat out of him tonight?" I gave up my best friend and the guy who was in love with me for -this-? "I want things back the way they were."
"You said normal, Calvin. I gave you an option and this is what you chose."
"But this isn't normal! Normal is Raine blackmailing people and Zach liking me and no one knowing it but them and me! Normal is -not- me being a baseball player and letting Zach get hurt, and Raine and me not being friends!"
Sven shook his head and tsked. "Such poor grammar, Calvin. Are you telling me that this is not what you asked for?"
"That's exactly what I'm saying," I spat back. "I'll take the pain and the hospital and the blackmail and everything else with it." I didn't want to live without Rainey, or without Zach.
He pushed away from the wall and walked towards me, hips swishing. "It's going to cost you," he said softly, stopping right in front of me. "Are you willing to pay the price? You don't have the excuse any more of being blind and stupid, and you will not get another chance."
"Fine," I agreed without hesitation. I tried to step back when he leaned closer, but he grabbed me by my shirt and pulled me to him, crushing my lips with his mouth. It was a struggle to keep from pushing him away, but I managed to hold still until he'd pulled back and dropped me.
He smirked at me, tilting his head enough that he was actually looking at me through his lenses. "You really should be home in bed, Calvin. All this running around isn't good for your body. It needs time to heal." He said it so casually that it took me until after he'd walked away to realize what he was talking about.
I tried to step forward, but the movement was painful and awkward, and I looked down at myself. My leg was in a cast, and when I pressed my hand against my chest, I found it wrapped tightly. Despite the pain, I laughed. "Hell," I said softly, laughing quietly.
"You're insane!" Raine's voice broke me out of my reverie, and I looked up to see her and Zach bearing down on me. "You walk out of the hospital without telling anyone, and you come to the -grocery store-." I could see her concern and relief in her eyes, and when she got close enough, I hook an arm around her shoulders.
"I had this urge for something normal," I said hoarsely. My throat was still raw, too. I waved back in the direction of the milk. Zach stopped in front of us, mirroring Raine's relief, but also exuding uncertainty. I walked forward with Raine's help and hooked an arm around Zach, too. "I'm really starting to dislike this store, though."
Raine laughed and shook her head at me. "Only you, Smith. Gods, I let you out of my sight for one minute and you're wandering around a store without your crutches."
"Love you, too, Rainey." She rolled her eyes at me, but didn't respond. I turned my head and smiled at Zach, before leaning down and kissing his cheek. *Love you, too, cutey.
His blush was definitely worth it, though having him trip over his feet in embarrassment wasn't, especially when it resulted in the three of us going down in a pile of limbs.
"Hey, Zach?" I asked, ignoring the knee that was pressing painfully into my ribs. What were a few more bruises?
"Yes, Calvin?" he said back, craning his head back so that he could look at me.
I smiled. "Will you go with me to prom?"
I heard Raine sigh, and then she shifted and the knee pressed harder against my ribs. "As sweet as this is, if you don't get off me, I -will- be forced to hurt you both." Zach rolled away, allowing me to roll off of Raine's legs. I just grinned as she stood up. "If this mushy stuff is going to start being a normal thing, I'm going to refuse to hang out with you any more."
Normal. What an odd concept.
I was distracted from Raine's mini-tirade by Zach kneeling beside me, looking down at me with brown eyes. "Yes," he answered finally, his eyes shining in the poor lighting.
"Come on, Cal!" Raine yells sharply. I would gnored her if she hadn't been right next to my ear when she yelled. I turn my head to look at her.
"I'm trying to study, Raineyl I've got to pass that damned SAT to get into the college I want." It was a good argument, and it had been working for quite a while, but she's not going to let me get away with it that easily.
"Get your ass in gear, Smith. Your boyfriend is already downstairs. In a speedo, I might add. He wants to play in the water his stud." She's giving me a pointed glare now, as if I've done something wrong. My brain is stuck on the idea of Zach in a speedo, though. I think she realizes when I start drooling over my books that her plan to lure me away didn't work. "You know, I think Mike is thinking of cheating on me with your boytoy," she states casually.
I give her a look. "You think that threatening me with your boyfriend is going to make me move?"
She rolls her eyes, and I think she's admitted defeat, when laughter drifts in through my open window. "Mike, stop!" I hear Zach shout, but the sound is more amused than anything, and I have a sudden image of Mike with his hands on my boyfriend. I'm out the door and halfway down the stairs before Raine has time to blink.
I get outside in time to see Mike spin Scottie in a circle. I roll my eyes when I see Zach leaning against my car, dressed in jeans and a sleeveless shirt. Figures. Mike puts Scottie down, and the squirt comes up to me, weaving as he walks, still dizzy. He leans against me, which is about as affectionate as we get, and he looks up at me. "Do you know what my favorite Pokemon card is?" he asks. I look over my shoulder at Raine and roll my eyes. "Squirtle?" I guess.
It's obviously the wrong answer, as he draws away from me and looks at me suspiciously. "You're not really my brother, are you?"
Raine and Zach both break out in laughter, and Mike follows suit, not really getting it as he comes over and puts a hand on Scottie's shoulder. "Who else would he be?"
Zach walks up and wraps his arms around me, and rests his head against my chest. At least my boyfriend recognizes me. I embrace him in return and rest my cheek on top of his head, content to just hold him. "Truth may seem, but cannot be; Beauty brag, but 'tis not she; Truth and beauty buried be."
I smile at nothing and close my eyes. "Where's that from?" I ask Zach.
"Shakespeare," he answers softly. I resist the urge to laugh, remembering the snippet of a poem he had written on a picture that he still refuses to let me keep. "And before you ask, yes, it's from the same sonnet."
"I wasn't going to say anything," I defend myself lightly. I squeeze him closer for a second before letting go and stepping back, my left hand trailing down his arm until I catch his right hand and thread my fingers through his. "Come on, Turtle. Let's go swimming."
"But I hate water," Zach whines softly, letting me pull him towards the car. Raine's already standing by the front passenger door, and Scottie's whining about not being able to sit up front.
Truth may seem, but cannot be...trust Zach to get it right. I asked for normal and happy, and while the latter applies, I don't think this is quite 'normal', either. But if this is option four, I'll take it. It's the only option where I get to keep what matters most.