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.



Brandon said...

Thats the first post youve ever made without your original name.

Its just Penny now.

Symbolic or Unintentional?

Penny said...

A little of both, I guess. It was "Arthur/Penny" when I started the post, but as I got to the end, I remembered how odd Liz calling me "Arthur" seemed. Besides, saying what I said to Ray, acknowledging that I wanted something personal in this life... Holding on to the male name didn't make a whole lot of sense. If something happens with Ray (or Ray-slash-Ed) and I, it will be because of who I am as Penny, not for who I was as Arthur.

Anonymous said...

If Liz was willing to make a return trip to the inn and roll the dice in order to get out of a (perceived) deteriorating situation at home, that makes me wonder about Jean-Michel's arrest. Jean Michel didn't care much for Andre, either, and I have heard that once someone is inducted into the "mob", they are considered a member for life. Could Ashlyn/Jean-Michel have wanted out? Was the botched hit the result of carelessness on the part of the former Ashlyn, or inexperience on the part of a (possibly) new Jean-Michel? Something to think about...