Suddenly Thirteen

When I was younger, one of my favourite films starred Jennifer Garner acting like a teenager who was pretending to be thirty. In high school, all I wanted to do was grow out of the phase of terrible acne and finally be able to get my driver's licence. I had a thousand dreams. Each one more fantastic than the next. One day I would want to be an actuary, a researcher or an astronaut.

Fast forward a decade and a half, and I was still single, stuck in a job that I hate with a passion with no long-term career prospects as well as up to my eyeballs in debt. When had my life gone off the rails? Where had all the hopes and dreams flitted away to?

I glanced at the time down in the bottom right of the screen. It was two in the morning on a worknight and the only thing I could bring myself to do was scroll through Facebook, bitter and miserable. A glass of shiraz rested on my bedside table. It probably wasn't a good idea but I needed some comfort after my explosive break-up with the man I had been dating for the last three months.

So, of course it seemed the perfect time to trawl through all the positivity that I could never have. A photo of a mouth-watering dinner from an acquaintance in the grade below me. Another Dungeons and Dragons post from old primary school friends that I had drifted away from over the years because life had felt it necessary to get in the way.

I was full of regrets and I had just barely hit thirty. A deadlier combination I knew not as I morosely pondered what could have been.

It was roughly two thirty in the morning before I closed my laptop and settled into bed. I knew it was a bad idea. Going to bed drunk and at so late an hour. Work would be hell when I woke up. The hangover would only serve to dampen whatever enthusiasm I had that it was a Friday. Maybe, though, I would be able to get away with calling in sick.

There was always a first time for everything.

My eyes had barely closed when my alarm sounded – loud and incessant – in my ear. Telling me that I needed to get out of bed if I wanted to arrive at work on time. Groggily, I reached for my phone on my bedside table, hoping to hit snooze. It wasn't there. Frowning, I sat up and looked around my room.

Was it me or did it seem smaller? And had my bed been moved to the side?

Before I could make sense of what was happening, my door slammed open. Standing in the frame was a man that I had not seen for many years.

"Come on, Sharon, let's get a decent breakfast in you. Don't want to be late and starving for your first day at high school."

This couldn't be. I had to still be dreaming. Or perhaps my drink had been spiked. I pinched myself. Hard.

Pain lanced up my arm and I knew that this was no fever dream. Oh God. What was happening?

Sensing something was wrong, dad approached me. "What's wrong, sweetie?"

"This isn't right," I blurted. "Am I still dreaming?"

Dad frowned at my response and crouched down next to me. "I know high school can be frightening. You're going somewhere new. But it's also exciting. Think of all the friends you'll make and the things you'll learn! Now, I'll see to the waffles. Don't want them to burn. Come out when you've changed, all right, sweetie?"

I sat in silence for several minutes, trying to wrap my head around everything. Dad was here. And alive. A sharp stab of longing pierced my chest. Even if I was still asleep and dreaming, I didn't want to waste the opportunity of seeing him again.

Hastily, I climbed out of bed and padded over to the wardrobe. My old uniform sat neatly folded on the dresser. Within a minute, I had zipped up the skirt and buttoned up the crisp white shirt.

It was time to brush my teeth, wash my face and go down for breakfast.

Catching my reflection in the bathroom mirror, it took a few heartbeats for me to understand that I had been blasted back to when I was thirteen. No longer was my hair platinum blonde. Instead, it was the original muddy brown of my youth. My teeth were in disarray and my face was covered in freckles.

I shuddered at the thought of going through puberty again.

This wasn't a dream. It was a nightmare.

Dad called my name again as I was just finishing up my ablutions. After taking one last look at my younger self in the mirror, I dashed down the stairs.

"Well, isn't someone a little more chipper now?"

I didn't say a word as I plonked down at the breakfast table. Dad was true to his word. Waffles, drizzled in maple syrup, sat before me. All of it seemed so surreal. I grabbed up fork and knife and began to eat in earnest, savouring each bite, even as I told myself that none of this was real. It couldn't be.

Within minutes, I was finished. By 7.30, my bag was packed and I was in the car, waiting to be driven to the nearest bus stop.

A part of me was nervous as we drove down the familiar streets of my childhood. It had been years since I moved and I had never looked back. Yet, sitting in the car with my dad, I was reminded of all the wonderful moments I had shared.

Before I knew it, we arrived at the station. Dad came with me, looking as proud as ever, as we both waited for the bus. There were other children as well. Many that I recognised. To my right was Blake Johnson, short and skinny. In a few years, he would go through a growth spurt that would have him towering over even the teachers.

Seated on the bench, with her mum, was Floris Yu. She had on a thick pair of glasses and she had her hair tied up in twin pigtails. It was hard to believe that by the time we were all in university, she would have slept with half the boys in the grade.

It was nearly eight when the school bus finally pulled up.

"God, sometimes I wonder where the years went. You're a big girl now, Sharon. Have a good day at school. Mum will be here to pick you up. But you'll have to tell me everything that happens on your first day, all right?" Dad said as I was just about to board, tears in his eyes.

I hugged him tight, relishing his warmth. "Be careful on the roads, dad."

"I will, sweetie. Now, go on."

Taking an empty seat near the back of the bus, I pressed myself up against the window and waved desperately at him. Dad smiled and waved back. As the bus began to move and turn around the corner, dad stood there, as if imprinting this moment in his memory.

The first day passed by in a blur. I met my teachers as well as my future friends. Despite the fact that Olivia was now back to her awkward twelve-year old self, we clicked just as easily as the first time. Danielle was as chatty as I remembered her. Oliver, on the other hand, seemed lost and a little preoccupied. I wasn't sure what was bothering him. Had never really paid it much attention because by the time we became fast friends in Year 9, he had got over that bump in his life.

Mum greeted me when I got off the bus. Before I could do or say anything, she grabbed hold of my schoolbag and slung it over one shoulder. "So, how was your first day? Make a lot of new friends?"

Smiling, I answered her. We talked until we reached the car and then we talked even as mum drove us back home.

I was still regaling mum with tales of my adventures as we walked through the front door and the phone in the kitchen rang. Mum went to pick it up. Her face went through an entire gamut of emotions. A feeling of dread welled up through me. Oh God, how could I have forgotten?

Gingerly, mum placed the phone back down. As if frightened it was going to turn around and bite her. She looked at me, eyes wide and her face as pale as death.

"What's wrong?" I asked even as I cursed myself for being a fool. Caught up in living the fantasy that I found myself in, I had wiped away all traces of Patrick and his failing health.

"We need to go to the hospital."

Without even changing out of my uniform, I clambered into the driver's seat, adjusting it for my considerably shorter legs. Mum stared at me, lost for words when I asked for the keys. How could she just stand there when Patrick was on life support and awaiting the final decision to euthanise him?

"Come on. We need to go, mum. Now. I'm the better driver. Just throw on Google Maps on your phone and direct me."

"Sharon, you're thirteen. And what's Google Maps?"

Cursing under my breath, I realised my error. It was supposed to be a dream, but it was damn near too realistic for my liking. "Forget it mum. I'm sorry," I said as I climbed into the passenger's seat. "Let's just get going. Patrick needs us."

Mum nodded mutely and got in the car. She turned on the ignition and effortlessly put the car into gear. I knew she had questions. But she had the wisdom to set them aside and concentrate on more immediate needs.

Within ten minutes, we turned into the driveway of the veterinary hospital. I hopped out of the car as soon as we came to a stop, unbuckling the seatbelt and flinging open the door. Mum shouted after me but I ignored her as I raced to the open doors where dad was standing.

"How's Patrick doing?" I asked.

Dad shook his head. "He's having trouble breathing. Doc says he's on his last legs. We'd better hurry in."

I pushed past him. My feet took me down the familiar corridors until I reached the operating room. Looking through the circular window, I spotted Leanne. She was easily recognisable. Despite the gown she wore, I could identify her blonde streaks that had been tied into a neat bun.

Lying still on the table was Patrick. He was my first dog. A golden retriever that had been my protector and friend for as long as I could remember.

Was he already gone? But then, his chest rose. Within seconds I was by his side, holding his face in my hands. Perhaps he sensed me there for his tongue came out to give me an affectionate lick.

"You're going to be fine, Patrick." I didn't know if I was saying this to him or merely to console myself after witnessing the same event twice. It wasn't fair.

A hand came to rest on my shoulder. It gave me a comforting squeeze. "I'm so sorry, Sharon." Dad. It had to be.

I gently patted Patrick's muzzle and gave him one last forlorn look before I sought the shelter of dad's embrace.

"Why did it have to be him?" I said into his chest as we were gently ushered out. A part of me resented the fact that I couldn't be there when Patrick took his last breath. Only Leanne bearing witness to his last moments. But she was the vet. And it was her job to see it through.

We arrived home, sad and despondent. The last few hours had stained the days in hues of grey. Dinner was a quiet affair. I went to bed early, unable to shake off the loss I felt, though I should have remembered it all having experienced it before. Somewhere over the years, the pain had healed. Now, the wound had torn open again.

If mum had allowed me, I would have preferred going to sleep with a glass of rum. Unfortunately, my mum had always been a stickler for rules and in this dream of mine, I was underage.

Oblivion was difficult to find. After tossing for what felt like hours, I fell into a fitful slumber – unsure of what the next day would bring and hoping that I would wake up in my proper time, where things made sense and the pain that felt so raw now was only a distant memory.

But when I blearily opened my eyes, I found myself again in my old childhood bedroom. Instead of tastefully selected paintings, there were a myriad of posters. Most of them featuring Disney Princesses. A part of me wanted to scream. The more adult part felt deflated – resigned to the fact that I was trapped in the wrong time period and forced to relive my teenage years.

I wasn't sure why that was the case. More than likely, it was some cosmic joke.

Dad came in with a tray topped up with breakfast around seven. "I know yesterday was difficult, Sharon. It was hard for me as well. Patrick was with us for so long. But you need to eat. And when you're finished, let's have a talk. I can call up the school. Get you the rest of the week off."

His offer was tempting. And in my previous past, I had taken him up on the offer. But this was supposed to be a dream. Or, at least, I believed it was. Curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to see where such a choice would lead me as I already knew the alternative: bound to the bed for six days and moping around the house. It had meant playing catch-up when everyone else had picked the friendships that would last for more than a decade.

It was with great effort that I pulled myself from the warmth and comfort of my covers and slipped once again into my school uniform. Though I had experienced the death of Patrick before, the pain of his loss was still as visceral as ever.

Dad understood that when I gave him my bravest smile and said, "I can do this. Patrick wouldn't have wanted me to be crying my eyes out all day anyways. Just because I'm at school doesn't mean I won't miss him."

"That's the spirit."

It was a near thing, but I managed to scoff down breakfast, get dressed, pack my bag and arrive at the station just as the school bus trundled up. I got on, determined to have a good day at school. Even though I might have appeared as if I was just thirteen, I knew that in my head I was a grown woman that had already gone through a whole host of experiences.

With time, I knew, that the pain of losing Patrick all over again would dull. It was simply a matter of putting on a strong façade for the rest of the day.

The second day of school went by as quickly as the first. Before I knew it, the final bell had rung and I was on the bus back home. For a short while, as I was relearning the names of my teachers, I could forget that I was trapped in a different time and that my loyal dog that I had known all my life had passed away the day before.

Never before had I thought high school as a place to forget my woes. My memories of the teenage years had been filled with confusion and angst and worries about the changes my body was going through. Coupled with the pressure to perform and the mountain of homework that I always left to the last minute, it seemed like a miracle when I finally graduated.

Yet, here I was, putting aside the grief and pain as I socialised with the teenager versions of some of my oldest friends. It was striking how far we had come. From precocious students who dreamed of the world to weary adults, caught in the grind of the corporate machine even as we hid our misery by posting edited photos on Instagram and Facebook.

When I walked home from the bus stop later in the afternoon, I felt better than I would have thought given the recent death of Patrick. Rather than desiring to curl up into a foetal ball, I was filled with the determination to change my future.

It was to these thoughts that I fell asleep, after having completed my homework. For close to an hour, I had tried to figure out the maths equations that had never had any bearing in my position as a slave to capitalism.

Rays of sunlight peeked through my window when I jolted out of bed. I glanced towards the alarm clock, hoping to glean the time, but it was missing. Instead, an iPhone sat in its place and it was ringing shrilly. I picked it up. The time read 7:30AM.

Still muddled by sleep, I had just shimmied out of my pyjamas when I realised that things were not quite right. Back in high school, I didn't have a smart phone. It would still be another year or so before Steve Jobs would announce his creation to the world at the MacWorld convention. And it wasn't until my first year at university that I had acquired my first Samsung S2. Purchased, of course, with my own money earned from a part-time job.

Nor had dad come in to check if something was wrong.

Looking at my reflection in the bathroom mirror, I confirmed my suspicions. Thirty-year old Sharon stared back at me. Hair, dyed blonde at the tips with dark roots threatening to undo all my good work. I was back in my time. The strange dream that had held me hostage had ended.

A part of me felt bereft. The halcyon days of my youth were gone. A second time.

I let out a frustrated breath and checked the time and date on my smart phone again. Now was not the time of reminiscing over what could have been. I had an hour to shower, get dressed and head to work. Another day in the cubicle, earning the money I needed to survive in a cold and unfeeling world.

God. I needed a coffee. And I needed it yesterday.

The day passed as slowly as a snail. By eleven, I was jittery, wishing for the day to end. My earlier musings of what to have to lunch replaced by the monotonous repetition of office busywork. Jenny, one of my work colleagues, seemed to sense my mercurial mood.

"What's up, Sharon? You don't seem to be blazing through your cases as quickly as you usually do after your banana bread and skim latte combo."

"Just got a lot of things on my mind, Jenny."

"Want to talk about it?"

"Not really," I said as I opened up another spreadsheet that reduced a person's life into a series of indecipherable numbers.

She took the hint and kept quiet until lunch time finally rolled around. And before she could invite me out for a walk and offer to shout me some sushi from the restaurant down the street, I was already out of my seat, headed for the elevators. Luck smiled upon me and I managed to get into one of the death traps on my lonesome. But despite the myriad of choices for lunch along the street where my work was situated, I didn't feel hungry. Instead, I simply let my feet lead me through the labyrinth of streets in the bustling central business district of the city – searching for something I could not quite name.

I returned, five minutes after the prescribed end of lunch. Jenny looked up from her desk, eyebrows arched into a question that I purposely ignored.

As soon as the time on the bottom right of the computer screen hit 17:00, my bag was packed and I was in the first available lift.

Within thirty minutes, I walked through my front door. The keys went to their usual tray, my bag landed precariously on the dining room table and I plonked myself on the sofa. Hunger had my stomach growling but I could not bring myself to start preparing dinner. Exhaustion tugged at every limb, despite the fact that I had done little in physical exertion. It was easier to just let the lid of my eyes close and allow my mind to drift.

When next I woke, morning light was shining through the blinds. Groaning, I sat up and stretched – trying to rid myself of the kinks. Having missed lunch and dinner the day before, I was starving. Still half-asleep, I went to my bag to fetch my phone and take a gander at the time.

But no matter my efforts, the screen remained black. Shit. After what felt like ten minutes, I managed to find my charger. At the very least, today was a Saturday and I had no plans beyond a property inspection. If I was lucky, I could squeeze in some time to finish the detailing on my next costume for the convention next month.

The day went quickly, even though I lounged around the apartment for most of the day. A quick jaunt onto Facebook only helped further my apathy as I scrolled through posts filled with fun and laughter. In my head, I knew that many of the pictures I saw were curated. Did I not do the same when I tried out a new café? The image of who I was on the internet was never quite the perfect representation of who I was in reality.

By 8 in the evening, I was ready to slink back into bed. Just as I was about to shut my laptop, Facebook Messenger popped up with an alert. Curiosity won out and I clicked it open without first glancing at the name.

Hey! How's it going? I know it's been a few years, but damn, how's life treating you?

My gaze drifted to the profile picture in the upper left corner and the name emblazoned in bold white letters. Simon Lau. After we had gone to different universities, studying distinctly different degrees – he had studied medicine, whereas I had wasted most of my loan on a diploma in business – it came as a bit of a shock.

Hi Simon. Life's been good for the most part. What about you? From the pictures and posts I've seen it seems as if you've been keeping busy.

Yeah. It's been hectic. Finally managed to get tenure at my local hospital. Being a doctor isn't easy. The hours are long and the pay is pretty lousy.

Well, I do believe congratulations are in order. Becoming a doctor is no small feat.

What about you?

I stared at the words, wondering how much of my life to reveal. When I compared myself to the achievements of many of my other friends, it felt like I had done little. An anime and boardgame fanatic with a flair for the dramatic.

I've hardly achieved anything of note.

That can't be true. The Sharon I knew in school was a powerhouse. Sure, you might not have gotten the best grades, but I'm sure that you would have achieved anything you set your mind to. In fact, I'm kind of envious of the cosplay photos you've been putting up.

A smile broke across my lips. I had missed the conversations I used to have with Simon. We had met in fifth grade, as part of a gifted and talented initiative held by our school. From the moment he had shyly introduced himself one recess early in Term 2, we became inseparable as we poured over our love for Neopets and Little Figher 2.

Somehow, we chatted until midnight as we reminisced over the old days. Before I logged off for some much-needed rest, we exchanged mobile numbers and set up a meeting point for the convention that would be in town for the long weekend.

I fell asleep, grinning from ear to ear.

Within moments, I was rudely awoken by my alarm clock. With a groan, I sat up in bed and reached one hand to shut it down. As I yawned and blearily looked around my room, I was shocked to find myself once again in my old childhood home. I was back in the past again, reliving my time during high school.

For months, I lived two lives. One in the past, and one in my current time. Just like the first time I had ventured into my high school days, I was able to change small elements and make better decisions. When Floris came to me, dishevelled and shaking from an encounter she did not want to talk about, I was able to offer her a shoulder to cry on rather than be consumed by my own selfish problems.

It made me understand her a little more and see why her path so swiftly diverged from mine back in Year 8. In my present, there were also slight differences. As if somehow my actions were like the beating of a butterfly's wings. Or perhaps I was simply seeing through different eyes. After all, having the ability to go back in time and make changes for the better seemed farfetched and I still wasn't entirely convinced that I was having incredibly lucid dreams.

But what mattered during the second chance I was given were the moments I spent with dad, as well as being able to see my classmates in a different light.

All of that changed, however, as I was wrapping up work and my phone buzzed. I was back in the present again, after enjoying two weeks of school holidays where I had messaged Simon almost every single day. Frowning, I glanced down at the caller id that was flashing on my screen. It read 'Beau.' For a moment, I was confused. Only a few days ago, I had been scrolling through Tindr as the sole occupant of my apartment. My rooms had been a mess. Every spare surface covered in various pieces of fabric in a desperate bid to complete my costume before the upcoming event.

After all, I was going as my favourite character from a popular video game franchise.

Curiosity won the best of me. I accepted the call and was surprised by the voice I heard on the other end.

"Good evening, milady. Did you have a good day in the office?" asked Simon Lau. "I'll be home around six and can come over to help for the last stretch. That okay with you?"

I was at a loss for words. Was Simon my boyfriend? It didn't seem quite real. Yet, as I searched through my memories, new ones overlaid the old. After dancing around each other all throughout high school, we officially entered into a relationship during first year of uni. And though we had the occasional fight here and there, there had only been one instance when I had seriously considered of breaking up with him.

Simon was my second half. He knew me inside and out. Just as I did him.

"—Earth to Sharon. Are you still there?"

A smile slowly curled the tips of my lips upward. "Sorry. Just remembering how lucky I've been to have you by my side."

"Of course. I wake up every day grateful I can see a handsome doctor with impeccable musculature in the mirror each day."


He chuckled. "Hey, you're the one that brought it up in the first place."

"I only said that I love having you by my side. Looking back, it almost seems predetermined," I said. A giddy moment passed before a faint memory flitted across my mind that left me feeling hollowed out. "Sometimes I wonder what might have happened if things had gone differently. The thought chills me to the core."

"There's nothing to fear, Sharon. I'll be back over before you know it. Just wrapping up the last of my shift," said Simon, seemingly to sense my doubts and wanting to allay them. He was wasted as a doctor in the local hospital. But it was his passion to help and render assistance to those that needed it the most. And who was I to stand in the way of his desire when it was the thing that drew me to him? "Can you hold on until then?"

"Yes. I'll see you soon."

"Love you."

With that, I ended the call – my heart lightened. God. What was wrong with me? Wondering what life would have been like if Simon wasn't with me? The mere idea was inconceivable.

I stared at my phone, and the nickname I had given Simon, for several minutes before I pocketed it away. Dinner. And then, when he came, I could resume the work on our cosplay outfits for the event the week after next.

The dreams continued, though they mostly played out like memories of a time that sat parallel to what I knew to be true. Yet, they seemed so real. Back in my high school days, I lived a different life to the one I knew. Simon, for one, despite my best efforts, seemed to drift away from me. We had different circles of friends and pursued individual interests. The childhood connection we had was not strong enough to keep us linked.

Each morning I would wake up, covered in sweat, and glance to the spot next to mine in bed. On the days he stayed over, he was a warm presence by my side and my fears were allayed. For the nights that he had a particularly late shift, I had to wrangle my anxiety into submission with relief only brought upon by hearing Simon's voice.

It was a dangerous line I walked.

And it felt like I was losing my mind. The mismatch of memories weighed heavily on my mind as I went through the motions of work and putting the finishing touches to both my and Simon's costumes for the convention that was the coming weekend. After all, we were going as a pair from an animated show, though I had the feeling I had initially wanted it to be from my favourite video game.

Alas, the work would have been too great. At least for Simon's outfit, as I had no access to a furnace if I wanted to ensure complete and utter accuracy. Foam was great and all, but nothing could beat a proper metal chain.

We finished the costumes just a day shy of the big event. To my great joy, as we tried them on, to learn that they fitted as well as a glove – although mine was a little tight around the chest. Simon, on the other land, looked impeccable. Once he had the wig on, he would be nigh on indistinguishable from the character he was cosplaying as.

I, on the other hand, was a little too short to be a perfect representation of my character. It didn't matter though. What was important was that we were matched in perfect synchronicity and that others knew that we were together.

"Looking good. I could almost mistake you for an elf," said Simon.

"The ears will go on tomorrow. I don't want to risk damaging them." Slowly and carefully, I tugged off my boots. "What about you? Ready for the big day?"

"You know it," he said with a grin. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I need the bathroom. And while these trousers are sublime, it's going to take me a while to wiggle out of them."

As soon as he disappeared down the hallway, the phone that he left on the coffee table lit up. I knew it was rude to take a look. Yet I feared that Simon would be called away for another shift at the hospital. So, risking a glance towards the bathroom, I picked up his phone and read the text message.

The words within immediately pierced my heart, shattering it into a thousand pieces. I tried my hardest to rationalise it all away. Surely, it was a joke. Or perhaps it had been sent to the wrong person.

But a second look only confirmed my worst fears. Why, on God's green Earth, did it have to be Amy Fletcher?

Looking through the memories that weren't my own, I knew she had been Simon's girlfriend ever since Year 12 prom. During first year of university, they had broken up over something that most would have considered silly or stupid. At least, that was the rumour I'd heard on the grapevine as I focused on my own achievements. They had got back together in third year and everywhere they went, people said that they were inseparable. The perfect couple.

Yet, in my timeline, none of that happened. Simon was my boyfriend. Had been since high school. So, why the Hell was he receiving texts from Amy? And ones that seemed to border on what decent people might label licentious?

"What is this?" I demanded when Simon came back from his trip to the bathroom.

He looked at me, confused. "My phone?"

"Don't play dumb with me, Simon," I snapped at him, fuelled by righteous anger. "Why is Amy fucking Fletcher sending you texts?"

"We bumped into each other last Friday. One thing led to another and we had coffee. Then, I don't know, we exchanged numbers," said Simon, his tone defensive. "Nothing came of it. It was just an innocent and casual catch-up."

I didn't believe him. How could I? The evidence was right there. In my hand. "Then why is she asking for pics, Simon?"

He stepped up to face me, his face red as a tomato. Before I could react, he snatched his phone from my grasp and looked at the screen. A minute passed. Maybe two. All I heard in the deafening silence was the sound of my heart beating an erratic tattoo.

Then finally a giggle. A bit of a chuckle and before I knew it, Simon had thrown his head back as he laughed and laughed and laughed.

To say that I was shocked would have been an understatement. Here I was, with evidence of his infidelity, and all Simon did was find amusement at my own expense. It was enough for me to see red. Desperately, I tried to swipe his phone back. But he was taller. His arms much longer.

He dangled his phone just out of reach, as if it was all a game. Each time I jumped Simon would duck under my grasp. And when I shouted obscenities, he ignored them with an easy smile.

It was only when I had tears trailing down my cheeks, threatening to walk out and throw the costumes I had laboured over for countless hours into the nearest dumpster, that he finally stopped. The expression on his face now serious and concerned. "Oh, come on Sharon. Can't you see? She was asking for our cosplay photos. Just innocent and harmless fun. Stop acting like a baby. You're better than this."

"Why? Amy has never cared for the 'geeky' stuff. In ninth grade, she said anime was for little kids or people that hadn't grown up."

"Give her a bit of credit, Sharon. Not everyone has to be into pop culture. Sure, they can watch a couple of shows on Netflix, but you shouldn't deride them for liking things like The Christmas Prince instead of Die Hard."

I knew he was right. It was Simon, after all. But I didn't like it. I fell into a sullen silence. Intractable to any of his overtures for peace.

"Goddammit, Sharon. Don't just shut me out," he said as he changed into his shorts and a ratty old t-shirt he used as bedwear. I was already under the covers, after having spent a good forty minutes in the shower. He tried to cuddle, but I was having none of it. With a sigh, Simon turned away. I knew I was being spiteful, but I couldn't help it. The rage was still there and it would not be appeased.

It was as if it had taken on a life of its own. One that screamed vengeance at the wrong that Amy fucking Fletcher had done to me by texting my boyfriend.

Even when the lights turned off, I lay in bed, brain in overdrive as I pondered my next steps. Amy Fletcher would not get away with this.

The next day dawned. Though I had not slept, I was still buzzing with nervous energy. Jittery, almost, in anticipation of what was to come. Simon kept mostly busy with convention preparations, pausing every so often to look at his phone. He didn't notice. Not when he saw the texts Amy sent his way. I wanted to wipe that giddy-looking smile off his face. How could he do this to me? I was his girlfriend. Not Amy.

Even as I seethed, I was reassured by the plan that had come to me overnight. The old memories – of another time – had provided the answer I sought: Amy Fletcher's address. It wasn't far. It was only a ten to twenty-minute drive away. Given the traffic, it was plenty of time to get there, do what I needed and return before we set out to the convention.

Just to ease the burgeoning anxiety within me, in case things should go horribly wrong, I had slipped out of bed at three and Googled the address in my head. The Street View of the house matched several photos on her Instagram and Facebook. If I was wrong, I would simply play it off as mistaken identity.

I couldn't say it was a good plan. But it was the only one that I could come up with that would satisfy the raging beast inside me.

"Where are you going?" Simon asked when I headed to the door at a few minutes past seven.

"Hardware store," I replied. "Picking up a few more things that I forgot. It's for the costume." And then, I made the error that would cost me nearly everything. "You know, glue gun refills. Just in case something falls off."

Perhaps if I had stayed longer, I would have seen the consternation on Simon's face. Focused solely on the goal that I had set for myself, I hurried to the car. In my bag, I had my phone, keys, wallet and a sharp knife that I filched from the kitchen.

Traffic was light and I arrived at Amy Fletcher's house with time to spare. For several long minutes, I sat in the car. My mind was a cacophony of noise. A part of me wanted to abandon the crazy idea that had seized me. The other, louder part, wanted to push on. It was unable to rest easy knowing that there was a threat to the perfect image of Simon and I.

When my hands had steadied, I opened the car door and walked to the white front door on stiff legs. Just to the side, hidden in a small alcove, was the doorbell. I pressed it.

Every second that slipped by felt like an hour. Until the door opened and standing before me was Amy Fletcher, her long brown hair, with blond highlights, was tussled and she was dressed in pyjamas covered in cartoon rabbits.

"Hi. You're Sharon, right? Simon talked a lot about you when we caught up the other day. He said that you were going to a convention today. What brings you here?"

"Well, I heard you lived close by and I was in the neighbourhood," I said, ducking underneath her arm as I forced my way inside. "This place is lovely. Did it cost a lot? God, I'm kind of envious, y'know. Simon and I, well, we haven't been able to afford a house yet."

"Hold on. Stop." Amy Fletcher called out after me as I took a look at her two-bedroom house, situated in a quiet and idyllic suburb. "You can't just come barging in. I know that we used to go to high school together, but it's still very early in the morning."

She caught up with me as I arrived in the kitchen, puffing a little. Her hand landed on my shoulder: a warning and a threat. It was enough.

I whirled around, one hand digging deep in my purse until my fingers had curled around the handle of my sharpest kitchen knife, and then I plunged the blade into her chest. Thirty fucking times.

Her screams were delicious as blood spurted. The beast, lurking with me, was appeased at the sight. As Amy Fletcher lay on the ground, her heart pumping out the last few litres of blood, a feral grin stretched across my face. I had done it. Simon was mine.

As I headed to the sink to wash up, I heard the first faint sirens. I dismissed it at first, until my phone rang.


I picked up. What else could I do? Simon was my one and only. I didn't know who had ratted me out, but I knew that I had to tell Simon. He would understand. He would be there for me.

"What have you done, Sharon?" were his first words to me. "I called the cops as soon as I noticed the missing knife. Tell me you haven't done anything to harm Amy."

Red. All I saw was red at his words.

"I've removed her from the equation," I said with murderous glee, hoping to wound him with my words. How dare he accuse me when I was trying to salvage our relationship? If I hadn't acted, Amy Fletcher would have inserted herself into our everyday and ruined our lives. "Don't you understand, Simon? She was a fucking homewrecker. I did you a favour. I did the fucking world a favour."

"You're mad."

Me? Mad? Simon thought I was crazy?

I laughed at the insinuation. Simon knew nothing of my madness. Of what I would do just to keep the world mine. The lengths I would go…

But as I looked at the dead body before me, the reality of my situation came crashing down on me. I know I shouldn't have found it funny, but I could not stop. One I had started, all I could see was my future slipping away because of the mess I made. Tears pricked at the corner of my eyes. Why had I let all my fears and anxieties take control? Amy Fletcher, despite all her faults, did not deserve what I did to her.

The police found me in the kitchen, murder weapon in my right hand and my phone in the left.

As they dragged me out, handcuffed, I continued to laugh. Even as the world faded to laugh, all I could hear were my high-pitched cackles of depravity…

With a groan, I woke up, and blearily blinked at my surroundings. It took me a moment to recognise that I was still seated at the kitchen table, my face pressed against the keys of my laptop. Beside me, was an empty glass of red wine. As for the bottle itself, it had rolled to a stop on the counter-top and seemed ready to plunge over the side. Luckily, I had corked it or else I would be cleaning up the stains for a few weekends.

Shit. Stiffly, I got out of my seat to rescue the still half-full bottle. As I picked it up, I managed to catch a glimpse of the label.

Devil's Touch: Let your inner desires come alive

I scoffed. Yeah right. More like my bloody nightmares. Running a hand over my face, I wondered if anything had been real or if it had just been an overactive imagination fuelled by the alcohol I had ingested. Probably the latter, I decided as I placed the bottle into the fridge.

Glancing quickly at the time, 3:50AM, I packed up my laptop and headed to my bedroom.

Just as I was about to grab another two or three hours of oblivion, I was startled back into full awareness when I heard a sharp rap on my apartment door. There was no mistaking the sound, however hard I wanted to try. I looked at my phone. It had ticked to 4 in the morning.

Grousing, I slipped into my robe and padded on sock-covered feet to see who had come calling in the early hours of the morning. Whoever it was, they had better have a good explanation for disturbing the rest of my pitiful night, I thought, as I opened the door.