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.”
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.
“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.
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