Young-Derek dumped his armload of papers on the dining-room table and disappeared into the kitchen. I glanced at them briefly — literary analyses of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Scowling, I turned away, and swept my gaze across the familiar layout I had hoped I’d never see again.
Traditionally Southern, the dining room featured a table that could seat ten, a china cabinet filled with plates no one ever used, a gaudy chandelier, and white wainscoting beneath paisley wallpaper. It was hideous, and more fitting of my great-grandmother than the stylish, modern woman I called Mom.
Nothing seemed especially noteworthy, so I followed after my younger self and headed to the kitchen. Young-Derek stood with his head in the stainless steel fridge, looking for God knew what. I quickly took in the pile of bills stacked on the corner of the granite countertop, the laptop and disarray of paper on the breakfast table, and the pristine sheen of the cabinets, fresh from a remodel.
“And three . . . two . . . one . . .” I said, knowing exactly what was about to happen. Sure enough, a loud thud sounded, rattling down through the ceiling and startling Young-Derek into slamming the fridge door closed. The faint echo of laughter followed.
Young-Derek stared up at the ceiling, frowning. I crossed my arms, leaned back against the counter, and waited while he put the pieces together. I could almost see the thoughts running through his head:
Mom’s car hadn’t been in the driveway, so she wasn’t home from her procedure yet. But, if she wasn’t home, who was upstairs with Dad?
His frown turned into a scowl as he realized what the sounds meant and stalked out of the kitchen, intent on investigating.
“Have fun with that,” I mumbled. I already knew what he was about to find, and that image was hard enough to get rid of the first time. I didn’t need to see it again. Pushing away from the counter, I headed toward the living room, listening for the screams of discovery.
There had to be a reason I was here, something I was supposed to find or do that would reverse the homeless woman’s spell. It was the only explanation. I wouldn’t let myself entertain the thought that there might not be an explanation. Maybe this was just my punishment — an eternity of being forced to relive every horrible memory I’d tried to forget.
As I walked through the arch separating the living room from the kitchen, I felt a sharp tug in my chest and doubled over. Seriously? How could I have a heart attack when I was already dead? Clutching my chest, I squeezed my eyes shut and focused on breathing, praying the pain would disappear.
Instead, it increased, and I cried out as the searing pressure built. I fell to my knees, and like a tether stretched too far, something snapped inside me, dragging me backward. I slid helplessly across the floor and up the stairs until I was deposited in a shuddering heap beside my younger self. The pain vanished as quickly as it had started and I lay on the shag carpet, gasping.
I guess that answered my question about being able to wander on my own. Clearly, I had broken one of the rules, straying too far from my former self, or running into some invisible boundary. And apparently, whoever was now controlling my fate didn’t believe in warnings.
Rubbing at my chest, I stood and took in the scene I’d been trying to miss. Everything was paused again. Young-Derek was frozen at the door to my parents’ room, horror and disgust contorting his features. He had one hand raised, trying to block the sight before him, and looked like he was mid-retreat.
Taking a deep breath to brace myself, I peered past him into the shadows of the room. The blinds had been drawn, but enough light crept from the edges to illuminate my father’s adultery as clearly as a spotlight.
Cautiously, I stepped past Young-Derek and into the room. I sidled up to the bed, a lifetime of unpleasant emotions curdling in my stomach, and forced myself to look closely at the figures. Well, one of them anyway.
A quick glance at my father’s naked form was enough to freshly brand it in my brain. I kept my gaze solidly above his chest, noting the familiar dark hair streaked with gray and chiseled features I’d been lucky enough to inherit. He looked like he was going to be sick. A sensation I could relate to.
Turning away, I stared at the twenty-something girl straddling him. She clutched the sheets against her chest, but they didn’t cover much. Her face was hidden behind her blonde hair, it’s tousled, wild state evidence of her extra-curricular activities. I couldn’t fault the old guy, though, she was hot. And disturbingly like several women I’d dated. Maybe his features weren’t the only thing I’d inherited.
Shaking my head to get rid of that uncomfortable thought, I dropped my gaze to the nightstand and inhaled sharply.
“You,” I growled. There, laying like a coiled, silver snake, was the necklace. I knew I’d seen it before! I crouched next to the cherry nightstand, inspecting every minute detail — the twisted wire, the white, glittering dust inside the glass vial. It was only marginally better looking than the last time I’d seen it, and clearly a custom creation.
Wait, if this was a custom hunk of jewelry, then that would mean . . . ?
Slowly, I turned, looking up at Dad’s secretary. Her face was visible from this angle, and I stopped breathing as I locked eyes with a familiar brilliant green gaze. The gaze of the homeless woman.