It was a long, quiet trip up. We were all in a daze by the time the family Mazda pulled up to the Trading Post Inn. Dylan was deep in a teen fantasy book in the back. I was picking crumbs out of my bra from the sandwich I had finished while in the car. And Kit was on his third attempt to reverse into the parking spot. He did not appreciate me trying to give pointers.
The lot was half-full, which seemed good to me. It's the middle of the week, so I didn't expect everyone to be arrived already, but I was hoping we wouldn't be alone. There are three of us in thee separate rooms, so the potential for loneliness was Shining-esque.
As we unloaded our gear from the trunk - Kitty attempting to carry my bags for me, but me declining (and later regretting it) - we were met at the front entrance by a familiar couple: the "O'Rileys," aka Abbie and Kendra, with their 4 and 6-year-olds hanging by their sides.
"Hey there," I said, letting out a huge sigh of relief. "Can you believe we're all back?"
"Not yet," Kendra said. "Give it a few nights and we'll really be able to say that."
I embraced them both in big hugs, then bent down to see Neil and Susan. "Hi... do you guys remember me? Do you know what's about to happen?"
"Don't talk down to me," snapped Neil in the voice of an adorably irritated moppet. "I know why we' he'uh."
"Yeah, uh, it seems like they've really regained a lot of awareness lately," Abbie said. "The more we talked about going back to the Inn, the more they kind of... snapped out of it."
"They've gotten really sassy lately," Kendra added. "They're excited, to say the least."
I told them I thought they should be writing on the blog about all that, but they said they preferred to keep things a little private.
Neil and Susan rushed over to Dylan and started peppering him with questions - how did he feel about going back, was he eating enough, did he have friends at school, were we being good to him. Not that I have anything to be ashamed of but I kind of hope they don't go back through this blog.
"And how are you and Kitty doing? Has it been awkward?" Abbie asked.
"Um, we've been making it work," I said, trying to put the question down as best I could. No, it hasn't been easy, but we're two reasonable people who mostly don't totally hate each other. There's a lot of reasons why it didn't work for us - twice. That hasn't kept bitterness from creeping in (on occasions where we have to be around each other for long spans of time - like, say, a car ride from NH to Maine - we tend not to speak.)
I turned the question around. "What about, um... you two?"
They both scoffed. "Us? We're good, obviously."
"Are you, uh... do you mind me asking? Did you ever..."
"Hook up?" Abbie said, chucking a hoarse, male laugh. "Let's just say, we managed."
They gave each other a knowing smile and suddenly I was afraid to ask for more details.
Nobody else arrived all day, although we did run into Annette/Benjamin. He had plans with Jordan and his brother (her brother? Sister?) who didn't come all the way to the front door of the Inn, I'm guessing out of skittishness based on recent events. He offered us a chance to hang out with them but we kind of collectively rain-checked. They wanted to make it a late night and I think everyone here has a pretty early bedtime... plus I feel like the collective mood among that group is a little less excited than this one, given recent events.
Kendra and I went to pick up Chinese food for the whole group, since we didn't want to deal with the fuss of having all the kids with us at a restaurant. When we got back, Kit had retired to his room. After dinner we showed the kids to theirs and illustrated exactly where they had to stay to get their correct bodies back... as far as we knew.
After dinner pretty much everyone retired, but I couldn't sleep so I got dressed and headed down to a bar I had been to a few times over the years - probably not the same one Annette & Co were going to hit. It was a pretty lively place for a Thursday night. I sat at the bar, ordered a vodka tonic, and sipped it quietly while watching baseball highlights on the TV.
I was about two sips in when this guy sidles up to me.
"What's a lady like you doing alone in a place like this?"
I looked him over. Cheesy-looking guy, overly-stylish hair, wearing a suit with his shirt unbuttoned one too far.
I might have been furious at his imposition but I haven't actually been hit on that much as Judith, so I was more confused than anything. I gave him this look, like 'Are you talking to me?'
"Oh, I swear I'm not coming onto you," he backed off a little, then added. "I don't hit on married women."
I looked at my hand. The ring was off, and had been for weeks since Kitty and I broke things off. There was a slight tanline there but he would have had to be Sherlock Holmes to spot it.
"How did you..."
"It's Judith, right? ... For a little while longer?"
I got this very nauseated feeling. My eyes narrowed. "Who are you?"
"We've never met," his expression got more innocent, "I'm just a fan. I really admire what you do."
"And... what do I do?"
"Come on, Jude," he said, stressing my name and making me even more irritated. "The blog. If you don't want people reading it, you shouldn't be writing there."
"Touche," I said through gritted teeth.
"Don't be so sour," he said, ordering a beer for himself. "We're in the same boat, and I'm never getting my old self back. My name's Pete. Well, it used to be, get me? I've been to the Inn a few times myself. But you're lucky."
"How's that?" I scoffed.
"It's like you told Dylan, a long time ago. You've been on both sides now. That's a good thing. I keep getting these boring average dude lives. It stinks."
I muttered, "Wanna trade?"
He smiled, a bit more warmly and let out a guffaw, "I wish! But I think Judith is spoken for. And so is this guy. For a little longer. Just gonna have to roll the dice again. Like I said, same boat."
"Well," I rolled my eyes, "Be careful what you wish for."
"Come on," he took a big swig of his beer, "You can't tell me... if you had woken up that first time, as just some other guy... and then the next year, as some other guy, a little older... but you knew that there were people out there having experiences like yours? Being Lauren and Judith and... whatever else... you wouldn't be intrigued? You wouldn't be curious? You wouldn't think, shit, my life has been so boring, I'd love to at least try it?"
"I never had a chance to think about it that way," I said flatly. "Don't take your good fortune for granted."
"I think I'd be good at it, you know," he said. "After everything I've read from you guys? And my own research. If I knew it was coming. I could totally adapt."
"Seriously Pete, or whatever your name is... it's not all it's cracked up to be. The novelty wears off, and then you're just... well, you realize how different it really is."
He shrugged and said cryptically, "We're all different."
I asked, "Have you checked in yet?"
"Not yet," he said, "Just got to town. What about you... any idea what's coming?"
I shook my head. The remains of my locks whipped back and forth, so I grabbed a hair tie from my purse and pulled it back. The humidity was making me frizz out insanely.
"Scared to look?"
"Been a busy day."
"That's code for scared. What room are you in?" I told him and he lit up. "Right next to mine!"
"Great... No offense, but if we end up as a married couple, I'm divorcing your ass," I said, half-kidding.
That got a chuckle. "Fair. No more fake marriages for you. What if you're my kid?"
"I'll run away. Put myself up for adoption."
"Sounds great. Very sensible and not at all dangerous," he snickered, putting his hand on my shoulder in a show of familiarity that was still kinda uncomfortable given we had just met for the first time. "It's gonna be okay, Tyler. We're both old pros at this."
"Well, I'm looking forward to retirement," I said, downing the rest of my drink. "Hey, mind giving me a lift to the Inn? It's a long hike and I'm not wearing the right shoes."
"You got it," he said, and left his own drink unfinished.
We stopped by the Check-in kiosk a few blocks down the road so he could get his key and we walked to our rooms.
I still haven't looked. I wrote all this out, now I'm tired, and I'm ready for bed. I don't have the energy to put up with all the likely disappointment I'm facing. I'll look tomorrow.
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