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."
"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."