"I know it sounds silly, but you have to trust me," Billy says, his voice quivering. We're sitting in his room, and his hands tremble as he narrates the story.
"That's ridiculous. How do you even come up with something like that", I say astounded at the words coming out of his mouth.
"I'm telling you she.." his sentence is cut short as the door opens, and Mrs. Baker makes her way inside. "Hello, Mark. Didn't see you come in", she says, looking at me, "Are you boys having fun?".
"Yes, mom," Billy mumbles, trying hard not to give away his anxiety.
"Don't forget to finish your homework before you sit down to play," she says. "I don't want any more complaints from school."
"Okay," Billy mouths, the words barely leaving his mouth.
"I came in here to ask if you’re hungry. I can make peanut butter sandwiches if you want"
Billy shakes his head "No, I don't want any," he says.
"What about you, Mark?" she asks, still lingering on the edge of the door.
"Uh... None for me", I say a bit confused.
"Okay. I'll leave you guys alone. Have fun", she says as she closes the door.
"See? What did I tell you", Billy says in a hushed tone, his eyes rooted to the door in suspicion.
"I still don't buy it. I'm sure she just forgot".
"How could she forget. She knows you're allergic to peanuts. She never makes them when you're here. I'm telling you, it's not her. I know my mother, and she is not her".
"Okay, so let me get this straight. She looks exactly like your mother but is not her", I say sarcastically.
"She has the same face, eyes, hair, everything. Everything is the same, but it's not her. There's something off. Yesterday, she went for a walk in the woods beside the highway, but someone else returned. I feel it's a different person wearing her skin."
"Jesus. Enough of this. You're being paranoid", I say, pouring him a glass of water.
"Maybe you're right. I'm overthinking this", he sighs as he takes a sip. "But let's check it out. Let's go there and see for ourselves. I want to find out what happened."
"No way. I'm not going there".
"It's deserted, and it gives me the creeps. I wonder why she went there in the first place."
"Now who's being paranoid."
"Forget about it, I am not going there," I say, getting up, ready to leave. "Have a good night's sleep, and get this out of your head. We'll talk at school tomorrow." I say as I bid goodbye.
He's late to class the next day. As he makes his way to the desk, he flashes a dispirited smile at me. I observe him all through the lecture. He looks forlorn and buried in his own thoughts. I don't know what's gotten into him. He's never been like this. Maybe I will accompany him to the woods today. Will take his mind off things when he's convinced there's nothing afoot. I catch up to him during the lunch break hoping to cheer him up.
"Why were you late today?" I ask.
"My alarm clock didn't go off, and I missed the bus," he says glumly.
"Are you okay? You seem a bit lost." I say.
"I'm fine. It was a long lecture." he grimaces.
"Yeah, it was. Listen, just don't overthink it. It will be fine", I say, trying to console him.
"Okay," he says with a puzzled look on his face as he takes out his lunch bag from his backpack.
"What do you have there?" I say, trying to change the topic.
"Peanut butter sandwiches. You want some?"