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.
"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.