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.


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