As far as I knew, for the past year my body has been occupied by a man named Chase Green. He claimed to be a family man from Rhode Island who was in Maine on business and would like nothing more than to get back to his wife and kids after spending a year in my body.
I'm not an idiot. I Googled him and found results, his Facebook profile and what company he worked for. His story checked out. He was a smiling, middle-aged man with a wife and kids. I considered calling his employer for a reference but I couldn't see how to do that without confusing him - if I claimed to be a potential new employer, that might arouse suspicion.
I did message the new Chase at one point, but never got any response. That worried me. If the new Chase wanted to keep his life, what would stop him from keeping mine? I didn't get this far by just taking people at their word and never having the upper hand.
I had an ace up my sleeve, so to speak. A safety net. I wouldn't go to Maine unless Chase could provide me with some evidence that he had been there. I didn't have any contacts who would be going to keep an eye on him, so again, it would be taking him at his word. Preferably, with video footage of his transformation from me into his old self, or whoever. Then, my trip wasn't booked until the last possible moment - leaving Joy's body in limbo, just like it was before I got here, in the event of some mistake or double cross. Hey, nobody would miss it a second time, and if I needed to come back to it, bonus because it wouldn't be aging.
That all went down the drain when Chase arrived at my house last Saturday.
Answering the door and finding your own self there - a little paunchier, and with wisps of gray in your beard (which you never had before) is shocking. He looked like my own shabby-looking twin. I was pretty alarmed - what the hell was he doing all the way out in California? Why would he come here when he was due in Maine in two weeks or so?
"Joy, er, Simon, right?" he said. "May I... come in?"
He said he apologized for showing up unexpectedly, but he had something to tell me and it couldn't wait. His tone was very serious and grim. If he was going to tell me he wasn't going to Maine, I was ready to fight, to demand my body back, even if I had no leverage. But things weren't confrontational yet, so I had him sit down and offered him a coffee, which he accepted.
"There's no easy way to say this. I tried to e-mail but I couldn't find the words, so I hopped on a plane. Forgot to even let you know I was coming. I'm so sorry."
"Just spit it out, Chase," I hissed.
"I've just been to the Doctor's. I haven't been feeling well all summer and I finally got the nerve. You might want to sit down." I did, on the edge of the couch, with my elbows on my knees.
He said almost in a whisper. "It's cancer. Testicular cancer."
I could barely squeak. "What..."
"They need to perform the surgery soon, followed by radiation, and then tests to see if it spread. Simon, this is... well, basically my last chance to get out of Cleveland before the treatment. I'm not going to Maine."
I could barely wheeze, "You're lying."
"I'm not," he said, "I have the paperwork here in my satchel."
I shook my head. "It's fake. This is a trick."
"It's not, it's not," he insisted. "Trust me. You can... shoot, I'll show you the lump if you need to see it."
I seriously considered looking. It's my lump anyway.
"Look, I know this is hard for you..." he said, gesturing at me "I can only imagine how rough this year has been. But I can't let you go through all this. This isn't a death sentence, probably, but it's going to be a hard, exhausting process and in the event that it has spread, I can't let you go back."
Before I could say anything, he added, "You need to know the truth, Simon. I'm not really Chase Green. That's a fake name.
"I worried that you might figure it out sooner and think I wanted to steal your life, but trust me, I was always going to give it back. Until now. But I can't anymore. My real name is Brian Meeks."
I felt like I had been punched in the tits. "What?"
"Ever since that girl died in my body I have felt so guilty. I'm supposed to be dead and she's supposed to be alive, so if there's even a chance you would die in this body, I won't let you. Give it one more year. If I'm cleared, we can get you back where you belong as soon as possible, but if not... I'm sorry, but I'm not letting you die."
I was cold. I could hardly speak. "So that's it, huh. I get no choice, no say."
He smirked darkly. "I admire that you would even consider going back to your body with the cancer, but I just... I belong here for now. This is what's right. Call it fate."
I snorted. I couldn't help but laugh - I guess I had to, to keep from screaming. He gave me a look that said "What's so funny?"
I could barely say, "At least you'll have one ball more than me."
After he left, I just sat there quietly until Treena came home. I ran my fingers through my hair, adjusted the hem of my skirt, fixed the strap of my bra (a lacy bandeau actually) and fastened the top button of my blouse - shear fabric with floral print. I touched my fingers to my lips to feel the lipstick.
All this girly shit has been play time. Fantasy. Dressing up and fucking around and making bank by making fuck-me eyes at buyers and sellers. It feels fucking silly and stupid in light of all this. But what am I supposed to do? I still have a reservation but that feels pointless. Another year. Sure, yeah, I can stand it. But somehow, especially with all the worrying about Chase that I'm going to do, it feels like it's gonna be harder.