Friday, December 29, 2017

J.T./Elaine: All I Want for Christmas...

I haven't entirely got the double life I'm leading up to being a triple life, exactly, although I really admit that I do enjoy blowing off a little steam at the end of the workday and work-week.  Sometimes it's just with Jezzie, since both of Elaine's other best gal-pals are in relationships, but it still seems like a bit of a double role, switching from the sensible (but nice!) project manager in the day ("Elaine") to the more adventurous single girl at night ("Lainey").  I even have to change how I talk, at least a little, although from talking to Elaine and her friends, this sort of "code-switching" is pretty common for African-Americans, especially women.  Folks love you being blunt and no-nonsense on your own time - and you kind of need to be, just to keep up - but when you get in a working environment with white people, you'd better conform and keep them comfortable.

That part's been easy enough for me - "professional talk" is a bit closer to what's natural for me, and eventually I kind of learned to take cues from whoever I was talking to after hours and appreciate that any raised eyebrows are more likely to be good-natured ribbing than actual suspicion.  Everyone deals with this, to an extent, unless they're really lucky, and I've seen it studying for roles or watching how colleagues change in different environments, but this seems to be the most extreme.  And it didn't really prepare me for a couple of situations that came up this past week.

First, just who should I be at an office party?

I mean, sure, I know that I'm going to have to be working with all of these folks again afterward, so I probably shouldn't let my hair down too much, but all the other folks I've talked to who have had real office jobs say you don't want to seem too much on your guard.  That's doubly true when you're the one assigned to organize the party - it would kind of suck to be thought of ad even more the management done after that.

I didn't really think of it much until Thursday - there was lots of regular work to do, and the budget was pretty tiny; whoever hires a bunch of contractors from different agencies put line items in for team-building activities but not time, so into the holiday party it went.  It was almost enough for me to rent a local bar's function room, buy a platter of cookies, get some rum for people to add to eggnog, and a bunch of paper snowflakes to hang from the ceiling.  I had to duck out of the office an hour or so early to get there to set it up, and by the time I did, I regretted my Christmas-y outfit a little - the festive red pencil skirt with the matching heels looked nice with the black pantyhose and green blazer, but they weren't great for climbing on a chair to hang things.  I may have nearly broken my neck three times before I was done, only to spoil some nog on the coat.  The green satin top underneath didn't spoil the look, but it left me bare-armed and had a to button that liked to come undone whenever I twisted my torso a bit (fun fact - Elaine's one of those women whose breasts get a bit bigger when she's ovulating, so clothes that normally fit just fine are suddenly kind of tight).  When people started arriving, I still looked more "Elaine" than "Lainey", but it made more sense to play it loose than efficient.

That was going to happen anyway, since there was a bar and Ali had told me to keep his two drink tickets.  I didn't get sloppy, but I did get to the point where the whole situation seemed really funny.  And where I didn't stop to wonder whether or not karaoke was a thing Elaine did.

It's not really a thing I ever did, too be honest - I sing professionally, after all (well, the band wasn't really paying, but I'd done musicals on the stage), and you've got to protect your pipes even if it wouldn't be trying to unwind by doing the same thing you do at work.  That was three months ago, though, and after a couple of drinks, singing was a fun thing I hadn't done in too long.  So when someone shoved me up there after punching in Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas", I only had a fleeing thought about what would happen if Elaine didn't have a good singing voice.

She does, though, good enough that when people started applauding, I thought damn, this could be my thing for the next few months!  I wound up on that little stage four more times that night, and was actually kind of disappointed when people had started to leave and it was time to take everything down.
So that went okay.  But it left me with just a couple of days to try and figure out who I should be with Elaine's family.

I'd begged off Thanksgiving, telling them I had to work the Friday after, but you can't really skip both Thanksgiving and Christmas without making trouble, and unlike when they sent me messages on Facebook there was no way to discreetly have the real Elaine advise me.  And given my difficult relationship with my parents (exploitation, emancipation, estrangement), I don't really know what an adult child going home is supposed to feel like.

Mostly, it's pretty good, at least for Elaine.  Her folks are proud of her, respected that I didn't much want to discuss this summer.  The cover story was that "Elaine" had taken what she thought was a government contact, gone mostly quiet on social media because she was afraid of spilling something, but actually been working for a criminal enterprise which she couldn't talk about.  Exciting cloak-and-dagger stuff if it were real.

Of course, Elaine's sister Whitney knew it was fake, and she couldn't wait to peel me away from "our" parents.  It was kind of weird, not just for the obvious reasons, but because she remembered me, and thought it was hilarious that I was playing her big sister.  I pointed out that I wouldn't be if she hasn't screwed up and left Elaine/Mackenzie at a campground, and she shrugged and said she felt bad about that, but the whole experience had shown her that her old boyfriend was a jerk and was helping her be a better person.  Besides, she said, if that hasn't happened, who knows where I would have ended up?

I think she was excited at the idea of getting close to someone she'd had a crush on as a teenager, and while I've got to admit that's kind of gratifying - it didn't happen nearly as often as it used to even before becoming Elaine - I really wasn't feeling much desire to get chummy with someone who had been so careless with her sister's life and identity, even if it maybe beat the alternative of maybe being stuck in the middle of my band-mates' relationship.  I told her as much, and that her parents should be thankful that I'm a good enough actor to only treat her with the annoyance Elaine normally had for her screw-up sister.

That was mean, I know, but Christmas plus period plus Whitney kind of brought out the worst in me.  I got karmic payback right away, though, as Elaine's parents phones gave of a little buzz because apparently one of my co-workers had uploaded some videos from the holiday party and tagged "Elaine", and of course, not only did her parents not only have alerts set up for their daughters, but the first one that they saw was the last song of the night, when I was singing "Baby It's Cold Outside" with Daryl.  Who, by the way, is a handsome, single African-American man.

Her father paused it after just a second, but mostly so that he could sync his phone with the TV and let everyone watch in high-definition quality.  "I guess you got yourself a new hobby while you were off the grid, huh?"

I felt myself blushing a bit - obviously, I'm used to seeing myself on a TV, but not as Elaine, and not when I hadn't planned on it being seen.  "Not really - it was a party, I'd had a couple of drinks--"

Whitney gave me a pat on the shoulder.  "Don't sell yourself short, Lainey - you're a natural performer!"

I shoved her away, but "Mom" raised her eyebrows.  "I'll say!"

My eyes went wide watching the screen - I was really into it, with lots of hand motions, exaggerated walking to and from Daryl, looking fake-shocked at "what's in this drink?", way more than I remembered.  "Uh, well, it's just this song.  It's kind of rape-y if you don't vamp it up, right,  and make it perfectly clear that the girl is flirting and really wants the guy, even if her family and friends are, like, judgmental and stuff--"

"Well, you're both pretty convincing on that count.  When do we get to meet this boy?"

"Dad, no!  Daryl's a co-worker - even if I wanted to, that'd be a big-time HR thing."

Elaine's mother opined that it looked like it would be worth it, and I admit, I didn't have to do much acting to portray Elaine as kind of mortified.

Fortunately, Daryl had traveled to California to see his folks for the holiday, so I didn't see him until yesterday, when he was a total pro until quitting time, when he sat down in my cube and asked if my folks saw the clip as well.  He didn't really seem embarrassed, but wasn't smirking either.  "Not going to lie, they were almost as impressed as I was."

"Oh, mine too.  Too bad it would be totally inappropriate, huh?"

He looked at me and somehow made his eyes twinkle.  "Would it?  You're not technically my boss, and if I asked you out..."

"I dunno...  That's still..."  That's still going on a date with a guy, which would probably be fun, and thus lead to a second date.  But I couldn't say that.

When I didn't say anything, he smiled a little more.  "You're responsible.  I like that.  You ask my folks, I probably need that.  But since everyone was either at the party or saw the video, something with you and me is probably going to be in their heads anyway.  So - how about I just tell you where some friends and I are going to be hanging out, singing karaoke on New Year's Eve?  You can come, bring your girls, or not.  Whatever you think is right."  He told me, then left.

Not sure what to do.  If I looked at it as playing a role, well, Elaine has told me that even if doing karaoke wasn't exactly in character, showing up at that bar absolutely would be.


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Simon/Joy: Ex Marks the Spot

The guys at the office haven't quite been the same for the last couple of weeks, since just a few moments of not being the fun girl who plays along with your jokes about boob size and doesn't act like making less money for the same work is no big deal is enough to shift the way people treat her.  It also got out that I knew about the whole bet about who could get me in bed first, and given how the climate for that has changed just in the last few months, everybody is treating me like a live hand grenade.  It's kind of sucks, both because I'm not that kind of woman (and even if I were inclined to be, I wouldn't want that reputation following me to another job) and because it's getting me shut out, not just in terms of being sociable with my co-workers but in that they seem to go out of their way to not help me in the office, even in places where there's no competition.  It's dumb to sideline me, because I'm a damn good salesman no matter how I'm shaped, but guys will do dumb things where women are concerned.

One of the things that makes me pretty good at this stuff is that I have a pretty good memory for names, faces, and other details, and whatever changes the Inn made to my brain to make me interested in having sex with guys, it didn't affect that.  So, when I arrived home tonight and saw a guy at the building's from door, seeming to take a step toward the intercom and back off about a dozen times, I didn't do the comedy bit where I didn't recognize someone from the original Joy's life, ignored him, and then had to improvise an excuse later.  I'd seen this guy on Joy's phone, her social media, etc., and knew he must have come looking for her.  So I just went for it, walking up and asking him what he was doing here.

He turned around, flustered but recovering quick.  "Lookin' for ye, obviously!  My God, ye look incredible!"

I could do with some of that.  I walked up with my arms outstretched for a hug, but he instead took my hands in his and gently seeing them down between us so that we were looking each other in the face.  It was excited than it sounded, and gave me a moment to examine this Iain Mackinnon - Joy's boyfriend when she checked into the Inn - up close and personal.

He's cute - not super-tall (I was almost eye-level with him, although I admittedly had four-inch heels on) or super-cut, but solid.  There's a hint of auburn to his brown hair, which also takes the form of a beard that's very well-maintained, a precise 3/4" at every spot.  Nice hazel eyes, sexy Scottish accent, dressed in the tech-guy outfit of flannel-patterned shirt and khakis,  except obviously very nice ones.  He smells kind of nice, too, a subtly sporty cologne.  Maybe a little more millennial-hipster than what I would have called a really impressive man in another life, but I'm starting to think that maybe a guy being a little less obviously alpha isn't so bad.

I take all that in and ask if he wants to come in.  He says yes, and I kind of make sure I swing my butt a little as he's a few steps behind me.  It's been a few weeks for me and both Joy's diaries and what Shayla has said about how she's talked about guys in the past seems to indicate he was a heck of a lover.  I unlock the door, and we're chatting about my messed-up car as he enters and Treena just freezes while emptying the dishwasher.  I smile kind of big - it's almost a reflex when Treena and I have to out on a show for a third party - and say "look what I found downstairs!"

"Wow, this is a surprise!  It's good to see you, Iain!"

(I mentally file away that it's pronounced "ee-un".)

"And ye as well, Treens!  Still puttin' up with this one?"

"I am, and she does not make it easy sometimes.  In fact, if I could just steal her a moment..."

She doesn't wait for a response, dragging me into her bedroom.  "What the fuck are you doing?"

"Nothing!  I saw him downstairs, recognized him from about a million pictures on Facebook, and figured it would be better to say hi than act like we'd never met."

She stared hard at me at me, deciding I wasn't trying to spin it.  "I suppose that makes as much sense as anything.  It's just--  He really loved Joy, okay?  They should have been married by now, and if you try to take advantage of that and hurt him..."

"Jeez, threat understood!  Calm down!"

I turn around and walk back out into the kitchenette, asking if he'd like something to drink.  He points at the espresso machine, saying he's still jet-lagged, so I start that up.

"So...  Just here for a visit, then."

"Aye.  Google's talking about buying out a company the family's invested in, so I came out to talk terms because my Dad's all not doing that well and the tech stuff isnae really his forte.  So I'm in San Francisco, and I figure, it's only a short hop down here, might as well see what Joy's up te."  He did an exaggerated little pause.  "So, what are ye up te?"

"Oh, you know, getting my real estate license, connecting folks with little pieces of California heaven."

"Seeing anyone?"

"Not really, kind of..."  I'm going to say playing the field but Treena shoots me a look, and I try to think of something close to the truth.  Joy may not have kept in touch with Treena before she died with everyone thinking she was Brian Meeks, but she did try to keep things going with Iain as long as she could via text and email.  But while letter-writing used to be visited pretty romantic, it's not nearly enough to sustain something long-distance the days, and she broke it off not long before the end.  "Kind of harder to start again than I thought."

"You managed to find someone, though, right?"  Treena interjected.

"Thought so, but...  Well, she ditched me just before this trip.  Just like ye, she felt I was spending too much time on the business, not enough time with her.  Can't say I blame her."

"That's...  I'm sorry to hear that."  I meant it; he seemed like a nice enough guy, and while I can't say I've ever been so rich that a girl who noticed me because of that success started to get annoyed at the work it took to maintain it, I could relate on a smaller scale.

"Well, it's gotten me thinking about what to do different in the New Year, but in the meantime, it kind of leaves me going to this Christmas party on Saturday stag, and I was wondering..."  He eyed me expectantly.

"Oh, I don't know...  I mean, sure, I'm always up for a good party, but--"  I couldn't think of a real reason aside from Treena murdering me, but that seemed like enough.

"Don't worry, it's mostly a work thing.  Just, y'know, figured I'd be nice to spend time with you rather than spend time talking about who's not there."

"Well, sure, if that's all it is..."

"Great!  I'll email you all the details."  An alarm on his Android watch went off, and he made his apologies.  "I really was just flying down here between meetings, I'm afraid.  But don't worry, when you get to London on Saturday, you'll have my complete attention!"  And then he was out the door.

That last bit, as you might imagine, had me and Treena in a bit of stunned silence before Treena told me I couldn't do this.  But, c'mon, this guy's obviously kind of down (despite his cheery demeanor) and looking for a boost from his ex Joy, and right now, I'm the only Joy there is.  And let's not forget that I've had kind of a rough go of it lately - getting away from it all with what everyone assures me is a pretty good guy isn't bad for me, either.

Now, to make sure Joy's passport hadn't expired...

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Tyler/Valerie: Bombshell

Where to begin...

Well, I guess I can thank "Brigette" for giving you all her perspective on the wedding, since I ended up not being able to write about it until now. I guess it's time to explain some of what she was observing but not fully understanding.

As we got closer and closer to the wedding I became stronger in my conviction that Josh wasn't being completely truthful. As someone who is prone to keeping secrets and telling lies and half-truths - sometimes even when I don't have to, I'm sad to say - I recognized too many signs to let it go. Even when I pressed him directly ,and he denied it, I kept strategizing how I would find him out. He may have had Valerie's trust but he hadn't earned mine. Not with that mystery cell phone and those phony flowers.

So on the day of the wedding, my stomach was in knots. my every instinct was yelling at me not to go through with this farce of a ceremony, but I wasn't very well going to stomp off in dramatic fashion on a hunch. There was too much at stake and I was still considering Val's feelings.

Luckily, Josh finally - at the very last minute - did the right thing.

That would be the moment he came to see me in the Bridal Suite and we had our private talk. Now enough time had passed that I don't feel wrong telling you what was said.

He came in with this shoulders-slumped hang dog expression, looking very apologetic and guilt-ridden. I tried not to buy into it, sure it was an act. But even if I was not in a place to trust this guy, we still had some kind of connection based on my time as Valerie, and part of me desperately wanted to believe that he was genuine.

After hemming and hawing for a minute, he started by saying he wanted to apologize in advance... for lying, keeping secrets, all that stuff. That he knew he had done something wrong but that he wa still the same man (Val) had fallen in love with and that if I could forgive him we could probably move forward and adapt, but... but maybe that wasn't possible. and it would be a change.

I told him to cut the rambling already and get to the point.

"I can't marry you, Valerie." he sighed.

I stared coldly at him. "Why not?"

He couldn't even look at me when he said it: "Because I'm already married."

The way he said this indicated that it was not something Val would have known (and honestly the way she'd been acting there was no way she even suspected.) I tried to keep cool outside but there was a fire building inside of me. I hissed: "What."

"It was a mistake, before you and I got together... we rushed in and it fell apart immediately. I always meant to finalize the papers, but... a few months ago, something happened."

Fire building. "What."

"We got to talking, and talk turned into... something else... and, well, it was a mistake."

I said nothing. I knew there had to be more, and there was.

"A little while later, I found out... there were consequences."

I grunted. "Go on."

"She's five months pregnant, Val. She says if I leave her, she'll take everything I have."

I don't know exactly how to describe the sound I made in response to this... a grunt of shock, disappointment, hurt, exasperation, and oddly, satisfaction at being proved right... whatever it was, it definitely wasn't ladylike.

It was hard to process - to filter through any Val perspective I may have had. All I could say was, "God, you fucked up. You fucked up so badly."

To me, it would have been one thing if he had just cheated. Maybe Val could forgive that. It's another to have been married (and facing a likely costly divorce, if he even really wanted to split up from her.) all this time he was engaged, basically defrauding Val about his finances. And then to bring a child into it - all while basically hounding me about knocking me up in the near future! I couldn't overlook it and I was damn sure Valerie would be hurt beyond belief.

I felt like an idiot, sitting there in my whole wedding getup, looking like some teenage girl's idea of a royal wedding, my face painted up and my hair done with hours of care. I felt shattered, almost as bad as finding out I wasn't ever going to be Tyler Blake again. I didn't think it would sting as badly, as personally, as it did, but in the past few months I have been very invested in Valerie's life, her problems, and this was a big problem.

I wanted to get bigger and angrier than I think I am capable of getting in this tiny "cute" body, and that frustrated me even further.

He went to do another round of apologies and begging forgiveness and I cut him off.

I should have called off the wedding. I should have been honest with everybody and told them to go home, but there was so much time and money in this, and I didn't want Val to hear it that way. I didn't want the embarrassment of being publicly humiliated like that, to have to field those questions.

Whether it was the right call or the wrong one, I said... let's go through with the wedding, and deal with all this later.

The license wouldn't be real - polygamy is illegal in New York State, so it would be annulled without delay, I reckoned. The whole thing would effectively be a lie but my whole life is a lie at this point so what's one more. I'm used to it.

Now, as much time as I've spent these past few years as other people, I'm probably not that great an actor so I think probably everyone could tell there was something wrong as I was walking down the aisle. What should have been a beautiful, sacred moment between two people who love each other was instead all just a show (which again, it would have been anyway, only now the whole meaning was changed.) There I was, silently fuming, my voice trembling as I struggled to say "I promise to love, honor and respect you" to a man I hoped I would never have to see again very soon. All I could do was mentally write out how I was even going to explain all this to Val. I felt sick.

After the I Do's, we were alone in the Limo. I could hardly look at him. He tried to start our conversation back up and I cut him off, basically dropping my character.

"You know something, man? I knew there was something wrong with you. You were so fucking lovey-dovey and attentive and all that, that should have been the tip-off. But I wanted to believe and I wanted to trust you. I don't believe you ever wanted to leave her. I think you wanted us both and you only confessed now because you realized you were cornered. Either that or you were too 'nice,' I mean too much of a coward, to come clean and say you didn't want to marry V--me. I fuckin' hate you right now."

Once the words were out of my mouth I realized that they probably hit a lot harder from Val's mouth than from Tyler Blake's, but I didn't care. He deserved to be hurt badly. Some people just do. Some people deserve hell and for once it's not me.
His defense was "I still love you and I still want to be with you, not her."
I sneered. "I don't believe that for a second, and even if you do, you can't. You blew it."

We put our fake smiles back on as best we could for the reception but after unloading like that obviously neither of us were really feeling like having our "first dance" or feeding cake to each other. We just kind of relied on the natural hustle and bustle of a wedding to keep us busy, while I made it clear to Anna that I needed to speak with her in private before the end of the night, but only after as much of the festivities as we could get through. I was relying on her to guide me through all the thanks and congratulations.

When all that was satisfied, I took her outside and did my best to break the news to her as gently as it would come, but how you tell somebody their would-be husband is a babydaddy without causing a scene, I don't know. Valerie started hyperventilating and stormed out, never to return. When I texted her, she said she needed to process all of this.

Keep in mind, she didn't want me sleeping with him in her body, so the idea that he would be pursuing an affair - even a non-physical one - was probably not going to be something she could take well, not that I blame her.

And that was the night. The night that was supposed to be so magical and perfect turned out to be exceptionally shitty. I told Josh that I needed him to go on the Honeymoon alone, and that when he came back, I would be out of the apartment and after a reasonable length of time we would tell "our friends" that it just didn't work out, although now that I think about it, I don't know why I should lie and feel embarrassed just because I/Valerie was wronged. He's the fuck-up, he should face it.

Anyway. What I did while Josh was away - where I'm living and how I spent my "Honeymoon," I'll explain another time because that's a whole other story. This was draining. And it wasn't even really my wedding in the first place, and on top of all that, I've been fighting a cold all week, and believe me, Valerie's body is one of the less-resilient ones I've had.


Friday, December 15, 2017

Max: Mystery Girl

I'm not sure what switch flipped in Bingbing III at Jordo's Halloween party, aside from her having a few drinks, but I like it even if it is kind of weird, even by Trading Post Inn standards.

I mean, I should be feeling some sort of horror right now or something - like, even if the Bingbing I knew want who I thought, should I really be cool with her doppelganger being around?  The further I get away from spending those weeks as Elaine, the more they seem kind of unreal, but if I get into that mindset, then it's like somebody scooped my girlfriend's brain out of her head and replaced itwith someone else's, and I'm okay with that because she's still cute.  I don't actually have need to have spent time as a woman to know that's kind of messed up.  Sure, Carlotta Wong was a monster who was just using me and doesn't deserve any sort of loyalty, but what does liking this new Bingbing day about me?

Maybe nothing.  She is, after all, very different.  She doesn't wear make-up, favors t-shirts, jeans, and sneakers, likes video games, and trends to be a lot more in sync with me when we're scrolling through Netflix or Amazon looking for movies to watch.  A lot of times during the first month or so, I kind of wonder why I didn't see a lot of the same things looking at "Deirdre" when that was Jordan's identity.  Bingbing was maybe not quite so angry and defiant as Jordan was, but there's still a lot of "I'm just not going to do this", right down to not putting a bra on until the day she got caught in a thunderstorm and wound up calling me from a stall in a ladies' room so I could bring her some dry clothes.  Her first period was a pretty big freak-out, too.

Still, it built some trust.  One thing I forgot to mention in some of the other times I wrote here is that while Jordan and I tend to think she's someone Chen-ai is using to keep an eye on us, she seems to think it's the other way around - that Yang Chen-ai turned her into a girl, and we're supposed to report back on her.  There's a weird sort of logic to that, I suppose, if it's not something she's saying to throw us off the path.

That could also be what suddenly dragging me into Jordan's spare room and kissing me was about, but it's a pretty crazy play for a former guy.  She kind of avoided me for about a week afterward, as much as she could when we're sharing a bed, but then the weekend came, some friends had Knocks tickets, and we kind of got invited as a couple.  Bingbing thought it would be fun, so I said yes.  We're riding the escalator up to out seats in the garden when she makes a little motion to switch places because she's a foot shorter than I am.  I say sure, but she's the one who has to kind of squeeze past my buddy and his girlfriend, who are using the opportunity to lock lips.

"New couple?" Bingbing asks in Cantonese.

"Yep.  Still really into that."  I try and smile in a way that says "not really mocking", and then she smiles back before leaving forward and kissing me on the lips.  "What's that for?"

"Well, aren't we a new couple too?"

"Are we?  I thought you were just kind of drink at Yuan-wei's party and regretting it."  I tend to use Jordan's new Chinese name with Bingbing; it flows better in Cantonese and is what she uses.

"I was, kind of, a little, but...  I know it's not fair to tell you so little about the real me, but I'm kind of unexpectedly single right now, and you're kind of the only person I can be not-lonely with, and might understand why I'm not really looking for something long-term."

"So you'll settle for me?"

"No!  Or yes?  I'm not settling, really, since you're a really good guy; you're good to me we even though it might be a lot easier to just put up with me, or even not do that.  I appreciate that."

"And this?"  I leaned in and kissed her.

We were at the top of the escalator a couple seconds later, so she puked back, but picked the conversation back up in the seats.  "I won't lie, kissing you is kind of weird, and you touching my, uh, chest even weirder, and I'm not ready for more yet, but I guess maybe two months or so is when it starts to kick in that your body responds to different things and since you've gotten used to, like, peeing differently and putting different underwear on, maybe doing other things in a new way might not be so bad, at least once.  That's how it was for you, right?"

I turned kind of red - if there's anyone I should be able to tall to about that night with Annette, it's Bingbing, but I kind of can't.

"Well, I've also got used to a bunch of girls at school saying hello by kissing cheeks, so there's that."

Right around then, the others want to know if we're talking about them in Chinese so they can't understand, so we switch to English.  The game's about to start anyway.

That's kind of what is been like the last month - we're mostly just friends, maybe feeling less weird about holding hands to keep attached while walking around the city, but when we're with other couples we'll kind of join in the public displays of affection so it's not uncomfortable for anyone.  There was a brief moment of cuddling while watching a movie a couple weeks ago, but she suddenly say up straight when she realized, which cooled off any forward motion on that.

Or did it?  Bingbing's always very careful to change clothes in the bathroom, bringing a random pairing off t-shirt and jeans in there every morning and pajamas every night, but this morning she does it in the bedroom, walking out to where I'm eating breakfast.  "You know more about how girls dress here than I do - is this all right for class?"

I look up, and for a second it's like seeing the old Bingbing ready for a night out, and it throws me.  "I,uh, only did it for a couple months, and Jordan was pretty good about leaving me be most of the time--"  She gave me a look that combined annoyance and playing to remind me that she wasn't really asking about me, so I tried to shake it off.  "Okay, uh, the skirt's all right, but unless you can button the top up a little more--"

She took it off right there, walking back to the bedroom in her bra.  "I thought so, but I figured maybe in New York."  She opened a drawer and pulled a turtleneck out, holding it up to her chest.  "Think this works?"

"Uh, sure, but if you don't mind me asking, what's with suddenly going for that stuff?"

"I've got a group presentation in class today, and Marilyn was all 'and wear a skirt and heels!' when reminding me too be on time."  From the way she imitated her classmate in English, Marilyn sounded kind of like a bitch.

Bingbing noticed that my gaze had drifted down to her chest and made a little "ah!" nose before quickly pulling the shirt over her head.  She quickly ram to the closet and grabbed a pair of shoes.  "Give it to me straight - what am I in for with these?"

"Uh, that seems kind of... advanced."  I pulled another pair out that wasn't quite so high and was a lot more solid.  "This should be good for just speaking in class."

"Thank God."  She threw the other pair back in the cost, not looking where landed.  "Of course, I'm going to freeze my ass off between now and then.  It's negative five, or, um..."  She tried to do a Celsius-to-Fahrenheit conversion for me, but went with "it's really cold."

"I haven't tried them myself, but Yuan-wei says pantyhose keeps your legs surprisingly warm."

She looked skeptical, but pulled a pair from the dresser.  She stuck a foot in and only for it halfway to a knee, and I could see her searching her memory for how a girlfriend or sister put them on.  She finally managed it, slipped on the shoes and stood without wobbling much, and looked in the mirror.  "Well, she's going to give me shit about my hair, but oh well."  She looked around for her coat, found it, threw it on, and then stood on tiptoe to give me a kiss.  "Thank you so much for helping me not get murdered by my classmate.  You're the best."

She left, and I started getting ready for my day (still looking for work).  She just called an hour ago to ask if I wanted to see Star Wars or the new Yuen Woo-ping movie tonight, her treat, and to meet her at the theater, so I guess the presentation went well.

I called Jordan, but it went right to voice mail, so I guess I should throw it open to everyone - am I nuts, or did some kind of line get crossed today?


Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Jordan/"Missy" Yuan-wei: And... Action?

As you might expect, I've gotten pretty damn comfortable with naked (or nearly naked) female bodies by now, both my own and others.  Not that I wasn't before I had my own boobs - I was down for naked chicks any time - but it's different now.  I still feel a level of appreciation that I doubt any girl who has never been a heterosexual man can truly understand when I wake up in the morning and see myself naked in the mirror, and when I'm in a changing room or something (but, like, not in a pervy way).  I've been naked with guys and found that I really like being picked up, squeezed, and given a little taste of a guy's strength - not really rough, but definitely not hesitant.  I don't freak out at guys' dicks, whether they're visible and erect or just a promising bulge, though that admittedly took a while.

And yet, spending two days in my underwear shooting my scenes for Ernesto's sort was weird.  I'm playing some sort of high-end escort, so I actually had to do way more with my hair than I usually do, with a wave and some chestnut coloring, on top of wearing my fanciest matching set of undies that isn't actually sheer enough to let people see my nipples or landing strip.  I also brought a nice dress to just sit in a heap on the floor (I'm half-tempted to send Ernesto the receipt from the cleaners).  The make-up lay not only did my face so that it would look properly lit on camera, but also so my lipstick would look like it had been super-red the night before but just faded enough now.  I have fun getting this body all dolled up, but the whiplash between folks treating me like a prop and then wanting me to show human emotion on a set is not really something I enjoy being on this side of.

Plus, you're half-naked around a bunch of people.  It's a student film, so there aren't a bunch of assistant directors and stuff, and there's only one other cast member in my scenes.  He's a local professional - I suspect that student shorts are a non-trivial part of his income, along with local indies and whatever he can scrounge up in New York - and is odd going from flurry to businesslike and back when Ernesto says "cut!" or "action!", especially since I get the feeling he thinks I've only got this part because Ernesto is fucking me (and correcting him to "no, it's because Ernesto fucked me once" would just undermine someone who is nervous enough).  Even besides him, though,  there's still a lot of people in the room, and that is okay for them to be watching me intently while the camera is recording, but kind of looking away until I've got my robe on while everybody sets up and tasks about what we might try in the next shot, is kind of screwy.

Annette laughs at me feeling weird about that, since she figures is about what I deserve for "I, Fembot" being such a super-sexualized thing, which is rich because she got me to pull a bunch of stuff out as more creepy than sexy.  Maybe she's right; I know the first auditions, before I did that little acting gig, had me really enjoying that I could ask a girl looking for a job to show me her tits, on how sexy she could walk in stiletto heels, that sort of thing.  It's part of the story, sure, but as someone who used to get told to fuck off by hot girls on the regular, it feels really damn good.  And it led to hiring someone who I think is going to kill it, even if she's done way more work as a burlesque dancer than an actress.  If nothing else, I know that nobody is going to watch her scenes in my movie like they might watch mine in Ernesto's and be like "meh, whatever, she's like a six" (probably because they just don't like Asian girls).

And that carried over into casting the other roles (aside - even casting a short film is fucking agonizing, since you've got to do it for every damn person in the foreground and there's like a thousand people and lining up schedules so that people can read together is a pain in the ass and the only thing worse than the idiots who can't figure out what you want from the character are the smart ones who find something you miss that means you might have to adjust everything else...).  Like, I don't need to see the best friend's cleavage or the abs of the guy who gets killed twenty seconds in, but I wanna, especially if I've just been looking at guys to play the nerdy inventor and trying to determine if they're just the right amount of schlubby.

And that's before you take into account all the producer crap I've taken on because, I dunno, it seems like cheating to hire someone to do stuff and I get a certain amount of satisfaction in spending Chen-ai's money.  After haggling with a building owner who should be fucking thankful that I want to rent his lab space for a few days, or putting what seems like too big a deposit down on lights, I deserve a few perks, whether it be checking out a hot girl or seeing if one of the guys would like to discuss his part further over drinks.  I start to understand where Harvey Weinstein was coming from until you remember that he would bend me right the fuck over a table and probably not bother with a condom.

So I'm trying to be better than that, but, honestly, there are days when, after cramming so much of getting ready to make this movie around my actual classes, I honestly wonder how Ernesto manages not to be a dick on set without having to worry about that scenario nearly as much.

Ah, well.  Shooting starts the day after Christmas, which means I've got an excuse not to go back "home".


Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Simon/Joy: Holiday Cards

Thanksgiving has barely passed and December has barely started, but we're already starting to get holiday cards from everybody Treena or Joy has ever met, from the old lady on the ground floor to Joy's ex-boyfriend in Scotland.  It's kind of interesting how the different groups affect me when looking at them, and it's not necessarily what you'd expect.  I've long accepted that Joy's family are my family for as long as I'm her, for example.  We've got the same genes, and that counts for something.  I can look in the mirror, see bits of Joy's mother there, and keeping in touch with her seems natural.  Similarly, I may not have as much history with Joy's friends as they think I do, but I've talked with them, hung out with them, talked them into doing things.  It makes sense to hear from them.

The others, though, are really weird.  You know, the ones who met Joy in some other way and keep sending her cards even though I can't find their names anywhere in the social media accounts I've inherited and their addresses apparently didn't migrate between phones at some point.  I can call Joy's family and friends my family and friends, but even though they're kind of inconsequential, relationship-wise, it feels kind of weird to call people acquaintances if I have not actually made their acquaintance.  I mean, sure, whatever, you keep it up, guy who went to high school with Joy and thinks dropping five bucks on a card every year might get her to hook up with you at the reunion, your letter is kind of more interesting than the baby pictures, but it's not going to get you into these panties.

I am trying to write one of those letters of my own, because it does seem like the kind of thing that would be in-character for Joy, and a couple of them did mention not hearing from her for the past couple of years.  It's a little easier this year than it would have been before, when I would have had to make up stuff to fill in a seven-or-eight-month gap, but it's still a little harder to fill in than I thought.  I can't include the Inn-related stuff, obviously, and a lot of the exciting stuff this year has involved sex (or not having sex), and I'm not really up to writing two letters, with one of them censored, and trying to figure out who might not think the fun one was completely inappropriate.

The office card was a lot more straightforward - make sure I dress nice the day the photographer comes in, and it's not like I ever show up in sweats.  They didn't put me front-and-center, but I got a prominent place, as a pretty blonde with bare legs sure breaks up a wall of thirty-something year-old guys in suits.  It would be great if it helped me out professionally - I'll certainly be the one they remember if a former client gets the cards and says "huh, maybe I should sell the beach house, and I should go with the realty office who helped me buy it even if the actual person I worked with isn't there any more" - but I know it's mostly a way to humanize the crew that wants a big commission.  It's certainly not going to get my numbers up by the end of the quarter.

Which is too bad, because I could probably use the money to cover some expenses and sock away.  When I went out to the parking garage Monday night, I got a big shock when I saw the car's rear end had been absolutely crushed, enough to bend the axle, and while I figure it has to be the guy with the Hummer, the security camera was apparently busted, which means the insurance company is almost certainly going to be dicks about covering it.  On top of that, the body shop told me I wouldn't be able to get a loaner that night, which meant I was looking at taking the bus or an Uber home.

Fortunately, Teddy had been on a call when I was getting ready to leave, so he made it to the garage just as the tow truck was pulling out.  His eyebrows went up at the damage, but he asked if he could give me a ride.  I said he certainly could with only about half the innuendo I could have, which amused him more than anything.  I turned around to stow my bag in the back seat, and that's when I caught a glimpse of the pay stubs he had dropped there.

Now, I know enough not to read too much into any one paycheck when you're in sales.  Not only does seniority count for something, but what you do week-to-week is a big deal when you're being paid a commission; some weeks I'll do better than him, others he out-earns me.  But the one on top of that pile was the holiday bonus, and it was almost three times mine, and I know he hasn't been in the office that much longer than I have or outperformed me that significantly.

I mentioned it to Treena in passing as part of bitching about what happened to the car, and she immediately seized on it as bullshit.  I was pretty determined to act like it was none of my business, but the next morning made it tough, as the body shop tried to pad the estimate and stuck me in a sub-compact with their name on the side in big letters for a loaner car, which just makes for a great impression with clients.  Waiting for the shop to open and dealing with all that got me to work a little late, and when Stretch made a pretty harmless comment about it I snapped at him, saying that when folks try to charge you twice as much despite your only pulling in half the money, you've got to spend time haggling.

The laughter that came in response was a bit more nervous than usually happens when I make a joke, but I didn't think too much of it, diving into work, making calls and emails, setting up some showings.  I didn't think much of it until I was about to step out for lunch and the boss called me into his office.  I stepped in, took a seat, and asked what was up.

"Joy, are you happy here?"

"Uh....  Yeah, I'm pretty happy here.  The work's good, the pay is good, and so are the co-workers."  I tried to pay it casual, but conversations that start like this are usually dangerous.

"Good, good...  From some of your comments this morning, I was worried that you might be dissatisfied and, perhaps, trying to lay the groundwork to get more than your due."

"Oh, no, just, you know, dealing with car stuff this morning.  Can't live without your car in California, right?"

"You certainly can't.  It's not that we were particularly worried, but you know how it goes - a woman takes a job in a place that has a lot of money going through it, they're often looking to hook onto a man, whether it be a customer or a co-worker, but we'd never had that feeling about you."

"No sir - trust me, if there was anyone looking to make money off getting laid here, it wouldn't be me!"
He pulled forward a bit in his chair, so he was looking at me at just a little bit more of a downward angle, trying to adopt just a teeny bit more of a dominant posture.  "Are you trying to imply something?  Something you can use later?"

I swallowed, my mouth suddenly dry.  "What?  No!  I mean, I might have heard something that sounded bad, but I might have misinterpreted it.  I mean, guys in any kind of sales job have to be competitive, right?  And sometimes, out of context, that can sound a lot worse than it actually is."

He smiled, pleased at this response.  "I'm glad you understand.  A lot of women don't."

A lot of days, if have made the funny-to-me comment that I wasn't most women, but instead I just thanked him and went to get a salad from the place down the street.  I was kind of feeling like "most women" at that moment, or at least the group that have been making such a big stink about guys being guys lately.  And I hated that; I wasn't going to be one of them.

That attitude carried me through the rest of the afternoon and into the evening, getting home with just enough time to do little more than pass Treena in the doorway, telling her to keep her feminist agenda to herself.  She was kind of in a joking mood, saying I really should have noticed it was my feminist agenda too by now.  She stopped for a second when I said it almost got me fired, but I said not to worry, I'd handled it.  She said that was good, but if I wanted to talk, she wouldn't be out very late.
Oh, and there was another card on the kitchen table, and this one might mean something.

I looked.  Yeah, it did - it was from "Simon Woodford".  Me.  Or at least, Brian Meeks with my body and life.  There were two letters in the card, one the printed-out version everyone got, talking about work and home repair projects that I had always put off that Brian took on, and finding out he had testicular cancer, which he joked about as much as he could.  One was handwritten and obviously just for me, apologizing if I found the other letter inappropriate, but it seemed like humor was the best way to cope on a day-to-day basis.  He got into a lot more detail about the surgery and radiation, and how the doctors were really encouraged.  He said he was mostly worried about my dad, who seemed to take the diagnosis kind of hard and sometimes needed a reminder to take care of himself too.

And then there was the picture, me but not really me - he'd apparently decided to shave his head when some of his hair started falling out, on top of a few more lines on his face but also a weird smile that I knew was phony from all the apologies and guilt that came out of his mouth when talking to me.

Really, a bummer of a Christmas card, but kind of a perfect cap on 24 hours of not feeling like I'm in control of my life the way I usually do.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Harmon Keller/Alicia Polawski: Too Much Time as These Women

As a man of above-average intelligence, I should have foreseen that agreeing to go out with Alicia's co-workers when one had a birthday would simply result in being drawn into more of those absurd situations, but I suspect that one welcome actually realize that he is in quicksand until he tries to get some traction.  Once you have done the first of these things, people know that you will do them, and they cease being presented as an option.

As an example which Lindsey mentioned in her last missive, there was a memo in the weeks before Halloween saying that employees were free to perform their duties in costumes, so long as they were family-friendly, on that holiday.  Indeed, we were encouraged to do so, as it helped remind customers that air travel was fun (despite the converted effort on the past of the airlines to remove any joy from the experience over the last few decades), and I could be certain that the other members of my usual crew would eagerly participate.  I held out hope that I would not get the call that day, but alas, I did.

Lindsey had that day off , and while I would not say she was eager to use me as an oversized fashion doll, she certainly have the impression that it had been in the back of her mind.  As expected, the Halloween costumes she had worn to parties and such in previous years were wholly inappropriate.  I had let out a sigh, practicing how I could spin that as the reason why I was in my regular uniform, when Lindsey opened up a different box in Alicia's closet, said "oh my God" like it was three sentences, and pulled out the girl's cheerleading uniform from high school.  "You have to!"

"Must I?"

"Well, I suppose you don't have to, but, c'mon, you've got one Halloween like this.  I know you've got an itty-bit of cheerleader in you somewhere, and what better chance will you ever have to let it out for a few hours?"  I was about to object, but then she pointed to the French maid costume I had dropped on the bed.  "It's not like you've got better options."

And that is how I wound up with Lindsey making me over into a cheerleader so that I could "go to work", a scene which I suspect would have looked just as questionable to any onlooker who believed us to be mother and daughter.  She put me in a brassiere that I swear was a size too small because she said my breasts should be "perky", especially since this is a high-school uniform that didn't show any cleavage (thank God!) - or at least, that's what all the bustier girls on her high school team were like.  Thankfully, she wasn't entirely concerned with making me look like an easy lay - she found a pair of biking shorts for me to wear between my panties and the pleated skirt.  By the time she'd found the socks with the stripes and white sneakers, I was well-covered from neck to toss aside from my knees, though it hid none of my current shape.  She put my hair in a ponytail and did my makeup differently - less eyeshadow, more rouge - and the girl in the mirror looked the part extremely well.  I probably could not actually convince anybody that I was a teenager, but I looked less removed.  What foolishness would I allow myself to be talked into by the time this was over?  I am probably lucky that Lindsey did not have time to dye my hair blonde.

I added Alicia's name-tag and put on a long coat so as not to look ridiculous on the subway and while walking through the airport - most days I am merely glad for the employee fast lane because going through airport security just to get to work every morning would lead me to quit this job and damn the consequences, but not having to show my costume until I was actually standing in the jetway was a close second that day.  The usual group was there, with the shift leader dressed as a pirate and sighing that she could no longer pull "cheerleader" off, Elgin dressed as a doctor, and the one whose birthday we had celebrated the week before was apparently keen that we know she was wearing the outfit of Marvel's Captain Marvel rather than DC's, which sounds like an exceptionally tedious thing of which to keep track.

I truly cannot fathom why young women spend a day when they can dress any way imaginable putting on outfits that, by my reckoning, make them five times more likely to get their bottom slapped by some random idiot.  It was exhausting on top of being humiliating, and Lindsey asking how many I thought were tenured professors when I finally arrived back at the apartment was not nearly as funny as she thought it was.

She been making more of those comments of late, in part, I suspect, because of the different sorts of attention the two of us receive.  She says that it is not important, that she's simply counting the days until we can be ourselves again and not have this awkwardness between us, but how can she not be frustrated?  It is natural for women to compete for partners, and no matter how many times I tell her that I am not her competition, a certain primal part of her brain looks at us and cannot help but resent my attractiveness, causing her to lash out, even if the words she uses do not match the underlying issues.

As a result, we find ourselves drifting apart a bit, and without the other to serve as an anchor, it can be easy to fall into the traps these lives represent.  Though simple quiet is harder to come by now than it was, I am beginning to spend more time outside of the apartments and hotel rooms, whether in the company of Alicia's co-workers or on my own.  Fewer people respect that I simply want to read my book, but when I do want to engage with someone, it is a bit easier to get his or her attention.  She seems to be spending more time with work friends and at the gym.

She occasionally grosses that we feel like roommates rather than lovers or even ersatz mother and daughter, and it is sometimes bizarre to see just how far she'll go in one way or another.  As you might expect, last week was extremely busy for the both of us, as many people traveling for Thanksgiving had both cabin crew and airport staff taking on extra shifts, though the airlines will jump through every hoop they can to avoid overtime.  I crossed the country during the early part of the week before "jumpseating" back to Dallas in the wee hours of the morning so that I could work a morning flight back to the Bay Area, and was exhausted by the time I was climbing the stairs back to the apartment, only to open the door and be assailed by the smells of a full Thanksgiving dinner (admittedly, one where a couple of things were burnt).

I dropped to the couch and undid my shoes.  "Please, 'Mom', tell me that you didn't invite guests!"

"What?  No, this is just for us!  You know, do a family thing, bring some leftovers to work for the next week, get the genuine experience."

I would normally have gone to Alicia's bedroom before disrobing, but I took my blouse off in the living room to make a point.  "Lindsey, do we look like the kind of women who would eat a full Thanksgiving dinner?  Would that be staying in character?"  I don't spend time in the gym like she does, but it seems that being on my feet all day is enough to keep Alicia's waist slim, even without her bust and hips for comparison.

She snapped at me, completely unreasonably.  "Maybe I wanted to do it for us - no, for me!  I spend a bunch of time doing all the woman's work despite you having a set of tits as well, so maybe I'd like to do a mom thing that gives me a sense of accomplishment!  It's not like I'll have another chance once we turn back!"

"You yourself said it would be irresponsible to become a father at my age."

"Maybe, but..."  A pot on the stove-top started whistling, and she turned her attention to that. 

I sighed.  Lindsey had gotten this idea in her head, and even if there was any stopping her, she had clearly spent the morning cooking, so I went into Alicia's room and found something suitably autumnal to put on after a quick shower, despite needing to sleep after the morning's long journey, and despite not seeing much to truly be thankful for in our current situation.

As expected, she cooked too much, but there has at least been plenty to pick at for the last few days.  I must admit, though, that I am dreading what both she and our employers have planned for Christmas.

-Harmon Keller

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Jonah/Krystle: Family Dinner Minus One

There have been a lot of things about being Krystle that make me think God is testing me, and I hope that I'm managing a passing grade.  Yes, I had sex with the guy living my life, and that's probably the largest individual test I've failed, but I've accepted the consequences and tried to meet the challenges that go with it.

More often, though, it is staying to feel like evidence that God has an extremely peculiar sense of humor.  Which makes a sort of sense, I suppose; who can tell what a being who knows the entire expanse if the universe will find funny?  I like to think that, in most cases, what happens at the Inn and after is funny as well as instructive; there's no reason it can't be both.  On the other hand, Momma Kamen, Karla, and her boyfriend/kids joining us for Thanksgiving despite the fact that in previous years they could almost never both get the holiday off for long enough to sit down together, let alone travel, while they're actual daughter is off in Europe...  You've got to laugh, right?

Well, Krystle and I do.  Dad, he kind of just shakes his head and notes the irony.  Mom isn't quite furious, but she is not pleased - she hated the idea of Krystle going on this trip in the first place, but she's absolutely not going to let the Kamens throw share at what they think is her son for gallivanting around the world and leaving me here alone to raise our daughter.  That they're throwing that shade is kind of funny in and of itself, although I've got to be very careful not to be openly amused.  Fortunately, nobody made a comment about how this had always been Krystle's dream, or I might have lost it.

Not that there was a while lot of time for that, as I was both helping to corral kids and doing some kitchen duty.  It wasn't an issue in either of my other Thanksgiving as Krystle - it was just another day two years ago and Mom was actively pushing me out of the kitchen last year, saying that just because I was seven months pregnant was no reason for me to play the part of a woman more than I had to - but I was mashing potatoes, candying yams, and making sure things didn't boil over.  It was less than the real women, but still more than I'd ever been responsible as a male kid.
The meal was delicious, though.  Karla's kids seemed a bit confused at just how much weight Mom put on saying Grace and thanking God rather than just diving in, but they didn't make a scene.  Moira is just starting to get into squishy foods, so she really dug into the cranberry sauce.

Of course, she was still hungry after that, so I retired to a bedroom to breast-feed, which surprised Karla a bit.  She apparently went with formula early, which kind of seems like a waste when finances are tight.  Didn't say so, just that I might as well get some use out of these things hanging from my chest.  Which was, obviously, walking right into "you've never had any trouble making them useful before", because (and this seems like a lifetime ago for both of us) Krystle was a stripper before her trip to the Inn.

I don't particularly regret not having siblings before.  Still, I think it was said more with snark than cruelty.  At least 50/50 on that.

Me being out of the living room let things got a little more frosty there, more so when Krystle made a video call from the hostel where she's staying in Vienna to say Happy Thanksgiving.  It was 4pm our time, so like ten o'clock there.  She's been paying less of pictures on my Facebook account and basically dumping everything into my Google account so that I can study it for when it's supposed to be my pre-college trip as of next summer.  It's just fun to look at anyway, although I think Karla, her kids, and I we're the only ones really into her talking about all the amazing museums they'd made out of palaces there. 

As much as I'm enjoying looking at those pictures, I kind of wonder if Krystle realizes the tension she's creating over here.  Or if she cares.  I mean, I never heard much from her until I told her I couldn't give her her life back, and while she seems to have gotten things in order while living mine (and in the year before), and sometimes I think of Momma Kamen, Karla, and other folks telling me how "I" used to be much more selfish, and maybe there's a certain amount of that still there, both in how she must have guessed that our parents would react poorly to it, and how she just figured it would be no big sacrifice missing so much of Little Moira's first year despite knowing how big a party they would eventually be of each other's lives.

Again, I don't really blame her, but it's a cloud that hung over our Thanksgiving, even after her family headed back home and it was just us folks who know what's going on left.


Thursday, November 23, 2017

Pete/Brigette: The Blushing Bride

I haven't known Tyler very long, in person, but combining what I know about him/her through the blog with what I have learned since meeting her at the Inn, I could tell this Josh thing was really upsetting her. Her Bachelorette Party was the Saturday before the wedding and she was obviously very sullen. Who could blame her. Even if, to the outside observer, she was a woman about to marry the man she had loved since she was a teenager, a select few know the truth: that inside, she is a person being forced into a very awkward scenario at best, a permanently life-altering one at worst.

"Anna" was invited, at Tyler's behest, although seeing "herself" all pouty put her in a bad mood, especially seeing the effect it was having on the atmosphere. To maintain cover, she didn't cling to Valerie too much, and instead seemed to enjoy being able to walk amongst her friends and relatives as a "stranger."

I tried to liven things up a bit. When we got to the bar, I ordered a round of shots, and let a guy drink out of my navel. I wasn't planning on doing it but it was a spur-of-the-moment impulse that felt right for me at the time. I'm all about new experiences and as you can guess, being an attractive black woman in the city has provided plenty of those. (He lost interest in me after I spanked him at pool and maybe rubbed it in too much.)

By the time of the wedding day, Tyler told me, things had gotten worse rather than better. She had mentioned the flowers to Josh, and he came up with what she referred to as a "lame explanation" about changing his mind what kind of bouquet he'd wanted to give, and that was all... on paper it seems fine to me, but she explained she could feel he was just making something up on the spot.

I clung close to Tyler's side on the wedding day. There obviously aren't a lot of chances to get a private conversation with the Bride, especially with Nosy Marie the Maid of Honor insisting she be Val's shadow all day, but I was a good liaison between Tyler and the real Valerie, who also didn't have much access given she was just a "random, last minute guest." (I feel like Marie somewhat resented their sudden closeness when "Anna" seemed to have come out of nowhere in the last few weeks.)

By the time I finally saw Tyler, in the gown and make-up, she was, I can't deny it, absolutely gorgeous. I'm sure she didn't want to hear it, and at best it was bittersweet, but that body knows how to wear a dress. She's got tits until Tuesday and curves in all the right places, and just the cutest face.

She kind of gave me an eyeroll when I said so. "Just part of the job," she grumbled in that very Tyler way (albeit with Val's cutesy falsetto voice.)

"Well, if you don't mind me saying so, I know it's the Bride's day, but personally, I think I'm wearing the hell out of this Bridesmaid's dress, too." So sue me if I feel like I look good and wanted to work it.

I should note that my date for the wedding, Chad, is the real Brigette - she has become a white frat-boy type of guy, and may I say, looks quite dashing in a suit. "Don't get any ideas," he said knowingly. "The whole screw yourself idea doesn't appeal to me."

I winked, "Never know, after a few champagnes..." S/he responded with a look that said "Don't make this weird," so I laid off for the night, but we did dance a bit.

As Marie and I were tending to Tyler in the Bridal suite, Josh showed up. Marie tried to bar him from entering due to superstition, but I coaxed her away to let the two talk - she seemed bitter that I would be privy to any drama between them that she wouldn't.

I tried to listen through the door but they spoke in hushed voices for a while. Then he came out looking like he'd seen a ghost. I almost thought maybe Tyler had told the truth, and he had believed it... but there was no indication of that for the rest of the day.

We took our seats in the Church. If there was something wrong, Josh wore a decent poker face. The whole place fell silent as the Bridal march played, and I watched Tyler - as convincing as Valerie as she's ever been - march toward the altar. "Chad" and I kept our eyes partly on "Anna," two seats over, tearing up, clearly overcome.

As they delivered their vows, there was clearly some nervousness, and maybe others would chalk it up to just regular wedding jitters but I feel like there's more going on. But before you knew it, the ring was on the finger, and the kiss was done, the paperwork signed and that was it.

Valerie Stewart is a married woman.

But as they back walked down the aisle, Ty's glance caught me, and it seemed like she was trying to tell me something, something more than what I already know about how effed up this wedding is.

The reception was... a bit flat. There were speeches, Tyler seemed very disengaged, and she and Josh barely even seemed to look at each other. I had wanted to get Tyler alone and ask what exactly had happened, but the Bride made the rounds (checking in with Anna for a refresher on who everybody was) and was hard to pin down. When I finally did get her, between courses, she gave me this "We'll talk later" brushoff, but... we never did.

Chad and I danced a bit, although he was nervous about getting close. So I played wingwoman and helped him pick out girls to talk to all night who weren't secretly his proper body. That said, we did have kind of a good time together - we talked about leaning into potential attraction to the opposite sex, and he played it down like maybe his biology was telling him something but he really just wanted to have innocent fun. He also noted how glad he was not to be wearing my shoes. (I changed into slip-ons as soon as I was able!) We also did our best to buoy Anna's spirits, but it's hard to help the "This should be my wedding" blues.

I got hit on a fair bit once it was clear I was not "with" Chad, and got a few phone numbers. Whether I plan on doing anything about it depends on what kind of innocent fun I want to have for the rest of my time here.

Ty and Josh seemed to duck out early, and once a Bride and Groom leave the reception is basically over. I haven't seen Ty since, and I assume they went on the honeymoon as planned.

I guess we'll have to wait for the rest of the story, sorry.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

J.T./Elaine: The Grind

Am I some sort of traitor to creative people everywhere for kind of liking Elaine's nine-to-five job?  Since I got into show business as a kid, I've never really had one before; that TV show was probably the closest thing, and then there's tutors, limited hours, and you're looking for something else for at least half the year.  But ever since then, I've met a lot of people who came to acting or music or whatever later, and they've always been disdainful of office work, or hated the jobs they worked whole waiting to be discovered, calling it soul-deadening or shivering at the notion of having to punch a clock.  I've always just accepted that as being the case, and certainly, when things were looking up, I've been the same way.  Why sit behind a desk all day, punching things into a computer, or stand behind a counter selling things, knowing that what you're doing will never be remembered or bring joy into someone's life?  And to imagine doing the same thing for decades, rather than creating new characters and songs...  Ugh, right?

Maybe after I've been at it more than a month, I'll feel the same way, but right now, there's something reassuring about getting up in the morning, taking a train across town, and seeing the same people, trying to build something.  The job I got hired for its daunting as hell - we're building software for a new type of medical imaging system, and there's not a single thing about it that I really understand.  Not the medicine, not the hardware, not the three different programming languages being used, not the way information is being passed between everything.  It should have me exposed as some sort of fraud impersonating a woman with real tech skills.

But, instead, I'm really enjoying the solidity of it.  The product owners, to use the Agile terminology, understand the medicine.  The engineers understand the hardware.  The programmers understand the software.  There are folks who have spent their entire careers testing things.  I'm surrounded by a bunch of really smart people who are making something really useful work, and while none of them will have their name show up in a credit roll after someone gets a scan, that's okay.  It's not like my real name would show up on one of those either.  We've got daily meetings to talk about progress and problems, and it really helps me get a little bit of the same feeling of accomplishing something as I would wrapping a scene on set and doing something different the next.

Of course, they all kind of hate me for those meetings.

Maybe not "hate"; for like "resent".  And I kind of get it; if performing had little "breakout sessions" interrupting the flow of what what I was doing as a performer or I had to write up "stories" for every step of the process, I'd be like "that's the director/producer's job".  So it's kind of a weird tango for me right now, trying to take on as much of that stuff as I can because I want the developers to not resent me or Elaine but also kind of reliant on them knowing what's actually needed a hell of a lot better than I do (which is kind of the actual point even when the project manager isn't an out-of-work actor magically turned into someone else).  One thing Elaine warned me about was not being the sort of manager that makes sure she's always in a meeting - apparently the number one complaint she got when first taking this sort of role was that since her entire job was scheduling and moderating meetings, she never stopped and wound up chewing up everyone else's time as a result.  Not a problem with me, as that's valuable "research to not look like an idiot" time.

The people are pretty cool, too, not the total nerds I was expecting, and there are more women, too, so I'm not raw meat at a sausage party.  We're not exactly a tight-knot group yet, although I do think I've got a bit of a head start on making friends there, as being a tech contractor is kind of like being an actor, where you've got to show up on set and work extremely closely with a bunch of folks you've just met from moment one. 

And speaking of friends and getting closer and such, I had my first real "girls' night" with Elaine's single-lady friends on Friday, complete with that dress I shouldn't have worn for the interview, serious heels, and more make-up than I've ever worn without without bright stage lighting being shined in my face.  It's weird getting ready for that - as a man, there's this creeping "what am I doing?" horror, but as an actor, there's kind of an excitement.  Performing is probably a weird thing to a layperson, but it's a useful mindset to get into if you've been into the Inn.  When I go present myself as Elaine, I'm not really trying to fool anybody, but I'm trying to create an impression.  On stage or screen, the line is clearer - the actor is trying to make you feel something genuine, but you accept that it isn't real. 

I'm not sure entirely what's going on as I meet Dorrie, Diane, and Jezzie at a downtown bar.  The hugging is me doing what Elaine would, and I try to talk about work and things the way she would - for instance, she'd get very upset about guys going around her at work, whereas I mostly don't mind (aside from maybe not knowing what to do, why add steps to a process?).  But there's a lot of this life where I'm just being me to the extent that I can, and it's kind of weird trying to explain why something was cool or frustrated me in Elaine terms, especially since these seem to be very much black-girl friendships, and there's likely to be some bit of context I'm missing.

I'm learning a bit, though; we went out dancing after the drinks, and that was an experience.  I've been to clubs that mostly served an African-American clientele before, and I sort of took the feeling of sticking out like a sore thumb with me at first, but Jezzie pushing me onto the floor made it a bit easier for me to act like I belonged there.  The girls teased me about how it had been a long time since I'd been out dancing - I guess having a bit of booty to shake doesn't keep you from shaking it like a white guy, plus Cary tended to stick around with Elaine-Mackenzie rather than go out - but didn't act suspicious about my being "out of practice".  I don't know if I dance better in this body, but I feel like I get a lot more attention.

On the one hand, it's kind of nice to know I make a credible enough Elaine to get guys deciding that they want to dance with me, which is a little unnerving.  You hear that your orientation will adjust to your body's, and even if I haven't played a gay guy once or twice, a guy expressing interest shouldn't be something to get you upset (you've just got to learn to say "sorry, not into that"), but being midway between the two, you're not sure how to react.  Well, you're not sure until someone grabs your butt and pulls you in, and then it's like, whoa, personal space!  That's kind of a hard thing to assert on the dance floor, because it's hard to break the rhythm, but I did dis-entangle myself from the first guy before retreating to the ladies' room, and "my girls" had my back, although they wondered why I was being so timid.  Elaine is apparently not shy about getting a hand on his chest, pushing away, and warning him not to do it again, slapping if necessary.  She gave me a demonstration on Skype on Saturday, and I kind of feel nervous about trying to be that much a black woman.  Sure, it's kind of cute coming out of a white preteen, but it kind of makes me worried about stereotypes and going too far.

Guys grabbing my butt aside, though, I had fun.  I kind of wish I'd be able to try again this weekend, but it's time to meet Elaine's family.


Friday, November 10, 2017

Tyler/Valerie: Cursed.

Is this wedding cursed? Yes, but maybe more than we already knew.

No weddings go off without a hitch. A lot of complications and mishaps are to be expected. But mishaps like the Bride being replaced with a doppelganger who has to impersonate her, that's probably a curveball.

It almost feels a little quaint to have a mundane problem like, oh... not having a dress a week before the ceremony. You might recall that I was not completely happy with the dress I was to wear as Valerie the Bride. No disrespect to her vision, I would have worn it, but to the degree that I have any fashion sense or concept of style for myself (as Valerie), it didn't "work" for me. I know, that's a very "female" issue to have, but trust me guys, when you spend more time floating from body to body, you start to care more about what you dress it in.

I didn't "not have a dress" because I didn't like it though. I was willing to wear it. The dress was bought and paid for and fitted and I was just going to pack it away in my mind, like I do for so much about being Valerie (or anybody) and play my part. And then the seamstress had a flood and the dress was ruined.

After a suitable outburst, Val agreed, when she visited the city, to come help me track down a suitable replacement. Doing so on short notice, with a limited budget (we did get a partial refund from the seamstress but not for her labor) trying to find something that fits and looks good off the racks is... tough.

I mean, I only like clothes-shopping marginally more now than I did as a man, and spending two days with a woman intent on having her perfect wedding despite not actually walking down the aisle for it, is pretty nerve-wracking. Finally I found something that looked like it would fit my unique assets, wasn't eye-gougingly ugly to me, and we could afford.


"What's wrong with this?"

"It's all wrong, it looks disgusting, take it off."

"You know what, Valerie? I think it looks fine." It was corseted, with elegant off-the-shoulder shear sleeves, and an A-line cut as opposed to the big marshmallowy ballgown she wanted to wear that made my whole figure disappear. I felt strangely comfortable in it like... like this was "my" dress.

"It looks cheap and ugly, take it off, I'd be embarrassed to wear that."

"Valerie, you're not being reasonable."

"TAKE IT OFF!" she screamed and stomped her foot, "PUT IT BACK! LET'S MOVE ON!" Her tall, lean frame loomed over me as she attempted to use her newfound size to browbeat me.

"Shut the fuck up!" I screamed back. "I'm sorry your dress got ruined but there's nothing you can do but put up with it. We're out of options. The wedding is a two weeks away. I'll walk down the fucking aisle in a garbage bag if I feel like it at this point."

She sunk down and tears filled her eyes and I felt extremely guilty.

"It's not fair," she sobbed, "It's just not fair."

"I know," I said, uncertain whether I should move closer and comfort her considering we had just been at each other's throats a second earlier. I looked around to see whether people had taken notice of our shouting match. If so they must have been very confused.

"You deserve better than what you're getting," I said as comfortingly as I could. It didn't seem to help, she sniffled.

"Seeing him at the Bridal Shower was so hard," she sniffled, "I was looking forward to it but... but I was invisible to him, and he went straight to you, and... the way he, the way he looked at you... the way he kissed you... it's like he loves you."

"He doesn't love me," I said firmly. "He loves the person he thinks I am, which is you. I feel it all the time, how much love you're supposed to be getting from him."

"If he really loved me, wouldn't he knew I was... I was gone?"

"You know that's not how it works," I said, patting her back and trying to be as comforting as I could manage.

"I thought I could handle it," she whimpered.

"You're doing your best," I sighed. "We all are."

"Wear whatever you want... it's not really my wedding anymore..."

She was quiet the rest of the day, and then said she would see me at the wedding.

And I'd like to say that was the last problem we had, but sadly...

A few days later, the pictures of the shower got posted to social media, and of course I was tagged in all of them, which means Meg, who now has friended me, saw them, and as soon as she did, she sent me a text.

"Omg. That's the wrong bouquet."

"What?" I wrote back.

"Josh's bouquet. That's not the one I saw him buy. That had red roses, this has pink."

"Um... are you sure?"


Well, now we really do have a problem on our hands.


Monday, November 06, 2017

Tyler/Valerie: Plans, schemes, suspicions and reunions

"I've got a plan," Valerie texts me one day out of the blue.

I brace myself - we've been working separately on how I'm going to address Valerie's "Children Immediately After Marriage" pact with Josh. I'm a little skeptical that she's actually got something usable but I tell her to hit me with it.

"Say you're already pregnant."

I'm glad I didn't get my hopes up.

"No, it will make perfect sense," she insists. "That way he won't bug you about getting pregnant, and it will make sense with your recent change in... behavior. And then that way, you won't have to have sex with him at all!"

"But how am I supposed to be pregnant? He hasn't had sex with-- uh, either of us in months."

"You could be three months in! Lots of women take time to show."

"But I'm not going to show."

"Hit the buffet! He won't know the difference."

I mean, I've been through this process so many times and I have to admit I haven't always coped well under pressure, but this seems especially moronic.

"That really won't work," I sigh, "He knows I've gotten my period."

"Damnit," she replied. "I didn't think he would be paying attention to that."

"Well, he is... he's very attentive."

"I know. God, I miss him. Tell him you love him as soon as you can, okay?"

"Okay. By the way, Val, I have something to tell you, I don't know if you are already aware of this..."

See, the other week, when I was laid up on the couch, I notice something hard and plastic under my ass. I dug under the cushion and found... an old flip-phone. What you might know from Breaking Bad as a "burner."

It had only one number in it and a long series of text messages cryptically saying dates and times, or the occasional "cancellation." The texts were are recent as October.

"I'm guessing it isn't yours," I told her. "And the dates frequently correspond to weekends when Josh was away."

It took her a while to respond, but when she did was, "It's probably just an old work phone. Don't worry about it."

"Val, it's still being used, and not for everyday purposes. This seems incredibly suspicious..." not clarifying that I would know suspicious behavior.

"Drop it, okay? It's none of our business."

I left the phone where it was, knowing that if Josh saw it was gone he would know I had it.

The way I see it, there are two possibilities. One is that Josh is involved in something illegal... insider trading? Drugs? I don't know.

The other possibility is that he's having an affair.

If either one is the case, I honestly don't know what to do. Do I let Val go through with the wedding, and then I'm ostensibly married to a criminal or a cheater? What if, God forbid, I get stuck here, in that situation, especially if we don't figure out a way to avoid me getting pregnant? I'm sorry, I can't leave this idly be.

I didn't want to believe it, because Josh seems a genuinely sweet, caring guy, what kind of stuff could he be involved in? But it's often people you don't expect, because they put in a lot of effort not to be suspected... and since I've been here, Josh's way of doting on me has often seemed... a bit over-the-top.

So I did something I never thought I would have to do. I called my ex-girlfriend to ask her to trail my future husband.

Pete/Brigette, who lives for "Freaky Inn Drama," by her own admission, was disappointed that I didn't call her in on this, but my reasons were obvious: Josh knows Brigette well and would know if he were being followed by her. There was a good chance that Meg would be able to just blend in and go unnoticed.

I'm lucky that Meg still cares enough about me to come all the way down from Vermont, and came up with some cover story to explain it to Justin.

So we waited for this past Friday, when the latest "Meeting" (we assume) was scheduled, for 6:30. Meg was stationed outside his work on Wall Street. When she spotted him leaving, she followed him through the subway, up to a restaurant on 49th Street. It was pricey ("Okay, I'll reimburse... but remember I pour coffee for a living!") and he was eating alone.

Then she followed him to a flower shop in China town. He went in for a while and came out with a bouquet.

Then he got in a cab and disappeared.

"You couldn't follow him?" I asked ruefully.

"Sorry Ty, the whole 'Follow That Cab' thing only works in movies," she sighed, "And in fact I don't even think it works there. I'm a Humanities Grad Student, not a spy."

Still, that was valuable info. A fucking bouquet? Before going away for the weekend? That's a giant red flag, right?

I started to get hot under the collar. I was being cheated on -- I mean, Val was being cheated on, but I felt some of it too, because it meant the affection he was giving to Val, through me, was all a lie, and... well, it is an incredibly messed up situation.

Once we lost track of Josh, Meg and Brigette and I all went out for drinks. Brig was worried about being a bit of a third wheel, but whenever you group a certain number of Inn-people together we all break the ice over our shared experiences so it's not like she was unwelcome. (Honestly, I've been so wrapped up in my own shit lately that I haven't been able to write about the friendship I've forged with her, but she's been very supportive of this "Male fiancĂ©, no sex" situation. Maybe someday she'll bring you up to speed on her drama...)

Meg, who loves New York but doesn't get to come down very often, really felt floored to be visiting me. Time has healed a lot of the wounds between us, and partly that might be because I have spent the last year and more outwardly female... meaning, I guess, that it's easier to think of me as a different person than the one who cruelly left Meghan in early 2016.

As we sat and drank, I kept catching Meghan's eye looking me over and giving a knowing smirk. At first I thought it was judgment for wearing a low-cut top (it's really hard to button these gals all the way up) or maybe... something she approved of.
"What?" I finally asked.

"You're so different now," she said oddly approvingly.

"I only look different," I sighed, "I'm the same crummy person inside."

"You're not. You were never crummy, but take it from someone who has known you as so many different people... this body suits you. It's doing something to your personality. It's like you're... free."

"I'm not," I smiled meekly, "I'm very much in girl-jail. Fiancee-jail. Soon to be marriage-jail."

"Pregnant-jail next!" Brig cheered, unhelpfully.

"Not happening," I scolded.

"Okay, you don't think you've changed. But as long as I've known you you've always seemed like the world was on your back, and now... even with all these stresses and conflicts, the weights isn't there anymore."

"No, the weight's all on my front," I said.

"I'll say, yowza!" she said, eyeballing my chest. "I thought I had it bad as Tasha... well, I did, but you're so short, it looks different on you."

"Any excuse to talk about your tits," Brigette teased. "You don't hear me bringing up my skin color every other second."

"Fair point," I said, "How's, um... how's that working out for you by the way?"

"It's... interesting..." she said, getting a faraway look in her eye, "Most people won't say anything about it, you know, if you're just out in the world. I mean, this isn't the fifties. But if I go to a bar or a busy restaurant or even a store, and I don't see any other black people I feel very aware of it."

We noted with some interest that there were now three "black women" visible on the blog, more than in the past, but why shouldn't there be? The Inn definitely does a random enough job screwing up peoples' lives. (Then Brigette made a crack that it was surprising, since "Brothas and Sistas don't fuck with Scary-Ass Hotels in Maine," putting on a exaggerated "soul sista" voice that caused Meg and I to both insist she never, ever do that again.)

We had a few more rounds and I really put Val's alcohol tolerance to the test, calling this "My real, unofficial Bachelorette Party" since two of the only people who truly care about Tyler Blake were there (My sister Carrie and Kitty, I think, being the other two.) We stumbled home and Meg crashed in my bed and... well, it was weird.

I was lying there in bed with this woman I had loved, this person I was sure I still had unresolved feelings for no matter how hard I tried to move on, and yet... it wasn't hard to resist doing more than that. It wasn't hard to put up a barrier between us. To draw the line and say... this is someone else's girlfriend, and you are someone else's wife-to-be, and... hell, you're both woman and you're just not aligned that way anymore.

I was filled with a kind of romantic longing for what we'd had once, and yet... completely (well, mostly,) without the physical impulses that went along with that.

Hey, on the one hand I would have loved a lesbian experience... or a sexual experience of any kind that I could enjoy... on the other hand, I knew it would be wrong, that our time was passed and this was not us anymore. I suddenly realized that "that" feeling was gone, replaced by, well, true friendship.

Which, considering what I was feeling about Josh at the time, was really comforting.

I invited Meg to stay for Val's Bridal Shower the next day, but she declined, along with my invitation to come to the wedding. "Honestly, I would love to be there to support you, but I'm really not in favor of spending a whole day in the company of strangers having to lie about why I'm there."

I sneered at her, "What do you think I'm going to be doing?"

"Fair enough," she slightly reprimanded herself, "But I really don't feel like I belong. It's one thing to become friends with your ex, but to watch him walk down the aisle... in white gown, no less..."

Through gritted teeth, "You know I'm not really getting married, right?"

"I just really don't think it's a good idea." Solid points she may have had but I was disappointed. Still, it's fixing to be a real busy day for me and I wouldn't be able to make much time for her, and I know she's real sensitive about being left out like that. I promised that I wouldn't let too much time go by before we see each other again.

At the Bridal Shower, I was probably very obviously disinterested... I had a lot on my mind, my emotional state starting to really catch up on me, not just with my suspicions against Josh, but my compunctions about taking Val's place at all. Being the center of attention as her felt wrong, and I knew it would only be worse when I walk down that aisle.

Making things even more complicated was that Val was there.

We invited "Anna" down to see/"meet" her friends, and see what Marie had done for her as Maid of Honor. She looked suitably pleased, and I've gotten the impression from josh that she can be a bit... controlling? Difficult? Impossible? I try to give her the benefit of the doubt but the way he seems afraid to cross her/me, the more I wonder what exactly is so messed up with their dynamic.

It was nice to put a face to the name, though. Phyiscally, Anna is as different from Val as I could imagine. Only a little bit younger, but tall and willowy (she describes her transformation as "A boob job in reverse, plus my legs turning my nightie into a top.") She's quick to call herself less attractive, but she looks very different, with a long, thin nose, eyes that seem a little close together, and a little bit of an overbite, but I think she looks perfectly nice.

She was careful not to seem too enthusiastic about it, and coached me on how I should be responding... which is good because I was in a daze and still debating whether to tell her about the bouquet.

What I didn't know is that there's a tradition with Bridal Showers... at the very end of it, who should appear but Josh, brandishing a beautiful bouquet.

For a little while, I really was Val, melting in appreciation. I hated to lay it on thick with her standing right there, but anything less than full sicky sweet couple mode would have seemed odd.

So that was that. I'm still a little twigged about the secret phone, but the bouquet makes me think we were overreacting to the whole thing. Maybe this guy really is as good as he seems... even if my gut is still telling me different.