I didn't get a lot of sleep Saturday night/Sunday morning. The sun was just peeking through the blinds when I heard a faint but insistent knock on the door. "Tyler? Kitty?" a muffled voice asked, "Are you in there? I need help!"
I bolted upright awake, remembering where I was and what had happened. I checked the time on my phone. Only 5:50 AM. Damn, I thought selfishly. This was going to be a long day.
The knocking continued. I looked over at Kitty. She appeared to be trying to sleep through it, but she muttered, "Tell them we're not here." Obviously that didn't make sense. I wasn't even sure if she was aware we had transformed.
I stood up and smoothed my gray t-shirt over my chest. It tented over my bosoms and draped down nearly to my knees. I didn't have a sense of what I looked like yet, except for the hair and the long fingernails. It was disorienting to suddenly be so small, but I felt bulkier than when I was Lauren, so I felt pretty sure I wasn't a kid. My boxer shorts clung to my hips, meaning they must have been quite wide, and as I stepped across the room I really felt the weight of my lower half. I brushed my hands against my hips and backside and found them quite... round.
I reached the door. Once I opened it, I would be faced with something I couldn't pretend I hadn't seen. And the part I dreaded most of all was explaining that I had been through this twice already. That made me the Veteran, the Expert, and potentially, the man everyone was going to blame for not warning them.
Er, girl. Lady. Woman.
I took a deep breath as I turned the knob. I opened the door and my eyes bulged out at the sight of a woman holding a baby - a toddler, actually, with light tufts of curly blond hair, at her hip.
I was about eye-level to the woman's chest. I craned my neck upward and saw the six-foot-plus Rosie, looming over me even moreso than when we first met. She was dressed in a man's pajamas that looked like they fit fairly well. One of the weird things about her transformation is that Ahmir was not actually bigger than her.
"Rosie?" I said, keeping my voice to a hush, trying not to wake anyone and also maybe because I was feeling self-conscious about how I might sound. "It's you, right?" She nodded, and I said "Good." She looked at me expectantly until I identified myself - it hadn't occurred to me that she wouldn't immediately recognize me as I am now. "It's Tyler. I'm... I'm like this now. Whatever it is, I haven't looked yet."
"You look fine from here," Rosie said. "We've got a problem."
"I can see that," I said. "What-- who is this?"
She sighed. "It's Susan. She... drew the short straw, I guess."
I felt the color drain out of my face. I've been through some crap in my years, but I never had to re-learn how to use a pen or the toilet.
"Is she... in there? Can she talk?"
"I don't know," Rosie said fearfully.
I groaned and did what I thought was the obvious thing, getting eye-level with the kid. "Hey... hey there... do you know what your name is?"
"Susa' Clawk..." she managed to say.
"Good, good, Susan..." I said, breathing a sigh of relief. "And how old are you Susan?"
She hesitated a moment and answered, "Thiwty ni'... Wheh' um I?"
Okay, I thought, we can work with this. She has her mind, sort of, but the linguistic and motors skills of a toddler. It's like having a stroke or something. My guess is she'll eventually grow back up and retain memories of her past life. God, I hope there isn't time for that.
"What about Neil? Dylan?"
I felt a headache coming on. I went out into the hallway and walked with Rosie and Susan over to Neil's family's room.
Inside were two more kids sitting on the bed - one a year or so older than the Susan had become, asleep on the bed, one a little girl dressed in boy's clothes, sitting next to him, quietly looking at a phone. Her long dark hair streaked in front of her face and I could sort of tell she'd been crying.
"Neil is the sleeping one," Rosie said, "He was up earlier, asking all kinds of questions, and I... I guess he just got too tired out."
"And Dylan's the girl," I surmised. At least he didn't get the Tom Hanks in "Big" treatment.
"She was... He was really upset," Rosie said, "But I got him to settle down and play his game, and, well.. I guess it took his mind off it."
"Wow, Rose," I said in astonishment, "Looks like you got this thing under control."
I was pleased with her. She had done a lot of the heavy lifting that I would have guessed would fall to me. But my head was still buzzing and I realized immediately that these kids probably didn't come alone. They probably had parents somewhere at the Inn, and it made sense to check the next room over, Abbie and Kendra.
They had become a young couple. Kendra's new body looked like it hadn't yet shed the pregnancy weight, and Abbie's, as the husband, had close-cropped brown hair with a reddish beard that she kept scratching at.
Kitty joined us as we explained the situation as best we could. There was the requisite "You knew this was going to happen?" exchange, which I was ready to snap back with "It doesn't matter, I couldn't have stopped it." Abbie backed off and asked me not to jump down her throat, it was just a lot to process. Kitty, for her part, seemed dismayed that she was tall and stocky, with lovehandles, male-pattern baldness and stubble. I would have loved to trade places with her, really.
"So, here's the bad news," I said as tactfully as I could, "The really bad news. There's these kids, they were a family of three, and... we think they're supposed to be yours."
Abbie and Kendra looked dumbstruck at each other as Rosie brought Neil and Susan forward. Dylan was hiding behind, staying quiet.
"No way," Abbie protested.
"This is too much," Kendra added.
"Come on," Kitty said, "It will be easier than it looks. They have the minds of adults, we checked. I bet it will just be like having little roommates."
"Roomates I have to breastfeed," Abbie sneered, clasping her hands over her chest.
"I think they're a bit old for that," Rosie clarified.
"I know it's a lot to absorb," I said. "Body changing, three kids... I feel for you."
"Um, Tyler," Rosie said sensitively, "It's probably just two kids."
"What do you... there's three of them, and..."
"Look at Dylan," Rosie said, "And, well..."
I looked at all of them. The young ones, Neil and Susan, had Abbie's wavy blonde hair and pale skin. Dylan looked different, with tawny brown skin and long dark hair. And he... she... looked actually too old to be the daughter of that couple.
Rosie gestured at me oddly.
I looked at my hands. Tawny brown skin. Long dark hair. I hadn't even thought about what I actually look like.
My heart sank. My head continued to throb. All the breath left my lungs.
"Oh, God," I groaned, slapping my forehead.
In all the commotion, I hadn't so much as checked a mirror. I rushed off back to my room.
There in the reflection was... well, this woman. This face. One that looked an awful lot like Dylan's. A grown woman in her mid-30's, little age lines creeping around. I felt so stupid, it must have been so obvious to everyone who saw us. I'm a fucking mom now.
I couldn't believe this possibility hadn't occurred to me. I was so concerned with where I was ending up, I didn't think much about who was going there with me, let alone that it might be someone else's child.
Kitty and I started arguing almost immediately. I thought it would be best to leave Dylan with Kendra and Abbie - one more kid probably wouldn't break their banks, and it would be safer to keep that family together. On top of that, I didn't think we were stable enough together - privately I kept thinking I was just going to run off and live my own life without her no matter who I became, but I didn't say it that way.
Kitty came back by saying our new "selves," the Walkers, probably weren't in bad shape either, and were set up to look after the child. That we couldn't burden them with another mouth to feed, and since they weren't really a married couple, how could we assume they were any more stable than we were. And those kids weren't really Dylan's parents anymore anyway - he wouldn't recognize them, relate to them or communicate with them that way.
She had a point. And yeah, maybe my reasons against it were selfish, but I still would have rather kept those three together. But it just wasn't workable. If Abbie and Kendra were willing to go along and play parents, I had to too.
My face was hot with frustration and anger directed at nobody in particular. My head was throbbing, I was hot and sweaty, my stomach was sick and hungry. I wanted to break down and cry for the second time since the early hours. I tried to fight them back, but the hot stream of tears poured out of my eyes. I was a sobbing wreck.
And Kitty, to her credit, wrapped her big strong arms around me and held me close, like she really loved me - and maybe she does - and said "It's okay, it's gonna be okay. We'll get through this. We're tough."
I knew that, but all I could say was "God, I want this to end." And it sucked getting so emotional, too, because usually I'm calm, cool and collected. But my body was throwing all these new hormones at me, getting me all worked up.
"Hey," he said, "Have a shower. Clear your head. I think we can take care of things."
I could just barely muster a "Thank you," but I meant it and I think she picked up on it. I felt really cared for and supported. It was almost like we were... like, an actual couple.
She left me alone and I did decide to run a quick shower. I was so exhausted and worn down at this point that I hardly even cared what I looked like, but I didn't mind it so much.
Whoever this woman was, she was maybe 5'5, with a soft but not out-of-shape "mom" body. It looks like she takes good enough care of herself, despite the accumulated cellulite on hips and thighs and whatnot. I was aware, all day, of the bounce of my butt behind me and my boobs under my top - I'm gonna need to get back in the habit of wearing a bra, that's pretty non-negotiable. (As Lauren I only bothered on school days, and even then I sometimes just layered tops until the girls stayed in place.) Overall it's just so much more... womanly than I was used to. Sure, I'm a female "again" but this is as different from Lauren's body as a family sedan is from a coupe.
The long hair has more volume to it than the straight locks I had as Lauren, but compared to Rosie's frizziness I guess it's not so bad. Like I said, she has a bit of age lines, which suits me fine - I feel older than my years with all this body swapping. In reality I've only gained about five, though. Her whole look is... well, my dad would have said she was "exotic" if he was feeling polite that day. I actually couldn't immediately put my finger on what race I was supposed to be, but once I was cleaned up, I started going through her things, found a letter addressed to "The New Judith, Adrian and Olivia Walker" and found out her maiden name is Medeiros, which I guess is Portuguese.
Honestly this has been so draining I think this is a good place to stop... we're about to leave the Inn and head for our new home for the next year (hopefully not more...) and when I get there, and we get all settled in, I'll give you all the details.
And probably cut my fingernails, over Kitty's protests, so I can actually use a keyboard and a phone like a normal person.
"Judith." (Ugh, of all the things I object to about this life, the name is up there.)