Friday, September 28, 2007

Trip / Kat - Weekend Blues

This should be an interesting weekend. Kat called and wants to talk to me in person, she says it's important but wouldn't elaborate. I'm not sure whether this will be a good meeting or not. So I'm going to be all on-edge until Sunday afternoon now.

That probably won't help me enjoy Saturday night. Jaci is planning... OMG! I'm already thinking of her as Jaci. Oh, this is so... I don't know... I guess it's true how the Inn's curse seems to prevent everyone from believing that things aren't as they seem. I'm definitely going to have a difficult time enjoying 'Jaci's' party tomorrow night. I'll just have to remind myself that I cannot drink my worries away anymore. The last thing I need is some guy taking advantage of my self-imposed alcoholic mood enhancement and reintroducing me to the male anatomy.

Maybe I should just stay at home, lock the doors, kill the lights and turn off my phone.

I think I could use a drink right now.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Trip / Kat - Roast beef

I can't sleep. Rather ironic for a narcoleptic.

I guess I've been ignoring this blog a bit longer than I should... nothing much to write about:

Working outside in the cold rain without a jacket is still not a good thing to do, I caught a cold. It was bad enough that Mom insisted I go to the doctor. That shouldn't have been a big deal, but when they decided that it was about time for 'my' annual check-up, and that they could fit me in - well, that's a different story. It's not really as bad as I'd first thought it would be, still... it was no picnic... and not something that I really want to talk about in detail - I felt so embarrassed... still do, I guess. I'm not so sure that it's something I'd ever get used to.

Jaci's kinda' stopped talking to me again. But not anything bad - this time it's due to the fact that she's picked up a second job working at the convenience-store / gas-station a couple towns over, in Finley. She wakes up early for that job, then heads to Shady Acres - after that, she usually just crashes. I can't blame her, I'd be beat too.

As you already know, Jessica and Louisa are road-tripping to find out more about the Inn - I'm pleased that they want to stop by and visit with us up here. It's not every day that I can talk to someone who would believe my story... well, other than Jaci... and Frank... and Dorris. Anyhow, I'm all giddy about it. It's a bummer that they're delayed now. I know Jaci was planning on taking the day off to visit with them, but I don't know if she'll be able to join us now. I guess we'll figure it out after their car problems are all sorted-out. I just hope that their car problems don't come with weird, life-changing side-effects like my last car problem did.

Okay, think happy thoughts, think happy thoughts, think happy thoughts.


Well... I should probably go to the kitchen and slice some potatoes, onion, and carrots for the roast we're going to have for supper tonight. It'll be one less thing for me to have to deal with tomorrow... today... whenever.

Roast beef... that reminds me - have any of you ever seen what happens when a cow gets hit by lightning? It's not pretty. And, no, that's not where tonight's roast came from.

So much for happy thoughts. I must be losing my mind. God, periods suck.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Jessica--Stopping in Texas

Intellectually, I know my Mom really isn’t my Mom. I was turned into the duplicate of her ten-year-old daughter and was forced to live Jessica’s life. Things were difficult for both of us in the early days of my transformation. She couldn’t understand why I had gone through such a massive personality change basically overnight and I resented being treated as a child. It wasn’t her fault I was living a life I didn’t want to live, but I tended to take my frustrations out on her. What can I say? I was…childish.

My new mother had the patience of a saint and she loved me unconditionally. Eventually I started thinking of this person who took care of me, who fed, clothed and cared for my well being, as more than just the person who told me to eat my vegetables and clean my room.

A couple of years later, when whatever ‘magic’ that kept her from believing I was someone other than her daughter finally went away, and I was able to convince her I wasn’t really Jessica; her reaction was harsh. She grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me, demanding to know what I had done to her daughter. I told her my story. About how I was really a male Police detective and how a case took me to an Inn in Maine. The same Inn her daughter had visited with friends on a summer vacation. How the curse turned me into her little girl, and how I became trapped when my original body was killed in the line of duty.

She said she couldn’t stand looking at me. She said I was a reminder of what she had lost.

I ran away from home. I had the life experience of a forty year old cop so I knew living on the street was not a safe place for a little girl, but I had no place to go; I just knew I couldn’t stay there in my Mom’s house any longer.

I didn’t even make three days. Everyone notices a little girl on her own. Ironically the local cops nabbed me. My Mom was waiting for me at the police station; her eyes red from crying and worry. She hugged me. With tears in her eyes she says I thought I had lost you.

Softly, so as to not be overheard by any officers I say to her that I am not really her daughter. I’m really not Jessica.

It doesn’t matter to her. She tells me that even though I might not be Jessica, for the last two years I had been her daughter, and she had loved me all that time. Knowing the truth didn’t change how she felt about me.

From that day on I’ve thought of her as my Mom.

Louisa and I were sitting in a small café in the city of Tyler Texas when my Mom called.

“Hi Mom.”

“Hi sweetie. I hadn’t heard from you lately.”

The truth is I haven’t called her in the last week. I had been putting off our conversation. “You know how it is; Louisa and I have been busy with our road trip. We are in Tyler Texas having enchiladas and sweet iced tea. The enchiladas taste great, but they are a little greasy. ”

There was a moment of silence. I could sense her disapproval through the phone lines.

“Shouldn’t this trip be done? Shouldn’t you be in California? Are you going to be late for the start of classes?”

I was hoping to have a little small talk before we had this conversation. Oh well.

“Yeah. About that…” I imagined pulling off a band aid as quickly as I could, in theory saving some pain. I went with the conversational equivalent and talked as quickly as I could.

“I’ve decided to start classes at mid-semester. I’m taking the first semester off. This road trip has become important to me, and I think it is going to take us a few more weeks. Please don’t be mad.”

She was mad.

“I don’t know what has gotten in to you lately!” Mom let me have it through the phone. “Every since you started hanging out with these ‘people’ who say they have also been cursed—“

“They are cursed Mom. You just don’t believe it because of the magic.” I stated.

“That is so convenient for them isn’t it? How can you know if they are lying?” She asked.

“I know Mom, I can tell.”

The conversation went downhill. She wanted me to get to school, and I wanted to wait and finish the road trip. We got to screaming at each other. I had been reduced to a teenage girl arguing with her mother on the phone, and was acting the part like a natural. My Mom had the ability to bring that out of me.

I slam the phone on the table when we are done.

“She drives me crazy. She doesn’t listen to me. I try to tell her I had talked to my student advisor, and had already made arraignments with the school to start at mid-semester, but she keeps saying ‘what if you lose you scholarship?’ over and over. Urg!”

“She’s just worried about you.” Louisa tells me.

We were sitting in a booth in the small café. Our waitress came over and refilled my diet coke.

“I know. I just wish she would trust me more.”

“I don’t think it is because she doesn’t trust you. I think it has a lot to do with the fact she has already lost one daughter to circumstances beyond her control. All this conversation about the Inn probably makes her remember what she has been through. It probably makes her nervous.”

I sighed. Louisa was right. “I’ll give her a call later and try to patch things up—but I am still finishing this trip.”

Louisa nods, “Well we have a problem. The mechanic called while you were talking to your mom.”

I was having a bad day. First I have a blow up with my Mom, and now I could see by the expression on Louisa’s face she was going to give me bad news. My car had started making a funny noise just outside of Tyler. Just as we crossed the city limits the car died altogether. It was bad. Smoke started pouring out from under the hood.

“The engine has major issues. It’s going to take days. Repairs are going to be expensive too.”

“Fuck!” The car had been a High School graduation gift. It was a used car, a 2002 Ford Mustang. I hadn’t been driving it for that long, but I had already bonded with it. I love that car. Worse, expensive repairs were not in my budget; especially since I was on an extended road trip and not currently making any money.

“Don’t worry about the repairs. I’ll pay for that; but we are stuck in the area for a while.” Louisa states.

“Oh, I don’t know about making you pay.” I don’t know what else we could do, but it didn’t seem like the right thing to do.

“Don’t worry about it. I could not have hired someone to give me the kind of help you have given me to find Marie. Let me do this for you.”

Our waitress came over and sat a piece of pie in front of me. “Here you go honey; you looked like you needed it.” She was right.

We decided to rent a car and continue on to Dallas and come back a few days later. In Dallas we were going to drop in on Stephen Jefferies, the guy who took over Jake’s life.

You can’t tell where Dallas starts and where it’s surrounding cities end. Maybe that’s why the people here call it the metroplex, because it was like one monster city. We find “Jakes” company in the city of Addison, not Dallas. Apparently Addison supported many technical businesses, and a computer animation company fit right in there.

‘J&S Motion Graphics’ was a fairly impressive company. It was a stylish building with hip furniture and art. An attractive receptionist sat behind a front desk, she gave us a pleasant smile as we walked up.

“Welcome to J&S Motion Graphics. What can I do for you today?” She had a pleasant Texas twang to her voice.

“We are here to see Jake Mathews.” Louisa tells her.

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No, but I think he will want to see us. We are from the Trading Post Inn.”

“Have a seat. I’ll see if he is available.”

We find a place to sit, and Louisa looks around. “He set this entire business up in a year? No wonder our Ashlyn was so upset about what the new Jake was accomplishing with her old life. This is impressive.”

“Yes, it is.” I agreed. “She did get depressed about her old life after she did research of how ‘Jake’ was doing didn’t she.” I agreed.

“It is easy to understand. I think anyone would be upset to see some living your life better than you could—“

It was then that Jake Mathews walked in. He wasn’t what I expected. I’ve read the blog from the beginning, and my mental impression of Jake was of a common guy, a tad short and a bit over-weight. This Jake was a hair short at five foot nine, but he was in great shape, and sporting a designer suit and haircut. He looked good. He seemed mildly surprised to see us.

“I was expecting someone else when you said you were from the Trading Post Inn.”

“Ashlyn didn’t make this trip.” Louisa assumed he was referring to Ashlyn. “She has moved on with her life.”

He gives us a calculated look over. “Good for Red.”

“You didn’t give her much of a choice.” I was trying to not be antagonistic, but Ashlyn is a friend, and I had taken an instant dislike to this man.

He looks at his watch. “I’m a busy man. Why are you here?”

“Consider it an exchange of information. We are trying to learn as much about the Inn as possible. Maybe you have questions as well. We were hoping for a conversation.” Louisa says.
He hesitates, but agrees to talk with us. “Let’s go back to my office. We can have a little privacy there.”

His office was even more posh than the front entrance. It was all wood, glass and brass. It screamed high dollar.

“You’ve done incredibly well in less than a year. This company is very impressive.” I say to him.

“We put out a good product. Our on staff artists do good things.” He replies briskly. He takes a seat behind his desk, and motions for us to have a set across from him.

“I assume you have both been to the Inn?” He asks.

We both nod yes.

“Going to that Inn was the best thing that ever happened to me in 30 years.” He leaned back in his chair.

“So other than Art and Ashlyn, have you met anyone else from the Inn?” I asked him.

He took a moment to answer. “No. You guys are the first.” He answers. I got the impression he was lying.

“Red wanted her body back. Would it have been as easy as going back to the Inn for a second time?”

“Are you changing your mind? Are you going to offer Jake his body back?” I was surprised.

“Oh no. I’m very happy where I am right now.” His face expressed a smirk. “I’m thinking about the future. Sooner or later this body will get old too. I wanted to know if I could go to the Inn a second time. Pick up a younger model.”

He turned my stomach. Poor Ashlyn, a monster was living her old life.

“That wouldn’t be ethical.” Louisa states.

‘Jake’ shakes his head in annoyance. “Sure, you say that now, but I wonder what you would say in fifty years from now. Imagine being old and sick, possibly dying. You tell me you wouldn’t revisit the Inn and live another lifetime? Yeah, right.”

It took a ton of self control, but I kept the conversation civil. I wanted to learn things from this man more than I wanted to give him a piece of my mind. We talked for another ten minutes, but it became apparent we weren’t going to learn much.

It was time for plan B.

“You know, it might be a good idea for us to exchange information from time to time. Maybe I should give you my contact information.”

He brought out a day planner and wrote our information into it.

“I also have some pages on the Inn I would be willing to share with you. You could make copies.” I flashed a fairly thick folder in front of him. He was interested.

I handed him the pages and he started to call the receptionist in to take the pages and make copies.

“Are you comfortable with her seeing this stuff? I just think the fewer people who know about the Inn the better.”

He hesitated; I could tell he was uncomfortable with the idea of leaving us in his office alone.

“We could wait out front. I think this meeting is about done. Do you have anything else to ask Louisa?”

She nodded no.

We all headed out. I was hoping he wouldn’t notice I had purposely forgotten my purse.

We take our seats again in reception, and the moment ‘Jake” walked away I whispered to Louisa “Ask for directions to the hotel. Get her to google it. Be very confused.”

Louisa didn’t waste any time. Very quickly the two of them were in a deep discussion about the local highways.

“Omigosh!” I jump up. “I left my purse. I’ll just go get it.” The receptionist offered to go get it for me, but I was halfway down the hall.

I knew there were about sixty pieces of paper in the folder I had given Jake. I was hoping it would take a few minutes to copy all that. I walk into his office and close the door behind me. I grab my purse and pull out my cell phone. You gotta love these cell phones these days. My favorite non-phone feature? The camera. I grab the day planner and as quickly as I could took pictures of as many pages as I felt comfortable. I focused on the contact information pages.
A few minutes later I rejoin Louisa in the reception area. They were still discussing the best way to get to the hotel.

Not too much later ‘Jake’ returned with my folder and we shook hands and said our goodbyes.

“If you learn anything else, please share it with me.” He says as we leave.

“I’m all about exchanging information.” I tell him.

As we walk to the car, Louisa stopped me. “What did you do?”

“I didn’t believe him when he said he hadn’t met anyone else from the Inn. I got a copy of his address book. If he does know someone else from the Inn, maybe we will get lucky and he had their contact information.”

Louisa shakes her head in disbelief. “You are so cunning.”

“I prefer sneaky.” I couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel and start going through the names I photographed.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Ashlyn--A reply to Darren

Darren/Jaime wrote this:

A year later he can’t wait to jump into bed and blow a guy! What the hell is this! Jake; whoever you are, you really want to be a chick? What about your family… your life? All it takes is a year to convince yourself that “I more or less like who I am now.” It sounded like you had a good life so why do you need a “fresh start”? Do you just give up? You’ve got to keep fighting and tell yourself you’ll get through this! Despite the despair I’ve felt I’ve kept myself going by knowing that I’ll get my life back. I’m certain of it.

Dude, I hope you get your old life back. No one should have their lives stolen from them.

But that’s not going to happen for me. I’m going to be Ashlyn for the rest of my life. Do I want to be a chick? It doesn’t matter—I am a chick. There is no choice for me. I decided that instead of clinging to flase hope that maybe Stephen would do the right thing and give me my life back; I would instead move forward with my life. Sure, it's the life of a woman--but after a while I decided that wasn't such a bad thing. Today--probably because I am on an emotional high because of my relationship with Matt--I'm happy to be a woman.

I was amused by what Art wrote in his comment to your post about forcing Jeremy back to the Inn. When I first found out that Stephen wasn’t going to give me my life back I swear I sat around and day dreamed scenarios in which I forced him back to the Inn. My favorite idea involved borrowing some thug help from Jean-Michel and kidnapping “Jake” and tying him to a bed. I had even imagined Stephen would be changed into some wanted criminal and as he awoke to his new life I would say, “You better start running now, I’ve already called the police.” The idea still appeals to me.

Sometimes when I am hanging with Art, Jessica or Louisa, and I show up in a little skirt and a top that shows a ton of cleavage, I notice the raised eyebrows on their face. I think I know what they are thinking: “Dude you sure have adapted fast.” And that’s okay, I did adapt quickly. I had a pretty decent life as Jake, but I was really lacking in the personal relationships department. Sure I had a cool job, but it forced me to work alone in my apartment for days at a time—worse, meeting people and making friends as Jake was always a struggle for me. Most of my friends were people I talked to online. I had even become friends with Art online. I had never met him in person until we met at the Trading Post Inn. I know it’s shallow, but it is so easy to make friends as Ashlyn. Not to sound vain—which I am—but being attractive has it’s bonuses. I love the attention being Ashlyn brings—everyone wants to know me and spend time with me. I love it, and I think it has made it easy to adapt to my new life.

Right now you are relatively new to being cursed and being female. Everything is scary and awkward and you are going to bed every night praying you’ll wake up as your old self. But after a while slipping on a pair of panties isn’t such a big deal—or wearing a bra—or having a period. It goes from being an “ohmigod” moment to just being a part of life. I have an appointment with my gynecologist next week—it will be my first time. When Ashlyn’s first appointment came up I cancelled it. I couldn’t imagine going. This time I am a little nervous, but I am going—it’s just a part of being a woman. Besides, I need a new prescription for my birth control—which is also just a part of being a woman.

I know it seems impossible to you right now—but given enough time, you too will adjust to being Jaime. There is nothing wrong with adapting—what’s the alternative? Living like a hermit for the rest of your life?


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Trip / Kat - Twisted

After getting back from Nicole's little road-trip adventure, I was feeling a bit uncomfortable about things from my current point-of-view.

Nicole has always been a looker - she's one of those girls who is always making the boys' heads turn. Even though she's quite a bit younger than I was - she had that effect on me - HAD, that effect - even when I tried to think of her in a sexual manner, I found it very difficult to feel turned-on. I don't know if it's because I'm getting used to looking at my own naked female body, or if it has something to do with my being someone else now. Maybe it's the fact that I've tried to condition myself with shame and guilt every time I started to feel aroused when looking at my own naked body... my cousin's naked body.

I didn't put much thought into the issue - I mean, I'm still wary of any intimate contact... I just don't see this as being my body.

But then... I caught a glimpse of Bill after he lost his trunks in the lake. The feeling was a bit different, but much the same as I remember it... I had to have turned a thousand shades of red when I realized that Bill caught me staring. He seemed to be a gentleman about it, and he never said a word about it... though I'm pretty sure it helped ease his flirting along. Every time he brushed against me, or grabbed my hand to help me up, or put his hand in the small of my back... My God, I thought I was going to melt! I was so damn confused... and scared, I wanted to go home and hide - but it felt so nice, too, that I didn't want it to end.

I had to know, was this just some residual feeling that I had from when Kat and Bill dated... or was this all me... well, the new me, anyhow.

So, my cousin Anna and I went clubbing - and that seemed to confirm that I am still much more interested in members of the opposite sex. Just that now, that means men. I'm not really sure I'm too happy with that... even though my body seems quite eager.

Although, I'm fairly curious as to what sex might feel like from this perspective - I'm certainly in NO hurry to act on anything and find out for real - that's for sure.

I guess I no-longer have any idea what that makes my sexual orientation now... besides twisted.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Louisa/"Marie": Home, such as it is

Jo-Jo/Jane: Missing in action

New Orleans is still a work in progress after two years, sad to say. Ashlyn said that one of the people from her group had wound up there, but he/she seems to have disappeared even more thoroughly than the rest. Josiah Johnson was a professional basketball player nearing the end of his career when he came to the inn; he had left with the identity of a college student named Jane Collins. Pretty much par for the course for that group, especially the fact that he/she stopped posting to the blog soon after the transformation.

What wasn't normal was that he had apparently deleted his posts when he stopped. Nobody realized this at first; we had stopped for the night and were looking to do some research, to brush up on our knowledge of "Jo-Jo"/Jane before knocking on his door, only to find that all his posts were gone. Ashlyn happened to be online at the time and Jessica sent her a message about this, and she said she would look into it. A few minutes later, she said she couldn't find any trace of the messages - with a couple of side comments about how he had always kept a backup for work but never thought to do so for this - and didn't like it. She was trying to find a way in Blogger to keep messages from being deleted from now on, or at least only deleted by someone with admin right like herself or Arthur, because she didn't like the idea of their history being rewritten or papered over like that.

This sent Jessica into full-on Nancy Drew mode (although she has resisted every effort for me to make that nickname stick; besides, she will say in teen-girl-iest voice, Veronica Mars is way cooler). We spent our first day in New Orleans on the Tulane campus, with Jess pretending to be everything from a high-schooler on a campus visit to a friend of Jane's from "home" trying to find her. We eventually found out she dropped out after her first semester.

We weren't sure what that meant, at first. I supposed that it might be like this for a lot of transformees - you wind up in someone else's life, go along with it for a few months, and then decide that the way it's set up just isn't for you. Jane had been a communications major and Josiah an athlete, and while Arthur has been getting a first-hand look at how the two can go together, maybe that wasn't something Josiah was looking to investigate.

Jess wasn't so sure. "There's something going on here. I thought it was just a cursed inn, but when you throw people into the mix... Look at what Jeremy Boyd did to Art and Nell, that bogus FBI agent, Ashlyn's stalker... People use this thing, and Josiah Johnson could be in trouble."

The Other Josiah Johnson

The person who became Josiah Johnson was also in New Orleans; the original had had some business interests there - investments in two or three restaurants. After an embarrassing attempt to play in the NBA after the curse - the new Johnson was released by three different teams before calling it quits, he relocated down here, in part to be close to the original Johnson, in case he needed help living the life.

Before the change, he'd been a waiter in Lewiston, Maine; he kind of liked being a part-owner of a couple places. He's also extremely good-looking; I haven't felt this attracted to someone since I was a much younger woman. I guess it showed; Jessica was smirking at me the whole time.

Still, he didn't seem interested in me; he's probably acquired a girlfriend by now, anyway - a handsome former pro athlete in his mid-thirties with a little money stashed away is going to just trip over them. It took me a little off-guard, though, I must admit - in my old life, I was past that sort of fire. I had settled down, and my body had changed the way it does for women of a certain age. That men would look at me like that is strange; that I would find myself looking at them the same way seemed even more shocking.

He seemed to be a nice guy. He's shifted a lot of the investments he inherited from the original Josiah to New Orleans, saying that he fell in love with the city on first sight. Besides, it's not as if he actually earned the money his predecessor had left him with, so if he loses his shirt - well, easy come, easy go.

It didn't take long for Jessica to ask about the original Josiah, and he looked a bit nervous for a minute. "Jo doesn't want anybody following her. She's... She's trying to start from scratch."

Jessica looked skeptical. "She didn't want her life back?"

"She did, but... Look, she wasn't doing well in school, and then I was embarrassing her on the court, and I was screwing up things with the ex-wife. It was a bad situation either way you looked at it."

I remarked that the best thing to do in that situation was probably to cut all ties, but he shook his head.

"Maybe it would be, but... They had a kid, about three years old now. Anyway, since I'm paying a bunch of child support, I've got a say in who gets hired as a nanny. That was Jo's idea, not mine, but I guess it's working out. When I saw her on a visit in February, she said she didn't want to switch back - she likes being with her little boy too much."

Ah. Well, Jess asks, where are they...?

Josiah says he could tell us or we could probably find out on our own, but she wants to be left alone. If every other lead we have runs dry, call him back, but doesn't Jo deserve her privacy?

I guess she does, and Jess agrees reluctantly. I don't think she's completely ruled out foul play, but she seems to believe Josiah's story can be true.

Baton Rouge

As it was with Jessica, the first place we stopped in my home town was the cemetery. I felt very strange standing at Frank's grave. I missed him, certainly, but I didn't feel the great emptiness in my heart that I had when I came to visit him just a few months earlier. I told him I wish we had gone to the inn together, a year earlier, so that we could have this second youth and adventure together. Of course, with our luck, we probably would have wound up brother and sister (and the wrong ones, at that!), and Frank would have felt terrible about someone else inheriting his cancer.

Jessica had stood with me at first, but retreated after a few minutes to give me some privacy. She asked if I was okay when I came back to the car.

"I'm not sure. This trip, that man back in New Orleans... I'm starting to feel young again, like I don't belong with him. I'm not sure I like it."

"Yeah, I know. Let's see what we can do about making things right for you."

The school year had started, so we spent the day wandering around the city. I showed Jess some of my favorite places, told her how the neighborhoods had changed, and the like. It's kind of fun to be a tourist in your home town. We had an early dinner at a place Frank and I had always gone on special occasions. I did find, much like on our previous stop, that this body isn't really adapted to Cajun cuisine; it seemed to stick in my chest more than it ever had before I changed.

The new Louisa wasn't home afterwards, so we checked ourselves into a hotel and waited for the next day. We repeated this a few times, and I cursed the fact that I had never invested in a cell phone or an answering machine. Jessica was surprised by that, but what can I say; we were old and set in our ways and they always seemed like luxuries.

Yesterday, we finally stopped by the school. Jess made a few comments about how she couldn't seem to get away from those places. It's not the greatest neighborhood, so we had to get past a guard with a story about how I was Jessica's aunt and her parents had died and we were moving into the area and wanted to look around before we decided on public or private schools. It got us in, and we headed to the library.

Seeing yourself is shocking. I don't know how twins manage to take it in stride, because seeing someone who looked just like I did - or I was supposed to - made me almost faint. Not a bad thing, all in all, since it drew her over to us.

She asked if she could help. Well, I said, maybe I can help her. My name is legally Marie Desjardins, but before I stayed in room nine of the Trading Post Inn...

It's amazing how pleased she was to meet me - she shook my hand, said it was an honor, complimented my taste in music and clothes, and told me all my friends were wonderful. Some of the other people in her group had gotten into terrible situations, but I appeared to be living a good life.

I told her she seemed to be doing fairly well by it; she seemed cheerful and had a sparkle in her eye. I was afraid I hadn't been like that for a couple years before my visit. "Well," she said, "I suppose it's because..." A student walked up, and we agreed to talk after school.

We went to a different restaurant after she finished work. "This is going to sound strange," she said as we we waited for salads, "but I was a man before, and it had never felt right. I ran across the Trading Post Inn blog while looking for something else, but once I found it, and then found it was a real place and tracked down a phone number..."

Jessica couldn't believe it. "You did this on purpose? Are you crazy? Aside from not knowing how things would turn out, you're looking at a life of lying to everybody you meet unless you choose to burden them with this at some moment that is life-changing for another reason. And, you left someone else with all your problems!"

She got defensive. "I was living a lie anyway! You have no idea--"

"Ladies!" The two lowered their voices and looked at me. "I think you'll find..." I stopped, and made a gesture to indicate I didn't know her real name.


"Right. I think you'll find, Dylan, that Jessica and I have some idea of how it feels not to have the body you think you should."

She looked suitably chastised. "Yes, ma'am."

"I don't think you need to call me ma'am."

"Sorry, it's just that I was taught to respect my elders, and I know you..."

The look on Jessica's face became a different kind of horror. "Dylan... How old are you? Not your physical age, but how long have you lived?"

"Twenty-eight years next February."

"My God... Dylan, we have to make reservations for next spring. If I stay there, then you stay in the same room, and then I stay there again..."


Jessica couldn't believe it. "What do you mean, 'no'?"

"I've been reading the blog - I know it didn't work out for Arthur Milligan and Drew Dawson. Besides..."

"Besides what?"

"It's easy for me to be a mature widow. This life is straightforward. I'm not sure that becoming Marie, dealing with men... I'm not sure that's right for me. I didn't get the chance to grow up learning how like you did, Jessica. This... this is right for me."

Now it was my turn to act astonished. "But you doubled your age overnight. You've missed so much..."

"It's worth it."

Dinner was quiet after that. We gave her our phone numbers and email addresses in case she changed her mind, and then headed back to the hotel. While I drove (her car, but I know the streets of this city), she asked if I was okay.

"I don't know. Unless she comes to her senses, I'm going to live another whole lifetime. If I meet Frank again in Heaven, will it be as Louisa or Marie? Will I find another Frank? And how can I live with myself knowing that Dylan has done... this."

"You just start over, live the best life you can."

"But, just putting Frank in the past like that... I know you don't like to talk about your old life, Jess, but is there someone like Frank for Conrad Mancini?"

I was parking the car as I said it, and she just sat there for a moment after I killed the engine. "You're right," she said, "I don't like talking about my old life." Then she got out of the car.

I guess you really can't go home again. I think I'll be glad to leave this place behind for a while. The next stop is Dallas, to check on what Stephen Jeffries is making of Ashlyn's former life. And then, after that, we'll probably be heading straight across the country to get Jessica to school; it must be just about time for her to start classes.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ashlyn--One year later

If you’ve been reading this blog since it was started, you might have realized that a year has passed since I’ve was first turned into Ashlyn. I think back on those first few days, and I remember being horrified and afraid. I also thought my life was over, I couldn’t imagine living my life as the attractive, busty redhead in the mirror.

God, what a difference a year makes. I been thinking about my life lately because I knew the anniversary of becoming a victim of the Inn had passed and I have come to a shocking conclusion: I more or less like who I am now. Oh sure, I’m not too proud that my work involves wearing a tight tank top and shorts—but for the most part I am happy. I have friends, family, and an ongoing relationship with Matt—all these things make me happy.

The one good thing about being changed into another person? It’s a fresh start. I might have picked up a few bills and my college degree is gone—but this experience has shown me that I had significant gaps in my old life as Jake: I worked all the damn time and my personal life suffered. As Ashlyn I have the opposite problem, but I think with time I can find a better balance.

So a week ago I decided to give Art a call and make note of our one year anniversary. I was a little hesitant because he had recently confronted Jeremy about stealing his life, and I thought a call about the anniversary might prove to be a painful reminder of what he had lost. I finally decided to make the call—if I hadn’t called the anniversary was still going to happen; at least by reaching out I was reminding him that he was not alone.

“Lynn?” Art must have seen my number on the caller ID.

“Hi Art. Did I call at a bad time?” I ask.

“No, this is great. I just finished my workout.”

“Ugh. I haven’t worked out in a couple of days. I need a little gym time myself.”

“So what’s up?” Art asked.

“Well… we haven’t talked in a while. I thought we should catch up.” I didn’t want to jump right into the fact that our anniversary had come up—but Art is too smart.

“Oh? And the fact that we lost our old lives a year ago has nothing to do with it?”

“Well, maybe.” I admitted.

“Yeah, I’ve been meaning to call you too.” He admitted as well.

“How are you doing?” I didn’t actually say the words ‘how are you doing now that you know you are not getting your old life back’—but Art understood the question.

I could hear Art sighing over the phone. “I’m okay. It was a little rough after I confronted Jeremy.”

“I remember when I talked to Stephen (the guy who is now Jake). It was hard.” I tell him.

“No offense Lynn, but it didn’t seem that difficult for you. You really took to playing the role of Ashlyn.” There was a little bitterness in the way he said it.

I decided to not to let it bother me. “So have you thought about what you are going to do?”
“What do you mean?”

“Do you plan to stay Penny or are you going to take another trip to the Inn?” I persisted.
“I’m staying as Penny—for now. I don’t know if I have a choice; going back to the Inn and getting some random life seems like a really bad idea.”

I could tell he—she?—was upset, so I was careful asking my next question. “So, would you prefer I call you Penny or Art?”

“Let’s stick to Art when it’s just us, okay? It would be nice to hear my real name from time to time. Tell me about you and Matt. How is that going?” He was taking the focus of the conversation off of himself.

“I have big news.” I say—and I tell him a little story:

I don’t take as many gigs from the radio station these days, my work as a Headlight’s girl keeps me busy enough—but ever so often a job sounds like fun. The ‘End of Summer Bash’ was one of those gigs that sounded like it would be more fun than work. The job was pretty much like all the jobs I’ve done for the radio station—be eye candy and talk to people. Only that night, because it was a ‘summer’ theme, I had to do it in a tiny green bikini. Wearing next to nothing in public really isn’t a problem for me—I still suffer from a need to be the center of attention.

I was also able to score some free tickets for Matt and few of his friends. I was a little hesitant about having Matt there—after all, what I was really doing is being paid to flirt—but Matt has been to Headlight’s a few times now, and gets the fact that I have to pretend to flirt.
The bash was a blast. Like every other gig I worked for the radio station, about halfway through the party the guy in charge of the promotion girls told us to ‘go and have fun, enjoy the party’. So I found Matt in the crowd and dragged him to the dance floor.

“You haven’t been bored?” I asked him.

“I’m having a great time.” He grins. He points to a group of guys wearing Red Sox jerseys, which were standing off to one side of the room. “I bet some of those guys I would get lucky with the red head in the green bikini.”

I closed the distance between us, pressing my body into his. I liked being close to him—and he smelled nice. “Oh, you think you are getting lucky, huh?”

“I’m hoping.” He leans down and kisses me.

I wrap my arms around his neck and return the kiss. I put a little something extra into it in case Matt’s new friends were watching.

We dance, we drink, and we hang out with Matt’s friends—by midnight I was slightly drunk and Matt had me laughing so hard I nearly peed myself. He does this thing where he tells dirty jokes in a ‘Donald Duck’ voice and it really gets me giggling—of course being drunk helps.

Eventually, it was time to go. I slipped a t-shirt and shorts over the bikini and Matt and I took a cab home—or at least most of the way home. When we got to the Charles River near MIT, Matt asked the driver to pull over. “It’s a beautiful night. Let’s walk the rest of the way home.”

So we walked along the river.

I wasn’t born a girl; or even like Jessica, I wasn’t raised as a girl—so I don’t think I necessarily react like a real woman would in every situation. For example, I don’t get mushy over flowers. Every so often Matt brings me flowers—I appreciate his thoughtfulness, but that is about it. So I found myself surprised that I was being affected by the romantic setting of walking home by the river. It was a full moon, and there were still boats on the river—it was a beautiful scene. We stopped and watched the river for a while. Matt stood behind me, close, with his arms wrapped around me. He starts kissing me on the neck and then gently spins me around—finding my lips. We stay like that for a while.

He breaks off the kiss but he keeps his face close to mine; his eyes were locked in on my eyes.
“I love you Ash.”

We had been dating for about half a year now. The ‘relationship’ has been fun and lighthearted, and there has been lots of sex—but neither of us had used the L word yet. I was stunned. It was like his words were a physical thing and they hit me with enough force to take my breath away. I felt light headed and dizzy. I just stared at him for a moment. He smiled back.
To be honest, when I said the words I didn’t know how I felt. I was overwhelmed and a little drunk; but when I said “I love you too.” It felt so right. I couldn’t remember the last time I was so happy.

We kiss again, and this time I broke off the kiss. “Take me home. Make love to me.”

We didn’t waste any time getting home. As soon as we stepped in the door Matt pulls the t-shirt off me and hungrily kissed me. I ended up being pressed against the wall, my bikini top finding its way to the floor. He was flicking one of my nipples with his tongue when I decided I wanted to do something special for him.

“Whoa. Slow down.” I say to him. “I want you to take a shower.” I touch his crotch through his pants. “I want you to take special care and wash this thing well.” I give him a look—I hope it looked seductive. “I have something special in mind. Something you’ve been wanting for a while.”

He practically ran to the bathroom.

I took the opportunity to slip off the bikini bottoms. I stay over at Matt’s place fairly often, so I had some clothes there—including some lingerie. I put slipped on a black baby doll top and no panties. I touched up my makeup and redid my hair then climbed on top of the bed a waited—I’m glad I didn’t have to wait long, I might have lost my nerve. Matt appeared in the doorway, still slightly wet from his shower, a towel wrapped around him.

“You look beautiful.” He says to me.

“You look beautiful too.” I still catch myself checking out other women, but in the last year I’ve grown to appreciate the male form—and Matt had a great form. He’s all washboard abs, broad chest and shoulders. I give him a smile. “Lose the towel and come to bed.”

To me, sex is a lot like a couple dancing. It can be passionate and physical like dancing. You are holding someone close, and you are trying to communicate things to your partner with your body. Also like couple dancing, someone leads and someone follows. Generally the woman follows the man’s lead—and I’ve grown to accept that—more than accept—sometimes I like being the submissive one in bed. I don’t think that makes me a weak person. I think it makes me brave that I can trust my lover.

But other times I still like to lead. This was one of those times.

“Lie back on the bed.” I tell him.

I was sitting next to him on the bed, and I leaned over and started kissing his chest.
Slowly, I started moving down.

Matt has been trying to convince me to give him a blowjob for a couple of months now. I hadn’t intended to give into him any time soon—but when he told me he loved me, he made me so incredibly happy—so happy I wanted to do something special for him. I decided if he was freshly showered, maybe—maybe—I could give my lover oral sex.

I ran my tongue down his shaft and he groaned in pleasure.

“Tell me when you are close.” I say to him.

I lean forward, sliding his dick between my lips. I do my best—it was my first blowjob on the giving end. Matt didn’t seem to notice that I was a novice. He was making all sorts of happy sounds. Soon he announced “Oh baby, I’m close.”

I quickly spat him out and physically climbed on top of him—lowering myself on his member. We both gasped as he entered me. I raise and lower myself once or twice—and that’s all it took. He groans in pleasure.

“That was incredible.” He tells me.

I lean down a kiss him. “As soon as you are ready—your girl has needs.”

“I see what I can do.” He says.

We make love again a little later. This time it was me crying out in pleasure.

“The next morning he suggested we move in together.” I tell Art. “I told him I would think about it.”

“Wow.” Art sounded a little stunned by my story.

“Yeah. Moving in together is the first step to a whole sequence of events and decisions. The next logical step is getting engaged. Then there is marriage…and then kids. I have a hard time seeing myself as someone’s wife—or mother. Oh my god! I can’t possibly give birth.”

I think Art sensed I was going off the deep end. “Hey, I think it is great that you and Matt are doing so well; but I think you are jumping the gun on worry about everything else. Take it slow—things will work themselves out.”

“I know—it just this is all new to me.” I say.

There is a moment of awkward silence and I could sense Art was a little uncomfortable with the direction the conversation had taken. I decided to change the subject again.

“So, tell me about this Maxim photo shoot.”

Art groaned, but we talked about it anyway. We talked for the next hour, catching up on everything. It was good to talk.

Trip / Kat - Far Away

A few weeks ago, Nicole, one of Kat's classmates, stopped by to chat after hearing about my recent trip to the hospital. While we were chatting about that and other recent goings-on, she picked-up on my being a bit disinterested from the local news/gossip. She mentioned how it seemed that since Jaci & I... Jaci & Kat returned from our adventure "out East", that we've both changed... that it's almost as if we're new people. Her observation shook me a bit - I mean, that's not supposed to happen... people aren't supposed to be able to tell that there was a change, right?

I just shrugged my shoulders and told her that I was thinking the same thing... that I felt different and that I was having a bit of a tough time trying to decide who I was, who I wanted to be, and what it was that I wanted to do with my life. I conveniently left out all the weird stuff and just how much of a change I've been... and still am going through. She nodded her head and a moment of silence passed as she seemed to ponder on something.

I wasn't quite sure if I'd passed or failed some test of hers, or what thoughts her mind was processing - but I didn't have long to wait. Seconds later, she came out with what was likely the reason she stopped by in the first place - to invite me along as a replacement fourth person on an Canada/Alaska adventure with her, her brother Bill and her boyfriend Greg. As I understood it, Bill and his girlfriend were having some "issues". The idea of joining them was something that felt very much outside of my comfort level. If I was myself, I'd have jumped at the chance to go - but being in this non-outdoorsy body, on what should be a double-date type of adventure, with a guy that "I" have a history with (Kat and Bill dated a few years back)... I didn't have a good feeling about it. I'm still getting used to this new reality, and this body...

I told Nicole that I would have to see if dad could spare being without me for a month - knowing full-well that he'd veto the idea. Harvest time is fast approaching, we have to ready the equipment and bins... that and the idea of Kat being so far away and in the company of boys... there's no way he's going to go for it.

I was wrong.

I got back last night. I'm not sure if I found any answers to who I am, or what my future holds... save one thing. I'm pretty sure that my partner-preference is still hetero... just that I'm on the other side of the fence in this body.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Arthur/Penny: Parental (and other) Guidance

I've kind of been waffling about the Maxim pictorial thing, which is annoying Drew a bit. I don't really blame him; I'm not totally in a position to be picky about what I take and don't take, and this would set me up for bigger and better things.

Part of the problem, of course, is that I'm not sure I should be going on to bigger, better, newer things. I've been Penny for three and a half months now, but a part of my brain is still in Liz mode, trying to keep things as steady as possible even though I know that the proper owner of the life I'm living isn't going to take it back.

I am grateful that Louisa and Jessica checked up on Nell. If they really think she's happy with her new life, or at least committed to it, it does let me act with less worry over whether or not I'm letting someone down. Which, of course, is a big-time double-edged sword.

I've talked to a few people about the potential photo shoot. Perhaps the oddest was Nell's father. He was in town for a few days about a week and a half ago, and gave his little girl a call. I got my first hint that Nell and her father had what looks like a good relationship when her - my - cell phone displayed "Daddy" and played a cheery custom ringtone for his call.

I didn't quite know how to respond to that. In my old life, I was estranged from my father, to the point where I honestly figured my next encounter with him would be his funeral. It turns out that things worked out pretty close to the opposite way with Nell - she and her father are fairly close, but she doesn't have much to do with her mother. Weird.

Anyway, we arranged to meet up while he was in town for a convention. Nice enough guy, although I wouldn't be surprised to find that the birthday of his second wife is something like one day earlier than the midway point between his birthday and Nell's, so that no-one can say that she's closer to his daughter's age than his (although, to be fair, many men wouldn't care about that distinction). He seems very proud of what his daughter has been doing.

I mentioned the potential photo shoot to him, and his first response was a joking "well, I guess you've ruined those magazines for me forever", to which Sandy responded by giving me a high-five. After that, though, he said that I shouldn't worry about embarrassing him; he's already made his peace with the idea that total strangers will be looking at his Nelly like that from the volleyball and the TV work.

It was Sandy who said it sounded like I was trying to find a reason not to do it, which I suppose is something close to true, although not for the reason she suspects. So when Lyn called me to celebrate - or, at least, mark - our having spent one year as women, I figured I'd let her try to talk me into it.

She didn't give me the hard sell, but she did ask me if I'd fret so much about playing pro basketball if I'd wound up swapped into someone tall and athletic (that is to say, a tall and athletic man). I mentioned that I suck at the sport, and she said I was missing the point - that are physical forms are a resource, and that we shouldn't be afraid of using them as such just because of the weird way we came by them.

I've also tried calling Cassie in L.A.; I figured that maybe she'll let something slip ("Really? You always hated girls who did that!"). Nothing quite so direct, though. She said she didn't think she would, but that then again, she hadn't turned pro or gone into broadcasting; she liked her anonymity. - or at least, liked having more anonymity than having pictures of her in her underwear printed, downloaded, used as a screensaver or taped to the inside of someone's locker door would provide.

That's a pretty compelling argument, I think. If this is going to be my life, then I think I can live it without that. Drew should just be getting into R.J.'s office right now, so I think it's time to call him with the decision.

-Art (aka Penny)

Monday, September 03, 2007

Louisa/"Marie": Nashville

I was glad to stay in Nashville for the holiday weekend; the next logical destination for us is my home state of Louisiana, and I found that I was not anxious to be there during the ceremonies marking the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I had family in New Orleans - a few cousins - but I can't visit them as I am. Arthur had sent us a request to check in on the former occupant of his/her body, and it seemed like as good an idea as any for a diversion.

Finding "Jeremy Boyd" wasn't difficult - Arthur had sent us the address on the letter from a few weeks ago. Both Jessica and I felt a bit awkward about the approach, though. If you don't know anything about the Trading Post Inn's curse, but do know Jeremy Boyd's history, what would you think of two young women from out of town looking for him, especially considering he had disappeared for pretty much Daisy's entire pregnancy? It would, naturally, look suspicious.

We tried to think of a logical story all the way from Washington to Nashville, which wouldn't contradict anything Nell had said about the time Jeremy was "away", but to no avail. We wound up just knocking on the door and feeling the disapproving gaze of Jeremy's father when we asked about his son.

"He get one of you in trouble?"

"No!" we both shouted. "We just want to talk to Jeremy because..."

Jessica looked at me to finish the sentence, and for a split second I resolved to pay her back for that later. "Because, well, we're... reporters. We're working on a story about soldiers leaving the armed forces during these troubled times, and why. One of our other subjects said that Jeremy had an interesting story."

He looked at us - especially Jessica, whose shorts and t-shirt did not scream professionalism - skeptically. "You two are reporters?"

"Well, I am. Jessie here's an intern."

He grunted, and then waited for something. He was probably expecting a business card, but since I had none to offer, we just sweated it out a little. "Germy's moved in with his girl. I'll get you the address." He wrote it down, and chuckled. "If you find out what his story is, come back and share it with me."

Daisy's house wasn't far away from the Boyd residence, but the neighborhood did get a little rougher. I could see Jessica tense up behind the wheel of her car. "I don't know what's worse," she said, "driving through a bad neighborhood knowing that you're a target because you're a cop, or knowing you're a target because you're this."

I shrugged. "I've lived in worse."

"And I've patrolled worse, but that was a long time ago."

Finding Daisy's & "Jeremy's" address ended that conversation. We locked the car and knocked on the door. He must have been walking by at the time, because the door opened as far as the chain would allow on the first knock.

"Can I help you?"

"Maybe... Nell."

The man's eyes grew wide. "Who are you? Because if you're here to 'fix' it..."

"I wish I could," I said. "No, we're just other people who have stayed in the inn. In fact, I think you and I stayed in the same room, about a month apart. There was you, then Elizabeth Lee, who was really Arthur Milligan, then Marie Desjardins who was really Elizabeth Lee, then me."

"Who's stuck as Marie Desjardins?"

"You got it."

"And her?"

"Jessica Brooks. I was... well, I had another name, a long time ago."

"My god... You must have been..."

"It was weird. I'd rather not talk about it."

"Of course. I'm sorry, I'm being rude. Would you like to come in?"

"Are you sure Daisy won't mind?"

He looked a little embarrassed. "She's used to Jeremy having other female 'friends'."

So, we felt a little guilty as we entered the apartment. It was small, just a bedroom, bathroom, and living room with a kitchenette. Diasy walked out of the bedroom as we entered. Her bedroom; I noticed blankets neatly folded on the sofa. She looked a little frazzled, which just got worse when she saw us. "I don't believe we've met."

I gave her the story about us being reporters. She seemed to believe it, and Nell/Jeremy picked it up quick. "They want to ask me a few questions for this story they're doing on..."

"People leaving the service."

"Well, if he's not going to tell me, he sure ain't tellin' you."

"There's still interesting questions about how he's been treated and such."

Daisy warmed to that subject quickly enough, rattling off what she'd seen for five minutes before asking if I was going to write anything down. I froze for a moment, but Jessica pulled her notebook out of her purse and handed it to me. "Good thing they sent the intern with you, huh?"

I allowed that it was, and idly wrote down some of what Daisy was saying. After she exhausted the subject, I asked if we could steal Jeremy for a bit.

"Oh, shore - there's still a bunch he won't talk about with me, ah know."

We left and drove downtown for a bit; he took a pickup so that he could run some errands after. "So," he said when we got to the agreed-on coffee shop, "what can I tell you?"

"Well," Jessica started, "I thought there wasn't going to be much, because we've got most of your story from Arthur..."

He blushed girlishly, or maybe I'm just trying to see that. "An 'Arthur' in my body. Good lord."

"Well, technically, you're in your body. It just happens to look like Jeremy Boyd and Arthur's just happens to look like yours."

"I guess that's true."

"Anyway, we thought this was just a courtesy call, but... Have you been approached by anyone? Besides us?"

"What do you mean?"

"Near as we can tell, the inn has been swapping people for something like eighty years. There's got to be someone or something behind it, and even if it's just running on its own... Well, I think some people are using it. A friend of mine's got a stalker who knows her secret, a couple people in New York who were changed into foreign nationals are having trouble with immigration... It's been harder to find the original Jessica than it really should be, even considering I started at the apparent age of ten."

He looked at me, and I shrugged. "She's the detective; I'm hoping she can help me find some people."

"Oh. Right. I forget, just because I stayed about the same age... Anyway, nothing out of the ordinary here... Except for me, I guess."

"Okay. Well, I guess we'll let you go. Although--"

"Although what?"

"Well," I said, "we're just supposed to tell you that if you want your real life back, Arthur's willing."

"Oh." He sat back down. "Look, I can't say I'm not tempted, but I don't think it would be right. I mean, nobody asks to get in this situation, but there's only one right way to handle it. Just because I got into it in an unconventional way doesn't mean I should duck it."

Jessica nodded. "You're making a good man, Nell."

"Thanks. Look... I don't know if you two have any plans for Labor Day, but Daisy's family is having a barbecue, and if you guys want to come..."

"Talk you up a bit?"

He laughed. "Sure, that'd be great. Also, it's the first big family thing I'll have to deal with, and if I could avoid being totally alone..."


"We'd be glad to." I was kind of surprised Jessica was so eager, but didn't question it at the time. Later, she'd mention that she'd gotten a call from her mother while I was in the shower that morning, and so was feeling kind of homesick.

The barbecue wasn't bad; I actually had a pretty good time. Jessica grew up in the nice part of the city the first time and then in a New England suburb the second, but I kind of felt at home, even if everybody was white. (I know, I am too, but it still takes me a bit by surprise.)

"Jeremy" was glad to have us there, and we did say nice things about him when we could. I think things will get a little easier for him.

We left at around five, saying we wanted to get a good night's sleep before heading south tomorrow. He shook our hands and said to tell Art to try and make the most of his old life. We thanked him, and said it would probably be all right; from reading his entries, he seems to enjoy being Penny more than being Liz.

"Penny? He's going by Penny? I spend my entire life trying to avoid 'Penny Lincoln' - it's practically a porn-star name - and he..." He looks skyward and shakes his head. "Well, I guess it's his life now. Still, Penny..."

We leave him ranting and head back to our hotel, but I can't get settled. Tennessee was nice, but Louisiana is home, and I don't know what we'll find there.