When the bell rang for lunch, Maya needed to wait a moment to let her lightheadedness pass. She must not have gotten enough sleep. Late night gaming sessions were really starting to take a toll.
Brielle was already sitting at the lunch table when Maya arrived. Her normal spot next to Brielle was filled by Eric. Maya felt a little twinge of irritation and took a different seat next to Amelia.
“How was math?” Amelia asked.
“Riveting,” Maya replied dryly, shaking her head to get the last of the dizziness out.
Eric told Maya, “We were just talking about last year, how Brielle and me got us kicked out of the movie theater when we went to go see Siege Weapon 4. We were making fun of Tyler Begbie’s accent and couldn’t stop laughing.”
“I remember that,” Maya said, grinning.
“You two just kept egging each other on, even after we asked you to stop,” Jason said. "Your sister’s a handful, Maya. We were almost banned from the theater.”
Maya smiled, but furled her brow in confusion. She started eating and the conversation continued. Occasionally someone would turn to tell her something, more often than not to fill her in on something that she remembered being there for before the spell happened. What was going on?
“Hey,” she said suddenly, “does anybody remember that time we were all together at the pool in Amelia’s neighborhood? How that guy started acting like he owned the place and Jason almost knocked him out?”
“Oh, yeah,” Jason said, before ever so subtly shifting his gaze to focus on Brielle and adding, “You had to hold me back.”
“Dude, he was twice your size,” Brielle reminded him. “I saved you a trip to the hospital.”
Maya scowled. That had been her. Sure, it had been Brielle because they were the same person at the time, but Maya had been that person too. Why was everyone acting like she hadn’t been there?
Breathing had gotten a little harder. They were ignoring her. She was their friend and they were ignoring her. Everything they’d been through, and they treated Brielle like she was the real one.
What did that make her in their eyes?
“I need to use the restroom,” Maya mumbled, standing up and walking away from the table.
There was someone else washing their hands when Maya entered, but they finished and left quickly. Maya stood at the sink and examined her reflection. She was still breathing a little heavily.
“It must be my imagination,” she muttered. “I’m worried over nothing. There’s no way that they actually think I’m… that I’m not…”
There was a knock on the bathroom door and Brielle peaked her head in.
“Maya? Are you okay?” she asked.
“I’m fine,” Maya insisted, straightening up. “I just needed some air.”
“What’s wrong, sis?” Brielle asked. She stepped inside and walked behind Maya, then placed her hands on Maya’s shoulders. Looking at them both in the mirror, she continued, “You seemed upset over something. I don’t think anyone else noticed, but you looked really uncomfortable.”
Maya sighed and placed her hands on the sink to brace herself. This must all be in her head. There was no reason to worry Brielle over nothing.
“I’ve just been a little sick lately,” Maya lied. “But I’m getting better.”
She felt Brielle’s grip tighten a little
“Sick? Maya, if you’re sick you need to see a doctor.”
"I’m not that sick. I can still go to class and stuff. And it’s going away.”
Brielle frowned and replied, “I wish you’d have said something before now.”
“I didn’t want to worry you. Come on, I’m still hungry.”
She took Brielle’s hand and led her back to the cafeteria where their friends were. Maya sat back down and focused on her meal. She tried to ignore how everyone seemed to address Brielle more than her.
That evening, Maya and Brielle stayed in their room since their parents were downstairs watching TV. Things were still tense after the incident, and neither side was really talking to the other. Brielle bristled every time she looked at their mom or dad, and Maya still had to fight back tears when she thought about what had happened.
Brielle was on the computer, playing an online game with Jason and Amelia. Maya had the phone for today, and was talking to Charlie. They’d become fast friends and Charlie, at least, seemed interested in treating Maya like a full person.
So they just started ignoring you? Really? Charlie asked.
I don’t really know what happened. But it felt like I was a stranger that they had to explain everything to. And I wanted to scream because I had been there for all of it!
That’s rough. So from your perspective, you’re still the same person you’ve always been, but all your friends are treating you like you just popped out of nowhere?
Maya hesitated before answering, Honestly? I’m not sure if I am entirely the same person. I changed more than I thought I would. But it feels like people are forgetting who I used to be.
From the computer, Brielle cursed and started hammering away at the keyboard. Maya glanced at her and frowned. She was talking to someone who had been a stranger just a week ago about her insecurities, and her sister was right there.
Why didn’t Maya have the strength to just talk to—
The thought was interrupted when Maya started coughing violently. Brielle turned around, a worried expression on her face, to see Maya spasming on on the bed and coughing into her arm. After a few moments, Maya managed to choke back the coughing fit, but laid still. She was feeling a little dizzy after that one.
“Jeez, Maya,” Breille said, halfway out of her chair, “are you okay?”
“Just a bad tickle in my throat.”
“That sounded like more than a tickle!”
“I’m just congested,” Maya insisted. “That one actually wasn’t that bad.”
“They get worse?!” Brielle cried.
“They were worse,” Maya clarified, not looking at Brielle.
Brielle opened her mouth to say something more, but a cry of “dinner’s ready!” from downstairs interrupted her. She gave Maya a long glare to indicate that this conversation wasn’t over before turning to shut off her game. Maya said a quick goodbye to Charlie before rushing out the door so Brielle couldn’t confront her.
She was fine, just a little sick. Brielle was worried over nothing. Maya would get better.
Dinner was as quiet as it ever was. Brielle wouldn’t look up from her meat and potatoes and their parents had a hard time looking at either of them. Maya kept looking around the table, hoping someone would lock eyes with her and acknowledge her existence.
“Did you finish your homework?” their dad asked.
"We did,” Maya answered softly.
“And… Brielle… you too?”
“She answered you,” Brielle replied, stabbing her green beans with her fork.
Their father huffed, but didn’t say anything more.
Their mother told Brielle, “You need to take the trash out after dinner. I know we’ve been lenient on chores the past couple of weeks, but you need to contribute to the household too.”
“I’ve been taking out the trash,” Maya reminded them.
Their mother nodded, then replied, “We can find you some chores of your own, but it’s important that… your sister… does the things she agreed to.”
Maya clutched her fork tightly. She had agreed to all those chores! Why didn’t her parents understand that?! Even at home she was just Brielle’s new sister who hadn’t existed before a month ago!
She was shaking. Maya’s breathing became shallow and the edges of her vision started to blur with tears. Her fork and knife clattered when she dropped them on the plate.
“Maya?” her father asked, brow furled in concern. “Are you alright?”
Maya started pulling at her hair and stood up.
“I… I feel sick,” she said.
It was true enough.
Without waiting for a reply, she ran. Maya ran out of the room and up the stairs, then locked herself in the upstairs bathroom. She sat down on the toilet and brought her knees to her chest, then lowered her head and started hyperventilating.
They couldn’t know, could they? Nobody could… there was no way… Maya couldn’t even think it. Because if it were true… She blinked the tears out of her eyes and let out a soft whine. Her whole body was shaking.
She barely had time to collect her disjointed thoughts when there came a knock on the door.
“Maya?” It was her mother’s voice. “Are you okay? You need to tell us if something’s wrong, alright?”
Maya shook her head but didn’t answer.
“Well, if you need anything, I’m here for you. You don’t have to deal with this alone.” She paused, waiting for an answer, then added, “There will be leftovers in the fridge if you’re hungry later.”
Maya said nothing, and after a few moments she heard her mother step away from the door. Once she was alone, Maya’s breath started to slow and she stopped shaking. It didn’t feel like she was going to cry anymore. Maya took a deep breath and got up off of the toilet.
When she opened the door to her room, however, Brielle was already there sitting in their desk chair and watching the door.
“Hi,” Maya said weakly.
“What’s wrong?” Brielle demanded, standing up. “I don’t believe that you’re feeling better. Tomorrow I’m taking you to the doctor.”
“I don’t need—”
“Clearly you do,” Brielle interrupted, grabbing Maya by the arm and sitting her down. “I’m really worried about you, Maya. Why won’t you talk to me?”
It hurt Maya to see her sister in pain like this.
“I’m not sick,” Maya admitted. “I mean… I do have this cough that won’t go away. But that’s not what’s been bothering me.”
“Then what is it?” Brielle asked softly, kneeling down next to her.
Maya took a deep breath and said, “I think I know why there’s two of us.”
“Because the witch messed up the spell.”
“No, I don’t think she messed up. I think I messed up.”
“What do you mean? I was there. We didn’t do anything wrong.”
Maya asked, “Do you remember what she said about the spell? How it drew from our subconscious self image?”
“Well, back then, I… we… I used to have two mental images of myself. There was the more ideal version I thought I’d never get to be even with HRT, and the more realistic version I thought I’d have after hormones and surgery and all that.”
“I remember that,” Brielle said, frowning. She stood up and sat down on the bed. “Because we had two different ideas about how we should end up, the spell made two of us?”
“And you’re the more idealized body type.”
“I guess I am.”
“That makes sense.” Brielle started rubbing the back of her neck. “I did keep those two images as very distinct and separate visions. And the more idealized version did act differently in my head than I normally did.”
“And that’s why you act more like we used to, but I’m radically different.”
“Why does that bother you?” Brielle asked. “If it hadn’t happened, one of us wouldn’t be here right now.”
Maya took a deep breath.
“I know,” she said. “And I’m really grateful it did happen. But… I think people can tell. Subconsciously, I mean. They know you’re more like ‘Jackson’ than I am, so they’re… they’re treating you like you’re a continuation of her. And…” She was shaking again. “And they’re treating me differently because they subconsciously know that I’m… I’m the copy.”
She closed her eyes and fresh tears started streaming down her cheeks. Maya sobbed once, then again, and buried her head in her hands.
Maya heard Brielle stand up, then felt her grab Maya in a hug and pull her from the chair. Brielle brought Maya down to the ground, clutching her tightly. She started rocking Maya back and forth while she cried.
“That’s not true,” Brielle said.
“It is!” Maya cried, “I’m not supposed to be here! And everyone knew before I did!”
“Maya, I love you so much, but you’re wrong.”
“How can you say that?” Maya demanded, opening her eyes to see her blurry room.
“There’s no original. No copy,” Brielle insisted. “I’m not exactly like Jackson was. You know that. Just because I look more like her doesn’t mean I act the same. I catch people giving me weird looks when I say or do something she would have never done. I may have gotten the more ‘realistic’ body, but we split evenly. We’re equal halves and people owe it to us to treat us like such.”
“Is that really how you feel?”
“It is, Maya.”
Maya sniffed, then buried her head in Brielle’s shoulder.
“Thank you. Thank you so much.”
“I promise,” Brielle continued, “I’m going to make sure that people start treating you like you deserve.”
For a while, they stayed huddled like that. They probably could have stayed that way forever, but Maya’s stomach began to growl. She bid goodbye to her sister and went downstairs to get some of those leftovers.
“Are you feeling better?” her mother asked when she saw Maya in the kitchen.
“A little bit,” Maya admitted.
For a moment, it looked like her mother was going to hug Maya, but then she just raised a hand and patted her on the shoulder.
“I’m guessing Brielle didn’t take out the trash,” Maya said.
Her mother rolled her eyes and admitted, “She did not.”
“I’ll get it. Don’t worry.”
“Thank you, dear.”
The next day, Brielle and Maya got to school a little later than usual, and barely had time for a hug before having to part for homeroom. Maya said hello to Amelia, but it was still a little hard to look at her after the day before. Fortunately, Maya found herself in English before too long.
“Hey,” she said to Lily, before craning around in her seat and waving at Charlie in the back.
Charlie smirked and winked at Maya, and Maya’s heart started fluttering. She turned back to Lily, and for the briefest moment thought that she looked upset about something. But it was gone in an instant and Maya thought she might have imagined it.
When lunch rolled around, Brielle had made sure to save Maya a seat next to her. Everyone greeted Maya as she sat down, but she didn’t feel entirely comfortable after the day before. Under the table, Brielle gave her hand a gentle squeeze.
After a while, the conversation turned back to things from last year. Eric was telling one of the new members about the time the group went out for pizza and ended up stranded on the opposite side of town.
“Brielle spent thirty minutes trying to find us a bus stop,” he said. “Kept cussing us out under her breath the entire time, too.”
“That’s right,” Brielle said, before turning to Maya. “How did we get out of that situation?”
Maya smiled softly and answered, “Eventually, Amelia just went into another store and asked to use their phone. Her mother had to drop us all off at my car.”
Jason and Amelia glanced at her in surprise. Brielle held Maya’s hand under the table and gave it a gentle squeeze. Maya squeezed back in appreciation.
Amelia continued the story, “My mom took me home after we got back to their car. I was grounded for a week for getting lost.”
Maya relaxed a little.
"Um… you two need to see this,” Eric said softly, handing his phone over to Brielle.
He looked nervous. Brielle raised an eyebrow and put one of the earphones in before giving the other to Maya. On the screen was a video of a pastor up on stage.
“That’s Pastor Tyler,” Eric said. “The guy who goes on those long anti-magic rants.”
Maya’s heart sank.
“I hope there’s a good reason you’re showing me this,” Brielle said.
Eric nodded solemnly and Brielle started the video.
“—must not give in to the temptations of so-called ‘easy-fixes’ that these devil-worshipers are offering. That path only leads to long-term suffering. My son, blessing that he is upon my life, was faced with an unfortunate victim of their peddling just recently in school.”
“Oh no,” Brielle muttered.
Maya started to shift uncomfortably in her seat.
“This boy in his school, brainwashed by liberal leftist propaganda, thought he would be happier as a girl. So he turned to one of the godless magic-users and asked them to transform his body, so he could fool others into thinking—”
“I’ve seen enough,” Brielle said, pausing the video and giving it back to Eric. “I know where this is going. Tragic accident, don’t play with magic, crucify your neighbors, yadda-yadda.”
“He knows about us,” Maya whispered, sinking down in her chair.
Everyone at the table fell silent.
Then Brielle sighed and muttered, “Fuck.”