Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Harmon Keller/Alicia Polawski: Internet Famous

Jordan is extraordinarily lucky that my current rotation does not take me to LAX until July at the earliest, because I would be sorely tempted to murder her and then escape to Maine, allowing whoever winds up as Alicia next to deal with the fallout.  For all that being this absurd parody of womanhood has been a constant series of humiliations, this past week has been the most ridiculous.

As you may recall, I stepped in to assist Jordan last year when she required assistance in finishing her student film after her star quit, though I did not truly replace her, but rather played all of the duplicate robots that she would have played.  They were more or less mindless automata, so my work was mainly a matter of standing around in tight clothing and heels well taller than necessary to make up the height deficit with the average man or to appear tastefully fashionable, enough times that Jordan could combine the images.

It was technically impressive work, I suppose, although as somebody who knows all too well that her inspiration for a film in which a man's brain is placed inside a robot shaped like an anatomically-correct woman was not, as many would presume, about an ex-boyfriend who needed to learn a lesson, I cannot much disagree with her professors who apparently found it slight and somewhat juvenile.  It has not been picked up by any but the smallest film festivals, and not getting the best position in those.  This was something of a relief for me as I decided to remain Alicia for another year, and I soon paid it no mind.

Then, yesterday, as I arrived back at the "crash pad" after a flight from Dallas that had been delayed for hours (a delay for which the attendants are not paid!), I heard howling coming from the living room, and with the intent of telling the flatmates to keep it down, I poked my head in, only to see in horror that they were watching "I, Fembot".

I try to back away to write a furious email to Jordan, but I'm seen.  "Guys, she's here!"  Someone hits pause and then all four cluster around me.  "Why didn't you tell us you had a side hustle?  This what you were doing during your leave of absence? "

I took a careful half-step back.  "No, I was just..."  How to explain talking with other people who had lost their identities thanks to a cursed hotel?  "I was using the director's spare room - one of those services - and she had a panic attack about the other girl storming off the set, saying she'd step in herself but she would need far too much padding.  Well, stepping in to help was the only decent thing, although if I'd seen the costumes..."

"But that's the best part!  You look so hot in the outfits and it's so you to just go making guys horny without giving a shit!  Because even if they're programmed to respond, you know the sex-bot doesn't actually care."

"I hardly think that's an accurate--"

"Oh, c'mon, look at you on Insta!  Racking up the followers with all the selfies but never following back, barely responding unless someone comments on the museum or whatever you're in."

I groaned.  "I've told you, I don't take those pictures for 'followers'."

They arched their eyebrows and gave me variations on "sure you don't", but it happens d to be e true.  The only follower, or fan, that actually matters the slightest bit is Daryl, who finds it useful for me to have a social media presence when somebody asks "Magda" about her daughter.  Other than that, it's simply a convenient way for me to have some record of my time as Alicia after I finish it.  I cannot see myself becoming sentimental about this anatomy, but I cannot deny that the opportunity to travel has offset the job which requires it somewhat.  With this application already on Alicia's phone, and sharing the default, it should be a simple matter to extract that which I wished to keep.

Obviously, there was no point of explain that to the gaggle, so I just repeated that my photography was for myself and what others thought of it was irrelevant.  Then I said the shower was mine, ignoring the shouted question of whether a brain in one of those robots would have PMS or cramps simulated the way arousal was, because they wouldn't stick their boyfriends in one otherwise.

The shower was useful; though the Inn has made my body more resilient than it had been for some time, I had been on my feet for some time and just an hour in Texas can make you sweat in a way that sticks even under the perfume and deodorant.  Washing my flatmates' crude comments away was a pleasant enough side benefit.

Afterward, as I say wrapped in a towel, brushing my hair, Alicia's phone buzzed with some notification, and it reminded me that I had set Instagram notifications off, as I did not intend to interact on the platform (and, indeed, most of the messages it notified me of were just men saying how life-changing intercourse would be for the pair of us).  Out of idle curiosity, I brought the program up and looked at my statistics.

I had 20,000 followers.

They came in waves, it appears - some when Jordan "at-ed" me as he put his short online, but I apparently got put on lists as well, from the obvious ("flight attendants of Instagram") to the bizarrely, specifically hostile ("bitches who think they're too good to follow back but ain't all that").  It's more people than I've had students, quite possibly on a par with the number of people who have read my books or attended my presentations at conferences.  For doing little more than taking photographs of myself.

I looked in the mirror and wondered what a picture undressed would do to all that.  It almost seemed to be worth the experiment, just to see, especially since any reputation that came as a result would fall upon someone else in a few months.  If a younger person becomes the new Alicia, she might even find an account with thousands of followers a positive.

As an economist, I find the idea intriguing, creating something of admittedly illusory value from nothing.  The other side, though, is that it could wind up like Jordan's film - harmless enough at the time, but something I shall have to live with until I no longer have Alicia's face.

-Harmon Keller

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Valerie: Why am I crying??

Safe to say I've cried more in the last 5 years than the whole rest of my life before that. Maybe I cried twice after the age of 12 prior to visiting Maine and becoming Lauren. Then it was a while before it happened, and I don't even remember what was the last straw, just an accumulation of things. Hormones played a part, for sure, but overall just not seeing any point in fighting it and bowing to reality - that for whatever reason I wanted to cry, and it felt good to do so. Then once it happened it happened with some regularity as my body took that as an acceptable response to a tough situation. Bad day at school? Guys being pricks? Seeing Meghan/Tasha with Wade? Just flat out feeling small and weak? Waterworks. I learned to embrace it. Occasionally I even cried for joy but not often.

I cried as Alan, too. When Meg and I fought, when we broke up. It feels different as a man. A form of shame that I had moved past as a woman, as if that body was rejecting what my mind was trying to tell me an understandable response to a hard situation. It felt physically worse to cry as Alan than as Lauren. It was pain.

I didn't cry when my father died, but I did feel bad, in my gut, mostly for Carrie, who loved him more than I ever could have, and knew a different version of him.

I cried some as Judith, out of frustration with Kit or raising Dylan/Olivia, or feeling like I was doing a bad job, but things were more stable and that helped. For all Kitty's faults in how we did not work together, she-he understood my situation and was there for me.

It's become something I understand about myself, how I'm different than the man I used to be. I didn't cry, wouldn't have liked crying and, for all my hardships I never felt I had much to cry about.

Since being Valerie I have been through the wringer, but even notwithstanding that it's been a lot of tears. I cried when Josh treated me good, because I didn't deserve it. I cried when he treated me bad. I cried after oursupposed wedding, and for weeks afterward when I wanted to just stop being Valerie already. I've cried when I was lonely. I've cried when I was tired. I've cried after sex - Rafe caught me only once and to say he did not know what to say would be an understatement.

When I determined I would be Valerie forever, I cried, and again when the original Valerie officially became Cynthia. It was like finishing a decathlon. My body felt too exhausted to do anything but sob.

Since then who knows what might trigger me. I get daily reminders that I am living a life permanently and it's not always good. I am stuck like this. Most people don't even know there's an option to go change into someone else. I do and I have vowed, essentially, to never do it again. So the world throws it in my face that I am a 5'0 single young woman with 32G breasts who works in a coffee shop. That it may not be possible to find and fall in love with someone who sees me for who I am. That my back is so sore from just existing I can hardly sleep, and when I do I can barely let myself move. MY shoulders hurt too, my neck, legs, feet, ankles.

That I was on a nearly year long cold streak of dating and sex, not always by choice. That I have an opportunity to do anything with life and I'm not. That I can hardly do anything with my hair. (Okay, that's a joke.)

I don't even have to be having a bad day. I had a really good conversation with a guy earlier and when it was over I was surprised find myself blinking out some teardrops. It was like my body knew something I didn't. Sometimes if I cry for no reason, a few days later my period will arrive and it will all make sense.  I invent reasons to have cried after that - not knowing my body perfectly even after two years. Anything. Whatever. I'm crying writing all this!

I cry because I can cry.

It's not like I'm constantly crying all the time, some kinda broken woman. I'm just surprised sometimes at how much I do, and what makes me do it, and that it usually feels right.

When I say I've changed, I don't just mean because I know what it's like to have a period or actively pursue dating men. I have seen things that Tyler Blake, as I knew him once, could not have processed. I react to situations differently. I'm stronger and better and more caring. I know more about the world and people and a myself I have a better experience of life, even if I'm just a coffee girl for now. What I had to give up to learn all that, and to meet myself as I currently am, all seems minuscule even if it's not. Going back to the Inn, somehow becoming male again... I'd like to think that wouldn't have erased all of that, but I could never have taken that chance. I have to be this.

It makes me stressed, especially at this part of the year, when the opportunity is present. I weep over all the other lives I will never live. Ain't that crazy?

And I cry because for better or worse, deep down, I'm still me. Now those are happy tears. I cry because despite all my stresses and frustrations I like my life, my body, my friends. I'm a lucky, and happy, woman! Go figure.

-Valerie, aka Tyler

Monday, May 27, 2019

Landon: Anyone Missing a Daughter? Sister? Girlfriend?

I'm posting here on the advice of a fellow Inn guest, because according to their experience it's the one place outside this hotel where you're likely to find people who would believe my story. That two days ago I went to sleep as one person and woke up as someone else.

To backtrack my name is Landon King and I work in insurance in Rockford, Illinois. I was taking my 2 weeks vacation by driving around the great lakes and up the eastern seaboard when I stopped at this quaint little hotel in Maine and..well..got cursed.

I woke up Friday morning to a scream...followed by another scream. When I opened my eyes I was surprised to see the nightstand. Not because it wasn't there but because I could clearly make out the numbers on the clock radio. I wear glasses and for the past 15 years every morning has been a foggy blurry search for them.

Sitting up I felt long hair fall in front of my face and a shifting on my chest that made me blink look down before jumping out of bed and running to the ensuite bathroom to see my new self.

When I saw myself I wanted to scream but all I managed was a squeal or an squeak. I was looking in the mirror at a teenage girl wearing my boxers and tank top, and they fit poorly enough that you could see outlines of body parts that I shouldn't have. Wanting answers and hearing voices, i stepped outside into to talk to my fellow guests.

What surprised me about the other dozen people I saw wasn't the people in the wrong type of clothing looking terrified, it was that almost half of them seemed properly dressed and calm, almost relieved. It was a middle aged woman who explained to me the nature of the Inn's curse, and how she had been affected last October an spent the few months living as a 6 year old.

After she assured me there was a way back she told me to check the luggage that was left for a note, but when I went back to my room I didn't find much. Just a backpack and a purse with no note. The backpack had a couple changes of clothes that fit my new body and some toiletries. The purse didn't have much else other than some makeup, 25 dollars, and a Florida ID card that said "Tara Kellas" and DOB 09/28/2002. 17 years old!

What the real Tara was doing at this hotel last year I don't know, but I know she probably wasn't doing it by herself. I imagine her instructions are included in some sort of group note that was left with the rest of her party. Agnes, the woman who had helped me before, explained that you didn't simply change into the person who was in the bed, but the person who slept closest to it. So the real Tara may have left her luggage with the rest of her party.

I just haven't been able to find the rest of her party. There is no plane ticket, no train or bus schedule, no cars in the lot with Florida plates that don't belong to anyone. Who or how Tara got to Maine or where she's supposed to go is a major mystery to me. Maybe someone else out there is missing a teenage girl who they need to take back to Florida. If so please let me know. The reservation is up in a few days and I don't know where to go looking like this.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Valerie: Coffee Chat

A while back I had a day to myself. I was out running errands - stopping off at the CVS for snack food etc - and found myself at the coffee place not far from work. I often go there for off-hours coffee since I don't like to go in to work on my day off, and I find it hard to relax in there.


I was getting my Americano when who should I spot but Kevin, aka Silvertop, who had stopped coming into our place not long after he "defended me" against some douche who told me to smile.


"So," I said, "Here's where you've been hiding."


He put down his book, something called The Secret Wisdom of Nature, and looked up at me. I could read the embarrassment on his face. "Oh... hi."


"So, what, did I scare you off?


"A little bit, yeah," he winced at the memory.


"Well, it's safe, if you ever want to come back. My co-workers all unanimously told me I blew it out of proportion. You meant well."


"Thanks," he smiled.


"I'm a little bit touchy," I went on - God only knows why. "About people knowing what's best for me. Men in particular, but anybody."



"You have a right to," he nodded and gave a forgiving smile. "I'm guessing a lot of people have presumed to know what's best for you."


"A lot of people presume a lot of things," I said, with a slight laugh, although any semblance of a joke was lost on him. I sat down even though he didn't offer me a seat - I pretty much always assume men want my company nowadays, but I rarely take them up on it.


"People see me as something that I'm not inside. Helpless. Vulnerable. In need of protection."


"I can see how that must be frustrating," he said. "I... should let you know I have my own issues. I have three daughters and seeing a woman get treated the way you do sometimes gets under my skin. I felt like I was going to explode if I saw one more guy talk to you that way."


I bit my lip. Sometimes I forget other people have issues too but this was not long after my conversation with Ariel.


I raised an eyebrow, "So if you had sons, you wouldn't notice how men treat women?"


He exhaled, again, embarrassed. "I... can't say. I can't imagine not having my girls. I'd like to think I'd be sensitive and mature if I had sons too, but the last time I didn't have a daughter, I was a dumbass in my 20's."


I looked at his finger almost as a reflex - no ring. I didn't ask.


"Life... is not easy." I started to say, clearly just rambling at this point, "And I would like to say I had a better coping mechanism than just being numb but apparently it leads to losing my temper on well meaning customers and scaring them off. Sorry again."


We talked a bit longer. He told me about his home business as a recruiter, which is why he can spend hours at coffee shops reading in the middle of the day. He said he had heard some gossip about me, that I'd been left at the altar or something, and that always made him pay attention to me, to see if I let it show, bit I never did.


"That..." I said, almost with a smile, "Was a little like it happened to someone else. Something I heard about but didn't live. But I definitely did, and it was even harder than I thought it would be."


"You really can't prepare for something like that," he said with the tone of someone who knows. He added, "The blaming yourself is the worst part. It takes years to realize that the problem isn't with you but with them. I made excuses for my ex for a long time, I don't even know why. I can't blame you for just... amputating it."



I smiled. I felt understood for the first time in a while. "Amputate. That's a good word for it. God, I can't believe I'm spilling my guts to you," I said, once I realized the conversation had lasted over an hour.


"I thought I was the one spilling," he said.


"We both spilled," I noted. He chuckled.


There was a pause. I thought he was going to say something  but he didn't.


I stood. "Well, if you want a decent cup sometime - no offense to this place - you're welcome back at my shop. First one's on me."


"I appreciate it," he said with a smile.


I left another pause in the air. Still nothing happened.


"They... we... miss you. Take care," I backed away and left.



Once outside, I glimpsed my reflection in a window. I looked like a total mess, since I hadn't taken any care with my appearance before leaving since I didn't plan on being out long. I straightened my hair, and adjusted a bra strap that had fallen during the course of the conversation, but I had been too self conscious to address during the conversation. After checking to make sure nobody was around, I dug into my cleavage to brush out some crumbs that had fallen in and itched me for the better part of the morning.



Then of course I realized he could probably see me through the window, although if he did he didn't let it show. I hurried on home after that.


-Tyler/Valerie

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Daryl/Magda: Settling In?

I spent a couple days in April apartment-hunting with "Junah", who waited until the last minute to find a place for the summer and next school year because he was so busy just trying to live his new life without a while lot of help from anyone other than me, and while I haven't lost touch with being black or a man, college just seems like another world already.  Has it changed so much in ten years, or do you just forget?

Not that she needed my experience as a black man so much as my current self.  I was basically standing in for Jonah's parents, who still haven't come to terms with him deciding to stay his daughter's mother, or with a former white woman living his life, so while they're okay co-signing a lease, they don't want to be involved, and a young black guy looking for a place near campus is not going to have the easiest time of it.  So I pull a pantsuit out of the closet, come along and let people assume I'm his mother and he's either mixed-race or adopted.

It was weird.  I know some folks who, in my position, might get a kick out of puffing themselves up and acting like they're going to call the Better Business Bureau or something if they don't get what they want, or smile at new-Jonah finding out just how many different levels of racism there are, but it's pretty hollow.  I think we both kind of feel like we've exchanged one set of obstacles for new ones we aren't quite so sure how to navigate, and it gives us a bit of common ground with each other. 

The pronouns probably got confusing there, but that's Inn Person life to an extent.  Jonah sees himself as a guy living Krystle's life, and while he won't correct "she" all the time, it feels wrong to him.  Juliet, maybe because he's older and because he chose this life much more affirmatively than Jonah did.  He figures he's become a man, so he's a man.

And give him credit, he's been working hard to see what that means for him.  As much as he initially gravitated toward hanging out with his female classmates, he made an effort to do more "guy stuff", whether it's intramural sports, hitting up action movies, even going to a strip club one night.  That Jonah grew up in New Hampshire gives him pretty good cover when going to Harlem and otherwise trying out hip-hop and other black things.  It's sometimes kind of funny to watch, but he's out there trying, and you've got to respect that.  I'm not out there joining book clubs or stopping wine or otherwise trying to make a lot of middle-aged white lady friends.  And, who knows, when his brain finally gets over that "I'm old enough to there be her mother" reaction when a good-looking girl flirts with him.  That could totally drag him in a different direction.

Me, I'm still a solid "they" - woman in a lot of practical ways, but still thinking like a guy, and I think that J.T. likes me being kind of a guy at heart, that it cuts out a bunch of drama.  I kind of wonder if that will change should I spend more time around "other" folks like Magda.  Weird to think about.

Inevitable, though, considering some other recent visitors.  Elaine and not-Daryl made a quick trip here over the weekend and wanted to get dinner.  It kind of made me dizzy to see them sitting next to each other while I was next to J.T., because when you add it up, I've spent more time with "Elaine" as my girlfriend then I've spent as her and Magda combined, but I've been both of them, and though I know who's who, my brain keeps trying to see Elaine as J.T. and the other guy as me.  It's strange for him, too, although he's able to put on more of a facade of just meeting two folks he kind of knows.

And they're dating!  They didn't try to hide it, but they waited for me to comment on how they didn't need to hold hands so much, because there wasn't anybody they knew here.  Elaine said it started when she told J.T. not to say no to me, so there was definite attraction, so when she got back home and things were kind of in an unsettled place as between them as far as the world was concerned, and friends kept trying to get them back together, so when they wound up in the same place...

She trailed off with a shrug, so I turned to address my own face.  "Okay, I get her being attracted to me--"  We all laughed.  "--but I thought you had a girlfriend, and she was into it?"

"She was, and it got weird, dude.  Like, her new life was single and unemployed, so she could just move in with me, and it was fun - she became this really hot blonde - but after a while, she stopped using my name at all, even when we were home alone, saying it was just that she didn't want to slip when we were out, but, like, soon she was only listening to music from this other girl's playlists and...  Like, she's not planning to stay, but the way she was okay with assuming this whole other persona, not even looking for ways to be herself.  And, like, maybe she'd just switch back when we were ourselves again, but that she could kind of made me wonder about everything, y'know?"

"So when we meet at this business thing and we're able to get alone, and he could be himself and I had someone I could talk to about having been a white elementary school girl for a couple years, it was just this huge relief!  How are you supposed to not talk about that?  I mean, I can talk to Cary, but then it becomes about him and Krystle, which isn't his fault, but doesn't really help me deal with how this weird shit's gonna be in my head for a while!"

"Not gonna lie - it's kind of weird to find yourself attracted to a girl who sometimes talks about how something is like what happened at recess last year, but kind of special, too."

I look from one to the other.  "Is this an 'I want to stay like this' thing?"

He looked shocked.  "No!  The opposite - we didn't want you to hear it from someone else and get the wrong idea!  We weren't sure how well what you've got is working--"

Elaine elbowed him, but I said that was fair.  "I mean, there are challenges, but we're pretty happy."  I suddenly had a thought.  "I should text Pete."

My face looked surprised.  "You already promised him, uh, this?"

"I've brought it up, but he...  Well, he says a lot of things.  'Why would I want the body you abandoned?'  He'll joke about just getting used to being a girl, or say it's different when it's someone you know, but I kind of just think he's been bouncing around long enough that he finds it hard to commit."  My hand was next to J.T.'s, and he squeezed it, prompting me to lean over for a kiss.  "Anyway, he keeps in touch with a lot of people and has been asking around about something, well, a little more like you."  Elaine blushed as I looked at her.  "It may be destiny that I became someone J.T. could date, but maybe we could adjust it a bit.   People do talk about him and the older woman, and I haven't had a lot of luck looking for a better job."

"Hey, maybe y'all just aren't casting your net wide enough!"  Elaine pointed at her boyfriend.  "C'mon, I know you fell for this once, and maybe having been to the Inn stretches who you can be after.  I mean, everything you did and felt as me is still part of you, right?"

J.T. took a drink.  "I'd never know if we were trying to make it work, though.  Like, I pretend for a living, and I know that this is real, y'know, the way being yourselves will keep you sure what you've got is real."

"I get that.  Just wondering, since it took me so long to get home."

We finished our meal and then they went to their show.  We saw a movie and then went home. 

It was great to see them, at least.  It was a pretty good reminder that this year's Inn season is coming up fast, and even if I don't wind up changing, there's a lot of people who will have their lives turned upside-down - or right-side-up, as the case may be.

-Magdaryl

Monday, May 20, 2019

Jenn/Zack: Barriers

I'm attracted to Pete as April.

I'm confused about it, but more than that I'm confused as to why I'm confused about it. I've already indulged my hetero-male interests with David, and I know I was/am attracted to Alexa. I can do it. I could be doing it. Why don't I want to be doing it? What's my problem?

She's really cute, and the person inside is so smart and worldly. I love talking to him. I like being around him. I've kissed those lips, caressed thst skin, and it's elicited a physical response from me... the kind thst says Go! Go for it! But we only have once.

It was a nice night. A magicsl night. Pete is rhe kind of person who knows how to show you a good time. I was intoxicated - not just by the wine but by his magnetic presence. When we got home, it was a certainty what was going to happen. Kick off our shoes, pull off each other's clothes... lock away any doubts about what you were doing.

We went through with it, but the memory is tainted by my not heeding all the doubts I had before and during.

And it's because I know it's not real. And this is not fair to Pete or to me, but I have to obey that feeling.

That person he is dressing in lacey underwear for my benefit, that person whose hand I'm holding? That is not Pete, it's April. There is a difference to me and I respect it. That is another woman's body and life I am toying with, we are toying with. I suppose it would be different if we knew April would never be herself again, like Valerie, but that's not the case.

Why was it okay for me to hook up with David as Lena? I'm not sure it was. Only that I knew the man inside (so I thought). When I looked at "her" I knew who I thought I was seeing. When I look at Pete, I see April. Nobody else seems to have this problem, but I do. That's not a judgment on them but of me. I wish I didn't. Pete is beautiful inside and I wish we could explore what we have, and yet, all I see are barriers. I feel physically ill with guilt when trying to make love to Pete as April. It feels shallow to feel like I need the person I am making love with to mentally and physically be the same, because for Pete that's not possible.

Pete is normally understanding but this has frustrated him, so whatever we had is done. He is honorable so every plan we had, with regards to Maine, is intact, but I can't say the same for David, who has cut me out of the loop, and as far as I know intends to stay as Lena. Shocking considering he hates being female, but he clearly enjoys her money and status, so...

You think you know somebody.

You think you know yourself.

I'm sorry Pete. But we are wanderers together. Maybe something will happen in our next lives that will help us through this, or take us apart for good. You deserve to be happy.

I've never been so scared or so lonely through this.

-Jenn/Zack

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Valerie: Out With the Girls

Once the weather started getting a little bit nicer, I noticed a change in Charli's energy. "All right people," she said one night, clapping to get our attention like she was a schoolteacher. "Winter is over. time to start having fun!"

Maddie and I looked back and forth at each other nervously. I was reading on my phone, Maddie was knitting.

"Fun?" I asked, fearfully - the way she said it almost seemed like a threat.

"That's right ladies," she said, "We're done with hibernation. It's time to get out in the world and experience some hardcore fun."

Personally, I work all day, sometimes at two jobs - relaxing at the end of the day is fun for me these days. Maddie feels similarly.

"Come on!" Charli said urgently. "You're both young, hot women in New York City! Every night you're not out seeing the world is a waste of your life."

"I have a boyfriend," Maddie reminded us.

"...Who spends four nights a week playing video games with his boyfriends, while you're sitting here knitting! That's a waste! And Valerie here still hasn't lost her virginity!"

I winced - the joke hit a little close to home, but my "prudishness" has become fair play for comment. When Charli likes you she teases you. Maddie muttered, "I like knitting..."

"Girls night. Girls night!" Charli started chanting. "Girls, girls, girls!"

"Chuck," Maddie said, using her nickname for her twin, "We have very different ideas of what constitutes a fun girls night." Personally, I'm not sure how many "girls nights" I've even had.

"Wine bar. Art show. Shitty bar band. Club. Billiards. Rave. Swap meet. AA meeting. Anything to get us out of this house because I'm sick of looking at these four walls!"

"You go out almost every night!" Maddie countered.

"Yeah, but not with you! Not with my girls!"

I had to admit, it felt good to be one of someone's "girls."

I looked around nervously. "Well, it's been a while since I've gone out to a bar..." Most of my outings lately have been unsuccessful dates, so I didn't get to enjoy myself. The idea of just going out to a bar to go to a bar seems terrifying to me as a woman, but with my "girls" by my side, maybe not so bad.

"Val! Thank you Val!" Charli took my hands in hers and squeezed. "I was worried I was going to have to take you guys to Court."

'Court' is a thing we do around the apartment to settle disputes - prosecution, defense, judge. It started as a gag but the rulings have been taken shockingly seriously - see the case of Maddie v. Thermostat, where she came prepared with energy-usage statistics and financial metrics to get us to keep the apartment two degrees cooler during the winter.

Maddie twisted in the wind about it. "I... okay. One night out once in a while isn't gonna kill me."

We settled on the neighborhood bar. Maddie stressed over what to wear but I didn't. I didn't want to put myself on display or anything, but I wanted to be comfortable and casual while not seeming closed off. I wore jeans and a sweater that emphasizes that yes, I have boobs, but doesn't feature much cleavage so it says "No, they're not for you." Maddie changed three times, eventually settling on a plain white v-neck tee, jean jacket and tights that make her butt look good. Charli just wore what she already had on - a crew neck tee and slacks.

Maddie did my hair and makeup - I welcome this, possibly for reasons that would scandalize her, because the touch of a woman is still a special thing even if it's not what I'm primarily into these days. It's a different form of intimacy from what I experienced as a man, or what I get from men, and part of me craves it.

Maddie asked me when was the last time I saw the hairstylist. That's something I haven't kept up on in a while. I did it to keep continuity when I first became Val - after being  ery self conscious about grays (and Kitty's opinion) as Judith. But since I locked into making VLal my permanent self, I got out of the habit. Maddie's comment made me think maybe I should... which is a shame since avoiding it is a good way to save money.

 I also changed into some cute underwear - a lacey thong - because it's important to be prepared. Oddly, feeling rushed and forgetting myself, I started to do this in front of Maddie, which caused her to bolt from the room. I was embarrassed that I hadn't thought twice. And then I wondered if she's a little sensitive because her twin is a lesbian and she feels the need to like, overcompensate.

In our own ways, we all looked hot.

"By the way," Charli said as we were almost there, "I invited my friend Ariel tonight. She's cool. We're sleeping together, but nobody knows it yet, so shhh."

Maddie rolled her eyes. "Come on! You wouldn't let me bring David but you're bringing your random hookup??"

"Hello! This is a Girls' Night, and she's a girl, so what's wrong with bringing her?" Plus, Charli added, they've been sleeping together for three weeks - for her, that's a commitment.

They bickered a while, and as usual I didn't chime in until called upon to make a ruling. "I decree that this is not in the spirit of Girls' Night, but it does conform to the letter of the law. Plus, I'd like to meet this chick." If it's getting serious, we might as well.

We went in. Ariel, this beautiful dark-haired, tan-skinned girl, waved us over to her table. She's almost as short as me, with a booty. She wears her hair out in a well-tamed mass of curls and has what I would call Librarian glasses. She and I were wearing very similar outfits. She gave Charli a chaste hug hello.

I wasn't sure what was supposed to happen next. We ordered drinks. We tried to talk, but it was a strain to be heard. There was indeed a crappy band playing old covers. I announced I wouldn't mind playing darts. Nobody seemed agreeable to that, but some guy offered to teach me.

I looked him up and down. There was nothing offensive about him, so I challenged him to a friendly game. I won, and he decided he didn't want to play so much anymore and went back to his friends. I wondered what the hell was wrong with me if he wasn't into me.

I found Ariel outside, vaping. I wanted to break away from the group a little bit. Partly because as different as they are, Charli and Maddie are still sisters  and occasionally whem hanging out with them I still feel likecan outsider. Or maybe it's because they've been women their whole lives and I'm... well, I can embrace it all I like but I'll never be what they are. It doesn't feel as bad when I'm hanging out one on one with a woman but in a group, ironically I start to realize I am not like them. I'm rougher, I don't have the same frame of reference for things. I get more worried about not "passing."

Besides, I was liking hanging out with Ariel. She's cool and funny and bookish, a bit like Meg. And I sensed that maybe she felt a little left out too.

"So," she said, "Charli and I are... kinda a thing, maybe? I don't know."

"Yeah," I said, trying to conceal the fact thst Char had prepared us, "I gleaned that a bit."

"I don't know why I'm so embarrassed to admit thst. You're cool people. You know Charli, you don't judge. I just... this is all new to me. Before I met her I thought I was straight.  She's my first girl... hookup... person."

I wanted to tell her I related to her confusion,  but she didn't need me to steal thunder with my backstory. I let her vent

"I get it," I said, "It's nobody's business but yours."

"It's the worst feeling. I want her to pay attention to me but I don't want it to be obvious. So I feel ignored. If you weren't here I would have bailed already."

I took the compliment and said pretty much the same.

"I'm such a dork," she sighed cutely to herself, "I thought I was so open minded. I thought, I'm not gay, but if I were, I'd be proud. My parents are liberal, but I'm still sweating bringing her home."

I wanted to joke that I wasn't sure Charli was the kind of girl you take home.

"So," she said, changing the subject, "Who's texting?"

I turned red. I thought I had been very subtle. Charli and Maddie had been so gabby all night I was pretty able to check my phone and tap out a quick response, but Ari must have been more observant

"Some guy," I said. "On a dating app."

"You like him," she said, again making an observation, not asking a question.

"I'm... interested. More than I've been in a while."

"Can I see?"

I winced. "It's, uh, complicated with this one... I'm not sure how public I want to be yet either."

She smiled, "I get ya."

Maybe eventually she will.

We went back in. I talked to her some more. She's very into soccer so I let her bring me up to speed on that, until Charli forcibly changed the subject.

The night lased a bit long for my tastes. Darts Guy came back, a little drunker, to see if he could get my number. I respectfully passed. The moment was gone. I've got my mystery guy, and a perfectly healthy masturbation routine if that doesn't work out.

Having admitted to the nature of their relationship, Ariel came home with us and slept over. In the morning I made us all eggs and broight Girls Night to its official close.