Dan woke up in his favorite pajamas, the ones his mother had given him for his birthday the year before, and padded downstairs. His mother happily informed him of the news. "Guess what, Dan? We’re going to have a new guest move in to the room in the back today!"
"Oh, really?" This didn’t seem like especially good news. Dan wasn’t sure he wanted someone else around the house, getting in the way.
"Oh yes. It’ll be lots of fun. You’ll get along with her, I’m sure."
Dan shrugged. His mother seemed to think it was a good idea, and her life seemed to revolve around making him happy, so she was probably right.
The woman who moved in looked, to Dan, to be a bit down on her luck. Her name, he soon learned, was Caroline, and while she was pleasant enough, he rarely saw her for the first week. She’d be up before dawn to head into town, and back after dark, sometimes even after Dan’s bedtime. At the end of the first week, though, she apparently came down with a reasonably serious flu, probably from the lack of sleep.
Dan’s mother took it on herself to help Caroline out. She made chicken soup, went to the store to get medicine, even stayed up all night with Caroline one night when the flu was particularly bad. The change to Dan’s lifestyle was sharp and, to Dan’s mind, unwelcome. His video game time got cut short to carry food up to Caroline. Instead of his mother’s undivided attention, she was paying more attention to Caroline than to him. She even missed one of his baseball games, an event so upsetting that it completely threw his game off, making it his first game in over a year where he didn’t hit a single home run.
When Caroline recovered, Dan’s mother offered to take her to the aquarium. Caroline acquiesced, though Dan had the impression that it was because she was still sick enough not to want to bother arguing. At first Dan wasn’t happy about having Caroline tag along, but the trip proved to be more fun than he expected. Dan’s mother encouraged him to show off, suggesting at each exhibit that he tell Caroline about the fish in it. He enjoyed the look of pride in his mother’s eyes, and the way Caroline seemed to listen to him and respect his knowledge.
His mother got tired of walking, and suggested that Dan to show Caroline the shark section, a prospect which exited Dan enough that he ran off, with Caroline laughing and trailing behind. On the way out, as always, Dan’s mother bought him a toy, and at the last moment threw in a stuffed mermaid for Caroline, too.
On the drive back, Dan’s mother steered Caroline into the back seat with Dan, and the two played with their toys in the back seat the whole way back. It occurred to Dan that Caroline was acting pretty strangely for an adult, and after she’d gone up to her room in the back, he asked his mother what was going on. He didn’t like to think much about his life before becoming twelve again, but this seemed familiar enough to trigged some memories.
"Well, Dan, Carrie is going to be your little sister."
That made no sense at all. "Huh? That’s not possible."
"Oh yes, sweetie, it is."
"But...my little sister? She’s a grown-up. And not my sister."
"Don’t be silly. Here, I’ll help you see." And, to Dan’s surprise, she pulled a magic marker from her pocket and proceeded to draw something around his right eye. When she finished, Dan ran to a mirror to see what had happened; for an instant, he saw a black star around it, before it faded away.
"What did you do?"
"Let’s see Carrie, and you’ll understand." Dan followed his mother to the room in the back. When the reached the door, she opened it and shoo’d Dan into it.
It wasn’t clear why Caroline---Carrie---looked different to Dan. She seemed physically identical to the way she’d been before, but now seeing her triggered a completely different sensation. Dan remembered her, recognized her, as his little sister. Annoying, attention stealing, but also lovable, and very much under his protection. He couldn’t specifically remember ever needing to beat up someone at school for picking on her, and it was a little odd picturing someone looking as adult as Carrie being bothered by nine year olds, but some deep instinct made him believe in the possibility, and also unquestioningly in his duty to punish anyone who dared.
Carrie was wearing a nightgown, sitting on the edge of her bed, apparently pouring over some kind of document related to her work. "Hi Dan. Do you need something?"
Dan realized he didn’t really have a good reason to be in his sisters room. Especially his strangely adult little sister. "Um...I can tuck you in, if you want."
She laughed. "Alright, I get it, I shouldn’t go back to staying up late. Go ahead."
Dan tucked her in, gently if not especially well, and, without thinking, kissed her cheek. "Night, Carrie."
Caroline was planning to object to the diminutive name, not to mention the kiss on the cheek, but she was asleep too quickly.