Amy stands very, very still. She would be happier just to run off and play with her dolls, but she knows from past experience that trying to leave will just get her hair pulled. Better to try not to move until her mommy is finished braiding her hair.
"Do you remember Nana?" her mother asks, suddenly and without warning.
"Yes," Amy whispers. She was still only in kindergarten, not the big girl second grader she is now, but she remembers. She remembers the house smelled like wet towels lying too long in the bathroom. She remembers that the air was still and heavy as if a window had never been opened. She remembers that Nana's skin seemed like tissue paper and her hands were covered with raised blue lines. She remembers that Nana's eyes seemed to be covered in milk but she felt that Nana could see her better than anyone ever had and it scared her.
"Turns out she was right. I've got the gift. Probably means you've got it too."
"I'm getting a present?" Amy asks hopefully.
Her mother laughs and Amy giggles also, in reaction. "Baby girl, when you're ready, I'm going to tell you about a present that will make you the belle of the ball."
"I'm not a baby," she pouts, not understanding what her mother is talking about and wishing she'd hurry up.
Two weeks went by before Amy realized that Buffy Summers, the new girl, was the cause of the itch. For the first few days, just being back in her body was such an oddity that she had a hard time separating normal sensations from abnormal ones. She'd take off her clothes and stare at herself in the mirror, trying to remember what it felt like to have these hands, this hair, this stomach, this face. And there was the problem of trying to catch up with a life that everyone thought she'd been living for the past months but that she actually hadn't been present for. The only saving grace was that since her mother had forced her to do all the homework, she wasn't behind on class-work. But she had no idea who was dating who, what clothes were in, what were the movies she had to see, the bands she had to hear, the TV shows she had to watch.
It took her a few days to realize that the overall crawling sensation she sometimes felt only happened around Buffy. She should have figured it out immediately, she had seen the fight and knew then something was up. That night she waited in Buffy's backyard, discretely keeping out of sight.
She felt her before she saw her, that feeling of being the victim of every mosquito on the planet, but no matter how hard she scratched, the itch didn't subside. It turned out to be easy to follow Buffy across backyards, through the playground, around an abandoned lot until she stopped at the gate of the Sunnyrest cemetery.
The itching suddenly intensified, tiny insects crawling over her bones. She almost cried out. At the same instant, a dark haired guy materialized from the shadows. Amy stepped further back, there was something unsettling about him, although she couldn't have said what it was. He didn't move that close to Buffy, he just spoke in a tone low enough that Amy couldn't catch anything that was said. Buffy kept her arms firmly crossed over her chest, her expression never wavering from annoyed. When he finished speaking, Buffy spun around and walked in through the gate. As soon as Buffy left, the buzzing that had taken up residence subsided to a manageable level.
The guy didn't leave immediately. Instead, his formally aloof stance abandoned him. His shoulders slumped with his hands shoved into pockets, an expression of longing painted on his face. She wondered if Buffy had an inkling that this guy was jonesing for her. Amy waited until he finally left and then she hurried after Buffy.
It didn't take long to find her. First of all, her body was betraying her once more. But even without that, Buffy was involved in a vicious fight. Amy crept back, further away from the combatants when she saw the other's face. It was a nightmare that belonged under her bed. She stood rooted to the spot in terror until Buffy got the upper hand and shoved a stake through the thing's chest. As soon as it turned to dust, Amy bolted, running all the way back home.
As soon as she came home from school the next day, Amy went up to her bedroom and shut the door. She had had mixed feelings about taking her mother's books but finally she had packed them into several cartons and taken them along. Now she opened the cartons and rooted through them until she found what she was looking for. Apparently Buffy was the slayer – a girl endowed with super strength in order to fight various supernatural beings. And she herself had a built in demon detector because she was a natural born witch. She shuddered. It was the last thing she wanted in life.
She's really too old for bedtime stories. Plus she's the fourth best reader in the class. But it's nice to snuggle next to her mommy and she likes the way only the lamp is on, making the book look like it's glowing and she likes the way her mom smells like flowers. So, just for tonight, she'll be a little girl instead of the big girl she actually is.
It's comforting, she's heard theses stories so often that she knows each word her mother will speak, each gesture her mother will make. Brave princes, beautiful princesses, evil witches. But with every word her mother reads, the grip on Amy's arm grows tighter until finally she cries out in pain. When her mother leans down, Amy shies away at the anger she sees there. She's frightened. She's never been frightened of her mother before but she is now and she doesn't understand what's happening.
And then, as suddenly as it started, the pressure on her arm disappears and her mother looks at her with nothing but love. "I'm sorry sweetheart. Mommy didn't mean to get mad. It's just I've been a little worried about some stuff. I always thought I was a princess," she says with a little laugh. "Let's read something else."
The book of fairytales disappears from her room the next day but Amy never asks about it.
She'd managed to avoid that hallway for the past six weeks. Go up the stairs to the third floor, cross through the music wing, take the north stairs back down to the second floor and three doors down was Chem. It meant she was late everyday, but since she didn't see test tubes in her future, she didn't much care.
But that day, an intense conversation about the latest plot developments in 90210 with Tracy pushed everything else from her mind. It had been so long since she had had a normal chat that she didn't notice when they turned left and then walked down the main hall until she was there – right in front of the trophy case.
She stood there, just as much a statue as her mother, until she felt her sleeve being tugged.
"Are you ok?" Tracy looked at her with concern but she couldn't speak, couldn't blink, couldn't move.
She managed to force some saliva down her throat, but even with that, her voice sounded oddly hoarse, as if she'd lost the power of speech. "Fine. Just forgot something." Tracy gave her one last look and then scurried away to her next class. The hallway gradually emptied.
She could feel her mother staring at her. Was she sorry? Did she miss her daughter at all? Amy moved her lips soundlessly. Did her mother wish there had been a different, happier ending for both of them or would that have been impossible?
Her mother twirls around the tiny dressing room, a giddy ballerina in a flowing red dress.
"You're beautiful, mommy," Amy says, awed.
Her mother smoothes the dress down over her hips, preening for the mirror. "Your daddy and I would be dancing all night if I wore this," she murmurs. She looks at the tag attached to the sleeve and drops it, frowning as she does so. "Do you think it's fair that someone who wouldn't look half so nice in this is going to wind up buying this dress?'
"No, mommy," Amy answers dutifully, her attention caught by the fact that the mirror is positioned so she can see three of herself.
A minute later, her mother is carrying the dress while she talks to the sale clerk. "Don't you think this dress is overpriced?"
The sales clerk opens her mouth to say something, but instead her face crinkles up as if she's trying to remember something.
"I think twenty dollars is a fair price, don't you?"
The sales clerk trembles for a moment and then smiles pleasantly at the two of them. "Why yes, ma'am, I do. Right this way and I'll ring it up."
Amy looks back and forth between the two women. She feels vaguely uneasy, but both of them are smiling and finally Amy decides that everything must be fine.
When she got home, she slammed the bedroom door behind her and fell back on the bed, her expression one of righteous anger. She was going to fail the English test tomorrow, which meant she'd be grounded for two weeks and it was completely unfair.
Sixty percent of the grade would be based on prior class discussions. She wasn't even there for most of it, she was stuck at home trapped in her mother's body, so how was it her fault? Maybe she could have asked for someone's notes but she didn't want people thinking she was strange, not when everything was finally getting back to normal. And two weeks of punishment meant missing Bobby's party and she was positive he smiled at her today.
There had to be a solution.
She sat up and stared at the cartons. It would only be this one time. And it probably wouldn't even work. She was only going to do it this one time because it really wasn't right that she wouldn't get a good grade on her English test.