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".
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.
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."