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

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