I cried myself to sleep last night.
It began a few days ago when I started playing a game of phone-tag with Willy. You remember Willy, right? The British guy who found himself in my body last year after staying at the inn, the guy who has been keeping my life warm for me in Buffalo while I've been here living as Tori Pearce in Philadelphia. After meeting him at Thanksgiving, I put a lot of trust in him, because he showed himself to be a genuinely nice, considerate, good-natured person. He was quick enough on his feet that he adapted to my life, my family and friends, and even managed to stay ahead of the curve with my job... for a while anyway.
I was an IT guy. It's not a fancy or glamorous job, of course, but it was what I've always liked. Willy did his best to study up and learn as he went, and proved a quick study, but in the long term, couldn't outrun the inevitable. The company I was working for was downsizing anyway, and he hadn't proven himself as adept as I would've been. This was a few months ago, and I didn't mention it, because I didn't want to think about it.
I guess I should have. I mean, it's my life, I should care what's going on in it. But having to take care of my existence as Tori has left me with little energy to guide Willy through his problems. "You can figure something out, you're smart," I told him, not meaning to sound bitchy, "This is only temporary anyway."
I guess it all came back to bite me when we finally did end up talking over the weekend. I thought we were just going to confirm our plans to visit the Inn next month, which is why I was putting it off, but the truth is a lot more complicated than that, and a lot more... unfortunate.
"Listen," he says in that fake American accent of his, "I got an opportunity, and in this job market I haven't got a lot of options. There's a job that you can get with your resume, and I can do with my own experience, and after a lot of thought, I'm going to take it."
"Sure," I say, "Whatever you want to do, but, is this really a good time? You're not going to have it for long."
"Well, that's what I need to talk to you about. It's a great job, supervising a team of software developers, excellent pay, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity. But it's in England."
I feel myself clog up with emotion; with confusion and fear. "England? What are you-- why would you even..."
"It's a job I would've wanted to have in my own life, but I had to act now. I was lucky enough that they'd interview me, let alone offer me the job. I want to go do that, and try to get myself -- I mean Willy -- a job there. Just give me a year, Cliff. Please."
I can barely manage to ask, "Are you asking my permission...? Or did you already..."
"Yeah, I already did. I just want to you know you're okay with it." There's a long silence. He goes on, "I mean, I don't want... I don't want to leave you stranded, but you're not in any trouble or anything, right? You're... another year won't hurt, will it?"
All I can say is, "A year?... another year?" He doesn't say anything back, it sounds like he's trying to gauge the exact meaning of my reaction. On my end, I look down at myself, sitting on my bed in my pajama pants, looking down at my cleavage poking through my sleeping top. I should be mad. I should be livid. and part of me is. Part of me feels betrayed and disappointed and everything.
But I suppress it all. I push it all down, maybe because deep down inside I still feel like Willy's a good guy and he has my best interests at heart -- not some asshole stealing my life. Maybe I'm wrong about that, but I can't bring myself to express my anger.
So all I do is meekly mutter, "Yeah, sure. A year. No problem... another year... you promise, right? Only a year?"
"I promise, Cliff, trust me, I want to get out of this life, but one more year this way could really help the both of us. I don't want you to be mad."
"I'm not mad," I lie. I reason it out for myself, out loud for him, "I've spent a lot of time trying to think of this body as something... something I can live with, not a prison or a punishment. It's not so bad..."
"That's good," he said, sounding unsure. "Look, I promise to check in as often as I can, I'll do everything I can, I just... I just wanted to do what's right."
"Yeah," I said, "Okay. I've gotta... I should go now."
"Okay. Good. I'll keep you updated..."
I hang up. With the phone still in my hand I dial down to Louisville to call the real Rob and Tori. I got an upbeat phone message, her voice saying "You've reached Karen and Gary, we're not in right now, please leave a message!" It must've been recorded before they ever changed.
I left a hurried, emotional message saying just to call me back, I have some important stuff to talk about. Then I lay back on the bed staring up at the ceiling, trying not to look at myself or at my surroundings, but not to close my eyes. Just the light fixture.
And I just... blanked. I wasn't feeling anger or despair or anything. Not at that point. I was feeling proud of myself for adapting, believe it or not. I was shocked at not getting my own body back, no question, and as much as there are little things about being Tori that irk me, I've come a long way from the girl who woke up in the Inn, or even the one who had to start wearing thongs and make-up on a dare to herself. For a while, my only fear was for the future. I had a deal with Tori that I still planned to honor. I worried about what might become of me, should I just go back to the Inn blind. As a nauseating pit of uncertainty formed in my stomach, the phone rang. I immediately picked it up.
"Hi, Cliff?" said the woman on the other end. "It's Karen. Tori. It's me."
"Tori," I sighed, "Listen, something really major has happened and screwed things up." I briefly summarized the situation.
"Wait," she said, "You mean we're stuck here? We can't go back?" There seemed to be some real anger in her voice, which I'd feared, and I tried to correct her--
"No, I mean, you can still have your body back, I just... I don't know what I'm gonna do."
"I can have my body back?"
"Yeah, of course."
Pause. "...What about Rob?"
"Rob? Of course he can have his body back," I say, "his has nothing to do with him."
"But you don't know what you're going to do."
"Exactly. With Willy taking my body to England, and you... coming back, I'm kind of... left out."
Immediately, she piped up, "But what if I didn't?"
"What if I don't go back?" she said, "I mean, I don't have to, do I? It still works, right? There's nothing saying I have to go back, or you have to go back."
"No, I... I guess not."
"So there. I mean, as long as I don't have to stay with Rob, I'm fine either way."
I was a bit confused by her energy. "You... you want to stay?"
"Well sure. god, Cliff, one change was enough. You've been in my life for a year, I bet a lot's changed, right, what with your job and friends and everything."
"Well not really," I said, "I mean the job's just a temporary... and I've kept up everything the way you left it... shit, I didn't even unpack your boxes!"
Her response was, "Well... that was dumb! I mean, it was nice and all, but you didn't have to. You shouldn't, like, try to live my life like it's on pause or anything. I don't have a reason to go back. This life is good. I'd like you to keep that one as long as you need."
I started to feel my face get hot. "You don't want to go back? Were you planning on telling me?!"
"Well no, I was gonna go back and just get over it, but since you called, since all this... I think it's all worked out."
And that's when I lost it. "Worked out? Worked out?!! This whole time, I've been living like a ghost just to keep from upsetting your life, and you would rather I just took your life and ran? Jesus, lady! You could've saved us all a lot of time and energy by telling me that to start with!"
"Calm down," she said condescendingly, "I can't talk anymore. I'll explain it to Rob, hopefully he won't be too disappointed that I'm staying. We're not getting along that well right now. Bye Tori." Click.
And that was it. I felt like I could've crushed the phone in my hand with the amount of anger. It wasn't being left behind as Tori that made me mad. It was learning she didn't really want to go back to begin with. I don't even know how many things I would've done differently if I hadn't constantly thought, "How will Tori feel about this when she's back?" And now all my problems are mine to deal with and I just... I felt it all overload me, and I fell on my face crying.
A moment later Tori's... or my Mom appeared in the doorway, asking "Are you okay?"
I needed some comfort, but all I could explain was "It's just your daughter... being stupid."
She wrapped her arms around me. I was literally shaking with rage at this point. She pressed her cheek to mine, "It's okay, honey, everyone can be sometimes. The world's unfair like that. But it'll be fine."
"Yeah," I said, hugging her back. "I know. Thanks... mom."
We hugged a long while, before she left me on my own, and I cried myself to sleep.
And I woke up the next morning to a world that's mine to do whatever I want. I just don't know what that's going to be.
God, Cliff, I'm so sorry... if you need someone to talk to, you know how to contact me.
Like the real Tori, though, perhaps you should see this as a blessing, a chance to start again.
We look forward to your continuing story.
The best laid plans of mice and men...
Well, this will give you more time to really understand your proper place as a woman in world ruled by men.
Try to do the things you want to do. Don't worry so much what "Tori" would do.
Has anyone heard from Greg recently?
You've done a good job starting down your path to femininity. Embrace this. Become the best girl you can be.
I'm not really sure you are free to live your life as you want yet. I mean Willie is still dangling your old life in front of you. Anything you do now even without having to worry about old Tori is going to still be short term if you are shooting to get your old life back. I'm still not sure what to make of Willie. Either he's just stringing you along in the hope you'll eventually give up or he's just an inconsiderate jerk who did something without your input. Actually, he's a jerk both ways isn't he? The best advice I have for you and anyone at the inn is to live your lives as if they are going to be yours for er... well, the rest of your lives. Anything else is just putting yourself on pause. When the original owner gets their life back then they can make any changes they want until then its yours. Make the most of it.
It just occurred to me that Willie getting an offer of a "great job" seems very much like this Pygmalion person manipulating events. I hope this helps.
One thing about Tori wanting to stay as Karen that I haven't seen addressed here: has she cleared this with the original Karen? An entire chain of people are involved here, and any decision by one to stay put affects everyone farther down the chain.
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