So Jordan has basically left it to me to catch everyone up on what's happened up to now, and I can't say I blame him. As much as I sometimes think there's a decent guy under there - for all he'll bitch about a lot of things, and doesn't like being a girl, he's never really treated it as a step down, and I kind of appreciate that - he's not one for introspection, and that last post probably pushed his limits. And, besides, what has happened since isn't all about him.
Though "since" isn't particularly right. "Since" is just what we saw, so how it's filed in our heads. That's not accurate.
Anyway, a few days after our dinner with Deirdre and Gary, the manager at work had screwed up and overbooked staff, so I decided to do some of the silly tourist stuff that guys who have lived here all their lives like Jordan and Ravi probably haven't bothered with since elementary school field trips (Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, that sort of thing), putting me downtown at different hours than usual and thirsty for a smoothie. I popped into a favorite spot.
Thus, I was a bit out of place when I saw Benny and Kareena seated on the other side of the shop. I started to raise my hand to get their attention, thinking nothing of it - we're all friends, after all - when Benny said something, Kareena blushed, and then they both leaned in and kissed!
I stopped right in my tracks, and barely had time to register that I had opened the Camera app on my phone and was getting a picture of it before backing out of the shop, running half a block away and around a corner before calling Jordan. It went straight to voicemail, even though I knew damn well that he was just playing Xbox. I left a message to call back right away and then started peeking around the corner to see if they were leaving the shop yet, not caring how ridiculous a six-foot Hindu man might look doing so.
After a few minutes, I got antsy and called again. I lasted another couple before sending a text to pick up your damn phone, a minute at best before sending one that said "it's important", and then seconds before sending the picture.
That got a response, with the phone ringing and Jordan yelling "what the fuck?" practically before I could get the phone to my ear, just like Gretchen did the time I got a picture of my boyfriend cheating on me, and for a minute I was back in high school again.
''I know! It's..." I stopped for a moment, trying to come up with an appropriately appalled adjective but instead allowing my brain time to think. "It's something we should have seen coming. She's not getting anything from me-slash-Ravi, and Benny's got you looking pretty good, and we all hang out together..."
I shushed him. "They're coming out now!"
''Are you going to follow them?"
Fortunately, I didn't have to play detective for very long as they went into a nearby gym. Which made sense, as they're both workout fiends. Who both love volleyball, and come to think of it, they were both reading the same book...
Jordan groaned when I started listing that staff out. "I cannot fucking talk about this on the phone like this. Let's get a drink."
"Jordan, it's like eleven-thirty in the morning."
''Then we should be very glad you didn't see them kissing after Benny's morning run."
I could not argue with that logic.
Four hours later I was holding back Jordan's hair as he puked in our apartment's toilet. I stepped away for a moment to get him a glass of water, and when I turned back, he was crying. I don't think I'd ever seen him do that before, and it was like there was no wiseass guy inside the petite girl at all for a second.
"I can't remember the last time I overdid something like that. I'm not usually one of those pussies on the blog who can't handle periods and I think I've done pretty fucking well not doing anything outside my new capacity - I mean, this girl's taste buds seem to be designed for appreciating good chocolate - but now with just a few weeks left I've drunk myself sick, in front of you, and why? Because Benny might have put me in a position to be with the awesome girlfriend that Ravi doesn't deserve! What the fuck is wrong with me?"
I almost said it might be something cycle-related, but didn't, and stifled a laugh. Sure, I've been a man for a year, but I still think of myself as a woman, and have had moments of being pissed because men think that explains everything. Instead, I told him that it was just creepy. "You're a dick, but you've done a pretty good job of avoiding the creepy stuff."
"Thanks, I think."
We didn't have time to talk about whether I was calling him a dick affectionately or not. That was when we heard the door open, and Jordan grabbed a towel, wiped his face, and nodded. I thought about how it was a good thing that he didn't wear make-up and followed him to the living room. He was telling Benny that we had to talk.
Jordan didn't say anything, but just shoved his phone in Benny's face with the picture I'd sent him on the screen.
"Oh. I can explain..."
"What's to explain? I get it."
"Okay, I should have told you, but I thought it was just going to be one time..."
Having heard that from a cheating boyfriend before, I interrupted. "Even if it was just one time, don't you think Jordan should have known? We're going to be going back to our real lives soon-"
"I would have broken it off and then put it in the letter..."
"Oh, and that would have made everything all right!"
"Do you love her?"
That shut both of us up and had us looking at Jordan. Of all the ways he could have steered the conversation, that was the one I least expected.
He continued. "Look, I'm pissed about being in this situation, but it's the situation we're in, so the question is, what do we do going forward? But if we're going to get the best possible result, that's the thing we're going to have to know. Do you love her, and does she love you?"
Benny just sat there, seemingly stunned by what Jordan was implying.
I let out the breath I was holding. "Well," I said, "we've got a couple of weeks to find out."
I did my part the next night, which was already scheduled as a date with Kareena.
I switched things up and opted for takeout instead of a restaurant, so that we could find some neutral ground and not have people feel trapped with us if things got ugly. Once we found a sparsely-populated spot in a local park, I just came out with it.
''Kareena, I've got something to tell you. I'm gay."
Just like that. No pause to make her wonder, the first part just so she'd know I was talking and I wouldn't have to repeat it.
She stopped working the latch on her styrofoam box. "What?"
I launched into what I'd planned to say, a mix of what I had been feeling and what I figured had been going on in Ravi's head. I said I'd never wanted to deceive anyone but had wound up deceiving myself, that I'd only found out myself when my defenses were lowered and I found someone irresistibly attractive, and I wasn't seeing anyone or trying to make a fool of her. I left out any mention of finding out at her friend's New Year's Eve party or anything like doubting it because of how much I liked her; this was not a time to be putting any sort feeling of responsibility on her.
For a while, she just stared at me, not seeming to know what to think. Then I could almost see her desire to be a modern, liberal woman wrestle a somewhat conservative upbringing down. "I guess that makes sense... We've never... I thought it might have been me..." She paused. "Our parents are going to be so angry."
"Just with me. I think I can take it." I thought of Ravi. "But if I can't, and I come back and tell you it was all a big mistake..."
"It won't matter whether I believe you or not."
I figure that's a fair reaction.
We tried to engage in small talk as we ate our curry after that, but it wasn't really happening. The movie was canceled. I went home to email Ravi; I hope Kareena wound up crying less than me.
Ravi was furious, saying I had no right, that things were fine with Kareena before I screwed things up, and what if she told her parents who told his...? He made noises like he was going to drive up and sort things out until I pointed out that "Gary" had no standing in this situation and hid come across as some sort of weird ex-lover. He made a vague comment about maybe just keeping this life if I was going to destroy his like this, but I forwarded that to the real Gary and while I don't know what he said, that was the end of that.
I kind of feel like I did the right thing for the wrong reason here; I'm pretty sure that Ravi will be better off after facing the facts about his life, and that he'll be mostly able to do it at his own rate. What little interaction I've had with his family in the last few weeks doesn't seem much different, and Kareena doesn't seem like she'd out someone out of anger. If she's even angry.
That's the "wrong reason" part; we did this so that there wouldn't be anything holding her back with Benny/Jordan, and that's more than a bit creepy. I look back at the older entries in the blog and wonder if this is how the "Pygmalion" who was manipulating Ashlyn got his/her start, giving folks little pushes before really going all-in on arranging people's lives. Jordan and I tell each other that we were helping her, pushing her out of a relationship that wasn't giving her all she wanted and never would, while also giving her the chance to take another seriously in a way she might not have otherwise, and we might have done something similar in other circumstances, but wire doing it based on information she doesn't have and won't, and that's not really cool.
Also not cool: I haven't spoken to her since. I knew I was going to miss her, but this was weeks early.
Benny got to see her, though, and those last few weeks were hard on him; I don't think he'd given any sort of thought to what he was doing until Jordan made him. He's a pretty good guy, but lets not forget he's here because of a one-night stand with me, after all.
The tension spread through the apartment, which never felt smaller. It wasn't much of a relief when we gathered in the living room Sunday night, though.
"So... Me and Kareena... We haven't... I haven't... I just couldn't be the one to break her heart for the second time in a month! I'm sorry, Jordan, but you'll have to do it."
Jordan forced a pretty powerful stare out of Deirdre's pixie face."So you're saying it would break her heart."
"Well, maybe not break her heart, but it would hurt her."
"And you can't stand to be the one to do that."
"No, but someone has to, unless you just intend to pick up where I left off!"
Jordan took a deep breath, tried looking down, but eventually looked Benny in the eyes. "What if you didn't have to leave off? What if I took over your life and you kept mine?"
For all that we'd been thinking about it over the previous weeks, as Jordan had implied it pretty strongly when we found out about Benny and Kareena, I don't think any of us expected Jordan to put the actual offer out there.
Benny started to sputter. "C'mon, that's crazy! I can't just be you on my own! What about your job, your family-"
"He's right," I interjected, "I mean, you still go down to the comic shop every week, pick up staff from a folder that says 'Jordan Chang', and argue about them online as'JordoNYC'! You've kept a claim on your real life like few others have!"
Jordan looked at Benny first. "Last job's been done for months, and you can make a career change. You get along with my brother better than I did, to be honest. I'll miss the hell out of Mom and Dad - I can't guarantee that your friend Benny from Maine won't need a place to stay during the holidays - and you'll have to learn Cantonese sooner than later, but I didn't say it would be easy. "Then he turned to me. ''And where did trying to stay me get me? Nowhere; just more pissed off at what I couldn't do, feeling like you guys trying new things were stupid. And then..."
He stopped looting at me, got up, and walked toward the kitchen area so that he could address both of us. "Do you have any idea what it's like to see yourself get your shit together from the outside - to see yourself get into shape, make real-world friends, and finally be with a great girl - and then feel like there's a really good chance that putting me back in that life would lead to me fucking it up? I'm not saying that I don't want what Benny's made of Jordan Chang, but it also fucking terrifies me!"
I didn't knew what to say to that, and I think it started to scare Benny as well. "Dude, you're smart, you'll figure it out. And I can't just take your life forever for a girl!"
For a minute, I thought Jordan was going to reply, but I guess he'd kind of exhausted what he had to say, and was trying to find something else. I considered holding back, because this was so totally not about me, but...
"Benny, look at the others who have had this happen to them. A whole lot have wound up stuck in bad situations for reasons not nearly as good as Kareena."
The room got really quiet, and then Benny got up, walked over to Jordan, and practically smothered that petite body in a bear hug. "If you ever change your mind, man. I'll be on the next train to Maine if you say so, don't care who I become. But thank you for however much more time I've got with her!"
We all started hugging and crying after that, and then spent the next couple of days going to Jordan's favorite NYC places, packing, and then having a big blowout bash last night. I wish Kareena could have been part of it, but making it just for us Inn folks made more sense.
It ran late enough that Jordan barely had time to get to the train station before conking back out on the train. I've written this in a sprint, occasionally looking up to see him asleep, looking strangely peaceful.
I wonder what kind of Benny he'll be.