THIS IS NOT YOUR BEAUTIFUL HOUSE
So you and this girl decide to switch places.
There’s nothing wrong with your life, other than the obvious things. The other girl is rich, though, the kind of rich with soft hands and chauffeurs. You meet her outside her mansion, a baseball cap tipped over your face to hide it.
Oh, it doesn’t matter, says the rich girl. Nobody looks anyway. She pulls you through the foyer and past a series of closed doors to her bedroom.
She has a scar on her ankle. She rubs a matching one into you with the eraser of a pencil, gripping your leg tighter when you flinch.
Of course it hurts, she says, and rolls her eyes.
She plucks your eyebrows, bleaches your upper lip hair, makes you practice your posture, shows you how to pad your bra.
Why don’t you change to be more like me?
She says: Do you really think anyone will notice that you’re different?
You want to say yes, but you think maybe not, and she has you line your eyes again and again until they’re perfect.
Now, she says, now, and gives you a soft kiss on the mouth, like the kind your mother gave you when you were a child. She slips your baseball cap onto her head.
Now I’m you, she says, and you want to tell her it’s not that simple, but maybe it is, and she’s already running down that long hallway, laughing and waving.
She has left instructions for you. Once you have memorized them, she wants you to eat them. You’d rather shred them into the garbage, but she wrote in big underlined letters: Don’t shred these and put them in the garbage. And the truth is, you’re a little afraid of her. You sit in front of the mirror in her bedroom and memorize the instructions. You chew and chew and chew them.
A servant brings you a plate covered by a tin, just like fancy room service in the movies.
I’m full, you say, but the servant leaves it anyway.
The rich girl’s cell phone rings and you answer it. It’s her secret boyfriend, from the wrong side of the tracks, said one of the notes that she had you chew and swallow.
I’m outside the window, says the secret boyfriend. Let me in.
You struggle with the latch, but finally he’s inside, pulling you into his arms. He smells like a mixture of gasoline and sunshine. You inhale him deeply.
I’m not your girlfriend, you say. I’m an imposter.
You always say such crazy things, he says.
Ha, ha, you say.
He wants to have sex, so you let him. It’s your first time. You fall backward into the rich girl’s bed with the secret boyfriend. His hands are everywhere, his mouth. He says: I love you, I love you, as he kisses you, and you can tell it’s a lie, and the rich girl could tell too.
He’s really good in bed, though, said her instructions, and then she drew a winking smiley face. Then she wrote a note that said: Like an emoji, but by hand.
After the sex, the secret boyfriend wants to smoke cigarettes. The rich girl keeps a pack wedged between the headboard and the wall. You shake out two cigarettes, lighting yours off of his. You cough and cough.
Don’t choke, the secret boyfriend says.
When you’ve finished the cigarettes, he crawls back out the window, kissing you on the mouth.
He says: Love you.
You too, you say, and watch him creep across the lawn. There’s something lupine about him. You wonder if the rich girl likes wolves, if she dreams of lycanthropes, twisting her bedsheets in her sleep.
In the morning, the plate covered with a tin is still there, or you think it is, but when you check, there’s a slice of French toast and a bowl of strawberries. You eat them in the bed, getting crumbs everywhere. You wipe your strawberry-stained fingers on the sheets. You think that when you get home from school, the sheets will be brand new. So it doesn’t matter.
You make yourself up the way the rich girl showed you. You’re driven to school by a lady chauffeur wearing white gloves. She doesn’t speak, and you don’t speak. The only sound is the humming of the car.
The rich girl’s not-so-secret boyfriend is at the front gate of the school, waiting for her. He kisses you, cupping your padded right breast with his left hand. This would get anyone else in trouble with the teacher at the gate, but not the boyfriend. He’s the star quarterback. Everybody loves him, except the rich girl.
Snore City, said her notes.
The teacher at the gate just smiles and says: Young love.
Young love, you agree, and walk into the school holding the boyfriend’s hand, which is clammier than you were expecting. You, too, had doodled his name linked with yours in the corner of your math homework, then scribbled it out before anyone could see.
Everyone watches as you enter. You would have been watching too. The rich girl is already there, at your locker. She had to ride the bus to school today, had to pack her own lunch. You wave at her, a small curling of the fingers on your free hand, and she turns away from you, pointedly.
The boyfriend sees you looking.
Oh, that’s that girl everyone says looks like you, he says. You’re prettier.
You say: Of course I am.
You say: Don’t be stupid.
And you laugh, and he laughs, and you laugh and laugh, and the girl that resembles you slams her locker shut and walks away.
CATHY ULRICH is a writer from Montana. Her work has been published in a variety of journals, including Booth Literary Journal, Unbroken Journal and Split Lip Magazine.