It's late Thursday night or early Friday morning. I'm sitting in the corner table of the Greyhound station in Buffalo on my laptop utilizing their free wi-fi. Not an ideal place to write but I need to get this all out now or I might never get it out at all. I'm currently on a more than 24 hour bus ride to Detroit, still in the body of Karina Cruz. Presumably the transformation in Old Orchard Beach happened hours ago and there will be a new Lane Van Hoekstra, who that will be I don't know. All I know is that my opportunity is gone and I will be in this body for the rest of my life, and I chose that.
Perhaps it seemed like I decided at the last minute just to walk away from it all and head back, but it wasn't that instant. My fate was officially sealed Sunday night when I booked an extra plane ticket and took a guest with me to the Inn. That was the point of no return, but in reality I decided this much sooner than I admitted it to myself.
I might have decided when I heard that Kari wasn't returning to her old life and unfairly leaving Ashley at the mercy of the Inn's twisted fate. Honestly, I don't really fault her for that. I'm still pissed, but I can understand her reasoning. She had a daughter at 14 and had her entire life hijacked. She had to drop out of high school, not go to college, have all of her friends pass her by, and work a series of low level jobs and do unspeakable things to keep a roof over her head. It's wrong to resent your child but I understand that underlying unhappiness that Ashley picked up from her true mother. Kari found herself in a great position in California with a chance at the type of life she never had a chance to get. It would be hard for anyone in her situation to turn that down if a magical hotel drops it in your lap. I don't forgive her, but I understand. But my decision came earlier than that.
I might have decided on Mother's Day, when Ashley went out of her way to make things special for me. This girl who was so unhappy and caustic to me when I first met her made a special effort to show me how important I was in her life and how much she appreciated that. The pride and accomplishment I felt that day was literally more than any other day in my life. I've graduated college, worked a high level job, made millions for others and six figure bonuses for myself but none of those gave me the feeling inside that I got from knowing that I made that much of a difference in one person's life. Ashley is going to go to college next year, and it's because I made her join a team, work on her grades, and study for the ACT. If the Trading Post Inn hadn't sent me to Detroit, she might be a waitress for the rest of her life or turn to drugs. But I had decided even before that.
I might have decided when I was dating Darius. When I realized that being a woman wasn't a curse in and of itself. That having to live Kari's life as she did was what was awful, not simply having her body. When I realized that my body wasn't something to be afraid of but something that could be embraced and enjoyed. When I learned that sex in a woman's body could be more than just something you do to keep your job, but a profound way to connect with another person. When I had feelings for Darius that I hadn't had for anyone in years, and how I knew he liked me for me and not have to worry about him being after my money like I did when I was Lane. How the breakup which was caused by my own lack of honesty rocked me to the core and caused me to be a hermit for weeks. But I had decided before that.
The moment I subconsciously sealed my fate came when I first got a good look at Ashley. Not just observing her but standing face to face with her. Eyes identical to the ones that I saw in the mirror every morning. Same color hair. The same smile. When I looked at her the familiarity triggered something deep inside me that I can't explain. Like some sort of primordial voice that says "This is the most important thing in the world. Don't let anything bad ever happen to it." I'm convinced it's some sort of genetic "mother's intuition" that I acquired with the rest of this body. I could also just be lying to myself when I think that, since Todd never described feeling anything similar in his writings about his time as Anne Marie. Although perhaps he felt that way but never put it to words. Either way, as time went on that voice grew stronger until there was no way I would be able to leave Ashley's future in the hands of someone I didn't know could be trusted. The simple way to describe it is that I love her. It's odd to write that I love a teenage girl but there isn't another word in the English language for how I feel about her. It's a different level of affection than with a girlfriend or a family member. It's profound and amazing that perhaps Kari having that feeling severed by the Inn is what led her to be able to walk away from Ashley. The only way to ensure her protection was to be her protector for good. It meant throwing away my old life and family but I haven't wavered once this week.
So why go to the Inn at all? Why bother going all the way out to Maine? To get rid of Latherman. If I'm going to be spending the rest of my life in this body, I won't spend another day being the mistress of such a disgusting pig of a man who uses fear of poverty and his position of power to extract sexual favors from me. I shouldn't have to look for a new job because he's the one who behaves unethically. I don't have the means or strength or even mindset to kill him, but I did have an untraceable magical inn.
I got in touch with some people. I don't know if they're "Pygmalion", or if they're "The Agency" or "Travellers" or some other cadre of criminals who abuse the power of the Inn. It's logical to assume that over the course of a century several similar groups would have come to be. My offer to them was my life. Lane's life. It turns out there's quite a demand for the life a young healthy white man with 7 figure earning potential and an apartment in New York City. In exchange I would have a guarantee that Latherman would change and I wouldnt be around for it. They were more than happy to oblige, saying that Latherman's life would be greatly valued by someone they knew. I didn't dig any deeper.
We switched rooms around so I wasn't staying in the same room that Jennifer had two weeks ago. Nobody went into "Lane's Room" so I assume that the 13th person who would have trigger the change was sleeping in there tonight. Latherman and I stayed in single bed room. I was tempted to look at the luggage that was left behind to see who he would turn into but I decided agaisnt it. If I found out he was getting a life upgrade I might try to back out of this. Whoever it was, he's probably him now.
I don't feel a single pang of guilt for what I've done to him. To make sure he stayed in the room and slept there I did every disgusting thing I could think of to keep his attention and wear him out. One last degrading act before my freedom from it all. I do feel bad for his wife and children. Their father who cheated on them will soon be replaced by someone , and they'll have no way of ever knowing. Mrs. Latherman will share a bed with a stranger just so I don't ever have to share one with her real husband.
The scariest thing about all this isn't that I'm going to be Kari for the rest of my life. I've done it for a year and I can handle it and in some ways it's given me great happiness. The scariest thing is that after tonight I have no excuses. I chose this. I am forever and always Karina Cruz and any consequences that come with that are a direct result of the choice I made this weekend. I chose to deal with her past, I chose to live her present, and I chose to shape her future.