Authors: Julia Mayer
Dee looked at me without saying anything for a moment. “Samara, you don'tâ¦you don't have to answer this if you don't want to.”
“Okay,” I said. “What's the question?”
“How did she die?”
It had been a long time since I had talked about how my mom died. Or even talked about her at all. Dad never liked to talk about her. I think it was just too hard. I looked away but I could still feel Dee's eyes on me. I almost told her that I didn't want to talk about it.
We hadn't actually
each other for a long time, but we had in a way, and the two of us clicked. We understood each other, and I had never felt that way with someone. I guess I had never had a real best friend before. I wanted Dee to know about my mom. I wanted her to know everything, almost everything, about me. So I took a deep breath, looked up, and looked her in the eye.
“She killed herself. She was upset because she and Dad had an argument. I had never heard them yell like that before. I just left for school without saying anything, and when I came home she was dead.”
“Oh, Samara. Iâ¦I had no idea. I'm so sorry.” She was quiet for a minute. “You know it wasn't your fault, don't you? I mean, it isn't either of your faults. You or your dad. People don't kill themselves over one fight, even a big one. You know that, don't you?”
I nodded. I knew Mom had this other side to her; I had always known. And I had been told that before, but it was good to hear it from Dee too, because I trusted Dee. There was one thing that had always made me feel like it was my fault, though, and I had never told anyone.
“Can I show you something?” I asked Dee. “It's a little scary, but I want to show it to you.”
“Of course. What is it?”
I went into my closet, all the way to the back, and found the shirt I had been wearing the day I found my mother. The day she killed herself. I pulled it out. I hadn't looked at in years, but the ink was just as fresh as it had been that day. I called to Dee to come through the mirror so I could show it to her properly, and when I walked back out, she stepped through.
“This is the shirt I was wearing. Look.” I pointed to the ink stains. Dee furrowed her eyebrows and stared at the stains.
“It got stained at 1:57 in the afternoon, when my pen broke. It exploded all over me.” Dee looked up at me, confused, and I continued. “When I found my mom, the bloodstains on her shirt were in the exact same places. She had taken sleeping pills, but she must have hit her head or something because it was bleeding and there was dried blood all over her shirt.
In exactly these places.
The paramedics said she had probably died between one and three in the afternoon. It was at 1:57, Dee. I know it was.”
I had never shown the shirt to anyone, but this was it, the final proof of the connection I had lost when my mom died.
Tears were rolling down Dee's cheeks. She put her arms around me. “I'm so sorry, Samara. I'mâ” Her voice cracked and she couldn't say anything else.
I pulled away from her and walked to the far back of my closet to hang the shirt up. I had wanted to throw it away at the time, but I couldn't bring myself to. I knew I could never wear it again. I couldn't even wash it. But for some reason I couldn't let it go either. I felt so much better after telling Dee; something about having someone else know my secret made it easier to keep. I slept well that night.
It was another three days before Dee brought up the suggestion I had let drop. She shocked me, scared me, and entranced me all at the same time. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like the only natural thing to do.
Switch places, lead each other's lives.
I didn't know why Dee would want to live my life. After all of our time talking, it had become clear that Dee was only becoming more content with her life. She said that was because of the addition of a best friend, and I know she wanted me to think she meant me, but a part of me wondered when she said that if she was talking about Jamie. But she'd suggested it, and I figured if she wanted my crappy life, she could have it.
The only thing that stopped me was that I was afraid of walking through the mirror for the first time. Dee promised it was incredible, and I believed her. But what if I couldn't make it through? What if I wasn't able? If I wasn't good enough? What if I was never able to make it out? Dee swore up and down that would never happen and eventually, whether I believed her or not, my desire to be happy the way she was happyâif only for the day we would switchâovertook me and I agreed. I wanted to be Dee.
I remembered a time, as a little girl, when my mom was still around and I felt happy. That I had trusted people. When spinning on a tire swing was a good way to get out anger instead of carving anger directly into my body. I remembered that time, and I wanted it back. Switching places with Dee would give that to me.
Dee and I agreed: we would switch for one day, two days tops, and we would spend plenty of time talking throughout the day so that we wouldn't mess anything up for each other. It would be incredible.
Breaking the Spell
There was only one person I knew who would be able to help me get Samara back after she ran out of the bathroom that night.
I pulled him to the side at lunch the next day.
“I found her.”
“Your mom?” Jamie asked me.
“No. Well, yes, but she's back and everything is fine. I found my reflection. And she's awesome and interesting and funny andâ¦in pain. And I need to help her. But she found out who I am and she's mad at me and she won't talk to me. What do we do?”
“I don't understand, Dee. I have no idea what to tell you. What does it mean for your reflection to be mad at you? I mean, what do you have to do to make her not mad? Don't you just see her every time you look in the mirror? So I don't know, can't you just talk to her? This alternate world, I know you say it was my idea, but I mean, it's not really. It's yours. It belongs to you. I don't know how to fix it anymore than I understand how you found it.”
“Well, can you come over after school and help me figure it out?”
Jamie smiled and agreed he would. We walked back to my house together. He dragged a stick along the fence next to us and jumped up to try to touch the orange fall leaves.
When we got up to my apartment, I sat down on my bed and he sat down on the floor.
“You can take the chair, you know,” I said, gesturing to the desk in the corner of my room. When I turned, I noticed that Jamie fit in my room very well.
“I'm fine. I mean, the floor's comfortable. You know, it doesn't really matter where I sit.” He smiled a little bit, and the two of us burst into giggles. I threw a pillow at him. He caught it, using it to rest his back against, and asked, “If you just went through and sat her down and tried to talk to her, would she listen? I mean it
the easiest solution. It's worth a shot, isn't it? I've listened to you talk. You can convince anyone of anything.”
So I tried. But I was only able to get halfway through the mirror. I found myself in a black box between worlds, and I wasn't able to step out the other side. Instead, I was stuck in the middle. It was empty and cold and lonely there, and I went backward as quickly as I could. I wasn't sure what would happen if I walked around the box. I worried that the door back into my own world would close behind me and I would get stuck there.
When I stepped back out, Jamie was sitting on my bed wide-eyed, clutching my teddy bear. “You just disappeared.” I smiled at the bear, and he looked down and quickly threw it out of his hands, turning red. “Iâ”
But I cut him off. He didn't have to explain. “I told you I could wander between universes. That's how the mirror works. I guess I just disappear. I've never been here when I went through, so I don't really know what it looks like from this side. I just go into it. I mean, I guess.”
“Did you get through? Does time stay the same when you go into the mirror? Like did an entire day pass for you but for me it was only a few seconds? That would be so cool. You could live forever that way.”
I smiled at the excitement in Jamie's eyes but shook my head.
“I didn't get through. I think time stays the same when I go through the mirror. I'm pretty sure I can only get all the way through if Samara is actually looking in the mirror. The first time I went through, I had to break a mirror to get in. I think that was like breaking down the door on my side, and then I stepped out on Samara's side because my end of the world was shattered into pieces on the floor.
“There's something that stops me sometimes but not other times. I don't know for sure what it is, but I think I can't get through the mirror unless Samara is looking in a mirror somewhere. It makes sense that she would be avoiding the mirror now if she's mad at me.” I paused and thought about it. “Or scared of me.”
The idea that she might be scared of me upset me, but I caught myself when I remembered that Jamie was there. “So instead, I got stuck between our worlds in this black box that has nothing. I mean no light, but also no emotion, no anything. And until Samara looks in the mirror at me, that's as far as I can get.”
It was a long-winded explanation and I wasn't sure that it was right, but it made sense to me at the time and Jamie accepted it as being logical. At least as logical as anything in this weird double world.
I started pacing the room, looking for something that would give me a clue and fiddling with a pen I had picked up off my desk. I turned around and saw Jamie lying on the floor tossing a ball up and down. I stuck the pen in my hair and watched for a minute as the ball went up and hit the edge of the dream catcher that hung over my bed.
“A dream catcher. I don't know why it's still up there. I made it a really long time ago.” It was one of those wooden and string things that I had made when I was in elementary school, and it had been above my bed ever since.
Jamie sat up and didn't seem to notice the ball bounce off the top of his head and roll away. “Dreams!”
“Dreams?” I asked.
“Maybe you can get to her dreams through the black box. And then you can talk to her. She can't control what she dreams, so she'll have to listen to you.”
“How do I get there, though?” I asked, sitting down and leaning on the edge of my bed. Jamie walked over to the edge of my bed to get the ball and leaned against the bed, starting to toss the ball up again. “I mean, what if I get stuck in the black box and I can never get out again and I have to live in the empty space?”
The ball went up. “Could you use the black box like a touch tunnel?” The ball hit his hand and went up in the air again. “Like at a kids' museum or a science museum or something.” Down. Up. “Keep one hand on the wall next to youâ¦” Down, up. “And if you get lost, just turn around and walk back.” Jamie held the ball for a second. Then up again. “If it doesn't work, you'll come backâ¦” Down, up. “And we'll come up with a new plan.”
I leaned over and grabbed the ball before Jamie could catch it. I fell over onto him, and he put his arms around me for a second. Then we both looked at each other and moved away again. I sat up.
“It's a good idea,” I said, “but, wellâ¦I can't wander into her dreams. I mean, how would you feel if someone saw your dreams?” Jamie nodded and lay back down holding the ball still for a moment. I sat down next to him. “Jamie, I just want to say thanks. For, you know, believing me and being here.”
I could tell he wanted to say something so I propped my chin up on his knees. “What?”
“Nothing, I just worry about you.”
“I'll be fine,” I said, touching his arm. “This isn't dangerous, just difficult.” He sat up for a second and I knew he wanted to say something, so it was the perfect time for my mom to walk in. She looked at me, then at Jamie, who immediately turned beet red, then back at me. I sat up straight and turned to face her.
“Hi, sweetheart, I'm home.” There was a really awkward pause. It's like when you're watching a really clean movie and the moment that it gets the tiniest bit raunchy is always the moment that someone's parents walk in. The movie can be an animated fairy tale, but someone's parents always walk in just as the prince is kissing the princess and breaking the spell. “Is your friendâ”
“Jamieâ¦” She corrected herself, regained her composure, and smiled at him. “Staying for dinner?” He shook his head and stood up.
“I've got to get going.” He winked. “I'll see you at school tomorrow, though.”
After dinner that night, I sat and stared into the mirror in my bathroom for a long time. My reflection looked strangely different from Samara. I recognized her as being my reflection, but for some reason she looked very different to me. I started to wonder who I saw when Samara wasn't on the other side and who my mom saw since Samara's mom was dead.
I flashed back to something my mother had told me years earlier. She'd said that the face in the mirror is very different from the face everyone else sees when they look at you. That how you see yourself is nothing like what others see when they look at you. I tried to figure out whether my reflection was what everyone else saw or what only I saw.
Was Samara what I wanted to see? Or what everyone else wanted to see? I leaned back on the door frame of the closet and closed my eyes for a minute. I wanted to know the answers to these questions for myself as much as for Samara, but I wasn't sure that there was a way to find out.
I pressed my head against the cool glass of the mirror for a moment and leaned backward, standing up to walk toward my bed. I took one last look, and there she was, all of a sudden, standing in front of me. I took advantage of the moment, immediately stepping through the mirror.
I came out in her bathroom and immediately turned the corner into her room. I didn't notice until I walked up behind her, but I was crying. I had been up most of the night as I waited for her, but just seeing her the way she was, so scared and upset, left me upset too.
“I'm so sorry, Samara. I won't lie to you again. I didn't mean to do this. It just happened and then I didn't want to tell you because I thought you wouldn't understand, so I didn't tell you and thenâ¦I never meant to hurt you. I wantedâ¦I wanted you to be the sister I always wished I had. Please, please trust me.”
Samara fell into my arms, and I felt our hearts pounding in sync. I promised not to leave her, not to go anywhere, to tell her the truth about everything I knew. I told her everything I could about the mirror, about going back and forth between worlds. But there was still a lot I didn't understand about it. We both had a lot of unanswered questions.
We talked all the time after that. About the most amazing and the most miniscule things.
“How is it going with Jamie?” Samara asked during one of our talks one day.
I wasn't sure how it was going with Jamie. I still wasn't one hundred percent sure how I felt about him, though the more time we spent together, the more I liked him.
“I guess it's good. I don't know. Why?”
“You talk about him a lot. It seems like maybe there's somethingâ¦happening with you two. Is there?”
“I don't know,” I said. I paused for a second. “I hope so,” I added, and I heard myself giggle. Hearing myself giggle that way, I knew I liked him more than I had been telling myself I did.
“Oh, come on, everything you say about him. He obviously likes you. Get a move on! Get it together with him.” She pursed her lips and smiled, turning her head a little to the side. It was the knowing smile she gave me whenever I talked about Jamie.
“Don't push,” I told her. “If it's going to happen, it's going to happen. I don't want to pressure him or anything.” In the back of my mind, I did want to start pushing things. I didn't want to lose a friend I had had for such a long time. But I didn't want to lose a chance with a guy I really cared about either.
I hardly had any experience with boys. I was good with girls. I could get along with almost any of them. But I had no idea how to talk to guys. I started to wonder about getting Samara into my world, into a place where she could meet him and help me figure out what to do. By switching places with Samara, I could help patch things up with her dad, and maybe she could help me figure out the next steps with Jamie.
I put off asking her about it for a little while. I needed to know that she would be able to handle it. Switching lives seemed like a crazy idea to me, and I had already spent time in both worlds. So we continued meeting every night to talk for hours on end.
One night, while Samara sat sipping her milk and I nibbled on cookies, she asked me, “Do you think the alternate universes are something we should share? Maybe we aren't meant to be the only ones who know about them.”
That was the first time I wondered if other people were sitting up until all hours of the morning talking to their reflections. If enough people were, I wondered if we would be able to just start talking to each other without hiding it anymore.
“I'm afraid the people in our worlds might clash if they met,” I admitted to Samara.
Samara agreed tentatively, and the two of us wondered together if they'd want to use each other for medical experiments or something. “All the people would get all mixed up,” Samara said, “and you would never know who you were talking to. What if they went to war?”
“That would be so crazy,” she said, “if all these people who kind of look like each other but not quite started, like, fist-fighting and stuff.”
“And then the only way you could tell someone from their reflection would be by whose nose was broken?”
“Or whose arm was in a sling?”
“And the worlds got all messed up and crazy?” I asked, laughing. She started to laugh too, and we were both consumed by fits of laughter that were so intense we couldn't talk for a few minutes.
When we got our composure back, we agreed that we wouldn't tell anyone else, and I was glad Jamie already knew. I wanted to be able to talk about it with him, but if he hadn't already known, I couldn't have broken my promise to Samara.
I asked Samara later that night what had happened to her mom. I could tell when she told me that she was blaming herself. I wished she didn't. But her eyes told me so, and it was an intense and overwhelming experience to see the pain in her eyes. Her mother was still so much alive in her.
She brought out the shirt she had been wearing the day she found her mom. It was stained, she said, in the exact places there was blood on her mom's shirt. I believed her. I believed that it was a sign from her mom, but I didn't know what it meant. I didn't know why it was the way it was. And I didn't know what to say to her when she told me.
All I could do was try to comfort her. It didn't feel like nearly enough. She was hurting so badly, and I wanted to do something, something that would help her. I could see the death happening over and over and over in Samara's mind.