The bustling coffeehouse was almost full and Tracey couldn't believe her luck with her seat. It was her favorite one, the one with two big plush chairs and an unobstructed view outside. Nothing made coffee taste better than to be comfortable and people watching. The beautiful spring day enhanced her high spirits and the number of passersby.
Most people were breaking out their shorts and T-shirts for the first warm day of the year. Tracey herself was was wearing a light blouse and a black knee length skirt, her unshaven legs hidden by stalkings. Since she didn't have a man in her life, Tracey was usually pretty lax about keeping them smooth (much to her daughter's chagrin).
April was the light in Tracey's life. Of course, when she'd first gotten pregnant at 18, she'd thought her life was over, but after having April everything changed. The once carefree Tracey got serious and worked her way from being an at-best C student to becoming a magna cum-laude university graduate. While all the other girls were partying, Tracey was at home studying and raising April.
Now that April herself was 18, Tracey was earning close to 6 figures a year, well more than enough to make sure that her daughter went to the best private school in the area. Tracey was terrified that April would repeat some of the same mistakes she herself had made. Tracey was thrilled that April was in her life, but she didn't wish that hardship on her daughter.
Tracey checked the clock on her phone. She still had half an hour left on her lunch break. A young couple crossed the street in front of her. They looked so happy. Tracey wasn't jealous though, she had April and that's all she needed. After leaving her immature boyfriend who had impregnated her, she'd never felt the need for that type of intimacy.
"Mind if I sit next to you?" a male voice said to her.
Tracey looked up at the nondescript man standing next to her. He wasn't tall, but he wasn't short. He wasn't fat, nor was he really skinny. He wasn't ugly, but neither was her really remarkably good looking. Tracey had the feeling that if she were to look away for more than a second she'd be completely forget what he looked like.
Before answering his question, she looked around the coffee shop. It wasn't crowded enough that he couldn't find a table of his own, but any other table he sat at wouldn't have had a decent view outside. Moving her purse out of the other chair, she said, "Not at all. Go ahead."
He plopped down next to her. "Thanks."
Tracey dropped her phone in her purse and stared at the people wondering around outside. Maybe tomorrow she'd buy a sandwich and go to the park. She loved spring, which is why she'd named her daughter April.
"Nice weather, huh?" the man asked her.
Not really wanting to get into a conversation, Tracey nodded and gave a polite "yeah".
"Man, if I were 18 again, I'd definitely be skipping school today. Go hang out at the beach or something, anything other than slaving away for the Man." He gave a nervous laugh.
Tracey looked at him harder. She'd done exactly that most of her high school days until she got pregnant, but then again, a lot of people did. She ignored his friendly comment, though, and resumed looking out the window.
"I wish I could turn back time, see if everything would turn out differently if I hadn't become so serious. Don't you, Tracey?"
She whipped her head towards him. How did he know her name? Did she know him?
He continued on. "Maybe I would have wound up making it with the band or maybe I'd be some carefree button masher somewhere living paycheck to paycheck."
Unable to place the man, Tracey asked, "Do I know you?"
"No, Tracey, you don't."
"Then how do you know my name?"
He took a sip of his coffee and set it down. He ignored her question. "Things turned out the way they did. I am who I am and you are who you are. For what it's worth, you did a bang up job raising April. If I'd just known the 18 year old you, I never would have guessed."
"How do you know all of this?" Tracey asked in a louder voice than she should have. A guy across the room reading a newspaper shot her a dirty look.
"Back then, I'd have put money on you winding up working as some mom and daughter porn star or stripper tag team."
Tracey stood up to leave. "I don't have to put up with this."
Despite herself, Tracey sat back down. Adrenaline pumped through her. "What are you doing to me?" There was another glare from the newspaper man.
"I want to see what would have happened if you weren't so serious after April was born. What if you hadn't changed at all, or what if you'd gotten even worse?"
Tracey calmed herself. She made sure she answered in an even tone. "No one can know those things. Like you said, 'I am who I am.'"
For the fist time since he'd started talking to her, she [i]looked[/i] at him. If she'd been asked to describe him now, she'd only need one word: terror. He frightened Tracey to her core. "I can find out," he said. He turned back to the window.
The calm Tracey had forced on herself was gone. Sweat beaded her brow and her heart raced. [i]No, he can't. People can't[/i] do [i]things like that.[/i]
"Yes, Tracey, I can."
The two sat in silence. Tracey grasped the sides of her chair. She desperately wanted to shove it out from under her and flee the shop.
"Tracey, choose someone." The man gestured out into the busy street.
"Ch ... choose?"
A young girl, probably some intern at one of the law firms, was waiting at the light to cross. Tracey lifted a shaky finger and pointed at the girl.
The man held out his hand and crooked his index finger in a "come here" motion. The girl did an about face from the light and walked over to the coffee shop. She stopped in front of Tracey and the mysterious man. She looked directly at them. Then she looked at her reflection in the glass.
Tracey and the girl watched as the girl morphed from law office intern into a whore. Her office attire shrank and twisted it's way into fishnet stockings and a tight white and blue dress. It only qualified as a dress as the top and bottom parts were connected together by two thin strips of fabric. A large hole in the middle exposed the girl's pierced belly button, and her sides were exposed as well. That, added in with the deep cut neck line, and there was barely any material to cover up her massive chest.
The newly created streetwalker dropped her cigarette and stuffed it out with her 8 inch platform shoes. She fluffed out her dyed hair and turned to go. That's when she changed again. She shrank down in size until she had turned into a 60 year old homeless woman.
She wiped her dirty face with her hand, which only smeared more grime down her cheek. She noticed Tracey staring at her through the glass. She gave Tracey a toothless grin and held up a paper cup. She jingled it as if to say, "Give me some money."
The old woman morphed back into the hooker then back into the original girl. There was still something different about her though, and it wasn't just the fact that Tracey could see her black bra through her thin white shirt. The girl's aura had changed.
"She's blowing all the partners at the firm. They pass her around like an Applebee's appetizer. She's hoping that it will help her land a paralegal position there, but at best she'll wind up a coke addicted secretary."
Tracey had to leave. She [i]had[/i] to, but she couldn't. Her body wouldn't listen to her.
"You know, Tracey. I like to play games. Sure, I could just walk up to you and turn you into some dumb slut, but where's the fun in that? When I first got my ability, that's all I was about. Slut, slut, slut.
But I've evolved since then. I've realized, it's more fun to watch someone fight the fate I'm trying to bestow on them. You know, give them some sort of incentive and just watch them. Am I making any sense?"
Tracey wasn't even really listening anymore. She'd lost the capacity to. "Please, let me go."
Her turned his face of terror towards her again and put his hand on her leg. "I will."
Relief shot through Tracey. "Thank you."
"Oh, don't thank me yet. The game hasn't started yet."
"I don't want to play."
"Oh come now, sure you do. Here, look at this."
All of a sudden, Tracey was thirty years in to the future. A little girl she knew to be her granddaughter was screaming and throwing things across the room. A haggard looking April viciously yelled at the little girl and went back to cussing her ex over the phone. There was a pounding at the door. Tracey knew it was some sort of collection agency coming to take something else away.
Just as suddenly, Tracey was back in the present. "That's your daughter's current future," the man said.
Once again, Tracey found herself thirty years in the future. This time, she was at her granddaughter's eleventh birthday. April, all grown up, was standing behind her daughter clapping her hands. April's loving husband sang with them. Her daughter had married a wonderful man. She was happy and successful. Tracey's heart leaped with joy.
The man brought Tracey back again. "That's the future I'll give her if you win."
"What if I lose?"
"Oh, now Tracey, don't you ruin the fun. That's something you'll have to discover as we go along. Now, are you ready to hear the rules?"
No, she wasn't. After seeing what he had done to that poor girl on the street, Tracey knew she didn't want to play. Even the bleak future that she'd seen, that wasn't nearly as bad as what she knew this man was capable of. In fact, now that she'd seen a glimpse of the future, maybe she could stave it off some how. Maybe she could...
"Hello? Tracey?" The man was waving his hand in front of her zoned out face. "You're playing no matter what. I'd think you'd like to at least know the rules so you have some chance of winning."
"Fine!" she screamed. More people than just the guy reading the newspaper shot her evil glares. "Fine. Tell me the rules."
"That's the spirit! They're really simple. All you have to do is not leave the sight of your daughter once you get home. If you can make it to midnight mentally intact as you are now, I'll reverse any changes that occur to you and give you the shiny happy future.
However, every time you leave her sight, whether you go somewhere else or she does, the you in your past will have been slightly less serious and the present will change to reflect that. Understand?"
Tracey thought she got it. It was simple enough, all she had to do was to stay in the same room as her daughter. They did that practically every night as it was anyway. "Wait, what if we fall asleep before midnight? I mean we're usually in bed by 10."
The guy spread his hands in the "I've got nothing up my sleeves" gesture. "If you fall asleep in the same room, I'll give you that."
Tracey felt good. She could do this. It wasn't like he'd asked her to do something truly hard. As she thought about it, the better she felt. She was going to have a guarantee that he baby girl was going to have a happy future.
Just then, Tracey's phone rang. It was Tom Allen, one of her underlings.
The guy smiled at her. "Take the call. Oh, and good luck tonight." He got up and walked away. He looked at a college aged girl in a pullover who was studying near by, then went and sat with the guy reading the newspaper.
Finally answering her phone, Tracey stood up and headed out the door. Tom needed her back early for a sudden conference call from the Tokyo branch. As she walked back to her office, she tried to remember the strange man that had sat with her at the coffee shop. She couldn't remember what he looked like at all. She couldn't even remember if he was black or white. The only thing she could remember about him was terror.
Tracey pulled her Mercedes into the garage next to her daughter's Audi and hit the button to close the garage door. The rattling of the shutter announced to her Saint Bernard, Max, that she was home. As soon as she walked through the door, he jumped up and showered her with kisses.
"Down, boy," Tracey laughed. "Go find April!" Max turned and ran off towards the living room.
Hanging her keys on the hook by the entrance, Tracey flipped through the mail that April had left for her in the mail slot below the keys. There was a bill from Saks Fifth for a suit she'd bought the other week and a letter from her alumni group. Thanks to her daughter, Tracey hadn't seen a piece of junk mail in years, she'd almost forgotten that it existed.
Heading through the breakfast nook and into the pristine white kitchen, Tracey picked up the watering can off the marble counter top, and filled it up in the kitchen sink. She watered the the plants on the kitchen windowsill, then went back into the breakfast nook and watered the flowers sitting in the middle of the table. A couple of leaves had started to brown and Tracey delicately pulled them off.
She glanced at Max's water dish to make sure he still had some. There was a couple of hairs floating on the surface, so Tracey took it into the kitchen with her and dumped it out. She rinsed the dish in tap water a couple of times, then opened her refrigerator and got out the pitcher of filtered water. She filled Max's dish and returned it to its spot, then put everything else away.
Her chores finished, Tracey headed into the living room, where she found her daughter, April, doing her homework. She was sitting on the floor and using the coffee table as a desk. Max was laying next to her with his head in her lap. The 50" plasma screen TV was off as usual. Tracey wasn't even sure why she had bought it. The two of them so rarely used it.
April was still in her school uniform, her legs were folded up inside of the long skirt. She had undone the buttons on her cuffs and rolled up the sleeves some. Her brown hair was tied up behind her head with a black scrunchy. She looked so studious.
As if she sensed Tracey's presence, April greeted her mother without looking up. "How was you day, mom?"
"Not bad, lunch was a little weird."
April put her pencil down and looked up. "Oh?"
"Yeah, the Asia branch had a horrible mishap and thousands of orders got mixed up. They're usually the best branch. I don't know what happened." Tracey had a weird feeling that that wasn't what was so troublesome about lunch.
"I'm surprised you made it home on time."
"Well, I left my other projects half finished. I was just so tired from the whole Asia deal that once we got everything sorted, I just headed home. I'll go in early tomorrow to finish the other stuff up."
"You left something unfinished?"
Maybe that's what was eating at her. Tracey hated the thought of tasks left being half done. "Well, I just wanted to get home to my baby."
"Aww, thanks mom."
"I wasn't talking about you, I was talking about Max." The two women laughed at Tracey's joke. "How was your day?"
April pulled out several pieces of paper and handed them to her mom. "Another biology test, another 100."
"That's my girl!" Tracey handed the test back. "What are you working on now?"
"I've got a calculus test in two weeks and I'm studying up on it."
"Good luck. Let me know if you need any help. Is there anything in particular you want for dinner?"
"Whatever you feel like making is fine with me."
"Okay, I'll think of something. I'm going to go change." With that, Tracey turned and headed down the hall towards he bedroom. As she passed around the corner, out of April's sight, a pang ran through her head. She stopped and rubbed her temples. As soon as it had come, it disappeared.
Giving it no thought, Tracey went into her room. She sat on the corner of her neatly made bed and put her head in her hands. She'd really screwed up today. How could she have sent the Europe orders out to the Asia branch? They're on opposite sides of the world.
She plopped back on to the bed. She felt like she should care that she was getting wrinkles in her suit jacket, but put it out of her mind. She had bigger things to worry about. She felt like she was in over her head at work. After finally getting everything straightened out with her mix up, her coworker Tom had chewed her out for screwing up again. She probably should have stayed late to make up for everything, but she felt too bad to even be there and had run home with her tail between her legs.
Tracey sat up and took her jacket off. She tossed it on the floor, then kicked off her one inch pumps. She left them where they laid, even though they were the only things on the floor and her closet was a foot away. She just couldn't be bothered.
Soon after, her shirt, bra, skirt, and pantyhose joined them on the floor. Tracey stood in her closet wearing only her panties. She looked through the designer dresses and suits for something to put on, but couldn't find anything with a bit of flair.
She tossed a couple of options out on to her bed but turned them down for various reasons. One was just too drab, another too formal for house wear, and another because it was just too stuffy looking. Leaving them where they lay, she attacked her drawers next.
Shirts, rejected one after another, went flying out of the drawers. Tracey finally settled on a white T-shirt with a pink heart on it. The word "mom" was written inside of it. The shirt had been a mothers day present from April years ago. Even at the time, it had been a bit small, but after several washings, it had shrunk to the point that Tracey couldn't wear it anymore.
She couldn't reason out why she wouldn't have worn it now that it had become the perfect tightness, fitting to her decent sized breasts well enough that her dark areolae could be made out through the thin fabric. Tracey put on a pair of black slacks to complete her outfit.
Looking over the mess she'd made of her room, Tracey sighed. In a matter of seconds, it had gone from tidy to disheveled. The neatly made bed looked juxtaposed to the blizzard of clothes that had piled up around it. She should have cleaned it up, but just couldn't be bothered.
In her flurry, she'd knocked over her framed diploma with one of her shirts. She tossed the shirt on to the floor, then set the frame back up. She was so proud of it. Again she read the "Sum magna cum-laude." She couldn't believe she had pulled it off. It felt more like a fluke than anything that she could have graduated with that high of a GPA. The fact she'd made sure to enroll in the easiest classes probably helped.
Once again, Tracey found herself thinking back to lunch. She shook her head about how stupid of a mistake she had made, but felt that something else was bothering her. Something had happened at the coffee shop, but what was it? Why had she suddenly gotten the feeling that she should check on April?
Heading back to the living room, Tracey passed by April's room. The door was open and she could see inside. It was like a mirror image of Tracey's redecorated room; clothes and papers were strewn haphazardly around the room. Her school uniform was balled up by the bed. Tracey sighed. On numerous occasions she'd tried to get April to clean up, but when April had the comeback, "It's no worse than yours," Tracey didn't have the ground to fight on.
April was still at the table studying when Tracey came back into the living room. She had apparently gotten up to change as she was now wearing some soccer shorts and a tank top.
"Decide to get a little more comfortable?" Tracey asked.
"What are you... ? Oh, yeah. Mom I love you, but I wish you'd sent me to a public school. I can't stand that uniform."
"What? I thought you liked it."
"As if. Oh, hey. Since you're here, would you mind helping me with this calculus homework. It's not making any sense to me."
Tracey gulped. She hated when April asked for help with homework. Tracey had done it before, but that was long ago and she always had some help along the way. She sat down next to her daughter and looked at the biology test sitting on the table. 93. April was already past Tracey's ability.
"What seems to be the trouble?"
April pointed at the textbook. "It's this limit problem."
Tracey looked at it for what she felt was an appropriate amount of time. "42?"
April rolled her eyes. "It's going to come out as an equation."
"Oh. I don't know, dear. Math wasn't ever really my thing."
"It's OK, mom. I'll ask one of the geeks tomorrow."
Tracey stood up. She noticed the TV was on, but the sound was muted. It was on one of the 24 hour news networks. Occasionally, April would look up and read the scrolling captions. Tracey thought about sitting on the couch when her golden retriever, Max, started barking.
"Did you let him out?"
"Oh, April, I asked you to let him out if you get home first."
"Sorry, mom. It's just I've got all this stuff to do because you sent me to that school."
Tracey put her hand on her daughter's shoulders. "No, I'm sorry. I just thought if you went there you'd have a better chance to go to a good college. I'll go let him out."
She headed back to the sliding glass door and let Max out. He bolted out and took off running towards the woods behind the house. "Max!" Tracey yelled and took off after him. It was no use as he was long gone, running after some squirrel.
Treading along after him on the freshly mowed grass, Tracey paused as a migraine washed over her. After it past, she had a feeling that she should be near April. Shaking the feeling and migraine off, she followed Max into the woods.
When she finally caught up to her boarder collie, he was sitting beneath a tree, barking up at a cat. A flash of anger hit Tracey. "Get over here, you stupid mutt!" she yelled.
Max ducked his head and slunk over next to Tracey. She grabbed him by the collar and lead him back through the gate. She closed it behind her and then let go of Max's collar. He ran over the overgrown grass and started digging up one of the dead rose bushes. Tracey would have cared if she'd bothered to keep them up.
After doing his business, Max went over and sat by the back door. Tracey opened it up and he ran inside. Tracey slammed the door and walked into the living room.
"How many times have I told you to close the damn gate?"
April was watching some show on E! about some pop star Tracey hadn't heard of. Her feet were propped up on the coffee table. They were resting on her half-hearted attempt to actually do her homework for a change. She was idly sipping on a cola.
"Well, if you actually bought me a car, then I wouldn't have to walk home and I wouldn't forget to close the stupid gate." Tracey couldn't see her daughter's face, but she could hear the sneer in her tone.
"I told you, I can't afford two cars on my salary. If you want a car, you get a job." Tracey walked around to where her daughter was sitting. She smacked her feet. "And how many times do I have to tell you not to put your feet on the table?"
April groaned and put her feet down. Tracey looked at the papers they'd been resting on. "What's this?" she asked and picked up her daughter's biology test.
"It's my bio test, duh."
"An 81? You told me you studied for it."
"I did study for it."
Tracey sat down next to her daughter. "April, honey, would you like me to get you a tutor?"
"If you're gonna waste money on something, get me a car."
Not having a reply April hadn't heard 1,000 times over, Tracey just sat back and started to watch the show with her daughter. She felt right, like she was important that she not leave April's side. At first, it was that feeling that kept her there, then it was because she was wrapped up in the cute pop star's rough life.
After awhile, Tracey started to get thirsty. "I'm going to get a Diet Coke," she said and stood up. "Can I get you anything? Want me to microwave you something for dinner?"
April tsked. "No, thank you."
Tracey turned to walk into the kitchen. Something nagged at her though. Something told her not to leave April. Putting the feeling aside, she headed into the kitchen.
Like almost every other room in the small house, it was a disaster. Pizza boxes and Chinese take-out cartons littered the counter tops. There was a long dead plant on the windowsill behind the sink and another on the dilapidated card table that April referred to as "the breakfast nook". Even if the table could support everyday use, it would have been hard to find a place to sit down at with all of the junk mail and overdue notices and bills that were piled on top of it.
Tracey blamed her headache on the thought of the ever amassing debt she and April were piling up. It wasn't going to get any better. She was pretty sure Mr. Allen was going to fire her after her massive fuck up today. How could she have sent those orders out to the wrong branches? She could picture his response, "What, is sticking fucking mailing labels on correctly too much for a simple community college grad?" Tracey had ducked out and run home right at 5:00, before Mr. Allen noticed.
She was sure she'd find another job somewhere, but without a recommendation from Mr. Allen, there was little chance the pay would be good enough to handle all her debt. Maybe she shouldn't have gone to college.
Opening the fridge, she navigated her way around the leftover take-out and condiments and grabbed a can of soda. She pulled out a bottle of rum and looked for a glass to mix her drink in, but couldn't find anything. She looked through the pile of dirty dishes in the sink and found all the glasses in there. She'd have to buy some more glasses soon.
Taking one of the cleaner looking glasses, she rinsed it with water and filed a third of it with rum then the rest with the cola. The alcohol washed down her worries. She poured herself a second glass, this time half and half.