Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Arthur -- Confronting it

I took the subway across the river yesterday morning, dressed nice but not to turn heads. Maybe real girls are able to do that without a whole lot of effort, grabbing a matching turtleneck and slacks out of the closet and being done with it, but I swear I have more trouble with a casual ensemble than I do preparing for a night on the town. The make-up is the worst. Applying that stuff feels like a startlingly pure expression of vanity, or at the very least calculatedness, but too often the lack of it makes people think you're kind of a slob. Society's to blame.

But, wishing doesn't make things different, so I got off the T at Copley, found the right building, and took the elevator to the seventh floor. I smiled at the office assistant, asked if Ray was in his office, and walked over as soon as she said yes.

"Come on," I said. "It's lunchtime."

He said he wasn't hungry. I said I could wait. He said it could be a long time. I said I was used to that. He looked up at that, giving me the stare that says "I don't appreciate the sarcasm." So, I said, are we going to eat or are we going to keep throwing euphemisms around until everyone else in the office realizes we've got some reason to be talking in code?

We opt for seafood.

He still doesn't really want to meet my eyes, so I start things. "The first thing that needs to happen is that you get off the couch. It can't be good for your back, and since you're not the one who screwed things up, it doesn't make any sense for you to punish yourself."

"For someone who says she screwed up, you don't sound terribly guilty."

That's fair; as much as I don't like my part in putting Ray in this situation, I didn't make the initial decision to cheat. Liz did that, and I played it out, and maybe I'm not actor enough to really own the responsibility.

"Well, what can I say? I've been living with it for almost a year. It's become almost my normal life, and maybe I resent that you didn't realize something was going on much sooner. That's no excuse, and it's ridiculously selfish of me to think that, but it's true. The question is, what are we going to do about it?"

"What do you want to do about it?"

"Pack up a few of my things, move to a new apartment, and lie low until it's someone else's problem," I didn't say. That would have been fantastic. But...

"I don't know. It would be much easier if we could just make a clean break, but if we just do it like this, mad at each other and full of blame, what happens with our folks? They've been friends for almost twenty years, they don't have a lot of other Korean neighbors, and that's important to them. I don't want to ruin the closest friendships, but..."

"But how long has that been all that's been holding us together?"

"Yeah." Not that I have any real idea, but if Ray's asking the question, I'll let him run with it.

"Look," I say, "I've got to work tonight, but when I come home, don't act like you're the one in the doghouse. That's silly and I'm not going to stand for it. If you don't want me in your bed, I'll be the one to sleep on the couch." I can't say I'd mind that at all. "If you can't stand the sight of me, I'll understand, and I'll be the one to leave. But let's try to salvage something, okay? Even if it's not as a couple, but just as friends. Elizabeth Lee has had Raymond Kim in her life too long to just cut him out entirely."

Okay, that's a weird way to say it. What can I say, I'm a writer who liked the dramatic sound and, besides, I can say that without it being a lie. Maybe that counted for something, because he said okay, that makes sense. He didn't kiss me when he left to get back to work, but I'm not going to complain about that.

I held it together long enough to get to the subway, but let loose a huge sigh of relief when I sat down on the inbound train. Still nervous I'd screwed someting up, I took the letter out of my purse and read it again.

Dear Arthur,

I can't possibly express how sorry I am for the situations I've put you in ever since that damn curse hit us, and I hope that someday, when everything is back to normal, there will be something I can do to repay you, although I can't imagine what. You've done so much that I feel like a terrible person for asking for more.

But I'm going to. You asked me what you should do, and in all honesty you should just move in with your friend Jake and let me fix my life when I get back. But if you do that, I might completely lose Ray forever, and even if I don't want to marry him, I don't want him out of my life. We've known each other since kindergarten, when we were the only Asian kids in our class, and sometimes we have a hard time finding the point where my family stops and his begins. If he comes to hate me, and his family comes to hate mine by extension, that would be awful. I don't want to be responsible for that.

It's a lot to ask, I know, and I don't know if I could do it if I were in your shoes. You're probably better off doing the smart thing and running as fast as you can, and I won't hold that against you. But you've done such a good job so far - as much as you were worried, telling Ray about Stewart was the right call - that I think you could do this, too. In some ways you've done a better job of living my life than I have, and I can't thank you enough.

With apologies for everything,

Elizabeth

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Ashlyn--I loved the sweet potato fries

When our little group at the Trading Post Inn was transformed into our current bodies, it was Art who kept us from going nuts. That first night, when I first woke and found I had turned in Ashlyn, I screamed, and Art came running to my rescue even though he woke up to find himself transformed as well. That is the kind of person Art is, the kind of person who looks out for the other guy.

So when I got several phone messages from Art and he sounded as upset as I had ever heard him, I was very concerned—I decided I should go see him, and see if he needed to talk. It’s what he would do for me if our situations were reversed.

I headed right over to Liz’s place once I left Matt’s. The weather had been icy Valentine’s night, and the next morning was a mess. Because of the conditions, it took me forever to get to Liz’s house. I should have called before just showing up on Liz’s doorstep—Art wasn’t home. I decide to not make the same mistake twice and just show up at Liz’s workplace without calling—besides, I don’t seem to be very welcome there.

No answer. I was wearing the clothes from the previous night and I was freezing. What I had worn on my date with Matt wasn’t cutting it out in the cold—and my boots, while sexy as hell, weren’t so good at walking on the ice. I headed home.

Art never called me back, and I ended up pulling a double shift at the restaurant that day—so we didn’t actually get a chance to talk until a couple of days later. We exchanged emails and made plans to meet up at Harvard Square, specifically a Hamburger Joint called “Mr. Bartley’s”. We had eaten there before, months earlier when we were shopping for Halloween costumes. It’s not the kind of place a girl can frequent if she wants to keep her figure—but damn the food is good.

I got to Harvard Square early, so I went into the bookstore next to Bartley’s. Art must have had the same idea, because I found him downstairs in the used and ‘remainders’ books area.

I give Art a hug, which I think surprises him. No pun intended, but I have been ‘embracing’ my feminine side lately, and girls tend to hug each other.

“Uh, hey.” He says awkwardly. “Thanks for meeting me here; I didn’t feel comfortable talking at the house.”

“No problem.”

We shop for a few minutes and then head next door. Calling Bartley’s a hamburger joint might be too simple of a description. The place has a vibe. During peak hours the place is wall to wall people—not only might there be a line out the door, but the place might be so packed it’s difficult to walk between the tables. There are no quiet, private places to sit and talk, and you will probably end up sharing a table with a total stranger because there is simply no wasted space. The walls are filled from floor to ceiling with funny signs, bumper stickers and vintage posters. There is a poster of a young Ronald Reagan selling cigarettes, a “this is your brain on…” poster, as well as plenty of Elvis and Red Sox stuff. The wait staff, all college students, wears t-shirts that say “You can’t beat our meat” and they yell orders back and forth to cooks who rings a little bell every few minutes announcing an order is ready. The place feels like it’s out of a movie.

We get ordering out of the way. The menu is as fun as the rest of the place; all the burgers are named after current events or political figures. I get the “Dick Cheney” burger: a bacon cheeseburger. I also order a milkshake. Here on the east coast they call them “frappes”—I’ve also learned that if you want a thick shake (like what I am used to from Texas) you have to order a “western frappe”. If you don’t, you get something that is more milk than ice cream.

Once we were done ordering, Art and I kind of stare at each other for a moment.

“So—“I say, not sure where to begin, and fall silent.

“Your secret admirer.” Art states, jump starting the conversation. “You never said in the blog what happened. You said in your post ‘he was back in a big way’ but never got back to it.”

“Oh, right. Between going out with Matt and what has been going on with you, I forgot. On Valentine’s Day morning I received a very large gift. It was parked out front with a bow wrapped around it.”

Art sat up, interested. “Parked? You’re kidding. Someone gave you a car?”

I grin. “No… It was cool, but not that cool. A Vespa. One of those little Italian scooters. It’s pink.”

“Wow. Those can’t be cheap.” He says.

“They’re not cheap—they’re not like ‘car’ expensive, but whoever sent it put out some bucks. I called a local dealer to get some info on it.”

“So are you going to keep it?”

“I don’t know. The whole thing is creepy. Whoever this person is knows about the Trading post Inn and the curse. He knows I’m not who I used to be, and he might know I used to be a guy…I really can’t imagine what his motivations might be.”

We theorize for a while, but don’t really come up with anything.

“I’m thinking of contacting Jessica. She was a cop for twenty years before she got zapped by the Inn. I bet she might have some insight into this guy—maybe help me track this guy down; she was able to find me through the blog after all. It would be good to follow up with her anyway.”

“Good idea, but you sure you want to find this guy? What if he’s dangerous?” Art asks.

“I’ll be careful.”

I change the subject. “So, about Ray.” It was really a question.

Art sighs heavily and takes his time to answer. “I fucked things up Jake, and I don’t think it’s fixable.”

“You’re taking this pretty hard.” I say.

“Yeah, maybe. When we found ourselves in this situation, I just worried about two things: Getting my real life back and returning Liz's to her the way she left it. Two things, and the killer is, if I manage the first, then the second becomes even more important."

“You were thrown into an impossible situation. This was Liz’s mess; you did a hell of a job holding it all together as long as you did. You’ve gone way above and beyond what most people would have done in your place.”

“That’s a nice thing to say, but these are people’s lives I’m screwing up. It’s not just Liz’s life, but everyone’s lives that are close to Liz—especially Ray.”

“This situation existed before you got here, you are not responsible.” I say to him.

“But I think I made things worse. I could have done things differently. I knew Ray and Liz were drifting apart; I should have taken that into consideration whenever we were hanging out together. Maybe on New years Eve I should have told Ray I had a ‘headache’.”

We were interrupted by our lunch arriving. We pause the conversation for a moment to dig into the food. I down a few of the sweet potato fries—delicious.

“There was a moment, when I was talking to Ray, right before I admitted to cheating on him—I felt like I could tell him the truth. Emotions were high, and we were in the middle of this ‘big moment’ when I got the feeling the curse was gone—or at least weakened. I sensed I could tell him I wasn’t really Liz and that I was really some guy pretending to be his girlfriend— and he would believe me.” Art says to me.

“Wow.”

“Yeah.” He agrees.

“What do you think happened? Do you think there is any credence to Jessica’s theory that people build up immunity?” I ask.

“It didn’t feel like that to me. It’s difficult to put into words. It’s like what was going on was so important for Liz and Ray—that the moment was bigger, stronger, than whatever keeps people from believing.”

“Maybe that’s it. Maybe it takes a big moment in your life, a “turning point” when people are open to their lives changing—maybe in those moments people are more receptive and the ‘truth’ can get through. It has a fairytale simplicity about it.” I add.

“Fairytale? You are turning into such a chick.” Art kids me.

“Screw you. What stopped you from telling him the truth then? Why did you tell him you were sleeping with your boss instead?” I Ask.

“My goal all along has been to return Liz’s life back to her as undamaged as possible. I think telling Ray would have created a bigger mess than getting the affair out in the open.”

“So what are you going to do now?” I ask.

“Well, I’m waiting to hear from Liz before I do anything, but I am thinking I am probably going to move out of Ray’s condo.”

“Wow. Where are you going to go?”

He shrugs. “I guess I might talk to Stewart see if I can move in with him. If not, maybe I can talk you into sharing a place with me.” He grins.

Our waitress appears and asks if we needed anything else. We say no, and she leaves the bill on the table.

“You mentioned Matt. What’s up with him?” Art asks.

At this point, I hadn’t yet written the blog entry about my Valentine’s night exploits.

I fill him in. He shakes his head, and rolls his eyes as I tell him about how Matt took me back to his place after the game and we screw like bunnies.

“Damn Jake, you sure went native fast.” Art says.

“My name is ‘Ashlyn’.” I tell him.

“Sorry, ‘Ashlyn’.” He made quotation marks with his fingers when he said it.

“Hey, you’re having sex with a guy on a regular basis. Why are you giving me a hard time?”

“It’s different. I’m doing it to maintain Liz’s life. Why exactly are you doing it? Are you telling me you are attracted to men now?” He asks.

“I’m…” I found it difficult to say, I must have turned as red as my hair from embarrassment. “I’m exploring my new life—trying new things, and being open-minded. That includes sex.”

“It just seems awfully fast. We’ve only been in these bodies for six months.”

“And I’m going to be in this one for the rest of my life.” I was a little hot. “It is different between you and I—sure, you’re trying to maintain the status quo, but you are also going back to your old life in a few months. I’m not.”

“Look Ashlyn, I’m sorry—“Art began, I hold up my hand, cutting him off.

“It’s okay.” I say. “Besides, I would be lying if I said I didn’t—somewhat-- enjoy the sex.” I pause. “By the way, Stewart still not helping you out with an orgasm?”

It was Art’s turn to blush. “I’m not sure I want to talk about it.”

“Hey, it’s girl talk.” I tell him. He’s a little uncomfortable, and I’m having fun with it. “Is Stewart selfish in bed?”

“Oh, look at the time.” Art says, pretending to look at his watch.

I laugh, and let him off the hook. We paid our bill and I made sure we left a good tip—I’m a waitress after all, I hate cheap tippers.

Outside Art surprised me by giving me a goodbye hug. “Thanks for listening.”

“Who is turning into the chick now?” I ask and we head our separate ways.

--Ashlyn

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ashlyn--Scratching that itch

I love basketball. In my previous life, I had season tickets to the Dallas Mavericks. It cost me an outrageous amount of money, but I worked insanely hard and the Mavs games was a way I treated myself.

So when Matt suggested we go to a Celtics game Valentine’s night—I was all over that. Who cares if the Celts might be the worst team in the league; or up to that night they had an eighteen game losing streak? It was good to go to a game.

Preparing for my date and looking through my clothes, most of my “sports” wardrobe turns out to be Red Sox stuff—I had Red Sox baby tees, jerseys, hats and I even had a thong with the Sox’s symbol on it. I eventually found a Celtics t-shirt, but it was in bad condition, so I decided to pass on it and wear a green sweater instead. It was a date after all, and a girl’s got to look her best, right? I even went with green matching bra and thong—it wasn’t a first date anymore, who knows what could happen after the game.

Because of the bad weather/it was a holiday/Celtics hadn’t won in 18 games--the “Garden”, where the Celtics play, was empty. Matt and I had decent seats, but we snuck down to amazing mid-court seats because they were available for the taking. The game didn’t start well—the Celtics fell way behind early—but before the half was over they got their act together and took a two point lead. The “Garden” really started rocking after that, the Celtics hadn’t won a game in a long time and the fans smelled blood in the water. I admit it; I got caught up in it. At some point I was up out of my seat, jumping up and down, screaming like I grew up a Celts fan. I had a great time.

The game was a lopsided win in the end, but that was okay too; when the game’s outcome was set, Matt started stealing kisses. I’m usually the kind of fan who likes to watch the entire game and stays until the clock reads all zeroes—but after several kisses I nodded yes when Matt asked me if I wanted to go to his place.

I was reminded how young Matt was as soon as we walked in the door—the place reminded me of my first apartment: Old beat up furniture, nothing decorative on the walls and beer bottles scattered everywhere. It was kind of a turn off.

“Sorry, my roommate is a slob.” Matt apologizes.

He clears off a spot on the couch for us, and we sit, moving close together—and picking up where we left off at the game, the kissing turning more passionate.

“Your roommate coming home soon?” I ask.

“He won’t be back until tomorrow.” Matt gives me a grin.

When Jean-Michel and I had sex, I think he took into consideration that I had a male mind in a very female body—he eased me into it, both physically and mentally, until I was comfortable. There was also a mutual giving a taking, I never worried about who was dominant or submissive—we seemed to be working together toward our mutual pleasure.

Sex with Matt was very different. Matt was definitely the aggressor.

He placed his hands on the sides of my head, pulling me gently closer, kissing me, and controlling the action. Quickly, one hand drops and he starts massaging one of my breasts through the sweater and kissing my neck. He was moving so fast, but it felt so good. My sweater comes off and is tossed aside; he then starts kissing the tops of my breasts.

“My god Ash, you’re beautiful.” He says to me. There is an awkward pause and we struggle with my boots for a moment, but Matt takes the opportunity to lose his shirt and shoes as well. Restarting, we go back to kissing. He slips a hand under my bra and starts massaging again. I loudly moan. It felt so good.

He stands us both up, and loosens both our jeans. He pushes mine down and I step out of them. I kick them away. He reaches around me and unfastened my bra, I raise my arms and he lifts it up over the arms, removing it. His mouth is warm, wet and hungry on my nipples. It occurs to me that I had lost all control of the situation, that I was going wherever he lead—but I didn’t care. It felt so good.

He gets behind me and then reaches around, running his hand over my body. I was down to my thong and he was down to his boxers, but quickly loses the boxers and I can feel his hard on pressing me in the ass. He slides the one hand into my thong and slides two fingers into me. I gasp and arch my back in pleasure. He plays with me for a few moments, driving me crazy.

He slides the fingers out of me and starts push down the thong to remove it. I help. When the thong is gone, I start to turn to face him, but he stops me.

“Lean forward.” He tells me. I do it, resting my hands on the top of the couch. He leans against my naked ass and with his foot he directed my legs apart. He then grabs my hips with his hands, and then slides his cock into me from behind.

“Oh my god!” I yell.

We never build any kind of a rhythm together—I simply couldn’t keep up with him. He pumps into me with an animalistic passion and after a minute or two of that I hear him moan loudly as he cums—it’s over for him.

I have mixed feelings at this point.

The sex felt really good, was passionate and it was interesting being “taken”—but I felt cheated that I didn’t have an orgasm. I kind of felt used. I decided it was unfair to compare my experience with Jean-Michel with this experience. Jean-Michel had insight into my body—and womanhood in general—that Matt simply couldn’t have. I push the lack of an orgasm out of my head, and give Matt a kiss. Matt is a young guy—maybe we can go again.

We never found our grove that night, but the following morning I wake up and we are in his bed together—and the guy has morning wood. It’s good to be young. I crawl on top of him, waking him, attacking him. He wakes quickly to my kisses, but I don’t give him the chance to take control, I set the pace—and not to long later, I finally get my orgasm. I collapse on top of him, exhausted and satisfied.

Eventually, we get up and shower together.

I borrow a shirt, and check out the refrigerator, hungry—there was nothing but condiments and beer. Yeah, this guy is young, it feels like I have stepped back in time to a previous time of my life—back when I only kept beer in the fridge.

Hungry and annoyed, I checked my phone and realized I missed several calls from Art.

As I listened to my messages, Matt came up behind me, kissing me on the neck.

I turned to him, kissing him. “I gotta go.” I slip out of the shirt he loaned me and started putting on my own clothes.

“Okay. I’ll call you.” He says.

“You’d be crazy not to.” I say, and head out.

--Ashlyn

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Arthur: I suppose it could have been worse

After all, Ray had made reservations for Valentine's Day, so in retrospect it was a good thing that the city got hit with a whole bunch of snow on Wednesday. The restaurant was very apologetic, but the kitchen staff was snowed in and there was going to be a parking ban... But that certainly wound up best for us; it beat drawing attention.

As I mentioned before, Stewart had made plans for Valentine's Day, too. It wasn't too fancy, and the snow made it less so - take the bus across the river, buy something sweet at the chocolatier, coffee at a little neighborhood place, and then back to his place for a lovemaking session that fails to bring me to orgasm.

He's usually pretty nice about it, although I can't blame him for being a little irritated when Liz's cell phone rang and I answered it. It was Ray with the news that our reservations were canceled, and though he was trying to find some other place, it didn't look too likely. "Not happening with Mr. Romantic?"

"Hey," I say, "he can't control the weather."

"Oh, of course not, but it always seems to be something."

"Don't be mean. If there wasn't always something, we wouldn't be here. Besides, I haven't ever heard you complain about the arrangement."

"You've got me there. Maybe I like the secrecy. After all, I"m not usually ready to go again this soon..."

So we ran the streak to 0-21, and I went "home".

I feel a need to shower when I get home; it seems kind of unseemly to meet up with Ray when I've got Stewart all over me. The dress I bought for Ray's big Valentine's Day date is hanging on the inside of the closet door when I open it up (as it should be; I put it there), and I slip it on. I'd opted against red for something in a light purple; it's sleeveless and loose, almost touching the floor before I put on shoes. Somehow it makes me look like a woman rather than a little girl. It occurs to me, not for the first time since the inn rearranged my body, that designing women's clothing is a far more subtle art than I had ever suspected.

I while away the couple hours until Ray gets home watching one of their Korean DVDs with the English subtitles turned on. I must look silly without context - a Korean-American girl laid back in the recliner, the sort-of-pricey dress slipping back to her knees, the matching heels, the can of Cherry Coke. I'm engrossed enough in the movie that I don't hear Ray come in and he laughs at the sight. I hit "stop" when I hear him, and I'm a bit flustered as I bring the seat back to an upright position and stand. "Uh, hi, I guess I sort of figured it would take you a while to get back."

"It did - I left early."

"Are you even allowed to do that?"

"The partners took pity on me, knowing who I'd be keeping waiting." He kisses me, then looks me up and down. "Nice dress."

"It is, I guess. Zoe helped me pick it out. I know our reservations got canceled, but I figured maybe you'd still want to see if there was something we could do nearby."

"Everything I walked past was pretty packed. Besides, even with it calming down out there, I'd hate to expose that dress to the salt and sand they're laying down. Let me see what I can find for take-out."

He makes a few calls and then heads out to pick it up. I have to admit I'm oddly disappointed by this turn of events. I feel bad going on dates or to family functions with Ray - he's a good guy and I know I'm just marking time until Liz gets her life back, at which point things probably won't go well for him. His relationship is a lie on two levels. Afterward, though, I make notes - what was this like, how was it different from the same sort of activity as a guy, what had I learned? Someday, this will all get used in fiction writing that sells, and not necessarily as part of some body-switching story; I figure I'll have a leg up writing from a different point of view. From that perspective, not having a big Valentine's Day date was something I was missing out on.

Ray came back with Chinese food, and served it up so that we weren't eating out of cardboard or styrofoam containers by candlelight. It was a pleasant enough dinner, and left room for the cakes he'd purchased at Finale. And after that...

Ray hadn't looked nervous up until then, because he'd been so busy, but then things changed. "Elizabeth," he said, "this isn't how I'd originally planned it, but now that I'm just here with you, in a place that's ours, it seems much more appropriate than doing it in front of an audience of strangers. We've known each other since we were kids, and been together almost as long, and for the longest time I think we were guilty of taking each other for granted. I know I certainly did, spending so much time on work that I at times just treated you like an extension of that, someone I took to office parties to show I was a serious member of the firm. That was wrong of me.

"I kind of lied to you at New Year's when I said my resolution was to pay more attention to my girl; I was already doing that. This was my resolution, one I should have made long ago, and the last six weeks were just me confirming that it was the right thing to do."

He reached below the table, where he'd left the bag dessert had come in, and I suddenly realized that I was, in fact, going to experience something very few men do. It was confirmed when his hands were back above the table with a little black box with a sliver hinge. He opened it up to display the contents to me. "Elizabeth Eun-jin Lee, will you marry me?"

I couldn't feel my heart beat, even though my body was sending other signals to my brain, like "blink, god damn it!", as I stared open mouthed at the tasteful diamond ring. This... This was wrong. This was not my moment, this moment shouldn't be happening at all, I don't know what Liz would say. I stare so long that Ray starts to interpret my shock as happiness, and starts to smile.

I feel terrible about having to nip that feeling in the bud.

"Ray," I finally say, "you shouldn't have done this."

"What do you mean?"

"You're making a huge decision without all the information. For months now, I've been... This woman you think you know has been..." Something feels very strange about this moment, beyond just the situation. It's a moment that can change the course of someone's life, and if I mishandle it, I could make Ray, Liz, and myself miserale for a long time. "I've been sleeping with another man."

Clearly, that's not what he wants or expects to hear. I can see the muscles in his extended arm tense, like he's not sure whether to pull the ring back or whether that would be more insulting or angry than he wants to appear. "You were just so busy and Stewart showed interest and I..."

"Stewart? Stewart Brown? Your boss?"

"Yes, him. I'm so sorry, you don't deserve this, but you can't ask me to marry you and not know about it. You've got to take some time and think about how knowing this changes things."

He sets the box on the table, closing it, and just slumps in his chair. "I can't blame you. God knows you deserved better than I gave you most of last year. I just wish..."

He doesn't finish that sentence. He just sits there for a while, then says he needs to go out. I tell him it's freezing, and he'll probably break his neck on the ice that the roads and sidewalks have turned into, but he says not to worry.

I don't know if he ever came back that night, because I fell asleep waiting for him on the couch (I tried to call Jake, but she wasn't answering her phone that night). We haven't spoken or slept in the same bed since, though.

The first thing I did was to write the real Elizabeth Lee up in Montreal, but I haven't heard back from her yet. I haven't told anyone at the theater, especially not Stewart or Zoe. I don't think this situation can hold for another three months, but I have no idea what I'm supposed to do now.

-Art

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Ashlyn--Did breakfast count as our first date?

I told Matt I didn’t want to do anything real fancy on our date. I just wanted to do something casual, and for it to be fun enough to keep me from being nervous about being out on a date with a guy—I didn’t tell him that of course.

I took forever to get ready. I must have changed clothes five times. I eventually ended up in my favorite green Henley top and some “boyfriend” jeans. My attire wasn’t overtly sexy, but the Henley top and jeans were tight enough to give me that “hot girl next door” look. I added a “newsboy” cap and the boots I received from my secret admirer--and undid a few of the buttons to the Henley to show off the cleavage.

BTW, after a month of not hearing from him, my secret admirer is back in a big way—but I’ll get to that later.

Matt picked me up in his black Jeep Wrangler. It’s an older model than I used to drive as Jake, but it really made me miss having a vehicle. I tell him I like his jeep.

We ended up at a pub/restaurant called the Asgard. It’s an upscale Irish pub; it was cushy, yet had a casual feel about it. I get shepherd’s pie and Smithwick’s (an Irish brand) beer—both were delicious.

“So you do eat real food after all.” He says to me. “I half expected you to get just a salad.” I’m guessing he was referring to the yogurt and apple I had when we ate breakfast together.

I shrug. “It takes a lot of work to—“I pause, because I wanted to say ‘it takes a lot of work to look as good as I do, so I watch what I eat’, but I caught myself.

“--to keep in shape, so I watch what I eat.” I finish.

I wonder if I’ll ever get used to being Ashlyn that I’ll get over all these narcistic tendencies. It can’t be healthy to be so attracted to yourself.

“The food here is great.” I tell him. “What made you pick this place?”

He gives me the same goofy grin he gave me at the fire house. “Isn’t it obvious?” He motions to me. “Red hair, greenish eyes, fair skin and your name—Ashlyn—is Gaelic, bringing you here seemed like a safe bet.”

“You knew Ashlyn is Gaelic?”

“I looked it up. It means ‘Dream’ “. His eyes gives me a once over. “That’s a very appropriate name.”

“OOOhhh. That was smooth.” I roll my eyes but give him a grin back. I was slightly impressed; the guy did a little ‘homework’ for his date.

We eat, drink, talk and have a good time. Matt likes to tell dirty jokes and he is pretty good at telling them. It might have been the beer, but he told one that had me in tears I was laughing so hard.

After dinner, we head over to Flat Top Johnny’s in Kendall Square. Flat Top Johnny’s is a fairly nice pool hall near the Kendal Square theater. The place was packed with college-age kids and had an energetic vibe. Hmmm… I wonder if people look at me and think “kid”.

I was kind of surprised, but pleased, that Matt had brought us to a pool hall. Shooting pool was something I had done as Jake, and I enjoyed it.

“It looks like all the tables are taken.” I say disappointed.

“Not a problem.” He says. He points to a table in the back, and the two guys playing there wave at us. Matt waves back and we walk over.

“Ash, these are my best buds Trey and Vince.” Trey was tall and thin, Vince had some weight on him—they reminded me of the number ‘10’ when they stood next to each other.

I give a little wave. “Hi guys.”

“Trey and Vince have been holding a table for us.” Matt tells me.

“Oh. Wow. Thanks.” I say.

Trey hands me his pool cue. “We warmed up the table for you. Have a good time.” He mouths ‘she’s soooo hot’ to Matt when he thinks I’m not looking.

I tried to convince Trey and Vince to stick around; it seemed rude not to try. They wouldn’t do it. They were gone in minutes.

“That was awfully nice of them, to hold us a table.” I say.

“Eh, maybe. Those two are the best, but they needed a favor from me—and I needed a pool table for us. We worked it out.” He grinned. “You want something to drink? Then shoot a little pool?”

“That sounds great.”

I can play pool. I’m not a pool shark or anything (well, not quite), but I’ve been playing since before Matt was born. Hell, that applies to my current body as well. My father loved to play, and taught me how to play as soon as I was old enough to hold a pool cue. When my parents were killed in a car wreck and I went to live with my Uncle, I took the pool table with me and spent a lot of time playing. Every time I play I think of my dad.

I guess because I am a girl, Matt assumes I don’t know how to play.

“Here, let me show you how to hold the cue when you shoot.”

He gets behind me and wraps his arms around me. We lean over the table, and he guides my hands on the cue. He smelled nice.

That first game I pretend not to know how to play. He was enjoying explaining the game to me, so I decided to let him. Besides, it was different to play as Ashlyn and I was getting my bearings. The boobs kept getting in the way—and when I leaned down to shoot, my hair would get in my eyes. I also realized that whenever I leaned forward, Matt was getting a good look down my top.

After the first game—which Matt won—I asked “Can I break? That looks so fun.”

I break, and then nearly run the table.

“You know how to play?” He asked, stunned.

“Maybe you are just a really good teacher.” I give him a smug grin.

We play for a couple of hours—really, I let him win. He would get all tense whenever he was losing, and I was more interested in having a good date over winning a pool game. We also played pinball and darts, and he legitimately kicked my ass at those. I love pinball, but I’ve never been able to play it very well—of course we had been drinking all evening so that didn’t help. I’ve never looked as girly as I did trying to play darts slightly drunk, I couldn’t even hit the target.

Eventually we call it a night.

I don’t know if girls are supposed to admit this kind of stuff, but I wanted to get laid. It had been a while since I had slept with Jean-Michel, and I had an itch that needed scratching.

But this was our first date—I inherited Ashlyn’s reputation, which was a bit slutty. This is my life now, and I am trying to make it my own--so tonight I had limits.

On my doorstep, I found out that Matt is a pretty good kisser. So good, I found myself waffling. Maybe I could count breakfast as our first date, and then this would be our second date. It would be okay to have sex on a second date, right?

I manage to restrain myself.
“Do you have any plans for Valentine’s day?” Matt asks.

At the time, Valentines was just a few days away. “No, not really.” I say.

“Want to go out again?” He asked.

“Okay—but nothing Valentine-y.” I say.

“How about going to the Celtics game?”

“Have I mentioned I love basketball?” I say to him.

We kiss again, and he drives off.


I’ve got to run, I have a meeting with a college advisor and then I’m working dinner—I’ll catch up on Valentine’s Day tomorrow.

--Ashlyn

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Arthur: People I (sort of) know

Sometimes I forget how things were before the trip to the Trading Post. For example, Jake wasn't my best friend - he's a guy I'd run into on a couple different message boards whom I'd never actually met in person before. We'd started corresponding when he had a couple of insights I could use in articles I was writing, and recommending hotels and restaurants at places the other handn't traveled to. He had just happened to be the guy that spoke up when I said that the booking agent in Old Orchard was insisting two connecting rooms be booked together.

It's a kind of strange thing to think of - if someone else had responded to that post, they probably would have wound up turned into Ashlyn, and from there, who knows? Maybe Stephen wouldn't have chosen to continue living the life of that hypothetical other person. Heck, Jake probably wouldn't know anything had happened to me, since I do still participate on a few of those message boards as Arthur Milligan; it's a good way of keeping grounded, reminding me who I really am despite what the mirror and everyone around me says.

I say this because I haven't seen a lot of Jake lately. She's been busy with her stuff. The last time I saw her was at lunch on Friday, since Zoe and I went out to the restaurant where Jake works.

(Yes, I know I'm inconsistent with the names and pronouns. Elements of Style doesn't cover this situation. I can't deny that Jake is a woman now, but I can't quite be down with calling her "Ashlyn". Ashlyn is the girl who looked like she does last a year ago, or the guy up in Canada. Maybe I'll eventually get used to it, but it's way too soon for me, even if it isn't for her.)

Since I was with Zoe, Jake and I didn't have much chance to talk about curse-related things. Sure, Zoe probably would have just not believed we were serious and sort of forgotten the whole conversation, but that makes us feel crazy. Besides, I imagine Jake, committed to as she now is to living Ashlyn's life, doesn't want to look weird where before she might not have worried. It might reflect badly on her, long-term, and that's a big deal.

Besides, Zoe doesn't seem to like Ashlyn too much. She grudgingly admits that "Ashlyn" seems to be acting more responsible in the last few months, but most of Zoe's impressions are from Ashlyn version one, who was not always the best roommate, friend, or employee: During the summer when Ashlyn was Liz's roommate a few years ago, she was apparently always late on the rent, gave copies of the key to two separate boyfriends at once, and acted put out when Zoe or any of Liz's other friends came over, as if she were the one who had been living in the apartment for two years as opposed to the new roommate - at least, according to Zoe. On top of that, the reason why I didn't try to get Jake hired on at the theater when she really could have used the money last fall was that Ashlyn had already burned her bridges there.

Don't get the impression that I dislike Zoe in any way; for the most part, she's the most un-bitch-like girl I know. But something about Ashlyn got under her skin and stayed there. She was a bright, bubbly girl for most of the meal, but upon seeing Jake waiting at a different table, she had to snort and make a comment about how none of the other waitresses were wearing a sweater that tight. I've always heard stories about how catty girls could get, but it's amazing to see from the inside.

The purpose of the lunch was just catching up. Zoe and Liz had been friends since junior high, and even though it's easier for me to spend time with Jake, maintaining Liz's friendships is something worth doing, in order to get her life back to her more or less as she left it. Zoe's cool, anyway, and I really don't have to talk much when we're catching up; she doesn't leave space for me to fill and she's hilarious. She's also terribly excited about her new boyfriend, as if a month later she still couldn't believe that someone actually asked her out, and then wanted to see her again, and then again, and then again and again. That's another thing about girls that you hear about but don't really get a chance see until there aren't any men around (or at least, any heterosexual men) - body image is ridiculous. Zoe's a pretty girl, carrying, like, five pounds extra on her five-foot-two-inch frame, and it does a number on her self-confidence. Sometimes I think that's half the reason she never liked Ashlyn, because I don't doubt that the old Ashlyn wouldn't hesitate to wear something cleavage-y and belly-baring when casual was called for, even if she knew it made Zoe feel lousy. Jake'll have to watch herself on that count when the weather gets warmer.

Anyway, the lunch was full of talk about this guy, which is okay, since any attempt to discuss "my" love life with Zoe - who, don't forget, works with me - could potentially lead to an awkward indiscretion. It's cool to see her so happy, though - it gives me something positive to write to the real Liz. I did have to let Zoe down when it came to the idea of a double-date on Valentine's day: The newly-recommitted Ray has made reservations for the evening, and told me to buy a new dress.

So has Stewart. Well, without the new dress part and for the afternoon. I honestly don't know how Ashlyn could have apparently juggled boyfriends with regularity; it's exhausting.

Of course, she probably didn't have to buy new dresses around tying to put together a super-resumé so that the person living her life would be able to answer any questions a potential employer would have about the real thing. Jeremy's got a bunch of interviews this week; I hope he lands something, since he maxed out my credit card booking a room at the Trading Post for Operation: Switchback. As much as I want my body back without question, it would be nice not to find it evicted and poor.

-Art

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Ashlyn--Fourth thing on my list

Okay, just be clear, number four on my list of things to do is not “to have sex”—closer to the truth would be “being open minded to the possibilities of having sex”. The difference being I’m not going to sleep with just anyone.

It’s been a month since I slept with Jean-Michel. At the time, I thought it was going to be a “one time” experience—satisfy my curiosity and be done with it. But that was before I knew I was going to be Ashlyn forever. I was also surprised by how much I enjoyed sex with Jean-Michel, he knew just the right things to do to bring out the most pleasure in my body—but then he should, it was his body not long ago.

So I’ve decided to a). Be open minded and b). Put myself out there.

I get hit on a lot. It’s the boobs—it draws men to me like moths to a flame. I have gotten fairly proficient at turning guys away in the last few months; it’s almost become a reflex. A guy walks up gives me some kind of line, I pleasantly tell him to get lost.

BTW—As a former member of the male club, I offer this little piece of advice to any guys reading this blog: Nothing is more annoying than old, tired, often used pick up lines. It isn’t just me that feels this way—we women talk, fellas. I’ve only been a woman for about five months, but I’ve sat in several conversations that went like: “You wouldn’t believe what a bad line this guy gave me last night” And then they compare notes for the next half hour. My advice? Be original. Be funny. And don’t say something like “Do you wash your pants with Windex? Because I can really see myself in them.” It’s girl kryptonite.

Anyway—I’ve decided to open minded, if not down right friendly, when approached by guys.

Which brings me to Friday morning.

I like being attractive. I am of the opinion that being attractive is ½ good genes and ½ really working at it. I work out almost every day. I wasn’t much into exercise as Jake, but then again I didn’t have the ½ good genes as incentive. So like I often do, I jogged over to the fire station where Logan, one of my roommates, is a fireman. There is a small workout room at the station which I have been allowed to use.

I get a “Hello Red!” from one of the guys as I walk in. Several guys were in the main bay of the biggest engine. They were loading and unloading things into it.

I wave, and then I am immediately accosted by cat calls and whistles. I’ve gotten used to the light hearted flirting the guys do every time I make an appearance.

“Hey Ash, when are you going to quit denying your feelings for me?” Mike, the portly chief of the house, yelled out to me playfully.

“I’ve never denied them Mike; I just think your wife would object if I acted on my feelings.” I dazzle them with a smile and a wink and walk past them to the weight room.

Logan had spent the night at the station which he does from time to time. He is my workout buddy, and he had already worked up a pretty good sweat.

Logan is a good-looking guy. He’s tall, has dark hair, works out all the time and looks it. I find it interesting that I am generally unaffected by men’s appearances—I purposely give Logan a once over and get nothing. However, I mentally take it to the next level and imagine him kissing me, undressing me and running his hands over me—that has a response. I could feel my body reacting. I wonder what that means?

“You started the workout without me.” I say to him.

“I didn’t get the jog over, so I’m just catching up. Besides I needed a tougher workout, I wanted to clear my head.”

I really don’t know my roommates very well. When I thought I was going back to my old life someday I purposely kept them at a distance—it became a routine, maybe I should change that now that I’m not going anywhere. I guess I know Logan the best, because of our morning workouts. I knew “wanting to clear my head” was code for “I need to talk to someone”.

I get us both bottled waters, and I sit down across from him.

He tells me that he and his latest girlfriend had just broken up. I think I might have seen her around the house. It would be difficult to be certain; Logan goes through girlfriends like most people go through those little bags of chips.

“Was she something special?” I ask.

He sighs. “That’s the problem. She wasn’t. It’s been a while since any of them has been ‘special’—and I can’t seem to keep a relationship going for more than a month, I’m beginning to think there is something wrong with me.”

“Dude, I’ve seen the women you been parading through the house, a lot of guys would say you are doing alright.” Hmmm….girls say “dude” right?

“Maybe.” He sighs. “Maybe I want something more.”

It was at this moment when someone new walks in. He too was tall and well built—and young, he appeared to be in his early twenties. I guess that makes him my age.

“I’m making breakfast. Pancakes. You guys interested?” The new guy looked me over and gave me a smile. I smile back—its part of my new way of dealing with guys.
“I’m Matt Armstrong,” He says, offering me his hand for a handshake. I give him one of my patented girly handshakes. “You must be Ashlyn.” He says to me.

“I am. How did you know?” I ask.

“Everyone talks about the hot babe with the red hair that comes in to use our workout equipment. You fit the description. You in for pancakes? I’m making peanut butter and banana.” Matt can’t stop grinning at me.

“Um—it sounds really tempting, but I think I’ll stick to my boring yogurt and fruit. Thanks anyway.”

“Matt just passed his physical and oral exams. He’s the new guy here.” Logan piped in.

“Very cool. It’s nice to meet you Matt.” I head over to the treadmill, turn it on and start running.

Still grinning, Matt waved bye and headed out.

I was halfway through my workout when something else new happened: the fire alarm went off. The place exploded with activity. Logan jumped up and ran out of the room. Guys were putting on protective clothing and loading into the main engine. In moments the engines lights were flashing and it rolled out of the station. Several smaller trucks followed.

I made sure I was not in the way, and watched the whole process happen. It was inspiring. I stood there a moment, impressed. Matt appeared and walked up to me.

“That was awesome.” I say to him. “You didn’t go with them?”

“Too new.” He says.

“What kind of fire?” I ask.

“Two Alarm.” He pauses. “Are you done with your workout?”

“I guess so.” I couldn’t see going back to a workout after the excitement.

“Then you can have breakfast with me.” He brought out a yogurt smoothie and an apple.

I give him a look and remembered my new plan to be open minded. “You are persistent.”

“In a good way.” He says.

“Alright, new guy. Let’s have breakfast.”
We sat in the dining room which was a huge mess as the alarm came in the middle of breakfast.

One of the downsides to being a girl is eating like a girl. While Matt dined on a large stack of pancakes, I drank a smoothie and ate an apple--And the pancakes smelled so good.

Matt turned out to be a funny guy, and couldn’t believe it when I was able to keep up with him when he talked sports. I’m mostly a basketball guy—er, girl—but I usually keep up with the top 3, which for me are basketball, football and baseball. I may have to get more into baseball; Ashlyn is known to be a big Redsox fan and people may think it may be strange if I only take a cursory interest.

It didn’t take me long to finish my breakfast, but I stuck around and talked to Matt as he finished his—besides I was enjoying the conversation.

“Thanks for breakfast.” I say as we finish up.

“Thanks for the company.” He says. “I don’t suppose you would like to do this again, but properly—would you like to go out? Get a proper meal?” He gives me his grin again.

I remind myself: a). Be open minded b.) Put myself out there.

I hesitate, but then give him a big smile. “Sure, I’d love to.” We make plans, and I give him my cell phone number.

God help me, I have a date tonight.

--Ashlyn

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Ashlyn--Playing around in photoshop



Logan, one of my roommates, took a photo of me I thought turned out pretty nice. I'm not really comfortable posting a picture of myself, but on this old mac laptop is an old version of photoshop. I know a thing or two about photoshop, so I ran a few filters, and painted over myself enough to keep my anonymity. Plus it let me paint out my freckles. :)

--Ashlyn

Monday, February 05, 2007

Ashlyn--My "to do" list

Back to the blog.

I’ve been a busy girl the last two weeks. Once I “decided” (like I really had a choice) that I am going to stay Ashlyn for the rest of my life, I really threw myself into improving my situation.

Well, that’s not entirely true. First I went through a bottle of Jack Daniels, puked my guts out, and slept off a hangover. Eventually I got up, took a shower, and took a long look at myself in the mirror. I was no longer pretending. This was me from now on. Ashlyn with the big boobs and red hair.

And for like the third time since I woke up as Ashlyn, I cried. I was glad my roommates weren’t home to hear me sobbing in the bathroom—although I guess I don’t have to be ashamed of crying anymore—girls are allowed to cry, right?

More than anything, I think I was mourning the loss of a life that I had aspired to have one day. I worked all the time, and had a terrible personal life, but I hoped someday to find the right woman, get married and raise some kids.

Now I know I’ll never be a husband or a father—and that makes me very sad.

The cliché is true. I did feel better after a good cry. So after a brief “mourning period” I decided that if this going to be my life from now on I was going to make the best of it.

I made a mental list of things I needed to do and goals for my life. My first official act, claiming this life as my own: Calling the IRS.

The previous Ashlyn left me in a bad financial situation and I’ve decided to face the problem straight on. At first I was real angry with the original Ashlyn for leaving me with such a financial mess—the girl had no sense of financial responsibility, and seemed to spend money like more would just magically appear whenever she needed it. After a while I realized that everyone has things in their lives that they are fucking up on a daily basis. I’m sure Stephen didn’t care for the 30 pounds overweight he inherited from me…or the trip to the dentist I had been putting off for the longest time. I hope that trip to the dentist was painful “Jake”. Yeah, I’m a little bitter.

The IRS situation went better than I could have hoped. I talked to a local agent, a Mr. G (I’m leaving his name out on purpose) about my problems by phone, but I suggested I we meet at his office and discuss things in person. Very business-like, he kept saying we could do all this over the phone—and I said I would feel more comfortable meeting him in person. What I really wanted was to see how much sway my boobs could have over the IRS. Yes, I know this is wrong—but hey, this is the IRS. I needed all the help I could get. I was just praying the guy wasn’t gay.

He wasn’t. I know this is vain, but one of the joys about being attractive is watching guys trip all over themselves when they meet me. I was so average looking before I was transformed into Ashlyn, I practically faded into the background—it’s fun to stand out, even if it is the wrong gender.

I walk up to his cubicle wearing way to little clothing for how cold it has been lately. He stands up quickly, eyes a little wide with surprise, and warmly sticks his hand out for a handshake.

I’ve learned to shake hands like a girl—one of the millions of little differences between men and women is the way we shake hands. When men shake hands it’s like a show of strength: firm grip, hearty shake of the arm. When a woman shakes a man’s hand, it’s a softer, gentle exchange. I made the mistake a couple of times, early after my transformation, trying to shake hands like a man. It always made the greeting awkward.

Mr. G the IRS agent was sooooooo helpful. Yes, I am a little bit evil.

Mr. G set me up with a payment plan that I could afford monthly and got the tax lien removed. My situation wasn’t as bad as I imagined, I keep forgetting how young I am now—Ashlyn hadn’t been a wage earning adult long enough to truly get into unrecoverable tax woes. Now if I could pay down some of my credit cards I could start rebuilding my credit.

I let a day or two go before I revisited my mental list of goals/things to do. Second on my list was to pick a college to go to for summer courses. The Boston area is the perfect place to be—there must be a hundred colleges in the area. People remember the heavy hitters—MIT, Harvard—but there is a wealth of colleges that I can get to by taking the “T”. I spend hours online researching schools and making appointments for visits.

Eventually I suffer information overload, and can’t do anymore research. I shut off the computer and fall into bed, but my brain won’t shut off. I looked at the clock. It was late, but not too late, to make a phone call and cross number three off my mental list.

I call Jean-Michel. I get his voice mail. I attempt to put a little something sultry into the way I talk. “Hello baby, this is Ashlyn. Would you please call me? I’ll be up for a while. Bye.”

He calls me about an hour later. I was a little nervous when the phone rang. I had slept with Jean-Michel during my visit to Canada—and when I think back to the things we did together I felt a little turned on. It was distracting.

“Hi.” He says.

“Hi back. Is it alright to talk?” I ask.

“It is, but I can’t talk for long.”
“No problem.” I say. “It’s just that I wanted you to know—“I was having difficulty saying the words. “I just wanted you to know I am planning to stay as Ashlyn. I wanted to give you one last chance to change your mind about having your old life back. After today there is no going back—I’m going to make this life my own.”

He didn’t hesitate. “I’m staying as Jean-Michel. I’m glad you decided to stay, I like you. It’s nice to know my old life is in good hands.”

“Thanks, that’s nice to hear.” I pause, collecting my words. “I still don’t understand how you can so easily give up this life. This is a fantastic body, and your parents are really wonderful.”

There was a long pause; I began to wonder if he got cut off.

“I was at a point in my life where my biggest aspiration was to be some rich man’s trophy wife—and I didn’t see anything wrong with that. When I was younger, I wanted to be somebody; I had plans and dreams of making something of my life. As I got older I realized that I could get by with a smile and a little cleavage. It became a crutch.” He said it very quickly.

“As Jean-Michel, I am who I am because of what I do, not because I have killer body and beautiful green eyes.” The statement came out as a compliment. I laughed lightly—hell, I giggled, it’s the same thing, right?

“That’s a little narcistic, isn’t it?”

“Maybe. But I remember how you were in front of the mirror. I think we both might have narcistic issues.” He says.

We talk for half an hour. It was nice.

“Have you tried sex with anyone else yet?” He asked suddenly.

“Um—no.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know—I’m still surprised we had sex.” I was slightly flustered.

“You shouldn’t be. You’re 23 and incredibly attractive, you should enjoy yourself. You’re only young once.”

“Wrong. Some of us are young twice.” I say back to him smugly. “But don’t worry. Having sex again is the fourth item on my list.”

“What does that mean?” He asked confused.
“Don’t worry about it.” I was tired, we said goodnight.

--Ashlyn

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Arthur: Sometimes the other life overwhelms you

Jeff talked about it, and I imagine it must happen to all of us who stay at the Trading Post and come away changed at one point or another: The immersive experiment of living someone else's life, 24/7, there are going to be times when a person just gets locked in. In some ways, that's a good thing; when that happens, I respond to Liz's name without making her appear half-deaf, I can deal with the bathroom without feeling gross, and I just don't spend a lot of time questioning what I'm doing.

I don't know if that's healthy, and I don't want to be in Jeff's situation, where it eats at your insides until something violently snaps you out of it. It seldom lasts more that a day with me, and when I am jolted back to reality, I feel a little frightened, like I've escaped death. That's melodramatic; at most, I've come out of a fugue state, and even that's not really the case - I'm totally aware of who I am and what's going on around me, and able to make decisions. Still, there's a mental component to the curse, and while we think we've got a handle on certain parts of it - thirteen people in a certain building at 2am will have their bodies reshaped to the form of the last thirteen to be hit by the curse - the mechanism is completely mysterious. Sure, we've got some indications that the inability to get people to believe us may wear off in time, but what if that's counteracted by us accepting our new lives and not feeling the need to tell anyone any more? We don't know, and I hate not knowing.

The past week has been too hectic to allow me any chance to not be Liz, anyway. Last Tuesday, right after I posted that letter (I hope my skepticism didn't scare anybody away from writing us with their experiences), Liz's sister Tara calls in a panic, saying that there was a fire at her son's day care center. It didn't burn down, but it would be closed for the rest of the week and maybe a little longer and neither she nor Dae-su can miss any work. I say it's a good thing that Billy's got grandparents, but she reminds me that "mom and dad" are visiting friends out west. Besides, he loved the week he spent with Aunt Lizzie and Uncle Ray last summer...

So I wind up spending last week babysitting, which is not something I have often been called upon to do. After all, no siblings, and the male freelance writer who also has to look after his sick mother is not the first friend most parents call when in need. It was fun, though. He brought over his favorite games, I got us into a movie for free, leading him to opine that Aunt Lizzie's job was way cooler than mommy's, and sometimes we'd sit lay on the floor and watch cartoons while he settled in for his nap. Kids are cool, or at least this one is, in that they have few expectations beyond the basics - he wanted to eat, and play, and he didn't ask questions about anything.

It wasn't totally smooth sailing, of course. "Sis" was always thankful when she came to pick him up, but her husband gave me a mean look on Thursday when he saw that we were using English while playing. "We're trying to make sure he can speak both languages fluently," he says, "so it's important that you give him a chance to practice his Korean." I say I'm sorry, I forgot, but I'm so rusty that I'd just be teaching him bad Korean. I get the stinkeye again and the next day we watch a Korean-language DVD with the subtitles on for me.

Speaking of Korean-language movies, I saw a bunch of them over the weekend. Ray is, apparently, still serious about his promise to spend more time with his girl, and he bought a bunch of tickets for movies at the Museum of Fine Arts, where they had a Korean film festival last week. We'd already seen The Host, but he'd read good things on the internet about the other films playing. He also remembers how Liz apparently tries to keep up on the Korean film industry in case roles that require someone bilingual come up, so he was sure I'd like to come.

Most of the films were pretty good. It was a bit unnerving how a couple of them had themes that struck close to home for me - Time by Kim Ki-Duk is about a physical transformation, for instance, and King and the Clown features a male character who appears disturbingly female. As in, he's hot, and the realization that I was thinking that made me really uncomfortable. In fact, I suspected it was an actress until Ray pointed out that either Jun-gi is a boy's name or Liz has seen him in something else before.

The festival only ran about five days, but combine that with work and babysitting and let me tell you, there was just no time to even think of myself as Arthur Milligan, much less act like it. I feel awful about that - Jake called me a couple of times to try to get together, but there was just no time. I'm probably being a lousy friend, but there's just been no chance to get away and be a better one. I'll try to change that as soon as possible.

-Art