Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ellie: I haven't forgotten.

It's been a busy summer, and now that I'm back in school, life is only getting busier. If Ellie was going through school at the normal rate, I would have graduated last spring, but thanks to her complicated life, I'm taking a delayed path through high school. Fair enough since I missed it the first time around.

I've only got two classes, science and math, then after lunch most days I work a shift at a department store. I spent all summer looking for work, but everyone was all hired up until September. This way I can save up, because I have a feeling I'm going to have to start seriously thinking about colleges. Truth is, it looks like the real Ellie is long gone and maybe never to return. I would give her her life back in a heartbeat... I don't have any particular attachment to it, obviously, but I'm comfortable here and really not comfy handing it off to someone else. I can handle being a teenage girl. Usually.

I spent a lot of this summer keeping the people I consider my friends at a distance. It started at prom, when I went with Callahan, and guilted my friend Iris into coming even though she'd be pretty much alone while I attended to my date. Iris is not the kind of person who would have a lot of fun dancing and partying, especially more or less alone. But I told her I cared about her too much to let her stay home while I was having fun. That was my mistake.

To her credit, she was game. On very short notice she got a great dress and when I asked throughout the night if she was having fun she didn't seem totally miserable. I told myself it was good for her but maybe I shouldn't have pushed so hard. I prodded her into coming along to an after-party with me and Callahan and Emily and her boyfriend. One of the jocks has really open-minded parents, so there was about 15 kids there, plenty of booze, and no adults.

I've already lived through some pretty wild stuff, honestly. These kids, getting their first taste of freedom, going a bit nuts, I understand. I really didn't expect Iris to take to it, though, but she really did dive in and start drinking. Until she started throwing up. I spent the last few hours of the night taking care of her in the bathroom. Between retching, she kept apologizing for making me take care of her like this and saying how pathetic she felt but I kept trying to tell her it's okay, she's young - I mean we're young. She fell asleep curled up in a ball on the bathroom floor, I slept in the bathtub. It was nice in a kind of weird sister-caretaker kind of way. But it seems like she was pretty embarrassed because she didn't talk to me much before going on vacation for most of the summer.

Meanwhile, there was Callahan, who I wasn't clicking with the way I thought I might. He was mainly interested in the physical aspect of being in a relationship. And don't get me wrong, he was handsome and I have needs, but when he holds me, I can't help but feel how much younger he is than me, how inexperienced. If I am going to be Ellie forever then I might have to stay alone for a while because the difference between me and everyone around me is too glaring, even after a year. I don't understand how Emily puts herself through it.

The good news is, if I wanted to know, I can ask. Emily obviously has the same spotty educational record as Ellie, so she's still here with me, while her boyfriend is off at University of Michigan, and Callahan is at University of Miami. I don't even know what she thinks of all this.

For now, the plan is just to soldier on, take it day by day as Ellie, year by year if necessary. It's depressing sometimes, to be stuck here, but I guess that's what being a teenager is.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Tori: Done and gone

So... where was I.

Alex, aka George, gave me some time to think about the decision. For me it really wasn't a decision but I needed a lot of time to figure out how I was going to tell him that without revealing that it was because I have been to the Inn already.

We met up on a Saturday early in August when neither of us was working, at an outdoor cafe. I was probably trying to be cool, like in the movies, where you see people having top secret meetings in public. Also I was scared of what might happen if we were alone.

I sat down with him and began, "I've thought a lot about what you've told me... about yourself, about this magic Inn that transforms people... about your offer. I've spent a long time considering the possibilities."

I told him plainly, "I'm sorry... I don't want this. Alex, if you can move into this new life, why can't you come back and meet me again and tell me it's you? Why do you need me to go?" Since we know the Inn curse doesn't really work on me, and he's already told me, I thought I was being clever.

He twisted in his seat. "This new life of mine... it's going to be a long way away from here. And I'm not going to be able to come back to Philadelphia. If you love me, if you want to stay with me, you would have to come with me. Not just to the new place, but in a new life. That's the only way. It won't work if you're still... I mean, it would be a sacrifice, but it would be the only way. The only way. Please reconsider." He kept saying that, 'the only way.' It made me grit my teeth.

"I can't, though. My life, my family, my friends... you can't tell me it should be easy for me to walk away from that. If you were still George, and you had a chance to change your life, would you do it?"

"If I knew what I know now? That I'd be happy and in love and successful for the rest of my life? Yes."

He was making it so hard. So painful, but I swallowed my fear and told him again. I knew I was doing the right thing. "No. Still. I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry too," he said. "I wish I could come back to you in a new body and say it's me... it's Alex... but you know there's a funny thing about this Inn curse. It keeps people from figuring it out. If you tell someone you've been to the inn, they won't believe you because they can't understand... unless they've been."

I gulped.

"But you do understand. So tell me again, Tori..." he said slowly, like he was putting quotation marks around my name, "Why don't you want to come back with me?"

I let out a fearful sigh. There was a long pause before I finally said, "You figured it out." I was shattered.

"You didn't react like someone who had never been to the Inn. You knew all the questions to ask. I could see you sorting it out in your head. Why didn't you think you could tell me?"

"I was worried that if you knew - that I was like you - that would make you think you could convince me to go. But I'm not like you. You're George in Alex's body, and I'm... I am Tori, okay? Nothing else matters about me and I could never walk away from this and I hope you'll understand. Just because I know what it's like to become another person doesn't mean I would ever want to again."

"I wish I could say the same," he said. "I wish I had a choice, even. But promises have been made. Deals are in motion, so for you and me, it's now or never."

I began to say, "If we could get more time..."

"We've had a year together," he said, "And it's been an amazing year. This is our only way forward together."

"Stop saying that," I said, "Please, stop acting like you don't have a choice. We can make it work, Alex, if we care about each other..."

"I'm doing this because I care about you," he said again. "I want the best for you, and you're never going to get it in Philly, striving for a career that you might never get back."

I paused, "I... what do you mean, get back?"

"Well that was sort of a clue, in retrospect," he said. "Beautiful girl like you. Used to be a hairdresser. One day you decide you're into computers? I can't believe I didn't see it right away."

I smiled in spite of myself, embarrassed. "Yeah," I sighed, "When I knew I was staying as Tori, that was a... direction I had to take."

His mood turned back to a bit humorous, "I guess in your old life, the guys weren't exactly lining up to date you, were they."

I almost laughed right out loud, but held it back and finally said, "No. No they definitely were not."

"If you're worried that you won't look good after the transformation, I can assure you--"

"It's not about that," I said firmly.

"That's why we're finally having this conversation," he said, that handsome gleam in his eye, "You fascinate me, Tori. I love how you didn't decide to skate by on your looks. A lot of people misjudge you because of who they think you are, but you're smart. And I want to get to know you more. The real you."

"You already do know the real me," I said. "I'm an honest person. I'm not comfortable taking the easy way out."

"I'm sorry you think of it that way," he said. "I'm sorry you're not more curious about the world outside of this city, where you can be so much more. Why are you so afraid to take a chance?"

Deep breath. "Because deep down, all I want, for the rest of my life, is to forget that Inn ever happened to me. I started fresh once, years ago, and I'm not doing it again. I'm keeping this life, for the good and the bad. You keep making me these vague promises for a better life, but there has to be a way for me to be happy without ever setting foot in that place again. There has to be. If that means you and I are done...

"This isn't easy for me, Alex," I said with a sniff. "If you love me... let me go."

"Okay," he whispered, obviously shaken. "Tori... if that's your decision... your final, final decision... there's nothing I can say to change your mind. Just know that I love you. No matter what. Whatever happens... I just hope you don't regret this someday."

And then he left. And that's the last I saw of him. I don't know if he was in Maine when Greg was. I don't know who he's become, or who's become him, if it was the original Alex or someone else. I don't know anything. I'm a little scared to ask.

Those words have haunted me all month, though. "Hope you don't regret this."