Monday, April 30, 2007

Arthur: Things are in motion

Jeremy called on Friday, saying he was in the airport, about to board his plane for Portland. I asked if he was going to have some time in Boston to meet up, maybe brief me face-to-face, but he said that wouldn't work - his connection is through Providence, and it's tight. I'm kind of okay with that - it's an uncomfortable feeling seeing someone walk around with one's real face, so I can skip the experience. It's just good to know that step one of the plan is in motion.

Now I've got to work on my own trip up there. The Downeaster only stops at Old Orchard Beach during tourist season, but according to the Amtrak website, tourist season starts today. So I purchased a ticket for 11:05am on Friday the 11th, which will get me into Old Orchard at around 1:20pm. I used the credit card that goes to my P.O. box, so Ray should have no idea where to find "Liz" when she disappears in a week and a half. I can't think of any scenario involving Ray following me up to Maine that ends well.

That also leaves the issue of what to do about Liz's job. My current working theory is that we'll change some night when there are thirteen of us on the premises, but since at least some of the people there are likely to be there for a simple vacation, it's not like we're going to be in total control of it. Even if we assume that a group of guests have to change while they're up there, Liz might have to be away from work for almost a month if she doesn't change until the last day she's there. Considering that "she" overstayed her vacation last year, I don't know how much slack the home office is willing to cut her. It's probably a good idea just to give her two weeks' notice.

And, really, best all around, right? It keeps her from coming back into an uncomfortable situation with Stewart (of all the things I won't miss about being her...), and even if she's not up front selling tickets unless things get really busy, it is sort of a dead-end job. She's got some decent management experience from it, so it might be time for her to polish up the résumé and find something better. Sure, that might conflict with the whole vibe of it being a bad time to quit thing I've been giving Ray, but Liz is going to have to explain a bunch of little things to him when she gets back anyway ("why haven't I spoken Korean in months? I, uh, just didn't feel like it."). After all she's put me through, she owes me a few loose ends.

'Lyn was kind of surprised to know that Liz and "Jean-Michel" having slept together isn't something I feel terribly bitter over. She's unfortunately got a lot of free time on her hands right now, so we met up this afternoon. I guess she's already feeling a little bit of a pinch in her finances, since she was not looking to get her extra-foofy usual at Starbucks. Which was fine with me - while she's enamored of her half-caf chai whatever, I have to admit to having really grown fond of Dunkin Donuts. They're omnipresent here in the Boston area - I swear you can generally see the next one from the one you're in - and they make the best "industrial", no-screwing around cup of joe on earth. No fooling; I'm packing a bunch of the stuff they sell by the bag to bring home with me.

We got our coffee and muffins (as folks who generally work evenings, it's perfectly acceptable for us to have a one p.m. breakfast) and took them down by the river, where we could watch rowers do their thing while getting a little sun. I'd read her blog entry, of course, and she'd IM'ed me about it a week ago, and she was ready for me to let loose.

I thought I was going to, though, but then I looked at her... And maybe I'm jumping the gun a little, but I looked at her like a man would. She was wearing running shorts and had kicked off her heels to stretch her legs out; her breasts were packed pretty tight into her brand new green Red Sox t-shirt. She looked damn good, even if she wasn't smiling.

"Let me ask you," I said, "what if Liz hadn't gone to the Inn with Ashlyn? What if she'd given Ash both reservations, and Ashlyn took that roommate with the crush on her?"

"Logan does not--"

"Beside the point. I'm just saying, what if I'd become him, and not Liz? And we were not only the only person the other had in the world who knew what the other was going through, but there was suddenly hormones to consider? Are you sure that nothing would have happened?"

"You wouldn't do that to me."

"I don't know that it would be one person doing something to the other. A year ago, we were just casual on-line acquaintances who'd never met face to face. This situation made us a whole heck of a lot more than that, didn't it?"

"I suppose." She dug a toe into the wet dirt a little before sipping her latte. "Still..."

"Still what?"

"When you get your penis back, don't make me your first stop. My sex life's weird enough as it is."

-Art

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Ashlyn--Sex, Sox & Sacked

The Sacked part:

Wednesday, a week ago, I walk into the restaurant I work at and I could instantly tell something was wrong. The people who work there are generally a friendly group; but when I walked in no one said anything to me or even looked in my direction. Before I could corner someone and asked what was going on, Maddie walked into the main dining room and asked me into the office.

I knew what was coming. Maddie and I had been butting heads for a few weeks now, so I knew it was only a matter of time before I got the boot.

“Have a seat.” She motions to a chair opposite her desk.

I’ve never been fired before--mostly because I worked for myself most of my life. As a teen and in my college years I worked for other companies, and I never had any issues. Later in life, as I did freelance graphics, I was always heavily recruited by companies. I was turning potential employers away.

Yet mysteriously, after spending a little more than half a year as Ashlyn, I find I can’t keep a stupid waitressing job. I keep telling myself that—it’s a stupid waitressing job, it’s a stupid waitressing job—but I’m embarrassed anyway, and I actually fought back tears.
I sit down, my face hot with shame, and forced myself to remain calm and unaffected.

“So Ashlyn,” Maddie looked smug. I couldn’t help but imagine she was enjoying this—she was finally putting me in my place. “I’ve had to call you into my office a few times this month, and I think I have gone way beyond were I needed to go to resolve your issues. I’m afraid I am still not satisfied with your work performance. The restaurant has also received some complaints about you, so we have decided to let you go.”

“Complaints?” I was surprised, this was the first I had heard of any complaints. “Who has complaints against me?”

“We received some letters in the mail.” She states coldly.

“Can I see them?”

“No. I don’t think so.”

We talked for a little while, but to be honest, I can’t really remember what was said because I kind of tuned her out. I just sat there feeling like a complete idiot and failure.

Eventually she stood up and asked me to leave, the meeting was over.
And just like that I joined the ranks of the unemployed. She made me leave through the kitchen and out the back door—I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye to everyone. Once I got a hundred yards away from the place I burst into tears. If I was still Jake, I wouldn’t had shed a tear over something like losing a job—but as Ashlyn, my emotions sometimes gets the better of me. It’s not that I’m more emotional as Ashlyn; it’s just harder to hide my feelings.

The Sox part 1:

My Secret Admirer has struck again. It’s like he knew I needed a little cheering up. The day after I was “let go” I received a letter. Inside was a simple message:

One of the best things about Boston are the Redsox.

Wrapped in the letter was one ticket to the Saturday Redsox / Yankees game(I’m a week behind in this blog—it was last Saturday’s game). I’m not much of a baseball fan, but I have lived in New England long enough to realize I had something pretty cool in a ticket to the game. People here are nuts for the Sox and absolutely hate the Yankees. I don’t know if I can convey the scope that the Redsox/Yankees series has for the fans—the city basically goes crazy for several days.

My roommates were jealous. “So are you going to the game by yourself? You don’t strike me as a ‘go by myself’ kind of girl.” Logan stated. I think he was subtly trying to get me to give him the ticket.

I give him smirk and shrugged. “I didn’t know, maybe I will. This is a really good seat. Maybe I’ll meet someone at the game.” Standing in front of him, I run the ticket under my nose and take a big whiff like I smell something delicious. “Besides, it’s a Yankees game!” I teased.

Logan stomped off grumbling something about redheads.

I’ve struggled with keeping the gifts from my admirer. Last month, before Jessica went back to New Haven, she gave me a little advice from her previous life as a police detective:
“Your secret admirer isn’t an admirer—he’s a stalker. He is probably watching you. Don’t keep the gifts he sends. When you keep the gifts it means you are playing along with whatever sick little game he’s playing—and it empowers him.”

At the time—I totally agreed with her. “You’re so right. I’ll get rid of everything.” I told her.
Only I didn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to throw away the iPod with the 80’s music he sent me. Instead I started using it. I started taking it everywhere, it became my constant companion. I listen to it when I work out, when I am on the T, and I sometimes even fall asleep listening to it.

I stuck the ticket in my purse—It would seem like such a waste not to go.


The Sex part:

Jean-Michel arrived in Boston last Friday. He showed up on our doorstep in the afternoon dressed to the nines and sporting a five o’clock shadow. He had that hip and dangerous look about him—or maybe he looked dangerous to me because I know what he does for a living. I’ll admit it—I’ve been looking forward to his visit ever since he called and said he was coming. Our time together in Canada had been extremely—pleasurable--and I was interested in picking up where we left off. I opened the door, stepped out to kiss him hello—at least that’s what I intended to do—Jean-Michel took it a little farther. He pulled me close and gave me a good ten second kiss. I guess he had been looking forward to seeing me too.

We broke from the kiss and there was some awkward silence as we grin at each other. “Come inside.” I say to him. “I’ll introduce you to my roommates.”

He steps into the house and takes a slow look around. “It feels so weird to be back here.”

Billie and J.J. come into the room; I’m guessing they were curious who was at the door. Jean-Michel didn’t miss a beat; he made his way over to them and turned on the charm and his French-Canadian accent. He took Billie’s hand as if he was going to shake it, but instead just held it.

“You must be Billie.” He pretends he doesn’t know her. “You’re as pretty as Ashlyn described.” He turned to J.J. and gave her the same treatment. I thought he was laying it on pretty thick, but my roommates seem to enjoy it. Logan walked in, and the reaction between him and Jean-Michel wasn’t so pleasant. I would say that the two of them had an instant dislike for each other, but Jean-Michel already knew Logan. Jean-Michel wrapped one arm around my waist and stuck out his other hand to Logan. Logan stiffly shook his hand.

“I’m Logan.”

“Jean-Michel.”

It wasn’t that there were hostile words were exchanged—it was just the look on Logan’s face expressed how he was feeling. The conversation got awkward after that, so I took Jean-Michel by the hand and led him away.

“I want to show you my bedroom.” I said for the benefit of my roommates—after all, Jean-Michel knew what my bedroom looked like, it was his not long ago.

“What’s with Logan?” Jean-Michel asked.

“I’m not sure.” I tell him. “I been dating one of the guys at the firehouse on and off for the past couple of months. Maybe he’s watching out for a buddy.”

“Is it serious?” Jean-Michel asks.

“What? The thing with the firefighter? Definitely not. He’s just a kid.”

“Have you looked in the mirror lately? You’re not that old.” He walks up behind me and gently turns the two of us to face the large mirror that hung on the wall.

“Do you remember the last time we stood together in front of a mirror?” He whispered in my ear.

I did. It lead to the first time I had sex as a woman—it was a pleasant memory. He started kissing my neck and I turned to face him, finding his lips with my own.

Whenever I kiss Matt—the fireman I date from time to time—there is always the thought in the back in my mind that I’m really a man, I shouldn’t be kissing him. But with Jean-Michel it’s different. With him it’s easy to let myself go and forget the past.
I eventually push him away. “I need to change into something to wear to dinner.”

“Don’t let me stop you—I’m starving.”

I hesitated, but went ahead and changed in front of him. I told myself I didn’t have anything he hadn’t seen before—or if the evening went well, he was going to see it all again later.

“How do you feel about packing an overnight bag?” He asked me. “I’m staying at the Hotel Marlowe here in Cambridge. It’s within walking distance, but it’s a beautiful room…”

“I’d love to.” I told him.

He surprised me with his choice of restaurant. I expected to go to something extravagant and expensive; instead we went to a place called “Redbones” in Somerville. It was a barbeque joint.
“I thought you might be missing Texas food. This might be the closest thing in Massachusetts.” He says to me.

I was thrilled and kind of went nuts. I ordered a sweet iced tea, Texas style ribs, macaroni and cheese, and fried okra. It was a ton of food—I ordered like I was still Jake and barely put a dent in it. I felt guilty eating such ‘heavy’ foods in front of Jean-Michel, I didn’t want him to think I mistreated his old body on a regular basis.

“I normally don’t eat like this. I don’t want you to think I’m letting your body go to hell.” I tell him.

He laughed. “Don’t worry about it. You look good! I can tell you keep in shape—if anything you might be in better shape than when I was Ashlyn. I was thin, but I don’t remember my abs looking as good as they do now. You work out?”

“Yeah, nearly every day.”

“Amazing. When I was you I might have worked out once a week.”

I passed on the sweet potato pie for dessert. I wanted it, but there was just no room—and because of the heavy meal I was already computing the extra time on the treadmill I was going to have to spend, and the pie was just going too far.

We went dancing after dinner. I was glad to work to work off the calories. We also started drinking heavily—or at least Jean-Michel did. I had a few, but I was amazed by the amount of alcohol Jean-Michel could consume.

“One of the perks of being a guy.” He says to me. “I’m no longer a lightweight.”

I however, was the lightweight now. I got a little uninhibited and Jean-Michel and I started making out on the dance floor.

“Maybe we should go to the hotel.” He says to me.

We catch a cab to the Marlowe and we continue to make out in the cab and in the elevator up to the room. I was crawling all over him and he basically carried me from the elevator to the room. As soon as we stepped into the room clothes started flying off--at least I hope I waited to remove clothes until I got to the room--I have vague memories of not being fully dressed in the elevator. Once I’m naked he picked me up and tossed me on the bed—I laughed my ass off.

There wasn’t much more foreplay. We were both hungry for each other and we got to the main event quickly. We were in a missionary position when he entered me.

I’m all gasps and small words at this point. “Oh….. oh god. Oh my god.” You get the idea.
We hadn’t been at it long, but I was so turned on I was already close to cumming.
“I’m close. Faster. Harder! Fuck me harder!” I gasp.

He complied. Soon I was crying out in pleasure as we both orgasm.

We lay there together for a while before either one of spoke.

“That was intense.” I said.

“Yeah.” He nods his head in agreement.

“So is this the weirdest sex you’ve ever had?” I motion to myself. “I mean, this used to be you.”

He chuckled. “Yeah, it's up there, although that first time with "Marie" comes close.”

I sat up in bed, surprised. “You what? She what? After all she put Art through, she goes and does that—“ I was mad.

“Hey, don't judge her too harshly. There's a scary guy who expects her to put out whenever he comes calling; it's not so bad for her to occasionally want to be with someone who knows who she really is and likes her for that. Besides…”.

“Besides what?” I demanded.

“Well, even though I know what a girl likes, it was good for my first few times to be with someone who knew me for me, too. We helped each other. Of course, then Andre noticed we were spending a little more time with each other than he'd like, so we had to cut it down. What? Are you jealous?”

“No! I’m upset for Art.” I knew I had to tell Art. I wondered how he was going to handle the news.

We have a little tension for a moment, which was cut by my cell phone ringing. It was at the bottom of my purse so I took out several things to get to the phone. Great, it was Art who was calling—I guess his ears were burning. I couldn’t talk to him at that moment—this was a conversation worthy of a trip to Starbucks. I turn the phone off as Jean-Michel reached for the small pile of items I removed from my purse.

“Hey, what’s this?” He said picking up the Redsox/Yankees game ticket.

“Oh, it’s to the game tomorrow night. I have a secret admirer who sends me things from time to time. Unfortuantly he only sent one ticket.”

Jean-Michel jumped up out of bed and pulled something out of his suitcase. It was also a ticket. He looked at both of them for a moment and then handed me both of them.

The seats were next to each other.

“I have a secret admirer too.” He states.

For the second time in the last ten minutes I was surprised. I told Jean-Michel about some of the gifts I received—the flowers, perfume, scooter and the iPod. Especially the iPod because it came installed with music from my old CD collection from my life as Jake. Jean-Michel also had received gifts in the mail.

“I received the car and some cash. In my early days of being Jean-Michel, I don’t think I would have survived without the help from our ‘secret admirer’.

“Damn. I feel slighted. You got a car.” I was kidding. “Why do you think this person is doing this?”

Jean-Michel climbed back in bed and wrapped an arm around me, pulling me to him. I leaned into him, resting my head on his chest.

“I think he’s helping us somehow.” Jean-Michel states. “I think he’s helping us establish our new lives.”

Hmmmm. That sounds nice, but it doesn’t explain why.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Arthur: Another year down

Today's my birthday.

I'm not quite sure what to do with that. 'Lyn seems to be working this afternoon, otherwise I'd insist she take me to Finale or some other place that serves delicious and fattening desserts. I can do that - in a few weeks, the Inn will reshape my body and if Liz has to deal with a couple extra pounds, it's a small price to pay for my having to deal with a couple boyfriends.

I thought about calling Jeremy, but to what end? To wish him a happy birthday? Doesn't mean anything to him. Getting someone to acknowledge that today's My Special Day? That's kind of petty and would make me sound like an eight-year-old.

The whole birthday tradition is kind of silly, I guess, but it's useful. We've got other days that we can use as benchmarks for how our lives have changed since the last time they came around, or what we want to do by the next one. I'm spending this one looking at a life interrupted, my life exchanged for another for about nine months. One thing's for sure, I've done stuff this year that I never would have expected to a year ago.

Although, I'm glad that I'll miss Elizabeth's birthday in June. Ray probably would have thrown a surprise party, and it would have been another day spent with Liz's family, who are nice folks but every minute I spend with them is a reminder that I'm experiencing something that should rightfully be hers.

At least it should be relatively quiet at work. Even though there are some good movies opening, the Red Sox are playing the Yankees this weekend. I haven't really had a chance to see it for myself, but apparently the city comes pretty close to shutting down when that happens, or so the folks at work say. Bostonians really love their baseball, and hate the Yankees. It doesn't really surprise me - even out west, you can tell the Red Sox fans are serious; sometimes it seemd that every time I went to an A's game against Boston, the transplanted New Englanders outnumbered the folks rooting for the home team... Especially for the last year or two, as a bunch of fans jumped on the bandwagon after the 2004 World Series (just like with the Yankees, but don't tell anybody here that!).

Hopefully not too quiet, though - Ray and I saw the run-off of Hot Fuzz last night, and it's some funny stuff, well worth seeing if you can sneak it in around your baseball. Not that inviting Ray along was necessarily the brightest idea; he enjoyed the movie but Stewart was also there, and he starts making noises about how I'm apparently rubbing something in his face while Ray's in the men's room. I say that's silly, and maybe it's karmic balance for any smugness he might have felt the times when Ray came to see a movie and didn't know Liz was sleeping with her boss. Then Ray comes out and asks if I'm being bothered.

Honestly, I hope they both feel kind of stupid right now. They should, since most times I did the peacock thing, spreading out the tail to impress a girl and maybe scare another guy away, I tended to feel like a prize jackass the next day (of course, mostly when I lost). I know some girls find guys fighting over them a turn-on, but it made me feel very uncomfortable. Then again, maybe that means most girls really don't like it, but us guys rationalize that they do because that means we were manipulated into doing something stupid rather than just being stupid.

Heh. I guess that's something I didn't know last birthday.

-Art

P.S. Yes, I am absolutely stopping at Finale before or after work. I'll have my own private little birthday cake, even if there's no candle.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Ashlyn--Nobody knows the troubles I've seen...

Yeah, I admit it, I’ve been kind of down lately—so I haven’t been in the mood to write in this blog. Why am I down you ask? Here’s my list:

Taxes…

First of all, I’m not done with my taxes. When I was Jake I had an accountant. I would drop by his office, ask how much I owed, wrote a check, signed a few documents and was out the door. If we didn’t stop to talk about the Mavericks, it took less than fifteen minutes.
The original Ashlyn didn’t take care of her taxes, so her files were a huge mess—what little files that she had. What is really upsetting is the fact that she didn’t make any quarterly payments and didn’t set any money aside. I’m stuck with the bill which I really can’t afford—and if I don’t pay my taxes in full and on time, my monthly payment agreement for all of Ashlyn’s back taxes will be voided.

I am so screwed. I had been saving up to buy a new computer; something that might let me get back into doing graphics professionally again—I guess that money is going to Uncle Sam instead. I guess I’m stuck as a waitress for a little bit longer.

Speaking of work…

Maybe I should have said “I guess I’m stuck as a waitress as long as I don’t get fired.” The restaurant that I work for has two managers. They tend to break up the day in halves—one manager will work the day shift and the other the night. Maddie, one of the two, has had it in for me every since she walked into the ladies room and caught me changing into the skimpy outfit I wore for St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t know why that should have made a difference, but it has. Before that day she was warm and friendly toward me—now I can’t do anything right.
What drives me crazy is I have a strong work ethic, and I put 100% of myself into whatever I am doing. It’s what made me a moderate success in my graphics work—and even though being a waitress isn’t as challenging as some jobs, I try to bring a sense of professionalism to my work. I show up early and always try to have a good outlook.

Maddie called me into her office last week. She told me I needed to improve my attitude, spend more time with all my guests and to not spend so much time flirting with the guys. She also suggested I start dressing more conservatively. “This isn’t Hooter’s” she told me with a self righteous tone.

I wanted to tell her to stuff it—but I needed the job. So I took my scolding--but decided I might start looking for another job.

I have abandonment issues…

Art’s going back to the Inn in less than a month. By June he’ll be back in his own body and back to his life in California.
I’m happy for him. I swear. This isn’t bitterness that he is going to get his old life back and I wasn’t so lucky.

This is about a good friend going away.

I’ve made my peace about being turned into Ashlyn. My existence has gone from “struggling to adapt” to “it gets easier every day” to “it gets to be more enjoyable every day”. Some mornings I get up, look in the mirror, and consider myself damn lucky.

But even though I’ve accepted who I am now, there are times when the girl stuff is just too much. My brain rebels and demands I dwell on guy stuff: Sports. Movies with lots of explosions and special effects. Foods that have nothing to do with watching your weight. You get the idea.

Sure, I’m not pretending anymore—how I act from now on is how Ashlyn is going to be—I just find it’s easier to just be myself whenever Art and I hang out. Our conversations over a Starbuck’s chai are my opportunity to “let my hair down” and just be myself. You should have seen the confused looks some of the girls (from one of my radio station gigs) gave me when I started talking about how much I was looking forward to seeing Spiderman 3.
“I was such a big fan of Spiderman growing up.” I said. “I can’t wait to see how the special effects with Venom (a villain for you who didn’t grow up on comics) turned out.”
I get a lot of blank looks, and then we start talking about Kristen Dunst’s hair.
Art gets Spiderman—and all the other things that make up “guy talk”. Selfishly, I’m going to miss that.

Abandonment issues the sequel…

If it wasn’t bad enough that Art is leaving town, here’s insult to injury. A voicemail from my “mom”:

“Hi Sweetheart! I have amazing news! Your father ‘s work needs for him to go to New Zealand for a while! It’s a special project. He’s going for so long I’ve decided to go with him. We are leaving early June and won’t be back until August! Is that amazing or what! Call me!”

Great. Everyone is leaving me.

One bit of good news. Jean-Michel called. He has business in Boston this week and wanted to know if I wanted to have dinner. I gave him an ethusiastic yes.

Ashlyn

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Arthur: One month away

The clock just flipped over to twelve, making it officially April 11th. I head back to the Trading Post in thirty days, on May 11th. I think I can last that long.

Some of it's going to be uncomfortable, though. The first time Stewart and I were at the theater together, everyone could tell something was off. Neither of us said anything, but by the end of the shift, I could tell that the staff was whispering. Uncomfortable.

The next day, it got worse. I was closing Sunday night, so at around quarter past ten I was up in the lobby, cashing the box office and concession stand out when Ted, one of the college kids, asks if I need anything else, uh-huh, uh-huh. I gave him a disgusted look, and he said that he'd heard that was how you get the better shifts. I said if he wasn't careful, it's how he'd get fired.

I suppose there's not much I could do to enforce it, but apparently the look on my face was serious enough, because he dropped it and walked away. Still, I felt uncomfortable - what was I going to do if he pushed it?

I thought about it as I walked home. Ray was asleep in front of the television (the Red Sox were the ESPN Sunday night game), so I tiptoed into the bathroom, brushed my teeth, washed my face and changed into an oversized t-shirt. I wanted to get right to sleep, so I moved over to the television and switched it off. Ray fidgeted a little at that, but didn't follow me into bed for a few minutes. He must have been able to read my body language, because when he got into bed, he kissed me on the cheek and asked what was wrong. I told him that even if I was just reaping what I'd sowed, it still felt pretty lousy to have some 19-year-old boy call you a slut.

He gave me a squeeze and told me I didn't deserve that. That's nice, I say, but it's been a long time coming, and I'll just have to deal with it, adding "for another month" to myself. He said I should quit that job, and I kind of laughed, saying it hardly seemed appropriate for me to live off his income considering where "we" were. Well, he said, you should think about it.

I have to admit, I have been thinking about it, but I won't actually do it. Not my place, although I'm certain it'll be going into the letter I give to Liz. It's a bad work situation to be in, and I know I wouldn't want any part of it.

-Art

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Arthur: Picking up on what Ashlyn said...

First, I don't know if I'd call Jessica nerdy-looking, "cute nerd" or not. Some girls look good in glasses, and you can count Jessica among that number. She fills her jeans nicely, has a neat, cute haircut, a cool laugh, and a confident air about her. I suppose when she starts talking about police procedure with expertise beyond what one would surmise from her appearance, one might be tempted to label her that. But 'Lyn's one of the popular girls with the big boobs so anyone with glasses probably looks like a nerd to her.

I kid, a little. I don't think Jake's gone native to that extent, but it's something Jessica talked about. I asked her if she had had a feeling she could tell her mother the truth before the time when she first started getting through. After all, she'd implied it just wore off. Not that my vague feeling was proof of anything... Well, she said, that requires a little explanation, as she hadn't just wanted to tell us everything right off.

She said we were lucky to have turned into adults, because nothing in her twenty years as a police officer had prepared her for the viciousness of teen and "tween" girls. We apparently only think we know what having weird hormones assaulting our system is like, and junior high was especially rough for her. She thinks that she might have started to doubt her memories of her previous life if it wasn't the only thing keeping her sane. But her second adolescence was an angry one, and when her mother told her that her grandfather had died, Jessica's response was "well, that sucks, but it's not like I knew the guy. That earned her a slap, but also got her mother to thinking that maybe something was really not right.

Jessica and her mother must have a weird relationship, though I haven't observed it first-hand. She refers to her mother without qualifiers, and I half-expected Jessica to call her by her first name when they were on the phone. Jeff does that when talking about the family he wound up with, and Jessica might have been older than her new mother - or at least more experienced. But that woman (whose name I just realized I don't know) has at least done the job of a mother for Jessica, so I guess it's not too strange. Still, she's not just a kid, no matter how much she acts the part, and they know that hte real - or maybe that should be the first - Jessica is out there somewhere, and who knows what a ten year-old girl does when she becomes someone else? Our Jessica must be a constant reminder of that for both of them, and even if by dumb luck the curse just made her a different pre-teen, that's got to feel lousy.

There's been more going on in my life since then, though. Another thing 'Lyn mentioned was that I probably couldn't just tread water with Stewart until the real Liz gets back, no matter how ideal that would have been. I've tried valiantly, though - I get to work just on time, I don't stay late when he's running the week's new releases off to make sure the print is in order, I screen my calls. But you can't force things to stay the same for any great length of time; there's too many outside forces in the world.

In this case, the outside force was Liz's best friend, Zoe. Stewart and I were just winding up a friendly-enough day shift when she came in, rolled up copy of the daily Metro and smacked me on the nose.

"Bad girlfriend! Bad, bad, bad girlfriend! How could you not tell me Raymond had proposed?"

The whole staff was in the lobby, so there was nowhere for me to escape. "What do you m-- How do you know?"

"I ran into him in Downtown Crossing in January, when he was looking in all the jewelry stores. He said he was going to pop the question on Valentine's Day. I see you after with no ring and I think, okay, maybe with the storm and all, he was just waiting for a better time. I saw him this afternoon, though, and I asked why..."

"Uh, Zoe? Not here and not now."

"Okay," she says, "but if you give me 'not ready', I want to know when anyone could be expected to be ready."

So that's awkward. Nearly as much as Stewart walking me out the door.

"So..." He looks kind of pleased with himself. "I gather you said no. And to think I'd been beginning to wonder if you didn't like me any more."

"Well, I couldn't very well say yes if I was still sleeping with you, could I? I'm not that person, and that's what I told him."

"You told him?"

"I'm not going to lie in that situation." Well, no more than I had to.

"So where do we go from here?"

"Well, I'm going home to keep trying to see what Ray and I are going to be, because we're both pretty determined that it's not going to be people who hate each other. As for you and me... Well, to be blunt, the days of commitment-free hookups because we're keeping a secret are over. It's time to figure out what you and I really want from each other."

He took my hand but I extricated it. "No, seriously, think about it, because I'm not going to stumble around blindfolded any more. It's been going on for far too long and I can't take it."

Stewart looked surprised to hear that, at first, but then shrugged his shoulders and turned toward the T station. "Okay," he said, with just a little "no girl's worth this much trouble" in his voice. "You go home to the guy who took you for granted. I'll see you later."

So, I may have screwed things up badly. I wrote Liz about it, but haven't heard back yet. Hopefuuly she'll cut me a little slack on this.