Um. What. Extremely late Thursday night is totally mid-week. You guys didn't know that?
Warning: Idk, the usual crack, I guess.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything. Not even the consumer products Disney wishes I would.
Chapter One: A Million Miles Away
We all have reasons
to keep things whole.
– Mark Strand
12 October 2006
Hannah's mind was already racing when she woke. She had the photo shoot first thing, and then the cd signing, and after that Oprah. That was before lunch. Then after lunch...no, she might not get lunch, because she thought the anti-drug PSA shoot started at one-thirty, and Oprah wouldn't wrap until one.
Hannah reached for her phone to check that, but it wasn't there. She sat up. There it was, over on the dresser. But she never left her phone over there. She always had it right next to her bed. It was her back-up alarm, and she used it to make notes if she thought of something during the night. And – she squinted at it – it looked like a different phone.
She threw back the covers to go get it and realized the sheets were different, too. Hannah shook her head slightly, trying to make sense of it. That was when she noticed her hair. It was brown. It hadn't been brown in almost three years, not since the label decided she'd sell better as a blonde.
"Hello?" Hannah called cautiously, looking around the rest of the room. Everything else was different, the walls, the furniture, blankets, throw pillows, clothes on the floor, her balcony doors. It was like someone had come in and redecorated the room while she slept.
"Am I being punk'd?" Hannah said, wanting to get it over with if she was. She didn't have time for one of Ashton's pranks. Although this seemed a bit odd for that. Usually his pranks involved a much more elaborate set up and at least two other people. And he wouldn't have put cameras in her bedroom, would he?
Please, not here, she thought.
And dyeing her hair? That was taking things too far, even for Ashton.
There was a noise downstairs. Good, she thought, her brain lurching back onto her original train of thought. She would figure out how this had happened later. But for now that would be Pierre and she needed to see how fast he could make breakfast, because something would have to be done about her hair. The photo shoot might even have to be cancelled, but she would call Traci first and see if that stylist she was always raving about could fit her in for an emergency appointment. Or maybe this was some kind of temporary dye, like the kind you got for Halloween, and it would come out in the shower. That actually did sound like Ashton. She would try washing it out while Pierre was cooking.
There wasn't any time to waste. She hurried out of bed and down the stairs, tossing her troublesome hair behind her shoulders so she wouldn't have to look at it.
Everything downstairs was different too, and Pierre wasn't in the kitchen. Her father was.
"Daddy!" Hannah said in surprise. The Ashton Kutcher theory was rapidly losing credibility. She didn't think her dad would have come all the way back from – where had he been? Switzerland? – just to help punk her. "What are you doing here?"
"That some kinda trick question, bud?" Robby Ray turned from where he was cooking – cooking, her dad was cooking – at the stove and regarded her with confusion. "I live here."
Since when? she almost said, but this was, after all, his house. "But when did you get back?" she persisted. "And where's Candice?"
"Back from where?" he said. And, "Who's Candice?"
Ashton was making a comeback. Hannah turned in a slow circle, inspecting everything carefully. "So where are the cameras?" She couldn't find them. She wondered what Ashton had promised her dad to get him to show up for this. Maybe a part in his next movie for Candice. "Can we hurry this up so someone can tell me how to fix my hair? I've got a photo shoot in an hour."
When she finished her surveying circle her dad was looking at her with worried eyes. "Are you feeling okay?" he asked.
Hannah reined in her annoyance. It wouldn't do to come across on camera as a stuck-up bitch who couldn't take a joke. So she forced herself to smile brightly. "Of course I am, why?" The blinds were up. They could have miked the place and be filming from outside. She glanced back over her shoulder but still didn't see anything.
"Because you're not making a whole lotta sense, Mile."
She wished he wouldn't call her that on-camera. But fine, she thought. Whatever. This thing would obviously be over when it was over. She would just have to play along until then. But it would have been nice if Ashton could have scheduled this better.
Yet another reason she needed a new mana— damn. Now that was one meeting that would obviously have to be rescheduled. As much as she needed a new manager, it would be awkward to have that happen when her dad was in town. Maybe if the hair had an easy fix she could push the photo shoot into its time slot. The day didn't have to be completely trashed just because Ashton was inconsiderate and her father appeared out of nowhere.
"Sorry, Daddy," she said sweetly. "I was just having the weirdest dream and I guess I haven't woken up all the way yet."
"Well, I was a bit surprised I didn't have to come upstairs with a bucket of water to get you up," her dad said. He put a plate over on the table. "Come on, I made you an omelet."
Hannah took a seat at the table readily enough but regarded the omelet with suspicion. It smelled okay, but to her dad never cooked. He'd tried to learn once, those first few months after her mother died, but most of those attempts had ended in disaster. And once they'd moved, he'd been so busy, first with her career and then with Candice, so he'd given up, hired Pierre, and to her knowledge hadn't come near a stove since.
Miley prodded the omelet with her fork. She really couldn't afford losing a day to food poisoning, or getting a piece of eggshell lodged in her throat and not being able to sing. Her dad brought over two other plates and sat in front of one. So Candice would be making an appearance. That wasn't exactly surprising if cameras were involved.
"Some reason you aren't eating?" Robby Ray asked. She gingerly took a small bite. It was good. Really good. She chewed carefully. No eggshells. "Now where is that dang brother of yours?"
Hannah froze with the fork halfway to her mouth. That was a really good question, she thought, but why was her father asking it?
"Finally," her dad said to the sound of feet descending the stairs. Jackson came into the kitchen.
Hannah dropped her fork. It clattered loudly against the plate and her bite of egg flew off and landed on the table. There was nothing, nothing, that Ashton Kutcher possibly could have done or promised to get Jackson to come back here. Nothing. This wasn't Ashton.
This was something else.
Hannah Montana wouldn't shut up. Lilly battled her way out of unconsciousness and then wrestled free from the blankets covering her. Who the hell was playing Hannah Montana so loudly she could hear it in her room? She was going to fire the maid. What was her name? Fiona? Colleen? It didn't matter, she wouldn't be around much longer.
She finally got free of the covers, making a pained, surprised noise as she sat up. A band of fire smarted across her stomach under her ribs, and Lilly spread a hand over it, hissing when it turned out to be sensitive to the touch. What. The. Hell. She hadn't even gotten drunk last night, she would remember if she'd done anything to hurt herself. And –
This wasn't her room. Where the hell was she? Lilly tried not to panic, searching her memories of last night. There had been a party, and that boy, Jerome. Had he slipped her something? No, she hadn't taken anything from him. Amber had been telling her that he was hot, she should go for it, but she'd had a headache and gone home, leaving Amber and Ashley to find their own rides.
She clearly remembered driving back to the townhouse, gulping down some Advil to ease the tightness at her temples before she crashed in bed. Had she been kidnapped?
No. Not kidnapped. She recognized this room. This was her room, the one she'd had at her parents' house. Whoever had redecorated it sure had no eye for color – hello, yellow? Snot was yellow – and was carrying on some kind of freaky love affair with posters of shirtless skateboarders and Hannah Montana, but Lilly recognized the layout of the room and the furniture.
Hannah Montana. Lilly became aware of her singing again, somewhere very close by, and she leaned over and smashed the stop button on the alarm clock by the bed. Hannah shut up, but Lilly's stomach spasmed in pain again. She peeled her shirt up – not the same one she'd worn to bed last night. She slept in silk, thank you very much, or in nothing at all, not some crappy cotton-poly blend.
A giant bruise bisected the skin of her torso, running just under her ribs, splotched black and purple. Okay, Lilly thought. Seriously. What the hell.
Banging on the door cut through her confusion. "Lilly! Lillian!" It was her mother. So she was definitely in her parents' house. But what the hell was she doing there? "What are you doing still in bed? You're going to be late! Hurry up and I'll drop you off on my way into the office."
Late for what? The clock said seven fifteen. Where could she possibly have to be so early? She usually didn't get up until noon. But, hell, now that she was up she certainly wasn't going to stick around here. And screw wherever her mom thought she was dropping her off, Lilly was calling a cab and getting the hell out of here. Once she did, she could call Amber and Ashley and find out what happened. She just had to pee first.
She got out of bed and cautiously opened the door to her room. Her mother was gone. Good. Lilly didn't know what had happened, but whatever it was, she did not want to deal with her mother.
Maybe she had taken something. She could have taken something and blacked out, blacked out like a whole day, and it was Thursday morning instead of Wednesday. And somehow she'd gotten this damn bruise and ended up here. Lilly wasn't surprised that her parents had redecorated – weird choices, but whatever – but she was a little surprised her mother had let her crash instead of kicking her to curb. She was even more surprised Heather wasn't up in her face screaming right now. That had always been one of her mother's favorite tactics.
Lilly checked the hall one more time and almost ran down it to the bathroom. The room was warm and humid, steam coating the mirror and shower doors. Ben must have been in there. Ugh. Sharing a bathroom was something she definitely hadn't missed since moving out of her parents' house. Not that she'd missed anything, really.
She went to the bathroom and splashed water on her face, rinsed her mouth out. She didn't feel hung over or like she was coming down from something. The only thing that hurt was her stomach. Whatever. Getting out of here was priority one. Heather probably thought she was going to drop Lilly off at a halfway house or something. Like that was going to happen.
Lilly headed back to the bedroom to scrounge for clothes. She checked the floor for whatever she might have been wearing yesterday: nada. Maybe she'd thrown up on them? She was sure Heather would let her know if she had. Loudly.
Back-up plan. The closet. Maybe some of her old clothes would still be in it. They'd be out of style but should mostly still fit. Lilly prided herself on never gaining an ounce.
Except her clothes weren't there. Someone's were, though, which, what the hell? Were her parents renting out the room to another teenage girl? Whoever it was, they were seriously impaired in the taste department. The clothes were all hideous. Some of the shirts were neon green, for god's sake. And they were all cheap crap.
Whatever, she thought. She just needed something to wear long enough to get back home. She grabbed the least disgusting thing she could find, a pair of dark jeans and a plain purple shirt, and pulled them on. They fit perfectly. Seriously. Freaking. Weird.
As soon as she was dressed she ran a hand through her hair and went to downstairs to battle her mother for the phone.
"I've got cereal, Pop-Tarts, and a banana," Heather said as soon as Lilly entered the kitchen. "Hurry up and eat the cereal, you can take the rest in the car."
Lilly looked down at the giant bowl of cereal, two frosted Pop-Tarts, and banana on the counter. "I don't eat breakfast," she said automatically, even though her stomach was so empty she thought it might be trying to devour her spine.
Her mother laughed. "You don't..." She actually doubled over a little and had to grab the counter, she was laughing so hard. "You don't eat breakfast. Cute, Lilly, very cute. Now hurry up. You're late."
"No, I'm not." Time for Heather to realize Lilly wasn't just going to go along with whatever she had planned.
"Yes, you are. School starts in fifteen minutes."
"School?" Lilly laughed. School? "I'm not going to school."
"Yes, you are," Heather repeated.
Lilly started to argue, but then she saw the newspaper on the counter next to the cereal bowl, folded into thirds. Thursday, Octob-, it said before the fold obscured the rest. That was wrong. It wasn't October, it was March. There was no way she'd blacked out for that long.
She reached out and flipped it over. -er 12, 2006, it said on the other side.
Lilly felt a little dizzy. But it was just a newspaper. An old one her parents had kept for some reason. She ignored the way it was a little damp, like it had been lying out on the dewy grass. "Where did this come from?"
Her mother gave her a funny look. "Outside. The same place it comes from every morning."
Lilly put a hand on the counter to steady herself. "This is today's paper?" No. It wasn't. That wasn't possible.
"Of course it is. Are you feeling all right?"
"No," Lilly said. She was not feeling all right. Not even close. What the hell was going on? It was not 2006. "I...I – " She spun around and fled upstairs to the bathroom. The mirror was still steam-fogged. Lilly wiped at it with her sleeve. This had to be some kind of joke or –
Lilly lowered her arm and looked at herself in the cleared swath on the mirror. The face of her fourteen-year-old self stared back.
She swayed and almost fell.
Lilly closed the lid on the toilet and sat on top of it, covering her face with her hands to shut all of this crazy shit out. Okay. Something was really, really wrong. Blacking out didn't explain this. She didn't even think hallucinating would explain this. She usually avoided anything harder than pot, but Amber had gotten her to drop acid a couple months ago, and this was nothing like that. This was like a waking dream.
Lilly dropped her hands and pinched herself. Just in case. Nothing happened. But maybe that didn't really work. She wasn't going to rule it out. This being a dream was a lot easier to believe than the idea that she might have traveled back in time. Even this being a hallucination was easier to believe than that.
She stood up and checked the mirror. There was that face again.
A dream, or hallucination. It had to be. It had to be. Things like this didn't happen, you didn't wake up one day back in time, back in your body at fourteen. Time travel wasn't real.
She didn't even let herself think about the other things, about the bruise she'd never had, the decorations she'd never put on her walls, the clothes in her closet she'd never bought. At least there was a word for time travel, at least she knew what it was, no matter how impossible. Waking up to find the world different than it had ever been, past or present, that was something else.
If she tried to tell anyone about this, they'd think she was crazy. Of course they would. Hell, they might be right. Maybe she was crazy. That made more sense than any of the other stuff she'd come up with. Except crazy people never thought they were crazy, did they? That was part of what made them crazy. Wasn't it?
Shit. What did she know about being crazy? Maybe if she told someone they could give her drugs, something to make this all disappear.
She was still looking at herself in the mirror, at the face that was hers and not-hers. She didn't think there was any drug in the world that would make it go away.
"Lilly!" her mother screamed up the stairs. "Two minutes!"
Shit shit shit. Why the hell did she have to go and dream or hallucinate or have crazy-visions of her freaking mother? Where was Orlando Bloom?
Her mom was good for one thing, though. Her screeching made Lilly stop freaking about what this was and focus on what she should do. Okay, she decided. She would play along. Go to school. See what happened. Because if she was back here, back in time, her house might not be there. And Amber and Ashley would be at school. Maybe they could tell her what was going on. She could always ditch after she talked to them.
If this was a dream, eventually she'd wake up. A hallucination would end, if she was crazy she'd see pigs flying or something. And if not...
Better not to think about that.
"I'm coming!" she screamed back, and at least that felt normal. Screaming at her mother. She'd take what she could get right now.
This might be a dream, she might be crazy. She had to be crazy if she was going to go to school dressed like this. She reached for the purple toothbrush by the sink and brushed her teeth, then went back to her-room-not-her-room to search for make-up. She might be going crazy but she still had standards.
"Lillian!" Heather screeched again, but Lilly didn't let it bother her. She never had. There was a bookbag on the desk chair and Lilly paused to investigate it, finding a small travel pouch of make-up. Her mother yelled up the stairs a third time and Lilly decided whatever was in it would have to be good enough. It wouldn't make that much of a difference, really, not with what she was wearing.
"I hope you called Miley and told her not to wait for you," Heather said as they got into the car.
Who the hell was Miley? The name sounded vaguely familiar, but Lilly couldn't remember where she'd heard it before. But who cared? She had other things on her mind, like making herself look decent with this crappy make-up.
That only took a few minutes, and for the rest of the ride Lilly sat and watched the scenery outside her window, streets and buildings she hadn't seen in a year. By the time they got to the school Lilly had pinched herself twenty-three times, but she was still here.
Hannah came to a stop just inside the school doors. The hallways were filled with students, everyone milling around in a loud, chaotic mess. Someone came in behind Hannah, bumped into her back, and Hannah moved further inside, out into the middle of the hall. Any second now, one of these kids was going to notice her and say something, and then all of them would be all over her. Hannah waited for it, wanted it. She needed something normal to happen, just one thing in all of this that made sense.
Jackson had driven her to school. School. Her dad had told her to go get ready for school and Hannah had, too confused and shocked to do anything but obey. First, though, he'd asked her again if she was okay, he and Jackson staring at her like she was the one acting strangely, out of place, when they were the ones who shouldn't even be here.
Upstairs, she'd stumbled around the unfamiliar room, getting dressed and finding a bookbag on the window seat, though she still couldn't make herself believe this wasn't all just some horrible joke, even when she discovered that her closet was gone. All of her clothes, all of her shoes, the entire closet the size of a room. Gone.
In its place was a tiny substitute with a single rack of clothes, and why would anyone, ever, for any reason, make her closet disappear? She'd sat on the window seat next to the bookbag for a long time, her mind spinning from one explanation to the next, discarding them all, until Jackson barged into the room groaning about how Robby Ray said he had to drive her.
She'd watched him in the car, apologies and questions stopped up in her throat. Halfway there, he'd braked at a traffic light, glared at her, demanded, "What? Do I have something on my face?"
"No," she'd said, because there was nothing on his face, none of the anger or bitterness that had been there the last time she'd seen him.
"Then what?" he asked, flipping down the mirror on the sun visor to check for himself.
"Nothing," she said, holding back What are you doing here? What am I doing here? What's going on? because it was so clear she was the only one who thought anything was wrong.
So she needed something now, she needed a mob of fans screaming at her so she knew that something was still right, that she was still herself. But the minutes crept by and nothing happened. A couple people glanced her way, and once a girl with curly blonde hair waved at her, but there were no shouts of discovery, no swarm pressing in around her. Maybe these people were used to going to school with her and didn't think anything of it anymore. Or maybe...
Maybe she wasn't famous here, wherever here was. Maybe Hannah Montana didn't exist in this place.
No, she told herself, that couldn't be it. The whole world might be different, but she was still the same. She had to be. It must be the first thing. Just because all of this was new to her obviously didn't mean it was new to anyone else. They were all acting like this was normal for them because to them it was.
So she should act like it was normal for her, too. She didn't want people thinking she'd gone crazy. That kind of thing would stay in the news for weeks. She should just...what did people do in high school? Did she have a locker? How was she supposed to know where it was? And the combination, and her classes, how was she supposed to know what they were?
"Miley!" someone called, and why, why was he calling her that? Hannah's eyes darted in the direction of the voice, then back at the rest of the crowd to see how they reacted. They didn't. So either...either they really didn't care about her being famous, or...or she really wasn't.
"Miley," the voice said again, much closer this time. It belonged to a boy with shaggy dark hair who was now standing in front of her. "Hey," he said. "Where's Lilly?"
Who? And who was he? Hannah just kept the questions from escaping. "I don't know," she temporized instead.
The boy frowned. "She didn't walk with you?"
"My brother drove me," Hannah said, and she couldn't help it, she was starting to panic. She was clearly supposed to know this boy and she didn't. She was supposed to know where her locker was and her classes, she was supposed to know who she was here, how she fit, she was supposed to know everything but she didn't because all of this was wrong, it was wrong, she had to be going crazy for real and screw the bad publicity, she was going to start screaming in a minute, except maybe there wouldn't be any bad publicity because maybe she wasn't even herself, maybe even that had been taken away, maybe –
"There she is," the boy said, and Hannah pulled herself together enough to focus on him, on the perplexed look he was leveling at a blonde girl who had come in another door down the hall from them and was heading towards two other girls at their lockers. "What in the world does she want with Amber and Ashley?"
I don't know, Hannah thought, and almost did scream. She was probably having a nervous breakdown. Didn't you end up sobbing in a corner when you had a nervous breakdown? Hannah felt like she might be about five minutes away from that.
The blonde girl said something to the other two girls. Hannah couldn't hear what. They were too far away. But she heard what the girls said in response.
"Ew, get away from me, you freak!" the black girl said, loud enough that her voice carried over the entire hallway and the crowd of students in it fell silent.
"Yeah, you freak!" echoed the Asian girl, mimicking the first girl.
"Amber," the blonde girl said. Lilly, Hannah reminded herself. Lilly looked extremely confused. Hannah could relate.
"I said, get away from me, dork. Where did you find that outfit, Ugly-R-Us?"
"Come on," the boy hissed at Hannah, grabbing her wrist. "What is she thinking? We have to stop her." He pulled her down the hall before she could protest, snatched Lilly's arm, and yanked them both further down the corridor towards a side hall. "Nice talking to you, ladies," he called over his shoulder at Amber and Ashley.
"Please, like we'd ever talk to you losers," one of them yelled back, and then the boy pushed Hannah and Lilly into the other hallway and out of sight.
"What's wrong with you?" he hissed at Lilly, who still looked confused. "Antagonizing Amber and Ashley like that, do you want them coming after us?"
"Oliver?" Lilly said. Oliver, Hannah thought. Oliver, Lilly, Amber, Ashley. And he had called her Miley. "What are you talking about? They're my – " She paused and continued with less certainty. "They're my friends."
"Friends?" A blood vessel bulged in the boy's – Oliver's forehead. "Amber and Ashley? Is that supposed to be some kind of joke? If this is one of those stupid schemes you and Miley are always doing, I really think – "
"Miley?" Lilly asked, appearing to notice Miley for the first time. Her eyes narrowed, then widened. "Hannah?"
Miley's whole body jolted with relief and she had to blink hard to stop herself from breaking down and crying. Hannah. Thank god. The idea that she'd woken up somewhere everything she'd worked so hard for didn't exist had been too painful to think about. Finally, here was someone who knew who she was, someone who acknowledged –
Oliver leapt forward and clapped a hand over Lilly's mouth. "Are you crazy?" he demanded.
Lilly pulled away from his hand. "Maybe," she muttered darkly.
"You know who I am," Hannah said, wanting her to confirm it, wanting proof that she wasn't crazy, that yes, she was who she thought she was.
"Of course I do," Lilly said, startled, at the same time Oliver said, "Well, duh, but you can't go saying it here."
"Why not?" both of them asked, and then shared a surprised look.
"Why n..." He trailed off and stared at both of them. "Why – I – " He shook his head and stared at them some more, and Hannah held her breath, hoping that finally something would be explained to her. "What...what happened to you guys? Did you hit your heads, or...?"
"No," Hannah said, frustrated and not able to hold back anymore. "I didn't hit my head, at least, I don't think I did, I just..."
"Woke up," Lilly finished.
Their eyes met. "Yeah," Hannah agreed. "And everything was – "
"Yeah," Hannah said again, realizing. "It happened to you, too."
Lilly nodded. "Yeah."
Well, that was something. It probably wasn't a nervous breakdown if it had happened to this other girl, too. They probably hadn't both gone crazy at the same time, they probably –
"What happened?" Oliver asked, bewildered, exasperated.
"We don't know," Lilly snapped. "Weren't you paying attention?"
"Why are you yelling at me?"
"Why aren't you yelling at me?" Lilly said, her voice rising even further. Some of the students around them were shooting them strange looks. "Why aren't both of you – "
"Whoa, hey, guys," Hannah interjected. "Can we maybe just calm down a minute and try to figure out what's going on?" It had to be, like, the definition of irony that she was trying to get these people to hold it together when she was about two seconds from falling apart herself. But it helped to have other people to concentrate on. It helped to know she wasn't alone in this.
Oliver and Lilly looked at her and the tension between them relaxed a fraction. Hannah waited a minute to give the other students time to lose interest, and before she could figure out where to start the shrill ring of the bell stopped her.
"After class?" Oliver asked, licking his lips.
"Screw class," Lilly said. Hannah was in complete agreement, but Oliver shook his head at the blonde girl. "What?" Lilly said. "This is way more important than class."
"Yeah, uh, Oliver?" Hannah said, trying out his name. "I think class is the last thing we need to be worried about right now."
"Are you sure this isn't a joke?" Oliver asked. They nodded in unison. "Okay," he said, coming to a decision. "Come on, let's go before we get busted for being in the halls."
He led them down several hallways, all the way to the end of one and into an empty classroom. Hannah wondered if they should really be involving him in all of this. How did she know if she could trust him not to go to the press and sell the story of Hannah's nervous breakdown? But it was too late. He already knew. He was already in it.
And they needed someone who knew how things were in this place.
They pulled three desks into a circle and sat, staring at each other uncertainly.
"So...," Oliver said, then trailed off.
"Maybe we should start at the beginning," Hannah said.
"Okay," Lilly agreed. "You first."
The words started spilling out of Hannah's mouth. She was nearly trembling with relief at being able to tell someone what had happened. "I went to bed last night and everything was normal," she started. "And then when I woke up this morning, my hair was different, and my room...Everything was different. My dad was there, and my brother, and the whole house was decorated different – "
"The same house?" Lilly asked.
"What do you mean?" Hannah said, confused.
"It was the same house, just decorated different?"
"Yeah," Hannah said, and then her eyebrows shot up. "You woke up in a different house?"
"I woke up in my old bedroom," Lilly said. "But it was different than I ever had it."
"What do you mean your old bedroom?" Oliver said. "You've lived in the same house your whole life. I don't understand what you guys are talking about. Nothing's different. It's the same as it's always been."
"Is not," Lilly insisted. "I've got this giant freaking bruise on my stomach and no idea how it got there. I woke up at my parents' house, no idea how I got there. My mom acted like – and you...I shouldn't even be here right now, and even if I was, you shouldn't be talking to me."
"Why wouldn't I talk to you?"
"Because you hate my freaking guts."
Oliver physically recoiled from her words. "I could never hate you," he said, like that, out of everything she'd said, was the most impossible.
"Trust me, you can," Lilly told him.
"Are we?" Hannah asked. They turned to her, and Hannah thought they'd almost forgotten that she was there. "Friends, I mean. Because I don't know either of you."
"You don't know me?" Lilly asked sharply, while Oliver just gaped at her.
Hannah shook her head no, her stomach sinking. She'd thought the same thing happened to her and Lilly, but if the other girl thought they should know each other... "Should I?"
"Yeah, we..." Lilly stopped herself. "You just went to bed and woke up and things were all different?" she asked. "That was it? That was all that happened?"
That wasn't enough? Miley wondered. What else was supposed to have happened? "Yeah. Why?"
Lilly shook her head. "Nothing. Never mind. And we met once after one of your concerts. It was only for a minute. It's okay you don't remember."
"No, it isn't," Oliver said. "I don't believe any of this. You guys are best friends, we've all been friends for years, you expect me to believe you don't remember that? That Miley doesn't know either of us?"
"Why do you keep calling me that?" Hannah asked.
"Miley," she said, steeling herself. "Is it because I never got to be Hannah here?" Except he'd acted like he knew who Hannah was, so maybe –
"Of course you're Hannah," he said, and her insides went liquid with relief. Whatever had happened, she was still Hannah. That hadn't changed. It couldn't. She didn't know what she'd do if did, because being Hannah was everything to her. It was all she had.
"But no one here knows that," Oliver continued. "Except for us, of course."
"How can they not know?" she asked.
"Well, you...I mean, you're Miley, you know," he stuttered. "Here at school, and just, you know, normally, and then when you need to, you put on the Hannah wig, and then you're Hannah. But no one knows it's you."
"I put on a wig, and then I'm Hannah," Hannah repeated, disbelieving. "I put on a wig to keep people from knowing who I am."
"Right," Oliver said, nodding.
"And that works?" she asked incredulously.
"Of course it does," he said.
Hannah had woken up to find her father and her brother home, to her hair and house and life completely changed, but so far this was the hardest thing to believe. "I put on a wig and suddenly no one knows who I am," she said again, at the same time Lilly muttered, "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."
"It's not stupid," Oliver protested. "It lets Miley have a normal life!"
"But women change their hair all the time," Hannah said. "It doesn't stop people from recognizing them. Especially not if they're famous." A horrible thought occurred to her. "Wait, is she...is Hannah not famous here?" Maybe Hannah just did karaoke or kids' birthday parties.
"Of course you're famous," Oliver said, scorn all over him.
Hannah really wished he'd stop attaching the words of course to things. She slumped in the seat. It didn't make any sense. There was no way it would work. People would know who she was in five seconds. It wasn't like other celebrities hadn't tried, after all, and it never worked.
"Hannah," Lilly said.
"Don't call her that!" Oliver interrupted. "You have to call her Miley at school."
Hannah bristled. She liked being called Hannah. It made all of this feel the tiniest bit less horrible. "She can call me Hannah. And anyway there isn't anyone here but us."
"I don't care," Oliver said. "You get called Miley when you're Miley and Hannah when you're Hannah, and both of you had better get used to that and remember it. I'm not going to have you slip up and wreck this for Miley. You might think keeping Hannah a secret is stupid, but Miley doesn't and it's still going to be a secret when she gets back, got it?"
When she gets back, Hannah thought, and felt like the room was turning sick circles around her, because she'd been so busy trying to understand what was happening to her now that she hadn't even thought about that. But, yes, she had to go back. Didn't she? "Do you think we will?" she whispered, somehow afraid that voicing the idea too loudly would pop it like a soap bubble. "Go back?"
She'd been asking Lilly but it was Oliver who answered. "Of course you will," he said, and Hannah instantly forgave him for using those words. "People don't just wake up in a different reality. It has to be some kind of mistake. A big one. And when whatever brought you here realizes it, you'll go back."
"So that's what this is?" Lilly asked. "We're in some kind of screwed up alternate reality?"
They all looked at each other, and Hannah could tell that none of them wanted to answer that. None of them wanted to say it out loud.
"Yes," Hannah said finally, and there it was. Real. Irrevocable. She could feel the truth of it splash across her like ice water. "That has to be it. We couldn't have both gone crazy. Not the same way at the same time."
"And it's not a dream," Lilly said. "It doesn't feel like a dream."
"It kind of feels like a dream to me," Oliver muttered.
"You don't have a giant bruise on your abdomen," Lilly said, glaring. "I think between that and all the pinching I did on the ride here, I would have woken up by now if it was a dream."
"We're in another reality," Hannah said, and put her head down on the desk for a moment. This was like something out of one of the bad sci-fi shows Jackson used to watch. "How long do you think we'll be here?"
"Well, it happened when you were asleep, right?" Oliver said. "So maybe the next time you go to sleep you'll switch back."
Miley raised her head, hopeful. "Do you think if we went to sleep right now it would work?"
"I don't know. You might all have to be asleep," Oliver reasoned. "I mean, they might have to be asleep too, you know?"
That wasn't the answer she wanted, but still. "Even if that's true, we only have to make it through today. That's not too bad." Lilly was shifting uncomfortably in her chair. "What?" Hannah asked her.
"Nothing!" Lilly said. "Oliver's probably right. I don't have any better ideas, anyway."
"Okay," Hannah said, turning to Oliver. "So tell us what we need to know to get through today."
Oliver wouldn't stop talking. Like high school was so complicated. Please. They were going to miss the whole day anyway if he didn't shut the hell up soon. Lilly stopped listening about the time he started listing off all of their classes. She hadn't gone to her classes the first time around. She wasn't going to start in some universe that wasn't even the real one.
Besides, she had other things to worry about. Like how they probably wouldn't be switching back when they went to sleep tonight.
Because Hannah – no, Miley. Thinking about two Hannahs was too confusing. Hannah was Hannah and this girl was Miley. And Lilly she realized why that name had sounded familiar when her mother said it. Hannah had tried to get Lilly to call her that back when they first met.
It was October then. October of 2006. Just like it was now. Lilly had met Hannah on the beach, the Hannah from this world. So this Miley hadn't gotten pulled back in time. Neither had Hannah. Which meant that Hannah had been in Lilly's world for a long time. For at least the six months Lilly had spent time with her, but Lilly was pretty sure even after that it had been Hannah. She'd seen Hannah around a couple times after, at parties or in clubs. And Hannah had always had this look in her eyes, like she was drowning or something, something Lilly didn't have name for, and that had still been there.
That meant it was a year and a half. And Hannah and Miley had switched places at the same time, so why the hell had Lilly gotten yanked back in time after a year and a half to switch with herself? She was fourteen, damn it. Fourteen sucked. And it didn't make sense.
Who was she kidding? None of this crap made sense.
But it wasn't like they were, like, taking turns with the whole universe switching thing, because then Lilly should have switched with herself at sixteen. Or maybe they were. Maybe Hannah figured out how to switch back here after a year and a half and whatever she'd done had gotten Lilly stuck here. Maybe she'd been trying to get back to the same time she'd left and Lilly had somehow gotten caught in the crossfire. If that was true, Lilly could force Hannah to tell her the trick of it. She could get back to her life before any time passed there.
But she'd have to wait a year and a half to find out. She'd have to spend a year and a half in this suckhole.
Oliver was drawing out a map of the school and trying to lecture her about how she wasn't friends with Amber and Ashley in this world. "Yeah, I got that," Lilly snapped. "Are we done yet?"
Oliver drew up, indignant, but then the bell rang and his face collapsed into doubt. "I guess we'd better go to class. We don't want them to call our parents. And I think there might be a class in here next period. Come on, I'll walk you guys."
Ugh. Hello. Lilly used to go to this school. She knew where shit was. But she followed him and Miley down the halls. God, she hated this place. She shouldn't be here. She should be out shopping for something to wear to tonight's party. But she wouldn't even be able to get into parties anymore, not the ones that mattered.
Oliver kept looking around nervously as they walked, like he was expecting someone to jump out and yell, "Surprise! Your friends aren't really in an alternate universe and you're an idiot for thinking they were!"
Yeah, you wish, Lilly thought.
She did too.
"Are you going in?" Oliver asked, gesturing at the classroom doorway. Miley was already inside, finding her chair on the seating chart Oliver had drawn. He was such a dork.
Lilly almost said she wasn't. Hell no, she wasn't. She wanted to ditch, just walk right out the door away from all of this. But she had no money, no car, no house, and her friends hated her. Where would she go?
"Whatever," she muttered, slinking past him and taking the seat behind Miley. A year and a half of this crap. Screw that. If she had to spend eighteen months in this world – maybe longer – she was not spending it here.
Kunkle started blathering about something and Lilly stared at the back of Miley's head, remembering Hannah's brown wig that day so long ago on the beach. The day Lilly's life had changed. Today.
Hannah had been her ticket out of obscurity once. She would be again.
Lilly just had to figure out how.
The teacher was droning on about Revolutionary War. Hannah wouldn't have been able to pay attention even if she hadn't been pulled into an alternate dimension where her entire life was upside down. She had her – Miley's cell phone out under her desk, glad she was in the back row in this class. The girl Lilly was sitting in front of her. In fact, they'd sat near each other in every class so far. Well, Oliver had said Lilly and Miley were best friends, so she guessed that made sense. And Hannah had to admit she kind of wanted to stay close to the other girl. What if Oliver was wrong about the sleeping thing? Hannah wanted to make sure if Lilly went back, she did too.
The phone wasn't proving to be very helpful. The address book had a few names she knew – Dad, Jackson, Traci, and now Lilly and Oliver – but everyone else in it was a mystery. Sarah? Jake? She knew a couple of Sarahs, everyone did, but there was no telling if this Sarah was one of them. Did she know a Jake? She couldn't remember.
Jesse wasn't in there. And Oliver hadn't said anything about him either, or about her having a boyfriend at all. She wished she could call him and hear his voice.
Then again...she tried picturing what his reaction would be if she told him about being from a different universe. He'd probably just smile and tell her how cute she was. Which she never got tired of hearing, but wouldn't exactly help her in this situation.
Or maybe he wouldn't do that. Maybe he was different here, too, like Jackson and Robby Ray and Lilly's friends, who Oliver had said really weren't here. Maybe it was better that she apparently didn't know Jesse at all. It would be nice to see him, but not if he was different. That would just make everything that much worse.
Thinking about all of this made her feel tired and more than a little sick. She knew she never should have eaten that omelet her – Miley's dad made. Okay, it probably wasn't the eggs, but they certainly weren't helping. Please let Oliver be right about the sleeping thing, she thought. Hannah was tempted to put her head down on the desk and test it right now, but his theory that Miley would need to be asleep too made sense, and Hannah knew there was no way the girl would have time to sleep right now, not with her schedule.
The teacher was on Paul Revere now and Hannah stifled a loud, impatient groan. These classes were interminable. So much wasted time. She could put up with it for a day, but she didn't see how Miley managed it day after day, week after week. Why sit in a classroom all day when she could be in the recording studio or filming a movie or out on tour?
Briefly, Hannah worried about how Miley would manage her life. There was so much going on today, would Miley be able to keep up? At least Miley was Hannah here, in some capacity anyway, and would be familiar with what went on. But were their careers on the same path? Were they doing the same things in both universes? Oliver hadn't said much about Hannah in this world and Hannah hadn't thought to ask at the time, too busy trying to keep up with what he was telling her.
Hannah got out of the phone book and tried the internet. Blocked. Damn. Five minutes with Google would probably tell her more useful information than the whole hour with Oliver. He'd been worried about her and Lilly screwing up his friends' lives. Hannah was more concerned with his friend screwing up hers.
The Oprah interview could end up being a disaster. The signing would probably be fine, Miley had to have done those before. Same with the photo shoot. It was hard to screw up a photo shoot; you just had to show up and do what the photographer told you. The interviews for her new manager...Hannah hoped Miley would be smart enough to cancel those.
She hoped Miley would be smart enough to figure out what was going on in time to play along, so that Hannah didn't end up back home only to find herself locked up some place suffering from "exhaustion". She hoped they'd both only have to do this for one day, that tomorrow everything would be normal and they could go back to their own lives.
And she really hoped this class would end soon.
The bell hadn't even finished ringing and Oliver was practically to the cafeteria already. This was the first time since this morning he was going to get to see Miley and Lilly, and he wanted to make sure...well, he didn't know what. He was still half-convinced this was all a big joke they were playing on him. He couldn't figure out why they would, but then he couldn't figure out why either of them did half the things they did. Girls.
But if this wasn't a joke, then...he arrived at the cafeteria and his brain skidded to a halt at the same time his feet did. He didn't know what he'd do then. He didn't know what there was to do.
The cafeteria was loud with students both coming and going. The three of them had second lunch. Oliver fought through the throngs and went straight to their usual table, forgoing the line. He wanted to watch and make sure he found Miley and Lilly, and then he'd get his food.
It was almost five minutes before Lilly finally emerged into the cafeteria. She stood just at the exit to the line and scanned the whole room. It took her three times looking back and forth before she saw him. Disappointment trickled through him. She hadn't remembered where they usually sat. Of course she wouldn't, if...But he'd thought maybe they'd switched back in the last few hours, or given up the joke, or something. Anything.
He raised a hand a little and waved hesitantly at her. He could tell she saw it, but she didn't acknowledge him in any way. Her eyes darted around the cafeteria again and stopped on Amber and Ashley. No, Oliver thought. She couldn't be that stupid, could she? Not after what had happened this morning. She took a step towards them, but before Oliver could get up to try intercepting her, she shook her head and zeroed back in on him. Thank god.
He sank back into his seat as she walked over, trying not to get offended by the annoyed look on her face. She didn't seem too happy about having to eat lunch with him. He couldn't quite believe that there was a world where they weren't friends.
"No way I'm eating this," Lilly said, sitting down and almost slamming her tray on the table. "Haven't these people ever heard of a salad bar?"
"I'll eat it," Oliver immediately volunteered, his eyes still pinned on the end of the lunch line. Where was Miley? She and Lilly had fourth period together, they should have come through the line together. He was just opening his mouth to ask Lilly where she was when Miley stepped into the room.
She did a repeat of Lilly's room-scanning routine, but she stopped before she'd even looked in their direction and headed off towards the other end of the cafeteria. Where was she going? She didn't even know anyone else here, where could she possi— Jackson.
Oliver watched as she juggled her tray with one hand, put the other on Jackson's shoulder, uncertainty in every action. He watched Jackson look up in confusion, and then he was pointing over at Oliver and Lilly. Miley glanced their way and Oliver vigorously gestured for her to come over.
Come on, he thought, just come over here. Don't talk to Jackson, he'll know something's up.
Maybe they should tell Jackson. No. He'd just think they were pranking him, or crazy, and Oliver wouldn't blame him. Not when he was still thinking that himself. And there wasn't any reason to tell him, not really. Tomorrow everything would be fine.
Miley was slowly making her way across the cafeteria. "Even the smell of this stuff is making me sick," Lilly complained, pushing her tray away, and maybe this wasn't a joke. Oliver had never known Lilly to turn down food of any kind.
He decided not to think about it right now, to just be glad that he wouldn't have to stand in line to get his own. It would give them more time to talk.
Miley sat down gingerly across from him, next to Lilly. "Can you believe they expect us to eat this stuff?" she said, clearly trying to break the ice. Ice that shouldn't even be there, because the three of them were best friends.
Lilly rolled her eyes. "I know, right? Like it would kill them to have salads or some decent sushi."
"You shouldn't try to talk to Jackson," Oliver said. "At least not until I have a chance to make sure you know how to act."
Miley flushed. "Sorry." She looked back over her shoulder at her brother. "It's just I don't get to see him very much, so I thought...Never mind."
A world where Miley and Jackson didn't see each other. And even weirder, a world where Miley was bothered by that. "The two of you don't get along," he told her.
"I know that," Miley snapped, defensive, her cheeks going red. Was she embarrassed? About not getting along with her brother? What for?
"Well, how am I supposed to know?" Oliver said, getting defensive too. She hadn't known anything else so far. "I'm just trying to help."
They sat there without saying anything for a while. Miley poked at her food, eating bits of it while Oliver inhaled Lilly's lunch and Lilly watched Amber and Ashley's table.
Miley looked up from her tray and around the room. "I just don't understand why this happened," she murmured, sounding like she was almost talking to herself. "Is there some point to it, some reason? And why us? Why both of us?"
Oliver shook his head. That was the only part of this that made any sense. "It wasn't you," he said. "It was them." Their attention was suddenly riveted on him, twin stares that were so strong they were unnerving. He swallowed and said, "If one of them went, then both of them did."
They broke off staring at him and looked at each other, and he could see from the way they did it that they were strangers. It was there in the way they were sitting, parallel, apart, while Miley and Lilly had always leaned toward each other, the space between them coming and going like waves lapping the shore.
These two people didn't know each other, and that, more than anything else, convinced him this was real, that it wasn't a joke, that the people across from him weren't his friends. Miley and Lilly were gone. They were in some other world. The reality of it struck him then, hard and fast, fear and worry and sadness tearing at his throat.
Were they all right? Was anyone helping them, did they know what was going on? They were okay, it wasn't a dangerous place, it couldn't be, and surely they'd be all right. Just for one day and then they'd be back and this would just be one more thing, just one more crazy thing in the long list of crazy things that were always happening to them. They'd be okay, they had to be, they –
"Why?" Lilly was saying, except it wasn't Lilly. It was someone else. "Why both of them?"
"Because," Oliver said, dazed, still reeling. "Because they... Just because. They wouldn't have gone without each other."
"But," Lilly started, then ducked her head. "Never mind."
"Because they're friends?" Miley asked, staring at Oliver again, a weird mix of anticipation and disbelief in her eyes and posture.
"Best friends," Oliver corrected. "And I always thought they – " He stopped.
"What?" Miley said.
Oliver blushed. "Nothing."
They cast appraising looks at each other and then turned their attention back to him, eyebrows raised.
"Just try to get through the rest of the day, okay?" he said, hastily changing the subject. He didn't want to tell them anything. He didn't want to talk to them anymore. He didn't want them here. "Don't talk to anyone unless you have to. Hide in your rooms when you get home. And go to bed early." He wanted his friends back. The sooner, the better.
Hannah had to walk home from school. Walk. Another waste of time, and who ever heard of an international popstar walking home from school? That girl Lilly wasn't too happy about it either, but Oliver had insisted they did it every day, and Hannah had no choice but to believe him, especially since Jackson had whined so much about having to drive her this morning.
Oliver walked with them back to the neighborhood, which was good, because Hannah had been so confused and out of it that morning she hadn't paid any attention to the route Jackson had taken. Oliver left them with more instructions not to talk to anyone unless they had to. Hannah was glad when he and Lilly were both gone and she had a few minute to herself to prepare for what was coming.
The house finally came into view, looking so familiar a lump formed in Hannah's throat, because she knew it wasn't, really. The inside would be different.
Her steps slowed as she crossed the porch and she stood just outside the door for a minute until she could squash down the hope that when she went inside everything would be back to normal. But she must not have done very well, because when she went in and it wasn't, the disappointment still smarted.
Hannah kept her head down, trying not to look at all the changes as she made for the stairs and the unfamiliar bedroom at the top of them that would at least provide a sanctuary where she could try to wrap her mind around everything that was happening, everything Oliver had said. Little glimpses leaked in around the edges, though, and Hannah realized that some of the stuff here kind of reminded her of their house in Tennessee. The parts her mom had let her dad have some say in picking out, anyway.
When they'd moved, they'd been so busy her dad had gotten someone to come out and do the house, and Hannah had gotten the whole place redone again eight months ago, right before three different magazine had done cover stories on it. "Hannah's Hideaway," "How to Hannah-fy Your House," stuff like that. She'd needed something that fit her image. Even if it wasn't very homey.
"Miley, good, you're home," Robby Ray said, coming into the living room from the kitchen, and had he spent all day in there? Hannah didn't think her father spent any longer in the kitchen than it took to grab a drink from the fridge. She stopped and waited to see what this strange version of him wanted. "How was school?"
Seriously? He wanted to talk about her day? Well, she didn't. "It was fine." Oliver had told her not to talk to anyone. But he hadn't told her how this whole double life thing worked, exactly. Was she Hannah every day after school? "Do I have anything I have to do tonight?" Was Robby Ray still her manager?
"Homework?" he said.
"I meant Hannah."
"Not tonight, bud." Great. He was all concerned again, like he had been this morning. "It's Thursday. Are you o—"
"I'm fine," she cut in. She did not want to hear that question. "I'm going upstairs to do that homework."
She didn't. She spent ten minutes face down on the bed, thinking very hard about nothing, and then she found Miley's laptop and started trying to figure out how much damage control she was going to have to do when she got back.
Heather brought home pizza for dinner. With sausage on it. Lilly could practically feel her arteries clogging and her thighs expanding just looking at it. And then to top it off, Heather insisted they all eat together.
Lilly picked at the melted cheese oozing off the edge of her slice, grimacing when it coated her fingers in grease. Gross. She'd been off dairy for almost two years, and if she'd ever needed a reminder of why, this was doing a pretty good job.
"Aren't you hungry, Lilly?" Heather asked.
Lilly shrugged. "Not really." She ignored how her stomach was saying that was a lie. She wasn't eating this crap.
"First you skip breakfast and now dinner?" Her mother frowned. "That isn't like you."
Lilly shrugged, and god, this Lilly had to be a major pig. Heather kept acting like she expected Lilly to eat twice her body weight at every meal. Lilly was surprised this body wasn't like three hundred pounds.
Ben was sucking down his third slice and Heather moved on to talking about her day. Lilly tuned out after the first two sentences. She didn't think Ben was paying any more attention than she was, either. It was strange to see him like this. He looked the same as he had the last time she'd seen him, even though by now he should be a senior, taller. Probably hairier.
Lilly wiped her fingers on the napkin. The grease turned the white paper transparent. So gross. "So when's Dad coming home?" She almost wouldn't mind seeing him. It had always been her mother she'd fought with, her father who tried to smooth things over.
Ben had stopped eating. His mouth was hanging open, half-chewed pizza filling it. So. Freaking. Gross. Obviously his table manners were no different in this world.
"That's not funny, Lilly," Heather said. Her voice was clipped and unhappy.
"What isn't?" Lilly asked, wondering for a second if she'd said that thing about Ben's table manners out loud.
"I'd imagine your father is home already," her mother said. "You can call him after dinner if you'd like. Otherwise you'll be seeing him next Wednesday, like usual."
Lilly blinked. Call him? She'd see him when? What was Heather talking about?
Ben piled two more slices on his plate and picked the whole thing up. "I'm finishing dinner in my room," he said, glaring at her before he disappeared.
"I thought we had to eat 'as a family'," Lilly said, sarcastic, when her mother didn't stop him. "But I guess since Dad's not here either – "
The last time Lilly had heard her mother use that tone of voice, it had been followed by an ultimatum that Lilly would do as she was told as long as she lived in this house. Lilly didn't know what she'd done this time, but she couldn't afford to get kicked out. It wasn't like she could go crash at Amber or Ashley's, and it certainly wasn't like she had ten million dollars at her disposal anymore.
"Lilly, honey, are you okay?" Heather asked, her voice much gentler. "Are you...having trouble adjusting? I know it's been a while now, but sometimes we think we're all right with something and then later it turns out we really aren't. Do you want to talk about it?"
Lilly might have been willing to do that. If she had the faintest idea what it was. "Talk about what?" she asked cautiously. She had to be missing something big.
Heather cleared her throat. "The divorce, sweetheart."
Oh. The divorce. The divorce. "No," Lilly said. "I don't."
"You don't have to talk to me. You know I saw someone for a while in the beginning. I'm sure she could recommend someone who specializes in working with people your age. It might help to talk to someone who isn't part of the situation."
"I'm going to my room," Lilly said. She closed the door behind her and resisted the urge to kick it. Heather would put her in therapy for sure.
Her parents were divorced. Oliver. Damn him. He'd spent all day babbling about what classes they were in and how Hannah had to be a secret, and he hadn't thought to mention this?
It didn't matter. She didn't care. So what if she'd always thought her parents would stay married forever? This wasn't even her world. These weren't even her parents. Her parents were still married. Right?
Suddenly she realized that she didn't know. She hadn't talked to her parents in a year. They could have gotten divorced and she wouldn't know. And if she was stuck here, if she couldn't get back, she'd never know. Somehow the uncertainty, the not knowing, was even worse than the idea of them divorcing. Because it didn't stop there. Ben here was younger than when she'd left her parents' house, but back home he would be graduating soon. She wouldn't know where he went to college. What if one of her parents had an accident? She wouldn't know when her grandma died.
She might not have talked to her family for the past year, but that hadn't been like this. They'd still been there. Maybe they didn't care what happened to her. Maybe she didn't care what happened to them. But she could have found out. And now she couldn't.
She might not ever go back, she might not ever know anything that happened to them after she'd stormed out of this house a year ago. They might as well be dead.
Lilly sat down on the bed and pulled off the cheap, ugly clothes, not able to stand wearing them one more second. She didn't care. She didn't care if she didn't know. Why should she? They didn't care about her. She didn't care about them. No maybe. That was how it was.
The bruise hurt when she moved. It had all day, but now it felt like it was spreading through her body, back and up and down. Lilly crawled into bed naked, exhausted. She wanted to shut this world out. She wanted all of this to go away.
Hannah knew she should sleep. That was probably the best chance she had for this whole unbelievable situation to fix itself, for her to get back to her own universe. But she stayed awake in the darkened room, thinking back over what she'd done since getting back from school.
It hadn't been much. She'd looked up Hannah online, which had briefly made her feel better about the state Miley might be making of her life. Miley hadn't done as much as Hannah – no movies yet, only three albums out, and she didn't write any of her songs – but she knew how to handle herself. As long as she hadn't wigged out on Oprah about switching universes, today probably would have gone okay for her.
After that, Hannah had eaten the dinner Robby Ray cooked. Done the dishes, because apparently it was Miley's night. Pretended to do homework so Robby Ray wouldn't get upset. Listened to Jackson on the phone trying to talk a girl into going out with him and failing hard.
That was it. Her day usually didn't end until after eight, sometimes much later, but by eight tonight she'd already been home for five hours. More time wasted, a whole day wasted. How had Miley ever gotten famous when she spent all her time in school and doing homework?
But tonight reminded her a little of how things used to be, back before her mom died. After had been grief, and when that began to recede, she'd gotten serious about singing and Hannah had taken off. But before had been like tonight, just the four of them at home, dinner, chores, homework. Normal stuff. Boring.
Sometimes her dad had played the guitar and they sang along. Hannah used to watch her father then. He was always smiling, happy, but she knew he wasn't hearing them, not just them, he was hearing thousands of people screaming his name, he was remembering being on tour, remembering something more than normal. She could see he missed it, hungered for it. It made her hunger for it, too.
Didn't Miley feel that way?
She wondered why Miley put herself through all of this, the chores and homework and ridiculous disguise. It was holding her back, and Hannah couldn't understand it.
She didn't understand anything about this world. She was glad her mother wasn't here. It was bad enough Robby Ray and Jackson were.
She rolled over on her stomach and pulled a pillow over her head, staring at pitch black and praying for sleep. She didn't like it here. She didn't like this place, the way it tilted her life into something she couldn't recognize or comprehend.
I want to go home, she thought, directing it out to God, or the universe, or whatever force had brought her here. Just let me wake up in my own bed, in my own world. Just let me wake up in my own skin.
This will have either six or seven chapters (not as long as this one omg), and it's looking like I can do a chapter a week. So the next one will be up next Thursday, though hopefully earlier than this one was.