Things completely changed the moment I found out that Sara and Thom were living as Cliff and Randi. I thought I was going to have to explain myself from scratch but it suddenly got a lot more complicated. Two people who knew me - or thought they did - were going to learn my deepest secret. Maybe they already had. I took a moment to compose myself, and the wheels started turning in Sara's head.
"A few years ago, I remember," he said, "You went to Buffalo for Thanksgiving... which I thought was weird, because like, who does Tori know in Buffalo? But this isn't a coincidence, is it?"
"I don't know what this is," I said, although I was starting to get an idea. "But there's a lot going on here, so maybe I should do my best to explain what's going on here." I took a deep, cleansing breath, and tried to compose myself, but it was still a struggle to push the words out. "I wasn't always Tori. I went to the Inn, just like you."
"You're not the real Tori? Then how do you know who I am?"
"It's been a few years... Sara, I've been Tori for almost four years now. Remember when you and Raine went to Europe for the summer, and when you came back I was acting really spacey and confused all the time? That was me."
The man's jaw hung low. With a steady, suppressed rage, s/he said "You stole my friend's life?"
I gritted my teeth defensively, "I didn't steal anything. I was taken from my life and put into this one, same as you. And then some time passed, and Tori... the original Tori..." I made a point not to say 'real,' "She gave up on this body. She moved on. I asked if she wanted it back, and she let me have it, because the person who took my body... HE was the thief."
"Holy crap," Thom-Randi said in the background.
"So if you want to know where I came from," I said, starting to rant a little bit, "It's there. In the mirror. I used to be John Henry Clifford, okay? That's the truth about me. And I'm sorry I lied to you for four years, but you know I couldn't explain it even if I wanted to, so... there."
"Is that why you're here?" he asked, "To make sure we're all right, ready to give you your body back, finally?"
I breathed a heavy sigh. "No, that isn't what this is about. I don't even... this is gonna sound crazy, but I don't want that body back. I decided that a long time ago."
"Why wouldn't you want your body back?" Thom asked impatiently.
"It's been a long time," I said, "I've put a lot of energy and effort into making the best out of this situation. It's my home now. Sara, you're my friend. I'm sorry I lied to you, I'll apologize to you every day if you need me to, but I had no choice."
"But you can go back now," Sara said. "I can give you this body when I get my old one back, and then we can get the real Tori, and..."
"Sara, I don't know how to tell you this," I said, "But I don't know if you are getting your real body back."
"There's these people... I don't know what they do, but they con people, they manipulate them. That's why I think you wound up here. Not just at the Inn, but here specifically. Somebody is trying to play with our lives, and our only choice is to not play. I think they took your bodies."
"You're lying," Thom said.
"As soon as they got married, the first thing they did was pack up and move out of state. Do you think that sounds like people who intend to leave their new lives?"
They were stunned into silence. Sara whimpered, "They got married in our bodies?"
"Of course they did," I said, "You had a big wedding planned, and if they called it off, that would've... I don't know, been a big signal. They took your lives."
"Why? Why us?"
"I don't know. They wanted me, too. They just keep collecting people, shuffling them around, getting owed favours and getting paid dues or something, it's all very confusing, I don't even know. But I was warned, and now you are too."
"This can't be true."
"I swear to you, Sara. I've known you for four years, and I only want to help you. You might have gotten mixed up in this because of me, and there's nothing I can do about it now, except... warn you. Don't go back. If they're messing with your lives, then the deeper you go, the more trouble you're in."
"You're a liar," Sara said, "You're trying to scare us to make yourself feel better, or something."
"I'm telling you the absolute truth. There's a blog, there's people... do you remember Alex? He was one of them. My ex boyfriend."
"He gave me the reservation," Thom said. "He said you two were breaking up, so you couldn't use it."
"Well, he went anyway," I said, "And he tricked you into going along, maybe out of spite. I don't know. I'm sorry, again. So sorry."
"I still don't know what to think," Sara said.
I dug into my purse and pulled out my phone. I scrolled through the contacts until I came to K. "Karen Costas. That's Tori. The old Tori. She's living in Louisville, Kentucky. She was on TV for a while, really seemed to love it. You can talk to her right now if you want."
"I just can't handle this," Sara said. "Put the phone away."
"I'm not leaving until you believe me. I'm not the one who did this to you, I'm just trying to help."
"I believe you."
"And I'm not a body thief."
Very reluctantly, he said, "Maybe you're not."
"I've lived, and suffered, and grown so much in four years... you've seen it, Sara, you just didn't know the whole story. You know me, though. This doesn't change anything."
"I don't know," he said.
"I have a flight to catch in the morning... I should go back to my motel. Promise me you won't go back to the Inn. I don't want to lose you guys."
"I can't say that," Sara said. "If there's a chance we can get our real lives back, Tori... Cliff, whoever you are. You have to understand, I have to."
"Just think about it," I said. "And whatever happens... you come find me, okay? I want to know you're okay."
"Sure," he said, "Good bye, Tori."
I thought about it all the way home. I tried to warn them, and I don't even know for sure that I'm right. Maybe I'm just paranoid (I know you'll agree with me, you've seen what these people have gotten up to.) But when I was in their place... three years ago when I was told I couldn't go back to my body, it wrecked me. I moved on, and maybe they will too, but I'll understand if they don't heed my warning.
I just hope they don't regret it.