Summer stretching out in front of us and my brother is being a drag, binge-watching Iron Fist but complaining every five minutes about appropriation and terrible fight choreography, and is taking everything I've got not to tell him that Luke Cage is just a couple clicks away. Or that we could go clubbing or something, but he's not having any of that. It's a crying shame, because we both look hot as shit in our own way and Elaine came right out and fucking said not to act like being her is a hardship, but he's barely left my apartment in two weeks, and being supportive is boring as fuck.
We were hoping that we could maybe find a way out of what Carlotta and Giorgia were planning, heading back up to Maine the day after Giorgia/Bingbing dropped Max on my doorstep. I texted Cary and Elaine to let them know we were coming, so our first stop was his truck. He hadn't been able to get in touch with her yet - lots of people still trying to figure out what to do with a 10-year-old girl who just wants to talk to a guy that seemingly has no connection to her - but he seems like a good guy. He freaked Max out by giving him a list of things he'd learned from being Elaine himself, from what shampoo worked best on her hair to how best to put off that particular friend who keeps texting at 3am without really hurting her feelings.
Max was not excited about an older guy having detailed knowledge of his body, even if he does grill a mean hot dog. Maybe especially, because he pointed out that the Coke Zero that Max was drinking would make him gassier than a Diet Coke (it is not, apparently, just the same shit in different bottles), and Elaine would be pissed if he didn't make a little effort to work it off.
Next stop was the Inn, and that was weirder than usual. The place was kind of deserted, which sticks out in a beach town during the summer, but it makes sense. Everybody staying there was either really anxious to get back to their real lives, because it's early enough in the season that a lot of folks were doing that, or had new identities that were overdue for something. I tried to tell Max how lucky he was that Elaine didn't have some worried boyfriend or angry boss to deal with, but he wasn't inclined to call himself lucky.
Especially not after meeting the one guy still hanging around the Inn. Not sure how he'd spent the winter, but he was back to being himself and figured he might as well hang around for a few days. He soon his head when I told him the story about his supposed girlfriend stealing his identity to make me give up this one, but it didn't stop the guy from asking if Max would like some help exploring his new body. Max recoiled and I said nobody was ready this soon, so he turned to me and I was saying "boyfriend" before he could even open his mouth.
We walked away from the Inn after that, and I laugh as soon as the guy is out of earshot, asking what Max thinks: Was he recently a way sexier man and still thinking like that, much less attractive and overestimating his current appeal as a result, or just coming off being a woman and either really excited to get his dick wet or sure it's made him a much better lover?
"Dude, how can you even... You told him we were really guys and he still wanted to fuck us!"
"Yeah, and he was so ridiculous about it!"
"And Ravi wanted to play house with me when we first changed to Deirdre. Some dudes are creeps, bro, and you're about to discover the number is higher than you thought."
Maybe not the right thing to say.
Anyway, with that being the situation, I didn't figure there was much more we could do until the Inn started filling up again, so we killed time in our hotel room for a couple days until Cary texted us that Elaine was at the truck and would like to meet the new her. Max wasn't too high on the idea, kind of still thinking that this might be an elaborate prank that he didn't want to go along with, but went along just in case it wasn't.
You can't really tell someone used to be someone else by looking at them, so my first impression of Elaine was a cute little girl with way more sass than usual. The curse works on everyone, and it was really hard for Mac to believe, even after Elaine reacted to him arriving in the park with no makeup, looking back and forth, and the wrong sort of ponytail with "ugh, am I going to have to train another one?"
"Nah," I said, "I got this. I mean, I can get a lot of it; this life comes with money and summer vacation, and I've done the holy-shit-I've-got-tits thing before. Heck, my first job out of college was using Agile, so I can get him up to speed on that if you don't mind him taking the summer off."
She didn't particularly like the idea of there being that sort of gap in her work history, but it seemed like a good deal to her. Elaine took Max aside and told him some of the more intimate details of her history, while I booked us a flight to Chicago.
We probably didn't need to actually go out there - I could have bought Max a lot of clothes and stuff for what the ticket cost - but it was probably good to at least take a look at the life Max would have to slip into if we couldn't outwit Giorgia and Carlotta. It also got me a chance to make a copy of Elaine's lease, so I could send rent checks every month. Max asked if that wasn't too much and I said that the trust fund set up for the original Missy was about helping her get started on the dream to be a pan-Pacific movie star and allotted me enough to pay for apartments in Hong Kong, Beijing, and Los Angeles, so this was kind of using it for what it was intended.
We got back to Maine as the next block of people started coming in, and although the surveillance was kind of fun, it didn't get us the results we'd hoped. On Wednesday night, I showed Max a model of the Inn I'd made in SketchUp, asked him to point me to the room he'd slept in, where the bed was, and where he usually wound up when sleeping. I'd been working on a model - well, a fair number of visitors had, but we were trying to figure out how the Inn changes people when the positioning isn't obvious - Cary outside the Inn in his truck, two people in a room that held one last time, that sort of thing. I figured that if we waited for twelve people to be in there, sneaked him in, and then made sure he was up against the right wall at 2am-ish, we could maybe change him back even if Carlotta was in the room. The application I built around the diagram animated it a bit, showing our theory of how the curse tended to minimize individual distances between where someone lost an identity and where another person gained it even if that sometimes meant that a form could seem to move across the building, rather than minimizing total distance. My demo had expanding circles going from people had been in Group A and turning into arrows when they hit a position in Group B. Max was actually kind of impressed, saying he was surprised to see me do that, and I'm like, hey, my programming skills weren't in my dick.
So we spent the next few days staking the place out. As much as we'd sort of hoped some sorry of weird situation could have delayed Carlotta/"Sandra" from arriving the way Elaine missed her window, she arrived right on the first day. We went back and forth on confronting her, but wound up chickening out, or at least figuring that some element of surprise was better than trying to appeal to some better nature I'm not sure the ex-Wongs have. Especially after seeing how, though Carlotta was doing the best she could as Sandra, being a mid-thirties middle-class white woman instead of Yuan-wei was going to be a tough sell.
We still needed to smuggle Max in, though, but that didn't look like it should be so hard - as soon as I saw the 19-year-old guy at the place next door's front desk, I took my t-shirt off and told a bug-eyed Max to hold it. I was stepping in the door when he grabbed me by the elbow. "Why are you wearing a bikini?" He hissed
"Because this whole town's a beach and it's like 90 fucking degrees out. Duh!"
"You never had a problem with it before!" I turned away and put a smile on, facing the kid. "Hey, Jordan - whoa, what a small world, that's the name of my, well, someone super-close to me! Anyway, me and my friend over there have got a problem - she left a bag over in the Trading Post Inn, and needs to go retrieve it. Can we borrow a key real quick?"
"Um, I'm not... We're only supposed to give out room keys when people check in..."
He wasn't really looking at my face, so I bent down a bit lower so that he could look me in the eyes a little easier and the tits he was looking at would dangle a bit. "Oh, we don't need a room key, she left it in the laundry room."
"And if she doesn't find it today, she's going to have me running around trying to replace everything in it all evening instead of... Well, what's fun to do here?"
He was about to give us the key, I'm sure of it, but then the was Max, hovering over me, reaching out like he wanted to pull me back and stopping because he thought he'd pull my top off or something, over and over again, and the guy said, sorry, we're really only supposed to do this for guests who have a reservation for the block. I smiled, said of course, and led Max out the door before exploding.
"I was gonna get you in! All you would have had to do was hide out until it was almost two, then maybe I could have found a way to get Carlotta away from the bed, but you had to go and make things weird!"
"I made things weird? You were flirting with him!"
"Well, yeah! Guy was reading a fan-service-filled manga but has probably never seen an actual Asian girl in person because he lives in fucking Maine, and I've got all this at my disposal. Of course I fucking flirted with him! Hot girls do that shit to get things they want all the fucking time, haven't you noticed?"
"But you're... At least you say you're..."
"Yeah, and?" I wasn't sure exactly where to start with that, so I told him we were getting some beer.
As we were drinking, I saw Lucky 13 check in, so that was that.
I woke Max up at 1:30am, telling him we might as well go watch. He freaked out a bit - even after three weeks or so, the first sensations as you wake just aren't right - and thought it wasn't cool that we were heading back over to the Inn. "Are we going to break in?"
"Do you want to? I mean, I'm still figuring out using hairpins to keep my hair in place; picking locks is something else."
He didn't know much about how to do that either, so I led him to a spot on the beach where we could see into Carlotta's window. She hadn't even closed the blinds, so we got a show as she took off her top and bra. I think she knew we were out there and wanted us to see. Still, when I took our my phone, he said he didn't think I was a perv. I shrugged, saying he might need to be reminded this want all a weird dream.
It was a quick change, which was good for my phone battery, and sometimes Max just needs to have the bandaid ripped off. Five minutes, and Max was looking at his own body through the window. I became sure Carlotta knew we were watching when she dropped her pajamas and started... Well, let's just say both sisters have now managed to put way more images of my brother's dick in my head than I want.
He ran off, and I ran after him. I found him sitting on a rocky bit of beach not far away. "It's all real. It's like you said, and it's all real."
"No shit, kid. You should trust your big brother."
"I think I'm older than you now."
"Nah, you just look older. Remember, that's still your body, just reshaped, and you're still, like, the sum of your experiences and knowledge and shit."
"But everyone's going to see Elaine Preston until next year."
"Yeah, but you know Carlotta wants to be Yuan-wei, not you, and that's not likely to change in the next couple months, especially since her girlfriend is really her sister. They're scheming asshole bitches, but I don't think they'll become a couple for real."
"Oh, shit, why'dya have to go putting that image in my head?"
"Well, I can be kind of a bitch myself." I picked up a rock and hucked into the ocean. "Look, your deal sucks more than it does for most of us; we've got other people in the same boat but every place we feel helpless is balanced by someone else asking how to handle our own life. But, on the other hand, you've got me, and if I've got to give this life up, I'm going to squeeze every bit of fun I can out of this summer, and having you with me would make it even better."
"Yeah. Just think of how the combination of your 9-man skills and how distracting you'd look in a bikini would work if we find some guy's playing volleyball tomorrow!"
I smiled, took his hand, and got back to the hotel. He dropped back to his bed right away, but I opened my laptop and attached my phone to the USB port.
"What're you doing?"
"Sandra's a bitch who could have just let Annette have her real life back, but I'd be a real asshole not to let her and Roman know there's going to be a new person with her identity."
"Ah. You know, being a girl seems to have made you less of a jerk."
"You're just saying that because some part of your brain still thinks of me as a random hot chick. And because it hasn't quite hit you that I forgot to edit your dick out of the video before sending it."
He threw a pillow at me, and I thought that was going to be the start off us at least trying to have fun, but in the morning, he was all morose again, and kind of has been ever since. I mean, I get it, but you've got to play the hand you're dealt, and it's not like "pretty good-looking woman who doesn't have to work all summer because someone wants to hang out" is the worst hand the Inn could deal you.
But, no, he doesn't want to go out for practically anything. I got him out of the house to eat a couple times, but he couldn't take being looked at, and as excited as we were to see the Red Sox game where they called up Lin Tzu-wei from the good seats - as much as I'm still a Mets fan, when was their last Chinese player? - he got bummed out when he realized how goofy he must have looked at getting so excited that a guy from Taiwan hit a triple and wanted to leave.
I think he'd be down for going to Hong Kong with me, it turns out that Cary and Elaine let her passport lapse over the winter, so be practically time for me to change before we can do that. Which means I really have no way too let Jackie down gently. He's probably already thinking that I'm cheating on him or don't really care because I've stayed in the States all summer, so maybe an email breakup is all that he expects at this point, but he deserves better, even if he wouldn't believe the truth.
Yeah, I know,who would've ever thought I'd care about hurting a man's feelings by dumping him or be frustrated that Max doesn't want to go do girl shit with me. But, man, with Jonah and Benjamin no longer around while Ashlyn and Penny seem to have grown out of what I want to do, I really want to be able to have a good time with someone who gets what our situation is like, and I think it would be good for him, too.