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."