Admittedly, the exhausting business of touring and trying to work in all these Northeastern stops while, you know, playing enough shows to pay for our way home, as well as keeping the Inn business a secret from Shelby (who is starting to question why we have so many friends around here and why she can't meet any of them) has ground me down a fair bit. It helps that I genuinely love the people I'm with... after all, before Bry and Shelby started dating, we were pals from work and she helped me keep it together until Alia got back to her own body.
Before we could be sure we'd be able to swing through Connecticut, we had to be sure we could get a gig in the area, so we reached out and managed to snag one in Hartford. The story of how that came about is pretty boring, and from Shelby's eyes probably not worth it, since the pay was shit, but I'd regret it if I didn't pay a visit to my former home/jail.
I had a love-hate relationship with the place. Sometimes I get nostalgic for it, sometimes I remember how oppressively dull it was living there, being a mom, putting up with Hal, who was at times genuinely caring and at times an incredibly frustrating person to live with. I've heard of people transforming and meeting people in their new lives that they come to love. That was patently not the case for me. I tolerated him, and maybe sorta understood why someone would marry this person. He was a good husband and father, which is something I've never really seen in my life.
I met with Anne-Marie at a mall not far from the old neighborhood. The second I saw her my heart stopped. Here was this woman whose face I mostly knew from a mirror, a woman whose every bodily sensation I once felt. Behind her eyes was the mind of someone I knew as "Julia DiFrancesco."
She smiled excitedly, as I sat sipping on Orange Julius. I tried to keep my poker face, and tried furiously not to call up every memory I had of showering in her body.
"Oh my God, Todd!" she wrapped a friendly arm around me for a hug, "I just can't believe you're here!" She marveled at how cool it was that I was doing something with myself like touring in a band. I told her it wasn't that exciting, but I have to admit, having lived her life, she doesn't have a lot going on. I asked her about the kids.
Hayley is dating now, and completely absorbed with her cell phone. Holy shit, I realized, she'd be 15, the age her cousin was when Bryan occupied her body. Anne-Marie is trying to keep an open mind about it, but doesn't really approve of some of the boys she's had come by. Connor is getting a bit into sports. I chuckled, I thought I had raised him better. Anne-Marie rolled her eyes and said it was good way for him to bond with Hal. And Hal?
"Same as always," she sighed, "It always disappointed me he never seemed to noticed when we switched. Also, I don't know what you were doing to him, but after I got back, he was just insatiable!" She shuddered.
"Hey, what can I say? I was never any good at refusing someone who wanted to have sex with me." That's pretty much why Alia and I used to have so many problems.
"It's just so weird. Look at you! You don't look like you would be so into it."
"Hey, I didn't look like me, then, I looked like you, and you're a pretty fine-looking woman." She blushed. "I considered it a favour. I didn't so much as touch him for the first few months before his vasectomy, and you told me you guys had a healthy relationship."
"Yeah, healthy, not superhuman!"
I tugged at my collar. Okay, so I was a bit loose in her body, at least I was faithful. I honestly believe I could have cheated on Hal if I wanted to, and I nearly did. For me, that's the real superhuman feat.
I indulged her in some shopping, not that my advice was any help when she was looking at clothes. When I was here, I mainly wore whatever I pulled out of her closet, and the resulting freedom of a monthly clothes budget enabled Hal to renovate the basement among other things.
But we weren't really there to pick out skirts or talk about our shared past sex life. Something was seriously nagging at me. "You're aware that your niece, Ellie, has gone back to the Inn, and is somewhere in New York, correct?"
She was aware. "I didn't want to believe she'd actually go, but I couldn't stop her. What kills me is that she brought her father and that other girl with her."
"Why couldn't you stop her?"
"There was precedent. She'd already gone two years in a row. She must have convinced her dad somehow. I didn't find out until too late."
Anne-Marie was being pretty sketchy on the details, but I can believe she wouldn't know. My next question: "Why would she want to go back?"
She laughed a bit. "Why wouldn't she? She didn't live a terrible life when she was Kalli. I looked after her, but she was a lot more free than a teenage girl should be. She worked, she dated... she grew up in that body, Todd. It happened very quickly." I guess it makes sense. You can't put something like that away and forget about it. Even my time as Anne-Marie keeps coming back to me in unsuspecting ways. Imagine being forced back into high school. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.
I still had a hard time wrestling with that.
We didn't stick around long after the show. Alia and I met with the new Ellie, whom Alia had met before. Bryan met her on his own time. The week of Halloween, we did a few nights in New York, finally getting enough time to investigate the one shred of a lead we had regarding Ellie's whereabouts. That brings us to a little apartment building in Brooklyn, the place of a guy named Ernie Tomasi.
Bry and I found our way into the building with a pizza delivery guy, and went up to Tomasi's place and knocked on the door.
"I can't believe we're doing this!" Bry said with almost perverse glee.
"Calm down," I said, "Although yes, it's completely awesome."
The door opened and a smallish, middle-aged gentlemen peered out and eyed us through the still-chained door.
"Can I help you?"
"Ahem, maybe. Does the name Elyssa McClay mean anything to you?"
He glared at us a bit longer, then closed the door to undo the chain. Reluctantly, he let us in. He had us sit on the couch while walking around the room. I noticed a slight limp.
"What brings you here? What do you know?" he asked.
"We're trying to figure things out," I admitted. "Someone we know wound up in your old body. She's taking good care of it."
"Well that's reassuring," he said quietly, gruffly.
"The three bodies are in good hands, at least until next summer."
"Uh huh," he said coldly.
I went on, "I mean, we're not here to force you to... to go back, but..."
I couldn't finish. Eventually he piped up, "Why would I go back?"
Bry jumped in, "Well look, I mean, I know it sucks, but you've got to be where you belong. This isn't right, Ell, and what you did to your father and Emily, that's not right either."
"What I did to..." he cleared his throat. "I'm sorry, who do you think you're talking to, here?"
Bryan and I looked at each other. "Ellie? Ellie McClay?"
He snorted. "Huh. Look, kid. My name is Ernie Tomasi. The year I spent as Elyssa McClay was the worst time of my life, and that includes losing this." He removed his shoe to reveal a prosthetic foot - the reason for his limp. "You can't seriously think I'm interested in going back. I was happy to give that little girl her life back, and get back to mine."
Bry and I were stymied. Bry finally asked, "Wait... what year did you spend as Ellie?"
"Last year. I went up to Maine with my wife, we wake up one morning in the bodies of these kids, Ellie an' Emily. Spent a whole year living in Connecticut with that fuckin' family. I mean, nice people and all, but goddamn did I hate it."
"You were Ellie for a year?" Bryan gasped, "I talked to her on Facebook!"
"Facebook?" he said, "I don't know anything about that shit. Hell, if you talked to anyone, you probably talked to her. I'm not much of a computer guy."
"And what about Ellie's dad?"
"He didn't say much about who he was," Ernie said, "but whoever he really was knew Ellie's family and had been to the Inn before. I always just called him dad."
My skin got hot. "Donna." Goddamnit. "Donna's involved in this."
That pissed me off. I know she was a wack-job who wanted me to stay as Anne-Marie, and then talked me into sleeping with her (okay, I'm weak, sue me, my girlfriend was a guy at the time!) but I really never thought she'd be so nuts as to go back to the Inn. The thought of tracking her down and talking to her caused me a lot of aggravation, so I shook Ernie's hand and walked out.
Neither Bry nor I could make sense of how Donna played into this, how people ended up where they have, or where Ellie, Emily, and Ellie's dad are now. I'm tired of playing detective, I just wanna play guitar.