Student Unions: Jacob and Meredith
It's Not Time To Worry Yet
The first words Jacob McBride and Meredith Holt ever exchanged with one another were, "So, she was dressed as a ham?" and "Yeah" in the middle of a group reading of To Kill A Mockingbird for their ninth-grade English class.
The group they'd been randomly placed in by their teacher, Mr. Meder, was supposed to be working together but really it was one brunette girl who wore hipster glasses and stared at the group paper like a tiger going in for a kill, two junior varsity basketball players who were trying to get through a full game of paper football without the teacher seeing (they moved their books around a bit when he came over to look as if they were just checking on something really important for the group), and a tiny hispanic girl who focused only on her page of creepy, morbid doodles.
Jacob and Meredith were seated next to each other by chance alone. They flipped through their books calmly while the brunette pushed through the pages. Meredith didn't remember the brunette's name but she wouldn't have to because the brunette was the one writing everything down for the group.
Turning the pages, Meredith settled on one particular paragraph which didn't intimidate her. The words flowed as she read. A lot of it washed over her but she settled on one bit and read it to herself, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...Sir?...Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it."
She gave herself a little smirk. It sounded like one of those important lines that teachers always smiled about when you mentioned. She took out her pencil and made a little mark right beside the line. She glanced over to Jacob. He was making marks on his book too.
Meredith had a sudden notion in her head. Why not mention it? It sounded kinda cool. Surely the brunette would be happy and the basketball guys…might check it out. And maybe the other girl could doodle…someone without their skin.
She fussed in her seat, adjusting her feet in her woolen boots. Meredith could imagine herself doing just that. But she held back. She could imagine them doing nothing but staring at her for a long time. And the brunette was already furiously stalking the next question.
Settling against the rigid, plastic back of her desk, her back gave a little ping of stiffness. She glanced over at the boy who'd given her the last answer.
For a second when she first noticed him, she wasn't completely certain he was a boy at all. He had on a close-fitting black shirt with characters from some animated show Meredith didn't know but which she'd seen around lots of places. He looked young, younger than her cousin just starting junior high.
She envied his hair though. It looked gorgeous, perfectly coifed like he was wearing a hairspray-sealed wig. The color was what she'd call "soft caramel". It shined a bit from the late morning sun through the high, narrow classroom windows. She suppressed the random urge to touch it.
His cheeks had a slight blush to them. It was a cold day but this seemed more like a natural tint. She thought he had very nice hands, despite his stubby nails. She marveled at a random thought about how he'd look all dressed up like a girl and fought the urge to blush before glancing away.
Jason looked up from his book and noticed Meredith was just looking away. Of course, he didn't know her name. To him, she looked like a model. In that he thought she looked like she was starving herself. He could see the structures under the skin of her neck. And her bones. So lanky. But the parts below that weren't bad to his eyes.
He flicked his eyes to her breasts automatically but picked out a poster on the wall as an excuse to glance to. Not a lot there, not like the brunette with the tented top on the other side of the group. But she'd notice him looking. Or not…judging by how she was furiously writing. Still, too much of a chance.
Though, he had to admit the skinny model girl also had a nice scent wafting off her, tart berries and a creamy melon. She brushed a lock of her midnight-black, shoulder length hair over her ear and glanced back. Jacob brought his eyes down to her book. He noticed it seemed like she wanted to say something. He glanced over at his book. Of course, they were identical for the class. His had a little dog-earring on the cover from where it got mashed awkwardly between his Algebra text and his Health Sciences tome. Hers was flawless.
Meredith glanced at his book. It looked like he'd read through it a few times. She wanted to stretch the spine on hers a bit just so the teacher wouldn't think she hadn't opened it yet. Not that she'd actually opened it a lot. But still.
So…he'd probably find that line cool. Except, she realized, if he'd read the thing so much then he probably knew all about it and she was about to embarrass herself like she'd said something like, "Hey! There's birds in the title!"
She brushed her boots together and listened half-heartedly to the answers as the brunette announced them. Group time was almost over anyway, judging by the fact Mr. Meder was lingering at the marker board at the front of the class. Soon, they'd all sign their names on the paper. They'd return to their seats and go over things, like what happened in the book and what it means. She'd begin thinking about her friends in her history class and hoping Angela was over the flu.
Then, the boy with the pretty hair leaned towards her. He bent his weathered book towards her and pointed to a part. Meredith's eyes widened a little. It was the line!
All he said was, "Cool, huh?"
Meredith paused and stared long enough for Jacob to think twice. He leaned back a bit to give her space. He tensed a moment.
He found her response a bit cold as she just said, "Yeah. Cool." She couldn't be sure which line was the one he meant. She didn't follow-up. Rather dismissive. Jacob retreated to his seat. As he did, he missed the model girl giving a quick smile before Mr. Meder asked for their attention.
The brunette poked Meredith in the side of the head with the group sheet. She signed her name below the brunette's (whose name was apparently Sylvia Burke) and then passed the paper to the boy.
Meredith tried to look busy with something in front of her as she glanced a bit to her right to catch the boy as he wrote his name. Jacob Mc…something. Too far and too scribbled to tell for sure beyond his first name.
Jacob noticed the model girl wrote in lean words and saw the name "Meridith Cold" because of the flow of the letters. And that was the end of their interactions for the day.
They, along with everyone else in a cacophony of squealing metal on tile, moved their desks back into the orderly lines of before and sunk into the anonymous sea of other students.
Meredith learned in history class that her friend Angela was still out with the flu from her other friend, Lizzie Godwin, who had on her lacrosse jersey.
Stretching out as much as rigid lines of her desk would allow, Meredith asked Lizzie, "Wasn't your game yesterday?"
Lizzie leaned back against the classroom wall and nodded. "Yeah. We won."
Asking why she was dressed for a game, Lizzie smirked and folded her arms behind her head, answering, "It's comfy." She definitely looked comfortable to Meredith. A long-sleeved navy top under her jersey and a gray hoodie over top of that. She knew Lizzie from Spring Lake where they went to middle school together.
In all that time, she always found ways to surprise Meredith. Sometimes they were in little ways. Like how she'd one sudden day chosen to change her normally dark hair to streaked, dirty blond over summer break. It was the sort of on-a-whim choice which Lizzie had made in the past but usually junked after a few days. But she was staying strong with this one.
Then there was her attire. When she first met her, Meredith noticed she was dressed formally, with outfits which looked more like school uniforms (which Spring Lane Middle School did not have). Then she started coming in long and poofy spring dresses. Then came the era of graphic tees and cutoffs. It eventually became cyclical, until she started to change that up. And then Meredith pretty much stopped tracking it.
She let this oddity go and offered up Lizzie the Mockingbird book, pointing out the passage. Lizzie gave a smirk and said, "Gives me so many ideas…"
Leaning on her hand, Meredith asked, "Horror movies?"
Lizzie arched her eyebrows, flipped through the book a bit before passing it back, and asked, "And?"
Meredith turned the book over a few times. "And…I thought it was cool. We had groups and this guy next to me found it too." She explained further. The whole seeing it but not saying anything then the guy mysteriously points out the same quote she was thinking about.
Leaning forward, Lizzie, pronounced, "Fate. You just passed by fate. Some eerie message sent to you. Bet he was cute."
She gave Lizzie a look but she just smiled back. Meredith put the book away and said, "I dunno. I didn't really notice. I think his name is Jacob."
Lizzie leaned forward even more, with a coy look. "Is that so?"
Meredith didn't have the urge to reach over and poke at Lizzie with something. She got out her notebook. The teacher seemed to be starting anyway. She muttered a soft, "More at lunch" to Lizzie before copying off the marker board.
Despite focusing on what was before her (something about Ancient Greece), Meredith found herself cycling back to Jacob and the quote. She wasn't thinking so much about him. It was that quote. Understanding people… Some days, Meredith thought understood others. But most, nowhere near.
She didn't get why Julie, her sorta friend who started out in this history class before transferring to AP, would seem so warm to her and then get cold.
She thought it was maybe she was just dealing with stuff. She'd call her, text her, whatever. If she wanted to talk. More often, she didn't. Then, she'd want to talk a lot. Nothing ever serious. No mean parents, no great trauma. Just things that worried her. And Meredith would think she figured her out and then she'd vanish from her life like a ghost. Once, she happened to see her after school sitting by one of the fences and laughing with some other girls more than Meredith had ever seen her laugh in all the time she'd known her.
After that, Meredith spent some time obsessing over little online memes about fake friends and real friends. Really, she wished she knew what was going on inside Julie's head. In Lizzie's head. And this guy. Why did he pick that quote? Was he watching her? Was she really trying to send some message to her? Was that a hint or something?
She spun her pen a bit before she realized she'd forgotten to write down the rest of the stuff on the board.
Meanwhile, Jacob was only certain of half of the answers on his last night's homework, the half with answers in the back of the book. The ones he had to struggle through on his own were full of erasures and messes while the others were all orderly. He sighed.
He didn't really know anyone in his math class but he sometimes chatted with Olivia and Summer. Ryan mostly came over for group stuff and answers when they had to shift around.
He was absolutely sure Ryan was perpetually high. He'd give an entranced look to any question asked, like the question was the most fascinating thing in the world. Then, he'd repeat the last bit of it. Once Jacob had asked, "Did you get the page numbers?" To which Ryan replied, "Get the page number….man. I get you. Yeah. They're all….numbers. That's what's weird with math, you know. All those numbers."
He once got tossed out of class for causing a 'disturbance' at the mention of polynomials, during which he recited every line of their definition with the most dramatic reading possible and ending, "Math can do this?! Are you shitting me?" Eventually, he wound up introducing new sections of the textbook at the front to make use of his strange enthusiasm.
Jacob had gotten used to his lazy eye in conversations. He'd asked Ryan about it once and then he exaggerated it to get a laugh. Often, when he got really bored, Jacob would imagine Ryan as a deranged, cartoon squirrel who'd managed to survive getting hit a few too many times.
Summer Holland was secretly listening to music and filling in the last of the homework problems. Jacob respected her in many ways, especially as someone who could easily bench press him. She was a head taller than him with massive swimmer shoulders which whipped back and forth with fluid ease. She gushed more about Transformers and South Park than even Jacob when he was younger.
Jacob first came to know Olivia Nielsen as "that sexy Mormon girl" because he'd overheard her explaining why she hadn't seen a certain popular film because of her "beliefs and the beliefs of her family". Prodding and questions that verged on "do you have several moms?" followed once she'd explained further. She'd answered politely and with calm. Jacob thought she looked absolutely hot.
To him, it was partly because of her long, bronze hair with curls at the ends over her shoulders. Those full, peach-cream legs when she wore a skirt. She smelled like everything fresh and floral in a perfect combo. And the clothes she picked. They always seemed like some unknown class uniform only she wore with some small admission to casualness with flip-flops or a pink bracelet. But, most of all, Jacob could say unquestionably she had the greatest breasts he'd ever seen. The shape, the flow, the size, everything. Resisting stealing a glance was his torment when seated next to her. She never gave up cleavage but still provided enough to stir his imagination in so many ways.
It could be said without a doubt Jacob had a massive crush on her, especially when she started talking about her interests. She loved sci-fi. Novels, short stories, several shows (especially ones of great obscurity).
She offered him episodes of her favorites and always asked breathlessly the next day, "What did you think of it?" Jacob would always lament each day he'd forgotten to return or view something Olivia was so psyched about. Eventually, he couldn't help but think of her as that "sexy sci-fi girl" as well.
Somewhere in the back of Jacob's head was a voice screaming to ask her out on a date. It would be stronger except for the way she would looked at him. Like regarding a brick on a wall. No, that was too harsh a thought, Jacob told himself. More like some gal pal or a brother. Not much better. But she was never cold. He just got the feeling he didn't have a chance with her. Even without a chastity ring on her finger.
As Olivia gave a random smile and passed up his homework paper for him, Jacob's mind flashed to the girl in his group. Meridith. He just thought of her as "Meri". Ironic name.
Ryan was up front and talking a little with the teacher about that "math needs cheerleaders". Jacob couldn't resist smiling. Olivia leaned on her desk and asked him, "Good day so far for you?"
Today, she wore a tartan outfit with the formal cut of a uniform but the softness of something casual. He remembered that she'd mentioned making some of her own clothes (and prepping for a cosplay of a particular sci-fi character whose name escaped him). First off, he complimented her and she smirked with a rather playful pose and said, "This old thing? You should see what my Scottish granddad wears."
Jacob nodded and told her the brief version of his day so far. More words than his mom would ever get out of him by the end of it. He started with complaints about how cold it was before they opened the gym for his first period PE class (interjecting briefly, Olivia recommended woolen stockings as Jacob filled away a mental image of Olivia wearing only black, woolen stockings which went to her knee).
Then some grumbling about a new project he didn't understand for health class. She reflected a concerned look and encouraged him that he'd figure it out. He skipped a bit over chemistry (it hadn't been memorable to him) and went to the English class. A lot happened during it. A lot of discussion about racism and symbols and kinds of arguments made to change someone's mind. All that was in his head. But sifting to the top was that girl with the midnight black hair. And he certainly didn't want to mention her.
Or did he? He thought for a paused moment as Olivia apologized to adjust the stuff on her desk. Talking about another girl who was stuck in his head with the girl stuck most firmly there? Sounded dumb. But then he'd given up on Olivia, right?....
He tensed a bit and said, "There was this person…in our group. Never talked to them before. I just got this cold shoulder when I wanted to work together. Flashed me this glare when I was trying to show them something cool." He was off into the realm of fiction. Even in the most pessimistic interpretation of the look 'Meridith' had given him, he admitted inside that it wasn't that harsh. But it felt that way and he told himself he was just characterizing it from his perspective.
Olivia stated the obvious with a frown, "That's not nice. Maybe they were just having a bad day though. You never know."
For Olivia, Jacob conceded that as he added, "She seemed rather sullen. We had a terrible group anyway. I was pretty much doing all the work." He watched for Olivia's reaction to revealing the cold shoulder's gender. Just a solemn nod. More reaction to the comment about groups.
She shook her head and sighed, "That's a bummer. I'm always gung ho for groups because they're the best part of youth camp. But I'm really shy about them in school classes. Maybe…you know…that's why the girl in your group seemed cold? She was just shy?" She offered that with a shrug and a smile.
They had to break off their conversation because of new notes on the board and the teacher projecting her voice a bit. Something important was coming.
Jacob copied listlessly. That wasn't really what he wanted Olivia to say but it was definitely what he figured she would say. He was kinda hoping she would take his side a bit more and be, "That mean girl! She doesn't deserve to be around a boy like you. Here, let me kiss you and it'll be all better." Well, maybe not that but…closer.
Reflecting, he wondered if he should've said anything. He knew girls seemed to like it when they were told…feelings and whatnot. He remembered well his first girlfriend in junior high came from him bursting out in tears.
He couldn't even remember exactly why he was crying, except that it was something involving a teacher who seemed to be picking on him the whole class. He brooded the whole afternoon till he made it to the familiar walls of Winston Peck Elementary's library. Something about the day or just facing his smiling mother brought out the tears.
He felt the ghost of pure embarrassment looking back, especially when Tabitha Collins (who went to his school) walked in with her arms full of books she was returning for her mother, who was the school's reading specialist. Jacob had no idea why, but he kept just saying everything that was inside him while Tabitha was around. She offered comforting words and they hung out for a while. They talked, complained about horrible teachers, and did a good bit of laughing.
Immediately and for a long time, Jacob saw Tabitha as absolutely perfect. She had chestnut brown hair which she often tied up in the most intricate flows and weaves. She wore horn-rimmed glasses which looked almost hipster, if one didn't know she had serious eyesight problems due to an accident when she was a baby. She often wore a color of blue which convinced Jacob that a color alone could give bliss.
They did a lot of cuddling, a good bit of kissing, and played plenty of board games on Thursdays when Tabitha's mom worked late. Looking back, Jacob didn't know why Tabitha rejected him after seven months together. She couldn't really explain it either but she often talked about her depression. Jacob thought him being around her helped that (and so did she, for a while). He remembered once she said, about when they first talked, "I saw you crying on the outside while I was crying on the inside."
She went to the high school a town over but her mother had moved to another school and they were holiday email and letters terms but that was about it. Her last words to him were, "It was nice. But it's over. Sorry."
He lived in a bubble of junior high friends saying all sorts of things about Tabitha that he let fester inside till he wrote a dozen unsent emails asking "what the fuck!!! (three required exclamation points minimum)" her problem was. Then, all those friends spread into the wind. Not one of them wound up at the same high school as him.
Pushing his pen down, Jacob pushed the memories back. He would amend invented details about how Meridith had acted snobbish about the whole group thing. Totally like her fashion model appearance. Olivia offered, "Well, at least you're on the other side of the room from her, so you won't have to spend much time around her. Just avoid her and it'll be fine."
Jacob smiled a bit and Olivia smiled back. Advice from her felt like it had more weight than just deciding he was going to ignore Meridith on his own.
If only he could have Olivia in his English class. All the groups would be with her and then they could really get to know each other. Rarely any groups in Algebra, the teacher found them too disruptive. The lecture had already been held up twice by chatter from the front of the room.
Drifting between listless thoughts of equations he barely understood and the allure of fantasy studying with Olivia, class time passed with ease.
As they were wrapping up to go, he did ask Olivia if ever she needed a study buddy at any time (for anything). She beamed at him and said, "Thanks, I'm okay right now but maybe around exam time."
It was a different answer than last time. She'd been swamped with extra work at her dad's store. But he didn't mind, it was at least a possibility. He would persist and find an opening eventually.
The rest of Jacob and Meredith's day passed uneventfully. They passed by at one of the snack bars near the cafeteria but didn't notice one another.
They both finished their day with what was always a rather light freshman seminar class. While Meredith had Ms. Whithouse for it, Jacob had it with Mr. Medes again, who always stressed "long and short-term goals" and "responsibility for your academic outcomes". Jacob considering it the part of the day where he could let his mind settle and begin to relax before the end of class.
His mom would pick him up and then he'd help her out until she was done with whatever after-school paperwork. She told him to try for something after class if he really wanted it and that she would support him. Not that Woodcrest High School was lacking in things to do after school, but most of the clubs met during lunch and he didn't feel particularly inspired by any of them. He didn't feel interested enough in anything to bother. His mom pointed him in the direction of book-related clubs. Something to mention on a college form, perhaps? Olivia was actually in more than one and especially active in a sci-fi and fantasy club which ran their own website with student-written reviews.
There were over fifty clubs on campus. He'd sifted through the papers on the special day they had advertise all the student clubs. Most of those papers he'd found up using as scratch paper or they'd found a place on his shelf, collecting dust.
For Meredith, she'd circled all the clubs she liked the first week after class. She had a paper full of circles. Then she'd underlined various ones as she talked to friends who were in this or that. She sat in on a few of the charitable clubs. Then she wandered in to the artistic clubs. She'd wondered if she had the energy for a sports club. She gave real consideration to a photography club and genuine contempt for a suggestion of a modeling club (there wasn't one anyway).
She figured she still had time but the feeling of each wasn't strong enough to push her in any particular direction. And she told herself that she would be busy enough with her regular class load that unless it was a college-focused club (which she did consider but the one on campus was aimed towards juniors and seniors).
Meredith walked home after the original flood had ebbed. She noticed girls with skinnier, more elegant bodies than hers cradled by tall boys for an after-class cuddle. Not that she cared…
She walked quickly, hugging the big, black fence around campus until she got to a gate which was open. She rubbed at her shoulder and pushed her hair back as a gust of wind picked up.
She clenched her eyes from a harsh blast of dust and tried to let the concerns and pressures of a full day slip from her. Heaving her backpack high on her shoulder, Meredith stepped through the gateway.
At the same moment, Jacob tugged his backpack along at his side as he scanned the secondary parking lot for his mother's distinctive yellow hatchback. He stepped through the gateway.
In that same moment, Meredith and Jacob felt something which gave them reason to pause. A strange feeling. An absence. Like the entire world was a movie playing and someone had just hit the pause button. The wind was gone. The noises of vehicles pulling out of the parking lot had vanished. The tittering of playful couples was missing too. The far-off pounding of basketballs on the gym floor no longer echoed. Meredith and Jacob were not the only ones who noticed this moment.
For others, it played differently. Some had their headphones up and thought something was wrong with the connector. Some thought they had drifted off. Sylvia Burke's eyes bulged as she thought through all the medical knowledge she'd acquired from her hypochondriac mother and immediately thought she was having some sort of aneurism. The two basketballers who'd filled out Meredith and Jacob's group were busy suiting up for practice and missed the entire moment.
In total, ninety-six Woodcrest High School students experienced the event at the very same instant.
After the span of a few heartbeats (or in the case of Sylvia, several), the event ended. Sylvia still wanted to have herself CAT scanned immediately but most who experienced it shrugged it off when things returned to normal. Meredith gave a yawn to pop her ears, satisfied that was that. Jacob dug in with his finger a little bit and shrugged before noticing his mother's car and waving to her.
Meredith was assault by another blast of dust-seasoned air and dug into her backpack to her get lime-green hoodie. It was ugly (or so said everyone with either their horrified gazes or their nervous words) but it was warm and it fit well. She tipped the hood up and sorted her black hair out of her face before continuing on her way. She made a mental note to get more warm weather clothes over the weekend. Her jeans did nothing to cut the chill in the air. At least she had her boots.
She puffed a bit and picked up her pace with quick little steps across a small gravel patch for overflow parking. It didn't take her longer than usual to get home. Her dad was away in his downstairs office and it sounded like he was on the phone. After kicking off her boots and setting them in the closet, Meredith nursed a cup of warm jasmine tea which helped to exorcise the ghosts of cold dust.
She fishing her purse from the deep part of the backpack and counted out the pitiful remains of her savings. She couldn't remember what she'd spent so much on. But she already had a plan to announce the next great, Mother-Daughter Shopping Excursion to Arm Against the Coming Winter. Or something like that. She'd figure out something.
In the meanwhile, she buried her feet underneath her and leaned into the living room couch. She mentally went over friends both near and far who she'd have to call as she regarded her homework as some shapeless mass looming far away.
For Jacob, it was organizing the littered shelves of the library as he wished there more books he'd actually like to read on the shelves. But no, there were books about sunlight and things he'd learned long ago. A few paperbacks with chaotic text and pastel colors. Sweet Valley High knockoffs. He maybe saw an interesting book now and again but he'd always get distracted before he could make a note and it would be lost to the ether.
His mother asked him, "Want pizza tonight?"
He just nodded and said, "No onions."
She clacked away at her computer and adjusted her glasses. She'd have some tutoring students later, it was a Wednesday after all.
Still staring at the screen, his mother asked, "How did school go?"
"Anything fun? Wild and crazy?"
The clacking paused as his mother flashed him a look and said, "You must describe your day in a single word but it cannot be one of the following words…dumb, okay, alright, something, nothing, everything, stuff…" She went on for a bit as Jacob couldn't help but smirk. She punctuated the ending with a raised eyebrow and waited.
Jacob's answer was a sigh and, "Cold….I guess. Just…cold."
His mother leaned back. "Poetic. So one best to be forgotten?"
"You could say that."
"I did. Do you?"
Laying a few books down, Jacob knew the cold girl was still there in his thoughts as he considered what to say. "It's like…high school is just…I just wish it was different."
Mrs. McBride (who still kept that title despite it being a name from a marriage and a half ago) pursed her lips and said, "You're just beginning. Things change when you get into high school. Everything, really. It can be tough but we can talk about it if you need to. I did put in four years of high school myself…"
Jacob felt a little lifted by his mother's words. He considered saying more but he shrugged and said, "I'm alright. I'll be alright. It's adjusting and all that."
His mother eyed him suspiciously but he showed her enough of a smile that she went back to clacking her keys.
Meredith had sought out the purple throw and wrapped herself in it. She'd turned on the TV and was flipping through a blur of dramas and comedies, not quite sure which were which. She sipped and wondered if she should just listen to some music before her mom got home. She'd taken a liking to a site which hosted free foreign music. Something about not knowing the lyrics actually made it more enjoyable for her.
"I didn't hear you get home. You okay, sweetie?"
Bending her head slightly, Meredith held back a yawn, nodded for her dad, and just said, "Cold."
He noticed her wrapped up in the throw and asked, "Need anything?"
She shook her head and pulled the throw closer around her. He explained to his daughter that he had some bills to mail in, a grocery order would be coming later (she'd just need to sign for it because they were all paid up), and he could bring something home if she wanted. She knew mom had wanted to make some fish stew, the name of which Meredith had forgotten, but she told her dad to get some "hot soup".
Before long, she was alone in the house and very comfortable in the couch. She'd work her way to her bedroom when the tea was finished. Wrapped in music and humming sounds, she picked through her backpack and sorted out her homework. Just putting it out on the desk felt the accomplishment of the evening. Reason enough for her to move on right to her phone.
Jacob nibbled at the pizza. It had onions despite all efforts and sterns words by his mother when placing the order. He ate around them and clicked at a flash game an online friend had linked to him. He told himself he might boot up a proper game later or turn on his TV, but he didn't feel particularly engaged in any of those things. So he kept poking at the game until he hit an annoying bug and went to watch a few videos on his watch list. Out his window, he could see that the winds had picked up from before.
Meredith noticed the same out her window as she gave a yawn and leaned against her bed. Jacob followed her yawn a few miles apart. Slowly, they worked their way over to their beds. Neither of them usually felt sleepy at this time in the evening. Yet they felt the allure of their sheets and the feeling of "well, just a minute for a nap".
And they weren't the only ones. Miles apart in so many different situation, the rest of the students who had experienced the strange event at the end of school all felt themselves suddenly lethargic. They napped in cars as family drove home. They nodded off on living room couches. They took a break from practice to lean against something. No matter where they were, they soon found themselves sleeping.
"It is a strange world, a sad world, a world full of miseries, and woes, and troubles."
"We agree. Courses will foreshadow certain ends…"
"We know. A changed course?"
"It must be tried."
"Then we will begin."
Meredith blinked. She gazed upwards at an unfamiliar ceiling. It had cottage cheese like stucco and was missing all her posters. The curling flowers in pastel. The artsy fairies she'd had to years. The paper-cutout like one with the birds and owls. And the glitter fish. She'd had the glitter fish for ages.
At first, Meredith suspected this was a dream. After all, the bed under her felt different than usual too. And that wasn't the only thing which felt odd. There was something else. A lot of things. But what were they? It frustrated her. She scratched at her neck. Something clashed but not enough to alarm her.
It took sitting up in bed for everything to crystallize.
Room. Nothing familiar. Some clutter. None of her clothes. She jerked up from the bed and staggered on her feet. No, not her feet. Not quite. But not vastly different.
She clenched her eyes a moment. It was like the migraines she used to have really bad last year. Like her brain was fighting one thing and another. Like…what she thought was telling her everything was wrong but the little alarms inside her head weren't going off. Something wrong yet nothing wrong.
It took a long moment of breathing and focus before she could see what was blindingly obvious. Looking down, she saw nothing of herself. A snug black shirt with a somehow-familiar graphic. Jeans and feet. A flat chest and a tight shirt.
Signals in her head not quite connecting, she inched towards an unfamiliar white door and opened it out into a hallway with a shag carpet she didn't know. All the while, the little voices were mounting their counters. The door was supposed to be there. And the shag carpet gave a familiar sensation on these strange toes.
And a shifting, rubbing (but not completely unpleasant) sensation between her legs. Like…something sensitive had been pulled out? This brought the most migraine conflict but she refused to let the little voice go uncontested.
For Jacob, he woke to scents first. Exotic scents. Soft ones. They were calming but they had no reason to be around him. Unless there was someone else in the room. He looked up to a ceiling smooth and flooded by color. Like an art exhibition. Flowers and animals and posters of every type. He marveled at it. Some of the colors seemed almost too bright to be real.
He leaned up in bed and crossed his legs. That wasn't right at all. So strange. He felt a drumming in his head like the beginnings of a headache worse than any he'd ever felt. It was futile to think much. He sighed a soft, child-like sigh. He rubbed at his cheek.
Soft with the contours all wrong. So lean. So slight. Narrower nose. Sniffling differently. He knew things were different but it was like groping around in the dark despite the lights being on. He couldn't piece it together and nor could Meredith as she slowly made her way through the hallway.
And all this hair. Jacob could never imagine his hair past his shoulder. Yet a contrary pulse inside his head gave a familiar confirmation that these sensations were right. Hands, they felt longer. And the bright blue nails. Why would they be blue?
He brushed at his chest a moment, noticing a rising curve that looked not at all like it should've. Something was supporting it underneath. The pain was rising in his head as one side almost screamed nothing was amiss but everything he experienced didn't fit. This was not his body.
Staring as the sleek swells of thighs in darkened jeans, he edged off the bed and to his feet. Moving his legs brought a foreign sway to the motion. A different structure. He staggered a bit when he thought consciously about walking but could move fine when he didn't. He maneuvered this contrary body over a wood tile floor completely unlike the rich shag he knew his toes should've been feeling.
It took Meredith longer to find the bathroom, suspicious of whatever the little voice told her till she felt so exhausted, she conceded to its motions. She followed an automatic path but one she had never taken. Jacob let his feeling guide him to a particular door.
Inside, they both faced mirrors. One was smaller with just simple essentials like a toothbrush and some deodorant. The other was wider and had a counter filled with stuff Jacob had only seen in stores. But, for both, their eyes were led to the mirror first.
The voice inside dropped away. It couldn't fight seeing. And each felt the full rush of what was different. Jacob staggered back as Meredith shook her head. They panted and mimed before the mirror. Face first.
Meredith had the caramel hair she'd been envious of with dark, thick eyebrows, a wide, curving nose, and a reddish, facial highlight which she knew wasn't from embarrassment. Jacob had midnight hair that fell everywhere, slender lashes buried by bangs, a nose broad but longer, with narrow nostrils and taut skin like polished porcelain.
He stared through and at the eyes of a girl he'd considered like ice as she projected the shape of all his fear and confusion. For that girl, she saw the boy who had surprised, intrigued, and then disappointed her reflected where she should've been.
Neither knew what to think in that moment and neither could have imagined what would come next.