Every morning Cassie looks in the mirror and tells herself that she is okay. She is over it. She is not damaged by the war against the Yeerks.
This is a lie, but a pretty one. Most of the time it even works. She can ignore her friends, she can spend time with her normal boyfriend, can morph without the rush of memory, can go days at a time without fear. But then there are the bad times. Like today, in the mall.
She only has to close her eyes, feel the rush of people around her, and it comes.
Rachel walks beside her, confident and tall, holding the eyes of passersby with ease. Her long blonde hair is pulled up into a bun, her mouth is bright matte red from lipstick, her eyes are glowing as she reads the big red signs advertising savings up to seventy prevent off. She smells faintly of perfume.
“Look at that.” Rachel says, pulling out a blue dress with a flourish. “Originally a hundred and five, marked down to sixty three, with the coupon forty. It’s a steal.”
“Totally,” Cassie agrees, “Can we get jeans? I like jeans.”
“Jeans? Jeans? You own like thirty pairs of jeans. How many dresses? Zero.” Rachel pauses, anticipating the familiar argument at Cassie’s lips. “Jake would love this dress.”
“He would?” Cassie knows this trick. Rachel’s pulled it a million times, buying her bikinis and pencil skirts and god knows what just to impress Jake. It shouldn’t work now that they’re married. It’s not fair.
“Just try it on. And give me your pants, they’re hideous.”
“Cassie?” She jumps. The illusion fades away- Rachel, blonde and smug, vanishes. It’s only her boyfriend, who is smiling and offering her a bottle of water that she dimly remembers asking for. “Did you find the right kind of camping stove?”
“Huh?” This is a sporting goods store, she remembers. She has a life. She is okay. “Oh, not yet. Come and help me.”
“Sure.” Ron ducks behind a shelf ot look, and a blonde woman strolls past, two children tugging at her skirt. Cassie kneels down and closes her eyes again.
Rachel is wearing black. It’s a sleek dress, fitted like a glove to the contours of her body. She looks perfect, like a painting or a magazine cover, and she is smiling radiantly. At her side, Tobias- looking his age thanks to Andalite technology- stands, glasses on the edge f his nose and about to slip off. Rachel pushes them back up and waves at her.
“Hi.” Cassie rushes over, hauling Jake by the arm. “Anyone seen Marco?”
“He was planning on being fashionably late.” Jake offers, and ducks to avoid being smacked by Rachel.
“Late? He is not going to be late to my sister’s birthday party!”
“You know Marco.” Jake protests. “You know him. He’ll be here. Just…not right now.”
“He…is…so…dead.” Rachel snarls, and even that is beautiful on her. She slips her hand into Tobias’s, and the smile returns- glowing, like an angel’s. “Nice dress, Cassie.”
Cassie looks down at her body, sheathed in blue silk, and laughs. She doesn’t hold a candle to the blonde in front of her, never has and never will. And yet she is happily married to a man she loves, and all of her friends are nearby, and perhaps it is time to let this one little thing go.
Maybe it’s time she got over Rachel…
“Honey?” Her boyfriend makes her jump again, and she lets the illusion fade.
Rachel is dead, after all, and there is no sense in dwelling on what could have been.
But later, alone in bed, she does anyway.