Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Alia/Rob: Pinch hitter.

It seems no matter whose life you inherit, even if it appears to be an easy fit, there are going to be problems that prevent you from, let's say... enjoying the experience, at least to a certain degree.

For example, even though I am a woman (by nature) I don't envy how Todd and Bryan spent their "transformed" year. From reading their entries, and getting the extended commentary from them, it sounds like a Kafka nightmare. If I'd been in either of their shoes I would've cracked just as bad, and that's without the drastic physical gender change. At this point in my life I'm nearly as far from the domestic housewife/mother type as Todd was, more of an aspiring career gal than family type. And, being an independent-minded woman, I probably would've been a lot more stern with Anne-Marie's husband than Todd was, because as he puts it, his situation was so unimaginable he felt no option but to go along with it. I wouldn't have taken it in such stride, I'm sure.

The funny thing is, a lot of that was because of my relationship with Todd. I was exactly the type of shrinking violet wallflower damsel in distress that would've gone along with whatever a husband wanted before I met him, but he challenged me to grow up and take control. Part of the reason we fought, and occasionally broke up, was that I felt too much like his mother when I was learning to be an independent woman. See what I'm getting at here? I probably would've made an even worse wife and mother than my boyfriend.

And don't get me started on how insufferable I would've found high school, had I transformed into the girl Bryan was.

What I guess I'm saying is how ironic I find it that right now, I've gotten more comfortable in the skin of a man -- specifically this man -- than I would imagine being in that of a middle aged woman or teenage girl. Sure I wouldn't have chosen this body... I never really appreciated my youth or even my femininity so much as I do right now. But I'm more suited to this life than those.

I'm hesitant to interfere with things in Rob's life too much because I still feel it's none of my business and can be attended after he returns. I try to keep quiet and be a non-entity, but I still have the responsibility to exert authority as a teacher, which, as I outlined earlier, I've gotten fairly good at and have enjoyed somewhat. On the rare occasion I manage to talk to Cliff, I usually advise him/her to take ownership of Tori's life more. I rationalize my not having done the same by the fact that Rob's life is closer to how I'd choose to live anyway.

But in any life, there comes a number of problems. Ingrid, Rob's soon-to-be-ex-wife is breathing down my neck for divorce papers, a problem I keep shirking. It's hard to get wrapped up in other peoples' problems when you don't feel like they directly concern you. But I learned a little lesson about avoiding confronting problems.

That came in the form of a phone call from Rob's mother.

It only occurred to me after a few months that I should be answering Rob's phone. I'd been avoiding calls, a bad habit leftover from my real life, because I have what you might call telephone anxiety. I grew up with E-Mail and MSN after I got a cell phone, used it mostly for texting. It's silly, I guess, but the phone is my least preferred form of communication. So I don't pick up Rob's phone often and I don't check his messages as often as I should, especially since for a long while I had trouble coming to terms with the fact that when people want to talk to Rob, it's me they've got to get.

So when I finally got the nerve to answer the phone when the caller ID said "Garcia M" (for Marta) I got an earful. She chastised me for not calling recently and ignoring her, and cursed me out in Spanish, which of course I don't speak (fortunately it seems Rob wasn't much of a speaker himself.) She asked me what was going on in my life, why my phone number had changed. I explained it was because of the separation.

Her reaction was essentially an explosive "¡¿Qué?!"

I can't believe Rob hadn't bothered to explain to his own mother that he was splitting up with his wife. It fell to me to fumble through some half-hearted speculative explanation about how things hadn't worked out and they realized they were out of love. to the highly Catholic and highly judgmental Marta, this was not good to hear. She insinuated her son was a failure. She insisted I come live with her in Phoenix.

I told her that was not possible, I had a job and a life. Then I happened to throw in that I had an obligation to try to fix things with Ingrid (although I really don't) and I could hear Mrs. Garcia snort, "Phht, she's not worth the ground you walk on." She then rambled some more in Spanish, bid me adios, and hung up.

When I got off the phone, I was exhausted. I feel like Rob owes me one for withstanding that. No wonder he put off telling her, but it was really, really unfortuante that task fell to me. Still, I'm sure that in his new life, whatever he's got going on, he's dealing with similar inherited problems.

-Alia

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cliff/Tori: You take the bad with the good

It figures that after spending a day earlier this week thinking about writing a post talking about the ways it's not so bad being Tori, I get sidetracked with a really bad bout of menstrual cramps and a headache that makes me hardly want to do anything but lay around when I'm at home.

Mae and I appear to be on the same cycle as we were both moping around the house this week. I would've thought periods would only aggravate her tendency to snipe at me, they actually have the opposite effect. It's like we've got an understanding that neither of us has the energy to hassle the other. Plus, with her in school all day and me at work several evenings a week, we hardly see one another, which means she's ultimately more pleasant when we do see each other. I can't think of a rude thing she's said to me in weeks.

It's so weird to have inherited this sibling rivalry of sorts. My older brother Bret was not my biggest fan, and I wasn't his, but I don't actually remember much hostility. I tried to hide whatever resentment I felt for him, since our parents, mom in particular, usually seemed to favor him.

Anyway. The cramps sidetracked my desire to write, and especially my desire to write about how much easier it is to deal with being Tori lately. But things are feeling a bit better now so I'll let you in on a bit of a secret. Cramps aside...

Being Tori isn't the worst thing in the world.

I have a stupid job that is not challenging at all and that I am way overqualified for, sure... but it keeps me busy, stops me from worrying too much about life, and makes me money and I don't have to pay rent to live with Mr. and Mrs. Pearce. They're nice people and I really don't mind spending time with them. I was watching Dancing with the Stars with Tori's mom while her dad sat back and read the paper. "Mom" got really worked up at some of the judges' comments, at which point "Dad" nonchalantly reminded her that nobody on TV could hear her. Then he put down the paper and gave this weird, funny smirk that made us all burst into laughter for a moment. I find nice moments like that offset the mind-bending horror of being transformed oddly well.

Then there are the other bonuses.

Admit it, guys. If you were stuck in the body of a woman, you'd relish any opportunity to not have clothes on. For the first few weeks I was Tori, I tried to be as polite about it as possible, like it was impolite to stare, and somehow I risked being admonished by the girl in the mirror. It wasn't too long before I was playing little scenarios out with the mirror in my room, where I was me again, and Tori was a girl I met at a bar.

Yeah. Then that got weird, although I just laughed it off when I realized what I was doing was a version of preparing myself for inevitable situations I am actually going to have to live through from Tori's side. Still, mirror-time is fun-time.

Now, how do I say this without coming off totally girly... I don't really mind having boobs so much, but that's not to say I love them. A lot of the time I don't even think about them being down there, and then when I look down it's like "oh, hello. How could I forget?" The entire feeling of being a girl has gotten so normal to me that I barely notice until I get home at night and unclasp my bra. There's such a difference, and one of the problems is that my shoulders get a little sore holding these things up all day, and then when I set them free, there's a different sort of discomfort. And yet I don't mind them. I can't explain it. They're just... part of Tori's body. Part of the deal.

But I do occasionally find male co-workers, and strangers on the street casting glances their way. I have yet to decide what I think about that... I can't say I blame them.

While I'm on the subject of stuff I can complain about, my typing has slowed down noticeably since bieng Tori, not surprisingly. I used to be up at about 75 words per minute and right now, with Tori's shorter fingers I'm down somewhere around the high 50's, pacing myself so as to prevent excessive typos. I remember having to proofread and edit my early posts excessively because I was so clumsy. I'm getting better though.

Plus, since I spend all day on the phone, I'm starting to tire of hearing Tori's voice. When I stop and try to listen to myself talk I get distracted by how high and nasal my voice is. I imagine it's probably quite a pretty voice, but it still sounds wrong and I didn't expect it to hit me after this long. I want to sound more masculine than my body is capable of providing, not to mention how sad it sounds when I try to deepen my voice.

I've also been having hair problems. For starters, long hair is super-inconvenient to wash and dry, but as I generally get up several hours before going to work, this isn't much of a problem for me. The problem comes in when Tori's hair behaves in unexpected ways, like getting frizzy in certain weather. Is there a conditioner or something I should be using?

Greg mentioned putting on some weight in his new body. That hasn't exactly been the case for me, as the first time I tried induling my male apetite, I got stuffed really easily and got nauseous. That's not to say this body is in as good of shape as when I got it, but knowing my limits has been part of this whole ordeal. Believe me, I'm getting sick of salads and chicken breasts, but I just couldn't handle a thick juicy steak right now, as much as I'd love one. Also, because the Pearces don't keep much snackfood around the house I've mainly eaten fruit when hungry between meals. It's like I accidentally started dieting!

My main problem seems to be what to do with my free time. I could use a hobby of some kind; Tori's hobby seems to be serial dating, which is not my idea of a good time. I read when I can, but for some reason, if I read too long I'm prone to headaches. I used to be able to read all day, when I was younger; I have no idea how this might be related to the change, but it's unnerving.

So I've made myself a little project. I've realized that no matter what I do, I'm stuck with the body of a girl, and everything around me belongs to a girl, and denying that wasn't getting me anywhere. So I made a bit of a list of things I had been putting off, things I could try as Tori that wouldn't hurt my self-image as Cliff too much.

Before you people start getting any big ideas, however, I should warn you it's not all that exciting of a list. The first item is that tomorrow I'm going to wear heels. The idea is to push things along... but slowly, and not do anything I have reason to be uncomfortable with. You know what I mean.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Greg/Priya: Talking to myself

So maybe last week I made a big deal about how much weight ive gained, and thats mostly a result of the real Priya making a big deal about it, but when you think about it, 12 pounds in 8 months is less than 2 pounds a month, so really all I have to do is stop eating like a guy, stop drinking beer (or switch to light beer), and find a regular form of mild exercise. But since my little trip to the gym I was still annoyed at being checked out, still not turned on by girls in the locker room, and still in need of a new way to exercise.

As Greg I didnt formally work out, I just rode my bike 3 days a week in the Park. I saw no reason as to why I couldnt do this as Priya and Sunday afternoon I put on a pair of dance pants and a tshirt and decided to go biking. The only problem...no bike.

I called the real Priya in New Jersey and confirmed that not only did she have a bike, but Ive seen it before. Its in my apartment. That is, my REAL apartment. Greg and Amber's apartment. Apparently Priya lent it to Amber a LONG time ago because Amber was gonna take up riding. It turns out she never did and the bike just stayed in the closet all the time. Its something I saw every day and just never really noticed or cared about.

Amber laughed at the absurdity of the situation when I called her and told her I needed it, and told me to come over and get it anytime. So I took the L over to my old place and knocked on the door.

Dee answered, and was apparently home alone since Amber was at work when I called her.

"Its you" she said "Come on in"

Its was even weirder being around Dee alone, because when we were out with friends or something, It was like I was in a play and I was playing the part of Priya. With no one else around, I was free to be Greg. She knew who I was, and I was the original owner of her current life.

The first thing I noticed was that the apartment was spotless. Cleaner than I had ever seen it since Amber and I were both messy people. When I commented on this she rolled her eyes and says "I dont know how you stand living with such a slob".

We talked about work and stuff. Apparently they had had dinner at my parents' house recently and she had no time to prepare but managed to bluff her way through it. She was also weirded out to call people that young "mom and dad". (young to her,considering her real parents are probably a lot older).

She had survived and inspection from corporate at work. There were a few items that werent up to speed but they werent damning and easily rectified so that nobody got in trouble. Apparently Dee is developing a knack for hospitality management with a lot of help from my assistant, Heather.

Its weird talking to your old body because you keep thinking your looking in the mirror and when the words and actions dont sync up your brain short circuits and you have to keep reminding yourself of the situation.

After catching up with my old life, I took the bike and left my real home for my perceived home. I had originally planned on riding the bike home, but realized that I had no helmet and Priyas was at her apartment and I wasnt about to risk ending up like Darren and getting in an accident in someone elses body.

So I took the bike on the train, even though its annoying to all the other passengers and I didnt want to be "that guy" (altho I guess there isnt any situation now in which i could truly be "that guy").

After I got the bike home there was enough daylight for me to go for a quick ride, that is until I realized that 5+years in your best friends closet isnt exactly the best bicycle maintenance, so I had to give it a quick tune up, and Priya didnt have ANY tools. Seriously, No tools. Youd think a single woman living by herself in a big city in the 21st century would and some point have the need to fix something and would require some tools. Alas, this was not the case and I went up and down the floor knocking on neighbors doors.

The guys across the hall answered and said that I could borrow their bike tuning kits (they were both avid cyclists) and that I could come on in. While the one was in the other room the other one started making small talk and asking how I was and all that when I realized that I should know these guys. And I didnt. Fortunately, I am now an expert at bluffing my way through life and was able to discern their names when the one in the other room called out to "Phil" and when i read "Mike's" name on the tool box he handed me. They asked if I needed any help and looked unconvinced that I could work on my bike myself, but left me to my devices anyway.

These guys must be pretty friendly with Priya, as they didnt come off in a "I want to get into your pants" kinda way that a lot of guys who dont know me do. They were more like friendly "lets have a beer" kinda dudes. Which is exactly what I did when I got back from my ride. We watched the Bears game and drank beer. I had Miller Light. Just 64 calories.

I like these guys. I think ill look them up when I get my life back.

Ill keep ya posted

-Greg

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Marc/Betty: Repeating a grade.

Having heard from both teachers, it's probably worth hearing from the one of us who became a student, right? I meant to post something about it last weekend, but we'll get to why as the time comes.

The first day, at least to start with, was almost too hectic for me to focus on what was going on. We got back to Newton late on Labour Day, and had to stay up late going through the mail that had piled up in the past month, looking for the things that directly pertained to us, with Arlene forging the signatures of Don and Jillian as necessary. The Daves were no help, although I can understand their perhaps being more focused on sleeping arrangements. Little Dave was trying to push the single-bed plan, while Big Dave was having none of it. She (pardon me for this, but not having met Big Dave/Jillian before, it is hard for me to describe her as a man, no matter how decidedly unfeminine she acts) was trying to get him to rearrange the bedrooms so that Arlene and I were sharing a room that night, but he was tired and we pointed out that maybe they didn't have to get up the next morning, we did, so why not save it for tomorrow?

Then they started arguing about who would take the couch that night. It was, I suppose, kind of darkly funny, with "Jillian" saying that "Donald" should do it because he's the man, and then "Don" riposting that she'd spent the entire weekend saying she wasn't really a woman. Finally I said I would do it, just so I could get some sleep. I got everything I figured I would need out of the spare bedroom, set my alarm, and somehow got five hours of sleep before getting up the next morning and having Heidi drag my half-awake self drag me through the process of getting ready.

Getting to school wasn't too hard; Heidi had left instructions on how to use both Newton's own bus system and the MBTA to do it. We arrived a bit early, and then she arranged to tag along as the vice-principal gave me a quick tour of the grounds, since Betty hadn't flown in from Africa for orientation like new students or attended for two years like Heidi had. It was, I had to admit, impressive, far more so than the public school I attended outside Montreal twenty years ago - we certainly didn't have a swimming pool, a separate science building, or a miniature food court in the cafeteria. She was pleased to meet me, but noticed that my accent was different from some of the other Nigerian students they had hosted in the past. I'd done just enough online research to bluff my way through an explanation that Nigeria had as many if not more regional languages as an equivalent area of the U.S. I think she expected me to be harder to understand, but having lived near Montreal all my life, where it pays to be bilingual, I speak English fairly well, even if I still think in French.

The school day itself was mostly like I remember from my own high school days, only in English. The differences were striking, though. I felt odd standing for the Pledge of Allegiance, although I hope that at some point the unease will fade and I'll just be able to laugh at the absurdity of me, a French-Canadian man pretending to be a Nigerian girl, standing while the rest of the class intones this speech in a quite frankly frightening monotone. Most at least understand my not putting my hand on my heart and reciting, since I'm foreign. It at least means I don't have to spend that minute feeling uncomfortable about touching my underage breast.

The biggest change, I think, is that most of the students, "Betty" and "Heidi" included, have traded in spiral notebooks for laptops. I've got one of those miniature ones, "netbooks", that actually feels like it's about the right size because of my smaller hands. I'm still not used to taking notes that way, and neither is Arlene. Some of the kids just open them up, use the camera to record the lecture, with the intention of transcribing it afterward. For us, it feels wrong not to take paper notes, so I tend to jump between the two, occasionally writing my blog on Tuesday during classes I knew from long ago... Like French, my first class on that day.

Even though we know a fair amount of what we're being taught, Arlene and I are both putting in the time after school to study and read our assignments. We haven't heard from either the original Betty or Laskers, nor the new people taking up our lives, so I've got to make being Betty work; though I doubt they'd deport me for failing my first chemistry test, why do anything more that might move me closer to having first-hand knowledge of what Nigeria is like?

I also must say, I don't know whether to be impressed or alarmed with how clever Arlene is in terms of insinuating herself into Heidi's life, especially since I appear to be one of her primary tools for doings so. For example, last weekend, I'd been planning on just resting, maybe getting into contact with the other transformees in the Boston area or even catching a train back up to Old Orchard to see if we could meet the new us or learn more about the Inn. Instead, though, she decides it's important that we hang around with Heidi's friends.

I say she should have fun with that, but she says it's important I come along - after all, even if the Inn's curse keeps people believing that we're who we appear to be, it doesn't give us any information. But, stick a stranger in the middle, and Heidi's girlfriends will explain every little detail. So now Arlene's got the lowdown on who Heidi was dating, why they broke up earlier in the summer, which members of the cheerleading team were bitches and which weren't, and similar information about the teachers.

Useful, I suppose, although it's rather creepy when, on Sunday night, the sweet-looking young girl combing her hair tells you how it's just like reading johns, figuring out how to get them to talk about themselves, fill you in so that they feel like they're making a connection. She's quite matter-of-fact about that, and it's a little scary, to be honest - as much as the new body situation is freaking me out, she is genuinely enjoying being young again, and sees a new life laid out ahead of her as a blessing rather than the frightening situation it seems to me, but there are moments when it's very clear that she certainly hasn't put her old one completely behind her.

-Marc

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Todd: Family Values

A lot of time has passed since I found out Deb, in my body, had impregnated a girl named Erica (previously a totally platonic friend I would never have had sex with. Probably.)

I guess I had a few expectations getting my life back. I wanted it to be exactly as I had left it, but the truth is, that was not going to be possible anyway. Before I even left for the States, I quit my job and broke up with my girlfriend, who, before we could reconcile, went and got herself transformed. No matter how I spin it, this wasn't going to be the life I wanted to get back to, so sure, why not toss in a bastard lovechild for good measure?

It is entirely likely I overreacted in my description but the truth is, I felt pretty betrayed by what Deb had done. It's not so bad that she went ahead and had sex with Erica. Yes it complicated a relatively simple, innocent acquaintanceship needlessly, but I'm used to it. I could've moved past the awkwardness like it never happened. But now there's evidence. Now it's a thing. And I guess I'm mad that Deb would've been so careless. Or that Erica would be so careless. Someone was careless and it wasn't me.

After writing that last post, I felt the urge to go see my mom. She lives in Etobicoke, far from the hustle-and-bustle of downtown life and really not that hard to get to, but for some reason I had been putting it off since getting home. I guess I was too wrapped up in my own life to think about her.

So I went out to see her without any clear decision as to whether I'd be telling her about my situation. When I got there, I had no idea what to say.

She told me, "I can tell you've got something on your mind" as she poured me an Irish coffee (we do love to drink in our family.) I was wringing my hands and drumming my fingers. Nervous habits. I wondered to myself if she'd noticed my "nervous habits" had changed over the last year. I wondered if Deb ever actually came out to visit her. "So what brings you out here?"

I wanted to tell her. I felt it all welling up in my throat as I thought back to the morning I was transformed into Anne-Marie, and after realizing I would not be going right back to Toronto, she was the second person I thought of (after Alia of course.) I wanted to tell her how I had spent a year living in a house ten times nicer than any place we'd ever lived and how it gave me an appreciation of everything she did to provide for me while Dad was in and out of the marriage (the situation between my parents was... confusing, maybe I'll explain it someday.) About how I had tried my hand at parenthood - motherhood to be exact - and occasionally found it enjoyable. When I think back on it now, more than anything about Anne-Marie's life, I miss Hayley and Connor.

I stammered, "It's been a while. I don't come around as often as I should."

She laughed. "I suppose not. I only raised you, after all."

"It's been a very... strange year."

"Are you ready to talk about it, then?"

"Talk about what?"

"Your mental breakdown."

I did a double-take. "My what?"

"Well, what would you call it? Your girlfriend broke up with you, you quit your job..."

"I wouldn't call it a mental breakdown." Well, maybe I would have.

"I didn't mind when you said you had the flu at Christmas. You didn't call me on my birthday. You didn't come to your cousin Terri's engagement party." My cousin Terri got engaged? "I don't blame you, you never were the most organized, but I want you to know I've noticed. A mother notices these things and I want you to tell me if there's something wrong."

"I didn't mean to worry you, mom--"

"Oh, you want to talk about worried? How abut disappearing to the States for months on end with hardly a postcard or e-mail?"

I sat thinking about it for a moment, my mind running over the effect my absence had had on my mother. I had been very involved with Anne-Marie's family, but Deb hadn't gone out of her way to be part of mine. And as much as I wanted to be mad at her for that, the fact is it wasn't that far off from the way I had been before. I'd come to family gatherings and act aloof from everyone, snipe and start arguments with distant relatives if it suited me, because I didn't like being made to interact with them. Shit, more than one Thanksgiving/Christmas/Birthday/Reunion I came stoned and/or drunk just to deal with it, when I wasn't outright skipping them. The behaviour my mom was chiding me for was my own, not just Deb's.

"I needed to grow up," I told her.

"Well I'm glad you said it." She smiled a warm, motherly grin, "But what are you going to do about it?"

I took a long, thoughtful sip and decided to tell her.

"Something's happened. Someone's pregnant."

"Someone?" She asked. I nodded. "Not Alia?"

"No."

"Are you seeing this girl?"

"No. Someone else is."

She heaved a deep, disappointed sigh. I was sure to add, "He wasn't seeing her at the time. I think they were, you know, broken up, or on a break or whatever, and I didn't think it was going to-- well, it doesn't matter. I made a mistake." The weird thing is, I have made mistakes, and it would do me well to admit them, even if this isn't one of them.

"And what happens now?" she asked. "Is she keeping it?"

"To my knowledge."

"And you're, what, going to help raise it? Support the kid? Play dad? Or just sign the kid away to his other daddy?"

"I... I haven't figured it out yet."

"Well," she finished her coffee, and I'd finished mine, so she cleared the cups away. "When you do, let me know. Because I want to help you, but you've got to decide these things for yourself. I want you to do whatever you feel is right, Todd."

"Thanks, mom," I stood to leave. I gave her a big, warm hug and a kiss. It felt good to reconnect with her... we hadn't talked that seriously since way, way before I left. I forgot how much of a straight-talker she can be when the situation calls for it. She can be a tough lady, my mom, and I admire her for it.

I left still not knowing what to do, but feeling I was on the right track to properly addressing the situation.

-Todd

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Alia/Rob: Mr. Garcia's World

For starters -- no, I am not teaching at the same high school as Tony Danza.

For the last few weeks I've been doing Rob's job, teaching his classes. I won't lie, I'm not the least qualified person that could've been put in his shoes, but it doesn't mean I've been loving it. It's been... educational, I suppose you could say.

Given that I appear to be a person who has been doing this job, teaching high school, for several years, I didn't expect anyone to cut me slack while I found my footing. I came in intent on running things by the books and just taking as straightforward a route as I can. Not ruffling any feathers. To date, nobody has called me out on my performance, which shouldn't come as a surprise I guess, even if I'm often self-conscious about it.

What I discovered after a week or two is that I really hate doing that. I lose focus on the topic at hand, I go on tangents, I get distracted when the kids start acting up and I lose control. It's a waste of energy.

I decided that the only way I'm going to survive this job (by which I mean not "avoid getting fired" but rather "keep from exploding") is to do it my way. Free-form it. To my (partial) surprise I've found I've got a bit of knack for improvising my way through this whole thing, maybe because I always had an appreciation for teachers who seemed to love their material, so deep down I'm emulating their behaviour. (I should get out of the habit of using my beloved Canadian spellings, shouldn't I...)

I teach three classes through the day, each with something of a different strategy. Second period (man I love having first period off so I can arrive late or just hang around the teacher's lounge) I teach Grade 9 English (er, "Ninth Grade") which is mostly language-based, so I'm doing lesson-plan stuff involving sentence-diagrams, symbolic language, fairly basic stuff. A little later will be book reports mixed in, but for now its grammar hour.

Third period I move up to grade 10 (again, "Tenth Grade") where we've started with some short story discussions and in October we'll be moving on to Romeo and Juliet, one of my favourites. So far, some of the kids have made some very intriguing observations about the stories we've studied. It's led to some cool discussions I was glad to witness.

One thing you can't say about these kids is that they're dumb. Okay, some of them are, but it's not to the level where I would give up on them, because they all show promise and good critical thinking, even if it is sometimes misplaced. (One student spent about ten minutes laying out a case that Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" was about racism, which was an interesting extrapolation if a little creative/colorful/misguided.)

Anyway. I don't know how much time I want to spend talking about the job, but at the same time that is most of what's going on in my life. Todd and I talk a lot on MSN and he's been saying I should be posting more, and I say the same thing to him, so this is me trying to encourage him. As usual I have to set the example (long story.)

I almost didn't mention, my last class, fifth period (after getting fourth for lunch) which is American History. I'll admit, that's still mainly me reading from a textbook. It'll be more interesting when the kids start doing historical re-creations and such later in the semester.

So yeah, the first couple weeks have been a bit of a blur. It's so weird being among these kids and looking like a real adult, as opposed to, I dunno, I guess I really am an adult but as a 24-year-old grad student a high school kid might feel more like my contemporary even though the grade 9's were born after Kurt Cobain died. That's messed up.

So anyway. I haven't gotten around to writing about it for a few reasons. For starters, I get pretty tired by the time I finally get home I just want to hang out on the couch with my hand down my pants (seriously, why are those things never comfortable unless I'm cupping them? Rhetorical question. Also, exaggeration-but-not-really.) For another thing, it's not a huge part of the "Strange being a man" story this blog seems more geared toward. I mean, I guess anything is fair game, but whether I just adapted quickly, or I lost interest, I just have a hard time discerning exactly what I should be writing here. So if I disappear for long spans, I apologize in advance.

I mean, yes, it is extremely odd walking around a high school full of teenagers and being looked at as some kind of authority figure. Towering over a lot of these kids in my white shirt and tie. Being sure to avert my eyes whenever a girl tests the dress code just a little too much. Some things never change, and the desire for "a certain type" of girl to want to show off her body is one of those things. And I remember how all the male teachers who enforced those rules would be thought of as pervs amongst the girls... not that I was ever one of those "dress-code testing" girls (well, I've got some outfits at home, but they came later for me.)

Example. I was on lunchtime hallway duty with a male teacher friend of Rob's (and I guess, by extension, mine) about the same age, and as one group of girls passed he just shook his head and muttered wryly "My friend, we were born in the wrong decade." He laughed about it, but I was just grossed out.

I was never a "bad girl" and I don't think I was particularly weak-willed but it still feels strange that young people see me as being in charge of stuff. They ask me if they can go to the washroom. I CONTROL THEIR BLADDERS, DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND?!?!

Ahem.

Yet that still does not stop them from talking when I'm trying to teach, or leaving their garbage behind at the cafeteria tables.

I still don't think I was made for this "inspiring young minds" thing, but I fake it about as well as some of the teachers I had when I was in high school.

Stressful, but... manageable, I guess. For now.

-Alia

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Greg/Priya: Working it out.

So at the start of my last post I basically described the new, laid back, introverted lifestyle of the New Priya Patel. Its basically a lot like my life was when I was a bachelor, which i barely remembered since it was so long ago. Amber and I started dating in college, when we were 19, which means that the last and only time i was truly a bachelor was between 18 and 19, My freshman year. Like many college freshmen, the effects of eating like a pig and drinking and laying around all day caused me to gain the traditional "freshman 15" pounds. This effect has repeated itself, although its much more apparent in Priya's body.

I didnt notice it at first, since I mostly wear loose fitting dresses to work and sweatpants around the house. But last Friday was ASES's (Adlai Stevenson Elementary School) annual "western day" in which the kids and teachers dress up like cowboys and cowgirls and the normal dress code (yes, some elementary schoool kids have dress codes now) rules are relaxed. This all sounded silly but the kids get a kick out of it and all the teachers are expected to do it. Fortuneatly this wasnt Priya's first rodeo (pun intended) and she had a cowgirl outfit in the closet.

The outfit consists of a Pink denim shirt with fringes on it, an oversized belt buckle, some tight faded blue jeans, and a cowboy hat. I went to try it on the night before only to discover that the jeans wouldnt button. They wouldnt even zip up due to the now noticeable pudge on my belly and tightness in the butt area. At first I thought it was just an old pair of jeans but then I tried on more of her pairs and got similar results. This led me to the bathroom scale and a readout of 132lbs. Not knowing if this were good or bad, I called the real Priya in New Jersey.

She answered and I asked innocently "Umm..Priya..how much should you weigh?"

"120" she replied. "Why, how much DO i weigh?"

"132" I mumbled.

This caused her to blow a fuse. "132? Greg you lazy bastard what the hell have you been doing to my body? You gained 12 pounds in one month? What are you eating?"

I finally calmed her down by explaining I wasnt familiar with her body's metabolism and that I would have it back to normal weight by the time she got it back next May.

Looking back I can understand her anger. 12 pounds isnt much to guys, but for a girl Priya's size, its 10% of your body weight. Not to mention at the rate I was going shed weigh 228 pounds but the time we changed back.

So Saturday I went to the gym. (Western day was fun, btw. I improvised with a jean skirt) Priya had a gym membership that she used about once a week so I put on her workout clothes (which were a little too tight for my liking) and walked there.

I hadnt been to the gym in a long time in my past life but soon found out that its a pretty different experience for a girl. I looked at the lifting machines and freeweights i used to use and decided that those would be a bit TOO difficult and resigned myself to some cardio.

Another thing thats different is that apparently Priya's gym is full of young people and its apparently a great place to meet people to date. This was not something I was interested in but someone forgot to tell all the guys that kept checking me out and flirting with me. I was just trying to work on the exercise bike but that didnt prevent the mundane small talk, lame compliments, and not too causual requests for my number. I finished my workout sweaty and exhausted and retreated to the girls locker room.

The girls locker room is something that all guys fantasize about seeing in junior high and now that ive actually seen one Ill tell you it wasnt that impressive. Especially since some of the girls in it are not the type youd want to see naked.

As I was showering I looked around and realized that all these naked women did nothing for me. I was able to appreciate and evaluate their beauty, but i felt no physical arousal at all. Which apparently means that with Priya's body comes Priya's sexuality. Which means Im now "into guys" whether I like it or not. I dunno, its not something Im happy about but from what I read Im not gonna be able to fight it. That doesnt mean im gonna slut it up in Priyas body, and it probably means Im gonna avoid the gym from now on which means Im gonna need a new form of exercise.

Ill keep ya posted (This is like the 5th time ive ended a post with this. It was unintentional but pretty punny when you think about it, so im gonna keep it)

-Greg

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Cliff/Tori: Life goes on

Since I'm still new at telemarketing, I only work three evenings a week. Tonight was a night off, so I was doing laundry, killing time between loads by reading random sci-fi books and tuning in on whatever Mae was watching on TV. I was loading all my clean whites into a hamper when Tori's mom called me into the kitchen and asked my opinion on potential colors for the kitchen, which she is going to be painting next weekend. I told her I liked the light/pale yellowish tone. She didn't seem to agree, so I shrugged and went back to my room to sort out my clothes. And as I was folding my underwear, something occurred to me.

This is really my life.

Re-read the last paragraph where I wrote "Tori's mom called me into the kitchen." I originally wrote that as "Mom called me into the kitchen." She' not my mom, she's really nothing like my mom (except that she's a mom.) I barely know the woman, even since I've lived here I haven't done much work getting to know her, I just give her space and she seems able to let me live in her house, and the result of that is that I don't stammer anymore when I refer to her as "mom" and I respond immediately when she called for "Tori."

And those clothes I'm putting away, how did I get them? Of course they're nothing I would've bought for myself, even as a woman I would've thought twice before purchasing half of this stuff, but it's mine now. I wear it, I wash it, I put it someplace I can get it easily when I want it again. There are times when it is absurdly comfortable, there are times when it is not. It no longer seems to weird me out, though, that there are parts of my body that I didn't have before, and there are parts of my body I no longer have. "What bra will I wear today?" This is a question I actually ask myself every morning. Then I put on some panties and get on with my day.

It was one of those overwhelming meta-moments, you know? Just a slight little thought and suddenly my mind is blown. There seem to be times I forget I am a different person from who I was a few months ago. One of the most amazing, unbelievable things in history has happened to me, and I am folding laundry and thinking about going to work tomorrow like there is nothing strange about not having a penis.

It was like being awakened from a trance, and I tried to remember what it was like to have a penis. I could capture the feeling in my mind for a little while, but it was too hard, and depressing. Part of me wonders whether this is the beginning of things starting to get out of hand to where I don't miss being a man anymore. After all, it's been only a few months and I no longer think about it 24/7. Part of me is sad about that, part of me is glad not to be torturing myself. I think I've written about that before.

This made me realize I had not called Willy in a few weeks, had no idea what was going on with my life - my real life, as J.H. Clifford - and was strangely disappointing when things were, apparently, a-okay, work is fine, he gets along with my friends. He was thinking about leaving my work as there was only so much about computer repair he could learn on the fly, and I was a little nervous about that, because what happens when someone starts making decisions in your life? Do you start to feel more like you are them? And then I realized that was exactly what was happening with me and Tori, and my telemarketing job.

So I took a deep breath and tried to convince myself that this is all okay, and sooner or later I will be able to reclaim my life, and I had long since decided that it was not cool to constantly be complaining about things like that that I can't change. So I decided just to engage in a little blog-therapy since you guys haven't heard from me in a while. Sorry that some of the things I've said in my last few posts are a little repetitive but I've got some very big things to grasp a hold of, mentally. It's not all going to come at once.

I feel like, bit by bit, I'm getting less confused about who I am. It's not that I'm not Cliff, it's just that somehow I'm Cliff and Tori, and I have as much responsibility to be both, if that makes any sense. Moments like today, where I wake up from the trance" and realize "omg this is so weird" don't happen very often and then they subside and I get back to actually living, which is a comfort.

It's okay that things are going to be okay.

Sorry, I always had a habit of over-analyzing things in my regular life too.

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Marc/Betty: What a family

Within the Inn the past few days, the fact that Arlene and I only appear to be sixteen didn't matter that much. That she had taken charge the first night certainly made a difference, but at least the other nine people in the building knew that we weren't who we appeared to be, and treated us accordingly.

Once we got outside, it was a different story. Two teenage girls asking strange questions got us brushed off, and by nightfall on Saturday we were both ready for a drink, but no-one was going to serve us. In fact, we started getting a little panicky about simply eating - neither of us had much cash on us when we changed, and we worried that we might get in trouble for using our ATM cards, or those of Don and Jillian Lasker. Betty Okonkwo had arrived in America so recently that she didn't even have a bank account set up yet, and Heidi Lasker's only contained enough for emergencies.

We spent a lot of time showing tourists and locals pictures from Heidi's phone, asking if they had seen these people. No-one had, and we were having a council of war over pancakes Monday morning when... I guess you could say our problems were solved.

A shabbily-dressed couple was arguing outside, but Arlene and I were so focused on our own issues that we weren't hearing the words, only the noise. One of them came in with a slam of the door, and pushed passed Arlene so roughly that she spilled juice on herself. I looked up to chew him out, but froze halfway through a curse. I asked her to give me the phone, and she grumbled while trying to pull it out of her pocket while wiping herself off. I turned it on, pulled up the picture of Donald Lasker, and held it up so I could compare the picture with the face of the person counting out nickels at the counter. He was covered in dirt and scowling compared to the vacation pictures we had to compare with, but maybe... I flicked to the next one, and turned around to face the window. Tough to tell under that bulky jacket and hat, but...

Arlene saw what I was doing, grabbed the phone and did the same comparisons. She was not pleased; "Oh, hell no!" were her exact words.

The new Don gave her an angry look. "What the hell are you looking at?"

"Nothing... Daddy." She turned the phone around so that he could see the picture of a much more clean-cut version of himself.

The man started quivering, and then bolted from the cafe, knocking a table over before grabbing the woman and dragging her after him. Arlene rested her chin on her fists and then pouted. "Great. Just great. What's the point of a new start if you're just going to get shitty parents all over again?"

I was about to say something to her, but realized there were more pressing concerns. I told her to wait right there, got up, and ran after the pair.

They hadn't gotten far, but far enough that I was pretty winded when I finally skidded to a stop in front of them so that they'd stop running. I muttered something under my breath about thinking Africans were supposed to be good at running. "Let me guess," I said, "you two were somewhere around the Trading Post Inn Friday night, and woke up new people?"

The woman ran up and grabbed me. "How do you know? Did you do this to us? We've been trying to tell people, and everyone looks at us like we're crazy!"

"Take it easy! The same thing happened to us. We're not really kids, but..."

"--but we need you guys." Arlene had caught up with us. "Now, I don't know what happens if we try to take over Heidi's and Betty's lives without at least one parent to cover for us, but I suspect it involves me going into foster care or staying with some relative who doesn't know what's going on, and Marc here getting deported. Tell me, Marc, if you get sent to Africa, do you think you'll be able to get your old life back?"

"Uh, no--"

"I didn't think so. So, here's your choices - you can come back to the Inn with us, get a shower, some clean clothes, and drive us to our new home in Newton, Massachusetts... Or you can keep sleeping on the street, maybe sticking close to the Inn so that you can get your old lives back. Because they were clearly awesome."

The two of them looked at each other - and us - warily. The woman pointed at the man. "He's been trying to fuck me for the past two days. I don't have to do that, do I? I mean, we're probably married, bein' your parents and all..."

Even if she didn't have a look on her face saying that it might be a deal-breaker, my answer would have been the same. "I don't see why you should."

"That's right," Arlene said. "I mean, they're sending their daughter to private school and serving as a host family for another girl. They've probably got a big house."

"With spare bedrooms."

"And we can share a room if necessary. After all--" She elbowed me in the side. "--that's what got us into the situation we're in, isn't it?"

I felt myself blushing, although I don't know if anybody could see it under my darker skin. The new Jillian said she figured that would be fine, and while the new Donald looked disappointed, he guessed that was all right. That settled, we led them back to the Inn.

We learned their stories as they got cleaned up and changed. They introduced themselves as "Big Dave" and "Little Dave"; as luck would have it, "Big Dave" was the one who had become Jillian. Neither was exactly forthcoming with why they were living on the streets. I don't think either put much into their letters, either, and Arlene didn't spend much time on hers, either. She said it didn't much matter - whoever became her could do what they wanted with her life. She was just giving information, not instructions.

I, however, did give instructions - as much as I am oddly relieved to no longer have certain responsibilities awaiting me back home, I do hope that whoever becomes Marc Levesque follows through with them, as they are important.

Once that was done, we had an awkward first family meal at one of the local pizza places, and then drove "home". I'm not certain, but I think it took roughly twice as long as it was supposed to - neither of the Daves had been behind the wheel in a while, neither "Betty" nor "Heidi" has a driver's license, and the batteries in the GPS were dead.

I should post this now, as my lunch period is almost over; details about my first day in my second time through high school will have to wait.

-Marc

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

Greg/Priya: Ambushed

So the day after my last post was one month since I changed into Priya. (For those of you wondering, yes i did get my period. I just didnt feel the need to post about it. It wasnt as bad as I thought it would be but Its not something I wann go into detail about). I dont wanna say that its the kind of thing Ill ever get fully used to, but with every day it gets a little less weird. I dont wake up in the morning and feel weird. It still different but its now expected. Worked has really helped things feel normal. Theres just something about a 9-3 schedule every day that takes your mind off of your foreign body.

My personal life has taken a dip tho, by my own intentions. I just didnt feel like I was ready to start convincing Priya's family and friends that I was her. The past couple weeks my evenings and weekends have been spent at home doing nothing. Which is more difficult than it sounds because TV is still in reruns and Priya doesnt own a video game console, but ive made do. Im still posting on all my internet message boards, because I still have the password to my accounts and no one reading them will know i occupy the body of a tiny Indian woman for the next year. Its actually kinda cool to interact with people as my original self, even tho it is online.

Message boards were actually part of the plan for today, as I was gonna sit around all day in a tshirt and boxer shorts (i dont wanna know who they originally belonged to) watching college football and posting about the games online. I went to the University of Chicago, which doesnt have a football team so I mostly root for Illinois. After theyre debacle agaisnt Missouri I was gonna order some Chinese food before the late game started when I got a phone call from Amber.

She said that she and "Greg" were having a few down at Erica's (a bar by our apartment) and that I should come on down. I thought for a moment and looked at myself, thinking I looked like a total slob, but I really miss Amber and spending time with her and having a few drinks would be just what I needed to get over the Illini's loss today.

After a long hot shower and picking out what I determined to be suitable bar wear (knit pants and a white blouse showing what little cleavage I have) I left my apartment and caught the L to the area where the bar was.

This of course being college football day, the bar was still packed. I searched around and finally saw Amber waving to me from a table. Sitting next to her was Dee and across from them some guy I didnt recognize.

I sat down greeted Amber and Dee and Amber introduced the other guy as Will, a pharmacist from her work. I smiled politely and will smiled a little TOO politely as we shook hands and I sat down. After I gave the waitress my drink order (whiskey and water, which elicited a strange face from Amber) I gave Amber a quizzical look and she gave me a somewhat devious one back. Its weird that even though Im not who I look like I can still communicate with my fiance without having to say a word. Finally I excused myself to go to the bathroom and Amber followed me in typical female fashion.

When we got in front of the mirror I looked at her and asked "What the heck is this?"

"Its a set up. Will's a great guy and you need to socialize more lately." she replied.

"I dont wanna be set up"i protested

"Nobody's saying you have to date him, just have a little fun tonite. Itll be fun, I promise"

We walked back to the table, myself resigned to be will's "date" for the night. Althogh he really isnt a bad guy. In fact he's actually a pretty good conversationalist. We talked a few hours and he bought all my drinks, which is an excellent side effect of being female even if they were appletinis becuase not being able to handle whiskey is one of lesser side effects of being female.

At around midnight, Amber said it was about time for them to get home (and she was kinda groping my old body in public, unintentionally letting me know that Dee was about to get lucky tonite) and she and Dee walked back to the apartment that I used to live in, leaving me and Will alone on the sidewalk.

At this point Will informed me that the Chicago Public Transportation system late at night was no place for a lady and that since he had stopped drinking at 10 he was sober enough to give me a ride home. I was gonna tell him off but he did have a point. So we got into his Mercedes (apparnetly pharmacy is a good business to be in) and drove to my apartment, where he walked me to my door.

I looked up at him and smiled, but I think we both knew that nothing was gonna happen that night and he didnt seem to bothered by it. I thanked him for a nice evening and he gave me a kiss on the hand, which Ill admit is actually a lot more fun on the receiving end.

I didnt give him my phone number. Hes a great guy and he and Priya might actually go together, but I cant be starting anything long term in this body because feelings will get hurt eventually. So im just sitting here in front of my computer, feeling a little buzzed still and reflecting how enjoyable life can be if you let it.

Thats all for now

-Greg

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Marc Levesque: Mon Dieu!

I am not a religious man. I've been baptized, yes, but I only go to Mass twice a year. I found confession good for my soul, but when my marriage fell apart, I did not hesitate to divorce. And yet, when the Inn's magic struck me, my first thought was that it was God's vengeance for my sins.

He had reason to do so; when I left the Inn last night, I was aiming to sin. I was going somewhat crazy hanging around the inn, waiting for a call. I spent some time on the beach reading a book, mildly diverted when some high school kids set up a net to play volleyball, maybe not looking away quickly enough when I realized how young they were. I waded some in the water, came out, put on some pants and went to get some food. Then, after eating it on the pier, I went to find some place to drink.

The drinking was good - there were some places serving decent microbrews - but it was not really the goal. I was, no denying it, looking for a girl. I was not having much success, though; most of the other vacationers were couples or families, and the ones from the rest who weren't immediately turned off by the gray at my temples were in a group that they didn't want to separate from. At about midnight I decided I had had enough; I started to stand when a woman sat down at the bar beside me.

She was a bit younger than myself - in her mid-thirties, although she was wearing a lot of cosmetics to cover up that they maybe hadn't been easy years. Or maybe she was trying to look younger, and it wasn't quite working. She had dirty blonde hair, a tight black dress that manhandled her breasts into perching high on her chest, and boots that had a stiletto point to their heels. She smiled at me, expecting me to buy her a drink.

I sighed. "So it's come to this," I said.

She smiled a little wider, probably to avoid scowling. "It's not so bad. You're looking for something and I can supply it."

We haggled a bit on the price, but not long. I did want what she was offering, after all. I paid for the drinks, and took Arlene back to the Inn.

There were a couple of vagrants sitting on a bench nearby, and they made some whistling noises at her as we walked past them. She shivered a little as we crossed the threshhold - it is starting to get chilly at night - and then we went to my room. And then we started.

As one might expect from a professional of her experience, Arlene was good. She started with her mouth, and then we moved to the bed. She had learned a lot of tricks, and I don't want to describe what we were doing when half-past two came around. Both our eyes were closed, but she was yelling "oh god", and as this feeling of becoming lighter flowed over me, her voice became higher. I felt myself going limp, so I tried to thrust deeper, but it did not good. I opened my eyes and was shocked by what I saw - where before I would have put Arlene in her mid-thirties, the girl making those noises was a teenager!

Without looking or thinking, I grabbed the feet that were digging into my armpits by the ankles and shoved her off me. She fell off the end of the bed and hit the floor with a thump. "Ow! What was that for?" She hauled herself up over the foot of the bed, intending to look angrily at me, only to have her jaw drop in shock. I was looking at much the same thing, and having much the same reaction.

I had gotten a bit of a tan over the past week, but now my skin was black. A deep, chocolate black all over, only a little lighter on the palms of my hands and soles of my feet. My belly was gone, as was my body hair, for the most part, with the exception of a small patch near my new vagina. I had the firm teenage breasts to match it, and my limbs and belly had also grown slender, like a girl's.

Arlene looked scared. "Look," she said, "I don't know how you made yourself look white, or older, or like a man, but I don't do kids. I'll do a lot of other stuff, but I draw the line at that!"

"Moi non plus!" I'd slipped into French out of shock, and she looked confused. "I don't do kids either!"

She looked down then, grabbing at her now much-smaller breasts. She saw that her pubic hair indicated that she was now a natural blonde, pulled some of the finer hair growing from her head in front of her eyes, and then ran to the bathroom to see her new face in the mirror. "I'm a girl again... Frenchy, what did you do?"

"I don't know!" Then I remembered what I'd read on the Inn's website which I had dismissed as fiction. I told her what I gathered from it; she actually smiled. "So, I'm not Arlene Randall any more. I wonder who I am!"

She opened the closet but didn't find anything. "You said there are supposed to be suitcases with new lives in them! Where are they?"

"Je ne sais... I do not know! You say we're teenagers; maybe our parents were staying in the next room, and the suitcases would be there?"

She considered that, and nodded. "Good idea, Frenchy." She ran, naked, from the closet, back to the bathroom that connected this room with the next. I fastened a couple of buttons on my shirt, which was now, distressingly, large enough to cover all that needed covering and followed her. While she was banging on the locked door, I caught a look at my new face in the mirror. Kind of pretty, I guess, though I banished that thought from my mind - she was too young for me to think that about, even if she was me. I did note her tangled hair and full lips, though.

Arlene was getting nowhere. I put my hand on her shoulder. "Mademoiselle Randall, I don't think there's anybody in there. I've been here all week and have not heard or seen anybody there."

"Well, our new parents have to be somewhere!" She stormed back in the room, slid on her panties, and then slipped back into her dress. One of the shoulder straps immediately dropped to her elbow, so she stepped out of it and walked over to my suitcase and pulled out a t-shirt. "Do you mind? Thanks." She had it on before I could answer, and then was out the door, banging on the door of the room across from mine. I hurriedly slipped back into my pants, and even with the belt tightened to it's last stop, I had to hold them up to keep from tripping over the cuffs as I followed her out into the hallway.

Screams followed after every door she banged on, but it got the job done. Within minutes, everyone was up and gathered in the lobby. I mention what I'd read here, and a couple others say they saw it, too, but hadn't thought it was real. We looked around, but didn't see any couples that looked likely to be either her new parents or mine. While she was talking, I did a head count... And there were only eleven.

As the others dispersed back to their rooms to find their suitcases, Arlene and I ran around the building, looking for any place where two more people could be, but we couldn't find them. We eventually found the person who'd been transformed into the biggest guy and had him kick down the door (after discovering that our new forms were not up to the task, of course).

There were, as expected, four suitcases to be found in the empty room. Arlene discovered her new name was Heidi Lasker, and that the names of Heidi's parents were Don and Jillian. They seemed to be a fastidious family - all the clothes in the suitcases were freshly cleaned and folded, and they had even taped photographs to them so that we would know which belonged to which. It was with no small amount of trepidation that I opened mine, and read the letter enclosed.

To the new Betty Okonkwo:

When I won the essay-writing contest that allowed me to come to school in America, I knew it would change my life, but not as much as it did. I am not sure how well I will fit into my new life yet, but I can at least tell you about mine.

My name is Betty Okonkwo; I was born on 15 October 1992, in Lagos, Nigeria. I have no brothers and sisters that I know of, but since I have not seen my father in over ten years, it is certainly possible that I do. I have always done well at school and have applied for many scholarships in the past; to be chosen for a full scholarship at a private school in Massachusetts was a dream come true. I would have to live with a host family, which is where the Laskers come in; they graciously volunteered to house me while I attended school with their daughter Heidi.

I have always particularly excelled in my science courses, and though many of my neighbors back home use "witchcraft" as an explanation for everything, my mother raised me to be skeptical of such claims. Now, seeing what this place has done, I wonder.

As yet, I have no friends here other than Heidi, and I am glad that I will continue to stay with both her and her parents; other people at this place were not so lucky. Mr. Lasker believes that it is possible for us to return to our true forms if we were to return to the Inn in reverse order from how we stayed, so I would request that you not allow my grades to suffer; as you are likely an American and an adult, it should hopefully not be too difficult for you to maintain my modest achievements.

I hope that my life is not too much of a disappointment,

Betty Okonkwo


There were other things in there - clothes, a Nigerian passport, a key to the Laskers' house in Newton, and a reminder that classes would start this coming Tuesday, 8 September. I dropped to the bed, almost unable to absorb it, and suddenly exhausted; it was, after all, past three in the morning by then. The adrenaline drained from me, and I would have fallen asleep right there, but Arlene led me back to my room.

When I woke up again, at around ten o'clock, she was already dressed in some of Heidi's clothes, and had tied her hair back in a ponytail. "Hey, sleepyhead! Are you ready for the first day of your new life?"

I protested; we couldn't just pretend to be these girls.

"Why not? I don't know if you've noticed, but we're young, cute, and while Heidi's parents aren't rich-rich-rich, I googled their address - that's a nice spot in the suburbs. Did you know Newton, MA, is one of the safest communities in America? We're going to a top-flight private school, and I didn't check between your legs, but I'm a virgin again! This is, like, the best second chance possible!

"Now, I've laid out some clothes for you - yes, I know it's a dress, you should get used to it. So, take a shower and get dressed, I'll help you. After that, we've got to start looking for our new folks - school starts on Tuesday, so we've got to be 'back' by then." She did the little finger-quotes around "back".

"But--"

"Listen, we've got to go back - maybe we'll change back before that happens, but maybe we won't. If we don't, then we're just two unsupervised teenage girls far from home. Now, you say that after you sent that email in, they sent back a username and password for the blog, right? You should post what happened to us on there; maybe one of the other visitors knows why there's no sign of the new Don and Jillian Lasker."

So that's what I've been doing, although it's taking me longer than I expected - Arlene is ready to go out and start asking if people have any idea what's going on, but I felt it necessary to include all the details, and it takes me a bit longer to write in English. We're heading out now; I hope we find something useful.

-Marc

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Penny: All roads lead north

So, what I wrote yesterday gets us roughly to when Jessica IM'ed from Montreal. And, as you might have guessed, I left something out of that.

When Jessica went to Old Orchard to verify that, yes, Liz and Ray had gone there and left as other people, she half-expected that it might lead to another epic quest she didn't have time for. As it turns out, though, it's much easier to track people down when the trail has not been cold for months or years. Jessica has amazing kung fu skills with her camera phone; she said she just needed a minute with the register unattended to flip through some pages and get images she could scan at her leisure later.

One thing she noticed that was certainly different from her time at the Inn - and I think from mine as well - was that there was now a column in the register for room numbers. It was not always filled in, but it helped. The fastidious Liz had noted that she had room 5, and although neither the McInernys nor the folks who stayed there before Liz and Ray had filled in their room number, it gave her names to call. She was mostly honest when making those calls at first, although when the disbelief thing kept her from getting too far, she started making things up, saying she was a lawyer, or a real P.I. It took a day to narrow things down, and then she hit pay-dirt when she claimed she was a jeweler who had shipped something to the Inn, only to have it returned with no forwarding address. The romantic on the other end of the line said she didn't know how to get in touch with Elizabeth Lee and Raymond Kim, but they seemed close with a couple up in Montreal - maybe they would know how to get in touch with Liz and Ray. According to Jess, you could practically hear the lady on the other end of the line congratulating herself on how clever she was being.

Montreal was a stroke of luck, but not a totally unreasonable coincidence; the area attracts plenty of folks from Quebec and the maritime provinces. A local once described it to me as the "French Canadian Riviera", although that's exaggerating a touch.

Still, it pleased Jessica greatly that she could make it a working vacation - she was so excited that instead of coming back to Boston to catch the bus, she took a train to Portland and flew from there. That's when the arrest of Jean-Michel was made, which didn't give her much time to confirm what she'd learned.

I had wanted to fly up there immediately, but the paper balked at letting me have a weekend where the Yankees were coming to town off on such short notice (aside - is it me, or does the league schedule these home-and-away series too close together?), so I had to wait a week or lose my job. It was agonizing, but Jessica assured me that Marie would keep a bit of a watch out to make sure nothing weird was going on. Finally, after I filed my last story on Friday, I took the Silver Line to Logan and flew North from there.

Louisa (aka Marie) met me at the airport, saying how nice it was to see me. It was good seeing her, too, and in more ways than one - she looked great. I mentioned that, and she blushed a little, saying it was the clothes. They did help; she had a stylish coat-and-skirt combo, along with hose and heels and a professional haircut to go with it. That wasn't it, though; she was carrying herself like a young woman.

"Well, you know how it is; they say you're only as old as you feel, and after a while being able to climb stairs without being winded or make it all the way through a few concerts at the jazz festival, you don't feel old.

"And I suspect you're not here because you feel like a man."

I grunted acknowledgment, changed the subject to say I was kind of worn out, and happily crashed on the couch that Jess had recently vacated.

I set my phone's alarm to wake me early, so that I could be up and out of the apartment before Louisa awoke. I didn't really feel like more pep-talking, though I could probably use it. I spent the day walking, looking at the city but not really seeing anything. Eventually, around three o'clock, I screwed up my courage and went to the address Jessica had given me.

It was on Rue du Fort, close to the Concordia campus. It only took circling the block on foot a couple of times before I found a group I could casually get into the building with. I climbed the stairs to the apartment marked "Roberts & Roy" and knocked on the door.

There was no peephole, so "Ed Roberts" just opened the door. His jaw dropped when he saw me. "How--?"

I had to be forceful - that's what Jessica and Louisa had both said. Take control of the situation, no matter how much the Inn makes you doubt, and don't give time to think. So, rather than a greeting, I just barked out "are you Elizabeth Lee or Raymond Kim?"

The question stunned him, of course, which was part of the intent. "I... I'm Ray. How could you know that? No-one believes us when we say--"

"You bitch!"

The shout had come from down the hallway, where "Genevieve Roy" was just rounding the corner with some grocery bags. Well, great. There went the quiet, calm approach.

Ray seemed to think the same thing, and tried to defuse it. "Liz, Penny, why don't we talk quietly about this in the apartment? If Penny can believe and understand us, maybe there's a way to get our old lives back?"

"Get our old lives back?" She shoved her way past me and into the apartment. "Oh, you'd like that, wouldn't you? Go back home where you can shack up with this man-stealing freak--"

"Oh, right, like your record is spotless on that account!"

"It was after we were engaged! But that just shows how seriously you took that!"

"Maybe it just shows what a mistake it was - that I should have just taken 'no' for an answer that first time!"

It took Liz a moment to come up with an answer to that, so I took a deep breath and interrupted. "That wasn't her."

That stopped their argument short. They both froze for a second, giving me a moment to study their new appearances. Both were white now, grad-student age. Ray had gained a couple inches in his transformation to "Ed Roberts"; he was just short of my height, with gray eyes and hair longer than he'd worn it before; a little bit of extra padding around the middle, but not too much. Liz didn't have that as Genevieve; she was curvy, with brown hair, high cheekbones, and cleavage she didn't mind showing off.

After a few moments, Ray still looked confused, but comprehension came to across Liz's - and, unexpectedly, fear (I had expected anger). "Don't do this. Please, Arthur, stop right there."

"What do you mean, 'Arthur'? She's... Oh. That's why you could tell... You've been to that place too."

"I have. In fact--"

"Please, Arthur, I'm begging you!"

I nearly stopped there - I don't like the idea of hurting people, and I knew the truth would crush Liz. But this wasn't just her secret; Ray and I were involved too. "In fact, I've been there twice. The second time is when I became Penelope Lincoln. The first time was almost exactly three years ago - I went to bed as Arthur Milligan, and woke up as Elizabeth Lee.

"I was Elizabeth for nine months, before we managed to get things lined up so Liz could change back. I lied to you all that time, and the worst part is, I may have been able to tell you the truth when you proposed. You can make people believe at the big moments. But I was too much a coward to either accept on Liz's behalf or say who I really was..."

I don't think he really heard the last part of that, because he pieced together what me being Liz back then implied. He stopped looking at me and turned to her. "You knew! You knew what going to that place would do to us, because you'd been there before! This wasn't an accident, you did this to us!"

"Please, Ray, you've got to understand - everything was falling apart! It was so bad when I was away from you, and I was so happy to be back with you, and have things right! It was perfect, we were going to get married, and then she shows up and ruins everything! I didn't know what to do, and I thought if we could just start over, we could make it work! Just you and me, together, on this adventure!"

"You selfish-- What about our families? Our friends? Our jobs? What gave you the right?"

"I... I was losing you, and I'd just gotten you back!"

"Really? The way Penny tells it, she got me back and you just reaped the benefits!"

Liz had been crying for a bit, but that was apparently too much. She picked up her purse and just ran for the door.

Ray and I stood there awkwardly. "Why," he finally asked. "Just, why?"

I took that as "why did you do this?" and tried to answer: "Three years ago, when Liz disappeared and came back different, weren't you worried? And that was without the police involved. I had to make sure you were all right, because, because...

"Because I love you."

The words surprised me coming out; even if I'd accepted that this was going to be the rest of my life, I hadn't really imagined falling in love with a man; I was still living one day at a time; anything longer term was career-oriented. But here I was, saying the three little words to a man... and someone whose face I'd never seen before that day to boot.

"You love me? I don't know you! I thought I did, but Liz says your name is Arthur, for crying out loud!"

"It was. Still is, but someone else is using is now, but that's always going to be a big part of me. And I know you don't know me, but if there's any bright side to all this, it's that you finally can get to know me. I'd... really like that."

I moved forward to kiss him, but he pushed me away as soon as our lips just barely touched. "Look, Penny... Arthur.. This is too much... I don't know if I can..."

"I know." I took a business card from my purse and slipped it in his shirt pocket. "You know where to find me when you figure things out. Here's hoping it's soon."

And with that, I kissed his forehead, turned around, and went back to Louisa's. I flew back to Boston the next day.

I haven't heard back from Ray yet, but here's hoping.

-Penny

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Marc Levesque: Bonjour... I guess

For the last week before America's Labour Day, the unofficial end of summer, Old Orchard seems somewhat sedate. There are only nine others at the Inn, and they seem somewhat subdued. I'm not sure why; the weather is nice this week, but some of the locals tell me that because Labour Day is relatively late this year, many schools have started already. That is a shame, I guess. But I can't rightfully criticize people for not enjoying their vacation when I'm not having much fun on mine.

Not that this can truly be called a vacation; enjoying myself on the beach is somewhat of a seconday concern. Recent events have simply made it difficult to stay at home, though, and while I probably shouldn't send the exact details to an anonymous email address, I can say that I was happy to get out of the city, the province, and the country on somebody else's dime. I just didn't anticipate the malaise I would feel once here.

The malaise is not tied to the place, though. I have lost my job and been divorced this year, so I have spent too much time at loose ends, which led to the gambling, and thus to everything else. Which leads to the problem, I guess - vacation is not much fun when you were not doing anything already. One just worries about whether you're spending too much of your savings on dining out, and thinks of what opportunities for new work and perhaps even new love one is missing back home. Having nearly forty years, it is not a good time for me to fall behind.

And yet, I have said I would stay here until summoned, filling time with things like sending this message to the email address on the flier. Hopefully it is more trustworthy than the website, which appears to be mistyped, as that address leads to a work of fantasy rather than a guestbook.

Ah, well. Perhaps the quiet will result in one of the ladies at the bar giving a middle-aged "Frenchie" a chance.

-Marc

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Art/Penny: What I didn't say

Most blog entries are spur of the moment things, but I've been writing bits of this one, in my head at least, for three weeks. I've been putting off actually committing it to text for that time, though - at first because I didn't want to tip people off as to what I knew or suspected, and then...

Well, we'll get there.

One of the things we talk about in the comments a lot is the way the "not believing" part of the Inn's curse works, even for those of us who have been there. It's hard to explain here, because as real as all this is to us, most of the readership thinks of this as fiction. They see that the Inn's magic has rules, and thus assume it is all rational, to a certain extent, but there's a portion that just pre-empts rationality. So what may be obvious or likely to readers is hard for us to wrap our heads around.

Fortunately, it's only hard for us, not impossible.

When we went to New York to cover that Sox/Yankees series, I didn't notice much that was wrong at first. Weird, yes, but the situation was weird. I didn't think it was anything more than conventionally weird, except for my involvement, until Ginny dragged me into the ladies room. She'd had a few more drinks than I, and while touching up her makeup, just threw something out there:

"Wouldn't it be funny if Ray wasn't Ray?"

I ask her what she means, and she says "come on, you said he'd seen how long you stay after a game before, he disappears for a month, the sudden broken engagement... Come on, I know you've been thinking it."

And I had, maybe a little, but I'd also rejected it as ridiculous and paranoid. I didn't think the Inn had anything to do with it until I saw the look on her face change at that moment, from drunken half-clarity to just outright dismissal. And I confess, the thought fled my mind at that point too, and we went back to our guys and enjoyed the rest of the night.

Then Ray and I made love, and it was different in all the ways I described... And then some. Before, he'd kind of liked my muscles, but now he spent more time on the soft parts. I liked it, don't get me wrong, but it made me remember what Ginny had said.

We didn't see each other much during the next week, and the suspicions started to fade. Fortunately, I keep a little notebook with me at all times, and after Ray had fallen asleep that night, I wrote all my evidence down. By the time I saw Jessica a week later, I didn't really believe any of it, but I handed the page to her anyway. Her eyes got wide as she read it. "You don't really think...?"

"Of course I don't, but that's how it works, right? So I was wondering if you could..."

"Oh, absolutely. I've been itching to do the Veronica Mars thing for a while."

So she crashed at my place that night; I said it wasn't necessary, but she didn't like the idea of me sleeping with him again until I knew. Then, instead of taking the bus to Canada, she took the train to Old Orchard, and within hours she'd used her phone to take pictures of the Inn's guestbook and emailed them to me.

And there was Liz's signature, just like the one I'd had on my driver's license for the better part of a year.

I felt dizzy, and I think I passed out for a second. I called Jess back as soon as I felt able to sustain a conversation. She said she was so sorry, but we both agreed that it was better to know. We talked about how, after seeing that, we still didn't believe it in our guts. She said that was no excuse not to be careful, though, and I promised her I would.

I had a lunch date with Ray the next day, though, and he said I looked troubled. I took a deep breath, put down my fork, and asked him who he was. He looked confused, and I put it more plainly. "You're not Raymond Kim. You went to an Inn in Maine, and then one night at two A.M., your body changed and the luggage in the closet suddenly made sense. Who were you before that moment?"

He stared at me dumbfounded for a second, and then he reached across the table and kissed me! I pushed him back, and he landed in his chair with a thump. "I'm sorry," he says, "it's just... having someone know and believe me... I could only talk to Erin... Er, Liz to you..."

"Who are you?"

"Sorry... Right... Of course... My name's Aaron McInerny; Liz was my twin sister Erin. So when I said we were like brother and sister... Well, you can't imagine how much Erin freaked out when she found the ring in Liz's luggage. Finding out that things were on the rocks was such a relief."

"Cleared the way for me pretty neatly, huh?"

"Look, I... I didn't want to hurt you. That was one of the things Ray said in his letter - 'don't let Penny get hurt'. I just didn't know how to break up with you at first, though, and then I started reading your stuff, and seeing your picture, and I thought, well, maybe it wouldn't hurt to close things out, and then I figured that if there was no way for you to know I wasn't Ray, then what was the harm...?"

"The harm," I told him, "is that you were trying to form a relationship based on a lie. You slept with me, letting me think you were someone else. That's just such a violation of trust, you can't imagine it. When I first came from the Inn, I was dropped into a relationship with... someone, and I, uh, kept up appearances. At first I was disgusted just because I was sleeping with another man--"

"Wait, you were a man?"

Apparently nobody in his group switched sexes. I guess if you have enough groups go through the Inn, it has to happen some time.

That was apparently enough to put him off dating me any longer, but I finished the thought, because it is important. "The thing is, it's not fair to the other person, to have or to yourself. Love you haven't earned is a terrible burden, and you taint what two people did have.

"Look, I'm going to try not to hold this against you - Lord knows I did some stupid shit when the Inn did this to me. But this is over."

With that, I got up and left. No looking back.

Now, although I hate "to be continued" blog posts, I've got to get a little more real work done. Tune in later/tomorrow for what a complete hypocrite I am.

-Arthur/Penny

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