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?"
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."
"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--"
"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.