In My Sister's Body
By Katie Kent
Edited by Joyce Creed & Elyssa D Perkins
“Laters.” Picking up her keys, Beth nodded at me. “Don’t get up to any mischief while I’m gone.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah right. You’re the one who’s going away for the summer. I’ll just be sat here in front of the TV, as usual.”
“Idiot. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks.”
“Whatever.” She didn’t know how good she had it. She wasn’t the one who had to stay in her little town for the whole summer. “Don’t kiss too many boys.”
“She won’t be kissing any boys, will you, Elizabeth?” Mum folded her arms and gave my sister a stern look.
Beth smirked. “No, mother.”
“She’s lying. She’ll be sat there on the beach, tongue down some guy’s throat.” I pretended to gag, but the jealousy gnawed at my insides.
Beth whacked me on the arm with a rolled-up magazine, while Mum said, “Charlotte!”
“See you in two weeks.” Beth shut the door behind her. Peeking out of the window, I saw her loading her case into the boot of her car.
I rubbed at my arm. “Why does she get to have all the fun? Why can’t I go away on holiday with friends, too?” I heard the roar of the car engine.
“She’s 18. And it’s not just any old friend; she’s known Hannah for years. They’re inseparable. Come on, you know the deal. She’s just finished her exams and she’ll be going to university in a few months. You’re too young.”
“I’m 16. It’s not like I’m still a baby. Plenty of people my age go away without their parents.”
Mum sat down on the sofa next to me. “Name one.”
I opened my mouth and then closed it again, doing a good impression of a goldfish. “I’m sure some of them do,” I mumbled.
She smiled. “It’ll be your turn before you know it, Charlotte.”
I crossed my arms. “Quit calling me that. I told you, I go by Charlie now.”
“Well, you’ll always be Charlotte to me.”
She and Dad treated me like a baby sometimes. I was old enough to know how the world worked—old enough to go away with friends, old enough to crush on Harry Miller from school. Not that I stood a chance with him. He flirted with me, but he flirted with all the girls. Even the ones who weren’t into him, and there weren’t many of those.
“I wish I was Beth,” I said to myself as I brushed my hair that night. She had it so easy. Two weeks of freedom. I thought of all the hot surfers she’d meet at the beach. Plus, she’d get to drink and go to bed whenever she wanted to while I was stuck here. Our little town was so small that it didn’t even have a cinema; we had to take a bus to the next town. Life wasn’t fair.
* * *
“Time to get up, girl!” I woke to a voice that sounded vaguely familiar.
I opened my eyes slowly and glanced at the clock. Hang on... that wasn’t my clock. I squinted, taking in the sunlight shining through the thin, floral curtains: the striped rug on the floor; the blue walls. This wasn't even my room!
I sat up in bed and looked at the person who had woken me. “Hannah?! What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be on holiday with Beth.”
She narrowed her eyebrows, then broke out into a smile. “Good one, you nearly had me there! Now, hurry up and get dressed. I’ll see you in the kitchen. I’m making pancakes for breakfast!” She turned and left the room, shutting the door behind her.
I felt dazed and confused. Where the hell was I?
Seeing a mirror on the wall, I dragged myself out of bed.
When I looked in the mirror, the face staring back at me was not my own. It was my sister’s. I gasped, and took a step back, whacking my shin on the bed. “Shit!” I yelled out.
“Beth? Everything okay?” Hannah’s voice came from outside the door. “I’ve never heard you swear before.” Thinking about it, I wasn’t sure that I had ever heard Beth swear. I’d sworn at her, but she always batted it back without using a swear word herself.
I watched Beth’s face in the mirror as it broke out in a smile. “I’m good, thanks,” I called back. “Be right there.”
Excitement bubbled up in my stomach. I wasn’t sure how, but I had entered my sister’s body. And, presumably, she was in my body back at home, whilst I got to enjoy her holiday. For today, at least. I couldn’t believe my luck. Who knew how long this would last for, but even a day in her body was something I could really take advantage of.
My phone started ringing. Or rather, her phone started ringing. ‘Charlie’ was showing on the screen. Giggling to myself, I pressed ‘decline.’ I felt a brief stab of guilt for her having to stay at home while I was enjoying myself here, but if she thought I was going to miss out on this experience, she had another thing coming. She’d be off to university soon. I was going to enjoy the freedom while it lasted.
I took off her pyjama trousers and threw on some underwear and a pair of white denim shorts, admiring my new legs. Beth had always been the one with the looks. I took after Dad, whereas she took after Mum. I was short and stocky, carrying a bit too much fat around my middle, with mousy-brown hair that never looked good no matter what I did with it. Beth, on the other hand, was slim and pretty with long, blonde hair. Real supermodel looks. I’d never understood why she never brought any guys home. She must have no end to her admirers. I ran my fingers over her stomach. This was a body that would get the guys.
I pulled the pyjama top over my head, wondering why on earth she was wearing a long-sleeved top in this heat. I’d need to take a shower before I went out. As I rummaged in the wardrobe for a top, I caught sight of her—my left arm and stumbled backwards in shock.
There were cuts all over my arm: some of them white; some of them red and angry-looking.
“What the fuck, Beth?” I whispered, tracing them with the index finger of my right hand.
“Are you nearly ready?” Hannah called, short-tempered, through the door
“Almost.” I resumed my search through the wardrobe. All her tops were long-sleeved. No surprise, given the state of her arm. I shook my head before pulling out the one that looked like it would be the least warm.
Hannah looked me up and down as I left the bedroom, and I hugged my arms to my chest.
“Beth, I know you always say you hate your arms, but even I thought you might have brought something with short sleeves for the beach. You look ridiculous.”
My cheeks heated up. “I really hate my arms.”
We ate the pancakes in silence. They were good, but I was lost in my own head. Or rather, in Beth’s head. What did she have to be depressed about? It struck me that, maybe, I didn’t actually know my own sister that well.
“Earth to Beth,” Hannah said as a drip of maple syrup made its way down her chin. I wanted to reach out and wipe it off. “You’re doing that thing again when you go all quiet. We’re on holiday, lighten up.”
I tried to smile. That thing?
“I’m good, thanks.” I forced the pancakes down, but my stomach was churning. “Just thinking about what we’re going to do today.”
Hannah’s face lit up. I watched her as she twirled her dark brown hair around her finger. She was extremely pretty. I’d never really noticed it before.
“I thought we’d stay close on the first day.” She poured some more maple syrup on her pancakes. “You know, check out the boys at the beach.” She winked.
“A great plan.” The excitement was back. My sister never spoke about boys to me, but I was sure that with her looks, she’d have no trouble attracting them.
“Let’s gather our stuff and go.” As Hannah got up from the dining chair, I felt myself staring at her legs in the tight neon pink shorts that she was wearing. I shook my head. What was I doing?
“Beth?” She was looking at me suspiciously. “Come on, we haven’t got all day.”
I blushed. “Sure,” I said. “See you in ten.”
Disoriented, I rushed back into the bedroom. I knew that I, Charlie, was still here; I still had my own thoughts and feelings. But I felt like Beth was in my head too. An intense feeling had settled over me like a stifling blanket.
I tried to concentrate on the task at hand. What would I need for the beach? A bikini or swimsuit, for one. I rummaged around in the drawers and found a cute blue bikini with white polka dots on it. I started to get undressed so I could put the bikini on underneath my clothes, then I caught sight of my arm again. Fuck. I’d kind of forgotten about that.
I picked up Beth’s phone from the bedside table and unlocked it with my fingerprint. My finger hovered over my number in her contacts, but then I put it down again with a sigh. What could I do, after all? Text her and ask how she was planning to wear a bikini at the beach with her arm all cut up?
I wondered how much of Beth was in my body. Would I come home and find my own arm with cuts all over it?
A loud knock at the door made me jump.
“Ready?” Hannah asked.
I cleared my throat. “Sorry, won’t be long.”
I heard her huff.
“Okay, but hurry up. The boys won’t wait forever!”
I had been really looking forward to this, but my earlier excitement seemed to have dissipated slightly. Beth didn’t seem to be looking forward to this as much as I had been.
I quickly changed into the bikini, putting the shorts and top back over them. The top would have to stay on. I doubted that Beth would want Hannah and the other people on the beach to see her arm. I threw some other stuff into her bag—sun cream, sunglasses, money and debit card, bottle of water, and her phone—then left the room.
“Finally!” Hannah had her flip flops on already and stood with her arms crossed, a scowl on her face. “Let’s do this.” Her expression changed. There was now a glint in her eye.
Anxiety settled in my stomach. I felt uneasy and I wasn’t really sure why. But as I reluctantly followed Hannah out of the cottage, I got the impression that Beth would have been happy just to stay indoors.
Fifteen minutes into our walk to the beach, Hannah suddenly stopped and turned to face me; I almost walked into her.
“You really need to cheer up.”
“What do you mean?” I bit my lip as I looked back at her. “I haven’t said anything.”
“Exactly. I’m supposed to be on holiday with my best friend, but it’s like we’re strangers.”
I swallowed. “I’m just a bit tired, sorry.”
She shook her head. “I’m trying to enjoy myself here. Can’t you do the same?”
“I am enjoying myself!” I forced my mouth into the biggest smile I could manage. “See? All good here. Now, let’s go get those surfer boys.” The words felt wrong in my mouth.
“Now you’re talking.” As she raced off ahead of me, her long legs effortlessly striding across the sand, I felt less on edge. Hannah seemed to make Beth nervous, for some reason. I wondered what that was all about, but trudged through the sand after her before she had a chance to criticise me again. I was really beginning to wonder why Beth was friends with this girl, to be honest. I’d met Hannah before—she and Beth had been friends for years—and she was nice enough then, but I’d never spent very long in her company. From the time I’d spent with her today, she seemed very judgemental.
When I caught up to her, she had taken her shorts and T-shirt off and stood in her bikini with her sunglasses perched on the top of her head, peering into the distance. My eyes swept over her body. She looked damn good in that bikini.
“What about those guys?” She inclined her head towards a group of four boys further along the beach.
I tried to focus on them. Two had short, dark hair; one short, blonde hair; and the other one had long, blonde hair swept back in a ponytail. Two of them had surfboards and full wetsuits on, and the other two were in tiny shorts. I glanced at their abs—I’d always had a thing for a nice set of abs—but I felt nothing. Clearly, Beth was not turned on by a washboard stomach on a guy. Come on, Charlie. This might be my chance to have my first kiss.
“So, which one do you like?” Hannah’s voice was in my ear, and I felt myself shiver.
You. My eyes went wide. Suddenly, it all made sense. Beth wasn’t into guys. Beth wanted Hannah. And it wasn’t just some dumb crush. It felt more intense than that. Jesus.
Poor Beth. It must've been torture, pining over her best friend like this. Well, I knew it was torture. There was enough of Beth in me that I was experiencing part of that. Feeling what she felt, I was sure it was much worse for her. I wasn’t gay, but Beth’s body was reacting to Hannah the way I felt when I saw Harry. It was confusing as hell. All of a sudden, I couldn’t get her out of my head.
“Well?” Hannah sighed.
“I dunno. You choose first,” I said, unable to take my eyes off her lips. Pull yourself together. You are not gay. But Beth clearly was, and I was in her body. I wanted to kiss Hannah more than I had ever wanted anything in my life. But it was obvious that she didn’t feel the same way, and that she had no idea of the battle that Beth was facing in her head every day, and I wasn’t about to blow my sister’s cover.
Hannah rolled her eyes. “Are you going to take those clothes off, then?”
I tried hard not to react to her words in the way my body was telling me to. And I also knew that I couldn’t expose Beth’s arm, so I just shook my head.
“I’m good like this.” The sun was beating down, and I wished I could strip down to my bikini, but I knew that Beth wouldn’t thank me for it.
She threw her hands up in the air.
“Whatever. Just follow me.” She ran off in the direction of the surfers, and I tried not to stare at her bum and legs as I stumbled on the sand to keep up with her.
When I got there, she was full-on flirting with the dark-haired, muscly guy in the red shorts. Leaning in towards him, touching him on the arm and giggling a lot. It was kind of pathetic, to tell the truth.
“And who’s this?” The guy with the ponytail and wetsuit looked me up and down. He’d pulled the wetsuit down so that he was topless and just his legs were covered, showing off his abs. If I had been in my body, I would have lapped this up, but while I could appreciate his good looks, they didn’t do anything for me in my current state.
Hannah was staring at me with that irritated look on her face again, so I forced myself to put on a flirtatious smile.
“I’m… Beth.” I remembered not to call myself Charlie at the last minute. I tried to lean towards the guy the way Hannah was doing, show off Beth’s legs, but it just felt awkward. As well as it being false, I really wasn’t sure how Beth would have responded to this situation. Would she have flirted with him to keep up appearances and throw Hannah off the scent, or would she have been distant? Hannah seemed to suggest that Beth would’ve gone with the latter.
“Beer?” The short, dark-haired guy reached into a cool bag next to them and pulled out a couple of bottles.
Hannah took one and immediately pulled the cap off with her teeth. This clearly wasn’t the first time she had done this. I wondered whether Beth was a drinker. Would she take the beer? I’d always assumed that she drank—most people her age did—but I was beginning to realise that a lot of the assumptions I’d had about my sister’s life were not true.
“Don’t be lame,” Hannah whispered in my ear. The guy was still pointing the other bottle in my direction.
I hesitantly took it and said, “Thanks.” I tried the trick with my teeth, but I couldn’t pull it off like Hannah had.
“Here.” With a hint of irritation in her voice, she reached out and took it from me, removed the cap, and handed it back to me. Our hands touched, and I felt sparks of electricity. My heart was pounding. Man, she really does have it bad. I wondered how long Beth had felt like this.
Hannah swigged from the bottle. I lifted mine to my face and wrinkled my nose against the smell.
The guy who Hannah had been flirting with laughed. “Have you never drunk beer before?”
Hannah smirked. “She doesn’t get out much.”
I was really uncomfortable. Beth clearly didn’t want to be in this situation, and her so-called best mate was taking the piss out of her. No wonder she had been self-harming. I wondered how many situations Hannah had forced her into in the past, and whether she just went along with them because of her feelings for Hannah or because she just didn’t have any other friends. I thought back, and couldn’t remember her mentioning any other friends. It was always Hannah this, Hannah that. I had thought they were just really close.
I snapped back to reality to find three of the boys now laughing at me. Only the ponytail guy wasn’t.My cheeks heated up, so I brought the bottle to my mouth, tipped my head back and took a large gulp of the beer.
“Respect!” One of the guys put out his hand to high-five me.
I forced myself not to gag as I high-fived him back. The beer tasted horrible, but it did cool me down, at least.
* * *
“Beth, are you still with us?”
I tried to focus. “Umm, yeah?” I had lost count of the number of beers I’d drunk. I hadn’t enjoyed them, but I just wanted to forget everything and to fit in. Would Beth have done the same?
Hannah giggled. “I’ve never seen you this drunk before.” Well, that answered my question. It had to be better than slashing my wrists, though. “You’re fun like this.” She poked me playfully in the side.
The sun was beginning to set, and two of the boys had left. Rob, the ponytail guy, and Will, Hannah’s guy, were still here. We all sat on a couple of beach towels spread out across the sand. Well, I say on the towels. Hannah was basically on Will’s lap, and they had been making out on and off for ages. The whole thing felt so awkward; I wished I was somewhere else. And on top of everything, I really had to pee after all those beers.
“Feeling left out?” I jumped as I heard Rob’s voice in my ear, and he laughed.
“No,” I said. “I just… uh…”
He laughed. “You’ve been staring at them for ages.” His face suddenly became serious. “Don’t tell me that you’re into Will too? Man, this always happens to me.” He sighed, hands on his knees, and I felt suddenly sorry for him.
“That’s not it at all.” The alcohol was sloshing around inside me. My stomach lurched. I put my hand over my mouth, but Rob pulled it away and leaned in towards me.
I had dreamt about my first kiss for years. Never in a million years did I expect that I’d wish I was kissing a girl. When I kissed Rob, I felt nothing. I was just going through the motions. I expected that I, Charlie, would have enjoyed it, but it meant nothing to Beth. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Will snogging Hannah, and the jealousy consumed me. The way he had one arm around her back and one cupping her bum. The way she was breathing a little too fast. The way his lips closed around hers. I wanted to be Will. More than anything.
Hannah let out a little moan, and that was it. I pulled away from Rob as if I’d been struck by lightning, turned around, and vomited onto the sand.
Hannah finally removed her tongue from Will’s mouth, her nose wrinkled up. “Oh my God, Beth. That’s gross. Talk about ruining the mood.”
“Sorry,” I mumbled. I suddenly felt like I was about to cry, and pulled myself to my feet quickly.
“I’m gonna go back to the cottage.”
“Good idea,” Hannah snapped.
“You want me to walk you back?” Rob asked.
I shook my head. “Thanks, but you stay here and enjoy yourself.”
“Umm,” he said, looking at Hannah and Will. “I’m not sure these guys will thank me if I hang around them like a bad smell.”
Hannah was leaning back against Will, her eyes unfocused. She’d drunk almost the same amount as me so she must have been as out of it as I felt, but clearly she had had more practice.
I shrugged. “Okay then. Thanks.” I really wanted to be alone, but Rob was just trying to be nice, and I felt bad about leaving him here with the lovebirds.
I turned back to say goodbye to Hannah, but her face was already attached to Will’s again.
“Come on.” Rob was now on his feet.
We walked in silence for a few minutes, and then Rob said, “Mind if I ask you something?”
“Huh?” I’d been lost in my own thoughts.
“Why are you friends with Hannah? She’s kind of mean.”
“Oh.” I felt myself blush. “We’ve been friends for years.”
“That’s not really answering the question.”
“Well, I guess, I… erm.” I had no idea what to say. Why was Beth friends with Hannah, other than because she had the hots for her?
“You like her.”
I swallowed a lump in my throat. “Well, duh. She’s my best friend.”
“That’s not what I meant.” He looked down into my eyes. “You’ve got a thing for her; am I right?”
I forced myself to laugh. “Oh God, don’t be ridiculous.”
“I know the signs. Take it from a guy who has crushed on straight guys for years.”
I opened my eyes wide. “You’re gay too?” I put my hand to my mouth as I realised I had just come out to him. “I mean…”
“It’s okay, I won’t tell.” He smiled at me. “I’m bi.”
“Oh, right.” I’d had no idea; Beth clearly had no gaydar.
He nodded to his left, where the road forked off. “You know, there’s a gay bar in town. Do you fancy popping in?”
I hesitated. “I don’t know.” Is this what Beth would have wanted?
“No pressure, honest,” he said. “It just might help you take your mind off her for a while.”
“Alright.” What harm could it do? And at least I’d get to pee. The pressure in my bladder was steadily increasing. “Sure. But only for a little while.”
“Great.” He started to turn towards the road.
He turned back to me. “Yeah?”
“Promise me you won’t tell anyone about this.” Anxiety was rushing through me.
“Of course not. Your secret is safe with me, I promise.”
* * *
It felt weird going into a gay bar. I felt like a fraud. It was Beth that was gay, not me. But I had to remind myself that, right now, I was Beth.
Rob led me to the bar, taking his wallet out of his pocket. “What can I get you?”
“Uh, I don’t know. Beer?”
He chuckled. “I don’t think that’s a great idea right now. How about an orange juice?”
“Sure.” I stood by his side, looking around. The place was pretty busy. There were a couple of people in front of Rob in the queue. In the corner, a couple of guys were kissing. On a table nearby, a girl was holding hands with another girl. I started to relax; for the first time in hours, I began to feel normal. I realised it would be like this for Beth for the rest of her life, and I felt a pang of sympathy. Once I got back to my own body, I’d definitely try to spend more time with my sister.
I spotted a sign for the toilets and told Rob, “I’m just going to use the bathroom. Shall I leave you some money?”
He shook his head. “I’ve got this.”
When I got back, Rob had a beer in one hand and a glass of orange juice in the other. He nodded towards one of the empty tables. “Take a seat.”
I sat down in one of the chairs before he handed me the juice. “Thanks.” I took a sip. It was just what I needed right now. My head was beginning to spin again.
“Yeah.” I grimaced. “And I’ll never drink again.
He shook his head, but there was a smile on his face. “I meant your first time in a gay bar.”
“Oh!” I blushed. “Yeah.” I didn’t know that for sure, but from what I knew of Beth, she seemed firmly in the closet.
“Anyone take your fancy?”
I looked around and shrugged. What was Beth’s type? Hannah, obviously, but did that mean she generally went for brunettes? My eyes settled on a muscly blonde, and I bit my lip, trying to work out whether I felt any attraction towards her.
“Beth,” he said, patiently. “You really are new at this, aren’t you?”
“You can say that again.” I’ve been gay for all of 12 hours…
“Well it’s probably a bit much to expect you to come onto a girl in a bar on your first try. Hang on…” He broke out into a smile. “Maybe you don’t have to.” He nodded his head back over to the bar.
A tall, slim girl with long, dark brown hair was clearly checking me out.
I whipped my head back immediately. I could feel that Beth found her cute, though.
“Hey, what are you doing?” Rob asked. “Go and talk to her.”
“I thought you said I didn’t have to make any moves on my first visit. Maybe she’ll come over here.” I took another sip from my drink.
“She might.” Rob swigged from his bottle of beer. “But she clearly likes you. What have you got to lose by going up there?”
“I don’t know.” I chewed on my thumbnail. I could clearly feel how insecure Beth was, how unsure of herself. She didn’t feel like she was worth it. God, her self-esteem was really low. I stood up decisively and wiped my sweaty hands on my jeans.
“Wish me luck.” I wanted to do this for Beth.
“Good luck!” Rob called after me.
I walked over slowly, coming to a stop right in front of the girl.
“Hey.” I wasn’t sure what to say next. What would I say if I was Charlie walking up to Harry right now?
She saved me the embarrassment by responding immediately. “Hey yourself.” She smiled, and it lit up her whole face. I felt a stab of attraction. “Fancy a drink?”
“I’m good, thanks.” I still had half my orange juice left, and I didn’t think it would be a good idea to have more alcohol. I didn’t want to throw up all over this girl’s shoes.
Her face fell slightly, so I put my hand on hers and said, “I do fancy you, though.” My heart was beating out of my chest, and I cringed inside. I knew now that Beth would never have been so upfront. But I wanted to change things for her.
She smirked. “You do, huh?”
I nodded, and suddenly her lips were on mine. I cheered silently as fireworks went off inside me. Beth liked this girl. Not the way she liked Hannah, sure. But enough.
* * *
“So, did you have fun?” Rob asked, as we stepped out of the bar a couple of hours later. It was properly dark outside now, the moon a sliver of silver in the sky.
“Yeah. Thanks for bringing me,” I said.
He nudged my elbow with his. “I was worried you were running out of oxygen, at one point.”
I felt myself turn red. Good job it was dark. “Yeah, well, Holly was a really good kisser,” I mumbled.
“Obviously.” He grinned. “You got her number and everything.”
She lived a couple of hours away from us, but perhaps she and Beth could make it work. It was worth a try, anyway.
“Anyway,” I said, “I wasn’t the only one, was I?” Rob had pulled a guy soon after I went to talk to Holly. “Are you going to see him again?”
He shook his head. “Nah. I mean, it was fun, but I’m not really after anything serious right now.”
“Fair enough.” We fell into step next to each other as we walked back to the cottage.
“Anything from you-know-who?”
I took my phone out of my pocket and checked. Perhaps Hannah had texted me. “Nope.” I wished I wasn’t disappointed, but it was now 10.30pm; didn’t she even care whether I’d got back or not? Or was she already back and didn’t care where I was? Neither option made me feel good.
“You need to ditch her.”
I bit my lip. I agreed with him, and would tell Beth so when all this was over, but I knew it wouldn’t be that easy for my sister.
The cottage was shrouded in darkness when we got to the door.
“Well.” Rob peered through one of the windows. “All the lights are off. Looks like she’s still out.” He straightened up. “Are you going to be okay?”
I nodded. “I’ll be fine. Thanks for everything.”
He waved it off. “No problem. It was nice to meet you. And don’t forget what I said.”
As he headed back into town, I took my key out of my bag and turned it in the lock. As the door swung open, I felt Beth’s loneliness hit me in waves. I’d had a really nice evening, but coming back to an empty house, I just felt overwhelmed by negative thoughts.
My stomach rumbled. I opened some cupboards looking for food. There wasn’t a lot. I presumed we had planned to eat out. But I had no idea when Hannah would get home, and I didn’t want to go out again on my own. I pulled a pot noodle out, took the lid off and poured some water in the kettle. While I was waiting for it to boil, my eyes fell on a sharp knife near the sink, and a sudden thought hit me. I could stick that knife into my arm.
I gripped onto the worktop with my fingers and forced myself to breathe slowly. I couldn’t believe that Beth had these thoughts regularly. It was horrible. The urge to pick up that knife was rushing through my blood. But I wasn’t going to add another scar to my sister’s arm.
The kettle vibrated as it came to a stop. As I poured the water, I forced my gaze away from the knife to my fork stirring the noodles.
When I’d finished my culinary creation, I took it into the lounge, sat down on the sofa, turned the TV on, and tucked in. There was nothing of any interest on, so I just left it playing a film that I’d already seen. It wasn’t that great, but at least it made the cottage feel a little less lonely. I thought about ringing Beth, but I wanted to talk to her in person. It didn’t seem right to do this over the phone, and it wasn’t fair to ring her just because I was feeling lonely. She, clearly, felt lonely often, and I’d only had to put up with it for a day.
Hannah still wasn’t home by midnight, and I hated the fact that I was worried about her. I was also angry for Beth. Hannah was on holiday with her, and it was like she couldn’t care less about her. It was hours ago that I’d left Hannah on the beach, chucking up my guts, and she couldn’t even be bothered to send one text asking how I was and whether I’d got home alright. No wonder Beth felt so worn down. Eventually, I went to bed and managed to drift off to sleep.
I was woken by a slam of the door and a loud “Helloooooooooooo?” I rubbed my eyes sleepily and looked at the clock. It was just after 2am. Jesus, what was Hannah doing making such a racket at this time of the night?
I decided to ignore her, turned onto my other side and shut my eyes again, but she came into my room and turned on the light.
I blinked. “Hannah, I’m trying to sleep.”
She laughed. “Don’t be such a square. You can sleep any time. We’re on holiday!” She sat down on the bed next to me, and reached across and took my hand. “I want to tell you everything!”
I felt light-headed by her touch. I wanted both to move my hand immediately, and for her to never let me go.
“So,” she said, not even waiting for me to respond, “Will was amazing! We sat on the beach for hours, and he built a fire and snuggled up next to me. It was so romantic. We kissed, a lot. I think my lips are swollen.” She ran her tongue over them, and I wished I wasn’t thinking about how it would feel to kiss her right now. “And then, he took me out for dinner. He paid for everything. I’m so full. And kinda drunk.” She giggled, let go of my hand and tossed her hair over her shoulder.
“Anyway.” She stood up, swaying slightly. “I’m gonna hit the hay.” She started to walk away, not even asking me how I was feeling, whether I’d eaten, or anything. Then she paused by the door. “Oh, by the way, he’s coming over tomorrow. I’d kind of like it if we had the place to ourselves, if you know what I mean.” She winked at me. “You’ll be okay to amuse yourself tomorrow, yeah?”
This girl is unbelievable. I wanted to say no, to argue with her and tell her that she was supposed to be on holiday with me. That she was a crap friend. That I could do better. But I knew that wasn’t my decision to make. “Sure.” I hated how the word felt in my mouth. “You enjoy yourself.”
She grinned. “Thanks, mate. I intend to.” She left, letting the door slam behind her. I winced, my head pounding.
I felt so bad for Beth. I’d only spent one day in her body, one day with her thoughts and feelings, and already it was too much. What if I never got back to my own body? Anxiety rushed through me. My life certainly wasn’t perfect, but it was a damn sight better than hers.
Suddenly I realised that my cheeks were wet. I wiped the tears away with my sleeve. “Oh, Beth,” I whispered to myself. “Don’t be sad. It will be alright. I’m here for you.”
I was still crying as I drifted off to sleep.
* * *
When I woke up the next day, I was in my own bed, sun streaming through the curtains. I pulled my arm out from under the covers and peered at it. Relief washed over me as I saw there were no scars on my skin.
All at once, I was hit with a pang of sympathy for how Beth must be feeling today. I hoped she would be okay. I picked up my phone, thinking about ringing her, but put it down again. I should let her reach out in her own time. Leave her to get on with her holiday. Although, I was no longer envious about her trip. Instead, I felt horribly sorry for her.
My phone buzzed with a text message, and I picked it up, thinking it might be her. But it was Harry. ‘Great night last night x,’ it read, ending with winky face and kissing face emojis. My eyes went wide. “No way,” I whispered to myself. What had Beth done in my body?
Suddenly I heard a key turn in the front door. It opened, shut again and then someone ran up the stairs and stopped outside my room. “Charlie?” Beth’s voice said quietly.
The door opened slowly. Beth and I looked at each other for several seconds.
“I’m so sorry, Beth.”
She came and sat on the edge of the bed. “You don’t need to feel sorry for me.”
“Why are you here? You’re supposed to be on holiday. You must have got up really early.”
“Yeah.” She looked down at the floor and then up again, biting her lip. “I woke up early and I couldn’t get back to sleep. When I got out of bed, Hannah was already up, and she reminded me that I said I’d make myself scarce today. Because she’s having a guy over, she wants the place to herself.” There was a bitterness to her voice. I couldn’t even imagine how she must be feeling. It was bad enough for me yesterday, and there had been just enough of me in her body to counteract the negative parts.
“Jesus, does that girl not need to sleep?” I shook my head. “Life really isn’t easy for you.”
“It’s alright.” Her voice wavered, and she swallowed. “Sorry you had to go through that.”
“Beth, it was a day. I coped.”
She stayed silent, a serious look on her face.
“You should have told me how you were feeling,” I said.
“How much do you know?” She fixed her gaze upon the door, like she didn’t want to meet my eyes.
I shrugged. “Pretty much everything, I’d say. You’re depressed as hell, you’ve been self-harming, you’re gay, and you’re totally hot for your best friend. Did I miss anything?”
She laughed, but there was no humour in it. “That about covers it.”
“I’m sorry, Beth. I honestly thought that you had it so easy. Also…” I put my hand on her arm. She looked at my hand suspiciously, but didn’t move her arm away. “Sorry to say this, but Hannah is kind of a bitch.”
She winced. “I know. But she’s so goddamn cute.” She was blushing furiously. I’d never seen her like this before.
I sighed. “No offence, but you need to get yourself a new best friend. One with a better personality. Ideally, one who you don’t have a mad crush on. Or, at least, not an unrequited one.”
Tears fell from her eyes.
“Beth.” I pulled her into a hug. She held back at first, slightly wooden, but as she began to sob, she relaxed into me.
“You’ll find someone,” I said, when we had pulled apart. “Any girl would be lucky to have you.”
“What if I don’t ever kiss a girl?” she asked. “I’ve kissed guys, but they didn’t mean anything. I only did it to throw Hannah off the scent.”
Now, it was my turn to blush. “Search your memory. I think you’ll find you already have.”
Her eyes went wide. “No way! Why do you get to have all the fun? I pine over girls for years. One day in my body and you went and snogged one. Not fair.”
“I wasn’t the only one having fun, though, was I?” I thought back to the text I’d received this morning. “You didn’t tell me about you and Harry! Or me and Harry, rather.” I concentrated, and the memory of kissing him was starting to worm its way into my consciousness. I knew it hadn’t actually been me who kissed him, but at the same time, it had been me. I remembered it like I might remember a dream I had had.
The hint of a smile broke out on her face. “Oh yeah. He dropped round in the afternoon. I realised that you were attracted to him, so I lunged at him. I thought: what the hell? He likes you, Charlie. You’re lucky.” She sighed. “It was really nice to be normal for a change.”
“Beth. You are normal. Being gay doesn’t make you abnormal.”
She shrugged, her face downcast.
“And there is a girl that likes you. Look in your phone, under ‘Holly Anderson’. Maybe nothing will come of it, but it’s worth a try. You never know.”
She seemed to perk up at this news. “So, what was she like?”
Now that I was back in my own body, I could see that the girl I had kissed as Beth was attractive, although she did nothing for me.
“She’s hot. At least I thought so when I was you. And she seemed a damn sight nicer than Hannah, not that that would be difficult.”
She was smiling again. “Thanks for helping me out. No way would I have been brave enough to ask her for her number. Or go up and kiss her, for that matter.”
“I know. I could feel your anxiety.” I smiled at her sympathetically. “Look, Beth. I don’t know why or how we swapped bodies for a day, but it must have happened for a reason. Probably so we could understand each other better. I wanted to help you become more confident; that’s why I went up to her.” I took her hand again, and this time she didn’t flinch. “I know you really don’t think much of yourself, and that makes me sad. You have a lot to offer, and you can do way better than Hannah. Both as a friend and as a partner. I mean, she basically spent the first two days of your holiday telling her supposed best friend to get out of the way. What kind of person does that?”
Beth sniffed back the tears this time. “Yeah, she’s always like that.”
“Well, you deserve so much better. My advice: ditch Hannah. Find yourself some new friends. Text that girl, and meet up with her. Also, I think maybe it might be a good idea to get some counselling or something. To talk about how you’re feeling.”
She laughed. “When did my little sister get so wise?”
“Well, I’m not the only one! Harry had been flirting with me for months, but I was too afraid to actually go for it with him, in case he knocked me back. So, thanks for making that move for me. You’re braver than you think!”
“Oh, it was my pleasure.” She smirked. “I was nervous, but your general confidence helped me. I never thought I’d enjoy kissing a boy so much.”
“Well I sure as hell never expected to feel something for a girl.” I yawned. “Sorry Beth, but I’m gonna have to throw you out of my room now. I have a boy to call.”