“I’m going to have a very successful, happy life. I have a rich and loving family. I’m pretty. I always get great grades, and when I’m older I’m going to go to college and be the president of a huge company and have a boyfriend. My name is Callie, and that is why I’m going to be successful.”
“You’re going to be successful because your name is Callie?” hooted Jayden from the back of the class.
“Jayden, raise your hand,” said Mrs. Donahue. “Um, very good, Callie. But perhaps a little less about yourself and more about why you’re going to be successful?”
Callie frowned. She wasn’t sure if this was an order to edit the presentation or a suggestion.
“See?” called Jayden. “She’s going to be successful because her name is Callie!”
“Jayden, raise your hand,” said Mrs. Donahue. “What Callie meant is that she is going to be successful because she’s going to try very hard and not let anything get in her way.”
Callie nodded and folded her paper triumphantly.
“That’s right, Jayden,” she whispered, smirking at him as she walked back to her seat. “I’m not going to let anything get in my way.”
“Callie, raise your hand,” said Mrs. Donahue.
The cheers of the graduates soared to the sky, mingling with the black tasseled caps up in the clouds before crashing back down into the chaos of the disco party.
Callie gulped down the drink someone had handed out to her and, laughing, ran out onto the dance floor.
Fifteen minutes and four drinks later, the Macarena was getting a bit complicated to follow. Gasping and laughing breathlessly, Callie leaned against the wall and watched her classmates jump up and down to the beat. She pushed past the crowd gathered on the edge of the dance floor, heading for the bathroom to take a break and check her makeup.
She bumped into Tyler on the way. “Callie!” he shouted above the music. “Having fun?” He had to repeat himself twice before she heard him.
“Oh yeah,” she shouted back. “It’s a blast!”
“Been a great four years, huh?!”
Not junior year.
“Oh yeah!” she shouted. “The best!”
Someone turned the volume up. Tyler laughed, then pointed to the dance floor and said something. Callie shrugged, laughing, and kept pushing past people.
Giggling, she lurched into the bathroom. It smelled heavily of seventy different kinds of perfume and cigarette smoke. Two girls on their way out hugged her and squealed. Callie laughed and waved after them, slightly tipsy. She turned to the mirror and inspected her mascara.
And then all of a sudden, she heard it.
A baby crying.
Callie’s heart stopped.
The music faded. All she could hear was her own heartbeat and the thin, pitiful crying. She turned around. On the floor, wrapped in a hospital blanket, was a tiny newborn baby. Her hands were small and wrinkled, and her face was all squinched up and red like a cherry tomato. Her raw, plaintive crying pierced the thick scented air of the bathroom like a slice of cold light in a warm dungeon.
Callie remembered reading somewhere that babies cried because they didn’t know what else to do. They were absolutely, completely unprotected and helpless. The baby needed someone to pick her up, to cuddle her and make her warm. Her crying would quiet when she felt loving arms around her. She would take several deep gulping breaths and then calm down, no longer abandoned. She would open her eyes and looked up into the face of the person who picked her up with absolute trust.
The baby wailed.
Callie ran out of the bathroom without looking back.
The key turned in the lock with a satisfying snick.
“Now this one,” said the real estate agent, with characteristic dramatic suspense before opening the door, “is a real beauty.”
He swung open the door, and Callie let out an appreciative hmm. “Wood floors all the way through,” said the agent, closing the door behind them. “As you can see, quite an open floor plan, and I just love this wall window, lovely view of the park.
“And here we have a chef’s dream kitchen, and before you ask yes that is genuine granite, so that fits your specifications. That’s one reason I thought this one would be so perfect for you.”
The agent led her into the living room. “Fully furnished, per your preferences, and may I say I just love this sofa.”
Callie nodded, running her hand along the white suede.
“Now I know, it’s a little bit above your price range, but-”
“It’s okay,” said Callie. “I can afford it. My range just went up.” She turned to face him smoothly. “I got a new job offer.”
“Oh well, congratulations,” said the agent, not caring in the least. “I’m sure you’ll appreciate this dining area, and I just love the fireplace.”
Callie went over to inspect the fireplace. “This stonework is gorgeous,” she murmured.
“I know, that’s one of my favorite parts about this apartment,” agreed the agent.
“I’d like to make an offer,” said Callie, turning from the fireplace. “As listed.”
“Absolutely,” said the agent. “I can draw up the offer form as soon as I get back to my office. Do you want to see the rest of the apartment first?”
Callie hesitated. “Yes…”
The agent checked his watch. “Tell you what, I have a call in ten minutes. I can just drive across town, have my secretary draft the offer, take the call, and then be back here if you want to stay and look around some more. We don’t have to be out for an hour.”
“That sounds great,” said Callie, wondering why her real estate agent double-booked a showing and a business call.
After the door slammed behind the agent, she wandered into the bedroom and looked out the window. A view of the lake, just like she wanted. Perfect. Everything was perfect. She smiled.
It was a beautiful apartment. It was a wonderful job offer. Everything was just like she had planned. She turned around.
There was a toddler sitting on the bed. Callie froze and gripped the windowsill behind her.
The toddler was wearing a white onesie and had a few strands of her wispy blond hair up in a ponytail on the top of her head. Some vague voice in the back of Callie’s mind thought that it was called a palm tree.
The toddler was picking at the white coverlet curiously, cooing with a soft smile upon her face.
“Who are you?” said Callie suddenly. “What are you doing here?”
The toddler looked up. She smiled when she saw Callie. “Dergofbthbeenawayyy,” she said apologetically.
“Do you belong to the previous owners?” asked Callie, forgetting that this apartment was selling for the first time.
“Mamanack,” said the toddler, climbing off the bed and crawling towards Callie.
She wrapped her arms around Callie’s legs and looked up with a flattering smile. “Nacknackplzzzz.”
Callie stared at her, speechless. The toddler blinked big deep blue eyes. Adrian’s eyes.
“No,” she whispered under her breath. “No.”
The toddler’s smile died a little. “Upeeme?”
Callie scrambled backwards against the wall. “No!” she screamed.
The toddler began to cry. “Mamaupeemeplzzz?”
“No!” Callie shouted. “This is for me! Go away!”
The toddler crawled away from Callie, frightened. “Bedmee,” she whimpered contritely, scrambling up the bed again.
“No! Not your bed! Not your apartment! My apartment. Not…you.” Callie sank to the ground, sobbing. She left the apartment, locking it with the key the agent had given her. She went out and got a drink. Then she accepted the job offer.
Callie drove onto the freeway, humming lightly as she tapped her steering wheel to a generic song on the radio.
Her phone, hooked up to Bluetooth, began to ring. She turned the radio off and answered it.
“Callie Vane speaking.”
“Hello, Miss Vane, this is Mr. Dunstan’s office.”
Callie gave the receptionist the benefit of a raised inquiring eyebrow that she did not see.
“We’ve received your application and would like to offer you the open position.”
And just like that, she was in.
“Mr. Dunstan was very impressed with your specifications. Your previous job and your college degree are essential to your actually taking up the position, so we’ll have to run a double check on them before we sign the contract.”
“Thank you so much for reviewing my application," said Callie professionally.
“Also, we’ll have to run a character check before hiring you.”
“Absolutely. I’m happy to,” Callie cut in, but still professionally.
“Have a nice day.”
Callie made sure that the phone was hung up and then shrieked in victory like a harpy. Yes, yes, yes! This was perfect. Exactly as she had planned.
First a character check, which was nothing to worry about, and then she was in!
She had never even had a speeding ticket, let alone killed anyone.
“It usen’t to be, I know,” said a small voice slowly. “But sci…ence is al-ways making wonderful improv…e…ments on…things.” The little girl looked up triumphantly. “I did it!”
Callie jumped. “What are you doing here? Why have you got my book? Put it down!” she snapped.
The little girl stashed The Importance of Being Earnest under the passenger seat and turned to Callie with a bright smile.
“I read it all by-”
“Go away!” screamed Callie.
“But…” the little girl looked out the car window at the passing countryside, puzzled. “Go where? I need you.”
“No!” Callie shouted. “I don’t need you! I need you to NOT be!”
The little girl drew back with a confused expression on her face. “But-”
“Stop polluting my success!” Callie screamed. “It’s mine! You don’t have a right to any of this!”
A horn honked, and Callie jerked up and swerved back into her lane frantically. The trunk zoomed by. She pulled over and stared at her shaking hands.
The doorbell rang, and Lance Richards was standing outside with a bottle of wine. “Doing anything tonight, baby? I thought the new president of Marks and Marks Corporate might want to celebrate a little something.”
“Lance, come in,” said Callie, her face the mask of happiness. “I believe I could find time for a little celebration.” She closed the door behind him, then turned to him smiling. “I’m SO glad you stopped by. The evening was just getting boring.”
“We’ll see what we can do about that,” said Lance, kissing her. He smelled just the tiniest bit of another woman’s perfume. Sandra’s, by the scent. It was faint and oh so unnoticeable. Another woman might have taken it for the smell of hair gel, but Callie was more experienced than most.
She had risen in the ranks to the top in just a few short years. She was just as successful as everyone had expected her to be. Given the circumstances, she didn’t mind as much about Lance’s other preoccupations as long as he came to be hers often enough for show.
“Hi… I figured out how to braid my hair myself, so you wouldn’t have to worry about it,” said the little blond girl from the doorway, with shy pride. She scuffed at the floor with her foot. "Because you seemed pretty mad before."
Lance and everything around Callie froze. It seemed as though she and the little girl were the only two real things in the world. She pulled herself out of Lance’s embrace.
“You don’t belong here,” Callie snapped. “I thought I made that clear. I’m fine, okay? Get out of my life!”
The girl looked scared and took a step back. Her hands fell from her braids. “But…why?”
“Look, I wouldn’t have had all of this,” she said desperately, gesturing to the apartment and boyfriend around her. She floundered, trying to justify herself to the six-year-old with Adrian’s eyes and her own hair. “It wouldn’t have worked. It wouldn’t have happened. You…would have pulled me back! You would have got in my way!” she shouted.
The little girl began to cry. “I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to.”
“I did the right thing!” she shrieked. “I’m who I want to be! I’m HAPPY!”
She screamed, sobbing. “Go AWAY!”
When she opened her eyes, the girl was gone.
Because according to science at least, she was never alive in the first place.