“Maggie?” Karen called as she knocked on the front door.
Maggie rushed to unlock the door and pulled Karen inside and hugged her. Karen was the first thing that made sense all morning. Everything about her was unaltered.
They sat at the kitchen table. “So what’s going on?” Karen asked.
Maggie explained the entire bizarre morning to her, from waking up to the empty house to the way the house was as it had been pre-renovation to how she couldn’t figure out how to get ahold of Dan.
“Dan?” Karen asked
“My husband!” Maggie cried.
“OK,” Karen said. Then she paused, staring at Maggie. “Did you drink last night? Alcohol? Did you go out?”
“No!” Maggie said, “You know I don’t drink.” Their father had been killed by a drunk driver and neither of them had any interest in alcohol. Maggie was now staring at Karen. “What?” she said, “You look like you think I’m insane.”
Karen reached across the table and took Maggie’s hand. Maggie realized when she felt Karen’s warm hand that her own was ice cold. “I don’t know what to tell you, Sweetie,” Karen said gently. “You aren’t…married. You don’t have any children. I wonder if you should see someone…for help?”
Maggie snatched her hand back and stood up. “I am married. And I have children! I have James and Lily and the twins. And Michael.” She looked at Karen’s disbelieving face. “I had a c-section!” Maggie remembered, “When the twins were born!” She pulled her pajama pants down slightly so she could show her sister the scar. Her stomach was smooth and unblemished. No scar. No stretch marks.
Maggie sunk back into her chair, buried her head in her hands and started to cry.
“C’mon,” Karen said, “You come home with me. Go change your clothes, I’ll wait here and then we’ll go over to my house. You’ve been so busy at work lately. And didn’t you go to a party last night? Maybe someone put something in your drink.”
“Work?” Maggie asked feebly. “Where do I work?”
Karen looked at Maggie oddly. “Are you feeling OK? Did you bump your head?”
“No,” Maggie said, “I didn’t bump my head. My whole world is upside down! Last night I was exhausted. Right before I went to sleep, I thought ‘I wish my family would disappear for a day’…and they have!”
Karen looked at her awhile. “You remember that movie Freaky Friday? That was your favorite movie when we were kids. I think you’re confused. What you’re saying about your family? That only happens in kids’ movies like Freaky Friday, that wishes come true like magic!”
“But…” Maggie didn’t know what to say. She looked at her sister. Karen really did think she was crazy. The last thing she wanted was to have her sister keep looking at her with that sad, concerned expression. “I’m OK,” she said, “You can go back and be with your family. I’ll be fine here.”
“I think I’d rather have you with me,” Karen said. “I’ll stay here with you if you don’t want to come over. I’ll call Kevin.”
“No, no,” Maggie insisted. She knew today was the day Karen would be taking down her Christmas decorations. “I will come over for awhile.”
“Oh good,” Karen said. “It might be fun.”
After she had taken a quick shower and changed into some of the beautiful new, but completely impractical, clothes hanging in her closet, Maggie took one last look at her familiar yet foreign house.
“I don’t have a Christmas tree,” she said to Karen.
“I know, I know,” Karen said, “Too much trouble. You’re not going to talk me out of it though. I love decorating for Christmas.”
Maggie didn’t say anything as she followed Karen outside. That hadn’t been what she meant. She had never had a Christmas tree? What kind of person never has a Christmas tree? Maggie wondered.
“I’m back,” Karen called as she walked in her door. Her youngest, Mark, came running toward her, his red curls bouncing.
“Mom,” he cried, throwing his arms around her legs. Maggie felt a sharp pang. He was about the same age as her twins. Karen distractedly lifted him off the ground.
“Emma,” she called, “Come and pick up these blankets!” Karen sighed and added, “And all these stuffed animals.” The hallway was filled with stuffed animals arranged on top of variously sized blankets. “I’m sorry about the mess,” Karen said.
“It’s fine,” Maggie said, “I’m certainly used to it at my house.” Karen gave her another strange look. Maggie tried to divert attention by talking to Mark who was busily playing with Karen’s necklace. “Hi Mark,” she said, “Are you taking down the tree today?” He looked at her shyly, like he hardly knew her.
Emma came in the room and immediately started begging to be able to keep the animals in place. She explained a complicated scenario she had set up. Just then, Braeden, Karen’s oldest, came blazing in the room, firing a Nerf dart gun at everyone.
“Braeden!” Karen said, “Stop!” Then she added to no one in particular, “Where is your dad?”
Just then, Kevin came in the house with an armload of boxes from the garage.
“I have an idea,” Maggie said, “Why don’t I read the kids a story while you get things organized with the tree?”
“You don’t mind?” Karen asked looking at Maggie in surprise, “Usually the last thing you want to do is be stuck with the kids.” Karen looked kind of shocked by the words that had come out of her mouth, like she hadn’t meant to think out loud. She seemed to recover and said, “That would be great.”
“Of course I don’t mind!” Maggie said, ignoring Karen’s remark about how she “usually” was. Everything was too bizarre and denial seemed the safest recourse. “Emma, let’s put all these animals back in their house now though.”
“Their house?” Five-year old Emma asked.
“Yes,” Maggie said, this was a game she played with Lily all the time. “You pick up an animal and tell me its name and we will go put them in their house.”
“OK,” Emma said happily. Karen just stared.
“Braeden,” Maggie said, “We’re going to need a strong boy to carry these animals.”
Braeden flung his NERF gun on the floor and ran over, happy to be called strong.
The stuffed animals were quickly cleaned up and put in their bin, which was now their “house,” and Mark had become involved too. He happily repeated all the names of the animals after Emma said them. “Since you were such good helpers,” Maggie said, “You each get to pick out one book for me to read to you.”
The children scampered away. Braeden returned first, “You’re different Aunt Maggie,” he said.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“You’re fun!” he said.
Soon they were all seated on the couch, Braeden and Emma happily snuggled into her sides and Mark climbed onto her lap. Maggie felt that same ache she’d felt earlier. She missed her kids! Surely this was all just a crazy dream and she’d see them again.
While getting lunch on the table, it discovered that the family was out of milk. “I’ll have to run to the store after lunch,” Karen said.
“Can you drop me off at home?” Maggie asked, “I need to get…some work done.” She didn’t really have any work to do, she didn’t even know what her job was. She was hoping maybe her family was back home. She longed to see them all again.
To be continued...