Chapter one – Turning over a new leaf
I was floating.
My body felt light as a feather, drifting freely in space. Around me, I could faintly see thousands of tiny lights twinkling. Were they stars? I couldn’t tell. But they were moving around, slowly drifting closer to me and floating away again.
As I turned around in the dream, I noticed that I wasn’t alone. There was someone else floating along with me, although I couldn’t make out who it was. A fiery glow, like the sun’s rays, swirled around the person and made it impossible to focus on her face. I squinted and protected my eyes with my hand as the figure came closer. A pale, glowing arm moved towards me. She was reaching out and I could hear her speak, but my ears weren’t working. Her long, lithe fingers had something familiar about them…
Did I know this person?
At that moment, something big and hairy jumped square on my stomach, yanking me away from the dream and knocking all the air out of my lungs instantly. I shot up from under the blankets, coughing and cursing.
The culprit, one of my two dogs, kept happily wagging his tail as he eyed me from the other side of the bed. He nuzzled his snout against my hand and licked my fingers.
‘You know that I háte it when you do that,’ I growled, not accepting his apology. Jake whined, shooting me the biggest puppy eyes that he was capable of. That was too much, even for me. I sighed, pushing Jake away as I lowered my feet onto the floor.
‘Fine, fine. I’m up. I’m up, already.’
As soon as I’d stepped out of my bed, Dasha, the other dog in the room, lifted her head. She was the quiet one of the two. Where I could command Dasha with a mere word or a sharp look, Jake was a lot harder to control. I’d been with the both of them since they’d been puppies, placed in a box as a present for my milestone birthday. The two of them were a handful, especially Jake, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world.
‘Come on,’ I said to the two of them, tilting my head in the direction of the door. They understood right away and followed, running after me down the stairs.
My mornings were always the same. I’d wake up, head out just as the sun started to rise and unlock the barn.
I’d let the horses out of their stables and into the meadow. Brush them and clean their hooves, after which mum would be waiting for me inside with breakfast. Doing that meant that I was up and about earlier than most of the other kids at school, but I didn’t mind because it was a chore I liked to do. It meant being outside, feeling the breeze in my hair and the sun on my face. Mum and dad really only saw me inside during breakfast and dinner- at every other possible moment, I’d be outside the house.
As soon as I stepped foot inside the kitchen, the sweet smell of freshly made waffles drifted into my nose. My stomach growled with hunger, making me dash straight towards the table. Two waffles were already waiting for me, placed on a plate and served with butter and syrup- just the way I liked it.
‘Hold it!’ I heard from behind me, just as I was about to dig in. Mum’s brown-haired head appeared around the corner of the fridge, looking at me strictly. ‘Wash your hands first, Chase Adams. We’ve raised you better than that.’
‘No buts, young man!’ she said, her word final. I sighed, leaving the delicious smelling waffles on the table as I walked to the sink.
Vera Nelson wasn’t my birthmother. She’d told me the story many times of how she’d found me one morning, lying on the porch right next to their front door. I’d been screaming my lungs out, and the only other thing that had been there was a single, enveloped letter from my biological parents. They’d pleaded with Vera and her husband Leo to take me in. Vera, being infertile, had insisted that they’d listen to my parents’ wishes. The very same day, they had gone shopping for baby supplies. And a bunch of paperwork later, I was officially their son.
As I finally started on my morning waffles, mum moved away from the kitchen counter and joined me at the table.
‘Are you still sure about your birthday? You don’t want any celebrations at all?’
She was smiling and frowning at the same time, and I could see that my decision bothered her.
‘Yeah, mum. I’m really sure. I’m fine with no cake, okay?’
The thing was- my milestone birthday was due tomorrow. I’d make the transition to teenager, and while it was custom to celebrate milestone birthdays with lots of people and a special transition cake, I really didn’t want all that. No, my plan was to go to sleep without the cake. That way I’d make the change during my sleep, and be a completely different person when I woke up. Or at least, that’s how the gypsies at the edge of town did it. It was a really interesting way to do it, and I’d made up my mind to do it exactly like they did. And if I ended up missing the excitement that came with the cake, well… There were three more milestone birthdays to go after this one.
‘Oh, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want the presents,’ I quickly spoke, earning a chuckle from my mother. The door behind us opened, and deep, male voice spoke before she could answer.
‘I’ll tell you what present I’ve got for you, Chase. A free trip to Leighton’s, to get a decent haircut. You look like a darn hippie!’
His words were harsh, but the twinkle in his eyes and the big, proud smile that was playing around his lips took the edge off. Dad always fired comments about my hair at me. I was sure to answer them with comments about his age. It was our special way of greeting each other. This day was no different.
‘Shall I get you a cane for your birthday then, old man?’ I replied, my mouth full of waffle. Mum shot me a disapproving look, but dad merely laughed.
‘Careful there, Chase. You might be bigger tomorrow, but today I can still throw you into the pond with one hand.’
I smiled, digging into my waffles as dad took a seat on the opposite end of the table. The rest of my breakfast was eaten in silence. I stuffed myself as fast as I could, casting glances out the window as mum and dad started to discuss the weather.
‘Thanks for the breakfast, mum!’ I yelled eventually, shoving my plate aside and already jumping off the chair to head outside, when dad called me back.
‘Before you go- make sure to be back by dinnertime, Chase.’
‘Why?’ I asked, raising my eyebrows. Dad had never given me a set time like that. Even if it was my birthday. I silently asked for an explanation, but he merely smiled and winked at me.
‘Wouldn’t want it to get so dark that we can’t show you your present anymore. Now off with ya,’ he laughed, waving his hand at the door. I poked out my tongue at him. As mum reached for my empty plate, I dashed for the door. By this time, all my friends would be outside already. And I knew exactly where they would be.
Our usual field.
I was right. Before I’d even turned the corner of the school building, I could already hear their voices. Luke and Tristan were practicing try-outs, with Jamie walking around them and shouting instructions like a professional coach. Or a pest. Whichever applied more. As soon as they saw me, though, they stopped and waved enthusiastically. I found myself smiling as I walked towards them, making our group complete.
‘So, dude,’ Jamie said, immediately claiming my full attention. ‘We’ve had this idea since an hour or so- we’re all about to have our milestone birthday. What do you say about going on an all-guys weekend-camping trip afterwards? Not bad, eh?’
‘SCORE!’ Luke suddenly yelled, together with a loud thud coming from Tristan falling flat on the ground. The dark-skinned boy let out a curse.
‘Luke, you cheater!’
‘HA! Switch with me if you can’t take the heat, chocolate boy!’
‘Sounds good,’ I smiled, nodding back at Jamie. ‘Do you have any place in mind?’
‘Yeah, actually. Y’know the old windmill near the river? That’s an awesome place for ghost story telling. Whaddya think?’
‘Perfect,’ I nodded. ‘This’ll be fun.’
Jamie smiled in agreement and ran over to the goal, pushing Luke out of the way to get to the ball. The boy let out a whole series of curses in response. I chuckled, about to join their game when a movement to our left caught my attention.
There was a single boy in a green shirt standing near the banister, eyeing our game. I recognized him immediately; he’d been in our class for over two years.
Without giving it a second thought, I turned around and walked over to where he was. Bobby saw me coming; he flinched and looked at me with big, deer-like green eyes. I realized that he had to be expecting me to start bullying him again. Quickly, I flashed him the most harmless smile I could manage.
‘Well, don’t just stand there, dude. It’s more fun to play.’
Bobby looked surprised. Slowly, he moved his hand to the back of his head and visibly shrunk, shying away from me.
‘I… I’m not very good at sports.’
‘Hey, I didn’t say sports. I said play. Do they look like they’re taking this seriously?’
I pointed back to the field, where Tristan was making Luke dive flat on the ground. The ball slipped right through his fingers, slamming into the net and releasing a wild cheer from Tristan.
‘Ha! Take THAT, boney! Who’s king? Oh, yeah! I am!’
Jamie and I let out a laugh upon seeing Luke’s face. I pointed at the field, giving Bobby one short pull on his shirt.
‘Come on, Bobby. I need someone to keep me sane with all these idiots.’
That earned me a smile. Bobby nodded and ran ahead, with me following. I soon passed him and grabbed the soccer ball, starting a new game. Luke, Tristan and Jamie shot me confused looks as they saw who I’d dragged onto the field. I said nothing, staring them down until they accepted Bobby’s prescence. This afternoon there would be no bullying. No sneers, no nasty comments. Just the game.
It would be a fun afternoon.
As I walked back onto my parents’ terrain, I noticed that the front yard was pretty crowded. Jake was running in circles around my parents, who were looking at something black and metallic in between them. Dasha merely watched them, her head slightly tilted. I frowned, walking closer to the four of them until I realized what it was.
A quad. And not just any quad. It was jet-black, with a shining stature and giant wheels, and a saddle that was just begging to be ridden. My mind immediately went to the hills behind our house; out there, I could do some amazing tricks on that thing. Was that really mine? My present?
‘Is that it? My present?’ I blurted out, my eyes wide from exitement. ‘Is that really mine?!’
Slowly, mum turned her head towards me. A big smile played around her lips and I could physically feel the love radiating off of her as she looked me in the eyes.
‘It’s really yours, sweetheart. Happy birthday.’
I let our a cheer, jumping into her arms. She held me tight and caressed my hair. Mum always smelled like daisies; a gentle scent that never failed to calm me down. I let her go again and hugged dad as well.
‘Happy birthday, Chase,’ he whispered, the sharp edge completely vanished from his voice and replaced with pride. ‘You’re an amazing son.’
‘And you’re an awesome dad,’ I smiled back, patting him on the back. ‘Can I ride it now? Please?’
‘Tomorrow,’ he laughed. ‘As soon as you’ve transitioned, it’s yours to ride. Just don’t crash into anyone, you hear?’
After hugging both of my dogs as well, I noticed that the sun was about to set. My stomach growled with hunger, something that mum immediately picked up on.
‘What do you say we go have some dinner now?’ she smiling, gesturing at the house. ‘Your favorite’s waiting for you inside.’
With a large smile on my face, I followed my parents inside. A deep, content feeling spread in my stomach as I thought back on today. It had been fun. Just as I’d wanted the last day of my childhood to be. And whatever I would be tomorrow… well, I’d find out soon.
My body felt weird as I woke up the next morning. Bigger. More heavy, too… but in a good way. I was immediately happy that I’d thought of putting on a larger underpants the evening before. I yawned, swaying my newly grown legs over the edge of my bed as I stood up. The room suddenly seemed a lot smaller.
With slow, sluggish steps, I made my way over to the bathroom. The cold tiles sent shivers up my spine. My head was still half-asleep; with another yawn, I reached the sink and splashed water on my face. Long, dark strands of hair fell over my eyes. I pulled them away, letting a single finger trace the outlines of my face.
This was the moment. I inhaled deeply, keeping my eyes fixed on the running water for a moment before lifting my head to the mirror.
Time stood still for a second. I was shocked, seeing a completely different person staring back. But then I recognized myself, and a content smile spread on my lips.
I looked good.