[size=2]Another rush of adrenaline seized little Jenny and her almond eyes lit up. There was still hope. Still time. Maybe she wouldn’t be sentenced to 12 months of Apple Jacks and bedwetting after all. Heart racing, she marched past Christine into the kitchen.
“On a mission now, are we?”
“I’m getting a candy bag,” she announced, bargain-basement dress swishing loudly as she paraded by. Luckily, a stash of leftover plastic grocery bags resided under the sink and wouldn’t require any climbing onto the new granite counters.
Christine peeked in. “If you do this, you have to explain how it works to the next person. Those are the rules.”
“Got it,” Jenny barked, digging through the cabinet on her hands and knees.
Eventually locating one without holes, the princess righted herself, dusted her costume off, and filed past the amused redhead with regal confidence. This Halloween madness had proven shockingly easy to solve. Just a few simple steps and she could return to her rightful size and begin plotting ways to screw with Christine’s next crappy block party. The thought produced a barely perceptible grin as she reached up and dumped a wad of Skittles into the bag.
“Hey,” the erstwhile trick-or-treater called. “You really were a little cutie at this age. I bet your daughter would love to babysit. Maybe you should think about it for a bit…”
“No, thank you,” Jenny shot back, opening the door and disappearing into the brisk night air.
Before reaching the end of the walkway, the weight of the decision suddenly dawned on her. To rescue herself, she would have to choose another person — someone nearby, an acquaintance, or a neighbor even — to send back to the ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese. Depriving someone of their well-earned adulthood was no small thing, as she now intimately understood, but staying so young seemed out of the question. Rebooting one’s age around college, or even mid-teens, might prove tempting for many, but five was another ballgame altogether. A tee ball game. No comparison. Still, it didn’t seem like Christine had put much thought into her decision before rewinding Jennifer’s clock. Maybe it was best not to belabor it and just toss the hot potato.
Further compounding the dilemma was the question of where Jennifer would end up, as well. To return to her previous life, she would need someone 38 years old or thereabouts. Who fit that profile and deserved some “downtime,” as Christine so casually put it?
She swiped through names in her mind. There was Michelle Watts, an algebra teacher at Wentworth Middle School and president of the neighborhood association. Ruling the design standards meetings with an iron fist would be difficult at three feet tall. Bet she’ll still have that beautiful olive complexion though, Jennifer grudgingly admitted. Give her a week and she’d probably be organizing her fellow daycare playmates and voting on the gluten-free snacks.
Greg Lassiter, Dan’s boss at the real estate firm, could be an intriguing, if somewhat prosaic, choice. Despite two years of solid service for the company, Dan found himself reliably undermined at every turn — as if his stellar sales record automatically meant he was angling for Greg’s job. While Jennifer had only met him twice, once at an interminable office Christmas party and again at a company picnic, he seemed to embody all the typical “horrible boss” stereotypes. Dan would no doubt appreciate the wannabe Gordon Gekko trading in his suspenders for ninja turtle pajamas.
But he’s got to be older, she remembered, placing him somewhere in his early-to-mid-40s. Eh, pass.
Then the most obvious choice hit her right between the eyes. Why the name hadn’t already moved to the front of the queue she had no idea. Maybe she had blocked the incident out of her mind after therapy. Rachel Zekia lived just three short blocks away.
Crossing paths at a beginner’s yoga class downtown several years ago, they had immediately hit it off — bonding over their love of Renaissance art and waxing ambitious about opening a gallery of their own. And though she wouldn’t admit it, Jennifer found the Jamaican native exotic and exciting. The friendship seemed a win-win. That was, until she noticed Rachel becoming a little too handsy with Dan. A text inquiring if he wanted to “grab a light dinner sometime” drove in the final nail and Jennifer cut ties, unfriended her, and forbade all contact between the two. Ever since, their occasional run-ins at Whole Foods were marked by frosty, wordless glances as their carts passed one another like ships in the night.
Watching the aspiring home-wrecker lose that elegant, athletic build of hers would be downright magical. Jennifer almost licked her lips at the prospect. Rachel exuded such a refined aura, dressing in chic, low-cut ensembles and never losing her legendary even temper. Not to mention the photogenic features that gave her a striking, model-like profile. Jennifer had difficulty even picturing her as a child.
But tonight offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She set off for 428 Waterson Street.
Little Rachel. The idea grew more enticing the more she mused on it, even leading to a random devilish giggle as she walked alone past a confused Iron Man, Dracula, and a half-assed Chewbacca. The intensity of the drive made her wonder whether something about the curse made revenge more sexy. In regular life, she held the usual grudges and indulged in a fair amount of road rage. Who doesn’t? But right now, the image of a five-year-old Rachel Zekia plopped down cross-legged on the floor watching silly cartoons awakened some deeply satisfying primal urge. In one painless swoop, Jennifer could render her seductive rival a total non-threat.
A faint conversation coming from across the street soon intruded on those fantasies, however.
Jennifer turned to see her daughter and a classmate talking, and it quickly became clear the tone of the conversation wasn’t friendly.
“Hey, lookie here. It’s Elvira, mistress of the dark,” the fittingly costumed Harley Quinn joked. “On your way to the graveyard to write poetry?”
“No,” Chloe responded quietly, as usual.
“This must be your night, huh,” another member of Harley’s crew volunteered. Sensing another round of locker room teasing was imminent, the freshman moved to detour around the partygoers but was blocked. She soon found her bag knocked to the ground.
“Yeah, you don’t even have to dress up,” Harley added, twirling her multi-colored pig-tails. Egged on by the crew, she kept it up. “Where’s your Edward Cullen?”
Uncomfortable but accustomed to the treatment, Chloe stayed mum. The truth was she wasn’t wearing a costume — the shredded black top, faux leather leggings, and combat boots were standard issue Chloe. Halloween may have warranted a tad heavier black lipstick and eyeliner than usual, but those were relatively minor variations on the theme.
“I’m not trick-or-treating. I’m just on my way home from the mall,” the timid girl finally answered.
“Sale at Hot Topic?” Harley jabbed, playfully swinging her bat. The comeback appeared to be a crowd pleaser — then again, impressing a group of horny teenage boys all secretly hoping for a shot didn’t exactly require supervillain genius. “Hope they weren’t out of the studded A-cups.”
Witnessing the scene, Jennifer’s reflexive mama bear instincts kicked in, despite her diminished status.
While Chloe had always struggled to make friends, middle school taunting had the effect of closing her off further. The more introverted her personality, the darker her clothing, makeup, and taste in music became — until she eventually won the official title of “gothiest” girl at Markland High. Not surprisingly, Jennifer also found herself shut out of Chloe’s life. Their once close relationship now equaled a “bye” in the morning, a “hey” in the afternoon, and a permanently closed bedroom door. The only barometer for how well Chloe was feeling was the volume of the Marilyn Manson record playing in her room. The transformation had truly wounded Jennifer, even if she understood the reasons.
One them was Harley Quinn here. Jennifer knew her better as Alyssa Westenberg, a spurned cheerleader who nevertheless commanded a dedicated following of Markland jocks. Taking one look at the selfie-ready 16-year-old specimen, it wasn’t hard to see why.
Unable to stop her blood from boiling, Jennifer strode across the street and confronted the bully with the only words her young, but still maternal, brain could rally.
“Hey, get away from her!” Jenny yapped in a comical attempt at seizing control.
“Oh my god!” Alyssa broke into a gut laugh. “A little princess is here to save you.”
“You shouldn’t talk to people like that,” Jenny did her best chaperone impression, while an equally puzzled Chloe observed her miniature heroine.
“Not exactly a knight in shining armor,” Alyssa said. “I had no idea you had a cute baby sis. Looks like she got all the non-freak genes.”
“I don’t,” Chloe corrected as Harley approached the brave little good samaritan.
The intimidation factor inched up dramatically as the teen drew closer, peering down her nose at the spunky runt. Jenny stood just chest high, her head level with Alyssa’s taut midriff. Chewing on her gum and grinning, the clown princess of crime stooped lower to meet her interlocutor tete-a-tete. The kindergartner maintained her disapproving scowl.
“Geez, lighten up, kid,” she ribbed. Jennifer could smell the watermelon Bubbalicious on her breath as she won an orchestra seat to Alyssa’s admittedly impressive rack. “They’re just jokes.”
Harley poked the gallant princess in the tummy. No Pillsbury doughboy smile.
“Well, better let these two get back to their little lovefest,” she said. “See you at school, Vampira. Don’t let the monsters get ya.”
The duo watched as Harley Quinn and her laughing gang of sycophants moved along. Twirling back around to her unlikely friend, Chloe started to speak but hesitated, as if momentarily aware of the impossible connection between them.
“Um… thank you?” she proffered, not knowing what was appropriate in such a situation. How often does a kindergartner come to your rescue?
“You’re welcome,” she sang, growing a warm grin that seemed oddly familiar.
“Wish I had some candy for you… or something,” Chloe mumbled, shuffling through the assortment of phone attachments, lighters, and tampons in her purse. “Sorry…”
“That’s all right,” Jenny assured, still relishing the rare, if utterly bizarre, mother-daughter moment. “I don’t need anything.”
“Well, have fun trick-or-treating,” Chloe submitted, awkwardly sidling down the sidewalk.
As Chloe’s silhouette disappeared down Rosemont and out of view, Jennifer encountered the pressing question yet again. Finally able to come to her daughter’s defense in a meaningful way (Chloe despised parental involvement in her school affairs, no matter how unpleasant), she couldn’t deny how gratifying the episode had felt — and how she loathed Chloe’s antagonists with an intensity only moms truly understand. Swallowing deeply, Jennifer could sense the desire welling up inside, a crazy idea, but an undeniable craving…
She could trim 11 years off Alyssa Westenberg.
And yet the choice would come with far-reaching consequences. With only one “turn,” so to speak, Jennifer would only mature into her mid-teens, and the decision would be final. Assembling a list of pros and cons on such short notice proved daunting, especially when combined with the flighty impulses of a once hyperactive child. Decision-making was never her strong suit, and her cognitive abilities weren’t exactly at their height. On the one hand, she would be forfeiting her current life for a brand new arrangement, becoming just a year older than her own daughter. Am I really ready to take on a second round of high school? she debated. Keeping up with Snapbook, Facechat, or whatever the hell kids used these days?
Relatively popular at that age, Jennifer relished the idea of taking Chloe under her wing and giving her the guidance she wouldn’t accept from an adult, much less a parent. But what about Dan? A dedicated father and reliable breadwinner, yes. And she loved him dearly, even if the flame of their relationship had been flickering for some time. Lately, their marriage seemed rote and by-the-numbers, with moments of romance and true intimacy increasingly few and far between.
One other option entered her consciousness, but she dismissed the motherly fancy almost as soon as it arose. She could keep the curse all in the family and trade places with Chloe.
Caught in a brief sentimental interlude, Jennifer visualized the scene — taking down the glut of Nine Inch Nails posters, unscrewing the black lights, and redecorating her room with the My Little Pony theme she loved at that age. With 10 years between them, she could take on the role of the protective big sister, showing little Chloe the ways of the world. For a few fleeting seconds Jennifer permitted her mind to drift, imagining her only child back in a size six floral lace dress with that angelic face and milk chocolate eyes. But it wouldn’t work, she reminded herself. Chloe would remember everything, including her old life as a teenager. And she would know it was me who made her little again.
Perhaps unconsciously, Jennifer’s internal GPS was already wandering its own direction, toward an address she had visited only once before. A last ditch, and ultimately futile, effort to get Alyssa’s scatterbrained mom to reel in her daughter last spring. But now Jennifer found herself on a different mission: cutting the Markland High sex symbol down to size. Literally.
Once again energized by the thought, the single-minded princess gradually picked up her pace as the official trick-or-treat hours began to wane. The audience of wandering ghosts and goblins starting to thin out, Jennifer realized it was decision time. No going back. Even so, she wavered for moment as she approached the dimly-lit bungalow on Preston Street. Yearning for an end to her five-year-old adventures, the reality of her impending choice gave her pause.
16, 1-6, she repeated to herself, still in disbelief. Driver’s permit here I come.
Swallowing hard and steeling herself, Jennifer reached for the bell. After a long, disconcerting wait, Alyssa emerged — still fully costumed and seemingly in character — with a look of skeptical fatigue.
“You again? Jesus,” the teen muttered. “You just don’t quit. Back to teach me some more important life lessons?”
You have no idea. Jennifer smiled to herself. “Trick or trade!” she trumpeted, extracting a fun-size Skittles from her grimy grocery bag and holding it out for inspection.
“What is this, a peace offering?”
Jen’s puppy-dog pokerface didn’t betray her.
Unimpressed, Alyssa nevertheless grabbed the candy, stuck it between her teeth, and rummaged around the coatrack at the entrance searching for the basket of Smarties her mother usually left out. One solitary package remained. “There,” she said bluntly, tossing it into Jennifer’s bag. “Happy now?”
“Yes, thank you.”
Eyes sparkling with something more than gratitude, Jenny stayed patiently put, just as little Christine had earlier than evening awaiting the inevitable. And sure enough, the sequence of events began to play out — as evidenced by the amusing contortions on Alyssa’s pale face. Rendered temporarily inert, the teenager’s eyes grew round.
“Um, I feel really weird just now,” she announced. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
“Oh no, you’re fine,” the periwinkle princess coaxed. “Trust me.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“We just made a little trade is all,” Jennifer disclosed, blithely walking past the agitated teen and setting up shop in the nearby den.
“Hey, get out of the house. What are you doing?” Alyssa ordered, the inaugural effects taking hold and worming up her body.
A tender tickle soon blanketed her feet, legs, and thighs, steadily advancing past her privates, causing her to reflexively grab her crotch. Like Goldilocks, Jennifer carefully selected a recliner from which to view the coming attractions. The now customary sensations caused few worries this time, as she knew exactly what was coming. In fact, the metamorphosis should run its course faster this time, she reasoned, with fewer years to transfer.
“Just try to relax,” Jennifer advised. “Life is about to get a lot simpler.”[/size]