There was some hostility between me and Kitty when I arrived in Milwaukee, mostly stemming from the fact that neither of us expected to see the other. As far as I knew, when Kitty became Greta (and her husband became a 10-year-old boy) they had packed up and gone to Providence, and stayed there. So when I opened the door to "our" apartment and saw her there, I just stood in the doorway, surprised. And she was surprised too, because she was in the middle of a make-out session with some guy - I think his name was Zane or Zack or something.
At first, all she could do was blurt out a panicked "You!" While Zane peeled himself off her and turned to face me. I'm a tall guy as Alan, but I'm lanky and haven't exactly bulked up. This guy looked like he hit the gym often enough, and while I can fight, I have never thrown a punch or attempted a takedown in this body so I don't really know my own (lack of ) strength in that area.
I stammered, trying to cover, "Greta! I'm back!"
"Greta?" said her beau, "I thought you said your name was Kitty."
"That's... what I like to be called," she said, covering embarrassedly, "And this is..."
"Alan," I said, "I'm the... ex, I guess. Roommate."
"You live with your ex?" said the guy.
"No... I live alone," she said rather curtly. "He lives... somewhere else."
"My name's still on the lease, isn't it?" I asked - part rhetorically, part genuinely. I had been paying the full rent while I was in Vermont. "Anyway. Key still works. I'm surprised to see you here."
"I could say the same thing," Kitty sneered. "You won't be staying long, will you?"
I had planned on dropping right into bed, but the last thing I wanted was to deal with this after a long day on the road. "No, just... stopping by..." I sighed, "I see you're busy, I'll come back tomorrow."
"Call first," she said sharply.
It was late, and I didn't know any of Alan's friends or relatives so I stayed in a motel. The next morning I called. She must have seen Alan's name on the call display because instead of Hello, she said "What do you want? I thought you were in Virginia."
"Vermont," I corrected, "And things... went bad for me there. I needed to refresh."
"Well good luck," she said, and then she hung up.
I could see she was being difficult, but I had been paying rent on that apartment for months, and as far as I knew it was unoccupied. I had a right to it, and if I couldn't use it I wasn't going to let her squat for free.
I went over and went right in, dropping my stuff by the door. Zane or Zack's shoes were gone. I called out, "Honey, I'm home."
"Get out of here, you idiot!" she said, storming out from the bedroom in a huff.
"Easy, easy," I said, "Let's just talk. I've been paying your rent apparently, so you owe me that much. Money, too, but we'll get to that."
She sunk down to the couch. "Fine, cut me off, I don't care. It doesn't matter."
"Okay, let's not... look, what happened, how did you end up here?"
The story went basically how I expected. She and Chet stayed in Providence for a short while before the police arrived - apparently they had gotten a tip that someone may have been squatting at their house, and lo and behold it's a grown woman with a minor from out of state. Chet agreed to go back to the "Jenkinses," against Kitty's wishes, because he felt Wisconsin was too far from the Inn, and the brush with the cops left him skittish.
"Things were bad before we went to the Inn, and the transformation didn't exactly help," she said bitterly. "I guess we're still technically married - we even e-mail sometimes... but it's starting to feel like it's all in the past. Like it's for the best if we go our separate ways. I'm realizing that we both knew the marriage was in trouble, but we didn't know the other person knew."
"And does he know about this? About Zane, or Zack or whatever?"
"He knows a bit," she said. "He doesn't care about me, He's having the time of his life out there. He's got a ton of little girlfriends, I see them on Facebook and Insta-whatever..."
"Instagram," I said, embarrassed that I both knew and felt the need to correct that. "He doesn't... actually date them, does he?"
"Maybe, I don't know," she scoffed. "It's perverse." (More perverse than whatever they were doing together in Providence? Who knows.) "He's scum and most of the time I want nothing to do with him."
"What about the rest of the time?"
"The rest of the time I cry myself to sleep wondering how I let him get away."
This conversation took almost all day, I'm just paraphrasing and cutting it down. I shared my story, too and we bonded over our break-ups, how badly the Inn had screwed up our (already borderline, in both cases) lives.
She had been living there since October, rent-free thanks to me. She made some money here and there by taking temp jobs that she was not well-suited for but never staying long enough to get really established. "It was just the easiest way, the apartment was just sitting here..." she said, "Don't make me leave."
Begrudgingly, I admitted it would be cruel of me to cast her out, but it wasn't fair to me to have to pay for an apartment I couldn't use. I told her I would take the couch, and that she would have to work hard to find work she could do. Of course, I didn't take into account exactly how long Alan's freakish legs are, so the couch wasn't exactly... ideal.
Weeks pass. True to form, I'm working already, but the only restaurant job I could find was bussing (I had just missed the hiring period for most restaurants heading into summer, and I think I got a bad reference out of one of my Vermont jobs.) To fill things out, I took up Alan's old driving job for Threo, an Uber-knockoff, and Kitty, well... like she said, she doesn't really have many skills, except access to a bit of rainy day savings she and Chet divvied up and kept from the new-them.
What Friends Are For
As to how we went from reluctant roommates to something more, well... it didn't all happen at once. Kitty is a very social animal, so she had already ingrained herself with Greta's friends. Naturally, they all had questions about where I was. Her answer was that I "just vanished with some woman." That definitely didn't make me/Alan sound good and leaves a lot of questions. Still, apparently they weren't so scandalized that I was Public Enemy #1 when Kitty let it slip that Alan was back in town. They wanted to see how I was and get some more details.
I protested at first - these people aren't my friends, and in the long run I wasn't going to be here very long, so why get attached? But she was insistent and brought them around the apartment to run into me.
The first meeting - there was six or seven people there, a few couples and some single friends - was rough, because I was supposed to know these people well and had no prep time. They grilled me about my missing months, but I deflected - a skill I learned well from my time as Lauren. Basically, I alluded to the idea that something (and yes, someone) had gotten between me and Greta, but we were moving past it... and we weren't sure where we stood. When you talk in cryptic terms like that, people don't tend to pry for further details, (if they're polite.)
Of course in reality, I was pretty sure where we stood. Roommates. Fellow Inn Victims. Maybe even uneasy friends, given the fact that I didn't particularly care for her when we first met, but my sympathy for her situation had grown. I wasn't looking for more and although I knew she was right man-hungry, I didn't really see myself as filling that position. But a few things happened over the course of time.
I think having to talk to her friends as though we were "Alan & Greta" (instead of "Alan" and "Greta") made her hungry to establish something concrete between us. I started noticing signals. First I thought they were in my head: a lingering gaze at me, a text to see how my day (or night, if I was out driving) was going. Little signs. I didn't know how to feel about that. First I thought it was in my mind, and then I felt like I didn't want the attention, and then... I kinda did, because hey. I can't deny that looking the way Kitty does... a tall, svelte, cute-faced young woman... getting positive attention from her felt good on a primal level. But still I played it off.
Then we started talking. Really talking. About our lives before the Inn, about my experiences since. I think the conversation that did it for me was when she asked me about the year I spent as Lauren. I wanted to help her understand what her husband might be going through, being a teenager with the mind and experience of an adult. "It's not exactly like being a teen... you know so much more, everything isn't so life-and-death. I kind of had to laugh and roll my eyes at my friends who were constantly coming to pieces over boys and the like. But there's this rush and excitement when things are going well. You're still in a body that's a little out of control, and that's intoxicating."
"What was that like for you? Did you make any... mistakes?"
"No, no... I was good. I had lots of opportunities, and at times... like, when you want to blow off steam because things are just so crummy, and there's no... goodness. You're still human. You want sex, and you want love and attention and it's like... where are you going to get it? Not grown-ups. But the people who look like you, what they have to offer, you don't want exactly that either. I... don't envy your husband right now."
Being Lauren brought with it a ton of contradictions for me. It sucked feeling so trapped between places, second-guessing every thought I had and wondering if it was coming from my mind or my body. If I had landed in a grown woman's body I might have behaved very differently, relaxed more... but the way things were, I had to be definitely on guard. I wanted attention but I didn't want to want it. Because all my available options were unappealing to me, I focused on the one least realistic but most sought: Meg. Maybe I did idealize her, but the thought that we were meant to be together after all that crap, that I had to keep my slate clean for when I could finally declare my feelings for her, kept me from doing a lot of stupid things.
As I revealed these things, and she didn't judge me for any of them, I felt closer and closer to her. And there was even a moment when I thought "I could kiss this person right now." But I didn't want my actions to be confused by the intimacy of the moment.
It was two days later, after rolling it around in my head for a while, that I phrased it this way, over take-out: "I'm going to come right out and say what I think we're both thinking. You and I should sleep together."
She came off as stunned, but I think she was just playing. "Wow that was very forward of you, Tyler... I don't know what to say."
"Think it over," I said, playing along with her coyness, "I think it would be good for both'a us to have the outlet. If either of us is going to have somebody, it should be... each other."
"You mean like... no strings attached?"
I smirked, "Well... we already got the strings, don't we? Out there, we're Alan and Greta, a couple, but in here, we can just be Tyler and Kitty, two folks having a good time. We didn't ask for this. But I think... well look, I just think it could be good. It will help us both get over what we've been through."
She leaned in and pressed her lips to mine for a moment. Pulling back, she smirked, "You're not a very good kisser."
"I'll be more ready next time."
And so it began.
I'm not going to pretend I don't still feel guilty about things. Meghan might be reading this, and the story of me admitting to her that Kitty and I were having a fling (ahead of revealing it on this blog) was not one of the best feelings I've ever experienced, sure as shit, but it was a necessary awkward conversation so that we could all get on with our lives and maybe I could feel free to talk about things on this blog again.
Sometimes I feel regret, when I'm lying in bed with Greta, because I know it should be someone else. I shouldn't have even gotten here, but things happened how they did and I... I responded the way I did. You can't un-ring that bell.
I'm just someone trying to find the most comfort he can in a shitty life. That may be all I have left, for as long as my days.