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.


Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Lindsey/Magda: Where's It Get Weird?

I'm used to people saying my love life is weird, what with Harmon being more than twice my age and all, at least until we went to the Inn and now I'm not just physically older, but he's biologically my daughter, which makes things weirder.  Or actually weird, if you consider that women have been pairing off with older men forever, whether you see it as guys with power and authority claiming the young and pretty ones for themselves or it being a biological or cultural imperative that comes from women of childbearing age pairing with proven survivors, so it's the current fad for matching ages that's weird (yeah, I've had some practice with this).  I've gotten pretty used to shrugging that sort of thing off.

Still, sometimes this situation gives me some idea of what other people may have thought when they liked at us.  Like, the other morning, I get a text from the real Magda.  "Hey," she types, "is it weird that I think there's a spark between me and Davy?"

In case you've forgotten, the real Alicia and Magda became Carly and Belinda, sisters who run a cupcake shop in Austin, TX, and they took to it pretty well; they maybe weren't quite the Gilmore Girls before the switch, but Magda was closer in age to Alicia than a lot of other moms, the divorce left them united against the husband & father who abandoned them rather than blaming each other, and...  Well, I don't know.  The point is, becoming sisters want a huge change in their dynamic.  The day-to-day of running a small business was a challenge for them, though, so the original sisters, now both guys, wound up coming down to help out.

"Nah," I replied, "it's only natural to feel a connection with the person who had your shape or vice versa."

"Sure, but Davy used to be Carly."

I literally recoiled from the phone at that, like, leaned back with a big "no!" on my face.  Fortunately, we weren't using video or anything, and I took a while to text back "depends if it's a vibe coming from you or 'him'..."   She dropped it, and hadn't mentioned it since.

I kind of can't blame her for looking, though; we're all only human.  Still,  I could probably handle my boyfriend being kind of both here and not here if it weren't for the fact that Magda's kind of popular, making it clear that I've got options.  Not quite "every head turns when she walks into a room" or multiple guys idly wondering what she's doing tonight popular, but if I hang out with people after work, I've got some attention, and I get asked for my number a lot.  Not like Harmon does, of course, but more than I expected at first, and more than I did in my real life, even though I was in my mid-twenties, blonde, and not in bad shape.  Of course, I was often kind of focused on studies or some other task, and Magda's job is about being open and helpful.  Combine that with the sheer number of middle-aged or older guys who go through an airport on a day, and even if the native silver-fox population is folks like pilots and air traffic controllers who expect the likes of Magda to show interest in them first, there's a lot of guys (including a really unnerving amount of married guys), and not a few women who might like a night out with her.

So she's used to that, and I'm getting hit with a lot of it, and folks are starting to notice me saying no or making excuses, including Magda, who at least doesn't seem upset that I'm not getting that far into character, though she reserves the right to give me hell for the rest of my life if she gets back and everyone starts treating her like being a nun is what everyone thinks she aspires to.  I don't deliberately play it coy, like I might have a secret boyfriend I'm not yet ready to tell people about, but people take it that way.  Magda goes through men, and if I'm not doing it obviously, then I must be doing it secretly.

Sadly, the closest thing I've got to men in my life right now, aside from Harmon, are the trainers at the gym.  That was a suggestion from Magda; as she points out, the only way someone her age has the figure I inherited is magic (ha ha) or hard work, and if I was feeling fatigued at times, it might be a matter of me getting her body when she was just coming off lolling around on the beach for vacation and then having me not pick things up.  She figured I probably want eating very well, either, not knowing the regimen that works for her body and probably grabbing a lot of junk food in the food court or corner store when I had a minute.  Guilty as charged. 

So I've been eating a little different and spending a fair chunk of time in the gym lately.  The first trip was the worst - I had the treadmill going way too fast, and what was probably a good workout for skinny 25-year-old me had curvy 45-year-old me really sore, really fast.  I dialed it back the next time, and raised a few eyebrows when I started switching things around - I like the rowing machines a lot more than the treadmills, both because I did a semester of crew in school and because it works the upper body a bit more than just running.  Magda never really tried it, kind of thinking of rowing as a sort of snobby thing, but I'm starting to feel better, much less worn-out when don't things like hauling laundry or running from one gate to another on some errand.

And, I must admit, I'm starting to feel a bit differently about the wardrobe she left me.  A month ago, I talked about shoving all the manhunter stuff aside, but feeling a little better about the shape of my body had me getting some out and trying it on while Harmon was away for work the other day.  It's not really me, but neither is the face in the mirror, and it's certainly fun to think about just going out to get what you want, rather than fretting over whether you're showing too much, worrying you can't pull something off, or just hoping the right guy would come to you.  So far, the only time someone has seen me wearing one of them was last night, when I figured that something clingy with a cape added would make for a good sorceress costume to wear while handing out candy (aside - I kind of can't wait to see pictures of Harmon working in a Halloween costume when one of his coworkers puts on social media).

I almost want to get all dressed up to go out and shoot down the guys who figure they're doing a woman in her forties a favor by hitting on her, just to kind of feel that sort of power and confidence.  It can be hard to recognize when you've had so much taken by something competent out of your control, but it can feel pretty fantastic.