Someday I might look back on this and laugh. I really hope so anyway, because if so, yesterday things just got really effin' funny.
Sometimes, being Anne-Marie is actually bearable. She has it made - an affluent husband who barely wants anything to do with her sexually (maybe not such a plus for an actual woman), financial security in uncertain times, two comparatively well-behaved kids (insofar as none of them are out getting arrested) freedom to live life as she pleases. Again, maybe this doesn't do much for Anne herself, but to me it's a major win... nobody seems intent on bothering me or expecting me to do things I don't want to just because of the woman I look like.
At least... until the holidays started rolling around.
I don't even like dealing with my own family, but at the Adkisson household a big family thanksgiving is a big deal. Anne's monther-in-law is coming in from Rhode Island, and Trudy and I had to collaborate with Hal's other brother's wife Jen, to create this big turkey dinner. I've gotten a little better at cooking over the last few months, to the point where I'm confident nothing I make will kill these people, but I haven't gotten so much better at dealing with Trudy.
It seems I stepped into some drama between Trudy and Anne-Marie, stemming partly from Anne-Marie's preoccupation with being Ellie's "cool aunt." Jen's actually pretty cool - close in age to Bry and I - but is too shy to fill that role. So she nervously stayed in the corner while Trudy passive-aggressively bossed me around, and I just took it, festering secretly over what a bitchy control freak she is.
At the end of the day, I just wanted to scream "THIS ISN'T MY FUCKING FAMILY" but that might not exactly play well.
It doesn't help my case that, as often as possible, I take Bry out on Saturday afternoons for coffee and guy talk. She probably sees these as being primarily about her, and sometimes they are, but mostly they're just excuses to talk about how weird it still is to use Kotex.
Then there was the other visitor complicating things, and I'm not talking about Aunt Flo (who thankfully missed the party.) I'm talking about Ms. Julia DiFrancesco, a girl I first met back in late September. I wanted to bring her up before but I guess I never got around to it.
One rainy afternoon in September I heard a knock at the door. This girl stood there, terrified and soaked. Young - maybe 21 or 22 - and quite stunning, with a good tan, slender body, and long curly brown hair (which was sopping wet and therefore very frizzy.) I figured maybe she was some other Adkisson family member I hadn't heard about yet.
"A-a-anne-M-m-marie?" she said through chattering teeth. I nodded. She asked if she could come in. I've always been wary about strangers in the house - part and parcel of being a city kid - but I'd been in such strange circumstances already I figured what did I have to lose?
"It's m-me," she said, waving off the cab in the driveway as she stepped in, clutching her arms to warm up. I looked at her uncomprehendingly, "You... who?"
"I'm... you. I'm Anne-Marie."
I just stared at her, stunned. I had so many questions I wanted to ask her and I didn't know where to begin. The most pressing thought in my mind is, "...is Ellie okay?" I don't even know why I asked, but having seen Bry's little face all that time I thought of that poor little girl trapped in a world she may have no idea about.
"She's fine..." she walked further into the house. "May I take a shower first, then we'll talk?"
I almost said "Be my guest," but stopped myself, realizing I was more her guest than anything. So I just said "Sure" and waited to hear the water running after she went upstairs. Then I just sat and thought, somewhat rocked to the core... this girl was the woman whose body I was in. Is she going to want this body back? I looked down at my cleavage - aged, a little saggy compared to her tight, nubile body. If she didn't, could I in good conscience give it to some stranger? I started to feel guilty, and responsible for some very heavy moral issues.
She came down the stairs, barefoot and wearing my - her - bathrobe. We sat down in the kitchen. With her wet hair hanging down behind her tanned, gorgeous face, I began to get a little... well let's just say I've seen Joseph W. Sarno movies begin this way. But anyway.
"What's your name?" I asked her. "I mean the name of... who you... became?" It's awkward trying to come up with vocabulary for our predicament.
"Julia..." she told me. "I'm Julia DiFrancesco and Ellie is Kalli Jackson. We - they - were students are the University of South Carolina, on vacation. After everything, we didn't think either of us could handle the life of a student, especially not Ellie, so we did the only thing we could think of... come back here."
I was wary, "What do you... uh... plan to do?"
Her plan, as it turned out, was to work for her husband as a receptionist. Ellie isn't qualified to do much (in real terms) but has been working as a weekday nanny for another rich family in the neighbourhood. Julia actually had an impressive clerical resume that Anne was going to find it hard to live up to, but she could at least do the job well enough to get by, once she got hired.
All she wanted was to make me aware she was in town, and that she would help me any way she could. After all that business, she finally asked me who I was. I gave her a G-rated version - that I was a young man from Canada - and let that just sink in.
She gave me this sad - beautiful yet very sympathetic - look and wrapped her arms around me. And she whispered, "I'm so sorry" and just... held me. I tentatively hugged her back, wondering how weird it must be to hug yourself. Then again, that was probably before I read the bits about Jean-Michel.
Before she left, I asked her, somewhat more kittenishly than I would like to, "Do you... plan to change back?" And she, standing by the door, holding the umbrella I lent her - hers, by right - gave me that sad-eyed look again, and sighed. "I don't know."
Then she was gone.
Except she wasn't, of course, and got the job. And I called her for advice whenever I needed to understand something about Trudy or the kids or Hal or my vagina or whatever, which was often enough... but I guess we never really became friends, more like a professional relationship. And not only that, but from Hal's perspective, we didn't know each other well at all, and Julia certainly wasn't his wife. So one day a few weeks ago, over dinner he says to me, "You know my receptionist Julia?"
I nearly did a spit-take, trying to figure out how to respond. "Um... sure?"
"Well I've been thinking," he says, "She's been here a few months from South Carolina, doesn't know anyone, no family here, no boyfriend or anything. What would you say if I invited her over for Thanksgiving?"
And I just gaze at him, wide-eyed, trying to figure out an in-character response. I've been pretty good at keeping the Anne-Marie character consistent off the cuff, but when something like this comes up, it really throws my game. All I can think of is how awkward, or confusing, or bizarre it might be, rather than the natural Anne-Marie response of "Sure, if she wants to." finally, I did say that, and we all got on with our lives.
So in this house yesterday, we've got all the Adkisson/McClays, including the real Julia introducing herself to family she's already known for years, including her own daughter and son. And there's me and Bryan trying not to act like buddies, or discuss our entire lives with Julia, or anything. What's that old saying? Three people can keep a secret - if two of them are dead. Or if there's a magically-imposed silence on them anyway.
And then, after dinner, while we're doing the dishes, Trudy nudges me and says, "I hope you don't think anything's going on between Hal and that girl. My brother would never do such a thing."
And the funny thing is... that thought hadn't even crossed my mind. And I just laughed and said, "Of course not," secretly kinda hoping maybe there was and wondering why I would care. It would be oddly appropriate, I think, and sweet in a really sick way. Except for the part about potentially breaking up a family.
When I realized that, I suddenly got very nervous.
Most people just have to worry about leftover turkey... not leftover lives.