by Arthur

Standing in the middle of her bedroom, Juliana looked down at the floor and saw her clothes scattered around her feet. "My but this room is untidy. I better straighten it up," she thought to herself.

Juliana first picked up a bright yellow poly-blend dress, folded it properly, and placed it on a chair. Picking up a pair of pantyhose, she noticed a run in the right leg. "This will never be worn again," she thought, as she dropped it in wastebasket.

She next picked up a pair of black high-heel pumps, which she took to the closet and inserted in the bottom pocket of a canvas shoe rack.

Picking up a white 34B lace-cup bra, Juliana stared at it for a moment. "I can't see how women were ever talked into wearing one of these contraptions," she mused. "They squeeze in the breasts in an almost unnatural way, while those elastic sides cut into your torso under your arms. And you almost have to be a contortionist to get those teeny hooks into those equally minuscule eyelets so the bra will stay in place."

Juliana reached the bureau and had to stand on her tiptoes to reach the knobs on the lingerie drawer on top. She pushed over a stool to make the chore easier. Arranging the bra precisely next to its seven sisters, Juliana looked wistfully into the drawer. "This is the last time I'll be putting bras away for now," she said.

As she removed from the floor the last item of scattered clothing, a pair of white French-cut panties. Juliana heard knocking at the bedroom door. A female voice cried out, "Are you okay, Juliana? Is everything all right?"

"I'm fine, Gabriella," Juliana replied. "Well I'm worried about you. You've been in there for such a long time," Gabriella answered. "Don't worry. I'll be out soon," Juliana added.

Climbing back on the stool, Juliana lowered the panties into their place. She smoothed them flat, then closed the drawer. "That closes a chapter on my life," Juliana thought with a feeling of brief sadness.

Walking to the bed, Juliana opened a bag from a local discount store and pulled out a poly-sealed package, which she quickly ripped open. She liberated a pair of size 4 girl's panties that glistened in a happy shade of pink. Juliana stared at them with amazement for nearly a minute, then poked her feet through the leg holes and pulled them up. A snap of elastic around her waist completed the task.

Moving in front of the closet mirror, Juliana stared at her reflection in awe. The 4-year-old girl who stared back at her seemed to telepathically remind her, "Just remember! They didn't downsize you out of that job. You downsized yourself out of it – and the rest of the life you had."

A tear rolled down Juliana's cheek as she reminisced about her recent past. She remembered about how she couldn't wait to be a grown woman, to go out in the world and create the perfect life for herself. But her adult life didn't turn out like she planned. The hard times trying to find jobs, then staying employed as the workforce was constantly slimmed and rearranged to meet the whims of the Wall Street crowd. The failed romances! The loneliness of living by one's self while shifting from town to town to accept new jobs, but never staying long enough to make permanent friends. She never had enough money or time to enjoy herself. And neither of her parents were still around to console her. At nearly 30 years since her birth, she was tired, exasperated and miserable.

Juliana thought back to her childhood. How she missed those days. How she missed her mother, who was always singing in the kitchen, but always had time help with problems, explain life from a female perspective, or teach her necessary skills. How she missed her father, who toiled all day, but was never too tired come to her aid when she needed help, be it with her homework, or console her when she was feeling down. She missed the love and support that simply oozed from her parents, who treated her with dignity and respect while steering her down the road of life, and always expressed pride in her accomplishments.

Too bad they both died in that auto accident six years ago. How she wished they were alive today!

She likewise remembered her friends at school. Marcie, the tomboy who could beat the boys at sports. Sandra, who always made her laugh. Linda, the brain who helped the others on school projects who surprisingly blossomed into the most beautiful of the quartet of friends, enabling the others to date the excess boys she attracted. And even Cal, the boy who wasn't afraid to befriend girls and often helped them with things mechanical, from reattaching a doll's head to repairing a bicycle.

Too bad they all scattered to parts unknown about the time they went to college. If only at least one of them was still around, if only for the conversation.

Juliana even thought of the friendly adults in her neighborhood. Old Mrs. Murphy, provider a home-baked cookies. Mr. Gershaw, gruff but always coming to the aid of people being bullied. Mr. Hoag, the grocer who slipped kids free penny candy. Mrs. Rannehan, the retired teacher who always at a few interesting things to show and entertain the neighborhood kids.

All gone now, Juliana sighed. Even the wooden homes in the old neighborhood had been ripped down recently to make way for multi-story condominiums.

"It's like I was pushed off the world and left adrift in an unfriendly and cantankerous universe," Juliana thought. "Nothing is the same. Maybe the only this I was intended to be successful at was childhood."

Again, Juliana heard banging on the bedroom door. "Are you sure you're all right? What's taking you so long?" Gabriella demanded. "Just a while longer," Juliana replied as she dug back into the bag.

As Juliana slipped white anklet socks on her feet, she cracked a small smile as she thought of how, when she was feeling her lowest, worrying that her latest job would soon evaporate, leaving her alone and without an income, and not much of a bank account, Gabriella appeared. Almost like out of nowhere, Gabriella was suddenly sitting next to her on the bus bench late at night, asking her why she looked so unhappy. After listening to Juliana's problems, Gabriella offered her a solution.

"I can see you have some real talent," Gabriella told her. "But you are wasting it in your current profession. I have a position that only you can fill. And if you accept it, I'm sure it will fill the void in your life."

Gabriella intrigued Juliana, who after two days of careful thought, decided to find out more about the position.

"You might say it's a domestic position," Gabriella explained. "I'd like you to help out a family that has a real problem that in time will make them extremely unhappy and very sad. They need someone with your special talent to set them back on the road to a happy and healthy life."

"You want me to be a maid?" Juliana asked. "No! Nothing of the sort, although you'll have to wear different clothing than at your current job," Gabriella said. "But I haven't trained as a psychotherapy nurse," Juliana replied. "That's not the position either, although your just being in the position will do wonders for the family's mental health," Gabriella explained.

"Can you tell me who'll I'll work for?" Juliana inquired. "If you turned down the job and knew, you might endanger the subsequent person who accepts it. But I assure you, the position will be for life, and it contains none of the uncertainties or loneliness that currently bedevil you," Gabriella said.

Juliana stared at the floor for the longest time. But when she raised her head, she accepted the position.

"Then we'll get you ready to assume the position right away," Gabriella cheerfully said, as she handed Juliana a bag from a department store. "It contains you special clothing," she explained. She also handed Juliana a cylindrical device that she was to use before donning the new clothes, because "the family is expecting a much younger person to fill the position.

Inside her bedroom, Juliana stared at the device. A label read "Formula AR: Youth Restoring Balm. Made in USA by Louder & Oni Ltd." She thought, "Do I want to get younger? Much younger? If I do, I might not be able to keep or return to my old job. Should I?" After some thought, the answer was "Yes!"

And when Juliana opened the cylinder, she was enveloped in a strange mist.

While in semi-daze, Juliana could feel her body changing. The first sensation was the cups of her bra emptying. Then her dress sagged on her shoulders, pulling away from her neck. The legs of her pantyhose also sagged into sad wrinkles. The hem of her dress dropped below her knees. She teetered out of her left shoe, then her right. And then her pantyhose dropped to her feet.

One by one, Juliana's adult clothing fell from her body, which she could see was growing shorter, less developed, more childlike. But Juliana only formed a small grin. The act of her clothing leaving her frame was not an evil sensation to her. It was like she was bursting from an ugly cocoon, and emerging as a beautiful butterfly after a long incubation.

Gabriella's banging on the bedroom door again interrupted Juliana's thoughts. "What's taking so long? Do you need help or something," Gabriella insisted. "Just a minute," Juliana protested as she quickly put on the last of the articles of clothing in the bag.

She emerged from the bedroom and stood before Gabriella, no longer a woman of nearly 30 beset by stress and uncertainty. Juliana was now a smiling 4-year-old girl wearing the cutest pink play dress.

"You like?" Juliana giggled. "You're absolutely adorable," Gabriella smiled back.

"But now for your assignment," Gabriella said. "You are to join the family of Robert and Cathy Breen. It seems that they are distraught to the point of endangering their marriage because their daughter was killed today when she ran into the street in front of a speeding car. Pure hit-and-run! And in their grief, Robert and Cathy – two otherwise nice and friendly people – will bicker, blame each other for the incident. If this grief is allowed to fester, both of their lives will in ruins in a matter of months

"As is pure coincidence, their daughter also is named Juliana, and she resembles you very closely," Gabriella noted. "What I propose is that we install you as their daughter's replacement. We cannot bring her back from the dead; change what was preordained. But we can erase the last few hours, inserting you, unscathed, at the time of their daughter's departure from this earthly existence. Your very presence will prevent the Breens from entering the circle of destructive grief that otherwise awaits them."

"But how can I replace their daughter?" Juliana inquired.

"By using your inbred talents," Gabriella instructed. "You may remember how loving and helpful your parents were. And how friendly your childhood cohorts and neighbors were. But you missed the point. To receive love, friendship and help, you have to give the same to others. These attributes exist as a two-way street. When one party stopped loving, being a friend or helping others, the cycle is broken.

"Your problem was that you lost contact with the nice people of your childhood for one reason or another, and were unlucky in not finding people of similar quality in your adult life," Gabriella added. "Its sad, but too many people today selfishly spend an inordinate amount of time chasing power and money without a thought for other people. They fail to realize that true wealth in this life comes from reciprocating love, friendship and assistance. They are to be pitied.

"In your new position, you will be back in touch people who understand the values of love, friendship and being helpful. As long as you reciprocate as you did in your earlier life, you'll do fine, and you'll also regain what you lost as an adult," she noted.

"But won't the Breens detect that I'm different?" Juliana asked.

"They won't, because when you assume the daughter's place, you will inherit her memories from day one," Gabriella said. "And also because you two were practically identical in psychological makeup at age 4. And no, you will not remember your earlier life, so that won't cloud your thinking in your new position."

"But what about my old life? What will become of the old me?" Juliana demanded.

"You'll simply vanish," Gabriella explained. "When the messenger from your current job arrives tomorrow morning with your pink slip and final paycheck, he'll find your apartment neat but empty. There will be a police inquiry into your disappearance, but you'll be a forgotten unsolved case in a year. And your most recent co-workers will have forgotten you even sooner."

"And I won't miss that awful life or those co-workers either. This new position sounds better than anything I ever imagined! I can't wait to assume it," Juliana said with tears of happiness creasing her face. "But how can you do this?"

Gabriella only smiled lovingly and handed Juliana her business card. It read: "Guardian Angel Employment Agency. Putting talent in the best positions since time immemorial."