I walked into my old employer very apprehensive. I had originally gotten hired with them through Alex, and we know he turned out not to be on the level. Whatever his objectives were, or the peopel he works for, he was trying to convince me to go along with him... in the time since, I sometimes wonder if my firing had something to do with that, maybe to help coerce me. Heaven knows I didn't stick it out in this body just to hawk cell phones at the mall. Maybe I'm seeing connections where there are none but I think anything is fair game.
I'm am SURE, however, that this conspiracy, if you can call it that, has to do with getting called up out of the blue and being offered Alex's job. Supposedly, he was moving on, and recommended me - not somebody who was still with the company - as his replacement. I was very unnerved that they would want me back, if they had anything to do with these mystery people, and particularly bothered that this new Alex would think of me at all.
So I went in to the manager's office, Alvin, and I sat across from him just kind of staring intently, trying to figure him out. I asked about the job, and it seemed to be exactly what he was describing, for in-hour IT services for the entire company. Okay, great, as long as my skills aren't too rusty. "Why had Alex recommended me?" Alex had made the argument that I was as qualified as him (true) and was familiar with the company structure (not as true, I was fired just after a merger, but hey.) Alvin basically reassured me that the job was mine if I wanted it.
I hesitated. I wanted to wring him for answers but if he had any he wasn't coming out with them. I told him that if there was anything else going on, he could tell me, I was in the know. He looked at me like I was a lunatic. He asked if I wanted the job, and I said I'd have to consider it.
That night, I went over to Alex's place, hoping I wasn't breaking their rules or putting myself in danger. I also hoped he hadn't moved: luckily, he hadn't. When I pushed the buzzer, and I heard his voice ask "Hello?" my heart lept out of my chest, and I squeaked the most awkward response: "Hi, um, my name is Tori, and..." he interrupted, "I know. I know. Come on up." He was expecting me. Gulp.
I nearly hyperventilated on my way up on the elevator. I hadn't seen Alex, that face, that man I had spent a year with, since he, well, stopped being himself (or George, rather.) And I knew that whatever this gentleman was going to say, whether I could trust him or not, was going to deal with some vry uncomfortable truths about my life, that I just don't want to deal with. But before I take this job, which I really wanted to do, I needed to know what was really going on.
As soon as I knocked on the door, he was there to open it, like he was waiting for me. I nearly fainted when I saw his face, I swear I just couldn't deal with seeing this person with all the baggage attached to that appearance, but I collected myself, and he had me take a seat and offered me a drink. I declined. He said, "I was hoping you'd stop by."
"We have a lot to discuss, but I didn't think you'd just come over if I asked you to. I felt sure that you wouldn't take that job without at least seeing me first."
"What do you know about me? About who and what I am?" I asked.
"I know plenty, Tori. I know you used to be John Henry Clifford, an IT technichian from Buffalo, New York. You've been here since the summer of 2009, and when you couldn't get your old body back, you stuck it out, got comfortable, sought happiness... that's admirable. I know you used to date the man who occupied this body, but when he left it, to go live as someone else, you declined to follow him. And here we are."
"Is this for real? The job? Or are you just playing a game with me?"
"You need to learn how to ask questions, no offense," he said, taking a sip of his water, "Because I wouldn't tell you if I was."
"I guess that makes sense, I just find it hard to believe you have my best interests at heart."
"If it helps, I'm really just looking out for my best interests. Yours are incidental."
"How comforting," I rolled my eyes. "So what are your interests?"
"I want out."
"You asked me if I was playing a game. I'm not, but someone is. It's a lot bigger than you or me, but it's... sort of a con. They have a lot of influence over who goes where. There are a lot of favours owed. I got caught up in a while, but I'm ready to get out, and I thought, since I'm leaving anyway, I might as well do you this favour."
"Why do you care about me?"
"This isn't the first time we've met, Tori." He kind of chuckled to himself, "This is embarrassing, but I guess I wasn't going to win you over without mentioning this... I was Danny."
My eyes bulged out. "Danny? My friend Danny?"
"For a while, yeah. Believe me, that was a difficult couple of years to navigate."
"So... when Raine, and Danny... you were... That was you...?"
His face turned red, "I tried. She was willing to try, and for a little while it worked, but... Believe me, I am really sorry to her about that. She was really understanding. That's why I'm doing this, in a way. I care about her, but I can't be in her life like this. The Inn will be open for the summer soon, so I... I've lined up one last chance. Believe me, the Powers That Be are happy to have a life like mine that they can use to leverage people."
"So they just use people? Use their lives as incentives?"
"It's a carrot on a stick. You wind up in a body that is not to your liking - either by accident or because they put you there - they tempt you to work for them by offering a new body, or even your old one back. Holding you hostage. They've been at it for a long time, so they've got connections, money, power... but I guess there are limits. You need to take the bait, and you never did."
"No," I said, thinking about how close I was to going with George. "I never did."
"Tor, you need to know how badly I wanted to talk to you about this. Even going back to when it all started, watching you date him, while I was powerless on the sidelines trying to survive in my own situation, knowing you were going to get your heart broken. I'm sorry you got caught up in this."
"It's... it's all in the past," I said, still stunned. "Thanks for being honest."
"If it helps... don't trust anybody. Even me." He's right, but I don't know if I'm strong enough to go thorugh life looking at everything skeptically. I wish I could take him and everything else at face value.
I stayed a bit longer, rehashing old times, catching up on what was what... the whole meeting was really long and really therapeutic, and if I've muddled up the exact wording of the conversation here, I apologize to Alex.
I left feeling a lot better about life, in a way... if "taking the bait" with George was my only risk at being sucked into this, then taking the job was a smart decision and I might be safe now. Maybe somewhere down the line they'd try to get me again, but according to Alex, they may have moved on. I told him that I would do everything I could to help him with Raine, if he wanted it, when she comes back and he comes is in his new body.
I asked Alex if it was safe to blog about this, if openly discussing his identity, and mine, made us targets. He said it was fine, that the "Agency" people didn't really pay much attention... anything I was going to share on here that they needed to know, they would be able to find out anyway.
Not terrifying at all, sure.
It's a relief, after nearly 4 years, to feel like I know even more about the world I live in. The things people could do with that Inn... scary stuff.
But I've worked my last shift at the phone place, starting at the IT job tomorrow... this feels like a new chapter. At 26, I am back on track to living my life. Fingers crossed.