2020-2021, Short Story, Writing

A Walnut-Disguised Rock

By Connie Zhang, ’23

Harper

“Watch it!” My armful of books are knocked to the ground by someone and I’m scurrying around trying to collect them back. I look up, it’s Stone Ryder.

“Sorry Harp,” he says, bending down to help pick up my books. I push his arm away and quickly gather them up myself.

“It’s Harper,” I reply walking away. I hear a faint “Got it” but don’t turn back to check. Stone Ryder. One of the most popular guys in school, an all-star football player who’s also smart enough to be in all the honors and AP classes. He’s not a rude jock or anything, I’m just not a people person. Or rather, I’m not a people person anymore. I used to be in a happy family of three. That all disappeared when my mom was diagnosed with cancer. When Dad wasn’t at the hospital taking care of Mom, he was working hard to pay the medical bills. He distanced himself from everyone including me after she died. I tried to give him happiness but it wasn’t any use. Months after her death, my relationship with Dad became distant, every conversation was just a way of letting each other know we can still talk and we’re still alive.

I walk down the hallway to AP Biology and sit down at my seat. Lunch just ended, so most people are still coming from the cafeteria. No one’s mean to me at school or anything, they just stay away so they don’t have to talk with an ice block. As people start to pile in, I notice Stone suddenly staring at me from his seat. What the? A slow curve forms by his lips and he winks at me. I snap my head away from his direction and roll my eyes. “Player,” I mumble to myself.


Stone

I find myself grinning at Harper’s reaction to my wink. In all honesty, I had no idea I was looking at her. I guess winking was just a knee jerk reaction of mine. I don’t have any problems with anyone, most people enjoy my presence and I’d like to think I’m friendly to everyone. But Harper, goodness Harper. She’s like a rock disguised as a walnut making it impossible to crack.

I moved here two years ago, a little after my mom died. It tore a piece of my heart out when the doctors broke the news to my dad and I. He decided to move upstate to try and rebuild our lives by starting fresh. It worked since I now have a funny stepmom and sweet little stepsister. I’m glad he was able to find happiness a second time in his lifetime, but I’ll never forget my mom.

“Today I’ll be assigning your partners for a food web project.” I turn my attention to the teacher. “You’ll only get time in class today to plan things out, so make sure to meet up with your partners outside of class to get your work done. The first pair is Stone Ryder and Harper Jones.” My ears twitch and I feel my pulse speed up unwillingly. I turn my head towards Harper and see her sitting there expressionless. I can’t tell if it’s because she didn’t hear, or if that’s just her resting face. I approach her and see her pull an empty desk for me to sit. That’s a good sign.

“Hey, Harper,” I say with my best friendly smile.

“Hi,” she says shifting her gaze down to her desk.

“So, any ideas on the project?” I say, trying to spark up a conversation.

“A few,” she says dead cold, enough to send chills down my back.

“Okay great, me too. We can share ideas and work from there.”

“Mhm.” Her gaze is still down at her desk and her face has a deadpan expression.

“Look, I just want to be direct: do you have a problem with me?” I ask. I don’t like it when I can’t figure a person out. Especially when I barely know them.

“No,” she says, finally lifting her gaze up and looking at me. I see deep chestnut eyes and faint freckles across the bridge of her nose. She’s a lot prettier up close.

“You sure? You seem distant and cold towards me.”

“I’m distant and cold toward everyone.” Oh, right.

“Why? You don’t seem mean, why make people think you’re an ice queen all the time?”

“It’s easier that way.” I don’t understand what she means, but at least she’s saying more than two words now.

“Don’t you want people to like you?”

“Don’t care.” And we’re back to the two-word responses.

“Why not?”

“Why do you care about why I don’t care?” Her reply is filled with annoyance and coated with anger. I have to pause a second to dissect her sentence. At least her replies are longer again. “I’m gonna go get the papers.”

Before I can respond, she gets up and starts walking away. “I’ll help,” I say getting up to follow her. You’d think being a football player I wouldn’t be a big clutz, but that being said, I trip over the leg of a desk and start falling, accidentally pulling Harper down too. When we make contact on the floor, something soft hits my mouth. Hard. The “something soft” is her lips…shoot.


Harper

Thank goodness the bells rings and school is over, talk about saved by the bell. I shove him off me, grab my things, and dart out the door. It’s like when you’ve dropped a bomb, you don’t stay and wait for the bomb to explode, you get out of there as fast as you can. Goodness, Harper. Why is your heart beating so fast? Once I finally reach the front door of my apartment, I hear movement behind the door. Guess Dad’s home. I’ve gotten used to it now, the trick is to walk straight to your room saying a quick “I’ll be doing work.” It’s the best way to avoid any unnecessary conversations, and it’s what we’ve both been doing for the past seven years.

Once I’m tucked in bed, I close my eyes and end up dozing off quickly, but before I know it an alarm wakes me up. Only, it’s not my alarm, it’s just an alarm. Something about my body feels different too, I rub my eyes to clear my sleepy vision and see a mirror in front of me. A feeling of horror stabs me sharply in my chest—which, by the way, is…oddly flat? What the


Stone

I’m looking into a mirror, feeling lightheaded, staring at a girl with deep chestnut eyes and faint freckles across the bridge of her nose, the same ones I was looking at yesterday. What the heck is going on? I walk out of Harper’s small but comfy room with a big jacket over her PJs for school. Pretty sure I’d be an absolute douchebag to change into something else as Harper, so I’m trying to be as gentlemanly as possible. We’re not gonna talk about me using the bathroom earlier though. When I start making my way out the door, a man (who I guess is Harper’s father) steps out of his room and nods at me with an expressionless face. “Good morning!” I expect a similar reply back, but he looks at me oddly for a moment as if he’s never heard this said to him before. He nods once more and walks by without a word. Like father like daughter I guess.

When I spot Harper at school, I run up and look her straight in the eye. We both have study hall first period, so we have time to sort things out in this situation. “Situation” is an understatement, don’t you think? It feels weird to be looking at myself, and Harper seems to feel the same way when she sees me.

“So, clearly we’ve switched bodies,” I say casually. There’s nothing casual about this.

“How do we switch back?” Harper says, cutting straight to the point. She’s not smiling which isn’t a surprise, but she has my face right now, so her not smiling is the equivalent of me not smiling. It feels weird.

“I don’t know, but right now we should figure out how to get through school,” I reply.

“Fine. It shouldn’t be too hard since we have almost all the same classes.” I can’t help but feel a little flattered at her noticing that about our schedules. “We need some rules.”

“Rules? Like what?” I ask in curiosity and amusement. I have to say, I’m much happier than expected about switching bodies with Harper of all people. She’s different. I don’t know her yet and the cold attitude is strange but also intriguing to me.

Harper pulls out a piece of paper and starts writing down rules, and when I look down to read them my amusement only increases.

Rule #1: Act how the other acts
Rule #2: Don’t shower/bathe
Rule #3: Never take any undergarments off
Rule #4: Don’t go through other’s stuff
Rule #5: Avoid long conversations with Harper’s dad

Rule five sparks the confusion from earlier this morning in me again. “What do you mean
by rule five?” I ask.

“I guess just don’t talk too much. It’s complicated.” I want her to open up more, but I have
to remind myself just because she looks like me doesn’t mean she’ll act like me.

“Won’t we get gross with rule two?” I ask, moving away from rule five.

“Well, yes…but…” I laugh at her sudden shyness and see a hint of pink along her cheeks. Is it weird to like seeing my face blush? Or is it because Harper’s doing the blushing?

“It’s okay, I got you.” I wink at her. There’s that knee jerk reaction again.

“For rule one, you can’t say things that I wouldn’t say. You need to be the me when I’m in me, you can’t be you in me. And when I’m in you, I’ll try to be the you in regular you too.”

“No clue what you just said, but I’ll do my best,” I say with a grin. She’s adorable.


8 Days Later

Harper

Stone and I ended up getting through our absurd situation quite well. We switch bodies every other day, meaning we can shower and catch up with our original lives when we’re “normal” us.

It’s been a little over a week, and I’ve learned so much about Stone’s life. His family is amazing. When I found out his mom had died too, I was truly shocked by how his dad was living a happy life along with Stone. Stone seems to be on good terms with his stepfamily too. I don’t understand why my dad and I couldn’t be like them. Spending time with Stone’s family had made me feel warm inside, but that feeling disappeared quickly when you realized it wasn’t your real life.

It took years to build my walls as strong as they are, and everyday Stone talks to me, he’s like a wrecking ball easily smashing through them. And as my walls are crumbling down, the iceberg inside my heart seems to be melting too. Every day, I wonder if this will ever stop, what if it doesn’t? What if we switch like this forever? Does that mean we could only marry each other or not be married at all? Wait, what am I saying, marriage? Pfft… On the contrary, what’ll happen if this stops? Will we go back to just being faint acquaintances? Or could we…try to be… something more? I hate this.


Stone

After spending multiple days as Harper, I finally cracked that walnut-disguised rock. She still doesn’t say much about her feelings, but at least I know what her life is like. Finding out about her mom sent a familiar sting of pain and sorrow through my body. But it sent piercing knives at my heart for Harper. This girl could have it so much better if she was willing to try. The relationship with Harper’s dad is a “2 steps forward 1 step back” process. Every time I switch back, it’s like nothing’s changed aside from one extra word said here and there in our talks.

“Hey Harps?” I whisper in study hall. She’s currently in my body though, so I make sure no one else hears.

“Hi, what’s up?” she asks with a smile knowing that’s what I would do if I were me.

“I wanna talk about your dad,” I say, her smile drops.

“Why? About what?” Her voice is hardening.

“Listen Harps,” I say taking her hands in mine, we’ve been comfortable like this for a while now. And it feels absolutely amazing. “I think you can try and pull your dad into a new life, with more happiness.” She doesn’t respond. “Why don’t you try to lift his spirits up? Make more conversation like you’re able to do with me.”

“No.” I haven’t heard her dead cold tone in a long time and I can see anger being frosted onto her words. I just want her life to get better. I have to push her.

“Harp, please, why don’t you try?” Right after I say this, she flips.

“Maybe I have tried to lift his spirits up! Maybe I have tried making conversation! You think I don’t want him to be happy? He’s my father! I want him to move on and get a new life without Mom. Your family is so happy even after losing someone important, why can’t my family be like that? I was a 10 year old trying to lift my father’s spirits up, the only thing I got in return was failure and distance. The guy’s not willing! Why should I try anymore?” She’s yelling now, capturing a handful of people’s attention (especially since she’s in my body).

“You’re scared.” She stiffens. “Well guess what Harp? You miss 100% of the chances you don’t take.”

“That’s so cliché,” she says, hiding a faint small smile.

“I just want your life to get better. The old man’s gone through the same thing as you.” She seems to have calmed down now and it only now occurs to me that she’s kept it in her for so long. The bell rings and as she gathers her things, she looks at me and nods in silence the same way her dad did the first time I met him. They’re both in so much pain when they don’t have to be.


5 Days Later

Harper

I ended up confronting him. My dad. Had a conversation that was longer than 10 words in total. It started with me shouting in his face…then ended with us bawling in each other’s arms. It’s going slow, but I’m glad to be going at any rate of repairing our relationship now. Thank you, Stone.


Stone

I spot Harper sitting alone at lunch in her real body. Yesterday, I ran through what happened the day before we started switching and it hit me. Literally, actually. I tripped and fell during AP Biology—again. That’s when I thought of what might’ve sparked the switching in the first place. “Give me your hand,” I say after approaching her.

“Why?” She blinks questionably at me. Cutest thing ever.

“I want to hold it.” She pauses. Smooth Stone.

“If I give you my hand, then I won’t have it anymore.” Okay…smooth Harps.

“Then I’ll give you mine,” I say, turning my hand around so she can take it. Take that.

“Thanks, but I’m good with two hands.” She gets up and walks past me. If I was a balloon, I definitely deflated a bit. “Are you coming or not?” I whip around and see she’s waiting.

Ha, I win.


Harper

“I think I know how we can stop the switching,” he says, but before I can even respond his mouth finds mine. I’m pretty sure he’s holding me up because I lose all strength in my legs. When he breaks the kiss, I breathe in his scent and close my eyes, but before I can even open them he presses his lips on mine again wrapping his arms around me.

“I didn’t say you could kiss me again, I just closed my eyes,” I say pushing him back. “If I wanted you to kiss me, I would’ve done this.” I close my eyes and pucker my lips up at him.

“You would’ve done what?” he asks when I open my eyes again.

“This.” Right when I repeat my actions his lips drop down to mine. We smile against each other and I throw my arms around his neck. “You think we’ll stop switching now?” I ask, now realizing that might be his only reason for kissing me.

“Who knows? The universe does what it wants, but whether I’m you or me, you’re mine one way or another.” he says smiling down at me. So he feels the connection too.

He kisses my forehead and pulls me into his embrace that I fit perfectly into. I feel like we’re fries in ice cream, bacon on a donut, fried chicken with waffles, a weird combo that can only be regarded as delicious after trying.

Stone Ryder. Will you be the nutcracker that cracks this walnut-disguised rock?


EPILOGUE

You would think a pair of teenage lovers in high school wouldn’t last through college (*cough* Romeo *cough* and Juliet *cough*), but when you’ve just so happened to switch bodies with your special someone, it seems like nothing can break you guys apart. Of course, who am I to be telling you about switching bodies with someone? It’s not like I’ve done it before. *wink*

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