By Thursday night, the Inn was starting to fill up, maybe about halfway. I had gotten a bucket of chicken for Kitty, Rosie and myself, and we were just sitting around the common room about to dig in, when in walk these two girls, dragging some luggage behind them, and I could hear from their conversation that they were having trouble finding somewhere to eat - apparently they had some plans and were running late, to where they didn't know if they'd have time to find a decent meal.
I decided to wave them over and offer them some of ours. They waved it off at first, but I insisted. I introduced myself as Tyler, and Kitty, who seemed less than charmed to meet them. I paused when I got to Rosie, when she piped up and said, "Ahmir," offering a big friendly smile. I guess meeting a big black guy named "Rosie" would seem a bit odd.
They gave their names, Abbie and Kendra, and talked a bit about themselves - 23 years old, just out of college, etc etc. I made some polite small talk, careful not to tip my hand that I knew anything about what was going to happen, say anything that might seem deceitful or cruel in retrospect. I mean, if you could just warn people ahead of time, everybody would turn around and run away (well, except for the folks who would appreciate a "fresh start." I reckon they'd get more than they bargain for, though.)
They headed out wherever they were going and we said maybe we'd see them later. After they were out of earshot, Kitty smacked me on the shoulder. "We're not here to make friends with these people!"
I sighed. "We need to form some kind of bond with people here when we can. Our lives might depend on it. Or theirs."
She scoffed. "Still, you don't have to be so nice."
I realized in that instant it was because Abbie and Kendra were so attractive that she felt threatened.
Later, I took a walk with Rosie and asked her about her experiences. Just like on the blog, she was reticent to go into detail, but she wanted to clarify it's not like it was a walking nightmare every day. Even if she could never quite shake the race thing from her mind, there were lots of times it didn't seem to matter as much - it's just that it would sometimes come out of nowhere, or she started seeing it places where maybe there was actually nothing to worry about. She said her favorite times were being "one of the boys" at the construction site, where your race didn't matter as long as you could lift the drywall or whatever. I told her I wished she had found more time to write about it so we could get a fuller sense of her experience, maybe and she said she just wasn't in that kind of headspace. I'm sure Meghan would have backed me up that pushing yourself to write that stuff down is healthy.
I tried to relate her experience to my own as Lauren. If you are a black man or a teenage girl by nature, you don't have the ability to think about how different it is for you than other people, at least not in such concrete ways. I missed being able to go out and not be leered at by older men, or having to dress according to whether I wanted to risk tempting teenage boys at school. My one really solid friendship with a male classmate was based on his attraction for me and me having to keep him at arm's length.
Rosie admitted she had at least enjoyed manhood for what it was. I told her I didn't quite have the same perspective on my femininity. Sex and dating were off-limits. I couldn't have enjoyed them anyway.
"But who knows," I sighed. "Maybe next time..."
She smirked. "You're convinced that's how it's gonna go down, huh?"
"It's 50/50, and I've never been a lucky guy," I said. "And that's assuming everything goes as right as I hope it will. Waking up as Alan, and getting to wrap these arms around Meghan, was the happiest moment of my entire sorry life, and soon it will be a memory."
I added "But this time I'm ready for it. For whatever happens. I have the advantage of knowing the deal ahead of time. I'll probably never have a real body of my own again. Why get attached?"
She said, "I bet it's tempting to find someone you want to be and send them to the Inn first. Maybe someone who doesn't deserve what they've got in life."
I think that was meant to be a joke, but she said it very seriously. Like it was something she, herself, had considered.
"I wouldn't," I said firmly. "No matter what happened to me, it's not my place to make that decision." I do wish I could be that kind of asshole, but I at least have some conscience.
"Me too," she said, but added, "But we'll see how you feel a few years down the road."
It was Friday that Unlucky #13 arrived. I happened to be in my room when I heard an unfamiliar voice in the next room over. I wasn't sure who was in there already, but over the last two days or so I'd heard at least two sets of footsteps and two voices, both of which I assumed were women. The new one was male. He seemed to be apologizing for being late, and she was clearly displeased, but they didn't get into a loud fight or anything which was good. I decided to move to the common area in case they came out, so I could get a glimpse of them.
There were three people but it wasn't a man and two women. It was a husband, a wife, and a son of about 12 years old, busying himself with that Pokemon Go game. They had towels and sunscreen and such.
As they approached I tried to not focus on what was about to happen to them, especially the kid. I gave a nervous but friendly wave: "Heading to the beach?"
"Now that he's here, the vacation can finally begin," the wife said. The husband kind of laughed it off with a remark about work being too demanding but pulling himself away.
They were kind of a nice, cute couple, in that "Oh, my hubby is such a dolt but I love him anyway" kind of way.
"I'm Tyler by the way," I said, extending my hand, "My girlfriend and I are in the room next to yours. Let me know if you need anything."
"Um, thanks," the man said. "I'm Neil, this is Susan and our boy Dylan."
"Oh?" I said, "Sue was my mother's name." Well, one of them.
The conversation halted awkwardly and I let them get on their way. My stomach was churning for what was about to become of that boy. I can understand that the Inn's curse is inevitable and random and all, but man... who's ever running this place needs to stop branding it as a fun getaway for young families. That's just cruel.
They returned around sunset and we talked for maybe 20 minutes, about their cross-country road trip from Iowa, their lives and jobs (Neil works at Quaker Oats,) stuff like that. Kitty, Rosie and I were having a late dinner again, and we offered to share but they had already eaten. Neil explained his wife wasn't feeling well, and I wondered if that could be chalked up to the curse or not, since they were out all day. I was still feeling fine at this point, and Kitty was a lot nicer to the Neil family than to Abbie and Kendra... who came back shortly after dark, looking like they had been out hiking all day, burnt out, redfaced and ready to collapse.
It seemed like everyone was in for the night, so we hastily returned to our rooms to keep everything from being screwed up. Kitty either fell right asleep or played like she did, but I couldn't. I managed to sleep through the transformation twice before but I couldn't this time. When you're not totally exhausted, that whole sensation is very hard to ignore.
I tried to lie perfectly still so I didn't disturb Kitty, but it was hard. There was this steady pressing sensation into my body, like whatever I was becoming was inside me pushing out. It was hot under the covers so I kicked them off, but I kept my eyes clamped closed - the room was dark but I wanted to stay ignorant as long as possible.
I tried to keep my hands somewhere neutral, so I laid them on my abdomen. Alan's flat midsection was softening up. That could have meant anything. And my feet seemed to be retracting from the edge of the bed, but lots of guys are shorter than Alan.
But I was becoming aware that the person next to me seemed to be getting much larger. Or maybe just because I was getting so much smaller.
I can't tell you the precise order things happened in since it was all sort of going on at once. You feel a rustle of long hair down your ears and neck. You twist your hips and the responsive sway of your genitals isn't there anymore. And you know. You haven't seen yet but you know. I was right about what to expect. I cursed under my breath and sat up, brushing that long dark hair away from my face.
I sat over the edge of the bed. My feet just barely touching the floor. I wrapped my arms around my sides and tried to keep from breaking out into tears or something. I was ready for it, or at least I thought I was, but now it was real. I couldn't help but notice my hands - thin fingers tipped by somewhat-long, perfectly-shaped nails. I regarded them with a kind of dismay. This was not me... but it is, I guess.
It was quiet, still, but I knew that soon everyone would wake up and realize what had happened to them. My mind was abuzz with the possibilities, worst-case scenarios, life-ruining changes. I wanted to know right away what had happened next door, even more than I did this room.
And I would want to help, and yeah, I wanted to know more about this person I had become, but all I could think was "I need to sleep." The chaos could wait at least a couple of hours. Maybe I could wait until they had some of it figured out... and give myself some time to think of something to say...
I laid back down and rolled close to Kitty's new body next to me, a man who felt like he dwarfed me. I felt his lungs breathe in and out through his back and tried to let it soothe me to sleep.
Back again soon. This whole story has already taken half a day to write down with these nails in the way and there's much more to tell.