Monday, January 15, 2018

Simon/Joy: The Cinderella Thing

The details of "Cinderella" are girly as they come, but we all use it on a regular basis, although for guys, it's mostly about underdogs in sports - such and such a team wasn't expected to go to the tournament, but they were "invited to the ball" and... well, you get it.  There's a kind of winking to it, too, because it's funny to refer to the big dudes playing college basketball as princesses; most guys probably wouldn't actually refer to D-III school whose women's basketball team makes it to the finals against UConn as a "Cinderella story"; they'd just be underdogs.  But here's a thing:  In sales, you play on guys playing out Cinderella fantasies all the time.  You don't call it that, but when you get tickets so that a client can sit in the sort of expensive roof boxes that they either couldn't afford or wouldn't splurge for, or when you give them the chance to shake hands with a celebrity - that's total Cinderella stuff.  I don't really get a chance to do that when selling real estate right now - the closest I get is getting an idea of if anybody famous lives in a neighborhood and when they'd most likely be visible - but there was a reason my office back in Cleveland had season tickets for every team, and why I knew the right guy to talk to for special backstage access to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame:  Folks dig feeling like a prince(ss), and they will think better of you if you give them that feeling.

But you know what?  The actual, literal Cinderella thing isn't so bad either.

Anyway, you may remember that the last time I posted, Joy's ex Iain invited me to a party that happened to be in London.  It was actually surprisingly easy to do on short notice - when Iain's office sent me a first-class ticket to London (connecting through New York), it was for a Friday-afternoon flight, and we'd already planned to close the office early for travel.  Since the airport in San Diego is actually part of the city, it's easy to get to quickly, so I went straight from work, took a domestic flight across the country (idly wondering if Harmon was working it), and actually had plenty of time to get through customs before my transfer.  Both legs were first class, and when I got out of customs, Iain was actually waiting for me, wearing sunglasses and holding up a little sign, grinning at the goofiness of the gesture.  We air-kissed and he handed over a small bag with perfume, toothpaste,  mouthwash, and a few other sundries that TSA doesn't want you to put in your carry-on so that I could duck into a ladies' room and freshen up, all Joy's well-remembered favorites.  Once I was feeling a bit more human, he led me out to his Bentley and said he hoped I didn't mind, but he'd taken the liberty of having a dress made, and although he knew my measurements, it had been a couple years, so they may need to make a few alterations, although I look just the same. 

I took the compliment and allowed myself to gape a little when he pulled up to a very high-end dress shop, where the shopkeepers took me to a back room, had me strip to my undies, made a few measurements, had me try a dress on, and then gave each other a quick, gruff nod before handing me my clothing back and saying "ninety minutes".  This was just enough time to get me down the street to a salon where, as one woman teased my hair, another painted my nails, and yet another told me my pores were fantastic while covering my face with some cream to make them somehow more fantastic.  It took closer to two hours than ninety minutes all told, but when they finally let me look in a mirror, I was kind of astounded.  I still looked like Joy, obviously, but it was like the ideal form of Joy's face.  I trotted back to the dress shop, where they had a taller pair of black heels waiting because the floor-length gown they had made for me would drag on the floor without the extra height.

That's just one indication of how perfect the dress was.  It was black, but shimmered, its pattern all reflective circles.  I don't know if I'd say it made the most of my slender figure - it didn't push my breasts up and out, really - but it had a nice, non-showy curve beneath my underwire, and gave a hint that I had a butt without clinging, before getting comfortably-but-elegantly loose about my legs.  It was strapless, showing off my shoulders and my neck with my hair in a really perfect updo.  Iain beamed like he'd never seen something so beautiful when I walked out, before pulling out a jewelry box and finishing the look with a beautiful necklace and diamond earrings.

There's a bit of a tingle to the cool metal touching my chest, probably just because it had been out in his car, but...  "This doesn't feel like what you do for a 'work thing', Iain."

"Well, it's more a work thing with investors than employees.  I may have accidentally misled you there.  Worth it to see ye all dolled up again, though."

I blush, let him lead me to the car, and then to the party.

It's quite a thing, maybe the first time I've ever seen a ballroom really used for something like a ball.  I get to meet some folks who are fairly well-off trying to sell them houses, but this often seemed like another level.  It's the difference between "rich" and "wealthy", I guess, but everybody I met was very nice and really just had an aura about them, if that's not getting too feminine or deferential.  They all felt connected to power and resources, even the other bits of arm candy, and maybe, having desirable real estate to talk about, I was less there to do nothing but look pretty and make it look less like Iain was somebody people rejected. 

Still, I was glad to get out of those shoes when we got to his London apartment afterward - I've gotten to be a fair hand in walking in those things, but my typical day has more time at a desk or driving or the like, not standing for hours on end and even dancing while still kind of tired because I don't think I got more than four hours sleep in the previous twenty-four.

I actually conked out in Iain's recliner, but it actually had me waking up at a pretty reasonable six AM local time, hoping like hell that winding up spread-eagled with each foot dangling over an arm of the chair and that long, elegant dress hiked up past my knees, like I'd had some sort of nightmare about visiting the gynecologist or something, had happened after Iain had fallen asleep.  Not, I thought, how I'd want Iain to remember me or Joy.  For what it was worth, he was asleep on the couch, facing a different direction, apparently not willing to take the bed and make me decide whether or not I wanted to crawl in with him if I woke up before morning. 

Instead, I checked out the bathroom, wondering if the bottles of shampoo, lotion, and the like in there were bought for me or the property of the girl who dumped him. Being well-used to using someone else's stuff by now, I didn't feel any guilt as I lathered up in the shower, but him having full-sized bottles of women's product there said something, whether that he'd recently been really close to someone, that he was incredibly considerate and organized, or that he figured he'd need them for one lady or another soon enough.  At any rate, it got me clean and smelling nice.

He was cooking some bacon when I'd gotten dressed in jeans, sweater, and sneakers, and smiled as I came out of the bathroom.  "Now, there's a sight for sore eyes.  Why did we break up again?"

Telling him his girlfriend had died but her shape stayed at the hotel room would have sounded absurd, so I mentally dug through Joy's diary and email.  "If I remember correctly, you weren't quite so rich as to fly your girlfriend halfway around the world on a whim a couple years ago, and even if you were, I wasn't really looking to be something that rich guys shipped to and fro like cargo."

"Ach, ye got me there.  As to the first, it turns out that while I don't know shite about horses and I'm not exactly any sort of engineer myself, I am damn good at choosing which firms to invest in using the money the family made breeding racehorses for a hundred years or so.  Dad isn't really sure what to make of it, but when he finally listened to his doctors telling him to step back and then convinced me to become more involved in the business, he said that as long as I didn't risk the house where five generations of the family have lived, I had my head.  And what about you?  How are you different now?"

Oh, if only my life had a laugh track.  "Oh, I don't know.  Trying to build myself up while still not worrying about tomorrow too much, I guess.  I sometimes feel like I was a different person back then, you know?  Although not so different that I'm necessarily down for eight-time-zones-away for a day."

I'd started to pack my things, but moved to the bar as he set a couple plates down.  "Does it have to be just a couple days?  I know, you've got a job, so it's a big thing to ask, but I'd love to have you stay until the new year."

"Uh, wow, okay.  I mean, okay, I'm processing, but I'm sure you've got family stuff, and I don't know if I'd necessarily be welcome."

He seemed to wince a bit.  "Aye, things did get kind of complicated when we split, and they do keep me busy through Boxing Day.  But I've got the whole rest of the week, and I noticed you were planning on going back to California, so you were going to spend the holidays alone anyway...  Might as well do it here, right?  Why don't you call your folks; there's plenty of room!"

It sounded like a crazy idea, although he couldn't know how crazy inviting Joy's parents would be for me.  Fortunately, it was the middle of the night for them and it wouldn't have made sense to call right away (they totally would have answered a call from their daughter at that hour, assuming it was an emergency), so I could put that off.  I had to admit, Christmas in London in what was essentially a really nice AirBNB that I didn't have to pay for had a little more appeal than Treena being judgmental about me having let Iain spend what might have been a few grand on me, so I said yes.

First order of the day was dropping him at the airport so he could head to Scotland, and then I got to go shopping - I had, after all, only brought a carry-on with what I'd thought was a nice dress and something to wear on the flight home.  Finding a department store and buying some basics in a strange city on Christmas Eve is not something I would necessarily recommend as an experience everyone should have at least once, but it was weirdly exciting to be in the holiday crunch despite not exactly having a lot of people to shop for.  I'd sent Joy's parents gift cards and got a thing or two for Treena and Brian/"Simon", but the Inn had me doing even less than usual. 

(Speaking of Joy's folks, I extended them Iain's invitation, figuring they might take him up on it because they were originally from the UK, but between not wanting to leap right into holiday travel or be a third wheel for their daughter when it looked like she might get back together with that nice Scottish boy, they declined, albeit with a list of things for me to pick up and mail them once I was back home.)

I did pick a couple things up to give Iain when he arrived back in London, which aside from being polite also meant I felt like much less of a jerk when a delivery man rang the bell Christmas morning and presented me with a number of little presents from Iain.  Nothing really romantic, but some nice perfume, a funny t-shirt, some chocolate, and a book.  There was a small suitcase, too, since I obviously wouldn't fit all of that in my carry-on. 

One pleasant surprise that Iain didn't have much to do with its that I didn't have any trouble finding a place to eat on Christmas; though most restaurants are closed back home, eating out is a much a Christmas tradition in London as a big family dinner.  Most places were booked up in advance, but there were spots at the bars for both lunch and supper.  Got the number of a sympathetic bartender who heard my accent and figured being so far from home over the holidays was rough, although I never got around to calling it.  Someone told me I had to watch the Doctor Who Christmas special because he was regenerating into a woman, and maybe it's a bigger deal if you're a fan, but, man, he spent an awful lot of time moping over getting a new life and nothing else happened!  I stayed in reading my new book after that - more Joy's sort of thing than mine, I expect, but alright. 

I spent the 26th seeing stuff that maybe Iain would think weren't Joy's thing - the Churchill War Rooms, a Jack the Ripper tour, that sort of thing.  It's not hard to fill a day in London when you're still jet-lagged enough to roll out of bed at 1pm.

Then Iain came, I gave him his presents, and the rest of the week just flew by.  We did a bunch of touristy things - Abbey Road, the Eye, a horse-drawn hansom cab ride, the changing of the guard - ate some crazy good food, enough for me to joke about not fitting in that nice dress he'd bought me anymore ("that's the plan - I just couldn't bear you wearing it for anyone else!"), danced in some exclusive clubs...  It was a whirlwind, and when he leaned in to kiss me on Saturday night, I knew it wasn't just the girl he'd been hanging out with for the past few days that he was kissing, but I didn't care.  I wanted him to kiss me, and then I wanted him to make love to me, not just because I'm pretty straight as Joy and it had been a while, but because this is how the Cinderella story ends, and even if I didn't necessarily realize I was in one at the time, it takes hold of you. 

I worried for a second that he'd realize something was up because while he knew about spots on Joy's body that I hadn't found yet, I can't say her diaries were that detailed.  But, as much as he's a great guy, he's still a guy - pay enough attention to his dick, and he's not going to ask about other erogenous zones.  I maybe seemed a little surprise when I was kind of insistent about the condom - we've all learned Jonah's lesson - but he probably just figured she/I had some sort of scare in the past couple of years.

They weren't happy about me taking a last-minute vacation at work, at least until I came back recharged and excited.  I've got to admit - getting Joy's ex, and not just her ex, but arguably her "one", to go for me despite her having dumped and (from his perspective) ghosted him does kind of make me feel like I can sell anything.   Except, maybe, settling Treena on how our continuing to text in the two weeks since I've returned is a good thing. 

-Simon/Joy

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Friday, January 12, 2018

Tyler/Valerie: A honeymoon of my own

After parting ways with Josh after the wedding, I did the only thing that came to mind, the same thing I always do. I left.

He was leaving anyway for the Honeymoon, so you would think I could just hang out in the city by myself. It probably would have made the transition to single life easier, give me time to make arrangements. In fact, that was what Valerie insisted I had to do, feeding me scripts on who I needed to tell and what to say. But this was a situation where, for whatever reason, I needed to get in the driver's seat.

Maybe it's the last remnants of my male pride. Maybe a polecat doesn't change his stripes anyway.

So while Josh was bound for Hawaii I went on a trip of my own... to a place I didn't think I would actually go again.

I went back to friggin' Alabama.

I did it in the stupidest way possible, too, since I didn't give Carrie the head's up before I landed on her doorstep. I wasn't even sure if she'd recognize me. It was a cold, rainy day and all I had was the bag I had packed for Hawaii. Some good it was... reckon I probably wasn't gonna do much swimming there.

I showed up at her apartment, my hair a tangled, dripping mess, my cheeks blotted with rain and tears and smudged makeup, dragging my sad little wheelie bag behind me. I knocked on the door and it opened and for the first time ever, I was looking up at her.

She gave me a look of mixed surprise and confusion but she clicked almost immediately with what was going on, mouthing "Ty?" which I nodded to confirm. She reads the blog, so she did have a sense of my current physical appearance, so when a stranger matching that description showed up at her place randomly, well... she's the smartest Blake of the bunch, I always said.

"Sweetie!" she piped up loudly in away that alerted me she was not alone. "Come in, get dry! I can't believe you're here!" She wrapped me up in a big warm hug and it felt amazing for a moment.

A voice called from the kitchen. "Care, babe? Who's there?"

"Oh, it's just my friend--" she stumbled over the name until I whispered it. "Valerie! I haven't seen her in forever!"

Then he came out to get a look at me, and I saw him there.

Luke Anderson. Carrie's high school boyfriend, who I was not a fan of. I couldn't stop myself from immediately fixing Carrie with a bug-eyed glare of shock, and she responded with a look of mixed embarrassment and fear. I nearly blew my cover by asking what the hell he was doing here.

Luke, who has known Carrie since she was a kid, asked the reasonable question: "How do you two know each other?"

"Vacation!" I blurted out. "We met on vacation a few years ago."

He seemed satisfied, and Carrie excused us saying she had to speak with Val in the hallway.

Soon as the door was closed, I hissed, "What he hell!"

"Nope!" she stuck her finger up. "We'll get to that, but if you want something from me you just need to accept that this is happening and move on."

I closed my eyes tight, took a deep breath and held it in.

"Sorry, I'm a little frazzled and that was... shocking."

"Not as shocking as seeing you here I'll bet," she snickered.

"I just got on a plane and didn't even think... I'm so sorry. I can get a hotel."

"Uh-uh honey. I want you where I can see you."

"Carrie, I don't know what you think I'm gonna... okay, I know exactly what you think, but I've changed."

"Oh, I know you've changed," she said, eyeing me with a suggestive grin. I folded my arms under my chest as if to say, yeah, they're there and we all know it. "And Luke's changed too."

I didn't have anything to say to that, except to note, "Honey... that's a new one."

She shrugged. "It just came out... what can I say? You look like a honey now."

Before I could retort she asked if there was anything else I needed to say as Tyler, or if we could go back in the apartment. The hallway was freezing, so I told her I would explain everything in-character. If he asks any questions about backstory, leave them to me, I've gotten very skilled at that over the years.

"Now come along," she ushered me into the back room of the apartment. "There's somebody you'll want to meet." There lying in a crib was the baby she had given birth to over the summer.

"Tyler," she whispered, "Meet your nephew. Thomas."

I crooked an eyebrow. "You would name him after dad..."

"Think of it as being after Grandpa if it helps."

One of the great ironies of the screwed-up Blake family tree... My dad, Tom Blake Jr., had a similar relationship to his dad that I had to him. Grampy and I always got along well, but Carrie was too young when he died to have known him like I did.

She picked up the baby and passed him to me.

"Oh, I don't..."

"Ty, just... when are you going to be back here again?"

I took the little stinker.

"Hey buddy... I'm..." I said in a hushed voice, "I'm your uncle Ty." I got a little choked up as I said it.

There's a very real chance that I will never, ever be a man again, just based on luck of the draw, and, well, things I will explain later. More and more, since I was Judith, I'm learning to be "okay" using female pronouns and such, and just thinking of myself in those terms, on a potentially permanent basis. But I found myself really wanting to use the phrase "Uncle Ty" one time in my life, at least, just to pretend I'm my old self in that second... even as the kid instinctually nuzzles into my breast.

A gal's heart could melt.

I held him a while, trying not to think about how he would probably never know me, let alone know who I really am, as Luke peppered me with some of the expected questions - who are you again, what brings you here, how long will you be staying... stressful stuff that was not improving my opinion of him anyway. I could tell he wasn't that into having visitors, so I backpedaled with "Oh really, I don't want to impose, I can leave anytime..." but Carrie shut us both down on that front and insisted.

I guess I should explain the backstory between me and Luke. I disliked him from the second he came sniffing around Carrie, because he was a Junior and she was a Freshman. He was a football star and had a reputation around town as a player, so my warnings to her to be careful only made her want him more. I resisted voicing my disapproval because of one simple fact: He's black, and we're not that far removed from the time when that was reason enough for a white guy to want a guy to stay away from his sister. I probably just didn't like I'm because he was cocky and popular and all the things I hated in high school. I kept my mouth shut about it long as I could, never wanted anyone to think it was a race thing, because my dad had a rep for not exactly being progressive, so anything I could do to distance myself from his views, I wanted to. (Oddly enough he did like Luke... Because he was a popular football player.) But Luke always rubbed me the wrong way right from the start and even though I tried to give him a chance, I always heard rumors that he would pick up anything in a skirt.

She was deaf to my warnings, but hey, it's not like I was Mr. Credibility in those days.

Eventually, he got caught redhanded, got her forgiveness, then fucked up again, so she broke it off, but I could tell she never really closed the door there and she even let him string her along when he was with someone else. The guy was her kryptonite and I never liked that.

It took until the next day, when Carrie and I could get away for coffee that I explained what all had happened with the wedding and everything. She was sympathetic, but wondered if it was up to me to dissolve the marriage, if maybe Valerie preferred reconciliation. I pointed out that the "marriage" wasn't legit anyway, and that even if Valerie was sympathetic or still wanted him back, for the duration of my term as her, I would behave as I saw fit. I thought a few years on the merry-go-round ought to have bought me the right to determine that.

"So you may be sabotaging her chances, if she does want him back."

"He's got a kid on the way. You of all people should understand that situation. I know you say Luke's changed..."

She bit her lip. "Luke isn't Tom's father."

"Ah," I said. "That makes sense. That kid is so pale."

"We ran into each other at the Piggly Wiggly a while back and we... reconnected."

I raised an eyebrow. "And the father, the one you said was so stable and in the picture?"

"There isn't one. Tommy's father is a donor. I just didn't want you to worry because I knew you would."

I took a moment to digest this information. "Well, at least it's nice to be able to keep imagining my little sister has never been with a man."

She snickered, "Wish I could say the same about you!"

My face turned tomato red. "Just Kitty! Josh and I never even--"

"Okay, relax!" she said through eye-watering laughter. "Geez, your voice gets high when you're embarrassed."

I could hardly speak. She added, "But it's so amazing to, like... see 'you' in there sometimes. There's no way I would imagine the woman sitting in front of me is actually Tyler's Blake, and yet you did that thing you always did when you're thinking... you roll your eyes back into your head and pucker your lips and your jaw goes all... weird. Exactly the same as you always did. It's freaky."

I stayed long enough to have Thanksgiving dinner at my oldest brother's place... I hadn't meant to but Carrie insisted. It was so strange being an outsider there. I tried to minimize my presence, but being that the family unit doesn't get many outsiders, let alone northerners (my accent has faded to where Mobilians don't immediately recognize me as local.) So I politely fielded many personal questions and tried to make small talk with their wives, and not seem too interested in the whereabouts of the person in my body. It was actually a little weird and sad "Tyler" never came up but I probably prefer it that way.

I still hadn't warmed to Luke, but he was very domestic, helping to cook and prepare more than many boyfriends would. I did see him checking out my rack, but even if that bugs me, it wasn't any worse than the way average guys look at me. Hell, even my own brothers were sneaking peaks, which is a good reason to never, ever, ever come over again.

But if that was the worst of it, it seems pretty innocent to me. I decided Luke's eye really wasn't wandering.

On my last night there, I was up late reading, and Luke came in with the baby, who had woken up. He sighed modestly, "My turn."

I nodded in appreciation. "That's gotta suck."

He shrugged. "It's worth it. Look at this kid!"

"Yeah, he's cute. You're pretty happy, huh?"

"More than I've ever been," he said warmly. "I never even thought I wanted this. I was a bit of a player back in the day and I thought I always would be, but when I met this little guy it hit me... I needed that. I needed to grow up."

I smiled.

"Look at him," Luke beamed, "He's gonna be a stud. Quarterback material."

"You never know," I shrugged, "Maybe he'll be artistic. Quiet. Shy
 Maybe he'll prefer boys to girls. Maybe hell be a girl."

Luke looked up at me with this frozen, hundred-yard stare for a second and I saw the wheels turning.

"Whatever makes him happy. Long as I get to be part of it."

Hm.

I still have my doubts but... well, Carrie's a grown-up. She can handle her own. I should focus on myself...

More as soon as I can get around to telling it!
-Ty/Val

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Friday, January 05, 2018

Jordan/"Missy" Yuan-wei: Oops I Did It Again

Okay, "oops" is probably not the right word; to gender-swap one of the more memorable bits from Shane Black's script for The Last Boy Scout, it's not like I was naked in Ernesto's bedroom for no apparent reason only to trip and have my vagina land on his rock-hard dick.  No, it was a mutual decision, one coming from equal parts seeing each other constantly while we worked on each other's short films, deciding we needed to spend a couple hours drinking and arguing after our third time seeing The Last Jedi (he thinks it is perfect despite the casino stuff going on forever and do not mansplain Finn needing to know the real world in order to become a true rebel because I get it and it doesn't make the actual mission less stupid), and me just being sick of my vibrator with a song dash of knowing Chen-ai would never approve of him.  I fucked him because I wanted to and stayed the night because why go outside in this unless you absolutely have to, and there's only one thing that would have dissuaded me.

That, of course, being the knowledge that he had been sleeping with the star of my movie since day three of shooting.

Now, don't get me wrong - I've been enjoying the fuck out of working with Bree.  She's the only woman who really nailed the "not trying to be sexy but every move she makes is boner-inducing" aspect of the main character in the auditions, she's way more comfortable walking around a set in her underwear than I was, and she's genuinely funny.  I thought we were connecting even though, okay, she sometimes acted like she was doing us a favor consenting to work on someone else's movie because she was used to coming up with her own concept and choreography.  And, okay, I'm not paying a whole lot of money, so she can complain a little about it not being her most satisfying experience, I'll magnanimously allow that.  But, like, was being female supposed to give me some sort of sexual ESP so that I know the complete history of everyone that I go to bed with?  That seems unreasonable.

Almost as unreasonable as her fucking walking off the set.

Needless to say, I'm fucking pissed at Ernesto for putting me in this situation, even though there's still a huge part of my brain that also wants to say, yeah, bitches be crazy, and move on like nothing happened.  His comment that I shouldn't worry, because if she'd walked off a day earlier, we'd really be screwed, is annoying despite how accurate it is.

See, somewhere during the writing, I got the idea that the sexbot body our hero had his brain transplanted into wasn't the only one of that model his buddy had lying around, and another one was programmed to act as the nurse, another as the maid, and so on.  Kind of fun, right?  And aside from one scene which I think I can edit around, that's all that was really left - we kind of let Bree play the one character and then would do the others, even if it messed with our shooting schedule a bit, thinking this would get better performances.  So, okay, we just shoot with someone else, and grumble about how it didn't need to be digitally stitched together.

The only problem is, man, this is not a lot of time.  The insane cold of the last couple weeks made everyone late throughout the shoot (and the exterior shots miserable), I've only got the lab set rented until Monday, the costumes are made for Bree and my wardrobe gal is not really available for alterations, even if I found someone similarly curvy at the last minute (and I am burning up the phones and IMs to do so).  Oh, and I'm supposed to have company this weekend, an Inn person I haven't met and who are likely to be all "why are you busting so much ass on something you inherited from Missy?"

Something will come together, I'm sure of it, but, fuck, this has gone from something I feel really confident about to a potential disaster.

-Jordo/"Missy" Yuan-wei

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Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Lindsey/Magda: Christmas with Me

I haven't spent a lot of time here talking about the people living my life and Harmon's, in part because I have a fair amount in front of me between me and him to deal with, and while Harmon spent a lot of time getting Coop ready for a conference in the past month, Debbie has been no trouble at all.  I kind of left her a life at a loose end, recently graduated from college but still trying to get into law school, so she's been able to put the LSATs on hold.  She's taken a job as an office assistant so that I don't have a glaring hole in my work history when I get back, and she and Coop have been paying down my student loans like crazy, making way more of a dent in the principle than I would have.  Harmon and I initially felt kind of strange about it, since he'd never offered, but the way Debbie figured it, she and Coop were married, married couples shared the bills, and that my bills were now her bills doesn't change that.

You could do a lot worse than Debbie Cooper living your life, folks.

Perhaps because she and her husband are great people, though, the holidays were figuring to be tough on them; it would be the first one without the chance to spend any time with their kids, even though they're all adults now.  Neither me nor Harmon has any sort of particular Christmas tradition that they had any need to maintain, but they weren't totally sold on the holidays being just the two of them.  I said that I'd invite them if there were any room at the apartment, they said they appreciated the gesture, and that was it for a bit, because it's really awkward to invite someone to come but make them pay to stay at a hotel.  Eventually, though, Harmon pointed out that they'd be spending his money, not their own, so just get a hotel room, though it's not like we'd be around for Christmas.

I relayed that, and Debbie said it was okay if we missed the day so long as we got to have a family dinner and exchange gifts.  So they booked a trip, and I traded a shift so that I was working the terminal when their plane arrived on Christmas Eve, and spent the whole weekend feeling nervous about it because that meant that there would be no chance to duck seeing them if any of us realized this was a terrible idea.  I was downright nervous as the board updated their flight information, and then it landed, taxied, and pulled in.  Half-fortunately, I had to give a few people directions to baggage claim, so I couldn't just watch the people coming off and fret about it.  I wound up just looking up, seeing Coop and Debbie, and raising a hand so they knew who I was.  They stepped up the pace and soon found me.  Debbie started to hug me, like with her arms already on either side, before pulling back and asking if it was too weird.

It was kind of strange, but maybe not as weird as it would have been a few months ago, although Skype and Facebook hadn't prepared me to be looking slightly upward toward my own eyes, even though I had an inch of heel and Debbie was wearing Keds.  That almost made it easier, though, and I pulled her in.  I did only extend a hand to Coop, though; as much as something inside me would have liked the guy with Harmon's shape holding me, it would have felt like taking something that wasn't his to give.

Instead, I stood back and looked at Debbie, half-amazed at the reminder that I'm really that young, with some of her choices really driving it home.  "So, has anyone figured out that you're impostors yet because he doesn't freak out about you wearing workout pants in public?"

She laughed.  "Oh, he does that, but if I'm only going to have your legs for a year, I'm getting the most out of 'em, and these leggings don't work unless your legs are actually sticks...  Not that your legs - either set! --"

Coop laughed at that, and I joined in.  "It's okay, Debbie - I've got more curves now than I had six months ago, and I'm okay with both situations, so long as you're not looking to take up permanent residence."

"Tempting as it may be, we're a package deal, and I don't think I could talk Coop into it, no matter how dapper he looks in a bow tie now."

We laughed again, and I told her I had about an hour left on my shift if they wanted to wait, or they could check into their hotel and maybe Harmon and I could meet them for dinner.  They were happy to wait, although when I called Harmon, he said he had a lot to do before his red-eye.  I put in a good word for the Coopers at the airline's VIP lounge, got a flight boarded, and then helped them get to the hotel on public transportation.  I took them to a Thai place that wasn't closing early despite it being Christmas Eve, then left them to their jet lag.

Harmon was just leaving as I got home, and gave me a quick hug as we passed.  I was pleasantly surprised at the number of things he'd left under the tree; maybe a few months as a woman has him enjoying shopping a little more.

The Coopers arrived early in the morning, and I spent the morning learning to make a few of Debbie's family recipes while Coop found some stuff to fix around the house until basketball started at 9am (East Coasters, especially guys, grumble about time zone stuff until they discover that you literally get sports and other stuff all day).  It was a ton of fun, even if the press weren't quite done by the time I had to leave for work.  Debbie promised they'd only sick around long enough to jet them out of the oven, and if you can't trust yourself, who can you trust?

I had the 26th off  (yay inherited seniority!), so they were able to come back over and help me cook a ham.  Coop got involved in the cooking, too, peeling and mashing potatoes, making a supply run or two.  He was seeing the table when Harmon came in and saw his rightful face.

"Cooper."

"Professor Keller."

Nothing else was said, and Harmon retreated to his room to put away his work stuff and the grab some other clothes before heading to the bathroom and locking the door.  Debbie looked way more upset at that exchange than the the words would seem to for.  "We shouldn't have come.  I knew he'd still be upset."

Coop looked pained and offered to go back to the hotel.

I surprised myself a bit by stepping in.  "You'll do no such thing.  You did the best you could at that presentation, and he had no business asking you to go through with it.  He had two co-authors on that paper and could have just let them take the lead, but he can be so damn stubborn..."

Debbie put her hand on her husband's shoulder.  "She's right, you know.  Just as you have to accept that Shania can't do all your work, he should have made allowances.  You did the best you can, and I'm sure that he's come to realize that over the last couple weeks!"  I didn't contradict her, because I figured that Harmon not wanting to look bad by throwing a tantrum would have pretty much the same result.

I quickly ducked into my room to change out of my sweats, and Harmon had finished his shower by the time I came out.  He was wearing slacks and a not-really-ugly sweater, and raised his eyes at me in the Santa dress and hat.  "Looking to seduce Cooper?"

"No, I just want to try everything in Magda's closet and figured I wouldn't have another chance to wear this.  I'll go change."

"You'll do no such thing, because if you have to, then I have to."  Debbie was in the candy-cane tights again, with a pleated green skirt and a sparkly red top (she'd taken off her snowman sweater), while Coop looked very un-Harmon-like in jeans and at-shirt that looked like Santa's coat.  "Let's embrace the weird Christmas!"

We sat down at the table, ate, and talked about all the funny things that had happened this year.  I laughed a lot at Debbie's stories of my friends, while Coop nodded sagely at everything I could come up with about how airports and airlines have so many crazy layers of bureaucracy and security.  He talked about how academia was proving similar.  Eventually even Harmon joined in, talking about the "crash pad" apartments, guys who get hammered in first class, and the like.  It was kind of funny, in that we didn't really talk about being changed by the Inn, but just told these stories with a little bit of extra amazement at how bizarre the world could be.

No avoiding Inn stuff when we sat around the tree and exchanged presents.  I got Debbie and Coop a couple articles of clothing where she noted their size and said "I see what you're up to here", but mostly we tried to go for things that were either kind of silly or could work for us in both borrowed and real lives.

My big present for Harmon was a Kindle Fire preloaded with a few things that would make for bulky hardcovers.  I told him I knew he thought reading on a tablet wasn't the same, but this fit in his travel bag a lot better, and it would be easy to switch to Candy Crush in case he was afraid of having to explain why "Alicia" was reading graduate-level economics texts in a crowded apartment.

He surprised me with a pair of gift cards for custom bra fittings, saying that a passenger on a flight from San Francisco to New York had noticed him adjusting his straps during a flight and figured a flight attendant could give really good word-of-mouth for her start-up.  He said he was wearing one of his and was really amazed what a difference underwear that really fit could make in a woman's day, so he got me one for now and one for next summer.  Debbie went aaawwww and said now she wished Coop had been able to spend some time as a woman.

Coop's other present arrived that afternoon; he apparently makes eggnog with, like, a lot of rum in it every year, and got a few bottles speed to us, warning Harmon that he'd made it for some other folks in the faculty, so he may be fielding requests for more next year.

The party broke up at around seven, with Coop saying he hoped his body didn't run down this early ten or fifteen years from now.  It was the last time the four of us got to hang out together; with all the holiday travel, both Harmon and I were working a lot, and our shifts didn't really line up.  I think Harmon meet up with the Coopers once while I was working, and I get it - not only has Coop not fit into his life quite so easily as Debbie has fit into mine, but he both hadn't been in the area as much to show them around and tends to stay home rather than venture out as Alicia anyway.

I had a good time with them, though.  It's weird to say given all of our apparent ages and faces, but I felt kind of jealous of the folks who get to have the Coopers as their real full-time parents.  They're experienced, wise, and kind, and watching Debbie look like she really is my age made me feel like she must never have been out of touch.  She laughed at that - "you're not exactly the first generation to enjoy wearing short skirts, kid - you should have seen my older sisters in the 1970s!" - but I think she appreciated me saying so, even if I do look old enough to be her mother.

I made sure I worked the terminal when they flew out Sunday evening as well, and smiled as I watched them get on the plane holding hands and nobody seemed to be snickering about the age difference.  Sometimes, I guess, no matter what the Inn might do, you can just spot the good people who belong together.

-Lindsey/Magda

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Friday, December 29, 2017

J.T./Elaine: All I Want for Christmas...

I haven't entirely got the double life I'm leading up to being a triple life, exactly, although I really admit that I do enjoy blowing off a little steam at the end of the workday and work-week.  Sometimes it's just with Jezzie, since both of Elaine's other best gal-pals are in relationships, but it still seems like a bit of a double role, switching from the sensible (but nice!) project manager in the day ("Elaine") to the more adventurous single girl at night ("Lainey").  I even have to change how I talk, at least a little, although from talking to Elaine and her friends, this sort of "code-switching" is pretty common for African-Americans, especially women.  Folks love you being blunt and no-nonsense on your own time - and you kind of need to be, just to keep up - but when you get in a working environment with white people, you'd better conform and keep them comfortable.

That part's been easy enough for me - "professional talk" is a bit closer to what's natural for me, and eventually I kind of learned to take cues from whoever I was talking to after hours and appreciate that any raised eyebrows are more likely to be good-natured ribbing than actual suspicion.  Everyone deals with this, to an extent, unless they're really lucky, and I've seen it studying for roles or watching how colleagues change in different environments, but this seems to be the most extreme.  And it didn't really prepare me for a couple of situations that came up this past week.

First, just who should I be at an office party?

I mean, sure, I know that I'm going to have to be working with all of these folks again afterward, so I probably shouldn't let my hair down too much, but all the other folks I've talked to who have had real office jobs say you don't want to seem too much on your guard.  That's doubly true when you're the one assigned to organize the party - it would kind of suck to be thought of ad even more the management done after that.

I didn't really think of it much until Thursday - there was lots of regular work to do, and the budget was pretty tiny; whoever hires a bunch of contractors from different agencies put line items in for team-building activities but not time, so into the holiday party it went.  It was almost enough for me to rent a local bar's function room, buy a platter of cookies, get some rum for people to add to eggnog, and a bunch of paper snowflakes to hang from the ceiling.  I had to duck out of the office an hour or so early to get there to set it up, and by the time I did, I regretted my Christmas-y outfit a little - the festive red pencil skirt with the matching heels looked nice with the black pantyhose and green blazer, but they weren't great for climbing on a chair to hang things.  I may have nearly broken my neck three times before I was done, only to spoil some nog on the coat.  The green satin top underneath didn't spoil the look, but it left me bare-armed and had a to button that liked to come undone whenever I twisted my torso a bit (fun fact - Elaine's one of those women whose breasts get a bit bigger when she's ovulating, so clothes that normally fit just fine are suddenly kind of tight).  When people started arriving, I still looked more "Elaine" than "Lainey", but it made more sense to play it loose than efficient.

That was going to happen anyway, since there was a bar and Ali had told me to keep his two drink tickets.  I didn't get sloppy, but I did get to the point where the whole situation seemed really funny.  And where I didn't stop to wonder whether or not karaoke was a thing Elaine did.

It's not really a thing I ever did, too be honest - I sing professionally, after all (well, the band wasn't really paying, but I'd done musicals on the stage), and you've got to protect your pipes even if it wouldn't be trying to unwind by doing the same thing you do at work.  That was three months ago, though, and after a couple of drinks, singing was a fun thing I hadn't done in too long.  So when someone shoved me up there after punching in Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas", I only had a fleeing thought about what would happen if Elaine didn't have a good singing voice.

She does, though, good enough that when people started applauding, I thought damn, this could be my thing for the next few months!  I wound up on that little stage four more times that night, and was actually kind of disappointed when people had started to leave and it was time to take everything down.
So that went okay.  But it left me with just a couple of days to try and figure out who I should be with Elaine's family.

I'd begged off Thanksgiving, telling them I had to work the Friday after, but you can't really skip both Thanksgiving and Christmas without making trouble, and unlike when they sent me messages on Facebook there was no way to discreetly have the real Elaine advise me.  And given my difficult relationship with my parents (exploitation, emancipation, estrangement), I don't really know what an adult child going home is supposed to feel like.

Mostly, it's pretty good, at least for Elaine.  Her folks are proud of her, respected that I didn't much want to discuss this summer.  The cover story was that "Elaine" had taken what she thought was a government contact, gone mostly quiet on social media because she was afraid of spilling something, but actually been working for a criminal enterprise which she couldn't talk about.  Exciting cloak-and-dagger stuff if it were real.

Of course, Elaine's sister Whitney knew it was fake, and she couldn't wait to peel me away from "our" parents.  It was kind of weird, not just for the obvious reasons, but because she remembered me, and thought it was hilarious that I was playing her big sister.  I pointed out that I wouldn't be if she hasn't screwed up and left Elaine/Mackenzie at a campground, and she shrugged and said she felt bad about that, but the whole experience had shown her that her old boyfriend was a jerk and was helping her be a better person.  Besides, she said, if that hasn't happened, who knows where I would have ended up?

I think she was excited at the idea of getting close to someone she'd had a crush on as a teenager, and while I've got to admit that's kind of gratifying - it didn't happen nearly as often as it used to even before becoming Elaine - I really wasn't feeling much desire to get chummy with someone who had been so careless with her sister's life and identity, even if it maybe beat the alternative of maybe being stuck in the middle of my band-mates' relationship.  I told her as much, and that her parents should be thankful that I'm a good enough actor to only treat her with the annoyance Elaine normally had for her screw-up sister.

That was mean, I know, but Christmas plus period plus Whitney kind of brought out the worst in me.  I got karmic payback right away, though, as Elaine's parents phones gave of a little buzz because apparently one of my co-workers had uploaded some videos from the holiday party and tagged "Elaine", and of course, not only did her parents not only have alerts set up for their daughters, but the first one that they saw was the last song of the night, when I was singing "Baby It's Cold Outside" with Daryl.  Who, by the way, is a handsome, single African-American man.

Her father paused it after just a second, but mostly so that he could sync his phone with the TV and let everyone watch in high-definition quality.  "I guess you got yourself a new hobby while you were off the grid, huh?"

I felt myself blushing a bit - obviously, I'm used to seeing myself on a TV, but not as Elaine, and not when I hadn't planned on it being seen.  "Not really - it was a party, I'd had a couple of drinks--"

Whitney gave me a pat on the shoulder.  "Don't sell yourself short, Lainey - you're a natural performer!"

I shoved her away, but "Mom" raised her eyebrows.  "I'll say!"

My eyes went wide watching the screen - I was really into it, with lots of hand motions, exaggerated walking to and from Daryl, looking fake-shocked at "what's in this drink?", way more than I remembered.  "Uh, well, it's just this song.  It's kind of rape-y if you don't vamp it up, right,  and make it perfectly clear that the girl is flirting and really wants the guy, even if her family and friends are, like, judgmental and stuff--"

"Well, you're both pretty convincing on that count.  When do we get to meet this boy?"

"Dad, no!  Daryl's a co-worker - even if I wanted to, that'd be a big-time HR thing."

Elaine's mother opined that it looked like it would be worth it, and I admit, I didn't have to do much acting to portray Elaine as kind of mortified.

Fortunately, Daryl had traveled to California to see his folks for the holiday, so I didn't see him until yesterday, when he was a total pro until quitting time, when he sat down in my cube and asked if my folks saw the clip as well.  He didn't really seem embarrassed, but wasn't smirking either.  "Not going to lie, they were almost as impressed as I was."

"Oh, mine too.  Too bad it would be totally inappropriate, huh?"

He looked at me and somehow made his eyes twinkle.  "Would it?  You're not technically my boss, and if I asked you out..."

"I dunno...  That's still..."  That's still going on a date with a guy, which would probably be fun, and thus lead to a second date.  But I couldn't say that.

When I didn't say anything, he smiled a little more.  "You're responsible.  I like that.  You ask my folks, I probably need that.  But since everyone was either at the party or saw the video, something with you and me is probably going to be in their heads anyway.  So - how about I just tell you where some friends and I are going to be hanging out, singing karaoke on New Year's Eve?  You can come, bring your girls, or not.  Whatever you think is right."  He told me, then left.

Not sure what to do.  If I looked at it as playing a role, well, Elaine has told me that even if doing karaoke wasn't exactly in character, showing up at that bar absolutely would be.

-J.T./Elaine

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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Simon/Joy: Ex Marks the Spot

The guys at the office haven't quite been the same for the last couple of weeks, since just a few moments of not being the fun girl who plays along with your jokes about boob size and doesn't act like making less money for the same work is no big deal is enough to shift the way people treat her.  It also got out that I knew about the whole bet about who could get me in bed first, and given how the climate for that has changed just in the last few months, everybody is treating me like a live hand grenade.  It's kind of sucks, both because I'm not that kind of woman (and even if I were inclined to be, I wouldn't want that reputation following me to another job) and because it's getting me shut out, not just in terms of being sociable with my co-workers but in that they seem to go out of their way to not help me in the office, even in places where there's no competition.  It's dumb to sideline me, because I'm a damn good salesman no matter how I'm shaped, but guys will do dumb things where women are concerned.

One of the things that makes me pretty good at this stuff is that I have a pretty good memory for names, faces, and other details, and whatever changes the Inn made to my brain to make me interested in having sex with guys, it didn't affect that.  So, when I arrived home tonight and saw a guy at the building's from door, seeming to take a step toward the intercom and back off about a dozen times, I didn't do the comedy bit where I didn't recognize someone from the original Joy's life, ignored him, and then had to improvise an excuse later.  I'd seen this guy on Joy's phone, her social media, etc., and knew he must have come looking for her.  So I just went for it, walking up and asking him what he was doing here.

He turned around, flustered but recovering quick.  "Lookin' for ye, obviously!  My God, ye look incredible!"

I could do with some of that.  I walked up with my arms outstretched for a hug, but he instead took my hands in his and gently seeing them down between us so that we were looking each other in the face.  It was excited than it sounded, and gave me a moment to examine this Iain Mackinnon - Joy's boyfriend when she checked into the Inn - up close and personal.

He's cute - not super-tall (I was almost eye-level with him, although I admittedly had four-inch heels on) or super-cut, but solid.  There's a hint of auburn to his brown hair, which also takes the form of a beard that's very well-maintained, a precise 3/4" at every spot.  Nice hazel eyes, sexy Scottish accent, dressed in the tech-guy outfit of flannel-patterned shirt and khakis,  except obviously very nice ones.  He smells kind of nice, too, a subtly sporty cologne.  Maybe a little more millennial-hipster than what I would have called a really impressive man in another life, but I'm starting to think that maybe a guy being a little less obviously alpha isn't so bad.

I take all that in and ask if he wants to come in.  He says yes, and I kind of make sure I swing my butt a little as he's a few steps behind me.  It's been a few weeks for me and both Joy's diaries and what Shayla has said about how she's talked about guys in the past seems to indicate he was a heck of a lover.  I unlock the door, and we're chatting about my messed-up car as he enters and Treena just freezes while emptying the dishwasher.  I smile kind of big - it's almost a reflex when Treena and I have to out on a show for a third party - and say "look what I found downstairs!"

"Wow, this is a surprise!  It's good to see you, Iain!"

(I mentally file away that it's pronounced "ee-un".)

"And ye as well, Treens!  Still puttin' up with this one?"

"I am, and she does not make it easy sometimes.  In fact, if I could just steal her a moment..."

She doesn't wait for a response, dragging me into her bedroom.  "What the fuck are you doing?"

"Nothing!  I saw him downstairs, recognized him from about a million pictures on Facebook, and figured it would be better to say hi than act like we'd never met."

She stared hard at me at me, deciding I wasn't trying to spin it.  "I suppose that makes as much sense as anything.  It's just--  He really loved Joy, okay?  They should have been married by now, and if you try to take advantage of that and hurt him..."

"Jeez, threat understood!  Calm down!"

I turn around and walk back out into the kitchenette, asking if he'd like something to drink.  He points at the espresso machine, saying he's still jet-lagged, so I start that up.

"So...  Just here for a visit, then."

"Aye.  Google's talking about buying out a company the family's invested in, so I came out to talk terms because my Dad's all not doing that well and the tech stuff isnae really his forte.  So I'm in San Francisco, and I figure, it's only a short hop down here, might as well see what Joy's up te."  He did an exaggerated little pause.  "So, what are ye up te?"

"Oh, you know, getting my real estate license, connecting folks with little pieces of California heaven."

"Seeing anyone?"

"Not really, kind of..."  I'm going to say playing the field but Treena shoots me a look, and I try to think of something close to the truth.  Joy may not have kept in touch with Treena before she died with everyone thinking she was Brian Meeks, but she did try to keep things going with Iain as long as she could via text and email.  But while letter-writing used to be visited pretty romantic, it's not nearly enough to sustain something long-distance the days, and she broke it off not long before the end.  "Kind of harder to start again than I thought."

"You managed to find someone, though, right?"  Treena interjected.

"Thought so, but...  Well, she ditched me just before this trip.  Just like ye, she felt I was spending too much time on the business, not enough time with her.  Can't say I blame her."

"That's...  I'm sorry to hear that."  I meant it; he seemed like a nice enough guy, and while I can't say I've ever been so rich that a girl who noticed me because of that success started to get annoyed at the work it took to maintain it, I could relate on a smaller scale.

"Well, it's gotten me thinking about what to do different in the New Year, but in the meantime, it kind of leaves me going to this Christmas party on Saturday stag, and I was wondering..."  He eyed me expectantly.

"Oh, I don't know...  I mean, sure, I'm always up for a good party, but--"  I couldn't think of a real reason aside from Treena murdering me, but that seemed like enough.

"Don't worry, it's mostly a work thing.  Just, y'know, figured I'd be nice to spend time with you rather than spend time talking about who's not there."

"Well, sure, if that's all it is..."

"Great!  I'll email you all the details."  An alarm on his Android watch went off, and he made his apologies.  "I really was just flying down here between meetings, I'm afraid.  But don't worry, when you get to London on Saturday, you'll have my complete attention!"  And then he was out the door.

That last bit, as you might imagine, had me and Treena in a bit of stunned silence before Treena told me I couldn't do this.  But, c'mon, this guy's obviously kind of down (despite his cheery demeanor) and looking for a boost from his ex Joy, and right now, I'm the only Joy there is.  And let's not forget that I've had kind of a rough go of it lately - getting away from it all with what everyone assures me is a pretty good guy isn't bad for me, either.

Now, to make sure Joy's passport hadn't expired...

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Tyler/Valerie: Bombshell

Where to begin...


Well, I guess I can thank "Brigette" for giving you all her perspective on the wedding, since I ended up not being able to write about it until now. I guess it's time to explain some of what she was observing but not fully understanding.


As we got closer and closer to the wedding I became stronger in my conviction that Josh wasn't being completely truthful. As someone who is prone to keeping secrets and telling lies and half-truths - sometimes even when I don't have to, I'm sad to say - I recognized too many signs to let it go. Even when I pressed him directly ,and he denied it, I kept strategizing how I would find him out. He may have had Valerie's trust but he hadn't earned mine. Not with that mystery cell phone and those phony flowers.


So on the day of the wedding, my stomach was in knots. my every instinct was yelling at me not to go through with this farce of a ceremony, but I wasn't very well going to stomp off in dramatic fashion on a hunch. There was too much at stake and I was still considering Val's feelings.


Luckily, Josh finally - at the very last minute - did the right thing.


That would be the moment he came to see me in the Bridal Suite and we had our private talk. Now enough time had passed that I don't feel wrong telling you what was said.


He came in with this shoulders-slumped hang dog expression, looking very apologetic and guilt-ridden. I tried not to buy into it, sure it was an act. But even if I was not in a place to trust this guy, we still had some kind of connection based on my time as Valerie, and part of me desperately wanted to believe that he was genuine.


After hemming and hawing for a minute, he started by saying he wanted to apologize in advance... for lying, keeping secrets, all that stuff. That he knew he had done something wrong but that he wa still the same man (Val) had fallen in love with and that if I could forgive him we could probably move forward and adapt, but... but maybe that wasn't possible. and it would be a change.


I told him to cut the rambling already and get to the point.


"I can't marry you, Valerie." he sighed.


I stared coldly at him. "Why not?"


He couldn't even look at me when he said it: "Because I'm already married."


The way he said this indicated that it was not something Val would have known (and honestly the way she'd been acting there was no way she even suspected.) I tried to keep cool outside but there was a fire building inside of me. I hissed: "What."


"It was a mistake, before you and I got together... we rushed in and it fell apart immediately. I always meant to finalize the papers, but... a few months ago, something happened."


Fire building. "What."


"We got to talking, and talk turned into... something else... and, well, it was a mistake."


I said nothing. I knew there had to be more, and there was.


"A little while later, I found out... there were consequences."


I grunted. "Go on."


"She's five months pregnant, Val. She says if I leave her, she'll take everything I have."


I don't know exactly how to describe the sound I made in response to this... a grunt of shock, disappointment, hurt, exasperation, and oddly, satisfaction at being proved right... whatever it was, it definitely wasn't ladylike.


It was hard to process - to filter through any Val perspective I may have had. All I could say was, "God, you fucked up. You fucked up so badly."


To me, it would have been one thing if he had just cheated. Maybe Val could forgive that. It's another to have been married (and facing a likely costly divorce, if he even really wanted to split up from her.) all this time he was engaged, basically defrauding Val about his finances. And then to bring a child into it - all while basically hounding me about knocking me up in the near future! I couldn't overlook it and I was damn sure Valerie would be hurt beyond belief.


I felt like an idiot, sitting there in my whole wedding getup, looking like some teenage girl's idea of a royal wedding, my face painted up and my hair done with hours of care. I felt shattered, almost as bad as finding out I wasn't ever going to be Tyler Blake again. I didn't think it would sting as badly, as personally, as it did, but in the past few months I have been very invested in Valerie's life, her problems, and this was a big problem.


I wanted to get bigger and angrier than I think I am capable of getting in this tiny "cute" body, and that frustrated me even further.


He went to do another round of apologies and begging forgiveness and I cut him off.


I should have called off the wedding. I should have been honest with everybody and told them to go home, but there was so much time and money in this, and I didn't want Val to hear it that way. I didn't want the embarrassment of being publicly humiliated like that, to have to field those questions.


Whether it was the right call or the wrong one, I said... let's go through with the wedding, and deal with all this later.


The license wouldn't be real - polygamy is illegal in New York State, so it would be annulled without delay, I reckoned. The whole thing would effectively be a lie but my whole life is a lie at this point so what's one more. I'm used to it.


Now, as much time as I've spent these past few years as other people, I'm probably not that great an actor so I think probably everyone could tell there was something wrong as I was walking down the aisle. What should have been a beautiful, sacred moment between two people who love each other was instead all just a show (which again, it would have been anyway, only now the whole meaning was changed.) There I was, silently fuming, my voice trembling as I struggled to say "I promise to love, honor and respect you" to a man I hoped I would never have to see again very soon. All I could do was mentally write out how I was even going to explain all this to Val. I felt sick.


After the I Do's, we were alone in the Limo. I could hardly look at him. He tried to start our conversation back up and I cut him off, basically dropping my character.


"You know something, man? I knew there was something wrong with you. You were so fucking lovey-dovey and attentive and all that, that should have been the tip-off. But I wanted to believe and I wanted to trust you. I don't believe you ever wanted to leave her. I think you wanted us both and you only confessed now because you realized you were cornered. Either that or you were too 'nice,' I mean too much of a coward, to come clean and say you didn't want to marry V--me. I fuckin' hate you right now."


Once the words were out of my mouth I realized that they probably hit a lot harder from Val's mouth than from Tyler Blake's, but I didn't care. He deserved to be hurt badly. Some people just do. Some people deserve hell and for once it's not me.
His defense was "I still love you and I still want to be with you, not her."
I sneered. "I don't believe that for a second, and even if you do, you can't. You blew it."


We put our fake smiles back on as best we could for the reception but after unloading like that obviously neither of us were really feeling like having our "first dance" or feeding cake to each other. We just kind of relied on the natural hustle and bustle of a wedding to keep us busy, while I made it clear to Anna that I needed to speak with her in private before the end of the night, but only after as much of the festivities as we could get through. I was relying on her to guide me through all the thanks and congratulations.


When all that was satisfied, I took her outside and did my best to break the news to her as gently as it would come, but how you tell somebody their would-be husband is a babydaddy without causing a scene, I don't know. Valerie started hyperventilating and stormed out, never to return. When I texted her, she said she needed to process all of this.


Keep in mind, she didn't want me sleeping with him in her body, so the idea that he would be pursuing an affair - even a non-physical one - was probably not going to be something she could take well, not that I blame her.


And that was the night. The night that was supposed to be so magical and perfect turned out to be exceptionally shitty. I told Josh that I needed him to go on the Honeymoon alone, and that when he came back, I would be out of the apartment and after a reasonable length of time we would tell "our friends" that it just didn't work out, although now that I think about it, I don't know why I should lie and feel embarrassed just because I/Valerie was wronged. He's the fuck-up, he should face it.


Anyway. What I did while Josh was away - where I'm living and how I spent my "Honeymoon," I'll explain another time because that's a whole other story. This was draining. And it wasn't even really my wedding in the first place, and on top of all that, I've been fighting a cold all week, and believe me, Valerie's body is one of the less-resilient ones I've had.


-Tyler

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