Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Daryl/Elaine: Time to Find Out

This is almost certainly a bad idea, but it's too late to turn back now, and if I didn't do it, I'd be second-guessing myself for the rest of my life, but, Jesus, it seems like a crazy leap.

It makes a little more sense if you know a bit about what I left out of the last update.  We were "just being friends", but we kind of played at being more.  Not by getting all syrupy in public or anything, but whenever something would strike as kind of ironic or funny considering our situation, we'd break out some exaggerated way of talking, with me playing the boyfriend half the time.  It was a joke, but it was also a way to accept that we were in a weird situation.

So, Tuesday, it's hot as hell in New York, enough that J.T. had actually mentioned that he missed booty shorts and a halter top being a viable outfit for him, and I decided, what the heck, only a few days of this left, and if anyone got a picture, it wouldn't stick to me.  That's kind of the funny thing about being turned into your girlfriend - it's actually not hard to make yourself all sexy in the mirror, even if you do wind up thinking that it's kind of a weird power trip at times, but stepping out the door is maybe twice as hard, because you've got both "do I want guys looking at me like that?" and "do I want guys looking at my woman like that?" going around your head.  But, it was hot, and I didn't want J.T. or Pete to think I'd chickened out.

Pete wasn't pay off the group Tuesday night, so I didn't have him to measure my drinks against (I've gotten into the habit of staying even or one drink behind him,  since he's smaller and thinner than Elaine as Brigette), and it, uh, enhanced the "singer's girlfriend" thing I was doing, so I wound up shooting "that was awesome baby!" (or, later, "woooooooooo!") rather than kind of saying it to myself.  J.T. wound up playing along, pointing at me the first time and comically rolling his eyes by the end.

Eventually, the gig ended, and I helped him move his gear to the car.  He hoped that the only thing missing from that was him inviting me up on stage.  I laugh, saying there were photographers and phones and Elaine didn't need to deal with any of that shit.  He nods, but says it's too bad, because he knows I've got the pipes for it.

It's hard to be modest, because I'd certainly complimented him when he had those pipes, and meant it.  But...  "Karaoke with friends is different than a stage in front of strangers.  Besides, those were y'all's songs, not mine."

"But you're a big part of them."

I didn't know what to say.  We'd arrived at his place, and I grabbed the guitar and mic stand while he picked up the amp.  We rode the escalator in silence, up to the tenth floor.  He unlocked it and I walked in, giving it a good look.  "So this is where you live in your real life."

It was nice, bigger than Brigette's, though not huge.  There were a couple awards on a mantel, a full-size keyboard, and a separate dining area, all fairly tidy.  I wondered how much dust had gathered while he was Elaine.

"Yep, this is me, although it's just starting to feel like home again.  And kind of plain."  He reached into the fridge and handed me a beer.

"It's nice.  Not much of my Elaine in it, though.  Or would that be your Elaine?"

"Yeah, I didn't keep any souvenirs.  Maybe I should have.  But until you showed up, I just..."  He trailed off, and then pointed at a blank space on the wall.  "Heck, I used to have a Josephine-Baker-in-Paris print over there, but I was having a hard time looking at it.  Made me remember and wonder what if."

I used the corner of my top to twist the off my bottle and took a swig before walking out onto the balcony.  "I should certainly hope you wondered what if.  I thought we had something special."

He walked up behind me.  "We did.  I told you things that I never told anybody else, and they were true, even if the facts weren't."

I laughed.  "So, basically, your parents pushed you into acting rather than math?"

"Pretty much.  Figured I'd have become a huge adult star by now, just like Wil Wheaton, Macauley Culkin, and Haley Joel Osment."

I snort-laughed.  "Obviously, you should have turned into a girl much earlier.  There's Jodie Foster, Dakota Fanning, Christina Ricci..."

"Don't think they wouldn't have considered it.  Kind of glad to be a man right now, though."

He put his hands on my shoulders, then kissed the base of my neck, and I felt my temperature go up.  "What're you doing?"

"Kissing my girlfriend.  Or maybe kissing my ex-boyfriend.  Do you like it?"

"Mm-hmm.  Of course I like it.  You're cheating, already knowing where it feels good."

"I suppose so."  His hands slid down my sides until they reached my midriff, then moved up underneath my top to cradle my breasts, gently stroking them with his thumb while each nipple rested between two fingers.  I gasped and made a half-step back, enough that I could feel him hardening when the small of my back made contact with his pelvis.  His teeth found the knot keeping my top on and disengaged it just slowly enough to build some anticipation, giving my brain just enough time to start working the buckle on my shorts.

We turned around and went back into the apartment as a unit; he instinctively knew I wasn't quite ready to be looking in a man's face while doing this yet.  Once I had pulled my shorts and panties down and planted my hands on an end table or something, he let go of one breast to work his own belt and zipper, then guided himself in from behind.  I moaned as he found my spot again and again, gently thrusting the tip of his unit over it, sending waves of pleasure through my body.  I felt something let go inside me as I came, and then he seemed to swell a bit more.

"Hang on," he said, pulling out of me and opening his wallet to find a rubber.  I didn't realize that's what he was doing, though, so I turned around, and I see his face go from being a little stained at holding back to being concerned that he'd upset me.  Something lightens in my chest and I say "put it on".  He does, and I guide him to the corner of the sofa.  I sit him down and then lower myself onto him, kissing him and then trying to find the rright rhythm as I moved up and down, thinking how is liked it when the roles were reversed, right down to his face in my rack.

It doesn't take him long to come, and he slumps back, spent.  I roll off of him and adopt a similar posture next to him, looking up at the ceiling.  "Well, fuck."

He looked concerned again.  "Did I do something wrong?"

"No, and that's the problem.  Right up until you, you know, got in there, I figured it would feel wrong, but it didn't and you were so nice, and now I know we've got something good.  But it's not like I can just steal Elaine's life!"  He shook his head in agreement and we had kind of a sad cuddle.

I must have fallen asleep there, because when I woke up I was in his bed and he was making waffles.  I figured we'd burned enough calories that Elaine wouldn't mind.  Despite all we'd done last night, it felt a little strange to kiss him before leaving to go back to Pete's place and get changed.

Pete was there and waiting for gossip.  I told him it had happened and was not what I expected, and he removed me that women always share details.  Fortunately, it was interrupted by a call from my own phone, telling me that he knew I must have gotten nervous by now, but there were more than enough people arriving at the Inn to change back tonight.

"That's good, that there are more than enough."  I took a deep breath.  "So, ______, you've been enjoying my life, right?"

"Yeah, man, and so's my girlfriend, if you know what I mean!  Heck, I'm actually kind of jealous of the job I landed for you."

"Good.  How would you like to do the full year?"

Pete's eyes billed as my voice on the other end of the phone stammered.  "What, dude, I was kidding!  Just because I said it would be weird to go home to a family of strangers... and you'd be stuck as a chick--"

"I know, it's just it turns out I've got something to see through."

"If you say so."  He tried to sound reluctant, but there was some relief in his voice.  He hadn't really been thrilled with the luggage he'd found in his room, even if he had been willing to help someone else get back to normal.

"I do."

"All right, man.  I don't get it, but all right."

We said goodbye and hung up, and Pete exploded.  "Are you crazy?  This is--"  He didn't have words.

I shrugged.  "He may be The One."

He shook his head. "That is one severe case of estrogen poisoning you've got there.  I can't even."  He was even more dumbfounded when I told him the whole plan.

Contrary to what you might expect, J.T. and I went our separate ways after the fireworks; that night was special and not to be repeated as such.  I slept at Pete's, and then got on a train to Old Orchard.

Pete was right about my head kind of overflowing with female hormones, and although I had certainly been asking for the ride, I also knew that there were a lot of people out there whose experience with the Inn does not exactly suggest that everything happens for a reason (or at least, not an obviously positive one).  But I certainly can't deny that it certainly feels like things have come together for me and J.T. in an unlikely-enough way that is hard not to talk about destiny.

So we're putting it in fate's hands.  I go to the Inn and get turned into another man, or a lesbian, or a kid, and it's not meant to be.  But if I stay Elaine, or become another woman, and there's still a spark...  Well, it's tough to argue with that.

So far, no change, and no luggage in my room, obviously.  But I've got a good feeling about this.  It didn't all happen for nothing.

-Daryl/Elaine

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Monday, July 09, 2018

Tyler/Valerie: Options?

I have to admit, ever since my meet with Cynthia, I've been struggling with this decision. I don't know if I honestly expected just to float around, trying on body after body for years until somehow, somehow I lucked into something, anything, that I could stick with. And it was probably too much to ask that that body be male, but what right do I have to be picky?

Still, a lifetime of being jerked around means that I'm fishy about all this. One thing Cynthia did when we met was show me text messages with her husband that corroborated the idea that he was accepting a buyout, so to speak, and was going away "quietly." That still puts this firmly in "too good to be true" territory.

I could hardly pick a better life than Cynthia Hutchins' out of a catalog, so long as maleness wasn't on my wishlist. She's close in age to what I'm supposed to be. She's extremely pretty and lives a life of luxury - luxury she informs me will be diminished following her transaction with her current husband, but still a woman of means. There's time and money to build that life into something that I could be happy living. Sort of.

Part of this deal is that Cynthia wants someone who will be good for the kids. Yes, that's a role I've been in before as Judith... I wouldn't say I was the world's greatest mom, but I had the unique challenge of raising a body-swapped and de-aged tween boy who was very willful, but seemed to respect me at least. I don't know anything about Cynthia's stepkids, what they think about their mom or anything... but I do know they think she's who she's always been.

And I know they've already lost their real mom, and unknowingly been abandoned by their real dad. It makes me want to help but I'm not sure it makes me want to raise them. And as much as Cynthia is selling me that I'd be able to do as I please, how can she expect or hope for anything besides me adopting the role of 'mommy'? And then where am I?

I've been lucky in my trips to the Inn, and up until a few weeks ago I felt prepared for even the worst case scenario, since I've seen people get through scenarios way more hellish than anything I've been up against. But it's still stressful. A few weeks ago I would have told you that I would have settled for anything that felt permanent, but now that I'm presented with a choice -- not being forced (not literally anyway) but asked to choose -- I couldn't help but wonder if it would be right for me. If I was slotted into Cynthia Hutchins' life based on the random draw, and told I could keep it if I wanted, once I was in her skin, I doubt you could stop me. But there's such a temptation to take the mystery door.

Temptation that decreased after one conversation.

As I often do when I don't know what to do, I reached out to the only person who's ever really understood me: Meghan Reis.

I asked her to come down to Brooklyn for the weekend and she said she couldn't, but after reading my post she had to call me. We talked all night, too long for me to write-up here, about everything... all my options, all the things that brought me here, how sometimes when I make choices for myself they tend not to work out and how maybe the idea of someone making the decision for me, pointing me at this woman's body and saying "You must be her now" may be my only option.

"You're right," I said, "I've screwed up way too many peoples' lives to take the chance again."

"You never screwed up anyone's life," she said.

"Tell that to Valerie," I sighed.

"Absolutely nothing that has happened to that girl in the past year is your fault."

I started to say, "I dunno Meg... I just keep thinking, maybe this is the one... or maybe if I can just have one more year as a guy..."

"Justin proposed," she cut me off.

"What?"

"I'm sorry, I... I don't mean to be all egotistical thinking that has anything to do with your decision, because we're both pretty clear that what we had was in the past, but... Justin proposed to me, and I said yes. We're getting married next year. And I just had to tell you at some point and that point wasn't coming any sooner."

"Wow, I..." I was speechless. "Congratulations...!" I said as sincerely as I could.

"I want you at the wedding... in whatever form you have by then. I don't know if it would be appropriate to have you as a bridesmaid... but the thought did cross my mind."

I was speechless.

"But I'm going to have to know where you'll be in a year for that to work," she noted.

"Yeah..."

I switched the topic over to her and let her fill me in on all the details, paying as much attention as I could as I dug deep into my mind, thinking... how much of my fantasy return to manhood was just me holding out hope for a Meg-Tyler reunion? That I would steal her back from him, even though she's been his longer than she was ever mine? Suddenly I felt very scummy about the whole thing.

That's the crazy thing. I've seen how I can be happy as a woman, but I don't think I could be happy as a man without her. But as a female, those feelings are in check, and my heart and my mind are a little more open. What's more, I seem to like myself more this way.

What a crazy thing to realize...

Clock's ticking on this decision.

-Tyler/Valerie

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Friday, July 06, 2018

Tyler/Valerie: Cynthia

Another hot city summer in a female body. A good-looking one where men notice when you start showing skin - or wear anything that gives a hint of your figure. And sue me, that's the least of my worries. Let them look if they need to, let me turn heads on the street, I'm not afraid, as long as they don't get out of line. At least, with the thinner layers and less fabric that women's clothes provide, the less overheated I get going about my business. Guys don't get the benefits of low necklines and high-cropped shorts - I've got to take the wins where I can in this body, you know. IF you had told me five years ago that I'd be kind of excited to be wearing short skirts, I'd have punched you where you stood, but here we are.

Of course with every positive there's an equal or greater negative... flat, humidity-wrecked hair, sunburned cleavage, and of course, underboob sweat. And guys, I've got a lot of underboob to sweat through.

Ripping the Band-Aid Off

I've had a fair amount on my mind since the last time I posted. I was trying really hard to find the "right" time and way to break it off with Rafe. I figured I would be more likely to do it the first time he and I had a blowup about something but somehow he's managed to be a perfect gentleman since I got back from Westchester. Freezing him out for a few days must have really gotten to him. Damn, that meant I had to find a way to level with him, and find some convincing grounds to end it even though, if you asked us both, we'd probably agree we're still having fun.

It's not the best relationship I've ever had (if you can call it that) but it's not the worst, and at it's best it's weirdly very non-dysfunctional, which feels strange.

The other night we were lying in bed and he asked me how I was feeling. He's never done that before. I literally had to sit up, wide-eyed and startled and ask "Who are you?" And that's a loaded question coming from me of course - it occurred to me for a moment that he might not actually be himself. But he looked at me like I was crazy for even asking, and he just shook it off, like "I'm just trying to be nicer, man."

I told him I was just lost in thought about the future. He asked if I meant "our" future. I said just the future in general, you know I don't really want to pour coffee for the rest of my life. Then I asked, "Is there an 'our' future?"

He shrugged, "Why not? We're having fun, aren't we?"

I winced. "I do want more, eventually."

I thought he might react pretty badly, but he just sighed, "You gettin' tired of me, chickpea?"

"No, I just... think a break might be good."

Shit, I thought to myself as soon as I said it, I can't waffle on this and leave the door open.

I could see him getting upset, but in an understated way: "If you call it off, I'm not gonna wait around for you to change your mind."

"I wouldn't expect it."

He sat and thought for a minute and said something kind of unexpected: "You know if you give me some time... just a little while... maybe... I could... I mean, we could..." he stammered, and I stopped him before he could putter to the end of his sentence.

"I can't explain it, but... we don't have that kind of time."

"What the fuck does that mean?"

"It means I've got to go."

"Fine, go then."

And I had to admit, I was a bit hurt that he didn't fight more, but he did make a bit of a play for... something. And I don't doubt his sincerity, but, well... I had to do what I had to do. I threw my clothes on, trying not to linger too long, stuffed my underwear in my bag, and called for a cab home.

A Good Bad Dream

I tossed and turned all night because I had an important meeting in the morning. And when I finally did get to sleep, I had this really vivid dream that I was back at the Trading Post, and I got transformed into Ryan - I was tall and muscular and I had a dick and everything, and I went to bed with his girlfriend Alexa and... I woke up feeling very guilty about all that, very shaken. I also woke up to find I had started my period, as if to rub it in.

So imagine how I felt when I went out to the Kitchen to pour myself a bowl of Cheerios and she was there already eating.

Things are a little icy between us but I think she could sense I had had a rough night so she asked about it, and I said I had ended things with Rafe. She draped her arm around me and said "Girl, I know it hurts, but I know you can do better!" I barely know this girl, and I was semi-attracted to her boyfriend, and he was/is definitely attracted to me, and she was giving me sisterly love. I felt rotten.

Ryan appeared a little after that, and we all talked, although I was not in a very social mood. Ryan made a big show of cozying up to Alexa, as well he should, and it all served to make me feel like the loneliest guy in the world.

Cynthia's Story

It was around 11 I ended up meeting with "Cynthia Hutchins." I hadn't actually wanted to pursue this but Pete convinced me, saying she had gone to the trouble of seeking me out - I said that didn't necessarily bode well, and she agreed sure, but if she meant ill she could have probably approached it some other way. Then we went back and forth over what someone who meant ill for me would actually do and eventually Pete wore me down (as she has a way of doing) so I agreed to meet. I was definitely more curious than I wanted to be.

After I had been to her place, I realized I had seen her in the coffee shop several times. She always looked very put-together - a well-dressed, beautiful and fashionable 30-something with a slim body, pretty blue eyes and silky golden blonde hair. I noticed her, envied her, resented her - as I do a lot of my female customers. Male ones, too. But she was always nice, and now I realize it's because she knew who I was... despite not mentioning the name of the coffee shop, I had at least given enough of a description of Valerie's body that she must have known the moment she found me.

Her husband is probably average height for a man, so that they're about even when she's in her heels, with a young-looking face for his mid-40's but gray hair. Their kids are 13, 12, and 7 -- Cynthia is the stepmother.

I told her there's another coffee shop around the corner where I prefer to talk about these things, away from my friends, customers and co-workers, and she agreed to meet me there. She was looking very prim and proper, and knowing I was going to meet with her made me want to dress up like I was going for a job interview - pleated black skirt, white blouse with scalloped shoulders, hair tied back.

"You look very nice," she said, seemingly sincere. I said she did too, complimenting her earrings in particular, a pair of dangly gold baubles. She stood up to bid me to sit down and I was immediately put off by how she towered over me in her three-inch heels.

"I guess you're wondering... about everything."

I sighed, "I find in these situations it's best to let someone just say whatever they feel they have to, and then if I have any questions, I'll hold them."

"Very well," she said, offering a narrow smile. "I'll be brief."

"No need, I've got all afternoon."

Her smile broadened.

"Five years ago, I did something very uncharacteristic and spontaneous. I took a vacation with a man I hardly knew, to Maine. I was having one of those moments where I wanted to... sorry, you're going to laugh when I say this but it's true... I wanted to quit being myself for a while. Not literally of course, I never would have asked to... well, yes. I just wanted to get away for a while and throw caution to the wind. I met a man online and he suggested we go to Maine. He told me unfortunately, the only place he could get a reservation was thing dingy old Inn, but we'd make the most of it. I had just quit my job, there was no limit how long we could stay.

"After nearly a week of running around like we were teenagers, we woke up in the bodies of the Hutchinses. The original James Hutchins was a widower and was dating a much younger woman, and he ended up choosing to stay with her rather than returning to his children. A disgusting choice, but I benefitted from it so... I can't say I looked unkindly on him for making it."

She cleared her throat. "I'm sure you can relate to trying to make an ad-hoc family work with a person you only barely know." I nodded.

"It was a very appealing life, very much unlike the one I had left. I had chosen career over family... or, it had worked out that way, since I never had a chance at family before. Now I had my youth again, I had beauty, I had money, I had three children who resented me at first, but soon understood that I cared a lot more about them than their ersatz father, even if they didn't quite understand why. For James' part, he... did his best. It was years before the family started to collapse. Or rather, he started to. The pressures of work got to him, and... well, there was an added element because he could only succeed at work with my help, and I started to feel taken-advantage-of, since he worked a job he had no business doing, but that I could, quite easily I think."

"And what's that?"

"James is the Vice President of Research and Development for a Pharmaceutical Company. I was a biochemical engineer, back in Tuscaloosa. It was extremely convenient for him."

"I'll say."

"He wants out. He's tired of faking it. And I'm tired of him neglecting the children we inherited, and of the loveless sham of a marriage we were rushed into. But he's not tired of the money. So we've struck a deal. I will become him, and transfer a certain portion of James' salary to the person he becomes as a way of getting him out of my life."

"Uh huh..." I said, skeptical about all this,

"And my hope was... is... that I could find a person who knows the truth about the Inn, who needs a place to live the rest of her, or his, life. Someone with a proven track record of taking care of others. Tyler... this is a match made in heaven, don't you think?"

My face got hot. I didn't know what to say. "You want me... to just... become you -- Her? Cynthia?"

"I believe that would be best, yes."

I couldn't speak.

She went on. "Before you answer, let me assure you, I don't demand much. My hope is that for at least the immediate present, you would put up the charade of being a loving, caring mother to these kids. Our relationship would be strictly business. You would be free to pursue whatever you wanted. And I mean that in the fullest sense... if you wanted to lounge around and collect an allowance from me, I would let you. If you wanted a divorce, I could easily arrange that, and give you favorable terms. If you wanted to leave and go back to the Inn after a year, I would permit it, even though you would be giving up a lot...

"You would have freedom... Opportunity... Resources to do anything you wanted. Say, for instance... start your own business with my money."

It was scary how good this pitch was. There had to be a catch. Well, of course I already knew what it was: I would have to be Cynthia Hutchins. And if I were, I would probably be her forever.

It's no secret I would really rather live out my life in the sex I was born with, even as much as I've adjusted to the female role. I can't help thinking it's still only temporary. But the amount of things that would have to fall into place to get the body and life I actually want, and to be able to keep it... to accept this offer would be to admit defeat, and give up my slim hope of ever finding that perfect life.

Really, though, to stop fooling myself.

"I'm... flattered," I said. "I'm supposed to go back to the Inn in a few weeks, to give Valerie her life back. When are you..."

"End of August," she said, "You would return to the Inn at the beginning of September."

"What if I... become someone who can't come back? What if I become a kid or a... well, anything could happen. It could be out of my control."

"As long as you're willing, we'll find a way. This is my offer to you, no strings attached. I can virtually guarantee that a person in your situation can't hope for anything better."

I suddenly felt cold in the air-conditioned coffee shop, and grasped my upper arms.

"I don't know, Cynthia. There's a lot to think about. Just answer me one thing."

"Shoot."

"Are you really from Tuscaloosa?"

She smiled. "Roll tide."

I've got some thinking to do.

-Tyler/Valerie/Possible Future Cynthia

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Thursday, July 05, 2018

Lindsey: Just Me

It's a good thing that the Inn have us this extra day on our stay so that we could watch the fireworks and not be checking out on the Fourth of July, because it looks like I might not have changed back otherwise and who knows how many other people's plans would have also gone awry, but it also led me to hold out hope for one more day that Harmon would do the right thing.  But he hasn't, and now I just feel like the last few years of my life were a waste of time and I'm a damn fool.

Still, I'm me again, without a lot of fuss in managing it.  One of the nice things about Magda having worked for the same airline for over twenty years is that even though she doesn't actually get paid time off because she's hourly rather than salaried, she can still request a fair-sized chunk of vacation - say, enough to go to the Inn, fall off the map, and then return with a new person behind her face - and her employer will grumble but the job will still be waiting for her when she gets back.  That new Magda probably won't have much flexibility to take any sort of non-Inn vacation for another year, but that's how it works.  I even got to fly out here for almost nothing.

Harmon doesn't really have that luxury as Alicia; he was able to negotiate a schedule that had him working flights to and from Boston with some days off on that end, but there were a few days early in our stay when he would be SOL if he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  In retrospect, I'm kind of surprised he didn't just quit and let the new Alicia fend for herself, but I figured he was trying to do the same thing as I was, leaving things in good shape for the next people living these lives.

(Which won't be Magda and Alicia Polawski; they like Austin, the cupcake business, being sisters, and the guys that the people who originated their new lives became.  I'm not sure how far back along the line people are happy with how things worked out, but they're not coming back.)

It made the first few days in Maine pretty relaxing; Old Orchard is a cute little town, and I hope every Inn visitor eventually gets to know Cary - the guy is just there and quietly helpful when he can be.  I kind of enjoyed his flirting with me - he's picked up on more of what it feels good for a woman to hear than he claims, although the idea that he's scared that the next person to become Mckenzie might need a strong female role model isn't necessarily the best sales pitch.  Elaine is cool too, and really looking forward to being grown up again.

It felt good and according-to-plan enough that I didn't really fret when Harmon didn't show up on the first day he was supposed to.  I texted, he mentioned a flu bug taking down a whole flight crew, meaning he was assigned to another for that day, and that made sense.  When he didn't show up three days later, halfway through our booking, I called and asked what was going on.

He didn't even have the decency to sigh or hesitate.  "I am not returning to the Inn this year."

"WHAT?"  I poked my head out of the doorway to see if anybody else at the Inn heard me yelling.  "That's ridiculous - you HATE being Alicia, and I do your laundry - I know you're not pregnant!"

"It is not ideal, no, and I hope to upgrade to a better situation next summer, but given that Cooper had damaged my reputation and I would soon be facing retirement and irrelevance, and absent any moral imperative to return Alicia's life to her--"

I cut the oncoming lecture off.  "What about your other moral imperatives?  Like, to me?"

"I had hoped to avoid a confrontation, but how could or relationship not be broken?  After the past year, I doubt you would ever see me fully as a man again, having fallen so easily into taking a maternal role."

"Uh-uh.  No, you do not get to blame me.  You think that we could no longer be together, fine, but that's on you.  I'm sure you could find another student to make you feel admired and desired; I'd totally understand if you felt you didn't need me specifically.  Our are you afraid you can't any more?  Did seeing Coop using a cane freak you out that much?"

"I would not describe myself as 'freaked out', though it did gone me the impetus to examine what might offer me the most going forward, and there are noteworthy issues related to my old life's physical decline that, when balanced against a the average result of re-visiting the Inn, or even Miss Polawski's situation, certainly suggest that abandoning the identity of Harmon Keller is my best option using the present moment as a starting point."

I just started into the phone for a second.  "How can you be so casual about that?  I mean, you're taking decades off someone else's life!  Maybe not someone at the Inn now, but sooner or later, that's going to catch up with someone!"

He sounded annoyed.  "Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  If it bothers you so much, you know what to do."  There was a pause not quite long enough for me to think of a response.  "I guess this is farewell, then, Lindsey."  And then he hung up.

I just sat there after that, finding ways to blame myself.  Did I push him into trying to enjoy his circumstances enough that he decided he could stand being Alicia?  Did I play the mom too much and make that life comfortable?  Or did I do something to anger him, with Harmon deciding that this was the best way to get back at me?  I felt so bad that I slept on Coop's side of the room that night, so that if the change hit, it would make me into the new Harmon.

Elaine was pissed to hear me say that - she's got some pretty strong opinions on beating yourself up because of what a man does on his damn own.  She's got even stronger ones on making a martyr of oneself, suggesting I make myself available for future Magdas and Harmons who are going to be dropped into the Middle of this, but telling me it is not up to me to take responsibility for a man in his sixties.

She's right, even if it's hard not to feel guilty.  I mean, I woke up feeling GOOD this morning, every ache and pain I had as Magda gone, and Best Possible Person to Live Your Life Debbie Cooper may have spent the last month in the gym before getting me a bikini wax and a cute new Louise Brooks haircut.  And of course she left me some new panties and such.  And that's just gaining about twenty years back; Harmon got nearly twice that.  I can see that being hard to let go of.

That's pretty cold comfort to the poor teenager who got stuck as Harmon, though.  Just graduated high school, having a last vacation with his folks, and, wham, forty years.  Sweet kid, but he's not hugely thrilled with being on the same flight as me, or knowing that I'm going to be the best one to help him navigate Harmon's life for a bit.  As he shouldn't be.

I hope that I'll find something valuable in this experience someday.  I was ready to say I would just a couple weeks ago, but this lady bit of selfishness by Harmon really puts a damper on it, and I really wish I'd seen this in him the same way all my friends did.

-Lindsey Curtis

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Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Daryl/Elaine: That Went Well?

I didn't really know what I wanted out of this trip to New York when I got on the plane two weeks ago - I just knew I needed to take it, especially since just sitting in Elaine's life, waiting to be myself again, was going to drive me nuts.  It was an impulse, but a good one.

Being impulsive meant that I hadn't actually booked lodging when I made the post about going to New York, but I was lucky - Pete/Brigette has a Google alert on the blog, saw what I was doing, and immediately texted me asking if I needed an open-ended couch to sleep on (apparently, he and J.T. used to text each other white-man/black-woman stuff, so he has Elaine's cell number).  Since I was looking at hostels and thinking I wouldn't really like a lot of what I was seeing as a man, I said yes but warned him I was coming in on the red-eye.  No problem, he says - city that never sleeps.

And true to his word, there's noise on the intercom when the cab drops me off at his apartment and he buzzes me up, and his apartment is filled with good-looking people.  I must look pretty rough, because he immediately raises his voice.  "Hey bitches, this is my girl Elaine from Chicago - she all jet-lagged, so I'm gonna need y'all to scoot!"  There's a general groan, but they scoot, with lots of hugs and air-kisses on the way out.

As soon as the last one does, he plops into a chair, pulls his foot up so that his knee is sticking straight in the air - making his dress ride up and giving me a clear view of his panties - and starts working the little buckles on his fashionable five-inch heels.  "Eighteen hours in these shoes, dude, between the gallery and the club and this little after-party.  No regrets--"  (one drops to the floor and he switches legs)  "--because, honestly, I don't think I've ever actually enjoyed shopping for shoes before."  The other one dropped, and he started grabbing his toes and stretching them.  "I'm just glad those girls who said I gave good foot massages weren't kidding.  Ah, yeah!"

I got pointed to the bathroom so I could brush my teeth, pee, and slip into some pajamas, coming out to find that, though Pete didn't seem to have moved, the sofa bed was folded out and ready for me to slip into.  Which I did.

The next morning, I woke up to see Pete cleaning up from last night in booty shorts and crop top.  

"Hey, did I wake you?"

"No."

"Awesome.  Hope you don't mind, but I've already been trying to track J.T. down.  You'd think it would be easy for someone who used to be sorta kinda famous, but I guess he had stalkers or something when he was really big, and... well, you've seen how he protects his privacy.  I saw a couple things online on gossip sites about where he's had breakfast and stuff, but I kind of didn't want to go full crazy-ex-girlfriend on someone I'd just texted with."

"Hey, I'm not...  Am I?"

"Nah, you're totally sane.  At least so far as it's possible for us to be.  Anyway, let's get to work."

We spent a lot of Saturday looking for how we might get into contact with J.T., but no luck.  It went on like that for a couple of days, although Pete was in and out, going to his job at the gallery and hanging out with a whole bunch of friends.  They always invited me to go along, but I never felt comfortable doing so, because Pete kind of puts a show on as Brigette, changing how he talks and swinging his butt, and while I get it and have done something like it, but it's one thing when you're trying to get the people with the power to let you in, another when you're treating it like a year-long adventure.
We didn't find where he lived, but we did find the next best thing - where his band would be playing their first gig since reuniting, which gave me a little time to visit New York (with Pete insisting on going to the Studio Museum in Harlem with me and pointing out everything he'd learned about African-American art) before last Thursday's show.

That was interesting.  Pete and I got there early enough to stake out a spot where we could see the show but not necessarily be seen, because as much as the idea was to confront J.T., I didn't want to draw attention to myself that Elaine would have to live with.  I initially tried to nurse a beer but wound up getting Manhattans with Pete, figuring that he'd become smaller than me, so I shouldn't get into too much trouble matching him.  It was probably for the best, keeping my brain kind of buzzed while it tried to process that this guy used to be my girlfriend and there was an undercurrent to some of his newer stuff that 95% of the people in the audience would never get.

After the set was done, we started to head toward the stage, but it looked like J.T. still had enough fans from his child-start days to form a crowd, so we headed toward the green room.  Pete struck up a conversation with the security guys to keep us from being chased away, at least for long enough that we were there when the band finished breaking their stuff down and was heading back, and J.T. stopped in his tracks when he saw me.  "Whitney - I didn't expect--"

I shook my head.  "Not Whitney."

"Oh.  Well, come on back, although I'm not sure how much I can really tell you.  How--"

"I wanted to surprise my girlfriend for the long weekend, and her sister thought it would be cool to let me use her hotel room."

J.T.'s bandmates bugged their eyes, but Pete led them to the side of the green room to give them all the gossip.  He took a step toward me, looking me up and down.   "So... Daryl?"

I nodded, and then before I knew it his arms were around me, pulling me in so tight that my head naturally tilted upwards, and he kissed me on the lips.  I'm not sure how long it lasted, but I took a step back, almost stumbling on my heels.  "That... was weird."

"Yeah, sorry, I just...  I thought I'd never see you again, and--"

"I get it, but I really didn't come here from that."

"Then why--?"

"So I can dump your lying ass properly!"  I slapped him and he looked kind of stunned.  I was too - I'd debated it, thinking it was too cliché or that I'd be a man smacking a woman, but there was something about the moment, not so much that he was physically male and I was physically female, but that he figured that was justification for getting so far into my space...  Well, a little physical contact back seemed reasonable.

Or at least, that's how my brain worked it out later.  At the time, I was more like "Every word you said to me was a lie, you were always planning to leave and just let someone else take over, and the fact that I could surprise you means you didn't even give a shit about what you left behind!  I spent weeks missing you when I should have been freaking out about all this!  You don't get to stay in my head like that!"

"I was just--"  He reached out his hands again, decided that was a bad idea.  "You're right.  That was kind of shitty of me, and it sucks that you never would have known if you hadn't..."  He paused.  "I'm sorry."

I kind of hadn't been expecting to hear that.  "Well...  Okay.  I guess--"  I looked over at Pete, not sure whether I was expecting a sister telling me not to believe his lies or some advice from someone who had been through the whole Inn process a few times, but he and J.T.'s bandmates were in their own conversation.  "So, what now?"

"Well, you dumped me.  Or have you?  Is just saying why you're dumping me the same as the actual dumping?"

"What else is there?  I mean, I gotta - I ain't gonna like guys in a couple weeks, am I?"

"No, things get back to normal pretty quick.  But in the meantime..."

"Dude, no.  Believe me, I know I'm hot right now, no-one gets it more than me, and Pete did dress me up sexy, but no way."

He smiled.  "Yeah, I wasn't ready for That after a month either.  Still, we've got a couple weeks before you have to go back to the Inn, so we might as well just try the 'let's just be friends' route."

It felt like a lot to ask, but it kind of sounded better than going back to Chicago and pretending to be Elaine.  Pete was okay with me hanging around, so I said yes.

And it's been fun.  We've been to the Statue of Liberty, Coney Island, the Natural History Museum, and a few shows; he's been cool about me wanting to hit some of the stuff at the New York Asian Film Festival, too.  We have, admittedly, occasionally found ourselves holding hands, and his "been there" jokes about me being late because I couldn't find an earring (one of Elaine's favorites, so I had better not lose it) are something I'll kind of miss, since it's not like I'll have that with my next girlfriend (although I'm terrified I will actually let a "been there" slip sometime a year from now).

Hopefully we'll still be friends once there's no sexual tension between us.  He's got a show tonight, we'll watch the fireworks tomorrow, and then it's off to Maine to become myself again.  There's nothing I want more, but I must admit, I kind of wish he'd been a dick about it, so that putting this behind us would be easy.

-Daryl/Elaine

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Monday, June 25, 2018

Tyler/Valerie: The Rest of the Weekend

If my first couple of nights away with Maddie gave me some very strange feelings - and maybe an indication that there was something on her end as well - the rest of the weekend really flattened that out.


I guess you could chalk it up to a conflict between my male mind, female body, and in-between-everything-else. I'm still not accustomed to close female friendship without any sexual tension, and the way some women act around other women, when they're close or bonding, might read to a man as flirtatious or teasing.


I also had to process whether I wanted it - I've kind of gone heavy with this heterosexual thing lately, and I know, Meg would be the first to tell me that sexuality is fluid and I can define myself however I want -- even if Val doesn't have a proven track record of being experimental, does that mean her body doesn't have that streak, or that my mind in her body might not combine to make one? Or is it all just a distraction from what I really want, which is... I guess... a guy?


The feelings I was having for Maddie... I don't know. They were emotional, and intimate, but it was a bit of a leap to call them sexual. There was a sexual component there for sure, but it's not like I look around at other women as potential partners (it wasn't until recently that I looked at men and saw potential partners either, but here we are.) Whatever Maddie was doing must have breached that barrier, which means its possible for me to still be into women, but not exactly like it was before. And it's all moot because I'm pretty sure Maddie doesn't go that way.


(I actually don't want to be into women right now because I'm having a very good time without that on my plate, and being able to trust all the female relationships in my life as solely platonic, but I still think, intellectually, that women make better partners than men... ugh it's so complicated! A few years ago I would never have had all these thoughts or bothered analyzing it to this level, but a few years ago... things were very different, both for me and for the world.)


So, the reason why I feel pretty confident that all this flirting and connecting Maddie was doing actually didn't have any meaning to it is that the first thing Maddie said to me on Saturday morning once we were up and about was that she had texted her guyfriend and invited him to come over, and hopefully I was okay with that. I took a breath to process that and say of course, why would I stand in the way of that? She said that if I wanted, I could invite Rafe over too, but I waved that off - it was far for him to travel, and I really wasn't in the mood to see him (like I said, part of the appeal of this weekend was to detox myself from him and cleanse my palate.) Plus, even if the cat's out of the bag and everyone at the shop has figured it out, I'd rather just pretend they don't know, or pretend I don't know they know, and not let anyone see how he and I are together.


It all makes me very glad that I'm not going to be Valerie much longer.


Once this guy arrived (let's call him David) I actually found myself quite annoyed, because they retreated to the bedroom for several hours -- which, the idea of hooking up in a stranger's bed like that is a little gross to me (again, notwithstanding my personal history!) and because of course all the caretaking was left to me for pretty much the whole day, I had to walk the dogs, one after the other (because I'm not big enough to overpower one, let alone all three!) in the pouring rain, even though there was three of us now and one was a big strong man.


They also baked some pot brownies and left them out where the dogs could eat them, which would have been a huuuuge problem if I hadn't noticed.


So Saturday was a writeoff as far as I was concerned. David didn't spend the night or anything but I wasn't exactly into sharing the bed with Maddie either, so I took the one with all the dogs.


The next day, of course, because Maddie is a woman, she immediately sensed that I was upset with her and asked me to talk about it. And I didn't want to. So I tried to air my grievances - minus the confusing sexual component - and call her out for basically screwing around (literally) while she should have been earning her pay.


All she said was, "I'm sorry you see it that way. I didn't mean to let you down, but you can't expect me to not have fun while I'm here... you said you were okay with it yourself."


I just sighed. "It's not all about you... I'm just tired of being the responsible one. Feels like I never cut loose."


"Yeah," she snickered, "You are kind of a team mom around the shop. Which is totally why we have to start a business."


"We'll see," I said, looking away.


I guess that's why I fell in with Rafe - because yeah, I do have to be the Responsible Adult in the semi-relationship, but at least when we're together I feel like I can do something stupid and fun without screwing up anybody's life. It's the most free I've felt in years, even if, in the end, it will only prove temporary after I move on and get my next assignment.


Things were still a little chilly after that, but we hugged it out and got on with our last day of lounging around the house watching movies, before the Hutchinses returned, early in the afternoon. They invited us to stay for dinner, and I didn't have anything else to do, but Maddie wanted to go home and I didn't feel like staying without her, so Mrs. Hutchins - Cynthia - kindly gave us a ride to the station.


I told her what a beautiful home she had, and she said thanks... "Not bad for a gal from Tuscaloosa."


"Tuscaloosa?" I said, "Wow, I'm-- uh, I've got family down in Mobile."


"Really? I thought you grew up around here."


"Oh I did, I did... uh... New Rochelle?"


She side-eyed me. "Is that a guess?"


"Well, uh... we moved around."


"Spend a lot of time down there? I think I'm detecting an accent..."


"Maybe... maybe I'm just copying you."


"You know there's a lot of us out there... can't swing a dead cat without hittin' one it seems."


"What, you mean Alabamians?"


"Yes Val... Alabamians."


We pulled up to the train station. I put my hand on the latch of the car door.


I mouthed: "You know."


She nodded, and said in a hush "Let's talk sometime."


I gave a big sigh, wincing, as if to say I'd really rather not, but... she seems harmless.


Famous last words.


-Ty, still Val

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Saturday, June 23, 2018

Tyler/Valerie: A Better Vacation Spot than Maine, that's for sure!

It was a looooong drive from BK to Westchester, but worth it. We arrived at 8:00 Thursday Night to find a big empty house, with the Hutchinses already gone, having texted their final instructions to Maddie. We were exhausted from the drive so when we unlocked the door, we were very taken off-guard to be tackled by three very large, friendly dogs - two American Bulldogs (Piper and Sandy) and a Chocolate Lab (Pharaoh.) Piper jumped up and pushed me down by the tits and started licking my face immediately, which I was too delirious to be nervous about, so I just laughed.


"I guess this one likes me already!" I said, trying to manage the attention I was getting, as Maddie squealed in the corner, where she had been backed by the other two. I composed myself and managed to start getting them to behave... I'm no dog whisperer but my dad always had hounds of his own and I do like them and I know a bit about how to get on their good side.


Once the chaos died down, and Maddie settled her nerves, we gave ourselves a tour of the house. It was incredible. I've never seen a place like this, with an indoor and outdoor pool (technically the same pool but partly enclosed within the house) a screening room, a huge wine cellar, and more bedrooms, bathrooms, rec rooms and sitting rooms than I could count. And the kitchen! Hot damn. It looked like the set of one of those cooking shows, one of the good ones where they never make anything real people would eat.

Best of all, we've got free run of the entire place all weekend, meaning everything in the house is at our disposal, assuming we didn't break or lose anything - and even then, supposedly, they seemed not to worry.

On the first night, we were so wiped we just ordered a late night pizza and spent the whole night talking. I pried Maddie's whole story out of her, not that there's much to tell - simple girl from Long Island, moved away for school, felt too stressed and dropped out, no serious boyfriends. On the flip side, she started asking me, and I felt a little cagey, because I don't have a lot of practice talking about "my life" as Valerie, and I don't really like appropriating other peoples' lives and pretending I lived them anyway... so I gave a very, very loose version of my truth, and Valerie's, and tried to leave it at that.

What I told her, when it came time to talk about being left at the altar, was actually pretty close to the truth. That I was still reeling from a some heartbreak, and I kind of fell into Josh and I felt ready to be married for the first time in my life, and that he was the most charming man I had ever met - all true - but he turned out to be a total snake. That he ruined more lives than he could have expected, and that I wasn't sure if I would ever really get over it.

the part about never really getting over it... that's my attempt at expressing Valerie's feelings, but it might reflect my own views on subjects not relating to Josh.

Eventually we killed a bottle of wine and Maddie said she wanted to go off and try something stupid. I told her to be careful, nervous as to what she was getting up to.

When she re-appeared, she had changed into a beautiful red evening gown with a plunging neckline. She was also wearing a diamond necklace, and I think some makeup. My jaw dropped.

"Maddie!" I gasped. "What are you--"

"What?" she giggled, "The Hutchinses told us, over and over, anything we want to use or play with, we should feel free. Have you seen that woman's closet? That's my playground."

I was beet red with embarrassment (and drunkenness.) "Maddie, you can't... that's too much!" I know, I'm the last person who should be talking about going into someone else's house, wearing their clothes and pretending to be them. But at least I never did it on purpose.

She did look beautiful though.

"Come on, come on," she said, swishing the dress around, "Try something! You'll like it."

Where have I heard that before...

I eyed the dress, skeptically. "I... don't think she'll have anything in my size."

Maddie looked down at my body. "Oh, yeah... maybe not. Well hey, maybe you're her same shoe size? I saw some Louboutins with your name on them."

"Not really my style..." I sighed.

"Come on, let's have some fun, girl!"

"Okay, hold on. Stay here. Don't look."

I went over to the bedroom, and began to look and look.I returned a moment later and told Maddie to turn around.

When she saw me her eyes lit up. Her jaw dropped. "That is a look," she said.

I was standing before her in Mr. Hutchins' dark slacks, a white collared shirt that comfortably concealed my bosom (the first button-down I've worn in a year to do that!), suspenders, and some kind of grey fedora that looked like something out of Mad Men. The legs of the pants were way too long, and as were the sleeves of the shirt which made me look like a pirate, but it amused Maddie, and myself.

I stuck my hands in my pockets and said in a mock-masculine tone, "Hey there... pretty lady,"

"Hey yourself," she giggled.

"What's for dinner, Mrs. Hutchins?" I sauntered over to her in a parody of a man's swagger.

"I don't know," she said in a posh upstate voice, "Why don't I have the maid whip something up?"

I smiled and came face to face with her. She tipped the hat off my head and laughed, "Can you imagine?? Okay, we should probably change back... I'll have to wash her underwear in the morning."

My eyes bugged out. "You wore her underwear??"

"Well, yeah! I wasn't going to wear this dress with my ratty old Joe Fresh undies! Besides, this lady's got lingerie that costs more than my rent. Tell me you're not curious."

"To wear a stranger's underwear? Uh..." Again, not for fun...

We each took a bed for the night - Mr. & Mrs. Hutchins have separate, adjoining rooms. It was the best sleep of my life. In the morning we had to feed the dogs and I made us a great breakfast, which Maddie moaned in pleasure as she ate, like she'd never had an omelette before.

"Unff, seriously," she said between bites, "Whatever guy let you go was crazy. Crazy!!"

"Well, I didn't cook for him much," I sighed. "And I'd rather not talk about it, if it's okay."

"Oh of course." She asked what we should do today, and I said I wasn't sure, we had a lot of options but I really just wanted to get away from all the testosterone in my life. "Oh, I know," she agreed, "Guys are disgusting. I had three older brothers."

"Oh yeah? I had two-- uh, to... wonder what that would be like. I just have a sister." Smooth. You would think I wouldn't slip up so much but damn, I really don't spend a lot of time "playing" Valerie.

In fact, the whole thing started to feel like a re-up on what it's like just being around another woman - a real woman - for a lengthy span of time, since outside of work, it's all about the men in my life, or Pete.

We decided we couldn't go the whole weekend without swimming ("You remembered your suit, right?" Yes...) so after we waited the customary span after eating, we changed.

That was when I had this really weird moment.

I went to the bedroom to change, and I'm clasping the front of this bikini and... it's tight. Really tight. In fact, this suit, which I inherited from Val but haven't ever worn, feels just wrong.

I look at myself in the mirror and I notice... this is not really the body that I got from her.

The changes are subtle, but when you're standing there half-naked in a skin-tight two piece, you really take notice. Love handles. Chubby thighs. Butt flab. Belly fat. I've been an idiot. I eat whatever I feel like, I don't really exercise, I haven't stepped on a scale in forever... I've just been trusting my body to maintain its shape the way it did when I was a man. I must have gained twenty pounds.

And it's not like that would matter to me. If it were just me, I would shrug and live life the way I wanted to, I think. I look fine. Great, even. It's not like it's so much gain that I have to buy new clothes since most of what I wear as Valerie is stretchy and accommodating. But I have to answer to Valerie, who is fairly controlling and judgmental in nature (don't let her absence since the break-up fool you) and who is probably already battling some serious emotional issues. I felt like I had failed her, and myself.

My eyes watered. I haven't hated this body so much in a long time. This life. It's moments like this when exhaustion sets in and I just hate the way things have turned out.

Maddie walked in on me sobbing in a heap on the bed in my bikini and came to comfort me. She said she may not know what I'm going through right now (understatement!) but she was here for me. I thanked her, we hugged, I dried my eyes and composed myself and we went for our dip.

As we splashed around - I really am not in any shape to do laps, but we did toss a ball around and use the diving board - we talked about relationships. I said there was a guy I was kind of seeing, who was a bit of a jerk and very aloof and wanted to keep things "casual."

"Oh, Rafe?" she smirked.

"Is it that obvious?" I winced.

"Only if you have eyes," she winked. "I think most of us have figured it out, at least it's the gossip, but nobody is quite sure."

"Well, don't tell, okay? I want to keep my reputation intact."

"You're too good for him," she said warmly.

"Yeah, well... that's a first," I sighed.

I asked her, and she said she was doing the Tinder thing and there was a guy she had seen a few times but wasn't sure about.

I actually felt strange hearing that. I wasn't sure exactly what I was feeling about Maddie lately... harmless girl-crush? Friendship? Something more? I play at Valerie-style heterosexuality, and women don't do "it" for me the way they used to, but you spend enough time with someone, and you grow fond of them... certain ideas start to occur to you, and Valerie's body is very confused about how to interpret them.

She continued, "I feel like if we get serious I'm going to turn into the girl I always am in relationships... clingy, needy, drive him away. I hate it but I can't help myself. Plus, it's not like I'm in love with the guy... But I kind of want to stick it out and see where it goes. You know, it's better than being alone."

I told her that being alone was a little underrated, but I get it, since that's the whole reason I'm "with" Rafe. "Actually..." I said, giving in to my girlish need to gossip, "I'm only 'with' Rafe because I can't be with someone else right now."

Maddie smiled. "Juicy. Who's the guy?"

"One of my roommates, Ryan."

"Oh, the hottie with the stick-thin girlfriend? I hate her."

"She's all right, I think. A little bland."

"He doesn't know what he's missing."

Her next idea was to do makeovers. I told her she didn't want me doing her makeup, so she said okay it can just be one-sided. I was still reluctant, since it reminded me of when Kitty/Adrian would try to control how I styled myself, or Lauren's mother would. But as she did, we talked more, about the future, life after the coffee shop - again, I had to play coy, but she remains insistent we have to start a business. I don't know how to let her down easy.

We watched movies the rest of the day, and tended to the dogs. We had a hell of a time trying to walk them given our combined upper body strength is practically nil.

We turned in pretty late, after marathoning some of her favorite scary movies (I didn't know they made so many Purges!) I retired to Mr. Hutchins' room and climbed into bed. A little later there wasa knock at the door.

"Hey, so, um, this is awkward, but the dogs have decided to take my bed. I mean, Mrs. Hutchins'."

I sat up. "Is there... anywhere else?"

"Well, there's the kids rooms, but I don't think I could be comfortable in there."

"All right, climb in," I sighed.

"Thanks. I'll try not to snore. Does Rafe snore?"

"I don't know... we've never stayed over."

"Poor you... the sleeping is the best part."

"Poor you," I said back, "If you think the sleeping is the best part."

She scooched herself close, backing up to me.

"Don't be shy, girl... spoon me!"

"I haven't been the big spoon in... ever," I said, quickly correcting to Valerie's version of things. "My boobs are in the way."

"I like them," she said back, "They're real soft."

"Thanks," I said, "You can have them."

"Nah," she said, "I'll just use them tonight and leave them for the maid in the morning."

She fell asleep. And I felt all these pangs of a life I was not living - one in which she and I could be together, and I wouldn't feel weird and conflicted about it. Before drifting off to another of the best sleeps of my life.

I woke up early and decided to write all this.

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