Thursday, August 30, 2007

Louisa/"Marie" - Road Trip: Washington

I'm sure the other people reading this are wondering why it took so long to get from Baltimore to Washington; after all, Jessica wasn't anxious to tarry last Tuesday. Well, suffice it to say, we did tarry for almost a week afterward. Our past holds a strange gravitational pull, I guess. I'll let Jessica decide how much she wants to share, if anything; even the parts I was privy to aren't quite my beans to spill.

The logical next stop was Washington. There was only one name on the page in Jessica's notebook for our nation's capital, but she'd left several pages for making notes. Aside from meeting the new Dex Langan, we intended to spend a fair amount of time in the Library of Congress and other academic sites to see what information we could dig up about the inn and the people it transformed.

But first, we met a friend of Jessica's. Roy was a year ahead of her, and I gather had dated one of her friends on the softball team. He seemed like a nice young boy, and handsome to boot. We had dinner the first night, and he helped us get access to the Georgetown University library.

It's interesting to watch the two of them together. My initial instinct is to say that Jessica acts differently around people who don't know her secret, but I don't really think she does; I think I just expect her to. She's still kind of sarcastic, whip-smart, wiser than her apparent years and more laid back than you'd expect knowing the truth. She and Roy trade comments about looking good without much in the way of sexual tension. I can't imagine how she manages it, but when I asked her about it in the hotel, she just shrugged and said it's been eight years and she grew up a second time; talk to Ashlyn if you want to hear about things being weird.

It took us a couple days to get hold of the new Dex; the FBI keeps him busy. That concerned Jessica, as you might imagine; as we waited for him at a café, it was pretty clear that his mind was on how the person who had become Conrad Mancini had not been up to the pressures and challenges of police work. She knew, from the general impressions Jake/Ashlyn and Arthur had related, that Dex was a fairly new agent, but still...

Ashlyn had described Dex as a joker, but that was the original Dex. The one we met wasn't like that. He had a twinkle in his eye, but he didn't really make jokes. It wasn't long before we realized what what was amusing him.

Before the inn did its magic, Dex had been Vera Lane. She had been a woman in her early forties, and he - if that's the proper pronoun - happily admitted to having been a con artist. "They've got me working on wire fraud right now. Can you believe it? I'm investigating identity theft!"

I guessed it was ironic. He at least seemed well-matched to his work. I had a hard time really warming to him - the idea that this crook was now part of a major law-enforcement agency seemed wrong. Was he able to just casually switch sides? It's odd... I believe in redemption, and the ability to become a better person. But it should be hard. Still, knowing someone in the FBI could be useful.

Or not. As soon as we left the café, Jessica was writing furiously in her notebook. I asked her what it was about, and she growled that Vera/Dex was dirty.

"What do you mean?"

"Look, I never worked in IA, but I was on the job for a while, and it hasn't been so long that I've forgotten everything. There's two kinds of dirty cops: The kind that skim for themselves, and the kind that are working for someone. Vera seems like the type to skim, but that's not the vibe I get."

"So, who do you think he's working for?"

"I don't know. But it's not like this sort of influence is unprecedented - I think someone in the INS was paid off to make Mark's and Vinessa's life difficult. Having someone in the FBI must be useful."

I'm not sure about that, but it's a scary thought.

Anyway, time to head to bed. Jessica's got the first shift driving tomorrow, as we head out to Nashville, where we're looking to contact Penelope Lincoln on Arthur's behalf.

-Louisa

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Arthur/Penny: Not how I'd like to work for them again.

It's three A.M., and I can't sleep. Drew is in the bed and sleeping like a log, but I guess sex just wears him out a little more than it does me. Normally, this would be prime time to do a little work on the novel, but for whatever reason, I can't seem to concentrate on it right now.

Part of it's the busy schedule; there are days when CalSports has me working both a six o'clock and then a ten o'clock show, and after ten they have me hang around as the baseball scores come in, shooting new bits of footage that will be inserted into the ten o'clock show so that it can be run overnight and into the morning. I can't imagine how much this job must suck on the east coast, where you have to do basically the same thing, only the west coast games don't get over until one a.m., Eastern Time.

I'm up to doing that three or four times a week, but it's not always the same days. Plus, I've started doing some of the personal appearances that Nell used to do. Only about half of them actually pay, but I like doing the ones that help out a good cause, and Drew figures that doing talks at schools is good business, too - he figures that it can't hurt to be some kids' first crush, that they'll remember later. When he said that last weekend, I was kind of alarmed; how much later was he talking about?

Well, he says, as "Penny" you're in your mid-twenties and healthy, keeping up her workout habits; you've probably got a good, long chunk of "babe years" ahead of you. It's not impossible that a kid in fifth grade might still make it a priority to tune to ESPN on the nights you're doing SportsCenter when he's in college ten years from now.

Ten years! It's not quite yet one year since I first woke up as Liz, and I'm not even really sure that I'm going to stay Penny long-term, or at least not that long-term. I asked him how he could think in those terms; he just shrugged and said that even if I didn't stay Penelope Lincoln, someone would, and it would be his job to look out for her interests. That kind of took me aback. What about getting back to your old life?

He shrugged. "I like it as R.J. It's a good fit, and California sure beats going back to Michigan for the winter. The original one doesn't figure on being able to extricate himself from Stephen Jeffries's affairs by the time the Inn closes for the season, so I'm figuring on an indefinite stay. 'New Drew' can do what he wants." Oh. "Maybe you should give me one of those new nicknames you're so fond of, like 'Lyn' and 'Penny'. So what do you think... Am I a 'Rich'... or a 'Dick'?" He pulled his body against mine at that, and I could feel the latter's appropriateness.

We got distracted.

It was the next morning, when I was scrambling some eggs in my t-shirt and panties, that he told me he'd been talking with an editor at Maxim about me. I said that was great; I'd really enjoyed doing work for them in the past, even if it was an assignment for them that led me to the Inn. How'd he get them to talk, though; it's not like Penelope has the bibliography they usually look for in a freelancer?

Well, that's the thing, he said - it's not for writing work; it's for a pictorial.

Oh. I really wished I was wearing some pants after he said that. I absently tried to pull my shirt down a little but it just made my nipples stand out. "I don't know, Drew..."

"Hey, it's Maxim, not Playboy. It'll raise your profile, potentially to national attention, and it's not like they'll be showing anything Nell hasn't put on display before. She was a pro beach volleyball player, after all, and their uniform is the bikini."

"Yeah... but..."

"It's not even a formal offer yet; just something he and I are talking about. It's easy work and even though reading the scores pays better than announcing lacrosse, it's not bad to get paid, either."

I told him I'd think about it.

Maybe that's why I'm still awake and typing this, even though it's almost four, now. I go to sleep and time jumps forward to the morning, and he'll be wanting to talk about it again, even though I've still got a few things to figure out before even considering it.

-Art/Penny

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Jessica: Baltimore

We were on the road when Louisa asked if we should stop in Baltimore. I knew this was coming, we had talked about it before, and I told her then I didn’t care to stop. She was determined to change my mind and brought it up again as we were driving down i95.

“It just seems wrong to drive through.” She says.

“There’s nothing there for me anymore. I’ve moved on from my old life.” I tell her.
Washington, DC is only an hour and a half further than Baltimore, so it made sense to me that we drive through Baltimore and continue on to Washington.

Louisa was persistent. “Well even if you have moved on, we might still want to talk to whoever became you. Isn’t our plan to talk to as many victims of the Inn as possible?”

She was curious, and I can understand that. She’s been trying to get me to open up about my past life for days as we spent time on the road. I’ve been side stepping her questions, not because I am trying to be mysterious or keep a secret; it’s just too hard to talk about my past.

“There’s nothing new to learn!” I say forcibly. “Don’t you think I had already made contact with whoever took over my life?” I snapped at her and I instantly regretted it; I always worry I come off as the petulant teenager when I have angry outbursts.

A couple of hours later fate conspired against me. Between the need for gas, a bathroom and dinner, we had to stop in Baltimore.

“How about pasta?” I ask Louisa, “I know a restaurant in Little Italy if it is still in business...”

She gives me a sideways glance. “If it is still in business… so you haven’t been here in a while?”

I groan, realizing she wasn’t going to give up trying to dig into my past. I decided to come clean.
“Alright, I give. Let’s stay in Baltimore tonight, and tomorrow I’ll take you to see the old me.”

We decide to put the trip to Little Italy off until the following day and get right to a hotel; we were both looking forward to a shower.

The next morning Louisa was excited about meeting the old me. We had found a little café near the hotel for dinner the night before, and we were revisiting it for breakfast. Louisa was having coffee and a blueberry muffin; I decided to get a short stack of pancakes.

“So after all these years, is the idea of meeting yourself still strange?”

“You are going to be so disappointed.” I said taking a bite of pancake. “I thought I was doing the smart thing by showing you rather than telling you, but now that I’ve had a shower and a good night’s sleep, I’m beginning to have second thoughts.”

“Oh, you can’t change your mind now.” She says.

“I doubt you would quit digging if I don’t do this.”

“So are we going over right after breakfast?” She asks.

“I just want to stop at a florist first. I’d like to get some flowers.”

30 minutes later I parked the car near the main gate of cemetery.

Louisa is smart, she figured out why we were there quickly. “The person who became you is dead?” She was shocked.

I nodded. It had been over seven years since my old life came to an end but it still hurt like hell. My throat was tight as I fought back tears.

We get out of the car and I walk through the cemetery, heading toward a particular grave. Louisa quietly walked beside me.

“So you know I was a Police Detective on a missing person’s case when I stayed at the Trading Post Inn.”

Louisa nods. “You were looking for a man who was tricked by his wife into staying at the Inn and became a young woman.”

“Yeah, he became Stormy Myers, a stripper. Also his wife rigged it so someone of her choosing became her husband. Because of this I realized very quickly that the Inn could be manipulated, and if you set things up just right, you could get your life back.”

“Okay.” She said, following my thinking.

“Unfortunately, I was a ten year old girl. I had very limited resources before I convinced my mom I wasn’t who she thought I was. Worse, a 30 year old accountant named Bill Danvers took over my life. Everyone who goes through the curse has an adjustment period, but Bill Danvers…”

We had reached the grave and stood in silence for a moment. I laid the flowers I brought on the grave.

“Bill Danvers,” I continued, “Was thrilled to be a Police Detective. We exchanged several letters. In his letters he went on and on about how exciting it was to live my life. I guess the grass is always greener; I always thought real detective work wasn’t like anything in movies or television. I always thought real detective work took lots of patience.”

I pulled a few weeds from the ground and tossed them aside.

“Bill kept promising me he was going to make arrangements with the Inn, but he kept coming up with excuses for not getting it done. In my letters to him, I stressed that my work was dangerous, that it wasn’t a game; but he wouldn’t listen.”

I turned and looked Louisa in the eyes. I wanted her to understand how important my next words were.

“It wasn’t just my life he was playing with. I had a partner; he and the rest of my squad counted on me to know my job and have their backs. Bill didn’t understand that. One day he and my partner Mike were doing a standard door to door canvas of a neighborhood, interviewing people, looking for possible witness to a homicide that happened in a nearby park. Something went horribly wrong and both Bill and Mike ended up dead. I only know the details that were in the paper, but I can imagine what really happened; Bill didn’t have the training, the knowledge it took to do my job. It got them killed.”

“I’m so sorry Jessica.” Louisa tells me.

“It was a long time ago.”

“Thanks for sharing this with me.” She read the tombstone. “Conrad Mancini. That’s a nice name.”

The epitaph on the tombstone read “Friend, Brother, Police Officer and a man we could count on.” It made me sick to think that Bill Danvers made that not true.

Jessica

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Louisa/"Marie" - Road Trip: Day Two in New York

Darren/Jaime and New Vinny

Jessica had email when she checked yesterday morning (after I was finished using the computer to report on Friday's activities); it was from Darren, who seemed eager to meet us. He left a cell phone number, Jessica called, and then it was back into the city.

We had a late breakfast, and it was kind of a relief to see someone who had been changed by the inn who looks as uncomfortable in his or her new skin as I feel. I don't mean that as an insult, Darren - I'm not taking pleasure in your discomfort. It's just, one meets someone like Mark/Ginessa or even Ashlyn, and while on the one hand it's good to know that feeling strange won't last forever, on the other, one has to fear losing who he or she is.

Jaime's a pretty girl, and Darren is very self-conscious about it. She's another blonde, although she's got a little more meat on her bones than Vinessa has as Nicoleta. She's got nice clothes, too - even the simple cami and shorts Darren wore to meet us had designer labels. She's fairly pretty, and probably would have been extremely attractive if Darren had worn some makeup. I think, though, that not doing so was deliberate - coming to meet us was a chance to not have to play the part of Jaime.

We talked for a while; I didn't know anything about the inn that he hasn't already read here, or spoken to Arthur about. He did seem very relieved to find out that there are other transformees right here in New York; I can't say I blame him - the first time I met Jean-Michel, I felt the same way. We gave him contact information for Mark/Ginessa and Vinessa/Nicoleta, although I don't think he's really prepared for what meeting Mark might be like.

Still, I think it might do them all a little good to meet up; Darren and Vinessa share the same sense of desperation about them, and even with the language barrier, having someone to share with couldn't hurt. Maybe Darren can even use some of Jaime's connections - either at the paper or with her family - to do a little digging on Vinessa's behalf.

We opted against playing tourist for the rest of the afternoon, instead opting to take the train back to Long Island to see if knocking on Vinny DeSantis's door would yield us anything, and it did.

Nothing pleasant, though. When we got to his place, one of his roommates opened the door, and there was a smell that came out of the apartment. I nearly gagged, and gave Jessica a slightly accusing look. "Hey, I grew out of that a long, long time ago." The guy gave us at least a twice-over, and then called for Vinny.

The man was hung over, and I get the feeling that "new" Vinny wasn't particularly different from "old" Vinny, and if so, well, I kind of hope he was learning something from his experience as Sarah Hansen.

I get the feeling he may have had quite the lesson - when we showed "new" Vinny a picture of Sarah, asking if they were in contact, he said maybe that had been in contact, if you get his meaning - he and a group of his friends met her and a group of hers at a concert back during spring break, and they'd been drinking fairly heavily. Both Jessica and I disapproved of the talk of multiple partners that night, although he didn't know if he and that girl were one of the pairings.

We tried to get him to come talk to us someplace that was a little more private (and sanitary), but he didn't seem to get the message. Toward the end, I began to suspect that he wasn't quite so hung over as he appeared - he was able to deflect any questions we had about who he was before his trip to the inn. Truth be told, he never actually admitted to having been someone other than Vinny DeSantis. Afterward, I asked Jessica if maybe he really thought he was and had always been Vinny, but she said she doubted it. Sure, there had been times when she thought her previous life was something she'd just made up in her head, but it took her a couple years to get to that point.

It looks like we've found all we're going to find in New York. It seems like sort of a bust to me, but Jessica doesn't quite agree. There's something funny about Mark & Vinessa's sudden visa troubles, she thinks, and funny things like that are seldom coincidences.

Anyway, it's time to put this machine away and get back on the road. Jessica originally hails from Baltimore, so I imagine we'll be stopping there on the way to Washington, D.C.

-Louisa

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Louisa/"Marie" - Road Trip: Day One in New York (and getting there)

Meeting Her

There were a number of reasons why Jessica and I knew we had to stop in New York on our cross-country jaunt, but it wound up being first simply based upon proximity.

We had to get out of Boston first, of course. By now, you've probably read Ashlyn's description of my meeting Jessica, which covers everything important. I must admit, I wasn't entirely sure what to make of her. I've worked in a high school library for years, so even though I never had any children of my own, teenagers aren't a great mystery to me. Jessica looks like a certain group of them on the surface - the high-achievers who handle a course load of subjects that most of their parents would cringe at while somehow playing a sport each season and participating in another extracurricular activity or two... And having time to talk about the latest movies and music and having lives worth gossiping about.

I've met a lot of those kids (as you might expect, they tend to hang around the library more), but Jessica is different. She's got neither the apparent belief that she can conquer the world or the insecurity that many of those teens have. She looks like them, with the too-tight jeans and clever t-shirt, but there's a disconcerting maturity and wisdom to her. When she acts like a typical teenager - like shouting "Road Trip!" when Ashlyn suggested that she could help me search for the real Marie, it's like she's imitating her apparent peers, although maybe she's just got an acute awareness of what kind of freedom from expectations she has.

I had only expected to get some pointers or a cell phone number that I could use to ask her for help, so the idea of us traveling across the country to where she's been accepted to college in Pasadena was sort of overwhelming. It was to her mother, too - she insisted on meeting me, which seemed eminently reasonable.

The two of them have a strange relationship. "Jessica" (she hasn't told any of us the name she was born with, yet) has actually lived longer than her adopted mother, and they more like best friends than parent and child sometimes. They got out a map and plotted a route that should get us to California in time for her to start classes, even figuring in a couple of weeks for unscheduled stops. When Jessica went to move some things into her car from her mother's, though, the older woman touched my hand to signal she wanted to speak with me alone for a moment.

You have to understand, she said, I don't really believe you are who you say you are. Not you, not this Ashlyn girl... I don't feel it like I do with Jess. But she does, and I hope the two of you can find what you're looking for. After eight years, there's no way I can get my original Jessie back, but if you can find out she's okay, and safe... And make sure that the girl I've got stays safe too...

I may not have had children, but I've had friends who went into crisis about their teenagers, or had trouble letting go. I've never seen it be easy.

The Drive

Jessica drove the first leg of the trip, while I handled the map. That wasn't really necessary, as it's a trip she's made a few times before, as evidenced by her knowing exactly where to find a new classic rock station on the radio dial when the one she'd been listening to faded out. After a while we ran out of things to chat about, and I started listening to a book on tape somewhere around Hartford.

Initially, we drove around the city, figuring it would be easier to find an inexpensive motel out on Long Island than in the city. One of the people from Arthur and Ashlyn's group came from the area, too, and we thought we might have some luck interviewing his "successor". We didn't, yesterday, but we did at least find a place to stay that was near a Long Island Railroad station. After a few hours in the car, it was nice to stretch out on the beds for a couple minutes.

Jessica has all of our stops planned in a notebook, with four pairs of names written on the page for "New York": Darren Bridger/Jamie Connor - recent, but potentially well-connected, might be worth a courtesy visit at least; Mark Lange/Ginessa Lopez - Blue collar guy, Peruvian immigrant actress; Vinessa Lopez/Nicoleta Fidatov - Ginessa's cousin, also from Peru; and ????/Vinny DeSantis. Mostly from "Ashlyn" and Arthur's group, or connected somehow.

Vinessa/Nicoleta

I have never been to such a large place; before staying at the inn, I was not much of a traveler. Baton Rouge is home, and New Orleans, Boston, and Montreal are big cities themselves, but New York is somehow bigger than all of them put together. I just stared out the window of the train, gawking, as we entered the city, and then even more as we actually stepped outside the station and the buildings seemed to go on forever. I confess I'd been guilty of taking the word "skyscrapers" for granted, not understanding how literally true it was.

Jessica just sort of stood aside grinning. "It is amazing, isn't it? Pity it's full of Yankee fans."

I laughed. "As far as I'm concerned, it's just full of yankees." Then I thought of something. "So, you've gone a little native, being in New England for eight years?"

"As a lifelong Orioles fan, I can hate the Yankees just as well as anybody from Boston. Although, yeah, I have sort of started pulling for the Sox. It's easier when your hometown team is so inept. I still hate the Patriots, though. Of course, I still like the Colts, too." He let me gawk a little more, until I got sick of being shoved past, and then suggested we start looking for our fellow transformees.

The easiest name to track down had been Jaime Connor; from reading the blog we knew Darren was in Tribeca, so all we needed was the phone book. Calling his/her home phone number didn't do us much good during the day. We thought about calling the newspaper, but thought better of it. We'd sent an email to the address Ashlyn had before leaving (the one registered with Blogger), but gotten no reply.

Next up was "Nicoleta Fidatov". She, at least, was listed in the phone book, although when we called the number we were told it had been disconnected. We still had an address, though, and it wasn't much trouble to take the subway there.

Nicoleta's place was sort of on the border between a good and a bad nieghborhood, a third-story walk-up. Jessica could see a light underneath the door, so started banging. "Vinessa, we'd like to talk with you."

The door opened a crack. "How... you know that name?"

"We've been to the inn too," I said.

"Come in. Habla espanol?"

We shook our heads. I said I was afraid not.

"Ah, well." She undid the latch and indicated a couple of chairs. She's pretty in that blonde, eastern European way - a very strong jaw, but kind of skinny, though I'm sure many men would find her body perfect. "You want to sit down?"

We sat. "Your English is very good," I said. "Ashlyn gave the impression you barely spoke."

She shrugged. "I had to. I can't go home. The... new me and new Mark... were married, are again... It's very confusing."

"So... you have contact with them?"

She shook her head. "No, they live in Peru now. Her... my.. visa expired, and he followed her." She started to cry. "Now they want to deport me, but I can't go to Ukraine!"

I moved to sit next to her. "Hey, don't worry... I'm sure there's something you can do."

"I do everything! The man says... The man at INS says Nicoleta did everything, and I do everything, but someone above him... Says someone has it out for us."

Jessica took her glasses off to clean them for a second. "Us?"

Mark/Ginessa

Vinessa had laughed, and asked to use my phone. She dialed a number from memory and asked about clubbing.

I'm still not used to this body; I was quite frankly shocked to find that I was almost the same size as Nicoleta. Sure, her clothes were a little tight on my new bottom and not quite so tight up top, but these things are kind of one size fits all. I felt slightly scandalized looking at myself in the mirror, but also a little impressed; it has been a while since I've tried to dress sexily, but I remember what it was like to be a young woman trying to impress the field.

Putting on club clothes just made Jessica look even younger, and we weren't terribly surprised when the bouncer shook his head at her (Nicoleta knew him, and Vinessa had inherited the relationship). "We can only let so much slide, Nic. You know how it is."

Jessica had sort of been expecting this. "I hate being under twenty-one!" she grumbled, and said she was off to see a movie. Vinessa and I went inside.

Vinessa wasn't nearly as uncomfortable as I was; she may not speak the language that well and may have grown up on another continent, but she was young and single and knows the game. We hung around and danced a little for about an hour before we heard someone call "Nic!"

Ashlyn had described Mark as being "blue collar", but that would hardly be the word I'd use to describe the person who moved across the crowded room like she was wading in shallow water. She was petite, wearing a painted-on dress with a plunging neckline and four-inch heels. She grabbed Vinessa by the hands and air-kissed her cheek. "How are you? It's been weeks?"

"Better, maybe. This is--" She gave me an enquiring look.

"Louisa."

"Nice to meet you, Louisa. How do you know Nic?"

"We've stayed at the same inn, although nearly a year apart. It's nice to meet you, Mark."

She looked surprised, but quickly gave me a hug. "Oh, god, it's so good to meet you! Who were you before?"

"Well, the way I figure it, I'm still Louisa Torrence, even if my passport does say 'Marie Desjardins' now."

"I know what you mean... It's just like that with me!" From the way she touched her chest, with a palm resting on her breast in such a way as to flash a rather large diamond ring, I was beginning to doubt it.

She noticed me staring at the ring, and blushed. "I know, isn't it crazy? But I'm sure Nic--"

"Vinessa."

"Of course. Vinessa. I'm sorry." She turned toward me to say that she doesn't have many opportunities to use real names, so referring to Vinessa as Nicoleta is sort of habit. "Anyway, I'm sure Vinessa has told you about the INS trying to deport us. Fortunately, I had just auditioned for a play, and while the producer didn't think I was right for THAT part... Probably because I didn't have any of Ginny's training... Well, I couldn't let them send me 'back' to Peru. No offense, Vinessa."

I don't understand Spanish, but I suspect Vinessa said something about Peru being glad to let her stay here.

At about ten-thirty, my phone rang; Jessica's movie was done. I told 'Mark' and Vinessa this, and Vinessa was only too glad to get out, although Mark looked a little disappointed.

To be fair, though, she didn't sulk. We met Jessica at one of the million or so pizza places that line the streets in New York, and the former guys got on like a house on fire. Within about ten minutes they were arguing about sports, and Mark seemed to practically glow when (s)he bit into a folded-over slice.

"Mmm... That is so. Fucking. Good. Don't tell my husband, though - he is not keen on the idea of me gaining weight."

More proof that Jessica used to be a guy - she apparently did not inventory Mark's jewelry without prompting, or only registered the big old ring as a sparkly thing. Or she subconsciously couldn't believe it. "Husband? You've only been a woman, what, less than a year?"

"Just about... But circumstances... Well, you know. There was some sort of SNAFU at INS and I was looking at deportation. You do what you've got to do. It's not always so bad."

We talked a bit more, but Jessica just seemed sort of stunned. I asked if they had any contact with the original Ginessa and Nicoleta, and they said no. Vinessa looked particularly pained by that, and I felt for her - she came to look for her cousin almost a year ago, still hasn't found her, but has to put up with another person taking her face and name, while the real Ginessa could be anyone, anywhere.

We took our leave of them, after a quick stop back at Vinessa's for me to change clothes. Then it was back to the train and the hotel.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Arthur: Penny

At least the Dragons' last game was a win. Sure, it wasn't a whole lot of fun to interview a team that's going home, as opposed to the championship weekend in Rochester, but I figure there's a non-trivial difference in attitude between a team that goes 3-9 and ends on a loss and one that goes 4-8 and ends on a win.

The whole thing made for a kind of strange Saturday evening afterward, doing a wrap party with the rest of the CalSports crew. After all, even though we travel with the team and sort of root for them during the broadcast, our success as broadcasters can be considered separately from that of the team on the field, and I guess we did alright by that regard.

Seems kind of unimportant, though. I got a letter from Penelope yesterday.

Well, not from "Penelope", but from "Jeremy Boyd".

Dear Nell,

It seems strange to write those two words like that, but I'm not sure what else to call you. I hope you are well, and not finding my life too much of a drag. I would have written sooner, but as you might imagine, things were strange. Still are, I guess, but they're a type of strange I can deal with.

When R.J. and I woke up as Jeremy Boyd and Stephen Jeffries, we were both kind of in trouble. Between the time the inn closed down for the winter and when we changed, there were nearly eight months where these people simply fell off the map. Stephen, as a corporate VP who enjoyed a bit of a lavish lifestyle, managed to run up bills even while absent that took a bit of sorting out, and was actually named in a lawsuit that R.J. says is groundless, but managed to gain traction by the very fact of his absence.

For me, the situation was a little more cut and dried: Jeremy Boyd's leave ended something like a week after he changed into Arthur Milligan, so when I awoke in his body, I was facing a desertion charge. Fortunately, the Army is practical about such matters; they figure that there isn't a lot to be gained from chasing, court-martialling, and then imprisoning people who just walk away. They don't make a big deal about it, because otherwise, especially in times like today, they might lose enough people that they'd have to start doing something about it. But if you turn yourself in, you wind up with a couple of weeks in the stockade and then a dishonorable discharge, which was just about the best case scenario. I don't think I'd have backed down if the Army had decided to ship me out, but I know I wouldn't have had the necessary skills to survive very long.

I wound up back in Jeremy's hometown, still weirded out by my body, feeling vaguely ashamed even though I hadn't abandoned anything. I was set to buy a bus ticket west to confront you and "Arthur" - and I mean, not even letting my bags leave the station - but Jeremy's father met me there, gave me a serious look, and said that I should go see Daisy.

Diasy Wright had been something less than Jeremy's girlfriend; really, just someone he knew form high school that he slept with between others. The last time was just before he left for the Trading Post Inn; this time she got pregnant.

Jeremy's son - my son... He's beautiful. You can probably tell from looking in my stuff that I was never a huge girly-girl, but I've always liked kids (I used to love doing summer camps and speeches at schools). It was a difficult pregnancy for Daisy, and she doesn't have much money to begin with...

What can I say, the kid needs a dad, and I'm pretty damn certain I can do a better job than the person who actually fathered him.

So I'm Jeremy Boyd now. I've always liked a challenge, and being a better Jeremy than the man who was born to it seems like it will be a great one. I'll miss my old life, but you seem to be doing okay with it, if what I read on the internet about getting anchor work is true.

Enjoy being Penelope... Or at least find someone who will should you decide to go back to the inn.

Sincerely,

"Jeremy"


The postmark and return address were from Nashville; not a place I'd necessarily be thrilled with settling down, but then again, there's no kid there who will call me Daddy (or Mommy, as the case may be).

I sat there kind of stunned, after reading it. I'm almost in the same position as 'Lyn after Stephen had told her he was keeping her old life, although I was pretty darn close - Nell had just given me her life, like the original Ashlyn had given Jake hers, and it certainly looked like Jeremy intended to keep mine.

After a few minutes, though, I wasn't just stunned any more - I was kind of jolted. I had to do something.

I went to the closet and pulled out the set of four-inch heels I'd initially thought were totally superfluous for a girl as tall as Nell. I did my make-up, combed out my hair, and painted my nails. I found a matching skirt and jacket in the closet and unbuttoned a couple of buttons on the blouse that went with it. Then I hit the road.

When I got to the Raiders' business offices, I didn't waste any time. I asked the receptionist where Arthur Milligan's office was and then walked there like I owned the place. She called him, of course; Nell's a bit recognizable, and it's not as if a member of the media coming to talk with one of the team's public relations people was odd, especially once the pre-season had started. I walked into the office and forcefully shut the door behind me.

It was kind of difficult to keep my exposed knees from knocking, or otherwise appearing nervous. That's why the shoes, and the power suit, and everything. Tall girls intimidate a lot of guys, and a woman who stands six-foot four in heels while he's sitting down? Should be enough to cancel out the jitters I was feeling. It was slight overkill, as it turns out. It's been almost a full year since the last time I looked in my own face, and it was weird, but also easier than I'd been expecting. A year of seeing other faces in the mirror, of knowing other people that this had happened to, of changing a second time... It's left me better able to accept that faces and lives can be exchanged, and that this guy with my name isn't me.

He looked up at me with a smirk. "What took you so long?"

I crossed my arms. "If I'd come earlier, I might have wound up playing your game. I might have actually slept with you because you had something I wanted badly. I might actually have thought that by giving you something that Nell wouldn't, you'd have actually given me my life back. Because that's how it was going to go, wasn't it? And I might have been desperate enough to go for it, even though the end result would have been you snickering about how completely you'd taken my life and manhood."

"And you came here just to tell me that?"

"No." I slapped a copy of Nell's letter down on his desk in front of him, spinning it to face him under a manicured fingernail. "I came to tell you to read this. I came here to make sure you know that the woman you tricked into dealing with your shit knows more about being a man than you ever did."

I leaned forward, letting him get a whiff of perfume and lining up those open buttons up with his eyes so that he had the choice of looking me in the eye or looking at my cleavage. He didn't disappoint. "Oh, and Germy?" He looked up, just a few inches away from my face. I came in a little closer, to whisper in his ear. "No matter what that Inn does to my body, what clothes I wear, and who I fuck... Which will never, ever be you... I'm still more of a man than you're likely to ever be."

And I left, driving from the parking lot straight to the CalSports studios. I was on last night, after all.

The show went well, although people watching it may have noticed me slightly stammering at the end: "That's the Ten O'Clock Report. For all of us here at CalSports, I'm...I'm Penny Lincoln. Good night."

George caught it, at least. "I thought you hated being called 'Penny'?"

It actually felt a little good to hear him say that. "I'm trying something new," I said. "It's time."

-Art/"Penny"

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Trip / Kat - Inconvienient Timing

Seems that Jadyn and my phone picked mutually inconvenient times to work each-other against me. I lost my phone Thursday, somewhere between home and the hospital. Making it all the more difficult for anyone to contact me until yesterday when I was able to get a replacement.

I found it interesting, when I called Jadyn Sunday, that her... Jaci's computer was having problems. Normally, I'd be skeptical of such coincidental timing and figure that the apology was just Jadyn kissing my ass, to get some free tech-support.

Normally.

Maybe it's the optimist in me, but I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt and ignore my cynical gut-feeling this time. Her desire to mentor me and to rebuild any burned bridges from the past few months, did seem genuine.

Besides... it's nice to feel needed. Especially when it's *I* who am needed... not Kat. It's almost like getting to be myself for a moment.


Now if those test results from last week hurry-up... I wouldn't have to worry about my own inconvenient timing.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Jadyn / Jaci - I'm Sorry Trip.

I tried to call Trip today and he won't answer his phone for me and since he reads this blog regularly I've decided to use this to get a message to her. I've been a complete bitch to you and treated you like dirt. I'm sorry! If you need help with anything... hair, makeup, your nails, even shaving your legs...give me a call. I promise to assist you as much as I can. I'm assuming that you've read my blog and know that I've started a new job so I'll have to work around my schedule. Please call me.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Ashlyn--when Jessica met Louise

So a week ago Jessica came to town. Jess and I have talked on the phone a few times the last couple of months, and I feel like I’ve gotten to know her a little bit better. I was surprised to see her post to the blog last week—especially since she is so tight lipped about her past.

I sent her a text message after reading her post.

Ashlyn: Welcome to da blog!

Jess: THX

Ashlyn: Hey—you didn’t give your original name in the post. You just put detective.

Jess: Really? Isn’t that interesting… :P

I decided that just the way she is—friendly, outgoing—but some things she likes to keep to herself. I don’t blame her, I do the same thing myself—I’m always struggling with what I should or shouldn’t put in this blog.

Anyway, I met Jess at North Station last Friday morning. I see Jess walking up from the train. She’s attractive, with long brown hair and the bluest eyes I ever seen--partially hidden by glasses. She was wearing one of her signature t-shirts with a cartoon girl and the words ‘geek girl’ on it. We hug and she instantly hits me with “So where’s Louise?”

“I guess you read she wants to meet you.” I say.

“Well, duh.” She said in typical teenage fashion with a grin on her face.

“She has a room at the Marlowe in Cambridge. She said she ‘didn’t want to intrude’ on our plans. I tried to tell her that we didn’t have anything set in stone, that she wasn’t intruding, but I couldn’t convince her. I was thinking maybe we could dump your stuff at my place and then swing by a get her to have lunch with us.”

“Thanks for letting me crash on your couch.” She says.

“No problem—but don’t thank me yet. I have a lot of house mates, and they all keep different hours. It may be tough to get any sleep.” I tell her.

“I’m young. I’ll survive. Besides, this will be good practice for living in a dorm.”

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

We bump into Logan—one of my roommates—as we were dropping off her stuff. It seemed only right to introduce them to each other since she was going to be around for a few days.

“Hey Logan, this is my friend Jessica. She’s going to crash on our couch for a few days.”

Logan smiles, shakes her hand, and gives her a once over.

“Your friend is very pretty.” Logan says smiling at her. Jessica looked a little surprised by Logan’s straight forwardness.

I’m sure Jess could handle herself—I know she’s older than she looks or sometimes acts—but I couldn’t help but to feel a little protective of her.

“Jessica,” I say firmly, yet as friendly as I could, “Has just turned 18 is off-limits --and she is a friend of mine.”

Logan grins at me, shrugs and walks away. Jess turned a little pink. There was a little awkward silence for a while as Jess put her things away. She opened one of her bags and pulled out a folded up t-shirt.

“I bought you a gift. I thought it was funny.”

I unfold the t-shirt and it read ‘who needs brains when I’ve got these?’

I threw the t-shirt at her.



Louise was thrilled to have lunch with us. We met at the California Pizza Kitchen at the Cambridgeside Mall—it was within walking distance for all of us. When Jess and I get there, Louise was already there.

Jessica points her out. “Let me guess, Louise is the attractive dark haired woman reading the book.”

We join her at her booth, Jessica and Louise exchange handshakes.

“Is so good to meet you.” Louise tells Jessica. “I’ve always wanted to meet a real detective.”

Jessica shrugs. “That was a lifetime ago.”

“Don’t let her kid you. She still has skills—she found me with very little information from the blog.” I tell Louise.

Riiiggghhht. Like finding you was hard. I called restaurants around Cambridge asking if a busty redhead named Ashlyn worked there.” Jessica rolled her eyes.

“Still, you did it.” I insisted.

The waiter walked up and took our order. We get salads and split one pizza between the three of us.

“So you want to find the original Marie?” Jessica asked between bites. “Tell her about her Mother and give her an opportunity to get her life back?“

Louise nodded. “Yes.”

“It’s difficult to find someone who goes missing—it’s incredible difficult to find someone who wants to go missing.” Jessica states seriously. “Difficult, but not impossible.”

Louise was excited. “You have some ideas?”

“A few. I know Liz didn’t get much information from the previous Marie, but didn’t the original Ashlyn get some sort of letter from the original Jean-Michel? And if they are together…”

“I’ve talked to Jean-Michel—the new Jean-Michel—and he has no clue where the original Jean-Michel and Marie are located.” Louise interjected.

“Still, it would be nice to read that letter. “ Jessica says. “Also there are the other victims of the Inn from when Marie and Jean-Michel where there. They could give us a physical description and maybe some other leads. They are probably not as difficult to hunt down.”

“Good. That is an excellent suggestion.” Louise says.

Jessica turns to me. “Ash, has that secret admirer sent you anything lately? You haven’t mentioned him lately.”

I was a little surprised. “Um yeah. Well, He had a gap there for a while, but he did start sending me things again… I just haven’t mentioned them because—well because I’ve been keeping the gifts.” I was slightly embarrassed.

Jessica nodded. She had warned me a long time ago not to keep things from the secret admirer; I just couldn’t see what harm could come from it.

“Why do you ask?” I asked.

“The secret admirer has been sending things to Jean-Michel as well. I find that interesting. “

Jessica and Louise really seemed to bond quickly. They started discussing strategies on locating some of the Inn’s previous victims.

“It would be interesting to run down some of the more current victims of the Inn as well. The more information the clearer the overall picture. Maybe we could find out why the Inn is cursed.” Jessica added. “Maybe we could do something about the Inn.”

By the end of lunch Jessica and Louise were planning an extensive road trip. They invited me along, but I declined. Jessica was kind of surprised.

“You don’t want to come?” Jessica asked.

“Sure, I want to come. I just want to stay here more. I’m not thrilled with being a Headlight’s girl, but I am finally making money—also, things have been really good between me and Matt. I don’t what to screw that up.”

Jessica and Louise continued to plan and I began to feel like a third wheel. My phone rang, it was work, and they wanted to know if I could pick up a shift. Jessica and I were originally planning on hanging out that evening, but I could see her becoming focused on the road trip.

“Hey Jess, it’s work. They want to know if I can work tonight. Maybe you and Louise have got some things to work out tonight?”

“Yeah, go ahead. That would be great.” She tells.

I left them there, excitedly talking about the trip—it made me a little sad to be left out, but that was my choice.

--Ashlyn

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Trip / Kat - Sleeping on the job

It seems that in the past couple of months I've developed a problem that neither I nor Kat have ever encountered prior. Falling asleep in the middle of the day. Now, by itself, I wouldn't think much of it... I mean, a nice nap after a big dinner isn't too uncommon - and I'm still getting used to this body. I'd wondered if this isn't some side-effect or something of that inn's "magic" or whatever, but it seems that I'm the only one to have developed a new affliction that neither person had before.

But it seems to be getting worse. Last week, I had to stop in the middle of chores and sit down. I subsequently fell asleep. Dad was pretty angry that I was "laying down on the job" when he found me. It didn't take long for him to realize that there was a problem when I didn't wake-up right away. The family doctor thinks I have narcolepsy or something similar and referred me to see the specialists at the University of Iowa Hospitals. He was pretty sure that it had nothing to do with the fall I took back in June, since I didn't hit my head or anything, but advised me to mention it to the University doctors.

Today, mom and I get to make the long trip to the see the doctors. Mom gets to drive us there, as nobody trusts me to make the long drive without falling asleep. I know this trip will be a pain - I hate not being in control... and mom is not the best with long drives, or driving in cities. Of course, I'd rather be with mom than dad, I'm sure he's going to be worried and fussing the whole time I'm gone. It's not like I'm having major surgery and might die. But I guess, right now, he sees me as his little girl - just like my sister, and just like Kat was before our trips to the inn. In a way, it's kind of nice.

Anyhow, I get to stay overnight at the hospital, so they can do some type of tests. I've never liked going the doctor or dentist, and I feel no different even in this body. The last thing I want is to be poked and prodded. It's not as if I didn't already feel like I was on-display or anything. I would accuse myself of worrying too much... but the last time I thought myself being overly-paranoid, I wound up waking with a whole new perspective... literally. I'm sure I'm going to be so nervous that I'm not going to be able to sleep - that should make things interesting for the doctors.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Jadyn / Jaci - Happy Hump Day!

Yesterday afternoon I started my new job as a CNA at Shady Acres Nursing Home. I had a very nice girl train me. Her name was Carrie. She was very good at her job and told me that it gets easier with time. It seems so odd for me be helping someone else. I’m always looking out for number one, me. Now I’m responsible for the care of 24 people down my hall. There is a lot more to the job than just wiping butts. I’ve discovered although that is a pretty big part of the job. I have to help them get ready for bed, brush their teeth, go to the bathroom, eat, bathe, turn, you name it and I helped them do it yesterday. I was told that no matter how good of a day it is at work, it’s always, “a shitty day at the nursing home.” I found that to be a very accurate statement.

While not the ideal job I had hoped for (wiping butts is so beneath me), its really doesn't seem like it will be that bad. The people I’m working with seem to be very nice and friendly. Carrie is hilarious. She was telling jokes and made training actually enjoyable. Well….only 9 more days of orientation to go.

After work tonight Carrie and a couple of the others invited me to the bar for a drink. I went along and had my usual Captain and Coke. We played a couple games of pool together and just sat around talking until a little after midnight. Rule #1: No one talks about work. It’s a time to relax and get away from work. As everyone was getting ready to leave the bar a really hot guy came walking in. He ordered a drink and came walking my way. “Wanna play a game of pool?” he asked. I said, “Sure, I’m not quite ready to go home anyway.” We played a couple games of pool and talked. One thing led to another and I ended up bringing him home with me.

I am not usually at a loss for words but all I can say is “WOW!” He was awesome. I have no idea why a guy like that is still single. What a great way to start off “hump day!”

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Arthur: At least there's only one more week of calling losses

Writing a novel looks kind of easy. You figure out what you want to write about, come up with an outline, and then just do it. Especially when, as I'm trying to do, it's about your current line of work; there's not quite so much research to do. There's still plenty, though - a murder mystery has to be absolutely flawless in its details, or the fans will absolutely crucify you.

So, I've been spending a lot of my free time lately doing research, and feeling like I should be doing more; it seems like each new thing I discover about sports, broadcasting, crime, or any of the other things in the book makes me rewrite . I'm starting to think that if this book winds up three hundred pages long, I'll have written something like fifteen hundred, which is daunting.

Spare time is not something I've had a whole lot of lately, though. I'm doing anchor duty two nights a week, which means being around all evening for cut-ins, and working on writing my material. As much as the novel isn't my forte, apparently neither is voiceover work. George says otherwise, which is nice of him, but I don't know if the way I announce the scores and recap that no, Barry Bonds didn't hit a home run tonight is really noticeably different than what some other guy does.

The other thing is that the last couple of weeks have been away games - L.A. two weeks ago, Chicago last weekend. It was cool to go back to L.A.; I got to see Cassie again. She at least seems really excited by the book, begging to let her proofread it or something. I told her I would, and she thanked me, saying that if I got it published, it would be just about the coolest thing anyone she knows has ever done. Drew kind of gave me an eyebrow after that, since this wouldn't really be something done by someone Cassie knows, although when Cassie caught it, he said that hosting the show was pretty cool, too, wasn't it?

Drew does like coming down to L.A., though. I think he's kind of star-struck by it, having grown up in Michigan, which I'm sure is nice, don't get me wrong... But you come to San Francisco and Los Angeles, and you see things that you remember from movies and TV practically every time you turn a corner. Sometimes you'll see a movie star eating in a restaurant a few seats away, and it's like it's no big deal. He's spending about half the week there, right now, signing a few would-be actors and models to beef up R.J.'s roster.

Cassie teased me about that, but I told her I was cool with it. I was tempted to make a joke about not being used to having one guy doting on me all the time, based on Ray and Stewart, but I figured there was a good chance of her finding that really inappropriate based upon something in Nell's past.

I don't think I'd be too terribly upset if he found some new girl down in L.A., though. I get the feeling that Drew is becoming less and less interested in returning to his "real" life, so if he wants to settle into something, I guess I wouldn't blame him. Do I enjoy going out (and then going back in) with him? Yeah, we have fun, and there's no lying to it. But I won't even begin to kid myself that we're in love, or that I'm looking for anything permanent so long as I look like Nell.

-Art

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Jadyn/ Jaci - Why am I always the last one to know?

So...apparently no one felt like filling me on the fact that I may be stuck in my little sisters body forever. If Chris doesn't want his body back then Jaci can't leave it and I'm stuck as a prissy goodie goodie. God...I don't think I could deal with it. Jaci is my complete opposite. I talked to her the other day and she didn't tell me anything. Kat told Trip and I have to read about it on the freaking internet. What is up with that? Losers! Hell, Trip can't even figure out the polish on his toes.

Omg....what if Jaci wants her body back? Will I get mine back? Will Doris give me back my body? Will I be stuck in some nasty body that no one wants? Uggg...what will happen to me?

Jadyn / Jaci - Good News!

So....this Sunday I went out and partied like usual. I made the rounds of the local bars, checked out a couple of kind a cute guys and in the last bar just as I was about to give up I hit "pay dirt." He was tall just like I like them. I ended up taking him home. My sunburn still isn't completely healed, but its on the mend so I figured I'd give it a whirl besides, sunburnt or not I still have needs you know. He wasn't the best but he wasn't the worst either... just your average joe.

I had to get up early this morning for my CNA testing. The test was an hour away and I had to be checked in by 7:30a. I got up at 5a. This was nearly impossible as I am NOT a morning person. Never have been, probably never will be. I got dressed, did my hair, and make up and stopped to look in the mirror. Wow. What a difference scrubs can make. I figured I'd look stupid in them but they made me feel...well important. Like I was needed for something good.

I took off at 6 and made it to the college in Fort Dodge with about 15 minutes to spare. Got checked in and waited. First I took a "written" test. Actually it was a 100 question multiple choice test on the computer. I passed that easy. 99%. I always was book smart. Then came the skills part. I didn't do so hot having never actually practiced any of the skills but I managed to pass barely. So...here I am officially a state certified CNA now. I start work at 1:45p sharp tomorrow. Thank god that they had an opening on the 2-10 shift. I'd never survive 6-2's.

Trip / Kat - I have much to learn...

This evening, I realized that as much as I love purple... purple is "not my color"... it just looks... I don't know... wrong. The obvious red in my chestnut-colored hair and these deep-green eyes just don't work well with the purple nails. I feel like a freak.

I no sooner got sat down on the bed to take care of the problem when Kat called.

I've been getting concerned about what's going-on in her head - had I done something to make her mad at me... mad enough to ignore me. I asked her as much, she laughed lightly and told me to stop worrying so much. I told her about Frank and Dorris and their current situation of being without a body to return to, and asked her her thoughts about it. She paused for a moment and then suggested that we don't do anything... for the time being. That keeping everything as-is for now won't hurt a thing.

Again, I felt like she was less than enthusiastic to return to her own life. Tired of feeling left-out or being toyed-with, I just defaulted to my normally-blunt self and told her not to B.S. me - to tell me what was going on... what her intentions were regarding returning to the inn and her own life. The silence lingered and I thought she was going to just hang-up on me and leave me in the dark again. Then she sighed and confirmed a few of the feelings I've been having about her.

Kat told me that she hasn't been in much of a hurry to return to the inn - quite frankly, she's afraid of the place and that the return visit will turn out much worse than the first. I can't say that I blame her - and from the stories of others who have stayed there more than once, maybe Kat's fears aren't so unfounded. She also explained that she quite enjoys life as Pete, and wants to savor it as long as possible. Her wording caught me off-guard and I paused. I guess Kat was quick to sense my confusion, as was quick to point out that she can't give-up Pete's body until he wants it back. Something I hadn't thought about, and certainly not something I wanted to hear.

Kat told me that she wasn't sure why Pete was hesitating, but that it may have something to do with his brother, who seems to have no intention of making a return trip.

We really never got back to the discussion about the real Pete and his brother Chris, as my attention was jerked away to something a bit more personal and immediate. After removing the purple from my toes, I got a bit freaked-out when I discovered that my toenails were now a dark yellowish-brown. Thank God it was nothing major - just discoloration... and another girl lesson, learned.

After a quick Q & A with Kat:
  1. Purple is okay in the wintertime when "my" hair is darker... as long as I'm not going to be in a relaxed mood when "my" eyes are dark too.
  2. I need to use a base coat BEFORE I paint "my" nails, especially when using a dark color.
  3. Don't leave the dark shades on too long... like, more than a week, two at the most - or it could still stain "my" nails.
Like I said, I have much to learn. Especially since I'm going to be stuck here a bit longer than I expected. I'm just glad that Kat called and cleared up some of the fog that was enveloping my world. Too bad that I have to get up so early tomorrow, I would have loved to have talked to her longer - I really miss her, and I'm sad that she's so far away.

Which is a little odd, I guess... we really weren't that close... but now... I don't know, maybe it's just because I'm living her life now... but... oh hell, I just want to cry... I really miss her, I wish she were here right now.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Jessica--A detective story

I’ve been reading this blog for a while now, but until now I haven’t felt comfortable enough to contribute to it. My change of heart has a lot to do with the fact I turned eighteen a few days ago. Eighteen is what my driver’s license says; you wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I’m really closer to fifty. Of course I used to be male, nearly six foot and about 235 pounds also; but that was before I was cursed by the Trading Post Inn.

Eight years ago the captain of the Baltimore detective squad dropped a file on my desk. It was a missing person and possible homicide. Brad Crowley, a 32 year-old white male, had disappeared a week earlier. There was no evidence of a crime, and it was usually department policy to not put too many resources on a case like that. Nine times out of ten a person goes missing because they want to go missing; not because a crime has been committed.

Brad Crowley’s father was convinced his son would not just take off and abandon his wife and child, and was of the opinion that an investigation had to happen, and quickly. Brad Crowley’s father also happened to be one of the richer men in the state of Maryland, and friends of the Mayor of Baltimore. So I was instructed to investigate.

People have gotten so used to charging things, and they do it out of reflex. The wonderful thing about that is you can know when and where someone was just by studying their monthly statements. You would be amazed by how much detective work comes down to looking though people’s credit card and phone bills. The first thing that really jumped out at me was how much Brad Crowley was spending on flowers. He bought flowers nearly every week. This didn’t sound like the kind of man who would run out on his wife; unless the flowers were for someone else.

The Crowleys lived in the affluent part of town, in an immaculate looking three story home. Mrs. Crowley herself opened the door. “Yes? Can I help you?” She was in her mid-thirties and attractive.

I showed her my badge. “Mrs. Crowley, I am investigating the disappearance of your husband—“

She held up a hand stopping me. “He’s not missing. He’ll be back. I didn’t report him missing.”

“Mr. Crowley’s father actually reported him missing.” I tell her.

“You’re wasting your time. We had a fight, when he gets over it, he’ll come back. He always does.”

I pry information out of her for the next ten minutes. The entire time she pushed me to drop the whole matter. Eventually I thanked her for her time and turned to walk away. Before she closed the door I thought of one more question. “When was the last time Brad gave you flowers?”

Her neutral face turned into a frown. “It’s been months. It’s one of the things we argued about. Why do you ask?”

“No reason.”

Checking with the florist got me an address to a Miss Rachel Summers. She was the one who was receiving the flowers, and surprise, she was missing as well. I passed this information on to my Captain and Mr. Crowley’s father; he wasn’t that surprised, and was still determined that something was wrong.

“Brad has always had trouble keeping it in his pants, but he wound never leave without talking to me first. Never.” He insisted.

My Captain told me to keep investigating and I dug through Brad’s credit card receipts. I found a charge to an Inn in Maine: the Trading Post Inn.

I was only able to find one number for the Inn, the number for reservations. I left several messages, but no one returned my calls. Frustrated I called the local PD. I had a little more luck reaching an actual person, but they were not very forth-coming with information. Days went by without any new leads, so I decided I needed to take a trip to Maine.

The management for the Inn turned out to be in a separate building from the Inn itself. I was finally able to talk to someone and confirm that Brad Crowley and Rachel Summers had come to the Inn two weeks earlier, but had checked out. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary according to the man who acted as innkeeper. I demanded to see their room and talk to some of the other guests.

“Almost everyone has checked out already.” The innkeeper informed me. “Today is checkout, and people tend to leave early.”

There was only one guest left, an attractive young woman wearing an oversized t-shirt and shorts. The t-shirt hung on her like a tent, but even so I could tell she had a killer figure. She was eighteen or nineteen at the most. Her eyes were red from crying, and she didn’t want to talk to me.

“Miss, I’m a Detective from Balimore. I’m searching for a missing man. Would you answer some questions?”

She was still for a long time, but reluctantly nodded yes.

I took out my notepad. “What is your name?”

“S-Stormy. Stormy Myers.” She sniffled.

I pulled out a photo of Brad Crowley and showed it to her. She stared at it.

“Stormy, I’m looking for this man.”

“He’s gone.”

“Was he with a woman? When did he leave?” I ask.

She sighs and hands me back the photo. “Yes, he was with a woman. He left about a week ago.”

“Do you know where he went?”

She crossed her arms and shook her head no.

“Stormy, I need to get your contact information in case I have further questions.” I hand her my notebook and a pen. She just stares at it for a second, and then walks over to a purse and takes out a piece of paper and studies it. I look over her shoulder and the piece of paper already had her contact info; she copied it into my notebook.

“Can you put a work number as well?” I ask.

She looks at me funny. “I don’t know what it is.”

“Then just the name of the business.”

She writes something and hands me back my notebook. I look it over. “You work at ‘the Ultimate Play Pen’? Are you a dancer Stormy?”

“Apparently.” She seemed close to tears again.

I left her, and headed to room five; Brad Crowley’s room. Things about this case were already screwy at this point, but when I entered room five I had stepped right into the twilight zone. Brad’s luggage was still there in the room. Along with a letter.

The several page letter didn’t make a lot of sense. It was addressed “To the new Brad Crowley”. The note went on describing Brad’s life; it listed names of loved ones, talked about what he did for a living, where important documents were located. It read like an instruction book.

The letter was signed “The real Brad Crowley” and there was a ‘ps’ after the signature. It read “I’ll get in touch after I am settled with some contact information. I don’t know if I am going to my new life’s home or not. I have nowhere else to go.”

I put the letter in a plastic evidence bag. Could the letter be some sort of weird suicide note?
I take my time and go over the room with a careful eye. I considered asking the innkeeper to keep the room empty, but there was still no real sign of a crime. Sure, the luggage and letter was odd, but it wasn’t enough.

Stormy stuck her head in the door. “I’m leaving.” She announced.

“Thanks. If I need anything I’ll be in touch.” I say to her.

She stands there, looking at me. I get the impression she’s struggling with telling me something.

“Is there something we need to talk about?” I ask her.

She nods her head no. “Don’t stay here.” She says finally.

“Excuse me?”

“Leave here as soon as you can.” She takes her voice to a whisper. “There is something wrong with this place. It’s evil.”

I nearly laughed out loud. It was like a line out of a bad movie.

“I’ll be careful.” I assured her as she walked away.

An hour later new guests started showing up to the Inn. I walked back over to the Innkeeper’s office and told him about the luggage that was left behind.

“Happens all the time.” I was assured.

I glanced at my watch. It was a quarter after six; it was going to be a bitch trying to get back to Boston to catch a train to Balimore. Besides, I still wanted to talk to the local PD.

The innkeeper noticed me looking at my watch. “It doesn’t happen often,” The Inn keeper says to me, “But we’ve had a cancellation. I could get you an excellent rate for the night.”

“I don’t suppose I could get room five?” I ask.

“Sorry. That room has been reserved.”

I debate it. Stormy Myers face popped in my head “This place is evil.” I brushed it aside and took up the innkeeper’s offer. I could get up early, I decided, and drive back to Boston then.
By nine o’clock that night the Inn was completely full. I went out for a late dinner and was back by 10:30. I was showered and in bed by 11.

At around 2:30 am I awoke to screaming. I was alert instantly and instinctively reach for my gun. Only I never make it to my gun. The flesh on my arms is moving, flowing. To my horror my arms are shrinking—no, not just my arms—everything about me is rippling, flowing, changing and shrinking. The rules of reality had been ripped away from me and I scream; and I hear the screams of a little girl escape my mouth.

It takes a while, but eventually I collect myself. Long hair seemed to be hanging from my head. The t-shirt I wore to bed was huge on me. The bed was huge. I slide my legs off the side of the bed and my feet don’t reach the floor. I carefully slide myself off the bed and awkwardly walk over to the bathroom and turn on the light. Once adjusted to the light, my eyes confirmed what my other senses were telling me. Standing in the mirror was a cute little girl with long brown hair and big expressive blue eyes.

I found out later that I had been turned into a specific little girl. Her name was Jessica Brooks. She had gone on a trip with her best friend’s family, the Andersons, when she got caught up in the curse of the Inn. The original Jessica had been turned into someone else, and was missing.

Hours later the mystery of the disappearance of Brad Crowley was solved. Like me, the other guests of the Inn were transformed into the forms of the previous guests. The form of Brad Crowley walked out of room five. Only unlike the rest of us, he was not the least upset by what had happened; if anything he seemed pleased. This raised suspicion in me which only grew when Mrs. Crowley showed up to take her “husband” home later that morning. As ‘Brad’ was packing up to leave, I approached them.

“Mrs. Crowley.” My voice was so small and soft, I tried to sound as authoritative as I could, but it was pointless. “Mrs. Crowley, that is not your husband. “

She eyed me coldly. “Who are you?”

I turned red with embarrassment. “Believe it or not, I was the man investigating you husband’s disappearance…”

Her eyebrows raised in surprise. “The detective? You should have listened to me and stopped the investigation. Look at you now, you're adorable.” A smug grin crossed her lips. “Well I guess
you caught me. Only no one will ever believe you. It’s part of the magic of this place.”

“You know about what’s going on?” I demanded an answer. She obviously knew much more than I did about what was going on.

“I was a guest of this Inn five years ago. I’ve became the person I am today because of that stay at the Inn. I became ten years younger and much more attractive; I ‘traded up’. Since then I learned as much as I could about the Inn. When I found out Brad was having an affair I decided he needed a trip to the Inn; I like the wealth and influence of being Mrs. Crowley—I just didn’t want to be married to Brad anymore. I think I’m going to like my new husband much better. Isn’t that right dear.”

‘Brad’ beamed at her. “Absolutely.”

“And maybe the old Brad will learn to like his new life as well. I find the idea of him living the life of a stripper to be very satisfying.”

Stormy Myers. I had found Brad after all.

They gathered Brad’s things and walked out of the Inn. I considered getting my gun and stopping them; but then what was I going to do? Arrest them?

Days pass and bit by bit people started to leave the Inn to assume their new lives. When the ‘Andersons’ were ready to go I had no choice but to go with them. I eventually ended up going “home” to Jessica’s parents. As time went on I had no choice but to live Jessica’s life; but I made a promise to myself. I wasn’t going to claim this life as my own until my 18th birthday. Until then I would keep looking for a way to give Jessica life back to her, and to live as good of a life as I could. I lived by the words “If I only knew then what I know now.” I had 40 years of life experience when I became Jessica, and I was determined not to make the same mistakes I made the first time.

So I studied hard. I pushed myself and I excelled in school the second time through it. I played sports, joined clubs, made friends and tried to be the best person I could possibly be; all the while trying to locate the original Jessica and make things right.

But I’m 18 now. I may be still a teenager, but I am now also an adult.

It’s time I start living for myself.

To the original Jessica Brooks: I’m sorry I never found you.

Jessica

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