So, for the time being, I'm including Alan's name alongside mine up there. I can't put my finger on the strange compulsion to do that. In adopting Lauren's name, there was the obvious logic of "Oh, well I don't look like a Tyler anymore." And I was stuck living her life. But in taking Alan's appearance, I've already pretty much made it my own. I'm Tyler in all but appearance. Meg even calls me that freely in mixed company (and it makes me feel so good.) But for your benefit, it's a reminder for the time being that I still have two (or more) lives. Still a weird feeling.
The first thing I did after we got to Vermont, was find some work. Every since I started wandering, years before I ever visited any damn Inn, that was already my standard M.O. I was especially motivated to do so here because I've spent the past year as a sponge, actually forbidden by Lauren's parents from working so I could focus on my studies. But it was important to me that I could pay my way and not just leech off of Meg.
It's lucky that Alan's job was basically as a self-employed driver, no boss breathing down his neck to get back to Milwaukee. I could do that anywhere in theory, but it's more suited to an urban environment than a little Vermont college town.
It's not hard to find something, anyway. My knife-skills are rusty, but was easy enough to get in at a restaurant because summer is the busy season and they're used to frequent turnover. I'm worried it's going to dry up by the fall, assuming I'm going to be here that long. I don't know what the plan is. Meg is pressuring me to develop one.
"I mean, I don't have a problem with you staying here for a while," she said, "Gene might, though."
Gene is Meg's roommate. She'd never met him before, but Carrie alerted Meg to the fact that she had gotten a new roomie during her year here, so we knew to expect him. He's a quiet guy, balding in his mid-20s, reads a lot.
From the stinkeye I got when he saw me come through the door itt was fairly obvious that he's got a bit of a thing for Meghan. The fact that she's an entirely different person now doesn't seem to have registered with him. You could see a heavy sigh of disappointment when Meg explained to him that she had made "a friend" in Maine who would be staying over for an open-ended term.
Gene has been pretty vocal about one thing: He wants me off the couch. I couldn't agree more. I'm trying not to take up too much space but it's clearly a focal point for the guy.
"The living room is a communal area," Meg told me he said privately, "It belongs to both of us and it's unfair for you to park your friend there for so long." Meg's imitation of him saying "friend" included finger-quotes.
"It's only been a month," Meg defended me, "He isn't sure if he wants to stay in Vermont, but if he decides to, he'll get his own place. He's working."
"I just don't get why you can't just move him into your room," he sneered.
"That's actually none of your business," Meg retorted.
I told her later, I could find a motel if I had to, somewhere to put down stakes while I sort things out.
"And leave me with him? Please, no," she laughed bitterly. "I'd go with you." I sighed about how Carrie might have flirted with this guy in Meg's body just to keep herself from feeling lonely, probably "harmlessly" in her view. As I was preparing to judge her for this, I thought of some of my behavior as Lauren, and cursed how women are criticized as being teases just because they were being friendly.
Selfishly, I'm pretty glad to be a man again.
"Hey," Meg said to me yesterday as we were having our latest Gene gripe session, this time about whose turn it was to do dishes (mine, which he complained I didn't get to fast enough) "Let's go out tonight."
"Sure," I said immediately, "Where to?"
"No, hold on," she corrected herself, "I mean really go out. On a date." I snickered at her need for specificity, but she explained: "We've been hanging out and it's been really nice. I just... I guess I needed time to shake the image of you as my little sister, to rebuild that... change what our bond means."
I smiled softly, trying not to look completely excited, "Of course. Are you sure you're ready?"
"No," she laughed, "I'm never sure. But I can't take the uncertainty anymore. Either we do this and it goes well, or it doesn't, and we know."
"It'll go well," I said confidently. She smiled back at me: that smile. Oh, man.
We went for sushi, and I struggled with the chopsticks in my now quite large hands. I enlightened Meg, "Everyone thinks simply not having boobs and a uterus is where the strangeness ends, but I grew nearly a foot and gained 80 pounds. I take up so much more space in the world now than I did a few months ago. I'm still tripping over my own feet. Holding pens, utensils... typing, driving. It takes some getting used to. I don't know my own strength."
"Oh, I know," she said with a laugh. "Remember, as Tasha, I was a good deal taller than I am now, and not exactly paper-thin. I keep expecting to knock stuff over with my boobs. Do you know how much food I used to drop on those things?"
"You look smaller than I remember," I told her, "But it's just that I'm taller as Alan than I was as Tyler. Of course, as Tasha you were a giant next to me."
"I was 5'10," she said, "Big for a girl, but... hm."
"I guess I was worried that when I got back to my real body, you'd realize you preferred me as Tasha."
I smiled warmly, "I like you this way."
She hesitated for a moment and said, "Is it weird to say I like you too? You've got someone else's face... is it wrong to compliment you on it?"
I shrugged it off, "I mean, I took pride in my appearance as Lauren. But from a distance, I guess. It didn't matter to me if anyone found me attractive because as far as I was concerned I was off the market. But I liked feeling my look, as the kids say."
"I get that," she agreed, "I didn't relish the attention I got while looking like Tasha, but it was definitely a confidence boost... and as a waitress I learned how to use it. By the way, 'as the kids say?' Boy, don't act like I haven't caught you still speaking teenlish."
"Omigod, I totes don't," I said in response, sampling a California roll, "This soosh is the bomb dot com, bee tee dubs. Hashtag: all the feels."
She stifled a laugh and shook her head, "Stop it now. I can't take it."
"You can't even?"
"I really can't!"
We laughed. "Okay, maybe my brain was warped by prolonged exposure. I was deep undercover. I'm not ready for the outside yet."
We gazed at each other for a while. I just soaked in the look in her eyes. I've been craving that look for a year. As Lauren, she never seemed to see the man inside, she just sort of understood that he was there. At times I played up my appearance, at times I fought it. I went through phases depending on what time of day or week or month it was. Now, she seemed to see me.
I took her hand across the table. "You have no idea how many times..." I said dreamily, "Over the past year, all those lunches, how many times I wanted to lean across the table and kiss you."
She averted her eyes for a second. "That would have been awkward."
"The weird thing is, it would have stopped there. I wasn't, like crazy hot for you or anything. I could feel Lauren's... tastes... pulling at me all the time. Can you imagine how frustrating that is? To want to want something more than your body will let you? But I was more than a bit gay for you. If I thought you would be into it, I would have given it my best shot."
She took a moment to formulate her response and smiled, "I'm glad we waited."
I nodded in acknowledgment that it was the best thing to do.
We walked home hand in hand. She seemed lost in thought, so I asked what was on her mind.
She turned to me and asked, "Are you mad at me for that? For waiting?"
"No, of course not," I said.
"What about Wade? Or Mykal?"
"Ancient history," I insisted.
"I'm mad at myself. All the time," she said, "For a lot of things. I thought I was doing the right thing by sticking with Wade, but I hated myself for it. Then I couldn't even keep the promise to Tasha, as soon as Mykal came along. I'm terrible, Tyler. I don't know why you like me."
I wrapped my arms around her as a tear streaked down her cheek. I told her, "You're not, you're not. You did your best. You're an amazing person."
"Do you know how skeevy it feels to learn you're good at pretending to be in love with someone for a year? Like it's no big deal? I feel like I have no soul."
"No, no, no," I said, "Don't think that way. It was a big deal. You always told me how hard it was. It was hard for you. You only did what you had to."
"I hurt Wade so much," she sniffed, "And you. And Tasha. She shouldn't have forgiven me. I should've... should've... I don't know. And now I've got my body back and you lost yours. That's not fair."
"Don't worry about me, or what's fair," I said, "We're together now, okay? We're in this together. We've got each other, and we can make choices about how to live our lives, choices we couldn't make a year ago. Leave the past behind. We've got the future. Okay?"
She nodded and sniffed again, "Okay."
She hugged me some more and we stood still on the sidewalk for a minute or two before she said, "Let's go home."
We fell asleep on the couch. She woke up around 2 and I felt her roll away from me.
I muttered something and she shook me awake.
"Hey," she whispered, "Come sleep in my bed."