For a while after Alex told me the truth about him, it was like was had agreed to break up.
It was weird the way we left it. Even though we were such an important part of each other's life for a year, suddenly he drops this bomb on me and disappears, pre-emptively ending our relationship before he was even gone. And me... god, I'm ashamed of myself. Suddenly it was like I was Cliff again, afraid to peel back the curtain and TALK to him.
Truth-telling time: When I was a guy, I ruined a few potential relationships because I was afraid to check in on somebody when things were in doubt. Things could have been salvaged. I've come to prefer being a woman partly because I'm more comfortable being pursued, and now when the chips are down, I revert back to old habits. I was a little disgusted with myself when I realized that. I spent weeks mourning a relationship that had not ended yet.
I went and saw Alex - I won't call him George because he's Alex to me. I told him to meet me at a cafe near our old workplace on his lunchbreak.
He sat down across from me. "I'm so glad you called," he said.
"I've spent a lot of time thinking about what you told me. Trying to make sense of it." I stammered for a bit, assessing the situation... letting him know my "grasp" of it based on the idea that I'd never heard of the Inn before, before finally saying "So all of this means you have to leave... you have to stop being Alex... you have to give this person back his body. But whoever you are... we've grown very close over the last year. Tell me that isn't a lie."
"It's isn't," he said firmly.
I took a deep breath, "Then I don't see why this has to be the end for us. I don't see why I can't meet the real George Mueller. Why we can't still be together."
He smiled. "Tori, I keep asking myself that same question. If I could walk out of that Inn the same old George I used to be... if I could come back to Philly and hold you in my arms I would. You're half the reason I stayed as Alex. The other half, though, is that there isn't a George Mueller to go back to. Don't ask why, it's a long story, but I've spent the last year trying to figure out how to make it work. How to keep you and give Alex back his body and find a new one for myself... and that's when I met them."
My back tensed. "Them?"
"It's sort of hard to explain, Tori... see, there's a lot of people out there who get caught up in this. I wouldn't wish it on anyone, of course, but it's sort of a support group, slash... agency. They use the inn to trade bodies, to arrange for transformations. Deliberate ones, to benefit people. And they've found something for me."
At first I was thinking of Fletcher and his travelers... but that didn't sound quite right. From what I know, Fletcher and his friends just kind of float around. There's nothing deliberate about it. My teeth clenched. This was getting weird.
He went on, "They have a lot of resources, they pulled some strings... it's not important. But part of this deal means I have to take on someone else's life for a while. Again. And that's going to keep me away from you... I know you don't do well with long distance relationships but there's not much I can do. I already promised I would be out of Alex's life by the end of the summer."
I sat there quietly. All I could say was "So... it's out of your control?"
"Yes," he said. "They were pretty specific. They won't even let me tell you who I'm going to become."
"I see," I said, breathlessly.
"Unless..." he said, "You want to go with me?"
I lifted my eyes. My jaw fell open. My throat caught itself trying to say "What?" like I was a female Michael Cera.
"I know this is a long shot," he said, "Like I said, I wouldn't wish my experience on anyone, but good things can come out of it, and I think maybe... if everything goes according to plan, if you take this risk with me, we can be happy together. We can make it work. I must sound so crazy right now, but I think I could convince them to give us a good start."
"It's so crazy," he went on, "And I feel like a jerk for even asking. It's just that I feel like maybe... it could be good for you. A fresh start. Sometimes I see you when you don't think I'm looking... I see this look on your face when you think about your life, and it's not all you think it could be. And you've spent so much time lately figuring out how to get to the next phase in your life... your job, our relationship... wouldn't it be nice to just skip ahead? Wouldn't it be nice to start something together where we knew we could have it all figured out?"
He began to get up from the table. "You don't need to give me an answer now. We have all month. Think it over. These people can do a lot for us... money, security, a great life... I know it must seem like a big risk, but if there was ever a sure chance for happiness for us in this world, it's this."
He leaned over and kissed me. I was still stunned. I've been stunned ever since. Every time I think about it, my stomach twists.
I've been thinking about it a lot. The truth is... he has a point. Him saying that proves he gets me, regardless of knowing the truth. I've been dissatisfied with a lot of the turns my life has taken, hit a lot of dead ends trying to make this career work and get back on a path. For a lot of that, the only thing that's kept me sane and happy has been this relationship, and a lot of "that look" has been my concern that I should be happy with things other than my relationship. And I value that so much that when I thought it was ending - first because we fought, then because of the truth - I wanted to curl up and die.
What Alex is offering is this mysterious fresh start... it's tempting. Keep him, and use this mysterious group (Pygmalion? Someone else?) for my own benefit... all while stealing or borrowing someone else's life. I would feel very guilty about that. Not everyone would be as understanding as ex-Tori about being removed from their life. I think I remember reading Fletcher saying "it's going to happen to someone anyway." If they're as influential as George says, then this decision could set me up for life.
But it's not just that. It's me. It's all the work, all the blood, sweat and tears I've put into this life for the last three years, going from a frightened little boy to a thriving, happy woman. Say something goes wrong and I become the man, and Alex the woman... would he be able to cope? Would I? I already scoffed at the idea of taking my own old life back. If I ended up that way, I might be able to adjust back, but I think I would resent Alex for taking me out of a very comfortable situation... and that's not even counting me urging him to get used to it.
In a way, it would be easier if I told him the truth about me. He'd know I know where he's coming from, and maybe we could work it out from there. I'm still undecided, though. If you were me, and you were a woman who used to be a guy... you might be reluctant to tell your boyfriend. Inn or no inn, a lot of guys can't handle that, and I don't want him looking at me and imagining Cliff. Besides, I'm worried that if I admit it to him, he'll use it as a reason why I should go along with his plan. "What's another body to you? It's not like you're really Tori."
I can't. I can't walk away from this, no matter how shitty my life sometimes feels. This isn't just a body to me, this is my life. This is home. There's nothing that's going to change that for me. I just became an aunt, and when I held that little baby girl Aurora, I felt more amazed at the world than I have in a very long time. I have a sister that I've watched grow into an amazing young lady. I have friends who, without realizing it, helped me learn to become myself. I can't leave that in the hands of another person.
And that kills me, because it means that very soon, I'm going to be on my own again.
Annnnd... I'm crying again.