It was an incredibly heavy weekend for me, which I should have expected. I haven't seen a lot of death in my life, although I guess I've seen my fair share of goodbyes. Not only have I not seen much death, the idea of someone my age (well, my old age) dying is absolutely shocking. The backstory here is that this guy, Dean Wells, is someone that I knew in high school, maybe not overly well... he was the kind of person who knew a lot of people a little bit, but wasn't exactly best of friends with everyone. Still, when I got word that he was killed in a drunk driving incident (the other driver, not him,) I was saddened. I was glad, in a way, that I heard about it with enough time to pack and go to Buffalo for the weekend.
When I went, I felt instantly uncomfortable. Dean's parents were there, holding themselves together while relatives and old friends of Dean's offered condolences. The Wells are not an old couple, probably in their mid 50's, the same as my natural-born parents. They don't deserve this. And then there I was, trying to explain that I was an old friend of Dean's without properly explaining from where... since nobody from our high school would know who I am and I didn't know enough about Dean's life to pick somewhere else.
I didn't even know where he was working or what he did.
I stayed for the service, but ducked out before the committal... I had really just hoped that "Cliff" would be there so that I could kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. But I knew he probably didn't have any contact with Dean, and no reason to go.
So I asked around, found his address, and considered paying him a visit. But I couldn't quite convince myself to do it. So I went to my old favourite bar to psych myself into it. And who should I find there but my old best friend, Justin... who also conveniently was not at the funeral.
Immediately, I sensed an urge to go over and talk to him. He was alone, not with his longtime girlfriend Randi. I took this to mean that maybe things had ended with them. I wondered if he remembered the one time we met, on Thanksgiving three and a half years ago. I wondered what I would say to him, if I did approach. Could I forget about our old times? Could I get away acting like we were always friends? Could we... be more?
I thought about it. I had had a drink or two, but I don't think that's why I thought about it. You guys probably understand that the way I look at guys now is different from it used to be. I know Justin is a good guy, and I definitely know he's handsome. Maybe it was depression from the funeral, maybe it was loneliness from recent dating failures. I gave serious consideration to going over, checking him out, letting him know I was interested.
He'd never have to know that this girl was one of his best friends from back in the day.
But I'd know. Even though I have nothing to be ashamed of for what I am now, the past is the past and it would benefit me to leave it there.
So I went to the apartment building where Cliff lives, and I thought, this is really risky. I don't know these people. They might think I want something from them, that I want to complicate their lives, when really I just want to make sure they're all right. As my finger hovered over the buzzer, my body shook. I turned to walk away.
And that's when I saw her.
Randi. Justin's girlfriend. Well, ex-girlfriend, now. She was walking up to the building with some groceries and beer.
I recognized her before she recognized me. Maybe too excitedly, I called out, "Randi!" She stopped in her tracks.
Realizing I probably seemed like a lunatic, I softened my tone, "Do you remember me? My name's Tori, I'm an old friend of Cliff's."
I began to put the pieces together. "Do you two live together? Are you... with Cliff?"
"I don't... I mean, that's great, I'm really happy for you two. That isn't what this is about." I was tripping over my words, trying to get invited up to the apartment without explaining exactly who I was to Cliff. Inside, I was actually busting, because I always carried a bit of a torch for Randi and was both gleeful and jealous that the current Cliff was in this situation. "I was just in town, thought I'd pop by... hope this isn't inconvenient or..."
"No, no, it should be fine..." she said, understandably weirded out by the entire prospect. She led me up, and there was a palpable awkwardness on the elevator ride. "So... you're from Philadelphia, right?"
She led me to her apartment. Soon as the door was open, she called out, "Honey, um... someone's here to see you."
He leaned his head out from the kitchen. When I saw his face, a shock went through me. Like seeing a picture of yourself that you don't remember being in. Even being ready for it, my eyes bulged out. After all these years, that still feels like it should be my body.
But his face... it went totally colorless, jaw open, the whole thing.
Sheepishly, I asked, quietly, hoping Randi might not hear, "Do you know who I am?"
"Yeah..." he muttered. "Do you know who I am?"
"I... I know who you're not."
Randi tugged my elbow. "You should sit down."
Then I realized... it was her, too. "Oh, of course," I said, "That must be how it started."
"How what started?"
"You two, together... Randi used to be Justin's girl. Is he in on this too? Did he go?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Randi said. "We woke up like this. Just us. No Justin."
"How did you find us?" Cliff asked.
"It wasn't that hard," I explained, maybe starting to ramble, "Willie gave me your contact info, if I ever needed it. There was a funeral, maybe you heard, I don't know. Anyway, I came up from Philly and I thought while I was here... I don't know, it sounds stupid when I say it out loud. I'm so sorry to bother you. I can go."
"Tori, wait," Cliff said. "I'm confused. What do you think is going on here?"
"Well, I guess, from the beginning, you two went to an Inn in Maine, the Trading Post... and one morning you woke up in a new pair of bodies, right? And maybe there were some letters or instructions to live these new lives, as Cliff and Randi."
"Yeah, that's what happened," Cliff said, "But Tori, do you know who we are?"
I stared at them. "No. Do we know each other?"
They looked back and forth at each other, and at me. It seemed very tense. I was starting to get scared.
Then Cliff said, "Tori... I'm Sara."
My stomach sunk.
He pointed to Randi. "And that's Thom."
"Hi," she said, eyes fixated on the floor.
I stared blankly for a moment or two. My eyes welled up with tears. I threw my arms around them and burst out crying, "Oh my God, oh my God, I can't believe this, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry this happened to you, oh my God, I wish I knew! I had no idea, you have to believe me!" And he just kept saying, "It's okay, it's okay."
To be continued...