The night that I heard about my dad's heart attack, the first thing I did was price a bus trip to Buffalo. It's expensive to get there from here, as well as time-consuming, which is why I didn't keep close contact with my old body.
Unfortunately, I simply did not have the time or money to do that. I was desperate to get to Buffalo, though, and at 7 hours, the Mapquest-plotted course was looking a lot more realistic than the 15-hour one suggested by Greyhound. I ran down the list of people I knew who might be willing to help me. My first call? Alex.
I've only known him a few months, a lot of which I haven't really blogged about, but he and I had this instant connection I can barely describe, so I was hoping I could trust him to help me with this and not ask too many questions about why.
It took some convincing. I had to deal with a lot of awkward questions like "Who do you know in Buffalo?" and "Why do you need to drop everything and go now?" I think part of the reason I asked Alex was that since he hasn't known Tori all her life, like say Raine or Sara, I could roll back on the fact that there are simply things he doesn't know about my life.
So I told him it was a favour for a friend, who couldn't make it. I had to deliver a letter, in case "his" dad didn't make it. "That's quite noble," Alex said, "Y'know, I'm a sucker for a good story. This'll make me feel like a good guy."
I smiled at him, "You are a good guy."
He gave a weird, self-deprecating wink, "Sometimes it's hard to convince myself of that."
There were other reasons I wanted to spend all this time with Alex. Even though we hang out a lot, I still don't feel like I know who he is. He lets me talk on and on about my relationship problems, my issues with finding work (prior to him hooking me up with my current job,) and anything that bothered me about anything, but when I turn the conversation over to him, he gets gives the bare minimum. "How's life?" "It's all right." Etc etc. I feel awkward making myself an open book and yet being unable to pry anything out of him.
We hit the open road Friday after work. I had to break the silence to get my mind off my dad. About forty minutes out of Philly, we get to talking and I ask what he wanted to be when he grew up when he was a kid.
"I don't know," he chuckles self-deprecatingly. "Not this, I don't think. I mean, I like the job and everything, but I guess I wanted adventure, I wanted to be rich. Indiana Jones. I didn't see myself hunched over a computer."
I smiled. "Yeah, I guess I didn't either."
"Yeah, there never was an IT Girl Barbie was there?" Before I could respond he flipped the question back to me, "So what did you want to be?"
I sighed, "For a while... this is embarrassing, but when I was really young, I thought it would be fun to be a baseball player."
He did a double take, taking his focus off the road so he could share his look of skepticism. "Uh, what?"
I started to reformat the story so that it fit into my backstory as Tori. It turned out not to be that far from the truth "I mean... when I was really young, before I realized it wasn't really an option, you know? As I got older and my body developed... the way it did... that idea sorta faded away."
"You never talk much about your past," he pointed out.
"Neither do you."
"Were you popular in high school?" he asked.
"Yeah, I guess so." I recited unenthusiastically. This is the part of being Tori I hate, having to pretend the life I read about in her diaries was mine. "Lots of friends. Dating. Boyfriends. Sexual exploits behind the bleachers. Stuff I'm not really proud of."
"I always wondered how a girl like you wound up working with computers. Most of the hot girls I know can barely download apps for their iPhones."
I blushed a bit. Even after this time, it gets me that I'm 'hot.' "Something changes along the way," I said. "Being hot isn't a job, at least not one I was interested in. I spent a lot of time trying to find myself."
"Well I'm glad you did," he glanced over at me, "Otherwise we wouldn't be here, would we?"
"No," I breathed heavily, "I suppose not."
I was feeling it. I squirmed in my seat. He was doing something to me, something Buddy and Leo didn't quite. He can command a conversation and make me want to know spill my guts without ever saying much about himself. This whole time I've been Tori I've been the one on guard and suddenly I just wanna let it all out. He has so much more confidence in himself than Buddy, so much more charm than Leo.
Much of the rest of the ride was spent talking about work and singing along to the radio. We arrived in Buffalo after dark. I wanted to go straight to the hospital but it was way too late for that, so we checked into a motel and I brought him to my favorite neighborhood bar for a drink. The place hasn't changed, it was like stepping back into 2008. I tried to shrug off any discomfort.
We were done our first pitcher when I spotted a familiar face glancing my way. It was Justin, my best friend for years. I don't know how long he had been watching me. Suddenly I felt like I had been punched in the gut. It was one thing to be here among all the familiar buildings. It was another to come face to face with someone from my past, although I guess that was why I was there to begin with. I just wasn't prepared for it yet.
I excused myself during a lull in the conversation and crossed the bar to see him. He noticed me and got this awkward deer-in-headlights look. His eyes fixated on my breasts until I started talking.
"Hi there," I said nervously. "Justin, right?"
"Yes, yeah." I wasn't the only one who was nervous. "I'm sorry, I just can't remember where I know you from."
That hurt a bit, but I guess it was fair. He met me in this body once, a year and a half ago, at Thanksgiving just after I had transformed and was pretending to be "Cliff's" date so I could get one last look at my family. He and Willy set up a cruel trick where he would come in and pretend to hit on me, and then reveal he knew who I was. It was cruel because at the time he was going with a really great girl named Randi, and because Willy should have sensed how deeply uncomfortable that would be for me.
I reminded him of where he knew me from, and he nearly spat his drink out when I mentioned the name Cliff. "I haven't talked to that guy in forever."
"Yeah, he's been over in England for a while I guess."
"Sure, I guess, but even before that. Dude was getting weird. He was a really cool guy, but sometime after that Thanksgiving, he totally cracked."
"Hm. Maybe you just don't know the whole story."
"Oh yeah? What's the whole story?"
"I'm not saying I know, I just think maybe he was ... 'cracked' ... before that. Probably cracked before I came along."
"Well he hid it. Still, whatever happened, he got the balls to leave this place, which I'm kinda proud of."
"What does that mean?"
"So, his brother's a soldier. Been to Afghanistan and everything." (It was actually Iraq but whatever.) "They never got along. Total opposites. His brother, Bret, was actually a dick because, Cliff was kinda nerdy his whole life and Bret was the fave. Then, I guess right before he leaves for England, he decides he's sick of Bret's crap and picks a fight with him right behind this bar. And he knocks him the fuck out!"
My eyes widened. Willy could not have made a more out-of-character moment if he'd tried. I had my problems with Bret but I never would have let it come to blows, especially because I knew he could kick my ass. "Bret knocked Cliff out?"
"No!" Justin swigged, "Cliff knocked Brett on his ass. One punch. I never saw anything like it."
One punch?? I didn't know what to say. I stammered to change the subject. "Hey, wh-when, uh, last time, um, back then, you were dating this girl, um, how's that... uh, are you still together?"
He got real sullen and turned back to his beer. "Nah, that ended a while back." I didn't press him for details. I thought it was sad, though. I liked Randi a lot, even if she was indirectly responsible for me going to the Trading Post Inn (I don't hold that against her.) I actually liked her when she and I first met, and I always thought maybe if Justin hadn't been more charming, I might've had a chance. But I was probably too much of a geek for her, and now my life's taken the direction it has.
I felt bad for Justin though, in that moment. I know he really liked Randi, and I felt sorry I couldn't be there for him when the relationship ended. I guess that's how girly I've been because comforting someone wasn't really my forte when I was a guy, that wasn't how our friendship would've worked, aside from, I don't know, going to a strip club and watching Star Wars to get his mind off her.
I decided I wanted to keep him company and express my sympathies. He asked what I was doing in town and I said I was just passing through on an errand and I remembered this bar. He said that was lucky for him, and there was some cool stuff he could show me if I wanted.
Oh my God, I realized. My best friend was putting the moves on me.
I felt like an idiot. It was warm, so I was wearing a top that showed some cleavage. I was bending over him at the bar. For fuck's sake, you'd think I'd know what effect this body has on guys. I began to fidget.
I couldn't bring myself to shut him down cold like he was just "some guy." This is someone who was friends with me for years even though we could've been in totally different crowds - Justin was a good athlete in high school and well-liked, and he always tried to include me in shit. I've always felt like I owed him a debt.
I don't know what's wrong with me, that I even briefly entertained the idea. He was just so sad and he was such a good guy to me as Cliff. I knew this would cheer him up, but is that really who I want to be? Alex, a guy I really like, was sitting just across the bar from me, and whatever lies in his murky past, I didn't want him to see me going home with some random dude I apparently met.
It would also be such a bizarre experience being with this guy I've known forever, without him knowing it was me. I couldn't imagine all the hidden layers of awkward that would occur if I let him put his dick in me. It didn't feel fair to him. Shit, we used to watch scrambled porn together in his basement, back in the day.
He looked at me expectantly as all these thoughts went through my brain. "Listen, I appreciate the offer... but I don't think this is right. I'm not looking to... I'm not up for anything right now. I hope you understand."
I was about to back away, when I felt his hand enclose around my wrist. He looked up at me with these utterly pathetic eyes. "Please. Just let me buy you a drink."
Doing my best not to lose my shit on my former best friend, I said in a calm, measured tone, "Justin. You should probably let go of me. Right now."
Alex appeared behind me. "You heard her."
"What are you, her boyfriend?"
"I'm her friend," he said sternly.
Justin's eyes shifted back and forth for a second. Thankfully he didn't hesitate in releasing his grip. My heart was pounding.
"I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to get so carried away."
"Yeah..." I sighed and backed away, as Alex kept himself between me and him. When we were a safe distance away, her asked, "What was that?"
"It was a misunderstanding," I told him, "Maybe I'll tell you the whole story sometime." Probably not.
We settled up and found our way to a motel. Having dragged Alex all the way out, I insisted on paying for the two-bed room we ended up getting, but Alex wouldn't let me. What is it about being a girl that makes guys want to pay for stuff with you? (Oh yeah... boobs.) Sometimes that's really inconvenient.
I tried to lie back and go to bed, but I was having difficulties. I guess ever since 2009, I've had problems falling asleep in strange beds... for fairly obvious reasons, I should think. (It took ) The only times I've slept well in strange rooms is when I'm "with" someone, and that sure wasn't happening.
After a few hours of tossing and turning, it was nearly 4 AM. Finally, I permitted my hand to travel south. Now, I've done this plenty of times, but rarely with someone else in the room, especially if they're not my current partner, but it wasn't that long ago I had gone on a stealth mission with Buddy in bed next to me anyway.
I rolled over and buried my face in the pillow to muffle any inadvertent sounds that might squeak out of my face, hiking my butt in the air. The danger definitely added to the sensation. I suspect he may have heard anyway, because I heard him tossing and turning, but at that point I couldn't break away from my deed. Maybe he got a show. He didn't say anything about it the next day.
It helped me relax, although it was still a long while before I got to sleep. Probably around 5 AM. Thankfully, Alex let me sleep 'til nearly noon, which I really needed. I woke up and looked over at him, reading one of George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones books. He gave me a "Morning sleepyhead" and asked what we were doing today.
I responded by rolling over and trying to fall back asleep. When I finally realized this was pointless, I began to plot out the day... and severely doubted that I had the balls to go through with what I was planning.