Thursday, May 28, 2015

Meg/Tasha: Fresh laundry

Memorial Day: Wade is working, Tyler is over keeping me company. He's dressed down in a tank top whose low sides reveal a lacy bralette and denim short shorts. I asked him if he dresses this way at school and he just shrugs, "When the mood strikes." Fair enough, but I'm always surprised by his occasional - erratic, even - fits of femininity.

"Just sampling from the buffet of life," he'll say, reverting to a hint of his native southern accent, which has all but totally faded except when we're alone. He's actually quite a talented mimic, or perhaps just too immersed in the world of Yinzer teens to notice the shift in his pronunciations. I wonder about that.

Besides, on the question of fashion, the weather is skyrocketing lately, so full coverage is not really tenable. Looking down, to where my own flesh is amply exposed, I don't disagree. I guess after all this time I still expect some modesty, or embarrassment, or something - not that that would be better than just living openly however he wants.

he's sitting on my couch, propped up against the arm, legs crooked under his little body. They appear to be shaved, but a quick brush with the palm of my hand reveals a noticeable bristling of hair. Nothing wrong with that, I smile.

He's channel surfing, occasionally making stray observations about daytime TV, while I'm back and forth from the basement laundry room. When I've got my final clean load, he follows me into the bedroom to help me fold the piles I've been collecting on the bed.

A moment of awkward silence passes as he folds Wade's third pair of skinny jeans in a row. I hear him sigh. I ask - trying as hard as I can to be casual about it - "So... how are you doing?"

"I'm good," he says, the expected answer. I've known Tyler Blake for a year, and female body or no, he won't tell you something's wrong until he's decided it's time. I begrudgingly accept this about him, but it gets to me now and again. I fumed for weeks when I found out how long he had been sitting on the story about meeting his body-thief. That's his business, I know, but sometimes his refusal to let me "in" is... well, irritating.

Still, he acts like the question was directed at Lauren, not Tyler, and starts to tell me about school. Just like with girly clothes, he shows flashes of being invested in Lauren's schooling. A sincere desire not just to spin his wheels, but to actually get work done... maybe even learn a bit. As distractions go, it's a pretty innocuous one. Takes me back to our first weeks here, when he threw himself into cramming for Lauren's exams.

I cut him off as he starts to idly recount the recent gossip from the school hallways. Hearing how hard he's working on a presentation is one thing, but I don't have the patience for this.

"You know what I mean," I sigh, "We've been here for a year. You just revealed you're not going home. Are you OK? Do you have any thoughts?"

"Some, yeah," he says, "I'm not thrilled, but I said I didn't want to go home anyway and now I don't have to. I dunno what he thought my life was worth, but trust me, he overestimated."

"I guess I'm just worried. I don't like the idea of you floating around for the rest of your life. You could be anyone."

"When you put it that way, doesn't it sound kinda exciting?"

"No, it sounds terrifying," I say, shoving some of my intimates into the top drawer and rolling over onto the bed. Ty joins me.

"I ain't worried a bit," he wraps his arms around me. "Nothing can hurt me anymore."

"You say that," I tell him, "Then watch you wake up in the body of a 70-year-old with a heart problem."

"Heart attack prone seniors don't hump it all the way to a beach house in Maine," he says with totally unearned sincerity. "They move to Miami or go on cruises or just stay put."

"So who goes to Maine?" I say, "Families. Couples."

"The occasional unlucky single guy," he answers back, whispering coyly into my ear.

"Counting on that, are you?" I smirk.

"I'm not counting on anything," he says. "Hoping, maybe, but I'll take what I can get at this point."

I can feel his heart beat, starting to race.

His pretty blue eyes meet mine. "I'm not anybody anymore, Meg. I just... am. And that's so freeing I can't even describe it."

We hold our gazes a moment. And then I don't know how, but it happens. Our lips meet. It might have been him pressing his into mine, but I feel like I pressed at the same moment, too. It's really just a peck, but it lingers a while. Only after a moment do I consider that we're "stepsisters," both ostensibly straight women, one of us in a relationship, the other not done high school, that to anyone looking in this would seem utterly shocking. I remember all the things that have kept me from even letting myself think about Tyler as anything but a "sister."

Eventually he pulls away - either because he senses my awkwardness or because that was all he wanted. We don't even discuss it. He just rolls over and swings his legs over the side of the bed.

"What do you want to do about lunch?" he asks. "I feel like making a grilled cheese."

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tyler/Lauren: Cutting class

I've thought about this over the last month. I'm still Tyler inside, no matter what. The fact that I will never be able to look my old face in the mirror again is insignificant. Maybe someday I'll take a new name, but that day is far off.

My life resembles Lauren's a lot more than Tyler's, of course. But most of all since Spring Break it's mostly resembled one of those zombies from the Walking Dead. Shuffling around, not really paying attention, just barely surviving.

After unloading to Meghan, and then to you guys, I feel a fair bit better.

I'm on track to pass, and would technically graduate if Lauren wasn't already registered for next year. She needs biology to get into nursing school - still her objective - and there was no way I was taking it for her. The parents are of course baffled that I didn't just take it this year. I lied and said there was a scheduling error. They said I should fight to correct it, then I said it felt more sensible to come back for an extra semester when "I" could focus on it more.

Just because I'm going to pass doesn't mean I'm doing well. I'm doing the bare minimum in some of these courses, skipping classes when it feels convenient to do so.

One day last week, when I was still somewhat in a funk, I went all the way to school, signed myself out - as is my right as a now-18-year-old - and came home. I laid in bed, just thinking about what as going to become of me in the next months, when I heard the door open downstairs. What the hell? I thought. Both the parents were supposed to be out. Phil had moved out at the end of April. I should have had a few more hours alone.

I heard a voice - a soft, girlish one - "Hello? Laur, you here?"

I poked my head out.

It was Karlee, Lauren's friend from school.

"What are you doing here?"

"We've got that history presentation due on Friday," she said. This would have been Wednesday, I guess.

"Oh my God," I sighed, "I'm so sorry for bailing. I've been feeling really rough lately."

"I got that," she said a bit solemnly, "I'm not gonna pretend I'm not mad that you've been ditching school so much lately, but I know things aren't always easy for you."

That's true. In junior year, Lauren was in the full brunt of an eating disorder - it was an open secret, and something I had to deal with when I got here. To most onlookers, she's made quite a rebound. In reality, down in Houston, things have gotten better for her, so I'm hoping she doesn't relapse upon getting her body back.

Obviously, that has nothing to do with why I skip school so much, but if it helps her understand my issues, I don't correct her.

"We're all pretty stressed out here, Lauren," she said, "If you need help, all you have to do is ask. I didn't really come to work on homework."

"I appreciate that," I said. "I'll be fine, I just... I can't deal some days."

I've never been good at admitting when I need help. At relying on others. Even Meghan. But I was really glad to see her.

I wrapped my arms around her. I didn't tell her I was going through some stuff she couldn't understand.

We didn't talk about it. We didn't talk about my problems or even that much about our history project. We gabbed like a couple of girls - she dished on Seann, Lauren's ex I set her up with months ago, who she's been on and off with since. I let her dow most of the talking, about summer, about the future, about girls a school who think I'm just a fake bitch but who are, themselves, pretty fake.

I didn't feel like Tyler, or Tyler pretending to be Lauren, I felt like this third person that I'm gonna become.

The day wore on. I walked her home. She spilled that she thinks Mark is still planning to ask me to Prom, even though our communication has been low since I quit drama club this semester.

"There's no quit in that kid," I smiled, "Gotta admire that."

As we got to her place, she took me by the hand. "Don't disappear on me again, okay? If you need to talk, I'm always just a text away."

"I'll remember that," I said. We hugged and parted ways.

I passed the school on the way home. There was a flyer up for the school play. The Importance of Being Earnest, on June 4-6.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Tyler/Lauren: Out with it

So you guys haven't heard from me in a while. It was back in March during my Spring Break excursion to the south that I last checked in, and things were all hunky dory then. Then some stuff went down and it made me not want to post so much anymore.

I didn't think it was affecting my mood all that much, but Meghan noticed. She said she'd always given me the right to feel bad about my situation, and she respected me no matter what, especially since I rarely seemed to let it get to me, but all through March and April, something was clearly nagging at me.

At first I was dismissive, just saying "Oh, it's nearly the end, I'm just getting antsy." But she saw through me. So I finally relented and told her.

When I did, she admitted it was heavy stuff, and she gave me the whole "I'm there for you" stuff. Then she said I ought to talk about it on the blog. I said no way, it's too embarrassing, too personal, too upsetting. She said, maybe, but it'll be therapeutic. And you never know, there might be people out there reading this who care what happens to me. I doubted it, but I've come around on that.

So here's the story.

I'm not gonna be Tyler Blake ever again.

I'm not crying, I'm not whining, it's just a fact and I'm taking it seriously. In fact, I knew from the first that this was possible. I ain't stupid. I know the whole "getting your body back" plan hinged on a lot of variables. And one of those variables is the other person's willingness to co-operate.

From the start, I had a hard time bringing this guy to the table. "Why worry about it now," he said, "We'll talk later." Months would pass and I didn't hear from him and I tried not to let my concern show. "It's November, we can't even make a reservation until January." Uh huh, he kept putting me off. Meanwhile, I was stewing up here, grinding away keeping Lauren's grades up and trying to keep her family happy with her, never getting a moment to myself, while fending off the boys at school and the college kid downstairs.

So back in March, I figure, screw it. I had gone ahead and rented the extra stay at the Inn at my on expense. I had to track this guy down and convince him to give me my body back. After leaving Houston early, I went to Alabama.

And then things went sideways.

I found out where he was working - a restaurant I vaguely knew - and surprised him. It looked so alien, seeing someone milling about in my skin. I never felt my height when I had it, but now I was looking up at myself. I felt as weak and as frail as I ever have.

"You know who I am?" I asked. He looked me up and down. I saw his tongue fleck over his lips like I was a dessert plate - I felt more disgusted in that moment than I ever have in my life - and said "Yeah, I was wondering when I'd finally get to see you."

I tried to play it cool. "Fun is fun, but being me isn't all it's cracked up to be. We can put things right."

He smirked. "Look friend, I know where you're coming from, but here's where I'm at." He had a really bad, probably affected southern accent that sounded nothing like the me I recognized. "I was 68 years old, with angina and a prostate the size of a softball. Why should I just hand this body back to you?"

I'm guessing he didn't want to hear Because it's the right thing to do.

"What do you want?" I asked, not that I had much to give.

He snorted a dismissive chuckle. "I got a buyer."

"Excuse me?"

"$15,000, cash on the barrel, if I go to the Inn when they say, not when you say."

"No..." I said, whispererd in shock.

"Yeah," he flashed a toothy grin. I wanted to reach up and punch him in my old face.

"Don't do this."

"It's done, kid."

"You can't."

"It's not a choice, are you shittin' me? If I play ball, who knows how far I could ride this pony. I might live forever!" He just laughed the more I pled. I felt pathetic. Helpless. Then he turned to me and said "I mean... I guess, if I get a better offer... I'd consider it."

I fumed. "You want me to get you $15,000 in three months?"

"No," he snorted again, "I want you to get me $30,000 in three months. How much is your life worth to you?"

I didn't answer. I stormed out and went straight home.

I wanted to yell and scream, but I kept my reaction subdued. "You know what, fine, whatever," I huffed to myself, "I'll go to that Inn every year of my miserable life if I have to. Nobody's shaking me down."

When I got off the plane in PA, I got my phone out. I scrolled past a few texts wishing me a safe flight from Lauren's family members, down past exchanges with schoolmates, to the last conversation "Tyler" and I had had.

I texted him, "Big mistake." I doubt he believed me. There never was any response.

I didn't cry until later.