Thursday, September 21, 2006

Arthur: Back to Maine

Liz's cell phone rang at around eight o'clock yesterday morning, and it took me a moment to connect the "Ashlyn" it displayed with Jake. I flipped it open while looking through the closet. "Hey."

"Hey. So, at the risk of sounding completely like how I look, what should I wear?"

"It's a beach and the weather isn't bad; how about a bikini?"

"Fuck you."

I looked at the girl in the mirror, wearing just panties and an oversized t-shirt, and had to admit the prospect was kind of appealing. "I don't know," I said, "I'm trying to go for 'I'm at least trying not to make her look bad, so return the favor.' But not too sexy."

"Hmmm..." I could almost hear Jake getting frustrated; I'd seen the contents of Ashlyn's suitcases. She liked tight and low-cut; I wouldn't be surprised if Jake had a hard time finding stuff that fit between "on the make" and "lounging around the apartment".

For my part, I settled on white capris, sandals, and a blue tank-top with a neckline that didn't dip too low. Kind of girly, I suppose, but comfortable without being much of a come-on. I made sure to grab a sweater in case it got cold. I printed a couple sets of directions out - Jake only lives a few miles from me, but there's no rhyme or reason to the one-way streets around here. I adjusted the seat - Raymond isn't as tall as I was, but he's taller than I am - put on some sunglasses and headed toward Lechmere.

Man, I hope where Jake is living is inexpensive. It was on the other side of some neighborhood where all the signs are in Portugese, and maybe it's been too long since I've been Ashlyn's age, but it seems like a small apartment for five people. Or I've just been spoiled - before everything changed, I'd been living in the house where I grew up since my mother needed someone to look after her, while Liz & Ray have a pretty nice apartment for people in their mid-twenties.

He was ready when I knocked on the door; he'd gone with sneakers, jeans, and a t-shirt, with the red hair in a hasty ponytail. And make-up. Not a lot, but more than the none I was wearing. I commented on it, and he said he'd been pounding the pavement looking for work for the past week, and putting it on for that was becoming part of the morning routine. I asked how that was going, and he grumbled something about a million college kids taking all the jobs Ashlyn was qualified for. I said that was rough, and we got in the car. Jake grimaced as the seat belt cut a path between his breasts, looking at my smaller bustline in something like envy.

We chit-chatted for a while about that sort of thing. He shivered at the idea of sharing a bed, although I told him it's only really annoying in the morning, when you wake up in a spooning position or an arm on top of you. Otherwise, at least for right now, our schedules work out that Raymond doesn't have much of a chance to act on any friskiness. After running out of small talk, since the blog sort of keeps us updated on what the other is doing, we turned on the radio. I asked which station he'd done that job for; he said WBCN, but neither of us knew what the frequency was. We found it eventually, but lost the signal after a half-hour or so.

We both got noticeably tense as we got closer to Old Orchard. The whole coast area even seemed a little spooky, with half the businesses closed up now that tourist season was mostly over. Places like York and Wells aren't exactly ghost towns, but they seem about half-full. When we got to Old Orchard, it had changed from a tourist spot to a small town, with the stopped rides of the amusement park eerily still.

Seeing a lot of hotels closed down for the season, we half-wondered if that would be the case for The Trading Post, and what it would mean if so. It wasn't, but trying to visit the place reminded us just how off-kilter it was. We questioned whether we should stop at the hotel where we'd picked up our keys, deciding against it. It really hit us just how strange it was that the place didn't have any on-site staff, or at least none we'd seen while there. That's not normal, but we never seriously questioned it. I wondered if maybe the place somehow suppresses doubts, like how whenever we try to tell someone about what happened to us, they just dismiss it out of hand.

Because there seems to be something to that. I rang the doorbell, and caught my breath when the guy who answered it was, well, me, at least physically. The posture was different, as was the accent, but when he asked who we were, and I said "Arthur Milligan", there was doubt on his face. "Really", he said, then shook his head. "I suppose someone has to be. Jeremy Boyd." And here's the weird thing, when he gave his name (which he pronounced almost like "Germy"), I didn't believe him on some gut level. I had to think that something similar had happened to me to fight back the instinct that he wasn't who he appeared to be. I never had to do that for any of the guys who changed the same time I did, but maybe it's because it was the same event.

Jeremy then gives Jake a twice-over and asks who he is. When Jake answers, the guy looks really doubtful, but then laughs and says Jake sure traded up. Jake asks if he'd feel that way if he was the one who had to cart those boobs around, and Jeremy says, no, but then again, he had looked good. Jake makes a comment about the new me being a charmer. Jeremy apologizes, invites us in, and asks if we all got turned into such "hot bitches". We say, yeah, more or less. He offers us beers from the fridge, which we accept, and lifts his. "In all seriousness, here's to you guys. I can at least try to get Artie's body back in shape, but no time in the gym can get you back to normal."

Gee, that beer tastes a bit bitter.

A perfect facsimile of Dex walks by and looks at us. "Who are they?" "They are who me and Steve turned into. The guy just shakes his head and walks on. Jeremy turns back to us. "I still don't know his deal. If he's even a he - I don't think I ever saw him come in. Steve thinks the changes happen when the house is full for the first time, and that guy must of got in late."

"Yeah," I said, "that's how it seemed to work for us."

A couple other folks wandered through. "Mark" was pulling his impromptu roommate around by the hand in a way that made me wonder if one of them was a kid, but I didn't ask. I probably should have, in case Mark or any of the others start posting more regularly or returning emails, but I was kind of tunnel-visioned toward the guy wearing my sking. Besides, most of the group had evidently already left, called home by the jobs and families we had been ripped away from. "Jake" arrived with pizza, and I thought the real Jake was going to faint. He was kind enough to share, and the four of us had a somewhat uncomfortable lunch.

Afterward, Steven, the "new Jake", asked if he and Jake could talk privately. We all figured that was a pretty good idea, let the new uses quiz us on anything we might have left out of our letters. Jeremy and I decided to walk on the boardwalk. I told him I'd finished the Maxim aritcle and sent it in, and asked if he'd talked to my editor about the autobiography. He said that had been pushed back, but there were a couple other people calling. He actually said he was sorry to hear about my mom, and asked about my dad; I told him I hadn't heard from him in years and that suited me fine. He nodded, said he hears that, but thinks he should probably know something since who knew when we could fix this. I said we'd figure out a way, and in fact I was planning to spend the rest of the afternoon in the local library to see if any research could turn up information on the inn. Maybe he'd like to join, split the work? He said thanks, but no thanks; he was a soldier, not a scholar (light infantry, in fact), and would only get in my way. I thanked him, said to give me a call if he was going to go back to California via Boston and maybe we'd meet up. Then we parted ways.

Jake was going to meet me at the library, but apparently he and Steve had more to talk about than Jeremy and I did. Just as well; my time there was not well-spent. Old Orchard Beach is too small for a daily of its own, and the local weekly didn't have anything about the Trading Post (or even its location) going back a few years. The Portland Press Herald turned up nothing in an internet search, and I apparently would have to go to a larger library to find it on microfilm. I really had no idea how much I took the internet for granted until I heard the word "microfilm".

Jake and I met up at about four o'clock, so that we could get home early enough for Raymond not to know I was gone all day. I asked what he and Steven had talked about, and he said a fair amount was spent trying to teach him his job, and the rest... well, not my place. He wondered what his life would be like if he could get back to it in a few months, and I had to agree - Jeremy did not exactly speak like a writer.

So we drove home, though I've at least resolved to try to get back up here sometime to do a little more research.



Anonymous said...

Wow. Did you... did you see me around there? What was I doing? Did the new me find the note I left him? Did you find a way to switch us back? I should've just taken off and gone with you guys....

Anonymous said...

Who is Steve? Is this a new guy?

Anonymous said...

Sorry if I wasn't clear - Steve is the guy who stayed in Jake's room after he did, and thus (apparently) wound up looking like Jake.

Anonymous said...

And, no, I don't think I saw anyone who looked like you, Jeff. He probably had to leave the inn early to get to classes if he's taking over your life.