I put off contacting Joy's family as long as I could. It was guaranteed to be an uncomfortable conversation where I'd be asked lots of questions I didn't have the answers to, and be treated like someone I am not. I haven't spent a lot of time with people who know Joy but not Simon... besides the occasional take-out delivery guy, airplane stranger or of course, Abe Fowler, I pretty much just talk to Treena and that's all. I may look like a woman but I really don't feel ready to think of myself as somebody's daughter.
I mulled it over. I seriously considered not calling. They haven't seen Joy in months and months, why not just ride it out? What would be the consequences? I could make it up to them later if I felt bad or if I needed something. Nobody stays mad at their own daughter, and only child, for long. And maybe by then I would have a better answer as to where I was for 9 months of "my" life.
But I took it like a man (so to speak) and reached out. I figure, this year is gonna be full of things I don't want to do, or have done to me, whether it's my body releasing menstrual fluids at inopportune times or people looking at me like a piece of meat, best to get used to sucking it up.
The good news is, the Kershaws live in Davenport, Iowa, so it wasn't like I had to go see them. All I had to do was spend an hour or so on video chat with them, let them know I was home safe and sound, catch up a little bit. I was ready with a few talking points, but I was very thrown from the moment I saw them. First of all, looking at Lizzie Kershaw was like looking in a mirror, you'd hardly know she was 20-some years older than my current body. She's a gorgeous blonde woman (with an admittedly more impressive rack than her daughter) who has kept her figure pretty well and has great skin, I could even tell through the somewhat pixely camera. She could hardly contain her excitement at setting eyes on her daughter for the first time, spending the first moments squealing in glee that I was "home" at last. Randolph Kershaw is a refined salt-and-pepper haired gentleman. I would have expected him to be a bit more restrained in his emotions but even he seemed to be bursting beneath the surface. Being able to invoke those feelings in someone was... a mixed experience. I was flattered and proud and a bit ashamed that all this was for someone who wasn't really there. But I wore it as best as I could.
Yes, I did have to field those awkward questions. My official answer as to my whereabouts is that, while out in Maine, Joy was offered an exciting business opportunity and decided to pursue it... I was back now because the contract ended. Why don't I have any more details to share? Thank God for my imaginary "non-disclosure agreement" from my imaginary contract.
Yes, they pushed hard for more details, but since I didn't actually have any I only felt somewhat bad about not sharing. I could tell it wasn't the most satisfying answer to where their daughter has been for all this time (and why she hasn't called or e-mailed for most of it) but... tough luck, I guess? I couldn't say that, but I had to get them off the topic quickly. But that left more than a half-hour of a 45-minute v-chat with me awkwardly probing them for stuff I should have theoretically known. Seriously, Treena could help me with a lot of details of Joy's "day to day" current life, but she knew next to nothing of Joy's background, beyond being from Iowa. I have a certain knack for extracting info from people without making them feel like I'm prying (remember, top salesman here!) but it's tough because I'm supposed to know if "dad" has been out of work or if I have a cousin who was pregnant last year. I muddled my way through, but brother was it awkward. But now I have my bearings so I know, for next time (they hoped I would start calling every week if possible!) what Randolph's job, what sports teams he follows, and what Lizzie and Joy like to gossip about.
I also felt very uncomfortable trying to act like "myself" because I don't really know who Joy is to these people. I find when I'm out in public I play up the possible vain airhead version of Joy just so that people will underestimate me, and of course around Treena I'm my usual intelligent (I hope!) self. I didn't want to do the cruel Joy parody version to her parents, but I didn't also want to let any knowledge or attitudes slip that would be an obvious tip that something had changed. I know, intellectually, they would never guess their little girl isn't home right now, but... well, the less questions about that, the better. I just laid it on as thick as I could to be the doting daughter. The perfect little girl.
One interesting factoid about the Kershaws: they're British! I must have jumped when they started speaking and out came these very refined (to my American ears) British accents, since Treena hadn't said that Joy had an accent. It turns out they moved to the U.S. in the late-80's, so Joy was born here... which is a relief, I guess since it means I could still be President (ha!). That gave me some additional material... the next time I call I'll have to chat them up about Brexit.
When I got off the chat, I was relieved it was over, as well as a bit pleased with the way I acquitted myself, and a bit sad thinking of my own dad. At that time he was likely sitting in his favorite spot watching the Cavs dominate the Warriors and finally win that NBA title LeBron promised... possibly while someone claiming to be sat by and pretended to be interested in Cleveland sports (it shouldn't be too hard... I mean, LeBron!)
I miss my dad, and I honestly hope I get to see him again. He's always been a good man who did anything he could to put food on the table for my family, and he was a great role model.
I've been introduced to the person who will be occupying my life, by the way. I am not ready to divulge all the personal details about them that I have, but I think we're in a good spot - some of my paranoia was, as it turns out, unfounded (but I don't think it was unnecessary.) Their professional experience makes them seem capable of picking up where I left off with Aldine, and it seems - at least from the outset - that they're sympathetic to my situation, being stuck in the body of a chick. So that makes me optimistic about where I'm going to be a year from now, but in my line of work you never count your chickens before they hatch.
And me I'm just sitting here, lounging by the pool - seems like every house in Southern California has one, which is great, so long as I can get comfortable in one of Joy's skimpy little bikinis - drawing up my plans for the next year (and ogling my own flat tummy and long smooth legs...) I'm already studying Real Estate for Dummies, learning the ins and outs of the market and the laws that govern it. Tedious, but not too hard to grasp if you have a mind for details like I do.
Treena seems to just be letting me be. If I didn't know better I'd say she was making a point to avoid me, but I gather that her schedule just has her working late nights and sleeping late into the afternoon. She has spoken a few words to me (about what she thinks I should do as Joy) and they don't seem to be intentionally hostile, so it's possible I'm just reading into things. Still, we have hardly bonded since our first few nights together and it makes me wonder just what I did wrong. Maybe I rubbed her the wrong way somehow, and if so I'd be interested in learning why and what I could do to make it up to her. I'm really not such a bad guy.
Well, there will be plenty of time to convince her.