Thursday, January 31, 2008

Jessica: Arriving in California. Twice.

It's beautiful here in southern California, although it was unusually nice for New England before I got here. It was nice to see some of my friends from high school the past week; I'm a semester behind all of them right now, but they were jealous of my cross-country road trip, even if I only told them a heavily expurgated version of the story. They wouldn't believe the end, in particular.

The last time I wrote something in this blog (or even read it, really), I had met half of the family that the Wrights and I replaced, and they told me that the original Jessica - now "Dana Costello" - lived in Malibu, mere miles from where I'd be going to school. It was almost Christmas, and I'd wanted to go home, so we drove through the night in hopes of meeting her before flying back.

So, it's Sunday morning, and Louisa and I are both really tired. We drive around for a while, trying to find the address Phuong gave me. We're having no luck, mostly because we can't concentrate, so we pull up to the side of the road next to a park to get some rest. It's a nice area, so we don't feel particularly worried about sleeping in the car. A few hours later, I wake up and the passenger seat is empty. Louisa's left a note saying that she's gone to the church we saw a couple blocks away. I kind of envy that she's able to do that. I never really was a church-going man, but ever since the inn, I've been afraid of them. There's apparently real magic in the world, but it's not what they talk about there, not something that should be messed with. But Louisa takes the inn as vindication that there are powers greater than us, even if we don't understand them.

I put my glasses on, head to a corner store and grab a coffee and muffin before heading back to the park. It's warm, so I remove my sweatshirt and start walking around. There's a few parents with their kids, some people of various ages reading Sunday papers and ohter things. I wind up wandering over to the basketball court, where some teenagers are playing a little two-on-two. They're all pretty good, and the fact that it's shirts versus skins doesn't hurt at all. There's one black guy and one white guy on each team, and after a while, they must notice me, because they're starting to show off a little. It's kind of flattering, since they're good looking guys and there must be plenty of tan California girls with no glasses and bigger boobs hanging on them all the time. So I smile and wave, they wave back, play a little more, but they opt to take a break well before they're really sweaty.

One of the black guys pulls a shirt off the ground and waves in the direction of the deli I'd gone to, heading off with the other. The white guy wearing the tank top walks over to where a girl sitting on the grass had been reading. That left the shirtless white guy, who walked up to the little half-fence and leaned over, bringing his face closer to eye level. He had a good foot on me, a fit body, and a nice face that even his shaved head doesn't screw up. "Like what you see?" Even for a big guy, his voice is a little deeper than I expect. It's kind of sexy.

"Not bad."

"So, I haven't seen you around here before. You new in town?"

"Sort of passing through; I start class in Pasadena next month."

"Nice, a college girl. Guess I should tell the recruiters I want to stay close to home."

"Recruiters, huh? I don't know that you're that good."

"Oh, I'm that good. They got nicknames for me and everything. Go google Direct Current sometime."


The other white guy and his girlfriend walked up. "Who's the new girl?"

I held out my hand. "Jessica Brooks."

"Aaah!" DC recoiled, actually crouching down. "God, girl, why didn't you say so?"

His friend ran over. "What's the deal, Dana?"

Dana!? "Oh, my..." I kind of sank to the ground myself, a little queasy. Then I started to laugh, and I can't stop. I just keep laughing and laughing, and at first he looks at me like I'm some sort of monster, but before long he's laughing too.

It's at that point Louisa shows up and asks what's going on. "He's Dana Costello," I say, "and he was hitting on me!"

"I was hitting on you? Who was the one who was scoping out all this, Miss Jessica Brooks?"

That makes us both start laughing again. His friends think we're both nuts, and maybe Louisa too, if she's started laughing. She tries to do some damage control, since we're in no condition to talk rationally. She says that we were old friends back in elementary school, and why not?

He eventually gets up and offers me a hand up. I take it and we share a look. It makes us tingle a bit, but it's not totally or even primarily sexual. It's... I don't know if Ashlyn felt anything like it when she met Jean-Michel for the first time, and I'm pretty sure Art didn't feel it with Jeremy, but we've been without each other much longer, so it's like I've found a part of me that's missing, and I know from the way he's looking at me that he feels the same way.

We walk to a bench and he sits next to me, stretching his six-foot-seven frame out. "Look at all of you. You are not what I expected. I mean, I just assumed Dana was a girl's name, which was stupid. I didn't even think to ask Phuong! And your room was just full of Disney Princesses, unicorns, and... and other unicorns."

"Hey, don't you tell anyone about the princesses or unicorns. I got a rep."

"Oh, they wouldn't believe me anyway. You know how it works."

"Yeah, I do. So, you say you met Phuong and Carson? How are Mindy and Mrs. Cahill?"

"Getting by. Glad to meet others like us. We had a nice visit."

"That's cool. And your friend...?"

"Also one of us. She looks like Marie Desjardins of Montreal, but in reality she's Louisa Torrence of Baton Rouge and older than me."

"Older than..." He held up a hand to stop me. "I don't want to know. I mean, I do, but not yet. Let me process, okay?"


"Cool." He looked up and saw that the other two players had returned and were talking to Louisa, who looked a bit uncomfortable. "C'mon, let's go to my place."

He hopped in the car and directed us down a road that seemed obvious in retrospect. Their house wasn't enormous, but it was bigger than where Carson and Phuong lived, with an attached garage that we parked in front of. Dana led us inside and stopped in the kitchen, asking if he could get us a Coke or something; he pulled out a 2-liter and drank straight from the bottle. I still had my big coffee, but Louisa took an orange juice. Dana grabbed a box of crackers from a cupboard and led us out the back door.

I crashed into his back when he stopped suddenly as we approached the swimming pool and turned around, averting his eyes. "Geez, Parker, you should put a sign up or something."

Dana's body was blocking my view, but I saw enough to see that the woman he was talking to had been sunbathing nude, and was quickly putting her bikini on while telling him that he was usually at the park for hours. After a minute she told him it was safe, and stood to greet us. Dana made the introductions, and she did a bit of a spit-take when she heard my name. She told us to hang on a second, took a swig of the margarita that was sitting next to her lounge chair, and then grasped my hands and took a good look at me. "Wow, look at what might have been. It must be weird for you to look at her, huh, Dana?"

"Weird starts to cover it."

I was sort of taking a good look at her. Parker (who used to be Barry Cahill) wasn't as tall as Dana, so my eyes weren't quite down at breast level, but they probably would have been if she were wearing heels. She had a pretty spectacular body, although I could see some small laugh lines around her mouth and eyes. I shook my head to clear it. "Sorry, I was just having a flashback to my life as a man in his forties. You look really good."

"For a forty-three year-old woman? I'm not bad. You've got to look good in my business, though - even if Hollywood wasn't run by dirty old men, as soon as you start to let your appearance slip, they take it as a sign you might start to let your work slip too, and there's plenty of younger people out there."

"Well, you're a ways off from that."

"That's so sweet, but it's all going to come crashing down at once when my workout buddy here goes away to school this fall, I can tell."

She put her arm around Dana and gave him a squeeze, which clearly made him uncomfortable. "Look, I haven't even decided where I'm going yet. UCLA's looking pretty nice."

"But you've got a chance to get some real minutes as a freshman at Boston College..."

I gather they'd had this conversation before. But... "Wait, you're thinking of going to BC? Have you visited yet? Because I bet Mom would love to see you when you do."

They stopped dead, Parker recovering first. "Wait... Kathleen knows? How is that even possible?"

"We think people are more open to accepting it when something life-changing is already happening. I tried to tell her a hundred times, but she didn't believe me until her father died."

"Grampa Carl's dead?" Dana sat down on one of the loungers; Parker sat beside him and put her hands on his shoulders. "I hadn't even thought of him in a few years, but... Man. And you say my mom... my other mom... is she worried about me?"

"Of course she is." Parker squeezed Dana again. "You know I still worry about Mindy and Molly, even though they tell me they're doing okay whenever we talk. How could she not be?"

"I guess." Dana wiped a tear from his eye, and looked uncomfortable doing it. "Um, I gotta--"

"You go on and do what you need." Dana got up and headed into the house. Parker turned her attention back to me and Louisa, crying a little too. "He's such a guy; can't stand to let anyone see him crying no matter what, even more than most boys his age. It's like he's afraid people will find out he used to be a girl."

Louisa nodded. "He's certainly adapted pretty thoroughly."

Parker shrugged. "It's half his life; he can barely remember being Jessica Brooks. Min-- Carson is the same way, only... Well. And part of it's me. I confess, I liked having a son so much that I kind of steered him in that direction. Not that I loved my little girl less at all, but Dana being such a guy's guy - well, it lets me stay in touch with that part of my life, despite having all this." She held her hands out in front of her breasts for emphasis.

I got that; I'd certainly played a bunch of sports in high school, even if I didn't have the natural ability of some of the more athletic girls, for the same reason.

We sat silently for a bit, and then, just to break the silence, I said that they should come back East for Christmas. Unless they had other plans. Which they must...

"No, but... Won't it be weird for Kathleen? These two strangers from L.A. coming on short notice?"

"You're not strangers. She'll have a hard time believing at first, but trust me, you can convince her. She's used to me, remember."

"Well, I'll have to ask Dana, and you should really call her, but if they're all open to it..."

They were. But that will have to wait; I'm still on Eastern time and ready to crash.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

Arthur/Penny: Getting around

I was sorely tempted to try and find a way to beg off doing play-by-play for the Stealth when it became clear that the National Lacrosse League's labor dispute wasn't going to cancel the season. I feel exposed at those events, because lacrosse was really Nell's thing, and I didn't inherit her expertise with her body. I know I'm not going to get in trouble for being an impostor or anything - nobody believes us when we tell them that we're not who we appear to be, except under special circumstances - but it's not quite a rational fear. I do feel afraid of letting Nell down, or doing damage to her reputation.

I never quite got the nerve to bail, though - the money's not great, but it's not so minuscule that I wouldn't miss it if it were gone. Besides, after a few months of mainly sitting behind a desk and reading scores, I find myself pretty anxious for the escape it gives me - travel.

I wasn't much of a world traveler in my previous life, but one of the fun things about being a freelance writer is that you can take all manner of assignments that bring you to a bunch of places. There were times I stuck close to home because I was worried about my mother and her health, but I would take other assignments because they gave me the chance to go new places and try different things or interview interesting people.

Doing the play-by-play gives me that option. Last night I was in San Jose, calling a home loss against the Calgary Roughnecks; today I'm in Denver to call tonight's game against the Colorado Mammoth, I'll be in New York next Thursday, and there are trips to Edmonton, Philadelphia, and Portland on tap. I just wish I had more time to spend looking around; we're sometimes in and out so fast that we don't even bother to book a hotel room.

That's why I'm trying to convince George to let me cover the Athletics' opening series in Tokyo against the Red Sox. It might conflict with a home game, but if they really do see me (or, at least, "Penny") as a potential face of the network, having me do remotes and interviews might make it worth it. I like the idea of writing and researching my own material while I'm over there, too.

Drew's pretty excited about the idea, in terms of making me a more valuable client, although he groans when I say it could be valuable research for my second book. He's probably right when he says I shouldn't even be thinking series before getting my first one sold or even finished, but I tell him that the mystery publishers like series; they're steady streams of income.

It's going to take some convincing, but I'm hoping it will work out. I think this is the first time while living as either Liz or Penny that I've really been excited about an opportunity that I wouldn't have had in my old life.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Kat - Bored

It's checkup time at the University Hospital, and I know the doctors are going to have fun with this one.

Here I am, wide awake after only 3 hours of sleep. Strange thing is that I'd been up for nearly 33 hours straight just before that. It seems that my sleep disorder has taken on a whole new dimension of weird. The doctors have had me keep a "sleep diary" for the past few months and although it's been fairly consistent - there were certainly some strange events - weeks with nearly no sleep, weeks with excessive sleep... just weird.

I'm not sure that I'll be going back to sleep tonight, but who knows. For me, a consistent sleep pattern is an enigma.

Right now, I'm pretty bored, nobody I know is online, I'm not tired, and I've no place to go.

I guess I'll go visit with the nurses, or watch some TV... or maybe if I'm lucky, I'll fall back asleep.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Jeff: Starting again

Last you heard of me was back in November, when Louisa passed through on a road trip. Last you heard from me was... hell, about a year ago. Truth is, I haven’t been checking this blog very often, and kind of lost track of the other guys... girls... the others who were there back at the beginning. Maybe that’s why that visit back in November got me thinking, and remembering, and planning.

Listen, I’ll be honest here: that day back in May, when I got my body back? It was the best day of my life. I read about what everyone else’s been up to, and how they’ve adapted to their new lives and some of them, even, finding happiness or love or whatever, and I’m happy for them, I really am. I admire them.

I also resented them. I can admit that now, but at the time I just wanted to completely forget about the whole damn thing. I tried turning my back on the whole experience and tried to just pick up where I’d left off that September over a year ago. But I couldn’t, of course, and sometimes I’d find myself wondering why I wasn’t able to do the same, you know, adapt like they did and just get on with a new life, let go of the old....

But that’s the thing, you see. I can’t. I can’t—just let go of things. Not of my old life when I turned into Brianna—and now I can’t let that go, either. Brianna’s life.

It’s quite the experience, waking up as someone else. Ha! There’s an understatement. I mean, let’s just ignore for the moment the mind-bogglingly overwhelming idea that, you know, magic is fucking real and the fact that the place just voodoo’ed a bunch of guys into different people . . . and has been doing it for years . . . and that nobody will damn well believe you even if you scream it in their freakin’ face; yeah, let’s just forget about that for the time being. Because let’s face it: when I first realized I was someone else, and a girl to boot, well, at the time, everything was just so chaotic. . . and it never seemed to let up, not for the next eight months. Being Bree, damn, it felt like this heavy, stifling weight pressing down on me at all times; a belt slowly tightening around my head—either I always felt caught up in some kind of crazy panic about needing to fit in, or I was lost in some deep funk about everything I’d lost, or I’d just freak out at the prospect of being a girl for the rest of my life. I never had the time to just sit back and think.

And now I do. Don’t get me wrong. Things have been crazy since I’ve come back as well, and thank God there’s been Brianna at my side and, yeah, I know how crazy—idiotic--weird that is, too, having the girl I used to be around here as a reminder when I’m trying to forget about the whole thing. But she’s seen me through some dark times these past few months. She’s been like an angel, a real Godsend; I wish I knew more about her.

It’s easy to forget how connected we are to others, you know, and the ripples anything you do can send out. My disappearance a year ago hurt the family bad. My reappearance soon after didn’t help much. The fact that an old lady with Alzheimer was behind the wheels didn’t help much. They thought I’d had some kind of breakdown. I don’t hold any resentment to her, I honestly don’t. It wasn’t her fault. In a lucid moment she found her way back to my family, but in her less . . . healthy times, she kind of freaked people out. Let’s just say my family was ill-equipped to deal with that kind of burden. Thank God she came back and agreed to swap back with me. But of course, the damage had already been done....

But enough of that. That’s not what I wanted to write about...

I’m not sure what I wanted to write about.

That’s not true. I know exactly what I want to share, but the thing is, I can’t. Not yet. But I’ve come back just to make a couple of things clear. Just in case, you see.

I really like being a guy. God, do I like being a guy. Let’s just be perfectly clear on that. I like pissing standing up. And being able to pick up heavy shit on my own, and wearing unfashionably baggy clothing, and keeping my hair short and my fingernails dirty. I like popping a boner every friggin’ time a dirty thought crosses my mind or a pretty girl crosses my path, and hanging out with the guys without having to really talk about anything, and I like being able to knock some jackass to the floor if he speaks shit about my family.

I like being me. I’m not sure that was true before the Inn, but it’s definitely true now. I think back to those eight months or so I spent as Brianna and, yeah, sure, I can admit now that maybe they weren’t as terrible as I made them out to be. Her family’s fucked to be sure, but for the most part her life was pretty damn good. If I’m completely honest with myself, I even enjoyed myself at times, in those few moments when I could forget myself. But I was never comfortable with the whole thing, and I don’t think I ever would’ve been. The fact that every time I did enjoy myself I tortured myself afterwards says more about myself than it does about Bree or her life; and that’s the thing, you see: I learned a hell of a lot about myself through the whole experience.

Not just the obvious, that I like being a guy and that I don’t miss the makeup or the girly clothes or the tits or any of that, either, even if (if I’m being completely honest again) all that feminine crap was kind of fun at times, too. I was worried about that at first—that the whole experience might’ve made me gay or something. There were a few moments back then, when I was Bree, out on one of few dates that just kind of happened. . . or this one time that caught me by surprise, when I caught myself just staring at one of the guys at school, this soccer player, and I. . . well, I felt kind of funny. You know, turned-on funny, and it felt all warm and nice and damn right I didn’t want that coming back with me when I turned back into a guy.

It didn’t.

But what I learned—what I really learned, was what was important to me. See, when I ended up at the Inn in the first place, I was basically trying to run away. From home, from my family, from responsibility and the idea of becoming . . . hell, I don’t know. My father, maybe. I don’t think he wanted me turning into him, either, as if there’s something wrong with being the kind of guy who sticks by his kids no matter what, who works himself to the bone to keep a roof over our head. That’s why he tried to send me away. Saved up enough cash for my tuition and sent me off. That obviously didn’t work out. Seven months with Eileen in my body—that’s the old woman, mind ravaged by age and disease, who became me—put that dream to an end. No college for me. And know what? It was a blessing in disguise. Bree’s helped me see that.

I mean, realistically, where was it going to get me? It’s not like I headed off to college to become a doctor or a lawyer or anything like that. I’m a fairly smart guy, but not that smart. And I wasn’t going to ride a football scholarship or something into fame and fortune. I’m good at sports, but not that good. Nah, most likely I would’ve picked up some three-year degree and eventually worked it into some kind of mid-range job. What then? Some cog working in marketing for a mid-sized firm in a mid-sized city? Forty years of different jobs where, if I work really, really hard I help somebody else make a bit more money by helping them sell stuff people don’t really need? Screw that. If the Inn showed me anything, it’s that there’s bigger shit going on in the world.

Hell, there was bigger shit going on right beneath my nose that I’d turned a blind eye to. Stuff that needs to be set right.

There’s nothing more important than family. Nothing. And there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to help my family. It took eight months as a sixteen year-old girl to teach me that.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Kat - Hiding from dad

I'm sorry it's been nearly a month since my last post. I guess I could say that chores took that long, and in a way they really have, with the holidays and a run of holiday-time birthdays. But that's not the whole story. What has really kept me from posting so long, was dad.

I knew dad was suspicious of something when Pete visited, so I tried to steer clear of anything that would raise his interest... especially being online. I'll admit, it's a very hard habit for me to break - I'm an internet addict... but the original Kat was not. Staying away from a computer for so long has been very tough for me. I'm always feeling that urge to sit at the keyboard just gnawing away at me. Add dealing with my monthly visitor on top of that, and I'm sure I was a real monster for a few days too.

I don't know if it's looking at things from this life, or if it was the passing of my grandma just before Thanksgiving, but this holiday season just didn't seem to carry the same enthusiasm as I remember. There were no stockings hanging, there were no gifts under the tree at home. Sure we had the lights and wreaths hanging, and the tree was up - but it just seemed like some exercise... no spirit, no joy... it was just us going through the motions. Christmas seemed such a distant thing, as if it was simply another day. Even the wonder of my nephew and niece as they opened their gifts, and the wonderful dinner that my sister prepared, couldn't offset my feeling out-of-place. I was almost glad to return home Christmas night, I slipped quietly up to my room and cried myself to sleep.

The day after Christmas is my birthday... Trip is now 37. Funnily-enough, my new birthday was the same day... just 15 years newer. Fortunately, I remembered that Trip's license was expiring, or I probably wouldn't have checked mine, which also expired on the same date. My picture looks awful even though I did my best to look decent. Trip assures me that the DMV cameras don't flatter anyone, and that I looked fine. Still, I hope noone ever sees that picture.

I was giddy with joy when Trip and Jadyn brought my birthday gift. It was an old K-5 Blazer... the full-sized ones. The engine didn't run, but it otherwise was in pretty good shape. God, how I've missed mudding! This project truck was their gift to me, as Trip told dad, "to replace Kat's wrecked car with something tougher, that she can learn to fix herself." Dad seemed to accept that explanation and he and Trip gave it a good looking over while I just watched and pretended to be a bit naive about things.

That evening, Jaci called and although it seemed that we were trying to actually have a casual conversation, I think we both caved to the inevitability of just not being as close of friends as the original Kat & Jaci were. I was touched, though, when she remembered that it was my birthday... and then again, when she invited me to her little Christmas / New Year's shindig that Friday. But she had to top that off with a real bomb-shell - She's pregnant... with twins. Well, our struggle for words disappeared at that point. I eventually told her that she should put all this in the blog, and she alluded to dropping cable and internet to start saving money for when the babies arrive. I asked her if I could share the news with her adoring fans, she laughed and told me to knock myself out. So there ya' go, don't say I never did anything for you.

Anyhow, the party was a bust. It was certainly a great gathering, and I got to meet some new people, who thankfully didn't know the original Trip or Kat. A few of the guests couldn't stay long - Someone had to babysit for a relative who had to rush off in a hurry; one guy had some drama with one of the girls; and then one of the ladies who brought her kids along, had to take one of them to the hospital with a fever of 103°. There just didn't seem to be a whole lot of "party" in the party, and I guess that's really okay with me anyhow. Lately I haven't really been in a partying mood. I did enjoy the party though, I didn't feel too awkward as these people didn't know me prior, and it was good to be out socially without feeling odd.

Well, right now dad is sleeping, he has an early flight to see his brother in California. Why he didn't go out when mom was out there, I'll probably never understand. Anyhow, I figure he's out cold for a few hours - and I'm hurting real-bad for an internet fix. I just don't want to push my luck.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Arthur/Penny: Three "generations". Man, there should be a word for us.

Or a pair of words. Something like "ancestor" and "descendant". You can form a chain between Louisa and me: Jeremy became me, Nell became Jeremy, I (as Liz) became Nell, Liz (as Marie) became herself again, and Louisa becomes Marie. I don't know if that makes us any closer than two random visitors to the Inn, but maybe there is. We acted like there was when she came up this weekend; our situation can be an isolating one, so we try and find any connection we can. The reflexive disbelief upon meeting another person changed by the Inn was a little less strong this time; I'm pretty sure it's beacuse seeing her confirmed that the woman I saw waiting to check in was, in fact, Liz-as-Marie, so she at least had a face I'd seen before.

Louisa's been flying solo for the past couple weeks, with Jessica having headed home for the holidays. She's sort of in limbo right now, still waiting to hear back about the original Marie's whereabouts and having trouble renting an apartment in L.A. without a long-term visa. I told her the U.S. should be grateful to have a Canadian who wants to move here with the current economic and political climate, rather than vice versa. She makes a comment about bureaucrats just wanting to make everyone jump through hoops. She's checked into a residential hotel, worried about how quickly that will drain her finances. She's starting a new job on the recommendation of "Parker Costello" this week, but won't really be comfortable until the sale on the house she inherited closes.

She tells me all about Nell, and I'm glad to hear that she really is doing well in her new life. She's curious about meeting the original Jeremy, but I don't want any part of that, and try to convince her not to. He's a jerk, so why taint your impressions of either me or Nell by getting any first-hand experience with him? Well, she says, maybe I've been hanging around Jessica too long and her paranoia is rubbing off on me, but isn't it kind of strange that Jeremy bailed on the trip to switch back at the last minute, sending Nell and R.J. instead?

Yep. I can't say I haven't been thinking of that, ever since they told us about Pygmalion being more than a stalker. I've put off asking directly, because I didn't want anything to do with Jeremy, but because I was a little afraid of the answer. I didn't want to be a chump. Or at least not a total chump; as much as I was the victim of Jeremy deciding to keep my life, the idea that someone had been laughing at what I didn't know was... well, something I'd rather not know about.

Louisa's right, though. If we want to find out answers, we can't hide from them, no matter where they may be.

So, it being Saturday night, we head to one of the bars I've heard "Arthur" hangs out at. Our luck's good, since we find him on the first try. Which is a bit of a relief for both of us; neither of us is really comfortable with the bar scene, and this place is a big-time meat market. Louisa comments that at least I can say I have a boyfriend to anyone who hits on me; I say not so much. Neither Drew nor I is seeing anybody else, but his (that is, R.J.'s) practice is picking up, I work a lot of nights. We still see each other on a regular basis, but it's not really a thing. Louisa says she might actually think about dipping her toe into the pool, but the age thing is though for her to get past. Men her apparent age are all children to her, and she's kind of disturbed by Mindy/Carson having a child's mind but an adult's urges.

But, I digress. We find Jeremy at the bar, and each get on one side of him. He looks at Louisa and smiles, but that fades when he spots me. "What do you want?"

I smile at him, because it will get me into less trouble than ripping out his spleen. "We're wondering if there's something you're not telling us."

"About what?"

Louisa doesn't bother with the sweet smile. "We're wondering if you've had any contact with people who knew about the Inn aside from us."

"What? No! If not for you, I might think I'd always been Arthur Milligan. Dorky name you saddled me with, by the way."

I snorted, so Louisa continued. "I've got a little more faith in people than Penny here does. I don't think you'd just screw her over like you did for no reason. Did someone offer you something?"

"No, just..."

"Just what?"

"Some fed came and visited me after I made the reservation. Asked if I'd had any contact with... well, with me. Went on about deserters in a time of war, scared me real good. Then the next night I get drunk, strike out with Nell, take a bit of crap from her boyfriend..."

I think he's actually looking for me to feel sorry for him. "Do you remember the fed's name?"

"It was almost a year ago!"

Even though Louisa doesn't look her age, she still knows how to give the look that keeps you from lying to your grandparents. "Jeremy. How many times has the FBI come to talk to you? I'm sure you'd remember the details."

Jeremy's looking at her, so I don't see the expression on his face, which is probably for the best.

"Langan. Something Langan."

I shouldn't be surprised, but I am. "Son of a bitch!" I storm out, and Louisa follows me.

I'm pacing back and forth when she makes her way through the bar. "So much for my faith in humanity. Jessica knew he was dirty."

"But why? Why me? Why me and not everyone else who tries this?"

Louisa doesn't know. Maybe Pygmalion just didn't have the resources to screw things up for Jeff, or Liz, or other folks. Maybe he finds Jeremy interesting or useful and was defending that. Maybe it's something else we can't see because he's the only one who knows the whole pattern.

It doesn't really matter. Someone's been using my life as a toy, and it ticks me off.