Blank Slate Kate by Heather Wardell
Waking up with a strange man is scary. Realizing you lost fifteen years of your life overnight? That's terrifying. With her memories from seventeen to thirty-two gone, Kate has no idea who she is and where she belongs. As she begins to fall for the man who found her, she wonders if she forgot those years for a reason. Should she keep trying to retrieve her original self, or start a new life?
My mouth tastes awful, like a thousand people have used it as an ashtray and garbage can. As I try to work up enough spit to swallow, my head begins to pound and my stomach churns. The flu's been going around my high school and I must have caught it. I want to yell for Mom but my throat's too dry, so I force my sleep-sticky eyes open so I can get out of bed.
Horror fills me, shocking the sick feelings away.
I'm not in my bed. I'm in a strange bed facing a sleeping guy. A guy I don't know. An old guy.
I can't breathe. Did I lose my virginity to him last night? I was going to wait until I got married. What happened? How did I end up here?
I scrabble backward and half-fall out of the bed, but before I can run away dizziness sweeps me and I throw up on the worn rug between my feet.
The guy blinks and sits up. "Kate? You okay?"
I stare at him. Kate? It doesn't feel right. I'm...
I don't know. I'm not getting Kate back as my name. I'm not getting anything else back either. My mind is blank.
I don't know who I am.
I'm in a strange man's bedroom, with no idea who I am.
The shock twists my stomach beyond what I can stand, and as I bend over to puke again I realize, as if everything else weren't bad enough, that I'm naked. I don't worry about anything but barfing for the next few unpleasant seconds, but when I'm done I wrap my arms around my body to hide myself and take a quick peek at the guy.
He's out of bed now, fortunately wearing boxer shorts. I do not want my first sight of a guy's thing to be like this. Still, he's mostly naked, so I look away again as he says, "You're not okay. Geez, you must have drunk even more than I thought. I'll get you a glass of water."
He doesn't seem mad that I threw up on his floor, and I'd love some water, but I can't get past what he said. I was drinking? "I'm seventeen," I snap at him. "I don't drink."
His mouth falls open. "You're..."
We had sex. His horror tells me so. I can't believe I did it. I did it and I don't even remember it. "Yeah. You had sex with a minor. And if I was drinking, you made me do it. You're a rapist. And a..." I can't think of a word for 'making people drink' so I say, "You're a bad man."
"Kate, I didn't--"
"I'm not Kate!" My shriek hurts my own ears and reawakens my headache, and it makes him stumble back a few steps. "I don't know who I am but I'm not Kate. Stop calling me that!"
"You're... you don't..." He trails off and rubs a hand over his stubbled chin.
I had sex, drunk sex, sex I don't remember, with an actual man, one old enough to need a daily shave. My stomach flips over again and I give a nasty burp but don't throw up. One good thing today, at least.
He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. Then his eyes flicker down my body.
"Hey!" I grab a pillow and hold it to cover myself.
He blushes. "I... sorry. Look, I'm just totally confused." Another long deep breath, then he says, "Okay. Your name is not Kate. You're seventeen, and you don't drink. Have I got it right?"
I'm confused too. I'm a good girl. My mother always says I'm perfect. How did I end up here? "Yeah. That's right."
He rubs his chin again. "Look. I think we need to talk, okay? But we should both get dressed."
He's pretty cute, if you like older men, so it would be easier to talk to him if I couldn't see his naked chest and legs and the bulge of his-- "Yeah," I say, quickly pulling my eyes back to his face. "Yeah, we should."
He takes a step toward me and I flinch. "Oh, sorry. I was just going to grab some clothes from the dresser." He points.
I step aside, turning to keep the pillow between my body and his eyes, and watch him dig through a few messy drawers.
"Okay," he says once he's gathered his clothes and moved a safe distance from me. "You get dressed and come meet me in the living room. Just outside the door. I'll make some coffee. Do you like coffee?"
I shake my head. "My mother says it'll stunt my growth so I've never had it."
He blinks, once, like he's startled, then says, "I'll make hot chocolate. Does that work?"
Despite how weird everything is I have to smile a little at his clear concern for me. "Yeah. That'd be great."
"I'll see you in the living room. Take your time."
He leaves, closing the door behind him.
I drop the pillow then drop onto the bed. I don't want to go to the living room and talk to the man who took advantage of me last night.
He must have had sex with me. Why else would I be naked? I don't hurt down there, though, and my friend Chloe was in pain for days after her first time, so maybe he didn't.
I hate that I don't know.
I glance around, looking for another way out, and see a glass balcony door behind broken blinds. Unfortunately, a closer look shows that we're way high up, so jumping off the balcony isn't a good plan.
I stand to the side of the door so nobody can see my nakedness and peer out and down. I don't recognize the busy city street below. Where am I?
Giving up on escaping, I begin to look for my clothes. I can't find anything that belongs to me, although there's a beige bra, with matching panties hanging out of a pair of jeans, and a gray sweater and gray socks scattered around the room. It's the only stuff I can find amid the mess that doesn't seem like his, so I gather everything into a pile then reach for the bra.
A movement across the room startles me until I realize a mirror on the wall opposite the bed is reflecting my own movement.
A mirror. Maybe I can see what's wrong with my head. It still really hurts, right at the top. He didn't hit me, did he?
I move closer, but stop well before I can check my head.
Who the hell is that?
The girl in the reflection looks like my older exhausted sister. If I had a sister. Her hair's shorter than I've ever had mine, and dark brown where mine is blonde. Her eyes are the same blue as mine but there are wrinkles around them, not big ones but definite creases, and wrinkles around her mouth too. Laugh lines, I think they call them. Well, I'm not laughing.
I raise my hands to my face, confused and terrified, and she does the same.
My eyes slide down the reflection's body, taking in her shape. It's like I've melted somehow. Everything's a little lower and wider than it should be. I didn't even bother with a bra sometimes and this body definitely needs one, and probably a heavy-duty one to boot. The reflection isn't fat, not really, but it's got a squishy stomach and bulgy hips...
And a tattoo.
It's cute, actually, five happy-looking little yellow cartoon ducks marching along in a neat row around the top of her right thigh.
I look down. The same tattoo is on my right thigh.
I can't get my head around it, but this is my body. It has to be. Every movement I make is duplicated by the girl, the woman, in the mirror, and this tattoo is definitely on my leg. Unless someone's playing a really elaborate and well-planned trick on me this is my body.
But how did I age this much overnight?
I swallow and again notice the awful taste in my mouth, now even worse because I threw up. Clearly I had a rough night, so maybe I'm just really tired. Everything's sagging because I'm exhausted. That could happen, right?
Probably not. And even if it could, there's still the tattoo.
The man put it on me as a joke?
I scratch at a duck but nothing comes off. It looks real.
Trying so hard to understand what's going on makes my head hurt even more, so I stop trying. I'll get dressed, go out there, and make that man tell me what's going on.
The living room is the kind of mess that always makes my mother yell "Clean up your room!" except for one corner, where metal tools are precisely arranged along a pegboard on the wall and a huge something stands nearly to the ceiling under a black cloth.
The guy, standing by the window, turns to face me and sees where I'm pointing. "A sculpture. I'm an artist."
As he's wearing a t-shirt with a faded Toronto Hogs hockey team logo and ripped jeans, I assume he's not a good artist, but I say, "Cool," anyhow because I don't want to make him angry at me. I need to know what's going on.
I take a breath to start asking questions, but he says, "Your hot chocolate's here. And I made toast too. In case you're hungry."
Since I emptied my stomach in dramatic fashion, I am hungry. Then I remember. "I didn't clean your rug. I'm sorry, I'll--"
He shakes his head. "Sit down. The carpet's old and cruddy anyhow. I'll throw it out later. Drink your hot chocolate. Then we'll talk."
I sink onto the grungy couch and he takes an armchair across from me. I hold my warm mug and realize that I don't want to talk. Things are too weird for this to be a simple misunderstanding or some kind of prank, and I'm afraid to find out what's going on. Something must be: I'm wearing clothes that I don't recognize but which fit me perfectly, my hair's shorter and darker than yesterday even though I've always loved being blonde and having long hair, and I have a tattoo of ducks when my favorite animal is... um...
He blinks. "Pardon?"
I shake my head, feeling silly. "Nothing. Sorry. Just remembered something."
He sets down his mug. "What was it?"
I shrug. "I couldn't remember my favorite animal for a second then it came to me. No big deal."
He nods slowly, as if this is deep and meaningful. "What else do you remember? About last night, and me... and you."
I take a long sip of my hot chocolate and it wakes up my stomach. "Can I have some toast?"
"Of course." He pushes the plate across the coffee table.
I take a slice and try to eat it with some sort of control but the moment the bread crunches in my mouth I'm so hungry I could eat the plate too. I put away the toast in no time, then another piece, but when I reach for a third he says, "That's probably enough for now. Since you were sick."
I'm about to protest when my stomach protests instead and I realize he's probably right. "Okay. But I'll want more later."
"Fine." He gives me a smile, friendly but somehow wary too. "So, what do you remember?"
I lick my lips. "Waking up with you."
He shifts in his chair, and I'm sure we're both thinking the same thing. Me exploding naked from his bed then puking on his floor. "Okay. And before that?"
I stare at the toast, thinking. I remember Mrs. Sosa announcing a math test and everyone groaning. "I was at school yesterday. I was there, then somehow I'm here. It's blank in the middle, like how I felt when I had my tonsils out two years ago. But I knew what happened to the time then. I don't know how I got here."
Panic's rising in me and he must see it because he says soothingly, "It's okay. Don't worry, we'll figure it out. Do you know where you live?"
I take a deep breath and try to calm down. I don't know my address at first, but then it comes to me. "3278 West Maple Avenue, apartment 213. We've lived there all my life."
He clears his throat. "That's the low-rise condo building at West Maple and King Street, right?"
He looks like he's filtering a million things to say and coming up with nothing good.
"God, I wish Hannah were here," he mutters under his breath.
"Who's Hannah?" Renewed horror hits me. "You're not married, are you? I didn't... sleep with..."
"We didn't have sex," he says, leaning toward me. "I swear to you, we didn't. I wouldn't do that. You were in a fight outside the bar where I work, drunk and freaking out, and in the end I brought you here."
He seems sincere about the sex thing, and I should be relieved but now I have more worries. I was fighting outside a bar? My mother's going to kill me. "I don't drink, I told you."
"Yeah, you did." He sighs. "Look, we'll get back to that. I have to tell you something."
I wait, nervousness flooding me.
"That condo building burned down three years ago."
I stare at him. "Of course it didn't. I live there. With my parents and my little brother Ethan. Why would you say that? Are you trying to scare me?" More than you already have?
He looks as scared as I feel. "Do you know what day it is?"
Finally, something I can answer without any trouble. "My friend Chloe's birthday was yesterday," I say. "So today is March twentieth. Wednesday."
I'm relieved to remember but he looks even more scared. "What year?"
His hand covers his mouth but I can see the horror in his eyes.
When he doesn't speak, I do. "What's the problem?"
He clears his throat. "It's... um. No, it's not. That's not the date."
"Of course it is," I say, but the back of my mind doubts my own words. Something's very wrong here, and I've known that since I woke up in his bed.
He clears his throat again. "It's March fourth today. Friday."
I've gone back in time? No, that can't be. I look down at my hands, which are perfectly manicured instead of my usual bitten-nail look and seem to belong to someone much older than seventeen, and a horrible possibility hits me. It can't be, but... "What year?" I manage to whisper.
He leans back in his chair. "2011."
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