It was a rainy fall day in Burlington. I was early for the meeting, as I tend to be, but then I was coming from a lot closer. It was at my favorite café, with a vanilla latte by my side and my nose in a new book. Every now and then, every time I heard the creak of the door opening and the gust of noise from outside, I had to look up to see who it was. Eventually I had to stop, it was too distracting.
So of course, after I let my guard down, I paid no attention to the the tak-tak-tak of heavy footprints in heels on the tile floor coming directly toward me and stopping right at my table. I heard a voice clearing her throat. "Ahem."
I look up to see this woman. In her leather boots, she's probably a head taller than me, but I was sitting down so it was hard to gauge. Her arms were folded under her breasts and her face in a cartoonish smirk of mock-disapproval. She had her dark brown hair clipped back in a rather tight bun and her eyes covered by large sunglasses. She wore a long purple sweater with a chunky belt around her waist, framing her hips into a bit of an hourglass shape, and black tights. It was very much a "mom's day out" look. If you set the two of us side by side she would probably get the vote for "More Feminine." More of a "woman," somehow.
"This seat taken?" she said knowingly, cocking one of her full eyebrows. It couldn't help but remind me of the first conversation we struck up, which feels so long ago...
I was too busy taking stock of her: her figure, her posture, her pursed lips, her tan skin that seemed to glow. I must have gawked a little too long, because I could tell she was getting a bit uncomfortable and just took her seat, plopping a huge mom-sized purse next to her. All I could think to say was, "You look so different." My stupid mouth.
Instead of calling me an idiot for stating the obvious, all she said was a friendly, "You don't." Maybe not as much, but my hair is different, and while I was a bit disappointed she didn't notice, I guess she's been through enough lately that "different hair" doesn't qualify for "different" in this context.
I struggled a bit with saying "You look nice!" and not having it sound like I was a) attracted to her in any way, or b) trying to somehow suppress the man he really is inside, because I know he struggles with exactly how much of a "woman" to be. I wasn't sure he wanted to look "nice." But he did. I guess I was somehow expecting him to be wearing a dirty plaid overshirt with unkempt hair, but as he explained, he's got an image to keep up.
The whole thing flustered me. I knew, intellectually, that I was going to be interacting with Tyler, in his new body, and yet... I guess I just didn't know who to expect, even though I've seen pictures of him this way online and of course I've read his blog posts where he has been fair-to-overly-critical of Judith's appearance, in my mind he still looks like Alan, because that was how he left me. I found it very, surprisingly hard not to treat him like the person he appeared to be. I didn't have this problem when he was Lauren, but that's because I was "in it" with him then. This is my first time meeting "Judith." And I thought I was prepared, but I wasn't. I almost bolted.
So, how did we get from there to here? It's been a long road and a lot of angry nights and to be honest I'm still not all the way to forgiveness. We had been in contact when I could stand to do so, and not long after he moved into Judith's life, he reached out to see if maybe we could mend fences a little bit since we were both in the same part of the country again. I told him it would be a while before I was ready to do that. A few months passed, a few attempts were penciled in and rescheduled, until I ran out of excuses.
"I hate to seem so shocked," I said, collecting myself at last, "But it's so hard to believe it's really you in there. You look so... grown up." He took off his sunglasses to provide a visible eyeroll. "No, I mean it. Like, you look like someone I would trust with a kid."
"Okay, I'll try to take the compliment," she said, making a faint attempt at a smile. I have looked at old photos of the real Judith Walker online, as well as recent ones where Tyler is playing her part, and she never appears to smile. Tyler described it as "resting bitch face" (a phrase from his time as a teenage girl) and I have to admit, as Judith, he looks more stoic than he did as "Alan," and it puts me off. That could just be her face. Which is pretty amazing and weird.
We made some really, really awkward attempts at small talk - I asked what was new and he said it was mostly on the blog. He did go into a bit more detail on some of the ladies from Judith's workplace and book club. Talked a bit about "mom" stuff, trying to parent a 12-year-old boy as a 10-year-old girl. I told him how much I admired him for doing his best with that situation, and he pled off, "I get compliments on the blog sometimes and it's flattering and all, but you know, time will tell if I have actually screwed up this kid--"
I interrupted. "The world is screwing this kid up. You can't possibly stop that. Your job is to help him feel normal."
"I think he does. He copes pretty well. He had that Halloween drama about dressing as a girl, but honestly, it hasn't led to a big change in his style or personality. Still wears dingy jeans or the occasional tights to work... girl-ish but not girly, you know?"
"And does he feel bad about being treated like a girl by the world? Does he notice the difference?"
"If he does, he doesn't say. He does get moody. Throws tantrums, cries, fights with us about totally unrelated stuff. But I can't totally believe it's actually unrelated. Still, I think I've convinced him he's lucky to get to try being a girl, and I think he trusts me that we'll get him back."
"So he doesn't sit around crying about it all the time?"
"No, he's actually pretty intrigued. I think he just wishes he was older. You know, we were at the supermarket the other day and he started asking my about my breasts. What do they feel like, are they heavy, do they hurt, are they fun..."
I smirked. Boys will always be such boys about stuff like this.
He continued, "He knows a bit about sex, but I'm honestly afraid to talk about it. But you know how sexual tastes tend to follow the body more than the mind..."
"Uh huh," I said, noting his coyness.
"Well, I think he's got a little girl's attitudes, to where it's not something on his mind too much. Not seriously. So I'm thankful for that. I mean, he's just a kid, and he looks like a much younger kid. So that's the last thing I need."
"Can we get off this subject, actually?" I asked.
"Of course," he said, face brightening more. I think he liked that I was getting uncomfortable.
So I decided to turn it around on him. "So, you and Kitty..."
"Oh, boy," he grumbled, sucking in his teeth. This is clearly not something he wanted to be discussing, with me least of all.
"You never really go into detail about what the deal is between you two," I say.
"You really want to know?"
"It's not that, but... shit, when you two started hooking up, you put it on the blog pretty quickly. I'm just curious where you stand now."
"Well, you have a pretty good idea how things used to be between us," he started.
"Casual," I said, with some saltiness in my voice.
"Uh huh..." he said, his already flutey voice jumping up a nervous octave. "Well, now it's almost the opposite. He knows I was trying to wind 'us' down when we got hit with this thing, and to a degree he respects it. Every so often we kind of drift together, but it hasn't gone past the threshold where we need to talk about it."
"Well, a little. Hugs, kisses... the occasional cuddle on the couch. With me trying to put out of my mind how weird it feels to be in a man's arms like that. When we're feeling good about the arrangement. That's what I never talk about on the blog. I talk about fights and disagreements and moments where I tear my hair out in frustration, but a lot of the time it's just... quiet, going about our business trying to make the best of a bad situation. Occasionally kidding around and treating each other like humans."
I smirked. "And yet..."
He sighed. "Basically, yeah. And maybe there's this unspoken agreement... or idea... or whatever that someday, we might get back around to what we were doing before. Maybe, if the circumstances were right. But I couldn't even think of it right now. We're just too old and tired, I guess."
"Has she seen you naked?"
I could read the discomfort on his face, so I stopped my line of questioning. I couldn't tell if I was happy or sad for him. I know he complains about her a lot online but there's a weird amount of actual affection in his voice when he talked about her. And I kind of think she's been good for him? Maybe he needs someone to keep him on a short leash in away I never could.
We finished our beverages and went to the shopping center nearby. When Ty was Lauren he had a bit of a yen for trying on clothes he couldn't actually buy, and which were too feminine for the style he cultivated as her - not unlike Dylan, come to think of it. He didn't buy anything this time, though.
"How about you?" he asked.
He was eager to change the subject, but I could tell he might reqret asking.
"Maybe there's a guy," I said coyly.
"Is that who's been texting you all afternoon?"
"You could hear that?" My phone was stuffed in my bag.
"One of the perks of Judith's body... constant headaches, but ears like a bat. I call it my mom sense. Please tell me it's not Gene."
"Ugh, no! His name's Justin," I said reluctantly. "We met in a... creative writing class."
"You're taking a creative writing class?"
"Yeah. I dunno, it's just... something I thought I'd try... you know, after what you did to me, I kind of gave up on the blog as an outlet."
"What do you write about?"
"Men turning into women and then having lots of sex," I said with a laugh, then added to let him know I was kidding, "More grounded, real-life stuff."
"Ha! This is real life," he said, gesturing down at himself.
"Not for most people," I said. "And for me, it's starting to seem more and more distant..."
"Ever miss it?"
"God, no. For me it was all drama, unwanted sex and impractically large boobs. You, though... I'm starting to think you prefer it."
"What, being a woman?"
"Being... changeable. Switching faces. Never going back."
"Nothing to go back to," he said grimly, examining some clothes on a rack. "Like it or not, this is my life. I wish I hadn't fucked things up so badly. I lie awake sometimes at night thinking you could still be part of it."
"That's not the world we live in," I said.
"Would you have stuck with me? If I had to go back to the Inn, year after year, never knowing who I was gonna be?"
"I don't know. I wouldhave thought, at the time, what we had was that strong, but you kind of proved that it wasn't."
There was a long pause.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"You've said that before."
"It's still true. What I did to you was wrong. I was just angry."
"Don't even bring it up, because you'll make me mad again. If you try to explain it or justify it. We both know what happened and it was a fucked up thing. If you had stayed back then we could have worked through it. That's what I believe. But you proved to me, what you always told me about yourself but I never believed... that when the going gets tough, Tyler Blake runs."
"I'm not running now."
I huffed, "Then maybe you're not Tyler Blake anymore."
He took a pause, then said, "Maybe not... but I don't think I'm Judith Walker either."
"I beg to differ, Mrs. Walker," I said, gesturing to the stack of clothes he had picked up, "But I believe you're using her credit card to pay for that, aren't you?"
"I earned it, I get to spend it."
We fell back into old patterns shockingly fast, resurrecting old jokes and conversations. I felt some inkling of what I used to feel for him, even through his different face. But I knew the moment had passed. I've been with Justin for months, we have a nice little relationship budding. I'm in a good place.
My anger at Tyler has really faded over the months, and seeing him in person this way really punctuated that. He seems a bit humbled by this experience, changed. But it came too late for us, that's for sure.
I told him I hope that he opens up to somebody soon, if not Kitty then someone out there. It seems like it might be a lonely life otherwise.
We went back to my place - the apartment we used to share - until Justin got off work. Tyler hung around just long enough to meet him, and when they were face to face, I felt this hot stab of guilt, knowing my current flame was meeting my ex without realizing it. We just said that Judith was an old friend and left it at that. And Justin, poor guy, just looked at her and saw a woman. Some lady he'll never meet again.
"Be good to her," Ty said as he gathered his jacket and headed for the door. "She's the only Meg we've got."
"I'll do my best," Justin said with a mock salute.
Judith returned one as she left: "At ease, Private."
This fucking guy.