“So, are we going to storage today, Ma?” Mary said, gulping down her orange juice.
“Yeah. There are a few things your Grandma Lucy’s been after me to let her have that used to belong to Daddy,” Marcy added. “I might get rid of the whole unit.”
“What are you gonna do with all the stuff in it?” asked Mark.
It was almost a year since Michael Crow had been removed from the machines that kept him alive. Mark took some time off from work for a week and had been visiting. Mark was an investment banker in San Francisco.
“It’s time to get rid of the things I don’t need. There are old toys that I’m sure could be donated, old pots and pans, books and things like that. But I want to separate the things I want to keep and line up the rest for charity.”
“Good idea, Mom,” Mark said. “Think we need a U-Haul?”
“We’ll get one there,” said Marcy. “They rent those too.”
They piled into the gray Ford Expedition her father bought when Mark was in eighth grade and Mary in the sixth and drove over to their storage unit on the west side.
Mark opened the storage unit with gusto. “Ta-da!”
“God, it’s dusty in here!” Mary said, choking on the thin dust covering the items in the dimly-lit 10×10 foot rental unit.
The three of them surveyed the unit quietly. It was mostly a mishmash of boxes, cartons, bicycles, and the like. They had removed some items since Michael had passed, but it was slow-going.
“What do you expect?” Marcy said. “A lot of this is you and Mark’s. So it’s a good thing you’re both here. You can finally go through your old junk!”
They got to work immediately, hauling every last box and whatever odds and ends were in the unit. They put most of the boxes in the U-Haul, though someone had put them into the trunk of the Expedition. The manual labor took up pretty much the whole day.
“Mark’s old magazines,” Mary read off the box before she picked it up. They were about halfway through, spending the first couple of hours too busy to speak to each other. She underestimated the weight and groaned as she hauled it up into her arms.
“Christ on a cracker, I cannot believe you have this box, Mom!” said Mark disbelievingly, watching his sister lug the box out. The object was taped up within an inch of its life, and that could only mean one thing: it was Mark’s stash of porn from high school.
“Your dad and I never touched anything that had you or Mary’s name on it,” Marcy said, huffing and puffing from the day’s strain. She leaned against the cool metal of the storage unit across the tiny hallway.
“Drink more water, Ma,” Mary advised her mother as she walked past.
“I’ll be fine; I just had a drink,” said Marcy. “What about you? You’re sweating too hard. Go drink some water.”
“Just let me put Mark’s porn away first,” Mary called behind her.
Marcy laughed heartily, and Mark blushed. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said innocently.
Two hours later, they were on the way back to their home. The rented U-Haul and the Expedition were packed within an inch of their collective lives.
“God, I’m starving. Those granola bars and bananas didn’t do this body well,” Mary sighed, heaving her way into the truck and slumping down in the passenger’s seat immediately. Her body ached all over and reminded her it had been a while since she’d seen the inside of a gym.
Mark was walking back to the U-Haul and retorted, “That’s milk that does a body good, dummy!” Then, he jumped into the cab and prepared to follow them home.
Mary made a face but couldn’t come up with a snappy enough response quickly. She was much too tired.
Marcy patted her youngest on the leg. “Don’t worry. I’ve got some food in the Crockpot.”
When they returned home, the three of them devoured the beef stew Marcy had left simmering all day.
“We’ll unload the trucks tomorrow,” Marcy said, gulping down a glass of cold water to wash down her mouthful of food.
“Good idea,” Mark said.
“If I can get out of bed,” Mary added.
The next day, as agreed upon, the three of them unloaded what they wanted to look through in the third car garage bay. “Donate that” and “keep that” were Marcy’s only words as they unloaded the Expedition and U-Haul and reloaded the U-Haul with the things they wanted to get rid of.
“Oh my god,” Mary marveled as she dumped a letterbox on the floor. It had her childhood handwriting on it, along with the little pictures she used to draw. They had donated pretty much everything not worth keeping, and now they were going through the boxes they were going to keep.
“What?” Mark wheezed, trying to organize the boxes in the garage.
“This is one of my old boxes,” Mary said cheerfully. “I bet there’s a bunch of crap in here!”
“Do it later, Mary,” admonished Marcy. She was losing steam, even though she had gotten a full night’s sleep.
“Just a sec, Ma,” she said, using a box cutter to cut the tape on the sides. Then, as she had hoped, she opened the box and revealed pretty much a time capsule of her life. “Ohhh, look, it’s my sticker book from third grade. Then, look, my old friendship files from sixth grade. Man, that’s hella old… and oh Lord, my eighth-grade yearbook!”
She yanked out the thin, hardcover-bound yearbook, absolutely pleased by the garish yellow cover and the silly dedications in the front and back pages from her old friends. Mary wondered where they were now. She hadn’t kept in touch with any of them.
“Mary,” Marcy threatened quietly under her breath.
“OK, I’m done. Don’t touch this one, Mark,” she warned her brother.
Mark spun on his heel and made a big show of touching the box with a single finger.
“I told you!” Mary threatened, launching herself at him.
Mark was ready for her and easily blocked her swings. Mark was a big guy at 5’11”. He was a few inches taller than their father. Mary was glad that she and Mark got along so well. She remembered the horror stories of her other friends about how dysfunctional their relationships were with their siblings. So she was fortunate in that sense.
“Give up?” Mark taunted, holding her fists in his hands lightly.
“Never!” Mary said, rolling the “r” with a grin. He let go suddenly and began to tickle her. She hated being tickled and immediately lost her nerve, falling into a pile of boxes defenselessly. “Cheater! Mom, he’s cheating!”
“Kids,” Marcy said, laughing at them as she walked past, boxes in her arms. “We’re almost done. Let’s finish up, okay?”
After dinner, Mary snuck back into the garage. They had cordoned off more of her boxes in a small corner of the stuffy garage. She smiled at the nostalgia that the boxes held. Years and years of memories: old papers, art projects, photographs. She sighed at the thought and opened up the box closest to her.
Moving aside the old books and papers that greeted her, her eyes lit up, and she let out a happy squeal. It was her old Walkman and a bunch of mixtapes she made in high school. “Oh my god, I thought I lost this!” She tugged the Walkman and headphones out of the box and gathered up what tapes she could carry.
Tossing them on her bed, she scooped up four double-A batteries and powered them on. Music blared through the headphones, and Mary grinned. “Thank god it still works!” She laid out on her bed and let the music take over. The familiar chords of the songs pounded in her ears like the ocean.
“I know I have got a sleeping mixtape here somewhere,” she thought as the song by the Newsies finished. She tossed tape after tape aside until she found her “Sweet Dreams” mixtape. Replacing the Newsies mixture with the tape she wanted to listen to, Mary fell asleep. She would listen to this particular mixtape whenever she couldn’t get to sleep on her own. French Indochina’s soft ballad “Imagination” lulled her to sleep.
Mary woke up with a start. The Walkman had fallen off her head in her sleep and had fallen on the floor. Sunlight streamed through the windows. The familiar smell of morning coffee assailed her nostrils. Mary was confused. The only one who drank coffee in the mornings was her dad. But then the layout of the room caught her eye. Her room looked like she had it in high school. The twin-sized bed was against the wall, the dresser by the door.
“This can’t be right,” she thought to herself. She rubbed her eyes and looked around confusedly. Her past self hung the posters she had of Strawberry Song, French Indochina, and the Promise with the exact precision she prided herself on. But, unfortunately, she had trashed them when she left for NYU.
Mary looked at the calendar. It distinctly said April 2000. “2000?” she said aloud. “I was a senior in high school in 2000….” The alarm clock on her nightstand said 10:31 AM.
She hauled open the door to her room and walked down the hallway to the kitchen. The house looked exactly like how she remembered it when she was seventeen. Nobody was in the house, she surmised. Mark had left for Georgia Tech last year. And her parents worked during the day. The daily newspaper was sitting as plain as day on the kitchen table. Mary pulled it off the table and hurriedly read the date: Friday, April 28, 2000.
“No, this is some joke,” she thought to herself.
She ran into her parents’ room. Her father’s clothes were still in the closet, his acoustic guitar in the corner, sitting neatly in a stand. “Total joke,” she muttered. Mark had decided to keep the guitar in the family and mailed it to his house the week before.
“What the hell?” Mary cursed under her breath.
She ran out of the house, remembering to lock it behind her. She needed answers, and she needed them now. Her eyes spied Mark’s old bike. She usually took it to school unless her best friend Samantha gave her a ride. Mary gathered it up and took off pedaling.
Her first stop: Mountain Valley High.
As the familiar scenery whipped past her, Mary tried to collect her thoughts. ‘OK, I’m not gonna say this out loud, but I really think I’m in the Twilight Zone. Did I go back in time or what?’
She stopped at the corner for the light to turn green. She stabbed angrily at the button for the light so pedestrians could walk. Mary didn’t know what she would accomplish by going to school, but when people think they’ve gone back in time, don’t they usually catch up with their past selves?
She passed by the old Carol St. gas station, open for business like any other day. It closed her freshman year in college. It was a favorite hangout of Mountain Valley High students. Even though they had a closed campus, they usually snuck off campus to buy the food they couldn’t get in the lunchroom. The owners barely spoke a lick of English but never turned the kids in.
Mary pumped her legs as hard as she could and made it to school a few minutes later. Racking her brain, she decided to hide the bike behind some bushes on the side of the school. She brushed her windblown hair with her hands and tried to look presentable as she made her way into the office.
“Hello, I’d like a visitor’s pass,” she said to the school secretary breathlessly.
Mrs. Cody coughed and pulled out the visitor’s log. “Can I see your ID, dear?” she asked politely, squinting up at Mary.
Mary instinctively dipped her fingers in her back pocket for her ID case. She had hated carrying purses and wallets since high school and only carried the bare minimum of things with her: ID, one credit card, her bank card, and maybe $5 in cash. Luckily, she remembered not to take her ID case out before she went to bed the night before.
She showed Mrs. Cody her driver’s license. It was from New York State, and she had meant to get it changed back to California but was too lazy.
“Ooh, New York,” Mrs. Cody trilled. “What brings you to our little town?” She coughed again and took a sip from a glass of water nearby. Mrs. Cody was older than the sixty-year-old school; the kids used to say.
“I’m thinking about getting a job here in town,” Mary hedged. “I graduated from Mountain Valley High about eight years ago and wanted to look around.”
“Excellent! If you ever need any help, just let me know,” said Mrs. Cody generously. She filled out the paperwork for the visitor’s pass and handed it over to Mary. “Just keep this and return it at the end of your visit. You don’t have to wear it if you don’t want to. But campus security might stop you. You still look young enough to be in high school!”
Mary smiled but felt uncomfortable at the thought. Maybe coming here wasn’t such a hot idea.
As she left the office, she tried to remember what class she had at 11 in the morning her senior year. It had been almost a decade since high school; she didn’t have a clue. And it was probably illegal to give out a student’s schedule to a visitor, so she didn’t bother to go back and ask.
As she racked her brain, the bell rang, and kids began piling out of their classrooms in droves. ‘How am I gonna find me in this crowd?’ she mused as people shoved past her on both sides, not paying a bit of attention. Mary didn’t have to wait long.
Chatting animatedly with Samantha Brown and their mutual friends Katy McCoy and Lori Placer, her skinnier and longer-haired past self walked past.
“So I said to him, ‘ew Justin, that’s not funny,’ and of course, him, McCallister, Huston, and Crystal were all laughing,” Katy was saying.
“He so likes you,” Mary heard her past self saying.
“Which is unfortunate, considering Katy’s got Max,” Samantha reminded her.
“For real. Justin Perez chases whatever goes past,” said Katy loftily.
“That’s so grody,” Lori added.
Mary hung back long enough to look as inconspicuous as possible. But when they were far enough away, she began to follow them while willing her body not to hyperventilate. They were heading towards the fine arts building. She, Samantha, and Katy had theater class in the mornings, Mary suddenly remembered.
Then lunch was next. Mary hid in the library until then and tried to come up with a good excuse for breaching an introduction with her past self.
The bell rang, signaling the end of the fourth period and the start of the fifth, which was Mary’s lunch in high school. She put back “The Babysitter” by R.L. Stine, one of her favorite young adult novels, back on a spinning rack. Just as she made her way towards the door to leave, her past self walked in. Mary jumped but tried not to look suspicious. Instead, she walked over to a random bookshelf and pretended to look fascinated about a thick book on post-modern French architecture.
Her past self looked through the spinning racks she had just left, readjusting the denim messenger bag on her shoulder absentmindedly. Mary tried to rack her brain. ‘What am I looking for?’ she thought.
Her past self picked up an R.L. Stine book and shook her head slightly. Mary grinned and found her way in. She put the architecture book back and casually moved another spinning rack. She found “The Babysitter” right where she left it.
“Are you looking for ‘The Babysitter?’” she asked.
At first, her past self looked at her oddly. “Yeah, I am actually; how did you know?”
Mary handed it over and shrugged coolly, her heart pounding. “I just did. You look like an R.L. Stine fan.”
“Shh!” the librarian nearby whispered loudly.
They both giggled. “Thanks,” her past self said.
“I’m… Maria,” Mary said quickly. She couldn’t introduce herself as Mary. That would be too confusing.
“I’m Mary,” said her past self cheerfully. “Are you new here? You look kinda old to be in high school.”
Maria looked shocked but recovered quickly. She really was that blunt in high school, wasn’t she? “Yeah, I moved in a couple of days ago. I didn’t want to sit around and help my parents unpack, so they enrolled me in school yesterday. So today’s my first day.”
“Cool. I’m gonna go check this out,” said Mary, turning away. “I’ll see you around.”
“Wait, are you gonna have lunch?” said Maria, sounding a little too desperate.
“Maybe. I don’t have much of an appetite. So I think I’m just gonna go find a place to read outside and enjoy the weather.”
“I’m not hungry either,” said Maria, lying through her teeth. She hadn’t eaten since last night, and her hunger was raging. But she had to find out why she was here. Her past self would know why she just knew it.
“Oh. Okay. Well, you can sit with me. I’ve read this book before,” she said, handing her student ID and the book for the librarian to scan. “And I don’t feel like hanging with my friends today. So I’m all yours, I guess.”
Mary led the way out of the library with her future self in tow.
“This is the best place ever,” said Mary conspiratorially. She had chosen a big tree on the other side of the library. “I call it my special spot. I think my friends know about it, but I’ve never brought them here. So you are an exceptional person to be here with me.” Mary laughed.
Maria took everything in. It still smelled the way she remembered her special spot. That old tree smell and the aroma of the hot sun blazing overhead brought back many memories. When she wanted to get away from people, this is where she usually went to. Her friends stopped questioning why and let her have her days alone. They knew she’d be back the next day.
“You look like you’ve been here before,” Mary noted as she threw her black backpack aside and settled down to sit on a stone planter that was nearby.
“I don’t think so,” Maria played it coolly. “Have you ever had that feeling of déjà vu? ‘Cause, that’s how it feels right now.”
Mary smiled. “Sorta. Like sometimes I’ll dream of a certain movement of my hands or something, and then like two weeks later, it’ll happen.”
“Precognitive,” said Maria smiling. “Impressive.” She knew that feeling all too well.
Mary tossed her head like a prize horse. “I try.”
They sat and talked for a bit longer until the bell rang. For some reason, talking to her past self came very naturally to Maria. After all, she knew what was going to happen to her in the next few weeks. In addition, the annual Senior Grad Nite trip to Saga World was coming up, as well as the prom, finals, and graduation.
They parted ways in the 30-wing breezeway, with Mary going to her American history class. But she still couldn’t figure out why she was in the past, talking to herself. Maria tried to rack her brain for possible solutions, as she took the bicycle and went to the local Motel 6.
She needed a reason to keep talking to her past self. So that same night, she called a familiar phone number from her hotel room. She ordered a pizza to be delivered and devoured three pieces before she called.
“Hello?” a familiar voice said on the other line.
Maria paused for a second. “Dad?” she found herself asking.
“I’m sorry, who is this?” Michael Crow asked with a hearty laugh.
“Oh, sorry about that. This is Maria Rowland, Mary’s friend from school. Can I speak to her, please?”
“Certainly. Hold on, Maria.”
Maria swallowed hard. Maybe that’s why she came back: to see her father again. Maybe she was meant to see a healthy, running around, smiling, and yelling at the TV version of her father.
“Hello, Maria?” asked Mary incredulously. “Did I give you my number today?”
“Hey Mary, how are you? You totally did give me your number. I guess you forgot. Anyways, I wanted to see what you were doing tomorrow. I thought we could hang out or something since I’m new in town and everything.”
“Well, tomorrow’s Saturday. I don’t have any homework or anything,” Mary said, pondering her plans aloud.
Maria smiled. She never had homework in high school. She usually finished her homework in school, as the teachers were speaking. High school wasn’t much of a challenge past sophomore year. After that, she only stayed in school because her parents refused to let her graduate early.
“Let me ask my mom.” Mary covered the phone poorly and screamed, “HEY MOM!”
Maria couldn’t hear her mother replying but did hear mumbling through the muffled sounds.
“WHAT ARE WE DOING TOMORROW? … WE’RE GOING TO THE MALL? OKAY!” Maria hollered. She removed her hand from the mouthpiece. “We’re going to the mall. We could pick you up from your house. Where do you live?”
“No, that’s okay,” Maria said hurriedly. “I can meet you there. I think I know where to go.”
“Okay, meet me at Sierra Coffee at noon. That should give me enough time to give my parents the slip.”
Maria nodded and said, “Sure thing.”
That was the rule of her parents. If they went shopping, they always had to spend at least the first hour or two with each other. After that, they were free to roam around until a set time. Then they would leave together.
“Why do I feel like I know you?” Mary asked. Maria arrived promptly at 11:53 at the second-floor pad for Sierra Coffee. They greeted each other like old friends and decided to window shop for a bit.
“What do you mean?” replied Maria.
“I dunno, it’s like when I see you, it’s like I know you,” said Mary, shrugging. “Whatever. I’m probably not making much sense!”
Maria patted her on the arm. “Trust me; you make perfect sense. You remind me a lot of myself.” ‘When I was younger,’ she prevented herself from revealing.
“Probably doesn’t help that you kinda look like my mom too. I was going through all these old photos of her. You’re like, completely alike!” Mary joked. “Are you sure you’re not my long-lost twin or something?”
“I promise,” Maria nodded darkly. She had read enough science fiction stories to know that if you mess with your timeline in the past too much, then you’ll fuck up your future life. If they ever get back. She needed to find out why she was here, and the less she said to her past self, the better.
She didn’t realize what a dolt she was at that age, though. Gawky, Mary was humming along to a song from the mixtape that had brought her future self to the past. Her long legs made confident strides past store after store in the Mountain Valley Great Mall. Maria sighed. She missed that invincible feeling, that feeling of being ready to take on the world.
“Oh my god,” Maria said, slowing down. They were making their way across the mall and had found themselves passing by the Starlight Toys store. “I remember that purse…” Hanging in the window display was a simple pink plastic coin purse with a long string.
“What you talkin’ ’bout Maria? This is the new spring line!” said Mary, dragging Maria in by the arm.
Mary ooh’s and ahh’s over every little thing on the shelves, as Maria stood stock still visually taking everything in like she had the day before. The colorful frieze made her smile. When she still lived under her parents’ thumb, going to the mall was a treat, and Starlight Toys was her favorite stop. She hadn’t been inside of one since she left Mountain Valley for New York City.
“All right, all right, you convinced me!” Mary said. She took one of the plastic coin purses from the table display near the window and power-walking to the register. She smiled at the girl behind the counter, plunked it down, and forked over her money.
“Be careful with it. It’s flimsy,” warned Maria. She would break it on the senior class trip and be forced to carry her money in her pocket for the rest of the trip.
“I know. I had one of these in, like, first grade. I wore that thing everywhere until I couldn’t anymore!” Mary said gaily. “So, where are we going next?”
“What about the music store?” Maria asked, trying to sound as noncommittal as possible. “Do you have one here?”
“Oh my god, yeah, it’s called Foster’s Record Stop. And it’s on the way before I have to meet up with my family again. Let’s go!”
Maria and Mary made their way to Foster’s. Foster’s wasn’t only a record store; they sold DVDs and anime figurines, and other things. Maria smiled at the poster display in the corner. She got her first classic movie poster from it, Casablanca. A corporate chain would buy out Foster’s within the next two years.
“Is this the new Strawberry Song album?” Mary said happily, yanking a plastic CD case from the wire display case.
Maria joined her. “Probably.”
Mary grinned. “This is going on my next mixtape!”
They left Foster’s with Mary’s newfound acquisition in tow. Maria looked at her younger self, who seemed happy with her two purchases for the day. The Crows lived comfortably, but they weren’t rich by any means. Trips to the mall like this were one in a million. Armed with the $20 bill her mother would make a big show of parting with, she would buy little things.
Maria swore to herself that when she grew up, she would never be like her parents. She would shop for fun and on a whim and not wait for a surplus from a paycheck to do it. She had that as the adult Mary, but Maria knew she had lost that childlike quality of buying little things and geeking out over them. She had lost that sense of youth, and she was only 25. What had happened?
“Hey Mary!” a male voice called from behind.
Both Marys took a glance over their left shoulder, practically in the same movement. Mary groaned; Maria smiled inwardly.
It was Ricky Baxter. He was what some people consider ‘a nerd.’ Mary never wanted to be seen with him. It wasn’t that she was too cool to be seen with him. If anything, she was about as low as you could get on the totem pole of high school popularity. She knew people but didn’t really know people. So Mary mostly kept to herself in high school.
On the other hand, he was president of the Math and Debate Clubs at school. They had known each other since second grade. He had a crush on her since then that she had never returned. They were friendly, but she avoided him whenever she could.
“Let’s stop and talk to him,” Maria said, slowing down. Deep down, she liked the attention Ricky gave her and wanted to see how her past self reacted around him.
“What? No, Maria, keep walking!” Mary hissed. Maria ignored her and waited for Ricky to catch up.
Ricky walked briskly out of the Foot Locker, and as he came upon them, he brushed his greasy, shoulder-length black hair away from his forehead. “Hey,” he said, trying to be cool, his blue eyes sparkling.
“Hey,” replied Mary listlessly.
“So, uh, have you decided, um, if you’re gonna go to prom yet?” asked Ricky awkwardly, not looking at Maria.
Maria grinned. Ricky had been casually asking her ever since they announced the theme to the prom, Hawaiian Nights. She tried to rack her brain and remember what happened to him after high school. He probably became some multimillionaire software developer.
“Not yet. But I think me and Samantha and our friends were gonna go together as a group,” Mary replied. This was true. Instead of having dates to their senior prom, Mary and her best friends would go as a group and enjoy the night on their own.
“Oh. Well, maybe we could save me a dance,” Ricky said shyly, not looking at her directly.
Maria blushed, as did Mary. There was something terribly endearing about him that made her heart twinge. Not in a falling in love kind of way, but as a “nerds are totally adorable” kind of way.
“Okay,” said Mary, shrugging.
He grinned and finally took notice of the other person in their circle. “Hi, I’m Ricky,” he said to Maria suddenly, sticking out his hand.
“Oh, where are my manners?” Mary blurted out. “Ricky, this is….”
“I’m Maria Rowland, formerly of New York City.” But, of course, that wasn’t a total lie. She was a Rowland – on her mother’s side. But, for all intents and purposes, she did just move here from the Big Apple.
Just as she reached for Ricky’s hand, a pent-up static electricity jolt passed between them. They both jumped and then laughed nervously.
“Well, we gotta meet my parents, see you later, Ricky!” said Mary, pulling Maria away.
“Why are you like that?” Maria said crossly.
“Why are you?” said Mary in the same tone of voice.
“Ricky’s just trying to be nice. You should’ve said yes.”
“Ew, Maria, I can’t believe what you’re implying. I know you’re new at school, but let me tell you something. That’s Ricky Baxter. He’s like King of the Dorks at school. Prom? That’s one thing, but with him? It’s Ricky, for God’s sake.”
“You’re too young to be acting like that!” Maria scolded. “People like Ricky grow up to be good guys, you know.” But, unfortunately, Maria knew this all too well.
“And you’re too young to be talking like you’re too old,” said Mary tartly. “Hey, you wanna meet my parents?” she asked, switching gears, as the Sears anchor store came into view.
“Nah, not today,” said Maria, hedging. She had been thinking about the guys that had come and gone in her life since high school: Pete, Patrick, Andy, Joe, Alex. They had all meant something to her, but none of them put the fire in her heart. But for some reason, seeing Ricky again at this age made her reflect.
“Come on, I wanna show my mom her twin!” said Mary, grabbing her arm and pulling her into the store.
“Mary, stop it!” whined Maria, trying to extract her arm from her past self’s hold. As girly as she was at that age, she was also pretty scrappy. Fighting against her past self was of no use. Maria knew she was in trouble. She tried not to think of the paradoxes that might occur when interacting with her parents in the past. Then another voice in her head reminded her that she had met her past self and hadn’t spontaneously combusted yet.
“Hey, Mary!” Marcy spoke with a grin. Next to her, Michael was examining a collared shirt critically. “Who’s this?” she asked, nudging Michael. Marcy kept her eyes on the strange girl. It was that piercing gaze that put both of her children in their places. Maria hated that look. It was the “you won’t lie to me, so don’t even try” look. It was spooky.
Maria felt the world slowing down as Michael Crow turned around to see what Marcy had bumped him for. A welcoming smile met her, and Maria melted. Her father had the best smile in the whole world, and here he was, living and breathing in front of her.
“Mom, Dad, this is my friend Maria Rowland, the girl I was telling you about,” said Mary, presenting Maria with a flourish of her arms. “She’s from New York.”
“Nice to meet you, Maria,” Marcy said politely, shaking Maria’s hand. “Rowland’s my maiden name.”
“Nice to meet you, ma’am,” said Maria just as politely. “Small world, huh?” They both smiled at each other, and Maria knew she had passed her mother’s test.
“And I’m her dad Michael,” said her father, holding out his right hand.
Maria didn’t hesitate for a second and shook his hand firmly. She breathed in his cologne deeply. She tried to stop glancing at Michael because every time she looked at him, he studied her right back.
“Are you girls hungry?” asked Marcy, leading the way to the cash wrap with a few items. “I feel like a cheeseburger myself.”
“I’m starving,” said Mary, looping her arm through Maria’s. “I could eat a horse.”
“Let’s get something to eat at the food court then,” offered Michael.
Maria spent the rest of the day with her past family, nixing the idea of spending the night. When they offered to drop her off at her house, Maria respectfully refused. That would just be too weird for her. Luckily, they didn’t push it though they told her only to ride down well-lit streets. Maria smiled and nodded. Her parents were always protective of her friends like that.
“I still can’t believe we pulled that off!” said Mary, adjusting herself in the uncomfortable fake leather bus seat.
One month had passed since Maria had found herself transported to the past. Her living accommodations hadn’t changed. Her friendship with her past self solidified to where they shared everything. She also managed to figure out a timetable where she didn’t share any classes with Mary or their friends so she wouldn’t have to explain why she wasn’t in a particular class. However, Maria was no closer to the purpose or reason why she was in the past.
Maria had officially met the past versions of her high school best friends: Samantha, Katy, and Lori. Unfortunately, there were also several more run-ins with Ricky, much to Mary’s chagrin.
But when Mary discovered that Maria Rowland wasn’t on the list of seniors attending the annual senior trip to Saga World, she took on a personal crusade. So naturally, Maria tried to play it off.
“Mary, it’s cool. I’ll be fine. I’m too new at school to go,” said Maria, trying to feign sadness. “But have a good time, bring me back some mouse ears.”
“No, that’s not fair,” Mary said. “Just because you’re new doesn’t mean you can’t go! I’ll think of something!” She waved goodbye to Maria and walked into her math class. She left Maria very confused and paranoid about what her past self was capable of.
After hearing about Maria’s plight, Ricky came up with a suggestion. They hacked into the school computers and added Maria’s name to the list of seniors attending the trip. They scribbled an undecipherable parental signature on some hard copy of the permission slips and added it to the piles being collected in the second period. They even got Maria a student ID with some help from Ricky’s friends, as they needed them on the trip.
Maria gulped big breaths of air. “I can’t either!” They slapped a high-five and tried to settle in.
The morning of the senior trip, Maria waited in line behind Mary with bated breath. The teachers with the master list of seniors attending the trip were chilling out behind the table everyone was supposed to check in. They were called forward three at a time for each block of letters in the alphabet. Maria showed the science teacher her student ID, and the teacher checked it against her copy of the list and highlighted her name off.
“Have fun!” he said, handing her ID back.
They both got on the same bus and began chatting about their caper amongst themselves. Nobody but Mary, Ricky, Maria and Ricky’s friends knew what they had done. Samantha and Katy were in the aisle next to them. Lori’s family decided to go to Aruba the week of their senior trip. She elected to go with her family instead of going with her friends on their senior trip.
They arrived at Saga World in one piece. The theme park stayed open at night for graduating seniors from all over the country. Maria wasn’t interested in meeting kids from other schools, though. Instead, she was there to have fun on the rides and experience the park that way. It had been ages since she had been to Saga World. The friends she had in New York weren’t keen on amusement parks. But when she lived in Mountain Valley, going to places like Saga World and Wondertown were a ritual part of growing up.
“Hey, there’s Ricky!” said Maria. Mary cringed at his name, but Maria pushed her playfully. “Hey! Ricky!” she blurted out, waving her arm to try and get his attention.
Ricky was chatting animatedly with a group of friends. He stopped in mid-sentence, took his leave, and walked briskly across the courtyard entrance that connected Saga World and Marina Dome – its sister park – together. “Hi Maria,” he said warmly, “Hi Mary.” His voice took on a softer tone when saying Mary’s name. Mary nodded politely in his direction.
“Thanks for helping us out last week,” said Maria, nodding.
Ricky smiled. “Ahh, no problem. It helps that my mom works in records, and I’m a runner for the attendance office.” He looked at Mary pointedly. “So, what rides are you gonna go on first?”
Mary shrugged. “I dunno.”
“I do. Saga World is one of my favorite places in the world. I’ve got a whole plan of attack. We’re going to the Cliffhanger Plummet first. You wanna come with?” asked Maria boldly.
“Okay, sure,” he said, nodding coolly. He glanced to see Mary’s reaction, but she remained stoic.
However, once they were in the park, Mary spotted the restrooms off Main Street and chirped, “I need to use the bathroom.”
“OK,” Maria said, walking to the nearby gift stand, “we’ll wait for you here.” Ricky dutifully took his place next to her.
“No, come with me,” Mary demanded, yanking on her arm.
“Ow!” yelled Maria, but allowed her past self to lead her inside.
“What’s wrong with you?” Mary burst out as soon as they were safely inside the ladies’ room.
“What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with you?” asked Maria, rubbing her arm where Mary had grabbed her and held on tight. “What’s the big deal?”
“What the hell is the big idea?” Mary continued, “Inviting Ricky to hang out with us?”
She sighed. “Thought you wouldn’t mind,” said Maria meekly.
“Though I wouldn’t….” Mary repeated under her breath, “You were wrong. So completely wrong!” She adjusted the pink coin purse across her chest angrily.
“Fine, if you want to ditch him, go. I’m not gonna be a selfish bitch and do it. You can go off by yourself for all I care. All I’m saying is that Ricky is a good guy. If you don’t want him, I’ll take him. I asked him to go with us ‘cause he was there, I was just nice!” Maria crossed her arms and waited for her past self to catch up to what she wasn’t saying. The senior girls from the other schools and a few from their school watched with interest at the exchange between the two girls.
“I don’t want to ditch him! I’m not that cruel!” Mary hissed between her lips. “Ugh, whatever.” She stomped out of the bathroom with Maria at her heels.
Ricky was waiting anxiously for them to come back. “Is everything okay?”
“Fine!” the Marys harrumphed in the same tone of voice as they stomped towards the Golden Pendulum, the entrance to the Cliffhanger Plummet. They wound their way around the milling around kids in their anger.
“Wait up!” Ricky called after them.
It took three rides – the Trick, the Diver’s Ecstasy, and the House of Death – before the Marys both lightened up and began speaking to each other again.
“Sorry about earlier,” said Mary gruffly.
“Me too,” said Maria, just as snippy.
“Finally,” said Ricky, letting out a sigh of relief. “Now, can we have some fun?”
The Marys laughed. “You mean we haven’t been having fun already?” Maria teased him.
“No, that’s not it. It’s just I hate to see two excellent friends fighting, is all,” said Ricky.
“Hey, you guys!” a girl’s voice called from behind them.
They turned around and saw Samantha’s smiling face. Trailing behind her were Katy and her boyfriend, Max. “Where you guys headed?”
“I dunno, probably Shade Rider,” said Maria, taking stock of where they were walking.
“Sweet! Have you been on the Octopus yet?” remarked Katy.
“Not tonight,” Ricky replied.
“Let’s go on together! I think six is the maximum on the ride!” said Samantha.
“Cool,” said Mary. “Sounds like a plan!”
The six of them trudged towards the Octopus together, chatting animatedly about the park and their plans for life after school.
The ride was exhilarating. “We’ve been on twice today,” said Max. “This’ll be our third time going.”
“Oh my god! And you guys haven’t passed out yet?” Maria said, leaning against the metal bars that created the queue. She opened her mouth in surprise.
“Strong stomachs,” said Max proudly, patting his. He leaned over to kiss Katy on the cheek.
“Also, we haven’t eaten since dinner,” Katy offered. Everyone laughed.
After the ride, they decided to split up. Max and Katy were going to go to “Expedition of the Heart” – amid jeers from their friends about being too educational – while Samantha said she was in the mood for the Coil of Wonders.
“I’m kinda in the mood for the Obelisk of Terror,” said Ricky.
“Me too,” Maria echoed.
“I don’t want to leave Samantha by herself, though,” Mary spoke up.
“I’ll be fine,” said Samantha. “I’m sure there are other kids around here I can go with.”
“You sure? I feel bad ditching you like this,” said Mary.
“You’re not ditching me,” Samantha reassured her. “I’ll just catch up with Max and Katy later. They won’t be too far from me.”
“You sure?” asked Katy critically. “Because we could go with you on the Coil of Wonders first.”
Max nodded. “It’s not a big deal, Sam. I mean, like they always say, ‘strength in numbers.’”
Samantha nodded. “Yeah, I’ll be fine. Have fun on your own. I’ll catch up with you later. How about Main Street in an hour for coffee? I could use some caffeine.”
“Sounds good to me,” said Katy.
“Only if you’ll be okay,” Mary said fretfully. Samantha nodded.
“Sounds good, see you in a bit!” said Maria, waving goodbye to Max, Katy, and Samantha easily. She felt something in the pit of her stomach twinge, though. Maria said she was okay with leaving Samantha like that, but something told her that it was wrong. She felt this sudden rush of fear at this junction.
“Are you okay, Maria?” asked Mary, looping an arm through hers.
Maria nodded, shoving those feelings aside. “No, I’m fine. Let’s keep moving; I think I’m falling asleep!”
Mary and Ricky burst out laughing as they made their way towards the Abandoned Boat.
“Are you sure you two aren’t related?” asked Ricky a few hours after meeting up with Samantha, Max, and Katy. He yawned despite himself. They were standing in line for the Chaos Tumble again. Taking on Saga World at night was a lot of fun, although staying awake was an uphill struggle.
“Why?” asked Maria immediately, trying to keep her voice light.
“I dunno. You’re completely alike sometimes,” observed Ricky. “The way you walk, the way you talk. It’s pretty odd.”
‘In more ways than you know,’ thought Maria to herself. “Nah, you just imagine it,” she joked, yawning herself. “You need to get some sleep, is all.”
“Stay awake, dude,” Mary urged him. She couldn’t help but yawn immediately.
“No, you!” he teased as Maria yawned from beside him.
“Blah,” said Mary as they boarded the boat.
After the ride was over, they were trudging through the Loop of Shadows, trying to decide what to do next. “We should go on the Balance again,” Ricky suggested, “that might wake us up.”
“Depends on how long the line is. I bet everyone’s trying to get on it now,” said Maria, yawning again. “Shoot, I’d be there now if I could.”
“I can’t walk a step further,” said Mary, lagging.
“Keep up,” Maria urged her.
“Do you need help?” asked Ricky, very concerned. He dropped back and made a move to place an arm under Mary.
Mary waved him off. “No, I’ll be fine. Let’s go to the Balance, okay?”
The three of them became quiet and walked towards the next queue in silence. The gap between Maria and Ricky wasn’t as substantial as the one between them and Mary. The lack of sleep was hitting hardest, and it was only three in the morning. So they still had a few hours before they had to meet up with everyone from their school again.
All of a sudden, Maria felt her emotional antenna go up. “Something’s wrong,” she muttered in her sleepy state. “My Spidey sense is tingling.” She came to a gradual stop and was bumped into by an unknown senior that was following them. He groaned and cursed under his breath as he stepped aside.
“What?” Ricky yawned, coming to stand beside her.
“Where’s Mary?” she said, forcing herself to stay alert. She scanned the crowd behind them.
Despite the high volume of theme park noise, they both heard the moan. It was unmistakably Mary. She sounded like a weak cat from somewhere in the shadows behind them. It was an uncomfortable moan, a tired moan, a “can’t fight” moan. Ricky jumped to full attention and went running back where they came from. Maria followed at his heels.
Mary was facing two unfamiliar, jock-looking guys when Ricky and Maria found her. She looked fatigued, and one guy had a hand wrapped around her upper arm.
“Anything I can help you with, boys?” said Ricky, bringing himself up to full height from behind them. Ricky was just a bit scrawny for his age, but he was very tall and could be menacing if he wanted to be. At 6’1”, he was definitely taller than they were.
The two guys eyed him as one let Mary’s wrist go. They also eyed Maria suspiciously but said nothing. Mary hobbled her way over to stand between Ricky and Maria as quickly as she dared. Maria sagged with her past self’s added weight against her side but made no other movement.
“Nah,” the shorter of the two coughed. “We’re okay.”
“’Cause we can get security over here to help you out,” said Maria, finding her voice. She was glad for the years of kickboxing classes she had taken, though she had lagged in the last few months. Of course, it helped that a large group of people was walking right past.
Neither of the two goons said anything.
“Good,” said Ricky, looping an arm around Mary protectively. “We’ll just go then.”
The two hoodlums said nothing, and the three of them could feel their eyes burning into their retreating backs.
“Oh my god, we never should’ve left you alone,” Maria moaned. “I’m so tired, but I would’ve carried you if I could. But, instead, I just knew something was wrong.”
Ricky remained quiet and guided Mary to a bench. “Are you okay? Did they hurt you? Do you want us to get security?” he asked in a gentle voice, asking each question in rapid succession.
“No, no, they didn’t hurt me. I’m just… a little… my adrenaline is rushing now,” said Mary weakly, her face buried in her hands. “I just need to breathe.”
“Don’t talk. Catch your breath,” said Mary, as she eyed a sundries shop nearby. “I’ll go find some water for you or something.”
“Good idea. I’ll stay here with Mary,” offered Ricky.
Maria grabbed up the first cold water bottle she saw, cringed, and went back to the cement planter near Frontierland. Mary and Ricky were engrossed in a deep conversation that Maria hated to break up.
“Sorry,” she apologized, handing the bottle to Mary.
Too weak to handle it herself, Mary halfheartedly reached for the bottle. Ricky took it from Maria and cracked it open in one swift hand movement.
“Thank you,” said Mary.
Something in Maria’s memory began to unblock itself. Only it was here and now. She knew one thing. This event was what had brought her back. It was this moment. Only it wasn’t with this cast of characters.
It was Samantha that was in this same situation. She, Katy, Max, and Samantha had decided to tear the park apart together, riding as many rides as they could before passing out from exhaustion. Then, like earlier, they split up. Mary met up with Carlos Altamontes on the way to Paradise Manor, and they went on the Colossal Boat as many times as she could in the hour before they were to meet up at Main Street.
After the Coil of Wonders, Samantha realized she had plenty of time in their agreed-upon hour deadline. She had seen that the line for Horror Pass was miraculously short for that time of night and decided to sneak in one more ride. Mary and Carlos had met up with Max and Katy, fresh from Expedition of the Heart, and walked over to Main Street together.
However, Samantha was molested in the same place as Mary had been by two boys from another school. She was on her way to Main Street alone.
Mary was ashamed that she had let one of her best friends get hurt. Samantha never blamed her. But it was almost what she didn’t say that hurt the most. They drifted apart soon after. Samantha went to Berkeley, and Mary escaped to New York. She tried to put distance between herself and her guilt. It worked, sometimes. Other times, she would see something that reminded her of Samantha, such as hearing her favorite Nonbelievers song on the radio, and the guilt would come flooding back.
The memories in her mind began to change, and she felt herself swaying from the pain. It was almost as though everything she ever knew was changing in her head. Images, sounds, colors… they were blurring like water going down a drain, and they were changing much too fast for her to comprehend. It was like everything that she had in her head about her past life was beginning to change. This was the event that brought her back. The music from the mixtape had unlocked something in her mind, and this was the reason why.
Even in her shell-shocked state, Mary noticed something was wrong. “Maria?” she ventured gently.
Ricky snapped his head around. “Maria?”
“My head…” said Maria, before she fainted.
She woke up in her childhood room again; only she didn’t know what year it was. She coughed and rubbed her eyes. Then, something shifted on the floor next to her twin-sized bed. She let out a scared yelp.
“Mary, are you okay?” a male’s voice asked. She peered over the covers to the floor. Whoever it was, his dark hair was a mess, and his voice was thick with sleep.
“Ricky?” she questioned, kicking her covers off madly. Her Walkman was on the bed in a crumpled heap beside her and fell on his chest with her sudden movement.
“Ow!” he exclaimed.
“Sorry,” she said. He stretched his arms and then stood up to cuddle with her in bed. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough space for him on the bed to sleep comfortably. But Mary noticed that he unearthed himself from a sleeping bag on the floor. “Are you okay? You were thrashing pretty hard last night. I didn’t want to wake you.”
“Was I? I had the strangest dream,” she said. She proceeded to explain everything, from listening to the mixtape and going back in time and their senior trip. As Mary explained, she realized a few things. She knew that she was 25 again, that her father had passed one year before, and that she and Rick were engaged.
Rick wrapped an arm around her shoulder and kissed her neck. “You’re fine. Maybe it’s just pre-wedding jitters.”
Maria sighed and squished herself into his willing arms. “Maybe. It’s taken me a long time to come to grips with what happened on the senior trip.”
“What happened to Samantha has never been your fault. She was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Those assholes were looking for trouble, and Samantha got the short end of the deal. I’m sure if you had the chance, you would have protected her.”
She shivered. “It was so weird seeing me in the past, lemme tell you.” Mary shook her head. “And you too. Maybe that’s what my dream was about, seeing what would have happened if I had been in Samantha’s shoes.”
“No,” said Rick firmly. “Don’t go there. There’s no point in dwelling in the past. I need you here.”
Maria nodded immediately. “I know. And besides, if she really hated me, she wouldn’t have accepted the invitation to our wedding,” said Maria sensibly. She felt very safe in his arms.
“Do you want me to call Dr. Warner?” he offered gently. Dr. Warner was her therapist, who had found when she moved back to Mountain Valley after college. Through her healing, she looked Ricky Baxter up, found out he had become a small-time software developer and preferred to be called Rick. She also finally saw him for what he was: an all-around good guy. They were getting married in a week at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church on Patterson Blvd.
“No, I think I was just going through some things, and my brain was trying to cope,” said Mary.
“Are you gonna be okay today?” asked Rick. As tough as she thought she was, Rick knew his true love had an extremely fragile heart. He didn’t want to keep her under lock and key emotionally, but handling her had to be done delicately.
“Yeah,” Mary nodded. “Just let me catch my breath before we get up. We’ve still got a ton of things to do for the wedding.” She took a few deep breaths and smiled, feeling better. “Allons-y!”