I met up with Tyler on Sunday afternoon for coffee.
I want to say she's handling things well, although you wouldn't think it from the looks of her. At least for our little meeting, she was looking a fair bit unkempt, wearing baggy clothes and letting her hair just kind of go wild. I don't mean to judge her, it's just notable compared to the way most girls Lauren's age look when they leave the house, obsessed with their hair and make-up. On the contrary, it would be weirder if Tyler put much effort into that stuff, at least yet.
Still, Tyler was his usual snarky, wisecracking self under Lauren's skin. I think having the world look at him like a young girl has only toughened his resolve against authority. When I asked how the school situation was, he just shrugged and said he was remembering why the military seemed like such a good option when he was 18.
"You're not unintelligent," I insisted, "I haven't known you long, but I know that much about you."
"Sure, I know a few things," he said, "But you get in a classroom, at the end of the semester where everyone is expecting you to have this shit pounded into you after five months, and... you just feel inadequate. The weird thing is, Lauren isn't an idiot. All the homework she left me to hand in got her B's, which compared to how I used to do in high school..."
"Don't get down on yourself," I interrupted. "You're a grown up but you're still capable of learning."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," he rolled his eyes. I ordered a regular coffee and he ordered some kind of foamy latte that I doubt would have been his style as a man. "One of Lauren's friends got me one of these once, and now I've got a craving for it. Don't judge me."
"Hey, whatever you want to do," I said, "Guys drink blended drinks."
"I think it's more about being a kid than being a guy," he said. "Maybe young tastebuds have stronger sweetness receptors."
"See?" I smirked, "Science."
"Yeah, somehow I doubt that'll help me on my final," he snorted a bit, "It's funny, out of everything that's going on with me, right now school is kicking my ass the worst. Seriously. I could handle just being a girl for a while, I think... if it was just like my old life. It's freaky how quickly this all became regular. But school? Rolling out of bed every day at 7, in a body that desperately requires sleep, and sitting still for all these subjects that I either know nothing about, or forgot... and if I fail, I'm not the one who gets fucked, Lauren is. I have to learn for her. That's stressful."
"You're not used to looking out for others," I surmised.
"Not really," he sipped.
"And the social aspect, being out among Lauren's friends?"
"A different hell," he said, "They all demand, like, 100% of my attention, and I know nothing about them. I keep texting Lauren to say this girl said this, or this other girl asked if I remembered that. I can't just go home and forget about them, because it's constant texting and snapchatting and all that shit. Kids today."
"You sound like such an old man," I stifled a laugh, much to her annoyance.
"Then there's the guys."
I straightened my expression. "Tell me about the guys."
"Well, they're guys," he said knowingly. He paused and rolled his eyes. "Lauren was pretty popular with them. Like, they all hang out in these huge mixed groups and it's hard to tell who's exclusive with who and who's just... around. A lot of them feel pretty comfortable getting in close with her. With me."
"And how do you feel about this?"
"I don't like it," he said, "The first thing I did when I met Lauren's friends was to find out which one of these guys she was dating and end it with him."
"Just like that?"
"Yeah, just like that," he snapped his little fingers, producing a weak sound, "This isn't like your situation, where you're living with a guy that has a history with Tasha and there's a kind of responsibility there, whatever you've decided... this is a high school romance, they come and go with the wind. Sure, everyone was ticked that I screwed up their prom plans a bit, but they'll get over with."
"Prom?" I raised an eyebrow.
"Don't get me started. Lauren's expected to be there. She was on the planning committee."
I could sense he wanted to change the subject, so I asked "Any word from you-know-who?"
"Not yet," he said, sitting back dejectedly, pushing his straw around his drink with his finger.
You-know-who is the hypothetical "New Tyler." We got word earlier this week that our original bodies had both turned up.
"You know, it was probably just a hectic week," I reasoned. "When we changed, our heads weren't exactly in a place to confront it... not to this degree."
"Didn't take me long, though," he huffed, eying his cell in its light purple case. "I had nothing urgent going on. It's not like there was much to distract him."
"Maybe it was an old man who just doesn't get technology," I shrugged, "Maybe it was a kid! You don't know."
"You know, though. With yours."
A beat of silence passed between us.
It happened Wednesday. I got a call from my old number that day. I eagerly picked up to hear what I took a moment to realize was my original voice asking, "Is this Meghan? Meghan Reis?"
She pronounced it "Ree-is," I corrected her, "Rice," almost as a reflex before realizing I was essentially dealing with a trauma victim. "Sorry, I'm here for you. Are you okay?"
"I think so," she said. "My name's Carrie. Um, I came looking for my brother. Tyler Blake. Do you know what happened to him?"
I got a lump in my throat. "He's fine..." I started to say, "Well, not exactly. But he's here, in once piece, in someone else's body."
"So he was transformed too?" I cold now hear a similar Alabammy twang to Ty's.
"Yes," I said, "Into a teenage girl named Lauren. He's... stressed, but coping." I rightly guessed he would not enjoy hearing that his sister had come to Maine on his pre-transformation recommendation. ("I can't believe I forgot I said she should come up!" he excoriated himself, "Fucking idiot, Ty!" But in his defense it was a busy few days afterward, no time to cancel the invite.)
"Carrie," I said to her, "Everything's going to be okay. I'm sorry this happened, really, but we had no way of knowing... do you know what happened to Ty's body?"
"Have you seen him? Have you seen someone who looks like your brother?"
"Not yet, no."
"Let us know if you do. Please."
By Sunday, it had been four days since the transformation and the lack of communication was clearly getting to Ty. Now it's been almost a week and we're starting to worry.
He shifted uncomfortably in his seat some more and we changed the subject again. "What about you? How about Tasha's boyfriend?"
"Wade?" I said, "It's... fine. He works days, and I'm working nights mostly, so I can easily just play the no-time together card. I've managed to stop pulling away instinctively when he goes to kiss me."
"How far are you willing to take this little charade?" he asked with fairly obvious intent.
"We're in the trenches right now, Ty," I sighed, "Long term, I don't know how I'm going to stick it out, but day to day, whatever happens happens. And that's whatever I allow to happen. And if I do, I assure you it won't be because I can't resist."
Tyler exhaled, unimpressed, then finished his drink, "Imagine if Tasha had gone to Maine with her boyfriend instead of her stepsister."
I smiled, then said teasingly, "Yeah. Then it would be easier to avoid having to sleep with someone."
I don't think he appreciated the joke.