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Double Exposure

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Sean wakes up in his own body.

Normally, that wouldn’t be news. Right now? Holy shit, it’s a relief.

Obviously it’s not like people actually suddenly jump into the lives of people they’ve never met, or even people they have. He knew from the start that it couldn’t be more than a vivid dream. It’s just... yeah, it was seriously vivid. And it felt like it went on for so long, a full day. Long enough for him to start to wonder if he was ever waking up.

It’s not like he ever did anything that interesting in the dream, besides hanging out in someone else’s body. Maybe that’s on him. It felt so real that he was kind of nervous about going out into some unknown place as some unknown girl.

So he just spent the whole time in her room. Fiddling with the guitar he knows barely anything about playing; Lyla showed him maybe four chords a couple years ago, and he wouldn’t know how to tune it. Getting increasingly hungry, with nothing to eat but a few cookies he’d found stashed in a drawer. Looking at her wall of selfies; seems like kind of a weird thing to have in your room, but he’s not judging. Well, not too much.

(Okay, he hadn’t been in her room the entire time. He’d cautiously ventured out to find the bathroom at one point; fortunately it’d just been a little way down the corridor. No urinals. He’d gone into a stall and pulled her pants down, facing the bowl, and suddenly realised he had no idea what the fuck he was supposed to do.

He’d figured it out. But it had been pretty awkward.)

She had a diary, full of stickers and doodles and clipped-in photographs. Her name...

He rolls onto his side, grabs his sketchbook and pen from the bedside table. Dreams fade, and he wants to write down the details of this one before it gets away from him.

Her name was Max. White. Eighteen, or at least she was eighteen the last time she mentioned her age in her diary. She was a photography student, which he guesses might explain all the selfies.

He can’t remember the name of her town or her school, but he thinks it was in Oregon. She definitely wrote that she used to live in Seattle; he remembers that.

It was weird, going through all her stuff, trying to piece her life together. Getting to know this person who wasn’t actually there.

He sets the sketchbook aside when he’s scribbled down as much as he can remember. Reaches for his phone.

Uh, that’s a lot of unread messages. Did something happen?

Wait, shit, he’s late for school! He forgot to set his alarm? Didn’t anyone wake him? Fuck!

He scrambles out of bed, unlocking his phone, scrolling frantically through unread texts to see whether there’s any explanation for why Lyla would have left without him. Or maybe she didn’t come by at all, maybe she’s not well?

God fucking damn it, there are messages from his boss, he’s late for work too—

Wait. That doesn’t make sense. His shift isn’t until after school. It’s still the morning, right? He didn’t oversleep that badly.

Unless...

He checks the date.

No way.

It’s Saturday.

He slept through an entire day?

-

“Did you sleep better last night?” his dad asks, when Sean comes into the kitchen.

Did Dad just let him sleep for thirty-two hours so he could make that joke? “Why didn’t you wake me up?”

“Did you ask me to?” Dad asks, frowning. “I didn’t know you had somewhere to be today.”

Yesterday,” Sean says. “For school.”

Dad scratches his chin. “Yesterday morning? Well, your eyes were open and you were talking, so I didn’t realise you were still asleep.” He pauses. “Although it may have explained some things.”

“I was awake?” Sean asks. “You saw me? Yesterday? It was Friday, right?”

He’s trying not to flip out, but how is he not supposed to flip out right now?

“Sean,” Dad says, “is something wrong?”

“I don’t remember Friday,” Sean says. “I don’t remember anything. It’s like I went to bed on Thursday and I’m just waking up now.” He waves his phone. “Apparently I missed work. I don’t remember that.”

There’s a pause.

“Are you sure about this?” Dad asks.

“I’m not lying,” Sean says. His throat is getting kind of tight. “I don’t know what happened.”

“Okay,” Dad says, “sit down. We’ll figure this out.”

Sean sits down. What the fuck was he doing yesterday? Is he losing his mind?

“I won’t be angry,” Dad says. “Have you been drinking? Drugs?”

“I – I mean—” Sean hesitates. “I mean, sometimes? Not a lot. I don’t think – I don’t think I’ve been taking anything that could wipe out a whole day. Is that even a thing?”

Did he try something new yesterday? Why can’t he remember?

“I did think you seemed strange yesterday,” Dad says. “Did something happen between you and Lyla recently?”

“What do you mean, something?”

Dad shrugs. “You didn’t seem comfortable around her. You know, when she came to get you for school. It didn’t feel right.”

“What do you mean, something?

“You know,” Dad says. “A fight, maybe. Or... not a fight.”

Sean groans. “We’re friends, Dad.”

Dad raises his hands. “Okay, okay.”

Unless—

Did something happen between them? Yesterday? He doesn’t remember; how would he know?

It was before they’d even gone to school, though; when was there time for anything weird to happen?

Dad says he was uncomfortable around her. He’s never been uncomfortable around Lyla.

“I think I need to talk to Lyla,” Sean says. “Maybe she knows what happened.”

Dad nods. “You’re serious about this, aren’t you?”

“I’m not lying,” Sean says, again. “I don’t remember.”

“Okay,” Dad says. “We can go to the walk-in clinic later, okay? You’ll be fine.”

-

“Yeah, you were super out of it yesterday,” Lyla says. “I said how’s Daniel and you said sorry, who’s Daniel?

Holy shit.

“You’re feeling okay today, though?” Lyla asks, watching him. She’s acting casual, lounging on her bed while Sean wanders restlessly around her room, but he thinks she might be worried.

“Yeah,” he says. “I mean, freaking out. But yeah.”

“Maybe it was just a one-off,” Lyla says. “You don’t remember anything?

He shakes his head. “It feels like I was just... having this really intense dream, the whole time. I was some girl at – I think college? Or some kind of boarding school?”

“Max?”

He looks sharply at her. “What?”

“It’s something you said yesterday,” Lyla says, sitting up a little straighter. “You said your name was Max and you weren’t supposed to be here. I thought it was just a joke I wasn’t getting.”

“Yeah, Max, that – that was her name. The girl.”

“You’re not fucking with me?” Lyla asks.

He holds up his hands. “I swear.”

“So you just spent all day hallucinating you were this Max girl?” She pauses. “Okay, I’ll keep watch, and if this happens again I’m sticking with you all day to make sure you don’t walk into traffic.”

It’s a reassuring thing to hear. Well, kind of. It’s just...

Was he hallucinating that he was Max? He didn’t think he was Max; he wouldn’t have told anyone that was his name. It was like he was himself, in Max’s body, in her life.

And meanwhile his body was walking around, forgetting to go to work, not knowing who Daniel is, being uncomfortable around Lyla, saying he was Max.

It’s not possible, right? It can’t be.

-

There are three Chock-O-Crisp bars left. He should take a photo, to wave in Dad’s face as evidence of Daniel’s crime if they’ve all gone missing by the end of the day.

He pulls out his phone and brings up the camera, and then he pauses, his attention caught by the ‘last photo taken’ thumbnail in the corner of the screen. He opens it.

He never takes selfies. Not when he’s on his own, at least. When did he...?

Wait. The camera’s one of the few functions of his phone you can use without unlocking it.

Did she take this?

He leans against the kitchen counter to study the photo, Chock-O-Crisps forgotten. It’s weird as hell, looking at his own face and thinking he might not be the one behind it.

The Sean in the picture is frowning slightly; he looks serious, he looks worried. She probably had the same worry he did: is this somehow just my life now, am I never going back to myself?

She left something behind. It’s not just unread messages or stories of how weirdly he’s been acting; this photograph is something concrete of her, here in his hands. It’s Sean, but he can’t see himself when he looks at it.

Maybe it was real?

Shit, what is he thinking? He had a psychotic break or something, and now he guesses he has amnesia. Yeah, it’s come out of nowhere, and he should probably be worried about it. But it makes a lot more sense than concluding that he and some girl he’s never met switched bodies based on a weird dream and a photograph he doesn’t remember taking.

-

When the school week starts again, he finds notes in his books on the classes he missed, in someone else’s handwriting.

-

“Who’s that?” Daniel asks, peering at Sean’s sketchbook over his shoulder. “Is that Jenn?”

“No,” Sean says. “Shut up.” How does he know Jenn’s name? Did Lyla say something to Daniel about her? Did Sean, somewhere in the time he can’t remember?

“Is she your girlfriend?”

“Shut up, Daniel.”

It probably does look kind of obsessive. He’s filled a full two-page spread with sketches of Max, trying to get her nose just right, the shape of her eyes, her freckles. The reflected version of her he saw in mirrors, the true-to-life version in her selfies. In one corner he’s made some preliminary efforts at pinning down an anthro form for her. He’s thinking maybe a deer.

-

He’s not at home. The realisation snaps him straight out of ‘just drifting out of sleep’ and into ‘very, very awake’.

He opens his eyes and sees Max’s selfie wall and his stomach clenches, hard.

He guesses it wasn’t a one-off, then.

-

Super weird dream, Max has written in her diary. Way too realistic. I was a boy in Seattle. Shaun?

Sean frowns. Uncaps a pen with Max’s teeth, crosses out Shaun, writes SEAN above it in capital letters.

He doesn’t like boy either; it makes him sound too young.

Still, seeing her writing about him: it’s surreal, it’s kind of exciting. They’ve never talked to each other, but she knows about him, she’s stepped into his life. It’s such a weird, intimate thing to share with a stranger.

He hopes she hasn’t found his porn collection.

She’s probably hoping he’s not reading her diary.

Here’s the really crazy thing: I woke up and I’d lost an entire day. Missed all my classes – Jefferson wanted to meet me in private to ask me about it, and I didn’t have a good excuse because I didn’t even know what happened. Starving. I figured maybe I slept through the whole day somehow, but I’d read my emails – I just didn’t remember reading them. Texts unread, though.

He hadn’t been able to unlock her phone. But she’d left her email account logged in.

He feels kind of bad for getting her in trouble. She went to school for him when she was in his body. Not work, but he guesses she wouldn’t have known he had to be there. He should probably try to find out if she has any classes today.

He should eat something, at least, if she’ll be waking up hungry otherwise.

And then there’s the last few pages in this. I didn’t draw any of that. I don’t think I could. Shaun had a sketchbook – it looks like the stuff in there.

He’d passed the time in Max’s room by sketching in her diary. The room itself, the view from her window. Tried to reproduce some of the photos on her wall.

She looked through his sketchbook?

Shit, she’s probably going to see all the drawings of her he’s been doing, and he’s going to look like a crazy stalker.

I keep thinking, maybe it wasn’t a dream. Maybe he was me when I was being him. It seems too crazy.

If that’s not it, what? Am I just losing my mind?

Sean writes a note next to it. Yeah, pretty much how I’m feeling too.

And then he keeps reading.

And the diary gets weirder.

She says she can rewind time. Can he do that? If he’s in her body?

He tries it. Knocks her teddy bear off her bed onto the floor, concentrates really hard, tries to rewind it back up there.

But nothing happens. He doesn’t know how it’s supposed to work. Maybe she’s just making things up.

Maybe he’ll learn how to do it if he sees someone get shot, like she did.

Yeah, hopefully it won’t come to that.

-

Now that he’s starting to feel like the Max stuff might be real, he’s really paying attention. And it feels real. It really does. He was wondering if maybe it just seemed that way in his memories, but everything is so detailed, every sense is accounted for.

He knows it’s impossible. But it feels just as impossible not to believe in it.

Maybe he’s just gone crazy.

There’s a timetable crammed into Max’s diary, first page. So Sean knows she has a photography class, and he knows what room number it’s in. He just... doesn’t know where that room is.

He manages to find his way out of the dorms. There’s a boy waiting outside. Sean feels like he’s seen him before.

The boy waves and says, “Max!” and makes his way over, and Sean realises two things simultaneously.

First: this guy is one of Max’s friends. Sean’s seen him in Max’s diary; some of the people in her life have full pages about them, with photos, which is definitely going to help him keep track of who he’s supposed to pretend he knows. He’s got a weird name Sean can’t remember right now. Something starting with W?

Second: he’s about to have to have an actual conversation with someone, as Max.

And, sure, it’s not his own relationships he’ll be screwing up if he gets this wrong. But, if this has happened twice, it could happen a third time, and it seems like he should probably be keeping Max happy if she can mess things up for him as well.

“Hey,” Sean says. “Uh, sleep well?”

Mr W beams. “Yeah, great! I mean, fine. How about you?”

Maybe he doesn’t have to worry so much. He’s already getting the impression that Mr W would be ecstatic to hear Max say literally anything to him.

Sean takes a calculated yawn. “Uh, could’ve been better. Sorry. I might seem kind of spacey today.”

“Oh,” Mr W says. “Up all night watching TV, or...?”

“Just couldn’t sleep,” Sean says.

“You know you can talk to me, right?” Mr W asks.

Sean absolutely cannot be drawn into a conversation about feelings here. It’s intrusive and weird and there’s no way he’ll be able to play Max convincingly; he knows some of what’s going on with her from her diary, and from being one of the things going on with her, but he doesn’t know how much of it is stuff she’d be comfortable sharing with Mr W. He just needs to do the bare minimum to keep Max’s life functioning and keep his mouth shut the rest of the time.

“Thanks,” he says. “I’m fine.” He pauses. “It’s just I’ve got class with Mr Jefferson, and I can’t remember where it is.”

Mr W laughs.

There’s a short silence.

“Wait, are you serious?” Mr W asks.

“Hey, I told you I couldn’t sleep,” Sean says.

“Okay,” Mr W says. He hesitates. “Are you... saying you want me to walk you there?”

Sean is starting to feel a little uncomfortable about spending too much time with Mr W. What if Mr W makes a move and Sean has to deal with it and then he has to tell Max what happened in the world’s most awkward note? He really needs to learn how to do this time-reversal thing.

But being walked to Max’s class is exactly what he needs right now, so he guesses he’ll take it. “That’d help. Thanks.”

Mr W brightens. “Yeah, no problem. Uh, where’s your camera?”

Oh.

Right.

Photography lesson.

“I left it in my room,” Sean says. “Sorry. I’ll head back and get it.”

-

Sean wakes up in his own bed.

School as Max went okay. Turns out she sits at the back of every classroom, so it was easy for Sean to keep his head down and not draw attention. The only problem is she’s older than him, so she’s further ahead. Plus she’s taking subjects Sean knows nothing about, like photography. So a lot of the time he didn’t really understand what was going on, just had to write everything down and hope she’d be able to make sense of it.

Mr Jefferson kept Sean-as-Max behind after class; apparently she’s late handing in a photo for some kind of competition. He put a hand on her shoulder and looked very sincerely into her eyes and explained that he didn’t want to see her talent go to waste. It was kind of uncomfortable; Sean’s never had a teacher treat him like that. But maybe it’s normal when you’re a girl?

At least he’s himself again now.

He opens his eyes.

Lyla’s sleeping in the corner of his room, on the beanbag chair. He kind of admires her ability to sleep anywhere.

He guesses he doesn’t have to check his phone to know if he’s lost another day, then. Lyla wasn’t here last night.

Which... means Max invited Lyla over? What?

Is Max messing with his relationship with Lyla? What is she trying to do?

He wakes Lyla up by throwing a pillow at her. It’s their tradition when they stay over at each other’s houses.

“Ugh,” Lyla mutters, throwing it back at him. She yawns and stretches. “Forgot I was here.”

“Yeah, me too,” Sean says, sitting up against the wall.

Lyla pauses. “Yeah, you had another weird day yesterday.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I said I’d be sticking with you all day if it happened again, right?” Lyla asks.

He should have figured it out. Lyla never makes promises she doesn’t mean.

“I was Max again,” he says.

“Yeah, you said. If it’s drugs, it’s not fair that you’re not sharing them with me.”

“You think maybe it could be real?” he asks. “I’m actually living this other person’s life, and maybe she’s living mine at the same time?”

They look at each other for a moment.

“Sean,” Lyla says.

“Yeah, I know,” Sean mutters. “I’ve probably got a brain tumour or something.”

He wants it to be real, and not just because hallucinations are bad news. The switching is such a weird, inconvenient thing, but it doesn’t seem right that Max might not exist.

-

There’s a note in his sketchbook. I feel like I should introduce myself, if this is just something that happens now? I’m Max. Hi? This is weird.

It’s so awkward that it makes him laugh out loud.

Sean, he writes next to it. Nice to meet you.

He adds a kind of above meet, after a moment’s thought, and underlines the spelling of his name.

-

He’s Max again, but he doesn’t recognise the room. Is this her parents’ place? In Seattle?

This bedroom doesn’t really look like Max’s style, though.

He’s still trying to figure it out when another girl comes through the door without knocking, towelling her blue hair dry. He’s seen her before, and it takes a moment for him to place where: she’s another person he’s seen paperclipped into Max’s diary. Chloe, right?

“Morning,” Chloe says. “Told you I could wake up early.”

“Hi,” Sean says. “Uh.” He’s been relying on Max’s diary to keep her schedule, but this is someone else’s room. “Do I have class?”

“What, do I look like your timetable?” Chloe asks.

Even if he does have class, he doesn’t know where Max’s school is. Shit. He might end up getting her in trouble again.

Wait, he can look it up online.

“It’s... Something Academy, right? Uh.” He glances around. “Where’s my diary? Did I bring it here?”

“Wow,” Chloe says. “You need some coffee?”

Well, it’s a nice excuse for how useless he’s being right now. “That’d be great. Thanks.”

“Wait,” Chloe says. “Wait, is this the thing you were telling me about? The boy thing?”

“The boy thing?” Sean asks.

“Sam,” she says.

Sean shrugs, totally blank.

“No, wait,” Chloe says. “Sean, right?”

“Wait, what?” Sean asks.

“You said you were this guy called Sean, right?” she asks. “Or maybe he was you? Are you Sean right now? Is that what’s going on?”

Sean stares at her. “I – I mean—” There’s no way she believes it, right? “Yeah. I’m Sean.”

“Oh, wow,” Chloe says. “You know Stepdouche tells me I can’t have boys in my room with the door closed? Shows how much he knows about me.”

“You believe me?” he asks.

“Hell, I don’t know,” she says. “But the time travel thing’s real, right? Why not the other crazy stuff?”

“The time travel’s real?” Sean demands. Yeah, he read about it in the diary, but it sounded way too nuts.

Chloe grins. “Good news: you could not have switched with a cooler person.”

-

More switches.

The doctors can’t find anything. He doesn’t think they will.

He’s booked in for an appointment with a psychiatrist. Max is the one who actually ends up going to the appointment, though, and Sean finds a note in his sketchbook when they switch back: That was SO AWKWARD, I’m really sorry if I screwed it up.

But they don’t send him for any kind of treatment, so he guesses she got through it okay.

Honestly, he doesn’t know if he wants treatment, even if he needs it. Even if this isn’t actually real.

He tells his dad it’s gone away. Lyla is the only one he still talks to about it. He doesn’t know if she really believes him, but he thinks she’s starting to enjoy the story.

He’s been resisting the urge to look Max up online. He hates the idea that he’ll find there’s nothing there. But he’s started trying to save money.

Oregon’s not that far, right?

-

“It’s weird,” Sean says. “I’ve been here so many times now. I feel like I know Max. But I’ve never actually met her.” He pauses. “Kind of wish I could.”

Chloe’s giving him a look.

“What?” he asks.

“You’re totally into her,” Chloe says.

There’s a twist in Sean’s gut. “What? No, I’m not.”

“You are.” Chloe laughs. “Holy shit, this is great. Have you been making out with mirrors?”

Sean can feel himself flushing. “Shut up.”

But it kind of sets him at ease, in this weird world where he’s living someone else’s life. Having someone dunk on him mercilessly: it’s like being with Lyla.

-

Lyla raps her knuckles on his head. “Is that Sean in there?”

“Yes,” Sean says. “And ow.”

Lyla grins. “Good. There’s no way you’re ditching me for the Halloween party to go be Max.”

“Shit, is that tonight?” He’s been losing so many days that it’s hard to keep track of time.

“It’s tonight,” Lyla says. “You’d better be there.”

Sean laughs. “Okay, I promise.”

-

He doesn’t make it to the party.