Paige drifted off to sleep at the end of the traumatic day.
She woke up at around 4 am. Being shortly after the vernal equinox and at this latitude, sunrise would be between 6 and 7 am.
What was she going to do now? She was 12 years old, 5 years younger. He had been in 11th grade. That probably put her in 6th grade now. But 6th grade was already the point at which schoolwork was anything but trivial. She felt like math and probably science would be a trivial task. In 6th grade, it would be things like examining prime numbers, greatest common divisors, least common multiples, number theory stuff, the stuff after elementary school arithmetic but before real algebra. Supposing 'Paige' was at the same level 'Jon' had been at that age, and had similar class placement. Science classes would just be rather directionless subjects that were a little bit of this and that. A little bit of biology, a little bit of astronomy, a little bit of physics, a little bit of chemistry, rather than the high school counterpart, where it was one particular specialization for a whole year. Literature would be reading some standard thing, maybe Shakespeare, maybe Dickens, maybe even Mark Twain. But even at age 12, it was stuff that required preparation. It very likely wasn't anything that she could just jump into on the fly. Especially if she had homework due soon.
She wanted to take action, but had missed the ball. But for now, she needed to not make waves. No being a difficult child and provoking Sarah to erase her mind to make her fit in.
Paige turned on her light and looked through her room. She clamped her teeth down at another look at her room. It was such a grotesque annihilation of everything she was. The 'Paige' that everyone but Sarah in this reality remembered, she for a moment felt a bit of sadness and regret over too. Was she ever real? Was she a real person, perhaps a much better person than Sarah, or before being corrupted as Sarah was, but had just had been erased from existence? If so, she was a casualty of this too. Every bit as much a victim as 'Jon'. Paige, Jon, felt a moment of comradery at this thought. Though she intrinsically knew that if she was here, she would probably disagree, she would probably be as cold and unsympathetic as Sarah herself was and side with her dear sister Sarah. Dear sister Sarah? Was Sarah someone anyone could love? Or was she a tyrant to her own sister? Well. Lots of things to think about. At her... pink and white... desk was her backpack. The one thing that truly looked out of place. It was army surplus dark green. It was big, needlessly big for a child's backpack. It was a good backpack. On further examination, it definitely was army surplus. Not only that, but it had a name stitched into it "Arsenault". What was the story behind how she came to possess that? I mean, obviously it would have just been purchased at an army surplus store. But the decision to do so, was that Paige's? Could the real Paige have actually had some personality after all?
She found a little daily planner book. With homework assignments written in. Another grim reminder, that the real Paige was actually a real person. This was written by her. Jon had merely stolen her body, through no fault of his own. It brought back more uncertainty of how she should think of herself. It was a real reminder that maybe she really really shouldn't think of herself as "Paige" now. Paige was a real person, who was not Jon. A poor girl that had a military surplus backpack and who responsibly wrote down her homework assignments in a daily planner and then one moment poof was erased from existence. Was that a real reality before that had simply been accessed by the stone, or did the stone create it? Was the real Paige just a work of fiction, and Jon shouldn't worry about her loss?
All the homework was still fairly straightforward, except for the English class. She had to do some annoying chart with parts of speech in a bunch of sentences. Why did they subject kids to this? Like learning cursive, it was utterly without later purpose. But also disturbing was yet another reminder of the real Paige. Because the math homework had been halfway done. She had been erased from existence, partway through doing her homework. She had done part of her math homework, and then had gone off for the encounter with Sarah in the bathroom during her bath, and then Jon's mind had quantum leaped into her brain and she was just gone.
That morning, things were quiet. Breakfast was quiet. Her 'parents' didn't say a thing to their children in their rush to prepare for work. Paige ate her breakfast, consisting of two poptarts, a glass of milk and a glass of orange juice. And then Sarah approached her to speak to her. As with the previous conversations, she avoided addressing Paige by any proper nouns. Paige would have to agree, it was equally awkward to be called Paige by her, as to be called Jon.
"I looked up where your school is," Sarah said, in a low, conspiratorial voice. "It's not the same Junior High we went to. I'll give you a ride. I have no idea whether 'you' rode the bus before, but for now..."
Paige nodded solemnly.
There it was. Sarah's dark blue Mercedez Benz. A vehicle Jon, or Paige, had never, ever, intended to get into.
On the way to school, it was quiet until Sarah angrily said "I'm sorry."
Paige didn't say anything back. What was there to say. I forgive you? That would be a lie and they both knew it.
Another 30 seconds passed, and Sarah said, "Say something Jon."
The first time Sarah had addressed her by name since that first confused moment. And it was that name. Perhaps as a show of respect for who Paige really was. So she did. "I'm afraid of what will happen if I say what I want to say to you. Do you have any idea, what I'm going through, the fear I have, that you would erase what little there is left of me that you haven't already destroyed, if I'm honest to you. What have you already destroyed? I don't even know. I wasn't even in the room when you made the wishes you did, to solidify your power, to dominate me thoroughly. Maybe what I think what is part of Jon, is actually just something you wished to change about my mind."
"I haven't done that. I haven't altered your mind. I absolutely won't. I tried very hard, to make sure, to help you adapt, in a way, that wouldn't... murder you. And it would be murder."
"Surprised by what."
"Do you promise you won't murder me if I say something you don't like?" Not that Paige trusted Sarah's word exactly, but given the situation, maybe she would a little.
"Yes. This I promise you. I absolutely, won't, do that," Sarah said. "I want to hear what you really think." She was actually crying a bit, as she drove. Paige really was surprised.
"All right. Maybe this changes things, that you're even capable of being sorry. Maybe I've been wrong about you. But I'm surprised that you would care if you murdered me. After all, you're a psychopath."
"...I'm not a psychopath!" Sarah said.
"Do you know what a psychopath is Sarah?"
Sarah thought of horror movies. Particularly Hitchcock's Psycho. A real messed up guy, cosplaying as his mother, murdering the girl to act out his imagined jealousy his emulated mother would have over it. Sarah was nothing like that. "A killer. Someone who tortures small animals for fun, a serial killer."
"No Sarah. That's a movie psychopath. A real psychopath isn't necessarily quite that messed up. Except for the torturing small animals part, a lot of them do that at some point in their lives. Not all of them. But a real psychopath is someone who doesn't have a conscience. Psychopaths are all over. They usually become very successful people. They become CEOs of companies, they get married and have families. They're very good at socializing and getting what they want. Good at manipulating others and good at tricking them into thinking they're a good person, but who's absolutely selfish and would kill others if it gave them any advantage. But they usually don't, not because of any sort of morality, but just because of consequences for themselves. They don't want to lose what they have, to go to jail. That's the only thing stopping them. Does that sound like anyone you know Sarah? You probably don’t really know what a conscience is even though you think you do, you probably think it’s just the ability to decide if something is good or evil on a purely intellectual level, but it’s more than that, it’s something called remorse that you would feel, almost like fear, at the prospect of doing something evil. And you’re missing it Sarah. And I believe your mother is too. And I don’t even mean that as an insult, you’re just missing something that other people normally have. You don't care about anyone except yourself. That wish, that did this. I wish you would understand how I feel. Did you ever care how I felt? Why did you even feel the need to dominate me? I mean, just look at your house. You had everything already. Plenty of male attention too. But that wasn't enough for you. You couldn't accept that not everyone loved you, even though you didn't love them back. You couldn't leave me be, even the stone aside, you saw what little I had other than the stone, and you still wanted to take it away from me, and you don't feel the least bit sorry about it. Even now, you don't care, you just want me to like you, but not because you actually care about me, not because you want me to like you for a reason that you've earned, you just want to be worshiped by everyone around you. You took it all away from me, just for shits and giggles, you erased everything. My little brother, Mikey. 5 years old. I love him. He's such a sweet, endearing little guy. And he looked up to his big brother. You took that away. My sister Zoe, she's a rebellious goth and distant to me, but she's my sister. My parents, my Karyn, my name, my life, and my rock, a legacy from my real grandfather. And you could have just stolen the rock and given back everything else. Which would be bad enough. You could have just wished that I would be returned to my former life but with understanding of how you feel. But that wasn't enough. You wanted to win in every way possible. To crush me. To own me. Because how dare I not worship the ground beneath you. Even you not wanting to murder me as you say, it’s not because of remorse, it’s because you don’t want to just own a doll that is no longer me, you want it truly to be me as your prize. And then you made sure to solidify your control of the stone, to make sure I never could undo what you did. That I could never get back any of it. Not even in a distant possible future where I forgive you and we truly become friends. Not even 50 years from now when we've settled into our mature minds. Your petty ambitions, were all that mattered to you. I dare you to wish that you that you would understand how I feel. And while you're at it, you can wish to know if you truly deserve to be the master of the stone. I honestly don't know what would happen if you did that. If the stone itself is capable of making moral evaluations. It doesn't seem to discriminate the sort of wishes it's willing to grant, even if it is."
Just saying all that was a bit cathartic to Jon/Paige. But she knew it was probably a mistake to say it. But it didn't have anything that she thought would necessarily incite Sarah to action. There was no indication she hadn't given up hope of getting back the stone. Of defeating Sarah. It was just a statement of this was where Sarah stood. It was probably nothing she didn't already know.
Sarah sat in silence for a while. Right before dropping Paige off. "You're wrong. I'll prove you wrong. Just be patient."
Paige wiped away a tear as she left Sarah's car. She went to the principal's office, and asked if she could get a printout of her class schedule. They directed her to where she needed to go for that. It was at least clear, with room numbers, teacher names, class titles, and even seat numbers. So it was off to her first class. She was still on the verge of crying, as she sat down in what she figured out was her seat. There were 25 minutes before class started, so there was only one person in the room so far.
"What happened?" Paige looked to the right, to the source of the sound. The girl who was there in the room before she got there was now sitting next to her. She had left her seat to sit next to Paige. She was very pretty, with auburn hair.
"Nothing," Paige said.
"Lies. You're crying," the girl said. "Come on. If you can't tell your best friend, who can you tell."
"Whoa nilly," Paige sighed. What should she do now? This girl, the real Paige was her friend. Another callback to the sadness of the loss of the real Paige too. She didn't know her friend was dead. And in her place, having taken over her brain, was the mind of a 17 year old boy.
Well. A good relationship isn't based on dishonesty.
"What would you say, if I told you, I'm not the Paige you know. That I'm someone completely different. That your friend is dead. And Sarah McMillan killed her."
"You know I hate your bitch of a sister as much as you do," the girl said back angrily. "What did she do this time?"
Oh. Paige thought to herself. Her opinion of the 'real' Paige had just gone up tremendously. And Sarah's reputation as a bitch apparently spanned across age groups.
So Paige told her the whole story. The whole story. Leaving out no details. The girl sat through it. Paige didn't know whether she would think it was just a good story, or just a crazy dream, or a crazy lie, or worse, if she believed it, to see 'Jon' as an invader who stole her Paige's body and a bad guy to defeat. But instead, at the end of the story, the room filling up, and class about to start, the girl with auburn hair said something surprising:
She said "Hello Jon. I am Susan. I will help you."
Paige/Jon couldn't hold back tears a bit once again. She was surprised by how much the words truly meant to her.