Last night, around 11, The Kid came to my room dressed in her pajamas. I tried to shoo her away - "You can't be here, we have curfew. It's for your own good."
"I can't sleep. I need to talk to somebody," she pouted.
I checked around. There was still at least one vacant room at the Inn. By my count only 11 visitors. There was a risk, but... "Okay. Get dressed and meet me in the car. You hungry?"
Ten minutes later, I was idly driving around Old Orchard Beach looking for an all-night burger place.
"It's safer this way," I said. "We leave the Inn, if two other people arrive there's still a buffer."
We found somewhere to sit and talk, but she seemed to be having a hard time coming out with it.
To put her at ease, I told stories about my youth. "My dad used to take us to places like this when we got a good report card. Didn't happen very often..."
"You were dumb?"
"Not dumb... a bad student, but I knew things. They didn't have good ways of making the distinction back them."
"My teachers say I'm so smart for my age but I'm really not," she sighed. "It's just because I look so young."
"You're good," I said casually. "Better than you think. I've seen your report cards."
"I'm really scared," she finally said.
"Scared of what?"
"I don't know," she said, averting her eyes, "Scared to go through with this. I know it's stupid but... what if something goes wrong? What if they lied and I'm not getting my body back? What if I have to go through another year of faking it? What if I have to be a grown up or--" she made a disgusted face, "One of my parents?"
I sighed. "It's... possible. But unlikely." In reality, I wasn't sure I could be certain but I needed the kid to feel secure.
She looked at me cold, and slouched down.
"I'm just worried. Maybe it's safer if we don't do this."
I scoff. "Pfft. Sure, that will go over real well."
"Tyler I'm serious! Don't treat me like a kid here. Kitty told me people are out there stealing other peoples' lives. It happened to you!"
"That's irrelevant," I said more sternly.
"I don't wanna be sad the rest of my life because I had to give this life back to some dumb girl!"
"What, are you happier now?" I scoffed. "You want to grow up as Olivia?"
"A little bit!" she said. "It freaks me out how good it's been to me. People like me, I have friends. They think I'm smart and funny. Nobody noticed me as Dylan."
"That's not true, you've told me you had lots of friends."
"Some friends," she practically spat. "Didn't even notice I wasn't me all year."
"That's not their fault," I snapped, losing my temper somewhat.
"There's no point in being Dylan. He's never going to be anything. This way, I could grow up and be, like, popular. People are always telling me how cute I am, you know. How Olivia is growing into a 'fine young woman.' I bet Olivia's going to be real hot. People will like me better. I can have whatever I want."
"Dylan!" I hissed. "I can't believe I have to tell you any of this. There's more important things in life than being a pretty face. You can be anything you want. But if I did anything right during this year... anything at all... I didn't raise you to be a body thief. There's a scared little girl out there in the wrong body and you owe her that one. When you're 18, if this Inn is still standing, and I bet it will be... you will be free to come back do what you want. Unlimited do-overs. Trust me though, it doesn't bring happiness."
There was a long pause. It was one of the most angry I've ever been with the kid. I looked around, self-consciously, worried that people were noticing, and collected myself.
Sheepishly, she asked, "Do you think you'll ever be happy?"
"Maybe," I sighed.
"When you're a guy again?"
I shook my head slightly. "Being a guy isn't everything. I was a shitty one of those, too. I'll be happy when I'm free to choose my own path again, no matter how I look. But I don't know when that will be. For you, you can have that as Dylan. if not, when you're 18, if this place is still around, feel free to come back. It's your life. But I bet in five years, you won't remember what it was like to be Olivia, and the idea of going back to the Inn on purpose will seem laughable."
"What if I don't get to go back to being myself?" she said, sniffling.
"Then we'll deal with it. You can join me here every year until we get it right. But promise me you'll try to be happy as yourself, if you're fortunate enough to walk out of here this week that way. Because I don't have that choice."
Another long pause, and then, "Ok. I promise."
Sometimes I forget the kid is older than he looks. Still a kid though.
I drove him back to the Inn. I sent him in first and waited a few minutes for him to get situated, then followed, just in case. The last thing he said was, "I'm scared I won't be good at being a guy now that I've been a girl."
I smirked. "Buddy... I bet you'll be even better."