Andrea groaned under the covers of her bed. All the lights were off, except for the nightlight in the corner which cast a cool, blue glow to push back the shadows.
She'd been sick since Friday after getting out of school. So many precious days of the weekend had been swallowed up, along with the short holiday she'd been looking forward to. She hadn't thrown up in a while but her stomach didn't feel much better than when she was. The bucket was still by her bed. She leaned over to look at it.
Beside her in the bed, along with a pile of plushies, tissues (both new and used), and a sealed bottle of Pedialyte she'd been sipping from, was the tablet (in its waterproof case, just in case) her parents never usually let her use in bed. She didn't feel like raising her head up for a distracting game or even shutting her eyes to listen to some music she liked.
She just wanted this over. The aches in her little body. The tenderness and pangs in her stomach. Her mom had obsessed over all the things she'd eaten lately. She had an appointment to a number of doctors but those wouldn't for a few days yet. She wasn't sick enough for a frantic trip to the ER with a wet rag tucked in her mouth (one of her least favorite days she'd ever lived).
For now, all her mom could do was what the doctors had told her over the phone and all Andrea could do was rest, waking between intervals of lightness and darkness streaming through her drapes. She reached for a fluffy, brown dinosaur with an irregular patch of fur which had been restitched by her mom after she'd tried to give him a new hair style when she was younger.
Fidgeting in bed, she'd only felt hot with fever for a little while but it had left the covers feeling like they'd picked up the sweat and the sick of her body. Somewhere cool. Somewhere fresh. It would be nice. Like slipping into a long bath. She took a slow breath. The thought helped for a moment before the fidgeting returned and she groaned again.
She thought about a sip from her bottle but didn't have the enthusiasm for that.
Then, beyond the soft, white noise of her small, air-cleaning fan, she heard a small knock at her door. Her eyes flicked over to it but she buried herself a little more in the covers before answering, "Yeah?"
But she didn't hear anything more. She craned an ear and tried to pick up a voice. She wondered if maybe she hadn't spoken loudly enough. Her voice was still raw. She pushed it as far as she could as she asked, "Who's there?"
The answer was a turn of the knob and a push against the door. Light spilled in from the hallway like rays of the sun. Andrea strained her eyes and an adult figure stepped in. Before she could ask another question, the figure answered, "Heard you weren't feeling well, kiddo."
The voice was familiar. Not immediately so but she was sure she'd heard it before. In the dim, blue light, the figure moved to the lamp on her dresser table and flicked on the first setting. With the light, it was easy to tell who was standing before her.
It was Kats. Or at least that was what everyone called her. Her aunt. Her eccentric aunt who didn't often get invited to special occasions. Andrea smiled, lifted her hand a little instead of waving, and answered, "Yeah…the worst time."
Kats took the chair from the dresser and softly scooted it over to Andrea's bedside (carefully avoiding the bucket). Turning, Kats gave a soft little belch from her sour stomach and looked at her aunt. She thought she was beautiful.
She had long hair which fell over her shoulders like a curtain of fur. Its color might've been closer to red once but Aunt Kats kept it constantly dyed a sharp color of fuchsia. Her brilliant, jade eyes peered warmly at her niece and she said, "Your mom will be in later with a little something but I just wanted to keep you company for a bit. If you don't mind."
Andrea gave a faint shake to her head and tried to scoot up in bed. It ached too much, so she just fidgeted a bit and settled back. Kats touched her softly with her hand and smiled.
"Just rest…and I'll tell you a story which will make you feel all better…" Andrea settled under her sheets.
Aunt Kats began, "Did you know that the imaginations of little girls can change the world?"
With a curious frown, Andrea gave a slight shake of her head despite the aches in her neck. Aunt Kats leaned back and reiterated, "It's true. Little girl imaginations are powerful things."
Andrea resisted the questions this invited and quietly listened as her aunt continued, "And I'm going to tell you about one little girl in particular whose imagination made very special things happen."
Despite Andrea's expectations, Aunt Kats didn't give this little girl a name, but she did begin to describe her.
"She had dusty-red hair, just like yours. She had a warm, radiant smile, just like yours. And she had lots of freckles, just like you…"
Aunt Kats gave the little girl Andrea's favorite raspberry jumper to wear. Even in Andrea's tired little mind, she was able to build the picture of the little girl who her aunt described. She thought of herself but maybe a little prettier and definitely free of being sick all over her body. In her mind's eye, Andrea could see this little girl standing in her room, a mirror image of herself, smiling and ready to take charge of her vacation.
"This little girl had several brothers, same as you", continued Kats. "And they behaved just like your brothers."
At this, Andrea couldn't resist a grimace. She had several brothers. Many of them were older, one often away at college, one still around and in college, one who was several years older than her and one who was several years younger. They were everywhere.
The not-sick, imaginary Andrea had her little brother come into the room and steal her toys. Her older brother stole her favorite spot on the couch. And her oldest brothers ignored her as they clicked away at their computers and phones. There were pleasant memories. They weren't all bad (except for her little brother). But, in that moment, in the pain and throb of her illness, her mind cast them as tormentors of this little girl.
"They were always getting into trouble or making her angry and this little girl figured there was nothing she could do about it. After all, she was just one little girl."
Andrea added a melodramatic tone to this with sad music and an intense light on the little girl as all her brothers took her plushies away, even Gray Cat (Andrea's bowling ball-shaped kitty plush which was missing her left eye).
Kats smiled as she continued, "Or so she thought…until the day she changed her little brother." This brought a bit of halting confusion from Andrea. In her head, the lights flicked on and her little brother, Tony, appeared before her with his missing teeth in the front and his flat-top of crinkly hair. He had on his roaring Dinosaur shirt and worn jeans. He had his arms folded in front of him with a look of superiority despite the fact she stood a head taller than him.
Imaginary Andrea looked at imaginary Tony and narrowed her eyes. With a theatrical poof of smoke, a small bunny lay on the floor where her brother had been standing. Its mouth undulated with that constant chewing motion Andrea figured all bunnies did.
"But this wasn't the kind of change of a person into an animal. Although her brothers sometimes deserved that."
Poof and Tony was back, but with a slightly-worried look on his face. Imaginary Andrea rubbed her hands together as Tony took a step back.
"You see, quite by accident one day, this little girl discovered she could turn her brothers…into sisters."
Imaginary Tony's eyes bugged out and he gave a tense swallow. Imaginary Andrea paused a moment. She'd never really considered about turning her brothers into sisters. Not seriously. Maybe she'd had that kind of thought about one or two boys in her classes. But then she'd also had problems with other girls in her classes too. Still, as she listened, the notion was soothing and not at all unpleasant, like a cold tingling sensation. Like brushing her teeth, only across her thoughts.
Stretching her arms out, Andrea in her thoughts reenacted the situation which Aunt Kats described. The one day when the young girl's brother happened to push her too far at just the right time. The moment where a nice, sweet little sister was a much nicer prospect for this imaginary girl than anything else she could think of. The moment when that thought was more than just an idle thought.
As Andrea built the moment in her mind, she focused on the look of surprise on Tony's face. A small shrink in height. A small shift in the way his hands looked. Pink jeans with sparkly adornments. A bright, smiling pony with a cotton candy mane bounding along on Tony's shirt instead of the dinosaur. More girly than what Andrea usually wore when she was younger (if she recalled right, the dinosaur shirt was actually a hand-me-down from herself to her brother, something her mom made sure her brother never knew). Still, to Andrea, it felt like justice.
More than anything, she gave Tony bright-red, girly locks with braids and little, plastic flowers. Barely holding back a blush, Tony felt his cheek as his lips trembled and Andrea knew her new little sister was ready to yell for her mommy. Of course, with imaginary Andrea's powers, it was an easy thing for her to give a little tweak to the memories of her parents. Aunt Kats offered up a new name to christen the new girl, Gabby.
Andrea thought it was a pretty name. So yes, Gabby would run to their mom and their mom would sigh and admonish Gabby for being silly. Because she was. She'd always been a girl. A lovely, cute little girl. And she would grow up to be a pretty lady (like her mom always told Andrea). Gabby would cry big, sparkling tears like Tony always did and her mommy would comfort her and give her something to make her feel a little better.
For a while, Gabby would be afraid of her big sister (which Andrea wouldn't mind…too much). She would be calm and reverent. Maybe she would even make the effort to be really really nice to her, figuring that she couldn't possibly keep her this way forever. It was just a little punishment, like a timeout. She would just be really good and polite to her sister a bit and then everything would go back to the way it was and she would be a boy again.
Only, with deviousness in Andrea's thoughts, she didn't know that there was no going back. Andrea wanted a little sister. A nice little sister was just proof this was better. The nicer she was, the more encouragement she would feel to keep her sister this way. In fact, she'd claim she didn't even know how to turn her back, so how could she even do it in the first place? But she might make her sister think she could do it, just a little. Nice little sisters were to be treasured.
Aunt Kats didn't lay out these thoughts so much as guide Andrea to them with broad words about little sisters and them being nicer. And, as Andrea let them work their way through her thoughts from soft, general imaginings to vivid translations, the aches which had held her entire body didn't feel quite as pervasive as they had before. The throbbing around her tummy didn't feel quite so sharp. And the ever-present nausea waned to something she noticed less.
When Aunt Kats got to the next step, Andrea didn't need to be reminded there were other brothers of this imaginary girl.
Kenny would change more than a little sister. His hair was already pretty long, so it would have to be longer still. Plenty of opportunities for braiding. She shut her eyes a moment as she imagined even more freckles blossoming on Kenny's pale face.
As to what else there was with someone that age, Andrea's mind was a bit unsure. Sure, she had bits she knew from listening in here and there and maybe a magazine or two. But most of it bored her. She figured it would be loads of makeup and stuff. To her, makeup was mostly just stuff friends messed with when they came over. Some of it was kinda pretty but most of it she wasn't interested in and her mother didn't push her to care about it, so she didn't.
But she was sure an older girl, like her brother was going to be, would definitely care about it. She imagined all sorts of things like her mom had. And lots of nice clothes. All pretty much borrowed from mom but scaled down for Kenny's size. And she remembered from Kenny that girls his age were slightly taller than him, so she made sure to make him a little taller in her thoughts and a little softer too.
Kenny would probably be playing a video game in his room when it started. His clothes becoming a little snug here and there. A flow of hair across his back as the clearest sign of change. By the time Kenny realized the full extent of what was happening, it would be far too late. That was the feeling Aunt Kats expressed with a calm smile.
Her pains mostly forgotten, Andrea dove into imagining her new older sister. First course of action, she would be a lot nicer to her, especially after learning what was up from Gabby. She would get a new name. Like Candace. Yeah, that was the sort of name Andrea liked. New Candace would learn to like it too because her parents, her friends, and everyone would be calling her it all the time. And she would blush to have such a girly name.
But yeah, she would be really nice to her little sister. Let her join in the games she played, spend more time with her, and be really really nice. Andrea would be really nice too, make it like she'd figured out how to reverse what was done and would do it really soon. But maybe Candace would have to act like she was really a girl to make the spell reverse itself. Yeah, she would tell her that.
All the dresses Candace would be trying on. All the cute things she would try. Become the perfect daughter as her older brothers looked in concern at the fact they were now outnumbered by sisters and wonder if that was always the case.
As she thought about those two brothers, Andrea had a little bit of hesitation. Sure, they weren't around much but neither of them were really that bad. But she couldn't resist at least imagining them getting worried about what was going on as Candice and Gabby settled in to their fates.
Robert would take a big change. He'd be a grown-up girl. Andrea didn't really know everything about them but she did know they would have boobs. Their mom definitely had them (even though Auntie Kats didn't really at all). And she'd have to wear a bra.
This was getting a bit intricate for Andrea's imagination. She could just copy and paste from what she'd heard from her mom and female friends of her older brothers but she felt unsure. Feeling a twinge of pain settling in her gut, she sighed as Auntie Kats brushed her cheek and said, as though sensing her worry, "Since you're still young, I'll tell you what kind of fate is in store the oldest brothers of the special little girl in my story. I promise there won't be anything to make your parents upset though."
The pang eased away at that and Andrea relaxed her imagination, if only a little. She didn't mind too much if Auntie Kats did suggest a few things beyond her age. She was kinda curious, in the way of finding out a special sort of secret. Although she figured they were the weird sort of adult secrets which just made her confused.
Auntie Kats rubbed her chin a moment and reflected a bit before saying, "For this little one's new older sisters, Clair and May, they'll have a lot of things to learn. Girl things." With sweeping hand gestures, Andrea watched with a smirk as Kats guided her to the obvious things. She motioned a struggle with putting a bra on, then a little brushing about with a makeup case like she'd seen mom do a lot, and then posing a bit with clothes. Of these, the clothes ones made her the most amused because she let herself imagine her older brothers as younger versions of her mom, like she saw in family albums and the older yearbooks her parents kept on the big bookshelf in the front room.
Then came the gross stuff. Kissing boys. Andrea resisted gagging because nausea was still bubbling down in her stomach. Auntie Kats was fine with Andrea imagining them kissing other girls. And, of course, they'd have do all sorts of serious girl stuff as well. Whatever that was…
After struggling a bit, Andrea settled on the pleasant notion of her older brothers in sun dresses as they felt uncomfortable but also natural in their skins. They would learn more about what it was like for Andrea. They were never ever ever forget about the toilet seat. And they would hang out with her more like the rest of her new sisters. At the least they would take more time to talk to her. They would actually listen to her and understand better. It would be awesome. All her sisters.
Sure, she knew things wouldn't be perfect always. But things would be nicer and better. It was a fun imagining. She liked it and she let her mind drift into little visuals of going to the beach as a family, heading out for a party together, and just being together. Family more like her, sisters who really understood her rather than brothers who regarded her as some oddity. It was like music for her mind and balm for her body as the aches all calmed to a tolerable level.
Auntie Kats brushed her hair and began another story. Andrea didn't catch most of it. It was about another special girl. Something about a magical world. A special house which made all men and boys alike into girls just by staying inside. A house by the ocean with colors more vivid than anything Andrea had ever seen. She tried to imagine it all but quiet sleep was starting to drift into her thoughts and she could only hold onto feelings, smells of sea-salted air, and the cool breeze through the trees of a pathway.
She wanted to lead all the boys in her classes inside it with all the happy girls who were already there but there was only a notion of that, which became a blur of dresses, ribbons in hair, and soft looks of surprise. As a finishing notion, Andrea led her father into the house last. Her other mother.
It wasn't a strange notion. She knew two kids at school who talked about both their mothers. Of course, she had to imagine her other mother a bit smaller than mom. She brushed away dad's mustache for a full, sensitive cheek. Her hair would be like red smoke flowing across her shoulders. She would wear gowns and skirts in Andrea's favorite, lavender color (which was Auntie Kats' favorite color too). She would be small, small enough that Andrea would never be intimidated by her but she would be still be big enough to be Andrea's other mom because Andrea loved being wrapped up in hugs. Her other mom would smell nice, like fruit and flower blossoms.
Phantoms of aromas like that wafted through Andrea's thoughts. She let them linger. She was sure Auntie Kats was telling another story but it just danced around her like that scent. She buried herself in covers until she was drifting only in her thoughts.
"How do you feel, sweetie?"
Andrea opened her eyes and looked up. Auntie Kats was no longer sitting next to her. The chair from her desk was back in its place and the bucket hadn't been disturbed. Her mother, her regular mother, crouched over her with a look of concern. She touched her forehead to check for fever.
Andrea scooted up in bed and nodded. She answered her mother with enthusiasm, telling how her stomach wasn't feeling as bad, and inquiring about the possibility of her favorite kind of turkey sandwich. Her mom was a bit more cautious but she assured her she would bring something for her to eat in a little while, adding, "I'm glad you're starting to feel better."
Smiling, Andrea gestured to the now-empty space beside her. "It was because Auntie Kats. She told the best stories. It was fun." Her mother looked down at her with calm eyes and gave a little nod as she repeated, "Auntie Kats…"
Andrea snuggled her pillow and looked up at her mom, who gave a sigh and told her, "That's nice. Well, I'm glad you're feeling better, sweetie."
Her mom cleared away the used tissues from her bed as Andrea flipped open the tablet to select one of her favorite songs. As the music began, her mom straightened her bed a little and gave her a kiss on the head. Smiling, Andrea set her head down and watched as her mother walked over to the door and shut it behind her. Resting her eyes with her body at ease, Andrea imagined past the door.
Her mom tossing out the used tissues as hands came up from behind her for a hug. A soft voice asks, "How's she doing?"
Her mother smiles at her other mother and says, "Auntie Kats came to visit her."
Other mother gives a little arch of her thin eyebrows and holds her mother's hand as she says, "I see. She's feeling better then?" A happy nod of relief.
Then other mother would fill her in, "Little Gabby is taking a nap and Candace is helping me with supper. Clair wanted to know how her little sister was doing and May called to send her love."
Her mother would give other mother a kiss and they would discuss delayed shopping plans for Andrea's new clothes and other things she would need for class at the all-girls school after the holiday break.
With these visions, Andrea drifted off in peaceful slumber, wrapped in the lingering aura of imagination.