Ainsley giggled into her cellphone as she stepped into the store, cool air flowing over her grateful, sweaty arms and legs. “No, he did not,” she insisted, relieved to see that Ryan was working after all - he usually was on Thursdays, but he hadn’t been there last week, quite frustratingly, meaning she’d had to go to the Speedway down the street. She could get her cigarettes there, too, but generally involved a little more flirting with mid-twenties losers than she’d prefer. She supposed what she did with Ryan could technically be taken that way, too, yet it somehow didn’t seem the same.
She got into his line, still chatting away, waving away the cheerful cashier two lanes over who indicated she was available. “Hold on a sec,” she said into her phone as she stepped forward to his register, not wanting to be completely rude. “Hi,” she smiled.
Ryan blinked at her, glancing around in confusion, as if trying to see where her purchases were hidden. “Can I… help you?”
She chuckled lightly at his little joke. She supposed he probably saw them as friends, of a sort - after all, what else did he get out of this? - and she didn’t dislike him or anything. He just wasn’t someone she ever thought about, other than the two minutes a week she found herself in his domain. “Just some Virginia Slims, Ryan,” she urged when he didn’t respond to her laughter by fetching them, as he usually did.
His eyebrows furrowed as he looked her over. “Can I see your ID, ma’am?”
It was Ainsley’s turn to check out the surroundings then, searching for the manager, or anyone else that wasn’t normally there Ryan could be trying to impress. She didn’t notice anyone, but deciding to at least give the impression that he followed the rules in case there was someone she hadn’t seen, she gave a, “I’ll call you back,” into her phone, disconnecting so she could dig through her purse for her driver’s license, holding it out for him to see.
“See? Same as always,” she said.
“This is…” Ryan leaned in a little closer, squinting at the license. “Look, I’m afraid you have to be 18 to buy cigarettes, ma’am.”
Ainsley blinked, taken aback. “Well, yes, but…”
“It says so right on the sign,” he told her, helpfully pointing to the sticker adorning the cigarette case.
Was this just another silly joke from him? Or maybe he really was being watched. “Should I, uh… come back later?” she asked. She’d tried to think of some sneaky way of phrasing it, some code, but, in the interest of keeping it clear enough what she actually meant, she’d just gone with the blunt approach.
“That’s not really going to help…” he shrugged. “I mean, it’s just…”
Ainsley sighed, glancing behind her at the line forming. “Come on,” she pleaded quietly. “We’ve done this a hundred times, Ryan. I’m 18 in just a couple months, that’s good enough, huh? It’s not like it’s that big a deal, right?”
“I can’t sell them to you,” he said sternly. “If you don’t have anything else you want to buy, could you please move?”
She seethed silently, then stormed out with a, “Whatever!”, back to her car where she sat, fuming. What the hell was his problem?! In no time, the car began to feel like an oven, so she dug through her purse, where she’d thrown it onto the seat upon getting in, for her keys, turning on the car so she could roll down the windows. Only two of them actually worked - the front passenger’s side one, and the back driver’s side - and they weren’t enough to do much of anything just sitting there. Gritting her teeth, she turned the key the rest of the way, listening to the engine roar to life, then squealed her way out of the parking lot, up to the Speedway.
Not having a functioning window right beside her made smoking and driving at the same time more difficult than it should have been, so she was glad to find a parking spot in the shade, on the far side of the gas station, well away from the pumps, where she could sit on the hood of her car and smoke as she called Amy again to complain. “Can you believe that asshole?!” she hissed, sucking away at the cigarette.
“Jesus, chill,” Amy told her, hardly the support she was looking for. “So you had to drive another two blocks. Is it really that big a deal? You’re always in such a bad mood lately. Did you ever think about…?”
Ainsley hung up, barely resisting the urge to hurl her phone at her purse, sitting beside her on the hood. If she was going to be honest, Amy had something of a point, but that wasn’t what she wanted to hear right now. Amy had no idea what was going on, and she wasn’t going to. That was the whole point. Instead of throwing it, she tapped the screen to make the clock show up, reminding herself she really should be on her way home instead of sitting on her car, then set it down with a sigh.
There shouldn’t be anything to worry about. Everything should be fixed by now, as if nothing had ever happened. Yet she still found herself fidgeting, taking short drags off her cigarette to make it last longer. Things were never really that easy, were they? She was going to have to find out, eventually, but she was in no rush. She smoked it down to the filter, started to reach for the box to start another, hand brushing against her phone. She was surprised it hadn’t rung already. She thought about calling her mother, telling her she was eating with Amy; that was just putting off the inevitable. She’d have to go back sometime, and the longer she waited, the harder it would be.
She picked up her purse, slipping her phone back inside, and slid off the hood. Just get it over with, she told herself. Just grow up and do it. She planted herself in the driver’s seat, spent a few long moments adjusting the way her purse sat in the seat beside her before fishing out her car keys before sliding one into the ignition. She rested her hands on the wheel, eyes closed, searching herself for the will to turn the key and bring the engine to roaring, sputtering life. She knew she was being dramatic, but, then, that was what she was good at, wasn’t it?
Finally, she did it, letting out a long-held breath as the car started and she pulled out of the parking spot, heading for home. Had she lived somewhere other than this crappy little town, there may have been plenty of temptations on the road back, stores to drop into, just to browse for a few minutes, a park to take a quick walk at to calm herself down some more, a playground where she could sit on a swing and sulk. Instead, there was a whole lot of nothing to distract her from her destination.
As she stepped into her house, she was rather surprised not to see her little sister, Becky, lounging in the living room. In fact, it was empty. She stopped for a moment in the doorway, half tempted to look back out at the driveway and confirm that both her parents’ cars were there. However, as she stood there, she could faintly hear voices coming from the direction of the dining room. She took out her phone, making sure she hadn’t missed any calls. Even though she’d told her mother a thousand times she wished they wouldn’t wait on her to eat, that sometimes she had other things to do, now that they seemed to have taken her up on it, she couldn’t help but feel a bit hurt.
She kicked off her shoes, taking them and her purse to her room before heading to the dining room. “Oh, sorry I’m late,” she said casually, walking over to her chair and starting to sit down, only to realize there was no plate waiting for her there.
“Ainsley!” her mother exclaimed, sounding oddly surprised, like she hadn’t expected to see her. Things had been a bit awkward lately - although that was supposed to be fixed now - and she’d found enough excuses to get her out of dinner for the last few nights but she’d always told them ahead of time, or at least left a note. Ainsley was pretty positive she hadn’t mentioned any activities that might keep her out of the house for the evening that day, however.
“Becky, why didn’t you set a place for your sister?” her father asked, leading to a rather red-faced, indignant six year old.
“But you told me…!” she insisted.
Ainsley tousled her sister’s hair as she walked past her, to the kitchen. “It’s fine,” she shrugged it off, “I can get it.”
Beyond that initial look of shock upon her arrival, Ainsley’s mother seemed fairly normal. A little quieter than usual, maybe, though it was hard to judge for sure when it had been, or at least felt like it had been, so long since she’d said more than a few strained words to Ainsley. It wasn’t definite proof that it had worked, but the knot in Ainsley’s gut slowly began to untie itself as the meal went on for the first time since she’d done it.
The next day started out the same as any that summer, as Ainsley blearily blinked her way to consciousness, looking over at her clock and kicking off her blankets as she decided she’d probably slept enough for one night. Yawning, she rolled out of bed, grabbing her phone off her nightstand and stumbling her way down the hall to the kitchen in her nightshirt and shorts. Her parents were long gone, of course, and she did manage to note, during her journey, that the door to Becky’s room was open, and her sister was neither inside nor in the living room. She was probably next door at her best friend, Hannah’s, house, which suited Ainsley just fine.
She opened the fridge, glancing through it and trying to decide what to look for. It was too late for breakfast, really, but not quite late enough for lunch; she definitely wanted something right then, though. “Hey, Ames,” she said into her phone, holding it between her shoulder and ear as she browsed. “Look, I’m sorry I hung up on you yesterday. And about being in a bad mood lately. I promise, I’m not a bitch anymore, so do you wanna do something today? Text me!”
She lifted her head, catching the phone as it started to slide off her body, setting it down on the floor before pulling out a plastic container and cracking open the lid. She grimaced, closing it and pushing it back inside. Nothing was inspiring her to eat it, even though the growling in her stomach was telling her she needed to find something. Her eyes darted down to her phone, a little surprised she hadn’t heard back yet. It was only a couple minutes, but it was Amy. And it was summer.
Since she’d already made her formal apology over voicemail, she figured Amy wouldn’t mind if she switched to texting. “Wanna go get some lunch?” she asked hopefully. After another few minutes with no response, she tried, “Hey, you’re not still asleep, are you?” It seemed unlikely - Amy was always making fun of her for sleeping in as late as she did. She started to feel a bit defensive when that didn’t get a reply, either.
“Come on,” she told Amy’s voicemail. “I apologized already. Is it really that big of a deal? I’m bored here! Let’s do something!”
Frustrated, she grabbed an apple from the bowl on the kitchen counter and rinsed it off, hopping up onto the counter as she bit into it and waited, staring at her phone. What was taking Amy so long? She thought back to the previous afternoon, trying to remember if she’d said anything that might seem offensive before she’d hung up. There wasn’t anything, not as far as she could recall, unless Amy was harboring a secret crush on Ryan. But that was just silly. If Amy had a crush on someone, it was never a secret for long.
Whatever. Ainsley didn’t need Amy. She was perfectly capable of keeping herself entertained, she had just thought that maybe her friend would want to join her on whatever adventures she decided to have that day. And she called her up one last time to tell her just that. This time, however, Amy actually answered before Ainsley could say any of it.
“Look, will you please stop calling me?” Ainsley was too shocked by that, shaking too much in sudden rage, to launch into a tirade about how insane Amy was acting, at least not before the other girl continued, “I’m not sure who you’re trying to reach, but you have the wrong number.”
This new surprise washed over her, cooling her anger like a bucket of cold water poured on a dying campfire. For a moment, she sat there, dumbfounded. “Yeah, real funny,” she chuckled uncomfortably, even though she had a feeling that wasn’t what this was at all. Amy wasn’t a bad actress - not as good as Ainsley considered herself to be - but she wasn’t this good. That note of confusion, annoyance, the lack of recognition… She couldn’t pull that off. Could she? “Why do I have your number in my phonebook if I don’t know you, then?” she demanded.
“Umm, I don’t know,” Amy replied, starting to sound somewhat fed up herself. “I would appreciate it if you’d take it out, though.”
Even with the possibility of something strange going on, the sound of those words coming from her best friend hit Ainsley like a slap to the face, bringing a tear to her eye. “Amy, it’s me!” she pleaded, wracking her brain, trying to think of some way to get her to understand. “Wait! Wait, my number was in your phone, too, right?”
Amy hesitated. “My little sister was playing with my phone, she probably put it in there.”
“Oh, come on, Amy! And someone with that number just happened to call you?!”
“Obviously so. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m going to assume it’s that, and not that you’re some psycho stalker who somehow managed to steal my phone and program it yourself. I can always change my mind about that and go to the police, though. Is that what you want?”
“Amy, I -” She was cut off by the sound of silence, one revealed to be, after she moved her phone away from her ear to glance at it, Amy hanging up. What was going on?
She had her suspicions. He’d said there could be side effects, but she couldn’t imagine it would be something like this. Amy hadn’t even had anything to do with it! Why would she be affected? It didn’t make sense. Did any of this, though?
She debated driving back to the store to demand an answer. She also considered calling, of course, but the store wasn’t in any of the phone books she could find lying around the house, or even any online directories. She had the receipt from the day before, but it was just a plain slip of paper with the amount she’d paid - too much, though worth it if it worked - without so much as the store’s name on it, much less any other information. She couldn’t quite convince herself the trip was worth it, that it wasn’t an elaborate prank of some kind. She didn’t think Amy was capable of it; maybe she was underestimating her friend. She also couldn’t quite convince herself to try calling Amy again, however.
She glanced up from where she sat on the floor, pile of phone books, most at least a few years old, in front of her, apple core to one side, as she heard the front door open. She was still in her pajamas, something she expected to get a lecture about once she heard it was her mother who had returned.
“Is that Hannah’s sister’s car?” she called from the doorway. “Becky?”
“She’s still at Hannah’s house,” Ainsley replied, stretching, feeling her spine crackle and pop. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been sitting there, searching, debating with herself, pretending she wasn’t worried. “At least I haven’t heard her come back in, and you know she’s not exactly quiet, so…” She smiled as she got up and turned around, only to jump as she saw her mother standing behind her, brandishing the lamp from the sofa’s endtable. “What the hell are…?”
“Who are you?!” her mother growled. Ainsley had never seen her this way, never seen anybody this way, not in real life. It was what she’d always imagined it would look like when she heard someone in a book looking like a mother bear protecting her cubs, except here it was, staring at her through her mother’s twisted face. She was too frightened to even speak, or do more than stumble backwards, sliding on an open phone book and nearly falling. “What are you doing in my house?!”
“Mom, it’s me!” Ainsley squeaked. “It’s Ainsley!”
That only made things worse. Her mother’s face, red with rage, drained of color for a moment before she sprang into action. Ainsley managed to duck out of the way as the lamp whipped past her, power cord slapping her across the face, before she heard it shatter on the wall behind her. “Mom, what…?!”
“Don’t call me that!” her mother roared, leaping forward for her. She also slipped on the phone books, giving Ainsley enough time to dash out of reach. “What have you been doing to my daughter?!”
“I am your daughter!” Ainsley wailed. “I don’t know what’s…”
“I thought Ainsley was just her imaginary friend, but then I find you here, in my house… If I find out you laid a hand on her, I…”
Ainsley shook her head, eyes stinging with tears. “Mom, please…”
She gasped as the sound of flesh striking flesh filled the room and pain began to blossom in her jaw. “You get out of here right now,” her mother ordered, pointing toward the door. “You drive away, and you never come back, you hear me?”
“But…” Ainsley whimpered, shrinking back as the woman approached. “My keys are back in…” She stopped herself short of calling it her room, sure that wouldn’t go over well, either. Still, if she saw that, surely she would remember everything, right? “The other room,” she finished. “Can I just go…?”
Her mother stepped forward, grabbing her arm roughly and marching her through the living room, tersely asking for directions until they found themselves in Ainsley’s room. Ainsley managed to shake herself free, taking a few steps in and spreading her hands wide. “See? This is my room. You remember, don’t you?”
But she didn’t need an answer, not out loud. “This is our guest bedroom,” her mother informed her. It is not, nor will it ever be, yours. Now get your things and go."
Ainsley wanted to look through her desk, find a picture of her and her mother together and ask how she explained that, but she was sure it wouldn’t do any good. She grabbed her purse, almost taking her laptop as well, ultimately deciding against it, and was shoved back through the house and out after fetching her cell phone. She didn’t have time to sit and fret in her car this time, not with her mother standing in the doorway, frosty-eyed.
There was no question that something had gone wrong now. This couldn’t be some simple side effect - that would be like making a drug to cure a headache, except maybe it would also paralyze you. She didn’t realize how hard her heart was beating, how slippery the wheel was in her hands from the sweat, how fast she was driving until she heard the siren behind her. Cursing, she pulled over, fumbling in her purse for her license, and in her glove compartment for her registration.
“Do you know how fast you were going?” the police officer asked, after knocking at her window, then having to step back as she opened the door instead.
“I was just… I…” She shook her head. How was she supposed to explain this? She ended up shrugging in defeat, watching helplessly as he walked back to his car. That was all she needed now, a ticket. Because things just weren’t bad enough. She watched him anxiously, wondering how much it would be, hoping that once she got everything else cleared up, her mother still remember little enough of what had happened a few days before that she’d be willing to lend her the money.
Then, a minute or two later, the police car simply pulled back onto the road and drove off. It wouldn’t have bothered her as much if it hadn’t left without returning her things, but she was hardly about to try to chase it down to retrieve them. It still would have made her skin crawl, though, seeing him drive off without a second thought, as if he’d simply pulled over to have a sip of coffee, not to write her a ticket.
She pulled into the strip mall’s parking lot and got out of the car, walking towards the store. She nearly fell over as a woman walked into her, full force. “Oh, sorry,” the woman told her. “Didn’t see you there.” After everything else, Ainsley couldn’t get worked up about that. She shook her head and hurried off, barging into the store.
It looked the same as it had the day before - small, dingy, shady. It was mostly empty, save for a counter on the far side of the store, currently unoccupied, though there was an open door behind it. A few shelves lined the walls, a mixture of cheap knicknacks and bottles containing oddly colored liquid dotting, but coming nowhere near filling, them. She’d never have come in on her own - and if she had, she’d have walked right back out - if Amy hadn’t recommended it.
Even so, she’d been skeptical, sure the “love potion” Amy had been sold had been nothing more than flavored water and the fact that Amy was drop-dead gorgeous, yet somehow still mostly unaware of it. She had no trouble getting boyfriends, or finding new ones to crush on, but she still got nervous when it came to talking to the ones she was really interested in. It was cute, in a way, when Ainsley wasn’t tired of listening to her complain about how she was sure nobody ever noticed her.
She made it only a few steps inside before a man came out of the door and asked if he could help her. He was the same one from the day before, probably the only one who worked there. She’d probably guess his age to be somewhere in his thirties, without any real confidence in that estimate. He was small, hardly as tall as her, and wiry, wearing thick glasses and a wrinkled black button-down over a pair of jeans.
“You did something wrong yesterday,” she told him, taking the last couple steps to the counter and leaning on it.
“You’ll have to be more specific than that,” he chuckled, pleased with himself. “I think most of the things I do in a day can be seen as wrong.”
She glared at him, tempted to reach over the counter and strangle him. That probably wouldn’t get him to help her, though. “You did your… thing…” she wriggled her fingers uncertainly, “voodoo or whatever… on me, and now nobody recognizes me!”
“Isn’t that what it was supposed to do? A whole new you, and all that! I’m sure they’re just jealous of your new…” He looked her over, pursing his lips when he couldn’t find what he seemed to be looking for. “Did it wear off already?” He adjusted his glasses before staring into her eyes for a moment. “Oh, it’s you! The, uh… forgetting thing.”
“Yes, the forgetting thing,” she confirmed. “My mother was supposed to forget one thing! Now nobody knows me at all!”
“Except me, obviously,” he grumbled. “I clearly know who you are.”
“You don’t count!” It was becoming very hard not to throttle him. “You’re the one who did this!”
“Yes, well… Memory spells are tricky. I’m sure I told you that. If you really wanted something forgotten, the spell could have gotten amplified by that will and spun out of control… I’m sure I warned you about that.” He started to fumble with something beneath the counter.
“You didn’t tell me this could happen!” she snapped, smacking the top of the counter to get his attention back on her. “You have to stop it! Reverse it, whatever!”
“Life is not a computer,” he told her slowly, as if she were a child. “You can’t just hit the undo button.”
“You have to be able to do something!” She stared up at him, realizing she’d slumped forward, worn out by the events of the day, and by what he’d just said. It was what she had feared, that there was no way out of this.
He shrugged. “It might not be too late,” he said uncertainly. “If you could go back and recreate whatever it was you wanted the subject to forget, it could bring the original memory back, and that could make everything else go back the way it was. Maybe. Really, this isn’t my area of expertise, I’m sure I told you that.”
She swallowed nervously. “Really?” she asked quietly. “That’s what I have to do?”
“Probably. It’s all I can think of.”
She felt a little sick to the stomach. It had been bad enough the first time, seeing her mother standing there, disgusted, disbelieving. The looks of concern, and repulsion, in the days after, when she accidently failed in her quest to stay out of her mother’s sight. It was everything she’d always feared it would be, and worse. And now she was supposed to do it all again?
She smiled at him weakly. “How much worse can this,” she waved her hand around at the magic she assumed was floating about her somewhere, “get?”
He shrugged again. “It’s just a memory spell,” he said, “so it’s not going to kill you or anything.”
“I guess that’s something.”
As she sat in her car after, she realized she should have asked for a refund. Then again, she likely wouldn’t have gotten it, and she supposed that was fair. After all, it wasn’t as if the spell hadn’t worked; instead, it had worked even better than she’d expected. That was usually a good thing.
Her stomach growled insistently, reminding her now that she was sitting still and not arguing with a wizard, or whatever he called himself, or her mother, that she’d eaten only an apple that day. There was a Subway a few doors down from the magic shop, so she grabbed her purse and headed that way. She wasn’t sure exactly what time it was, though from how empty the place was, she assumed it wasn’t quite supper time. Still, there was a person being served, so she waited patiently at the end of the counter, staring through the glass at all the ingredients on the other side.
The other customer finished up, taking their sandwich and heading out. The worker sighed, leaning against the wall tiredly, not paying Ainsley any mind. She waited patiently for a minute or two, then cleared her throat. The worker looked around - she stared right at Ainsley, and for a split second, but no longer, there was recognition in his eyes - then shrugged. She stared down at herself, making sure she was still visible, then cleared her throat again, following it by saying, “Excuse me.”
The worker jumped, putting a latex gloved hand to his chest. “Holy… Sorry, I didn’t see you there! What do…” Her heart fell as she saw the look in his eyes fade, and he shook his head. “I’ve been here too long,” he mumbled to himself.
Clearly, that wasn’t going to work. She started to come around the counter, to make a sandwich for herself, but that was apparently urgent enough that he could remember she was there, at least until he’d stopped her. She felt a little sorry for him - he must feel like he was going crazy. Eventually, she just grabbed a couple bags of chips and a cookie from the counter and left. She heard him shouting after her for a few seconds, and then silence.
She munched on her ill-gotten goods in the car, wondering if this was what it would be like from then on. Not quite invisible enough to be of much real use, yet still unable to actually do anything. A face in the crowd, perhaps, but never anything more. A permanent role in the ensemble without so much as a single line. She could survive like that, but that’s all it would be. Surviving.
What was the alternative, though? Putting herself through… that… again? The first time had been the most humiliating, horrifying moment of her life. Could she really relive it? Even at her worst, when she was sure she’d never be able to show her face around her own mother again, she had been glad the actual event was in the past. The memory was painful, so much so that she’d tried to ease the pain by making sure she was the only one who knew about it, but it had only been a memory, nothing more.
Then, as if by some miracle, she heard her name being called. She sat up straight, tiny bag of chips sliding down her body and onto the floor of her car. Could it be…? It wasn’t as if her name was common, by any means. She got out of the car, looking around, a smile crossing her face as she saw Amy a few stores over. She waved, walking around her car as she saw the girl running towards her. Was it all a big joke after all? A huge, intricate prank to show her things could always be worse?
Amy’s path curved up, onto the sidewalk, to a group of her friends there, where she leapt into the arms of her guy of the week. Ainsley slunk back around the car, sliding into the seat with a sigh. She must have just misheard Amy’s name, she realized. She stared at the girl, chatting happily with her other friends, wondering if she even remembered their conversation earlier that day. They were supposed to be best friends, yet there she was, carrying on just fine not knowing Ainsley even existed anymore, or that she had in the first place. The spell might not have killed her, technically, but that might have been easier.
She half expected to find the locks changed when she got home, before realizing her mother had probably forgotten about their encounter shortly after she’d driven off. She’d probably blamed Becky for the broken lamp, and hadn’t even thought about looking in the “guest room”. If she did, what would she think? Ainsley had never been big on decorating, but there were some posters from shows she’d done, covered in signatures of people who wouldn’t know her from Eve. Those would be the hardest to explain away, if she could even see them. And if she looked in the photo albums, would she see Ainsley there? Or would her eyes slide past, glossing over her like a defect in the pictures, a trick of the light?
It was late, past the time when everyone was usually in bed. She wasn’t sure how quiet she’d need to be, but for the sake of actually making it to her room, she tip-toed down the hall past her parents’ and sister’s rooms, slowly pulling open her squeaky door just enough to get through. When she turned on the light, everything looked so normal, just the way it always was… Could all this really have happened? It all seemed so outrageous, so impossible. She was tempted to try it out, go knock on Becky’s door and see if she remembered her. But if she didn’t, there would be screaming, probably, and she’d be chased out of her own house for the second time that day. Her parents might forget why they were up, exactly, but they’d still be up, and that would make it harder to get past them to try again.
No, she just had to do this, like it or not. Sighing, she kicked off her shoes, unbuttoned her jeans. They slid down her legs, along with her panties. They made a crumpled pile on the floor, one that she added to with her shirt and bra. She wasn’t sure how close to the original this had to be, but she wasn’t going to risk setting things right by half-assing it, no matter how much she’d have preferred to. She opened her closet, pushing through the junk littering the floor, lifting a stray bathrobe and finding a half-empty green package beneath, just where she’d left it.
She hadn’t dared to wear one since then. She’d half expected the thrill to be gone, that she’d find them repulsive. They were still the same. The padding was just as soft, and thick, and comforting, between her legs. The plastic on the outside was just as slick on her thighs, just as loud with every movement. She dug around in the bag to find the little tupperware container she kept her pacifier in, knowing she’d been using that, too. She popped it into her mouth and began to suck, sitting on the edge of her bed.
That was how it had been that night. It hadn’t been anything strange or unusual for her, just a regular summer night, relaxing. Her mother had gotten up to use the bathroom, much later than usual, and happened to see her light still on and decided to tell Ainsley she should get to sleep. Ainsley had happened to have left her door unlocked, thinking everyone else was fast asleep. Usually she locked it anyway, just to be safe, but that night she’d gotten sloppy. It had never been a problem before, so why should it have been then?
It had been an unfortunate accident, a chain of events she could never have predicted. It was so random, in fact, it took several weeks to replicate it. She didn’t dare try making a noise to wake her family, since it might be her father sent to investigate it, which wouldn’t do her any good. She had her days mostly to herself, allowing her to go to the kitchen for food, or to the bathroom, but once her family was home she stayed holed away in her room. A few times she was caught, either when someone went into her room for some reason, or when she thought everyone was in the living room and she dared a trip to the bathroom.
It was an unpleasant thing, being chased out of her own house, no easier the second, or third, or fourth time. A couple times, she found herself in the back of a police car, though they always forgot why she was there before they made it to the station and let her out when she said they were just giving her a ride. The forgetting usually happened quick enough that she didn’t have too far to go to get back home, though she usually walked around for a while anyway to give her family time to go to sleep.
Walking was dangerous, of course. She’d lost count of the number of times she’d been nearly knocked down by runners, or almost run over by cars. Driving was safer, since people could notice the car if not the driver. Her family noticed the car, too, however, and had it towed away. The first couple times she’d walked to the impound lot, a long, exhausting trek, and gotten it back, parking it along the street instead, then a few streets over, but everyone always assumed it was abandoned, or something even more nefarious, and had it taken away.
Then, at last, it had happened. One night, as she sat in her diaper, sucking forlornly on her pacifier, she heard footsteps. Her heart nearly stopped. Her eyes darted to the door, making sure it was unlocked even though it had been weeks, since before this had all started, since she’d bothered to lock it. She hopped off her bed, over to the desk, turning on that light as well. She doubted it would make a difference, but she had to do it. She had to try.
The footsteps made their way to the bathroom as she sat, perched on her bed, sucking more hungrily at the silicone bulb of her pacifier. Her heart pounded as she waited for the footsteps to return, to go the other way. When they started, at last, they were loud as a drum, marching their way back down the hall, to her door… Everything stopped. This was it.
She could remember the first time, hearing the sound of her mother’s feet as they went one way, not thinking anything of it. She’d hardly given it a thought the other way, either, until she’d heard her mother stop. She’d had enough time to look up at her door, planning to confirm that she had, indeed, locked it, only to see that she hadn’t. She had enough time to consider whether she should leap for the door to correct that, or to try to pull her blanket up over herself, but not enough time to actually make the decision.
There was no decision to make this time. She was just going to sit there and let it happen. She glanced over at her reflection in the mirror, wincing at how silly she looked, a seventeen year old, naked save for her thick diaper, sucking on a pacifier. Of course she didn’t want her mother, or anyone, really, to see her like this, but that was what had to happen.
The footsteps continued, not missing a beat, unlike her heart and lungs.
It was too much. Leaping to her feet, she rushed to the bedroom door, flinging it open. “Look at me!” she screamed, crying. “I’m your daughter!”
She saw it there, that old look in her mother’s eye, the way the woman had used to see her. It was so familiar, yet so long gone, it nearly made her fall to her knees to see it return. Then it changed, morphing into disgust, and, finally, to anger. “If you’re still here when my husband wakes up, you pervert,” her mother hissed at her, keeping her voice low to avoid waking Becky, but dangerous enough to let Ainsley know she meant business, “he will beat the shit out of you.”
Ainsley wasn’t still there. She didn’t bother to wait around to see if her mother forgot about her by the time she made it to her room. It didn’t matter much, either way. She’d already had enough.
She’d always wondered what it would be like to live in a department store. She’d never been lost by her parents in one, not that she could remember, but she’d heard stories about it. In a strange way, she’d hoped it would happen to her, just for a little while. It seemed like it could be fun, roaming the aisles alone, nobody to bother her, or look over her shoulder and tell her she didn’t need that. She could play with the toys as much as she wanted, and stay up as late as she liked, at least until the sun came up, which was when she’d assumed stores opened.
She could still do all that, and more, but it was all strangely hollow. For a few days, she walked around in a t-shirt and adult diaper, both stolen from the shelves. She’d dreamed about being able to do that, too. She was never caught by security, but she stopped on her own anyway, tired of fear and repulsion being the only thing she saw in the faces of the people around her, before they turned blank, forgetting all about her, no matter how odd a first impression they got of her. Sometimes she wore diapers under her clothes, just because, but even that couldn’t cheer her up for long.
She told herself it was better than being home, better than being chased out of the place she’d grown up by the people she loved again and again. Here, she could just be a ghost, the shadow of a person that, as far as anyone who passed by knew, had never existed. She knew she had, of course, but if nobody else did, had she really?
Sometimes she’d see Amy and her other friends wandering through, rarely with any real purpose. Every now and then she’d see her family, too. She always hid from them, pointless as that seemed. In the strangers, that expression on their faces as they looked right through her was bearable, but on those she knew, it left her recalling late night trips down certain aisles of the store as she wondered if they would even be able to notice her body if she died.
She already knew the answer. If nobody knew she was there, she didn’t really exist, so where would a corpse come from? There would be none, because that was what she was now. Nothing. She cried herself to sleep every night, thinking of her mother walking in on her. Not because of the pain it had brought her, but because, no matter how much it had hurt, that agony was still better than what she had now.
She felt so empty she was sure one night she’d simply blow away, scattering into a million particles of dust and vanishing. She prayed for it every night, but it seemed God couldn’t remember her anymore, either.