A Stitch in Time Pt. 01byMarshAlien©
This is a coming of age story, I have asked that it be put in the science fiction and fantasy category because it starts out with a bit of time travel, and it really doesn't fit anywhere else. If you're looking for spaceships or dragons, though, you may want to click the back button. Because after the time travel, it's simply a story about growth and love and family. Oh, and baseball. And a little sex, of course.
Finding the men's room in the Maple Hills Shopping Mall was no more than a puzzle. It was getting there, through the holiday shoppers who, like my mother and sister, still hadn't finished their holiday shopping on December 23, 2003, that was the real challenge. The first time I passed the hallway that contained the men's room, I found myself too far to the inside of the mass of humanity that was circling the mall like a road rally at a roundabout. Instead, I used the next circuit to gradually move to the outside, from which I was finally able to launch myself into the deceleration lane that led to my goal. I had apparently discovered the only place in the mall that was wholly devoid of life. I stepped up to the farthest left of the three urinals and was standing there, taking care of the business that had summoned me, when I heard the door bang open.
Etiquette required that I continue staring at the wall in front of me, although etiquette also required that this new visitor use the right-hand urinal rather than the one in the center. Apparently he hadn't heard that. I could sense him stepping up next to me, leaving us separated only by the shoulder-to-knee metal divider.
"Ho-ho-ho," I heard a chuckle, "so what are you wishing for this Christmas, young man?"
I glanced over. He was obviously the mall's Santa, on a break from posing for pictures with tiny tots with their eyes all aglow.
"Santa," I acknowledged him with a grin as I returned my eyes to the front. I had no idea his red suit had a zipper in the front.
"Well?" his booming voice reverberated inside the tiled room. "There must be something you want!"
"Can't think of anything," I was still grinning. Apparently the guy really enjoyed this role. Although probably they'd fire his ass if one of the customers caught him smoking in the men's room and complaining about some little girl who'd just gotten a little too excited all over his nice suit. I finished up and walked over to the sinks to wash my hands.
"So you've got everything you want in life already?" he asked, still with the loud voice. "Everything's perfect?"
"Well, no," I said. "All right, you know what I'd like, Santa? Instead of just starting high school, what I'd really like is to be finishing it."
That way, I thought to myself as I looked in the mirror and tried to smooth my hair over to the side a little, I could avoid all the assholes, the bullies, the jocks, the bitches, the sniping, the teasing, the gossiping, the backstabbing — instead of three and half more years of this crap, I'd be just about finished.
John Marshall High School was not my idea of a good time. There was a core of jocks (male and female), cheerleaders, and the generally cool; orbiting planets for band members, newspaper and yearbook types, comics, theatre freaks, and druggies, who were at least connected; and then there were people like me, whose orbits occasionally brought them uncomfortably close to the solar system but who generally preferred to stay out among the asteroid fields. I was currently on one of my forays to the center, where I seemed to have been appointed the target-of-the-month by the freshman and sophomore football players and their tart-tongued girlfriends. The juniors and seniors, thank God, thought me so far beneath them as to not even be worthy of attention
It didn't help, actually, having an older brother who was one of those seniors, bound for Auburn University next year on a football scholarship. The gym coach was constantly expecting me to show even a fraction of my brother's athletic ability; the teachers were constantly expecting me to be as much a goof-off as he was; and the girls, even in my own grade, were constantly comparing his six-foot-two, 220-pound frame to mine. At five-foot-seven and 140 pounds, I was constantly disappointing them.
"That's a pretty tall order, young man," Santa laughed as he joined me at the sinks. "So basically you just want to skip all this annoying adolescence and go straight on into adulthood, huh?"
Was Santa Claus mocking me? I looked at him in the mirror, but he still wore the same jolly expression, even on his break.
"I was more mature at six than most of the guys in my high school will be when they're thirty-six," I said.
"Maybe so," he laughed again as I dried my hands and pulled open the door. "Have a Merry Christmas, young man!"
"Yeah, you too," I mumbled as I let the door close behind me.
I made my way back to where I was supposed to meet Mom and Jeanne, noticing along the way that Santa Claus was already back at his station, making yet another kid smile as he bounced her on his knee. Probably knew some sort of mall shortcut.
My pissy mood evaporated as soon as I saw them standing there, two women for whom the Christmas season seemed to have been designed. They were comparing what they bought, Mom a present for a new family at our church with a newborn baby, and Jeanne a couple of presents for two new girls in her circle of friends in the eighth grade.
"All set, Patrick?" Mom asked. "Sure you don't want to get anything while we're here? You have presents for everybody?"
"I think so," I said, pretending to go over the list again. "Dad," — that would be a set of offset screwdrivers — "you," — a bathrobe I'd actually picked out last summer — "Dave," — a copy of the new Madden Football game — "and Jill" - a pair of earrings for my fashion-conscious seventh-grade sister. "All done."
"Jerk," Jeanne smiled at me.
"Oh, and Jeanne," I said. "I must have gotten a present for Jeanne. Still, too late now, huh?"
"Jerk," Jeanne smiled again.
I'd spent the most time picking that one out, a sweater that perfectly complemented her green eyes. I would tell her that, two mornings from now, and she would ask how anything could complement eyes hidden behind glasses as thick as hers, and I'd kid her that her boyfriends would notice, and she'd ask which boyfriend, the older college-age one or the younger high school one. Then we'd both laugh. Neither Jeanne nor I were ever going to be among the school's beautiful people. Unlike Dave, for instance, the jock of jocks, who seemed to have a different girl every week, or Jill, who was already reveling in the attention she was attracting from high school guys, to the point where she wouldn't even consider dating an eighth-grader, let alone a guy from her own grade.
Jeanne and I were different.
Jeanne would start dating when she found a boy smart enough to look beneath the shy exterior. And maybe when she got a different pair of glasses; it wasn't so much that they were thick as that the frame did nothing to hide that fact. And, in truth, she could use a little bit more developing, just like I could. Just like I got compared to Dave, she got compared to Jill, about an inch and a cup size to Jeanne's detriment. She was constantly getting teased about her "little" sister, and the stuff I heard when she wasn't around was even cattier. But I loved my sister, and I knew that, even if she kept the same glasses and the same bust, someday she'd find a guy who thought as highly of her as I did.
I would start dating when I found a girl like Jeanne.
"So what are you doing tonight?" Jeanne turned around from the front seat of Mom's car to ask me.
"Why?" I narrowed my eyes.
"Cammie's coming over," she shrugged. "I just thought —"
"I'm busy," I said.
"Oh, stop it," she laughed. "Cammie's nice."
I held up my hands.
"I never said she wasn't," I protested. "But I don't know, chubby little metal-mouth Cammie Rowe and me? Can you see that?"
"I think you two would be a very cute couple," Mom piped in from her seat.
"Don't you have driving to do?" I pointed ahead for her. "Stop signs, lights, all that?"
"She's not chubby any more," Jeanne protested. "And she gets her braces off next summer."
"Yeah, I know," I said. "But she seems so, I dunno, desperate."
"She likes you," Jeanne objected. "God knows why!"
"So what are you doing tonight?" I asked her after a suitable pause.
Jeanne smiled. I couldn't fool her.
"We're gonna listen to some tunes and then walk around the neighborhood and look at the Christmas lights," she said. "You wanna join us?"
"Wouldn't that make either you or me the third wheel?" I asked.
"Yeah, one of us," she admitted with a smile. "But you know how much I like helping you out."
"Helping me out?" I raised my eyebrows. "You mean helping Cammie out."
"Next fall, Cammie's gonna have to beat the guys off with a stick," Jeanne pointed out. "She doesn't need my help."
It was true. I left them alone for the music portion of the evening, but allowed myself to be coaxed outside for the walk. Once there, Cammie's gloved hand had shyly made its way into mine as we strolled beside Jeanne and listened to her commentary on which of our neighbors had committed serious Christmas decorating errors and which had gotten it right.
When we were back in the house, after Cammie had discarded the scarf and wool hat she'd been wearing, I was struck by the suddenly clear vision of how pretty she was, in fact, going to be next year. If I waited until next fall, I'd never even be able to get close enough to get hit with that stick.
So later that evening, while Jeanne was making hot chocolate for the three of us in the kitchen, I sat with next to her on the couch and made inane small talk. What was I doing for Christmas? Nothing special. What was she doing for Christmas? She was leaving tomorrow with her family for Rhode Island, where her grandparents lived.
Finally, as I heard Jeanne unplug the electric teapot to pour the water into the mugs, I tentatively leaned in for my first kiss.
"Finally," Cammie agreed in a whisper as she pressed her mouth against mine, her soft lips self-consciously pressing out to make sure that I couldn't feel her braces with my own lips.
"Chocolate's done," Jeanne announced from the kitchen, giving us a full five seconds to disengage before she bustled in with the three mugs.
"So?" she asked. "True love yet?"
I blushed, while Jeanne and Cammie burst into giggles.
Later that evening, while Jeanne made a big production of washing out the mugs in the kitchen and carefully drying them, Cammie and I shared two more kisses, and agreed that it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing if we ran into each other when she returned in the New Year.
"So, did you and Cammie have a nice time last night?" Mom asked innocently at breakfast.
"Yeah," I grunted. "Sure."
"And did you have a nice time with Cammie after she went home?" Jeanne whispered when Mom was out of earshot.
"What are you talking about?" I could feel myself blushing.
"Squeak, squeak, squeak," she whispered.
I felt my cheeks burning as I tried to find something — anything — in my cereal bowl that was worthy of intensive study.
"Don't worry," Jeanne said, "she did it, too."
I looked up in astonishment.
"How do you know?" I whispered.
"She called me last night," Jeanne smiled.
I was finally able to close my mouth.
"And, um, she didn't tell you that sort of, um, in confidence?" I asked.
"And, um, she asked me, um, to tell you," Jeanne concluded with a big grin.
We spent the rest of the day cleaning the house, one of Mom's bugaboos. Dave helped by staying out of the way, while Jeanne and I, and to a lesser extent Jill, dusted the cabinets, vacuumed the floors, and cleaned the kitchen counters. When Santa Claus came to the Sterling house tonight, he was going to find it spotless.
My day got even a little bit better late in the afternoon when we got our report cards. At dinner that evening, our traditional Christmas Eve roast, Mom made a big deal about my across-the-board A-pluses. My father grunted his approval, but he was far more interested in re-running the film of the state championship football game two weekends ago that Marshall had come within a field goal of winning thanks to my brother's 300 yards passing. While he and Dave watched the tape, the rest of us would be spending Christmas Eve decorating the tree, and then attending the 10 p.m. service at the church.
"I don't know," Mom teased me by cupping her hand to her ear after Dad and Dave left the dinner table. "I think I hear UVA calling."
"Mom," I reddened.
My Uncle Ted, married to Mom's sister Helen, was a tenured professor of history at the University of Virginia, and he described it in such glowing terms that even though it couldn't possibly all be true, I'd never lost my dream of going there one day. And Mom was right, these grades wouldn't hurt. The odd part was that I hadn't given a lot of conscious thought to them last semester. Instead, once my teachers had gotten past the me-as-Dave's-brother thing, they'd turned out to be a pretty good bunch. My English teacher in particular, Mrs. Palmer, was amazing. She had led these discussions of Charles Dickens that even had some of the druggies participating. So to the extent I got good grades, it was because I'd actually enjoyed doing the work.
"Calling all geeks, calling all geeks," Jill interrupted my reverie. I stuck my tongue out at her. She was capable of being a good student herself, and she'd actually done well last semester: three B's, an A-minus, and an A. Jeanne had just missed straight A's with a single B-plus. Dave? Well, it was a good thing it was an athletic scholarship, not an academic one. Still, he wasn't in any danger of not being able to play when he got there.
I went to bed that evening just before midnight, with the lights of the tree still illuminating the stairs leading up from the living room. I just lay there for a while, my hands behind my head, thinking that maybe I'd been a little hasty the day before in the men's room at the mall. I mean, if Cammie Rowe was going to be around, if the teachers were actually bringing this kind of work out of me, then high school might not be that bad.
I woke up at three, with a desperate need to visit the bathroom. I had no sooner gotten out of bed than I tripped on something lying on the floor. Swearing quietly, I pulled myself up and quietly walked down the hallway to the bathroom I shared with Dave. I sleepily drained my dick and washed my hands in the bathroom sink. Then, with just the barest of glances at my reflection in the mirror over the sink, I flipped off the light.
I flipped it right back on again and stared at the mirror. I had no idea who I was looking at.
Well, that wasn't exactly true. It was me; those were my blue eyes, that was my sandy hair. But whose ripped pecs were those? Whose muscled arms were those? And, just as a matter of general information, whose six-foot-three inch body was that?
I stayed there for another five minutes, raising my arm to make sure that the mirror was reflecting properly, and then touching my face, my arms, and my chest to see if they would disappear. I was fully awake now, and I eventually forced myself back into the hallway, still lit with a faint glow from the tree downstairs. I flipped on the light in my room, hoping that somewhere inside was a clue to my startling transformation.
If there was, it certainly wasn't going to be easy to find it. My room was a pigsty. What I had tripped on when I'd gotten up was a pile of clothes that easily topped the mattress on the bed. Other than that, I appeared to have gotten extremely lucky not to have tripped on the baseball between the bed and the door, not to mention the pens that littered the floor, lying among a set of notebooks.
I made my way over to my desk, uncluttered with anything that looked like schoolwork, and pulled out the chair. I sat down and looked around. There were clues everywhere now. It's just that I had no idea what they meant. There were all sorts of newspaper clippings pasted to the mirror that hung above my desk. According to the headlines, the Marshall High School baseball team appeared to have had a phenomenal year.
On the shelf directly below the mirror was a picture of a Marshall High baseball team, with the two guys in front, who looked like Jim Perkins and Carl Wascinsky, holding up a large trophy. They were two sophomore jerks who were also on the football team, and who'd been among my tormenters this past week. I was in the picture as well, in my new body. I was standing in the back with an arrogant grin on my face, holding up a much smaller trophy.
That trophy, I suddenly realized, was also sitting on the shelf. A baseball player perched atop it, and according to the inscription on the plaque, it had been awarded to "Patrick Sterling, MVP — State AAA Tournament, 2006."
I stared at it in disbelief. It was 2006? What had happened to 2004 and 2005? Had I been asleep? Well, no, apparently I'd been playing baseball. I fired up the computer sitting on the desk; fortunately it was the one thing in the room, along with the bed and the desk itself, that didn't appear to have changed. I opened the internet browser, and discovered that my home page was now a pornography site. All of my bookmarks, in fact, were porno sites. I finally had to type in the URL for Google to get something that looked familiar.
From there, I found out that it was, in fact, 2006. George Bush was still President, we were still at war in Iraq, Osama bin Laden was still the world's bête noire. Nothing new there. I "googled" myself, finding all of the articles in the local newspaper about the baseball team, among them articles that discussed the terrific recruiting war between Auburn and Alabama for my services, which appeared to include a 95 mile per hour fastball and a devastating changeup. And the Yankees and the Red Sox were interested as well, since baseball prospects could get drafted straight out of high school. Wow. No wonder I looked arrogant.
And then I found the brief article that broke my heart, dated June 26, 2005.
Sarah Anne Sterling, Community Activist
Sarah Anne Sterling died this past Tuesday of cancer at Mercy Hospital. She was 40. Mrs. Sterling was a noted community activist. Among her causes was the successful 1999 fight to establish what is now known as Lemmon's Park, built on a site that the city had been touting for development as a chemical processing plant. She was a member of the Vestry of the St. James Episcopal Church, and had served as the Vestry's Senior Warden in 2002-2003.
Survivors include her husband, Bob Sterling, and her children, David, Patrick, Jeanne, and Jill, all of Parker's Falls.
I shut down the computer and cried myself to sleep. What in God's name was going on?
I opened my eyes very slowly, thinking — hoping — that perhaps I'd just had a very bad dream last night, a dream in which my mind, but not my body, had skipped three years of high school. Even with them half open, though, I knew that it had all been real. The room was just as messy as it had been when I had stumbled over the pile of dirty clothing. The newspaper articles about my baseball prowess were still attached to the mirror above my desk. And, I knew deep inside, my mother was still dead.
I sat on the edge of the bed for a while, telling myself that it's not like I could have done anything to help her. And I'm sure I said goodbye to her; somebody must have been operating this body for the last three years and he couldn't possibly have been that big a jerk not to have said goodbye to Mom before she died. It just wasn't me. I'd apparently gone through all of the stages of grieving already, and now I was going to have to do it again.