from Tina Russell,
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Maple and Ophelia

This is the story of a bitter teenager and a bratty little girl. I like it because I can identify strongly with both of the main characters. It’s not my childhood, my teen years, or my adulthood—it’s me.

Maple sat on her rock and admired the setting sun. She found it so soothing, so relaxing. She wondered what her mother would think of her being so romantic and sentimental; she hoped no one would ever see her like this. If Maple ever lost her tough-girl image, she knew, she’d unravel.

Maple had a soft spot inside, one that she protected with her life. There was a totally different person inside of her that no one had ever seen, and if Maple had her way, no one ever would. She came out here, to her rock, while the sun set, so she could maintain herself. After that, she could head back into the world with her armor securely in place.

“Darling! Dinnertime!” her mother called out, from inside the house. What an annoying screech, Maple thought. It was like her mother’s voice was engineered to irritate her.

“Coming!” Maple snarled, getting off of her rock. She stood up, stretched, and swaggered towards the house. Her moment of peace was gone, and now it was time to go back to work.

“Oops, sorry,” Maple taunted, shoving Reynold with her hip as she walked through the school cafeteria.

Reynold’s face landed in a plate full of baked beans. He looked up at her, astonished. “You did that on purpose!”

“Hey, accidents happen,” Maple said, shrugging, as she walked on. She never so much as looked at him.

“I’m telling the principal!” Reynold shouted, but Maple was not listening. What did the principal care? She was the most popular girl in school.

“Hey, Maple,” said Molly, a bubbly girl who bounced as she talked. “Do you want to come to my party Thursday night? I hear Johnny’s going to be there...”

“Not interested,” Maple said, coldly. She kept walking.

“Hey, Maple,” said Jessie, an elegant girl who always dressed well. “Some friends and I are getting together for coffee tomorrow, and we thought...”

“Nope,” shot back Maple.

“Hey, Maple!” said Carly, a sharp-minded girl who was tried hard to be everyone’s friend. “I wanted to say that I think you’re gorgeous and...”

Maple whistled loudly, ignoring her.

Carly stood in shock, and fear. “You’re so arrogant, Maple! How do you maintain that air of constant contempt? It’s such a fraud! You only stay popular because—” Molly and Jessie held Carly back, and as Maple walked on, through the hall, Carly’s ranting became indistinct.

Maple stopped at her locker. A few lockers down, there was Johnny, the hottest guy in the school—and he was putty in Maple’s hands.

Excited, she loaded her books into her locker and closed it up before making her move.

“Hey, Johnny,” she cooed, swinging her hips as she walked.

“Hi...” Johnny said, sweat forming on his brow.

“Hey, I was thinking...” Maple put one hand on his shoulder. “Do you, maybe... want to get together sometime?”

“Yeah, yeah!” Johnny stammered. “Uhhh, how does...”

“Tomorrow?” Maple asked, one finger to her lips.

“Yeah! Uh, tomorrow at eight?”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Maple said, “I have a dance recital then. Maybe some other time?”

“Yeah, uh... when?” Johnny said, his hand behind his neck. But, Maple had already walked on.

She had no dance recital, of course. It was just a ploy. Maple kept herself popular by keeping herself in demand.

Maple went straight home after school. She had no clubs; every day she returned home to the same room, the same walls, the same posters... Most of the time, she was just bored. In fact, most of the time, she badly wanted a friend.

It was lonely at the top. Maple felt committed to her arrogant persona, but inside, she craved intimacy. She wanted to let someone inside her shell. She couldn’t ever admit it, though. Surrendering an image that she’d worked her life to build... the thought of it turned her inside-out.

And when Maple saw the girls at school, her peons, chatting amongst themselves, planning on hanging out and going to movies, delighted by one another’s presence... she died inside. It shattered her every time. She tried not to admit it, even to herself, but it was there.

Today, after coming home from school, she washed off her makeup, went to her room, took off her shoes, and laid down on her bed. She grabbed her pillow and held it tight to her chest. If only the girls at school could see her now. At school, she was a superstar. At home, she was a wreck.

“Honey, are you okay?” her mother asked, outside the door.

“I’m fine,” Maple growled.

“Well, okay. Just... please know that I’m here, okay?”

“Go away,” Maple whined.

“...Okay,” her mother conceded, and left.

Maple exhaled. What was she doing, again?

She looked around her room. She had a bookshelf in the corner... it had rock-and-roll magazines, some novels, and several tattered, old picture books she tried hard not to look at. They had fairies and unicorns and princesses—it made her feel ill to think about what she liked as a kid. Many times, she’d considered throwing them into the closet so she’d never see them again, or giving them to the library, but she couldn’t bear to do it no matter how much she told herself she wanted to. She couldn’t kill what remained of the little girl inside of her.

“Oh, and Maple,” her mom announced, coming back. “Your father and I are going out for dinner tonight, so we need you to take care of someone.”

“What?” Maple shouted. “I didn’t sign up for this! Who is it?”

“Well, your—will you come out of this room?” her mom said, getting impatient.

Maple opened the door a crack, slid her body through, and then closed the door behind her.

“That’s better,” her mom said. “Your cousin Jeff is in town, and he needs somebody to take care of his little girl. I told him you would do it.”

“What?” Maple said. “I have a niece?

“First cousin, once removed,” her father interrupted. Her mother glared at him.

“I didn’t ask to do this!” Maple said, flustered and angry. “How could you speak for me like that? I want to know! Answer me! What makes you think I’ll take care of a conceited little brat—”

“Hello,” said a young voice, across the hallway.

Maple turned her head and saw the most beautiful young girl she’d ever seen. She couldn’t have been older than six... she was slightly plump, with thin limbs, and long, blonde hair that ran down her tiny figure. For a brief moment, before she got a hold of herself, Maple was transfixed.

“Hmph!” Maple said, folding her arms and turning up her nose. “I’m not taking care of a—”

“Hello,” the girl said, walking towards Maple.

Maple looked at the girl out of the corners of her eyes.

The girl grabbed Maple’s leg and shook it, gently.

“Well, you two get acquainted,” said Maple’s mother. “Your father and I will be back in about two hours. See you soon, sweetie.” Maple’s parents left, and Maple’s mother closed the door.

Maple and the little girl stood alone, in silence.

“Okay, first thing’s first,” said Maple. “My name’s Maple, but you can call me Sargent-Major and Queen. I run the show around here, and if you don’t do what I say, then—”

The little girl giggled.

“Don’t mock me!” Maple shook her finger. “If you don’t do what I say, then... then... well, you’ll wish that you had done what I said!”

“Okay...” the little girl said, trailing off.

“I’m serious!” Maple sighed. “Do you want anything to eat, like a sandwich?”

“Sure,” said the little girl.

“And... what’s your name?”


“Ophelia...” Maple said. “Ophelia. That’s a good name.”

Maple started to make Ophelia’s sandwich.

“These sandwiches are terrible!” Ophelia complained. “My mom can make better sandwiches!”

“Bear with me!” Maple said. “I’m new to this.”

“Make me more, except this time, make them good!”

“As you wish...” Maple said, with a sigh.

“Do you have a TV?” Ophelia asked.

“Yes, we own a TV,” said Maple.

“Good!” Ophelia said, stomping her foot. “Let’s watch TV.”

The two watched TV together. The whole way through, Ophelia complained, “this is a tiny TV. My mom has a better TV set. She also gets lots more channels. Maple, why don’t you get more—”

“Enough!” Maple said. “I know I’m not your mother! I’m good enough, aren’t I? I’m good enough!”

Ophelia sat in stunned silence.

Maple breathed heavily. “Your mother leaves her kid alone with a stranger who doesn’t even know how to care for a child! Your mother’s a dimwit! Your mother wouldn’t know good parenting if it hit her on the head with a mallet!”

Ophelia’s eyes widened, and she sniffled a bit. Maple felt a pang of guilt.

Maple knelt down to Ophelia’s level. “I’m sorry, Ophelia, I shouldn’t have said that.” She looked to each side. “I’ve got lots of books, Ophelia. Do you like books?”

Ophelia didn’t say anything.

“Okay, well,” Maple continued, “I’ll let you read my books.” Maple picked up Ophelia, and carried her into her room.

Maple sat Ophelia down in front of her bookshelf. She hesitated for a moment before touching her old picture books; they were caked in dust, as she hadn’t touched them in years, and she knew that pulling them out would bring back memories that her pride would prefer to stay in place. But, she had a child to placate, so she began pulling them out.

She tossed each book onto the bed, carelessly, one by one. She felt slightly disgusted to look at them. Sappy drawings, vapid themes, perfect endings... nothing like the real world, she thought. There’s no way she could enjoy reading them now, was there?

Maple stood up. “There you go. Knock yourself out. I’m going to go take a bath.” She left in a huff.

Ophelia sat and looked at the bookshelf. Interesting...

Maple turned on the bathwater. Finally, some peace. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea to leave a young child alone in her room, Maple knew, but she figured there was nothing in there she could hurt herself with. Besides, she‘d would be out in half an hour to give Ophelia more companionship.

As Maple stripped off her clothes, she thought about Ophelia. Her parents must be absent from her life, she thought bitterly. Nothing else could cause Ophelia to latch onto Maple so forcefully and be such a brat about it.

Maple lowered herself into the bathwater. She honored and enjoyed this process. It was the only time that she ever got to herself where she felt beautiful, lowering herself into the calm waters and watching her hair drift out. She felt the water rise around her and she relaxed to meet it.

She began to spread soap on her body when she heard the door unlatch. Oh, no, she thought. How did I leave the door unlocked? I never leave the door unlocked! Maple tried to think of something to do, but was locked in terror.

Maple thrust her arms over herself and pulled her legs together. She didn’t even want a little girl to see her body.

Ophelia opened the door. “Hey,” she said. Maple admitted to herself that she thought Ophelia looked adorable. “I looked at your books, and they’re very interesting.” Maple strained herself to keep her body covered. “But, what I think what I really want to take a bath with you. I have a big sister, but she’s much older than me and she just went off to college. And my parents...” Maple listened intently. “My parents wouldn’t know tenderness if it hit them on the head with a mallet!”

Maple giggled a bit.

Ophelia chuckled. “They just shove me in there and get it over with... Please let me in! I promise I’ll be good.”

Maple grimaced. This was more responsibility that she was willing to bear, and she hadn’t planned on inviting this bratty kid into her one moment of peace. But, before she could even focus enough to make a decision, she turned to her right and saw Ophelia sitting next to her, naked, forcing a weak smile.

Maple continued to cover her body with her hands. She still wasn’t cool with this. She hadn’t come to peace with this... she needed to talk it over... with somebody... first....

“Don’t be ashamed,” Ophelia said, tugging on one of Maple’s arms. “That is one thing that my parents taught me.”

Maple scooted herself to the back of the tub, and pulled her legs up to her chest, crossing them. She stared across at Ophelia. This wasn’t cool. This wasn’t cool at all.

Ophelia looked at Maple with half-closed eyes and a smirk.

Maple snapped. “What’s your problem? You want me to be your mommy or something?” As she spoke, she thrust one arm to her side and pointed the other at Ophelia. As soon as she realized that her arms were no longer covering her breasts, she hurriedly put them back.

Ophelia nodded wryly.

“Fine, fine!” Maple pretended to whine. “I’ll be your mommy. Just for a little bit. Be good, though.” Maple, however, still couldn’t summon the strength to let her arms and legs down.

“Okay, okay,” Ophelia said. “Now, the first rule of being a mommy is... open up!” Ophelia walked towards Maple and pulled her legs down to the floor of the tub. Then, she tugged at Maple’s hands.

“Stop that! I’m not ready!” said Maple.

Ophelia sighed. “Fine, then,” she said, getting out of the bath. “I’m going to go watch TV.”

“No, no!” Maple cried. She pulled her arms away from her chest. “See? See? Look, I’ve got boobs. Watch them bounce!” Maple knocked at her breasts with each hand.

Ophelia giggled.

“Check it out!” Maple said, laughing. She grabbed each breast and squeezed it, thrusting each nipple forward, out of her hand. “In ten years, you’ll have these!”

Ophelia broke out laughing.

Maple sighed, and let her limbs down. “Come on, let’s get it over with.”

“No,” Ophelia said, “let’s make it last.”

Maple rubbed Ophelia gently with a washcloth until she was clean. She held Ophelia tight in her lap until it felt like they were one person. The two of them splashed around, feeling like they were both children. They took opposite ends of the tub and batted a bar of soap between the two of them, as if they were playing air hockey.

Finally, Ophelia relaxed and looked into Maple’s eyes from across the tub. “Tell me a story.”

“All right.” Maple sighed, extending her legs and letting herself sink a little. “Once upon a time... Once upon a time there was a young girl whose parents gave her everything she wanted. She thought she had everything in the world. She was merely arrogant as a child, but she grew up to be bitter and nasty.”

Ophelia was fascinated by the story. Idly, she began to crawl onto Maple’s legs.

“And then,” Maple said, “this young girl left her family’s tiny cottage for the vast woods outside. ‘I’m going to show them a thing or two,’ she said. And as soon as she got outside the village...”

Ophelia crawled onto Maple’s stomach while Maple paused for effect.

“She got eaten by a dragon. The end,” Maple clasped Ophelia’s hands together.

“That’s a terrible story!” Ophelia protested. “Tell me a better one!”

Ophelia punctuated her protest, unintentionally, by shifting her heels right into Maple’s ribs. Maple giggled uncontrollably.

This made Ophelia fall backwards. All at once, Maple shifted herself forward, bringing her legs back and her arms forward to catch Ophelia. The two of them turned in a circle, as though they were in a dryer. Maple caught Ophelia in her arms just before Ophelia’s head hit the end of the tub.

“Got you!” Maple said, at the end of her breath.

Ophelia kissed Maple on her forehead. Maple felt herself blush all over her body.

“Well, um,” Maple said, waiting for the tingling to dissipate. “Should you... should you...” Right now, she felt like she could just evaporate and no one would miss her. “Ummm, ummm...” That was a nice idea, she thought... she felt she had almost reached enlightenment, that if only her body would evaporate—as she felt it soon would—her soul would float up into nirvana.

Maple came back down from her high and saw Ophelia, smiling, in front of her. “Ummm, ummm...” Maple said, “should you get dressed now?”

“Yes, she should,” said a familiar, annoying voice. Maple turned around. It was her mother.

“A lesbian!” Maple’s mother ranted. “I cannot believe that my own daughter is a lesbian!

“Please, let me explain...” Maple pleaded.

“And with a child! Maple, I’m ashamed of you. I thought you had a chance. I thought that maybe this child, this would be the one, this would be your lifeline right out of the pitiful, miserable existence you live in right now—”

“She wanted to take a bath with me!” Maple shouted.

Maple’s mother stood in silence.

“Let me explain,” said her father. “Maple, you’re a warm and gentle child. I’ve seen it ever since you were born. It’s just... you’ve covered it up all your life with layers and layers of artificial bitterness. I’m not sure why you do it, it’s just...”

“Shut up!” Maple didn’t appreciate that her father knew everything that she considered to be her emotional secrets, and that he never said anything until now. She felt violated. Her whole life was fair game for this cruel cross-examination.

“...Maybe you’ve shut yourself off from people so much, that, well...”

Maple listened, with her faced turned downward in an angry pout.

“How should I say... I always wondered when you would get into boys.”

“That’s what this is, isn’t it?!” Maple shouted, before backing down.

“Please, darling,” Maple’s mother said, placing a hand on Maple’s shoulder. “Don’t push it.”

Maple folded her arms.

“Maybe you’ve pushed yourself away from people so much that,” Maple’s father continued, “now that you’ve developed needs, you...” Maple’s father paused. “Well, the bottom line is that you’re getting them from a young girl, and that’s wrong!”

Maple said nothing.

“Do you hear me, Maple? Do you hear me?

“Maple, where did we go wrong?” Maple’s mother asked. “Tell us where we went wrong! Please! I need to know!” Maple’s mother started crying into Maple’s father’s shirt.

“Look what you’ve done,” Maple’s father sneered.

Maple was silent.

“Hey, Maple!” students called, as Maple walked through the hallway.

“Maple, will you sign my yearbook?” Sarah pleaded with Maple.

“Hey, Maple! Come join my astronomy club!” Rachel asked Maple, tugging at her sweater.

“How’s it going, Maple?” Jessie said, moving her body close to Maple’s.

Everyone wanted to get close to Maple, and have a little bit of her rub off onto them. Ordinarily, Maple would ignore them like the foul peasants that they were. But today, she walked through the crowd and merely ignored them. She was off in her own world.

Maple was glazed-over, distant. Her head sunk slightly downward, rather than being held high in the air. Maple had no forceful swing to her step, no front of gaiety. Maple was drained.

Maple sat down at the lunch table. She kept herself distant from the chattering throngs of students, as usual. This time, however, it was merely because she did not want to let on that something was wrong. She didn’t want to admit to herself how she felt, because it would mean that she was emotionally attached to somebody else.

“Hi, Maple,” Carly said, pulling her lunch up next to Maple’s.

“Hi.” Maple said, half-heartedly. She still didn’t want to be seen next to someone like Carly, of common status, but Maple no longer had it in her to tell Carly to go away.

“Hi?” Carly asked. “That’s not the Maple I know. What ever happened to, ‘get off of me, foul peasant!’ or, ‘talk to my publicist!’”

“She’s gone,” Maple answered.

“Gone?” Carly asked. “Gone. What? I can’t believe it. I thought today was the chance. I thought that today I was in the groove. I was in the zone. Today would be the day that I break that hardened shell of Maple’s and go straight for the gooey insides. I thought that today would be the day that I show Maple that being all wrapped up in yourself isn’t what they say it is. I was going to expose you to the sunlight.” Carly began to pull her lunch away. “Maple, you disappoint me.”

“Sucks to be you,” Maple grunted.

“See? See? That’s what I mean. The Maple I knew always had a ready retort.”

Maple looked up at Carly.

“Here, let me ask you,” Carly said, sitting down. “Did you lose something yesterday? Did something happen between now and the last time you snapped at me?”

Maple didn’t answer.

“Did you lose something important? Did somebody take something important away from you?”

Maple feigned a non-reaction.

“Did you finally start to crack and crawl out of that stupid shell of yours, when somebody went and stuffed you right back in?”

“Enough!” Maple shouted, overturning her lunch tray on Carly.

Carly smiled. Somehow, having corn and mashed potatoes dripping all over her seemed to give her a certain amount of dignity. “It’s good to be the one that got through to you,” Carly said. “Whatever you lost, I want you to go and get it back.”

Maple got up and left. “I’ll thank you later,” she said, in passing.

Carly smiled.

Maple threw open the door. Her strong stance and determined expression threw her mother off her game. “Can I help you?” Maple’s mother asked.

“I want to babysit Ophelia again.”

Maple’s mother laughed bitterly. “And what makes you think you can do that?”

Maple paused. “I want to babysit Ophelia again.”

“Dear,” Maple’s mother asked, facing the kitchen, “can you help me out? Maple doesn’t seem to understand the problem with pawing one’s cousin’s children.”

“I want to babysit Ophelia again,” Maple repeated.

“Ah-ha-ha,” Maple’s mother laughed, weakly. “Say that again?”

Maple was silent.

“Maple,” her father said, coming into the room, “I’m inviting your cousin Jeff and his wife over tomorrow. We will discuss it then.”

“Dear—” Maple’s mother protested.

Maple’s father sighed. “Since you seem to want to see her again so badly, I’m going to invite your cousin Jeff and his wife over for dinner tomorrow. We’ll discuss it then. But,”—her father’s tone turned cold—“I doubt that they’ll turn her over to you again after what happened yesterday.”

A faint spark of hope appeared in Maple’s eyes.

“And, Maple?” her father asked.


“Start seeing a boy, will you?”

Maple could not wait for tomorrow to come. She buried herself in her books and in her homework for the rest of the day. Through school she remained even more distant than usual, avoiding everyone—especially Carly—with whom she might become emotionally entangled. She wanted to slide through the day as quickly as possible.

She walked home. Her heart was pounding. She wondered what she would do until dinnertime. She could read books, she could watch TV, she could listen to music.... no, she thought. She would have to focus. She’d have to know what she was going to say.

This would be her one chance.

The doorbell rang as Maple sat in the living room, reading a magazine.

“I’ll get it,” Maple said, her mother already walking quickly towards the door.

Maple got to the door first. She opened it. It was her cousin, Jeff, and his wife.

“Hello, Maple,” Jeff said. “Have you met my wife, Donna?”

“Hello, Maple,” Donna said. Maple shook Jeff’s hand, then Donna’s.

“Maple, we need to discuss something with you,” Jeff said. Maple’s legs began to shiver.

“Jeff! Donna! Hi!” Maple’s mother said, attempting to change the subject. “Can I get you anything? What would you like?”

“No thank you, I need to discuss this right now,” Jeff answered.

Maple’s father gave Maple a scolding look.

Maple gulped.

“Maple,” Jeff said, “is it true that you took a bath with my daughter?”

“Answer him, Maple,” Maple’s father said.

Maple looked down at her shoes, and then looked up at Jeff with a confident, defiant look in her eyes.

Maple remembered what Carly had told her. “Did somebody take something important away from you? Whatever you lost, I want you to go and get it back.”

“Yes,” Maple said, to Jeff.

Jeff sighed. “Maple, I want to tell you... thank you.”

Jeff hugged Maple. Maple’s eyes opened wide. Maple’s parents looked at each other, astonished.

“Oh, thank you!” Jeff cried. “We’ve tried so hard... she always fights and screams... bats at us... whatever you’re doing that you’re not... God bless you! We always tried to find that emotional intimacy with our child, but we must have been going about it all wrong... thank you, Maple, thank you. You’ve gotten through to her.”

Maple smiled wider than she ever had in your life. “You’re welcome.”

“Now, are you sure?“ Maple’s mother asked, not sure what to make of any of this.

“Is it—is it—” Maple’s father stammered.

“We have a guest for you, Maple,” Donna said to her.

“Yes,” Jeff said, “we really hope we aren’t intruding. You see, well, she’s dirty again, and, well, she wanted to see you, and, well, we just weren’t up to fighting her... I know, some parents we are... we’re weak-willed, spineless fools! That’s what we are!”

“Please, the point, Jeff,” Donna reminded him.

“Yes, yes, the point. Well, Maple, please, if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to reintroduce you to somebody...”

Ophelia walked through the front door. She looked at Maple with an eager smile, and pulled a newly-bought scrub brush from behind her. “Hello, Queen Sargent-Major Maple,” Ophelia said, mock-saluting with her scrub brush. “I’m here to report for my bath.”

“Surely you’re not—” Maple’s mother said.

“Wait a moment—” Maple’s father cut in.

“If it would be a bother here, you could come to our house,” Jeff told Maple. “We have a very large bathtub and lots of floating toys. We hoped that Ophelia would get a chance to use them someday.” Jeff looked up and to the left with a sigh.

Ophelia leaped into Maple’s arms. Maple held her tight. Ophelia kissed Maple on the cheek. Maple kissed her back.

“This is wrong! This is—” Maple’s mother protested.

“Is there—is there—” Maple’s father said.

“Don’t worry, we’ll only be borrowing your daughter for a little while. We’ll be back soon! Thank you very much!” Jeff hurried his family and Maple out the door and to the car, before Maple’s parents could protest. “Whew, that was close,” he said.

Maple held onto Ophelia, and turned his head towards Jeff. “Why me?” she asked.

“Well, I’m sorry, I know it’s wrong to kidnap you like this, and to shuffle you out of the house before your parents could complain, but I just knew that, well, they’re so uptight and—”

“Dear, the point,” Donna interrupted.

“Oh, yes, well,” Jeff continued, “you see, um... we knew that you and Ophelia had made a connection, and so we didn’t want anything to stop it. Ophelia came home talking about you... but your parents were all moody, like this dark cloud hung over them, and well, we were so grateful that somebody had gotten through to our daughter. I’m sorry, I know it’s selfish that we’re making you come back, and we’re breaking the rules of your family—”

“Dear,” Donna cut in.

“Yes, well, we need you! Please come into our family for one day. Please give our daughter what she wants. Please.”

Maple looked at Ophelia, and then at Donna and Jeff, and smiled. “I’ll do it.”

“Splendid! Splendid. Come on, get in the car. We’ll be at our house in no time!” Jeff fumbled his keys with excitement before opening the car door and getting in.

“This is our bathroom,” Jeff said, beaming with pride.

Maple gasped.

The bathroom was enormous. Maple sat her hand on Ophelia’s shoulder as she scoped it out. The bathroom was the size of a garage, with spotless, tiled walls and a bathtub that looked like it would fit a family of sharks. Bath products and tub toys lined the walls.

“Why—” Maple began to ask. “Why is it that you have all this stuff, but you don’t use it? At least, not for your daughter—”

“As I said,” Jeff explained. “We just don’t have the touch. But you do.”

Jeff closed the door.

Maple took off her shirt, revealing her plain white bra. “Are you ready?” she asked.

Ophelia took off her shirt. “Ready when you are.”

They played in the bathtub for hours. They couldn’t remember the last time they had this much fun. They splashed and they washed each other and they played with the toys and Maple made up elaborate stories starring the rubber ducky. They bonded and discussed each others’ bodies and what they felt about school. Maple shared all of her deepest secrets with Ophelia, and then felt embarrassed. Ophelia hugged her for being so honest.

At the end, they got out and dried each other off. Ophelia looked deliciously cute, wrapped up in a towel. Maple kissed her on the forehead. Ophelia smiled.

Ophelia walked out of the bathroom, in her towel. Not thinking, Maple followed. Jeff was proud when he saw his little girl clean and happy.

Maple blushed when she realized that she had walked out of the bathroom wearing only a towel. “Um, is this okay?” she asked, vaguely pointing to her towel with both hands still clutching it.

“Come as you are,” Donna said warmly.

Ophelia took off her towel and wrapped it around Maple’s legs. Maple smiled and blushed harder.

“Thanks for helping me with my homework, Maple,” Carly said, as they walked out of the school library.

“No problem,” Maple said.

“You know, in the past month, you’ve really changed. What is it? What’s your secret?” Carly asked.

“Don’t push it,” Maple said, “I could always change back.”

“Hi, Maple,” Sarah said, as she passed by.

“Hi, Maple,” said Molly, passing by.

“Hi, Sarah, hi Molly,” she responded. She liked that the girls at school were no longer trying to sap her popularity. She didn’t have popularity anymore; she gave it up when she became friends with Carly. No longer such a rare catch, her popularity sank like a stone when she was seen chumming with someone so low on the totem pole.

“Maple,” Carly asked.

“Yes?” Maple answered.

“Would you like to sleep over at my house tomorrow night? We can stay up late and talk about boys.”

“I’d love to,” Maple said, “but, I have homework.”

Carly pouted.

Maple sighed.

“We can do it together!” Carly said. “Then, once we’re done, we can paint each other’s toenails.”

Maple lost control of herself and kissed Carly on the cheek.

“Whoa!” Carly said. “Get a hold of yourself, girl! I mean, I know I’m sexy, but...”

Maple looked into Carly’s eyes.

“No, seriously, um, you were kissing somebody else just now, weren’t you?”

“No,” Maple said. “I was kissing you. But,”—Maple looked down and to her right, then back up at Carly—“she was there.”

“I’m glad,” Carly said. “I’m glad you found something important.”

That evening, Maple laid on the couch, her bare feet propped up on the armrest. She was listening to music through her headphones as she did her homework.

She used to trot around the house with a reserved, self-important attitude. Now, she lounged around the house casually, and went barefoot when she wanted to.

“Maple,” her mother complained.

“I know, I know. I’ll wash the dishes in a minute.” Maple said, not turning her head.

“And will you put some shoes on?” her mother complained. “You’re going to catch a cold.”

Maple smiled.

The phone rang.

“I’ll get it!” Maple’s mother said.

Maple beat her to it. “Hello?”

“Hello, is this Maple?” a male voice answered.

“Yes, this is she,” Maple said.

“Maple, ahh, this is Jeff, I was wondering...”

Jeff?” Maple asked, excitedly. She had not seen Ophelia in a month, since the day that she had been over at Ophelia’s house and took a bath with her.

Maple’s mother’s face twisted with scorn.

“Ah, yes, hello, um...” Jeff began. “Well, you see, this is kind of strange, but... ever since you bathed with our daughter, she’s... she’s opened up. It’s amazing. We’ve never seen her like this. We’ve been bathing as a family ever since then, because she’s not afraid of us. Thank you, Maple.”

“No problem,” Maple responded.

“What we wanted to ask is, well, it’s kind of weird. You see, we’re glad that Ophelia’s opened up to us, but she really misses you, and we can’t replace you in that respect. At the same time, she’s gotten really attached to us and I don’t want to change that. What I’m saying is...”

“You want me...” Maple continued.

“To join us, for a family bath. Ophelia really wants you, and—”

“You’re right, that is weird.”

“I’m sorry, I—I’m sorry. I won’t bring it up again. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—”

“I’d love to,” Maple said. “When?”

“Would Saturday work? Six o’clock?”

“Sounds great,” Maple said. “I’ll be there.”

“Thank you, Maple!” Jeff said. “And if there’s anything we can do...”

“I’ll ask,” Maple said. “See you then.”

“Thank you, Maple.”

Maple hung up, smiling broadly. “I’m going to Jeff and Donna’s for dinner on Saturday,” she told her mother.

“That’s nice,” said her mother, not paying attention. She was sorting through the mail.

Maple went into the bathroom. She combed her hair and admired herself in the mirror. Yes, she thought, the new Maple was a lot better than the old one.


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