Friday, December 29, 2017

J.T./Elaine: All I Want for Christmas...

I haven't entirely got the double life I'm leading up to being a triple life, exactly, although I really admit that I do enjoy blowing off a little steam at the end of the workday and work-week.  Sometimes it's just with Jezzie, since both of Elaine's other best gal-pals are in relationships, but it still seems like a bit of a double role, switching from the sensible (but nice!) project manager in the day ("Elaine") to the more adventurous single girl at night ("Lainey").  I even have to change how I talk, at least a little, although from talking to Elaine and her friends, this sort of "code-switching" is pretty common for African-Americans, especially women.  Folks love you being blunt and no-nonsense on your own time - and you kind of need to be, just to keep up - but when you get in a working environment with white people, you'd better conform and keep them comfortable.

That part's been easy enough for me - "professional talk" is a bit closer to what's natural for me, and eventually I kind of learned to take cues from whoever I was talking to after hours and appreciate that any raised eyebrows are more likely to be good-natured ribbing than actual suspicion.  Everyone deals with this, to an extent, unless they're really lucky, and I've seen it studying for roles or watching how colleagues change in different environments, but this seems to be the most extreme.  And it didn't really prepare me for a couple of situations that came up this past week.

First, just who should I be at an office party?

I mean, sure, I know that I'm going to have to be working with all of these folks again afterward, so I probably shouldn't let my hair down too much, but all the other folks I've talked to who have had real office jobs say you don't want to seem too much on your guard.  That's doubly true when you're the one assigned to organize the party - it would kind of suck to be thought of ad even more the management done after that.

I didn't really think of it much until Thursday - there was lots of regular work to do, and the budget was pretty tiny; whoever hires a bunch of contractors from different agencies put line items in for team-building activities but not time, so into the holiday party it went.  It was almost enough for me to rent a local bar's function room, buy a platter of cookies, get some rum for people to add to eggnog, and a bunch of paper snowflakes to hang from the ceiling.  I had to duck out of the office an hour or so early to get there to set it up, and by the time I did, I regretted my Christmas-y outfit a little - the festive red pencil skirt with the matching heels looked nice with the black pantyhose and green blazer, but they weren't great for climbing on a chair to hang things.  I may have nearly broken my neck three times before I was done, only to spoil some nog on the coat.  The green satin top underneath didn't spoil the look, but it left me bare-armed and had a to button that liked to come undone whenever I twisted my torso a bit (fun fact - Elaine's one of those women whose breasts get a bit bigger when she's ovulating, so clothes that normally fit just fine are suddenly kind of tight).  When people started arriving, I still looked more "Elaine" than "Lainey", but it made more sense to play it loose than efficient.

That was going to happen anyway, since there was a bar and Ali had told me to keep his two drink tickets.  I didn't get sloppy, but I did get to the point where the whole situation seemed really funny.  And where I didn't stop to wonder whether or not karaoke was a thing Elaine did.

It's not really a thing I ever did, too be honest - I sing professionally, after all (well, the band wasn't really paying, but I'd done musicals on the stage), and you've got to protect your pipes even if it wouldn't be trying to unwind by doing the same thing you do at work.  That was three months ago, though, and after a couple of drinks, singing was a fun thing I hadn't done in too long.  So when someone shoved me up there after punching in Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas", I only had a fleeing thought about what would happen if Elaine didn't have a good singing voice.

She does, though, good enough that when people started applauding, I thought damn, this could be my thing for the next few months!  I wound up on that little stage four more times that night, and was actually kind of disappointed when people had started to leave and it was time to take everything down.
So that went okay.  But it left me with just a couple of days to try and figure out who I should be with Elaine's family.

I'd begged off Thanksgiving, telling them I had to work the Friday after, but you can't really skip both Thanksgiving and Christmas without making trouble, and unlike when they sent me messages on Facebook there was no way to discreetly have the real Elaine advise me.  And given my difficult relationship with my parents (exploitation, emancipation, estrangement), I don't really know what an adult child going home is supposed to feel like.

Mostly, it's pretty good, at least for Elaine.  Her folks are proud of her, respected that I didn't much want to discuss this summer.  The cover story was that "Elaine" had taken what she thought was a government contact, gone mostly quiet on social media because she was afraid of spilling something, but actually been working for a criminal enterprise which she couldn't talk about.  Exciting cloak-and-dagger stuff if it were real.

Of course, Elaine's sister Whitney knew it was fake, and she couldn't wait to peel me away from "our" parents.  It was kind of weird, not just for the obvious reasons, but because she remembered me, and thought it was hilarious that I was playing her big sister.  I pointed out that I wouldn't be if she hasn't screwed up and left Elaine/Mackenzie at a campground, and she shrugged and said she felt bad about that, but the whole experience had shown her that her old boyfriend was a jerk and was helping her be a better person.  Besides, she said, if that hasn't happened, who knows where I would have ended up?

I think she was excited at the idea of getting close to someone she'd had a crush on as a teenager, and while I've got to admit that's kind of gratifying - it didn't happen nearly as often as it used to even before becoming Elaine - I really wasn't feeling much desire to get chummy with someone who had been so careless with her sister's life and identity, even if it maybe beat the alternative of maybe being stuck in the middle of my band-mates' relationship.  I told her as much, and that her parents should be thankful that I'm a good enough actor to only treat her with the annoyance Elaine normally had for her screw-up sister.

That was mean, I know, but Christmas plus period plus Whitney kind of brought out the worst in me.  I got karmic payback right away, though, as Elaine's parents phones gave of a little buzz because apparently one of my co-workers had uploaded some videos from the holiday party and tagged "Elaine", and of course, not only did her parents not only have alerts set up for their daughters, but the first one that they saw was the last song of the night, when I was singing "Baby It's Cold Outside" with Daryl.  Who, by the way, is a handsome, single African-American man.

Her father paused it after just a second, but mostly so that he could sync his phone with the TV and let everyone watch in high-definition quality.  "I guess you got yourself a new hobby while you were off the grid, huh?"

I felt myself blushing a bit - obviously, I'm used to seeing myself on a TV, but not as Elaine, and not when I hadn't planned on it being seen.  "Not really - it was a party, I'd had a couple of drinks--"

Whitney gave me a pat on the shoulder.  "Don't sell yourself short, Lainey - you're a natural performer!"

I shoved her away, but "Mom" raised her eyebrows.  "I'll say!"

My eyes went wide watching the screen - I was really into it, with lots of hand motions, exaggerated walking to and from Daryl, looking fake-shocked at "what's in this drink?", way more than I remembered.  "Uh, well, it's just this song.  It's kind of rape-y if you don't vamp it up, right,  and make it perfectly clear that the girl is flirting and really wants the guy, even if her family and friends are, like, judgmental and stuff--"

"Well, you're both pretty convincing on that count.  When do we get to meet this boy?"

"Dad, no!  Daryl's a co-worker - even if I wanted to, that'd be a big-time HR thing."

Elaine's mother opined that it looked like it would be worth it, and I admit, I didn't have to do much acting to portray Elaine as kind of mortified.

Fortunately, Daryl had traveled to California to see his folks for the holiday, so I didn't see him until yesterday, when he was a total pro until quitting time, when he sat down in my cube and asked if my folks saw the clip as well.  He didn't really seem embarrassed, but wasn't smirking either.  "Not going to lie, they were almost as impressed as I was."

"Oh, mine too.  Too bad it would be totally inappropriate, huh?"

He looked at me and somehow made his eyes twinkle.  "Would it?  You're not technically my boss, and if I asked you out..."

"I dunno...  That's still..."  That's still going on a date with a guy, which would probably be fun, and thus lead to a second date.  But I couldn't say that.

When I didn't say anything, he smiled a little more.  "You're responsible.  I like that.  You ask my folks, I probably need that.  But since everyone was either at the party or saw the video, something with you and me is probably going to be in their heads anyway.  So - how about I just tell you where some friends and I are going to be hanging out, singing karaoke on New Year's Eve?  You can come, bring your girls, or not.  Whatever you think is right."  He told me, then left.

Not sure what to do.  If I looked at it as playing a role, well, Elaine has told me that even if doing karaoke wasn't exactly in character, showing up at that bar absolutely would be.

-J.T./Elaine

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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Simon/Joy: Ex Marks the Spot

The guys at the office haven't quite been the same for the last couple of weeks, since just a few moments of not being the fun girl who plays along with your jokes about boob size and doesn't act like making less money for the same work is no big deal is enough to shift the way people treat her.  It also got out that I knew about the whole bet about who could get me in bed first, and given how the climate for that has changed just in the last few months, everybody is treating me like a live hand grenade.  It's kind of sucks, both because I'm not that kind of woman (and even if I were inclined to be, I wouldn't want that reputation following me to another job) and because it's getting me shut out, not just in terms of being sociable with my co-workers but in that they seem to go out of their way to not help me in the office, even in places where there's no competition.  It's dumb to sideline me, because I'm a damn good salesman no matter how I'm shaped, but guys will do dumb things where women are concerned.

One of the things that makes me pretty good at this stuff is that I have a pretty good memory for names, faces, and other details, and whatever changes the Inn made to my brain to make me interested in having sex with guys, it didn't affect that.  So, when I arrived home tonight and saw a guy at the building's from door, seeming to take a step toward the intercom and back off about a dozen times, I didn't do the comedy bit where I didn't recognize someone from the original Joy's life, ignored him, and then had to improvise an excuse later.  I'd seen this guy on Joy's phone, her social media, etc., and knew he must have come looking for her.  So I just went for it, walking up and asking him what he was doing here.

He turned around, flustered but recovering quick.  "Lookin' for ye, obviously!  My God, ye look incredible!"

I could do with some of that.  I walked up with my arms outstretched for a hug, but he instead took my hands in his and gently seeing them down between us so that we were looking each other in the face.  It was excited than it sounded, and gave me a moment to examine this Iain Mackinnon - Joy's boyfriend when she checked into the Inn - up close and personal.

He's cute - not super-tall (I was almost eye-level with him, although I admittedly had four-inch heels on) or super-cut, but solid.  There's a hint of auburn to his brown hair, which also takes the form of a beard that's very well-maintained, a precise 3/4" at every spot.  Nice hazel eyes, sexy Scottish accent, dressed in the tech-guy outfit of flannel-patterned shirt and khakis,  except obviously very nice ones.  He smells kind of nice, too, a subtly sporty cologne.  Maybe a little more millennial-hipster than what I would have called a really impressive man in another life, but I'm starting to think that maybe a guy being a little less obviously alpha isn't so bad.

I take all that in and ask if he wants to come in.  He says yes, and I kind of make sure I swing my butt a little as he's a few steps behind me.  It's been a few weeks for me and both Joy's diaries and what Shayla has said about how she's talked about guys in the past seems to indicate he was a heck of a lover.  I unlock the door, and we're chatting about my messed-up car as he enters and Treena just freezes while emptying the dishwasher.  I smile kind of big - it's almost a reflex when Treena and I have to out on a show for a third party - and say "look what I found downstairs!"

"Wow, this is a surprise!  It's good to see you, Iain!"

(I mentally file away that it's pronounced "ee-un".)

"And ye as well, Treens!  Still puttin' up with this one?"

"I am, and she does not make it easy sometimes.  In fact, if I could just steal her a moment..."

She doesn't wait for a response, dragging me into her bedroom.  "What the fuck are you doing?"

"Nothing!  I saw him downstairs, recognized him from about a million pictures on Facebook, and figured it would be better to say hi than act like we'd never met."

She stared hard at me at me, deciding I wasn't trying to spin it.  "I suppose that makes as much sense as anything.  It's just--  He really loved Joy, okay?  They should have been married by now, and if you try to take advantage of that and hurt him..."

"Jeez, threat understood!  Calm down!"

I turn around and walk back out into the kitchenette, asking if he'd like something to drink.  He points at the espresso machine, saying he's still jet-lagged, so I start that up.

"So...  Just here for a visit, then."

"Aye.  Google's talking about buying out a company the family's invested in, so I came out to talk terms because my Dad's all not doing that well and the tech stuff isnae really his forte.  So I'm in San Francisco, and I figure, it's only a short hop down here, might as well see what Joy's up te."  He did an exaggerated little pause.  "So, what are ye up te?"

"Oh, you know, getting my real estate license, connecting folks with little pieces of California heaven."

"Seeing anyone?"

"Not really, kind of..."  I'm going to say playing the field but Treena shoots me a look, and I try to think of something close to the truth.  Joy may not have kept in touch with Treena before she died with everyone thinking she was Brian Meeks, but she did try to keep things going with Iain as long as she could via text and email.  But while letter-writing used to be visited pretty romantic, it's not nearly enough to sustain something long-distance the days, and she broke it off not long before the end.  "Kind of harder to start again than I thought."

"You managed to find someone, though, right?"  Treena interjected.

"Thought so, but...  Well, she ditched me just before this trip.  Just like ye, she felt I was spending too much time on the business, not enough time with her.  Can't say I blame her."

"That's...  I'm sorry to hear that."  I meant it; he seemed like a nice enough guy, and while I can't say I've ever been so rich that a girl who noticed me because of that success started to get annoyed at the work it took to maintain it, I could relate on a smaller scale.

"Well, it's gotten me thinking about what to do different in the New Year, but in the meantime, it kind of leaves me going to this Christmas party on Saturday stag, and I was wondering..."  He eyed me expectantly.

"Oh, I don't know...  I mean, sure, I'm always up for a good party, but--"  I couldn't think of a real reason aside from Treena murdering me, but that seemed like enough.

"Don't worry, it's mostly a work thing.  Just, y'know, figured I'd be nice to spend time with you rather than spend time talking about who's not there."

"Well, sure, if that's all it is..."

"Great!  I'll email you all the details."  An alarm on his Android watch went off, and he made his apologies.  "I really was just flying down here between meetings, I'm afraid.  But don't worry, when you get to London on Saturday, you'll have my complete attention!"  And then he was out the door.

That last bit, as you might imagine, had me and Treena in a bit of stunned silence before Treena told me I couldn't do this.  But, c'mon, this guy's obviously kind of down (despite his cheery demeanor) and looking for a boost from his ex Joy, and right now, I'm the only Joy there is.  And let's not forget that I've had kind of a rough go of it lately - getting away from it all with what everyone assures me is a pretty good guy isn't bad for me, either.

Now, to make sure Joy's passport hadn't expired...

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Tyler/Valerie: Bombshell

Where to begin...


Well, I guess I can thank "Brigette" for giving you all her perspective on the wedding, since I ended up not being able to write about it until now. I guess it's time to explain some of what she was observing but not fully understanding.


As we got closer and closer to the wedding I became stronger in my conviction that Josh wasn't being completely truthful. As someone who is prone to keeping secrets and telling lies and half-truths - sometimes even when I don't have to, I'm sad to say - I recognized too many signs to let it go. Even when I pressed him directly ,and he denied it, I kept strategizing how I would find him out. He may have had Valerie's trust but he hadn't earned mine. Not with that mystery cell phone and those phony flowers.


So on the day of the wedding, my stomach was in knots. my every instinct was yelling at me not to go through with this farce of a ceremony, but I wasn't very well going to stomp off in dramatic fashion on a hunch. There was too much at stake and I was still considering Val's feelings.


Luckily, Josh finally - at the very last minute - did the right thing.


That would be the moment he came to see me in the Bridal Suite and we had our private talk. Now enough time had passed that I don't feel wrong telling you what was said.


He came in with this shoulders-slumped hang dog expression, looking very apologetic and guilt-ridden. I tried not to buy into it, sure it was an act. But even if I was not in a place to trust this guy, we still had some kind of connection based on my time as Valerie, and part of me desperately wanted to believe that he was genuine.


After hemming and hawing for a minute, he started by saying he wanted to apologize in advance... for lying, keeping secrets, all that stuff. That he knew he had done something wrong but that he wa still the same man (Val) had fallen in love with and that if I could forgive him we could probably move forward and adapt, but... but maybe that wasn't possible. and it would be a change.


I told him to cut the rambling already and get to the point.


"I can't marry you, Valerie." he sighed.


I stared coldly at him. "Why not?"


He couldn't even look at me when he said it: "Because I'm already married."


The way he said this indicated that it was not something Val would have known (and honestly the way she'd been acting there was no way she even suspected.) I tried to keep cool outside but there was a fire building inside of me. I hissed: "What."


"It was a mistake, before you and I got together... we rushed in and it fell apart immediately. I always meant to finalize the papers, but... a few months ago, something happened."


Fire building. "What."


"We got to talking, and talk turned into... something else... and, well, it was a mistake."


I said nothing. I knew there had to be more, and there was.


"A little while later, I found out... there were consequences."


I grunted. "Go on."


"She's five months pregnant, Val. She says if I leave her, she'll take everything I have."


I don't know exactly how to describe the sound I made in response to this... a grunt of shock, disappointment, hurt, exasperation, and oddly, satisfaction at being proved right... whatever it was, it definitely wasn't ladylike.


It was hard to process - to filter through any Val perspective I may have had. All I could say was, "God, you fucked up. You fucked up so badly."


To me, it would have been one thing if he had just cheated. Maybe Val could forgive that. It's another to have been married (and facing a likely costly divorce, if he even really wanted to split up from her.) all this time he was engaged, basically defrauding Val about his finances. And then to bring a child into it - all while basically hounding me about knocking me up in the near future! I couldn't overlook it and I was damn sure Valerie would be hurt beyond belief.


I felt like an idiot, sitting there in my whole wedding getup, looking like some teenage girl's idea of a royal wedding, my face painted up and my hair done with hours of care. I felt shattered, almost as bad as finding out I wasn't ever going to be Tyler Blake again. I didn't think it would sting as badly, as personally, as it did, but in the past few months I have been very invested in Valerie's life, her problems, and this was a big problem.


I wanted to get bigger and angrier than I think I am capable of getting in this tiny "cute" body, and that frustrated me even further.


He went to do another round of apologies and begging forgiveness and I cut him off.


I should have called off the wedding. I should have been honest with everybody and told them to go home, but there was so much time and money in this, and I didn't want Val to hear it that way. I didn't want the embarrassment of being publicly humiliated like that, to have to field those questions.


Whether it was the right call or the wrong one, I said... let's go through with the wedding, and deal with all this later.


The license wouldn't be real - polygamy is illegal in New York State, so it would be annulled without delay, I reckoned. The whole thing would effectively be a lie but my whole life is a lie at this point so what's one more. I'm used to it.


Now, as much time as I've spent these past few years as other people, I'm probably not that great an actor so I think probably everyone could tell there was something wrong as I was walking down the aisle. What should have been a beautiful, sacred moment between two people who love each other was instead all just a show (which again, it would have been anyway, only now the whole meaning was changed.) There I was, silently fuming, my voice trembling as I struggled to say "I promise to love, honor and respect you" to a man I hoped I would never have to see again very soon. All I could do was mentally write out how I was even going to explain all this to Val. I felt sick.


After the I Do's, we were alone in the Limo. I could hardly look at him. He tried to start our conversation back up and I cut him off, basically dropping my character.


"You know something, man? I knew there was something wrong with you. You were so fucking lovey-dovey and attentive and all that, that should have been the tip-off. But I wanted to believe and I wanted to trust you. I don't believe you ever wanted to leave her. I think you wanted us both and you only confessed now because you realized you were cornered. Either that or you were too 'nice,' I mean too much of a coward, to come clean and say you didn't want to marry V--me. I fuckin' hate you right now."


Once the words were out of my mouth I realized that they probably hit a lot harder from Val's mouth than from Tyler Blake's, but I didn't care. He deserved to be hurt badly. Some people just do. Some people deserve hell and for once it's not me.
His defense was "I still love you and I still want to be with you, not her."
I sneered. "I don't believe that for a second, and even if you do, you can't. You blew it."


We put our fake smiles back on as best we could for the reception but after unloading like that obviously neither of us were really feeling like having our "first dance" or feeding cake to each other. We just kind of relied on the natural hustle and bustle of a wedding to keep us busy, while I made it clear to Anna that I needed to speak with her in private before the end of the night, but only after as much of the festivities as we could get through. I was relying on her to guide me through all the thanks and congratulations.


When all that was satisfied, I took her outside and did my best to break the news to her as gently as it would come, but how you tell somebody their would-be husband is a babydaddy without causing a scene, I don't know. Valerie started hyperventilating and stormed out, never to return. When I texted her, she said she needed to process all of this.


Keep in mind, she didn't want me sleeping with him in her body, so the idea that he would be pursuing an affair - even a non-physical one - was probably not going to be something she could take well, not that I blame her.


And that was the night. The night that was supposed to be so magical and perfect turned out to be exceptionally shitty. I told Josh that I needed him to go on the Honeymoon alone, and that when he came back, I would be out of the apartment and after a reasonable length of time we would tell "our friends" that it just didn't work out, although now that I think about it, I don't know why I should lie and feel embarrassed just because I/Valerie was wronged. He's the fuck-up, he should face it.


Anyway. What I did while Josh was away - where I'm living and how I spent my "Honeymoon," I'll explain another time because that's a whole other story. This was draining. And it wasn't even really my wedding in the first place, and on top of all that, I've been fighting a cold all week, and believe me, Valerie's body is one of the less-resilient ones I've had.


-Tyler

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Friday, December 15, 2017

Max: Mystery Girl

I'm not sure what switch flipped in Bingbing III at Jordo's Halloween party, aside from her having a few drinks, but I like it even if it is kind of weird, even by Trading Post Inn standards.

I mean, I should be feeling some sort of horror right now or something - like, even if the Bingbing I knew want who I thought, should I really be cool with her doppelganger being around?  The further I get away from spending those weeks as Elaine, the more they seem kind of unreal, but if I get into that mindset, then it's like somebody scooped my girlfriend's brain out of her head and replaced itwith someone else's, and I'm okay with that because she's still cute.  I don't actually have need to have spent time as a woman to know that's kind of messed up.  Sure, Carlotta Wong was a monster who was just using me and doesn't deserve any sort of loyalty, but what does liking this new Bingbing day about me?

Maybe nothing.  She is, after all, very different.  She doesn't wear make-up, favors t-shirts, jeans, and sneakers, likes video games, and trends to be a lot more in sync with me when we're scrolling through Netflix or Amazon looking for movies to watch.  A lot of times during the first month or so, I kind of wonder why I didn't see a lot of the same things looking at "Deirdre" when that was Jordan's identity.  Bingbing was maybe not quite so angry and defiant as Jordan was, but there's still a lot of "I'm just not going to do this", right down to not putting a bra on until the day she got caught in a thunderstorm and wound up calling me from a stall in a ladies' room so I could bring her some dry clothes.  Her first period was a pretty big freak-out, too.

Still, it built some trust.  One thing I forgot to mention in some of the other times I wrote here is that while Jordan and I tend to think she's someone Chen-ai is using to keep an eye on us, she seems to think it's the other way around - that Yang Chen-ai turned her into a girl, and we're supposed to report back on her.  There's a weird sort of logic to that, I suppose, if it's not something she's saying to throw us off the path.

That could also be what suddenly dragging me into Jordan's spare room and kissing me was about, but it's a pretty crazy play for a former guy.  She kind of avoided me for about a week afterward, as much as she could when we're sharing a bed, but then the weekend came, some friends had Knocks tickets, and we kind of got invited as a couple.  Bingbing thought it would be fun, so I said yes.  We're riding the escalator up to out seats in the garden when she makes a little motion to switch places because she's a foot shorter than I am.  I say sure, but she's the one who has to kind of squeeze past my buddy and his girlfriend, who are using the opportunity to lock lips.

"New couple?" Bingbing asks in Cantonese.

"Yep.  Still really into that."  I try and smile in a way that says "not really mocking", and then she smiles back before leaving forward and kissing me on the lips.  "What's that for?"

"Well, aren't we a new couple too?"

"Are we?  I thought you were just kind of drink at Yuan-wei's party and regretting it."  I tend to use Jordan's new Chinese name with Bingbing; it flows better in Cantonese and is what she uses.

"I was, kind of, a little, but...  I know it's not fair to tell you so little about the real me, but I'm kind of unexpectedly single right now, and you're kind of the only person I can be not-lonely with, and might understand why I'm not really looking for something long-term."

"So you'll settle for me?"

"No!  Or yes?  I'm not settling, really, since you're a really good guy; you're good to me we even though it might be a lot easier to just put up with me, or even not do that.  I appreciate that."

"And this?"  I leaned in and kissed her.

We were at the top of the escalator a couple seconds later, so she puked back, but picked the conversation back up in the seats.  "I won't lie, kissing you is kind of weird, and you touching my, uh, chest even weirder, and I'm not ready for more yet, but I guess maybe two months or so is when it starts to kick in that your body responds to different things and since you've gotten used to, like, peeing differently and putting different underwear on, maybe doing other things in a new way might not be so bad, at least once.  That's how it was for you, right?"

I turned kind of red - if there's anyone I should be able to tall to about that night with Annette, it's Bingbing, but I kind of can't.

"Well, I've also got used to a bunch of girls at school saying hello by kissing cheeks, so there's that."

Right around then, the others want to know if we're talking about them in Chinese so they can't understand, so we switch to English.  The game's about to start anyway.

That's kind of what is been like the last month - we're mostly just friends, maybe feeling less weird about holding hands to keep attached while walking around the city, but when we're with other couples we'll kind of join in the public displays of affection so it's not uncomfortable for anyone.  There was a brief moment of cuddling while watching a movie a couple weeks ago, but she suddenly say up straight when she realized, which cooled off any forward motion on that.

Or did it?  Bingbing's always very careful to change clothes in the bathroom, bringing a random pairing off t-shirt and jeans in there every morning and pajamas every night, but this morning she does it in the bedroom, walking out to where I'm eating breakfast.  "You know more about how girls dress here than I do - is this all right for class?"

I look up, and for a second it's like seeing the old Bingbing ready for a night out, and it throws me.  "I,uh, only did it for a couple months, and Jordan was pretty good about leaving me be most of the time--"  She gave me a look that combined annoyance and playing to remind me that she wasn't really asking about me, so I tried to shake it off.  "Okay, uh, the skirt's all right, but unless you can button the top up a little more--"

She took it off right there, walking back to the bedroom in her bra.  "I thought so, but I figured maybe in New York."  She opened a drawer and pulled a turtleneck out, holding it up to her chest.  "Think this works?"

"Uh, sure, but if you don't mind me asking, what's with suddenly going for that stuff?"

"I've got a group presentation in class today, and Marilyn was all 'and wear a skirt and heels!' when reminding me too be on time."  From the way she imitated her classmate in English, Marilyn sounded kind of like a bitch.

Bingbing noticed that my gaze had drifted down to her chest and made a little "ah!" nose before quickly pulling the shirt over her head.  She quickly ram to the closet and grabbed a pair of shoes.  "Give it to me straight - what am I in for with these?"

"Uh, that seems kind of... advanced."  I pulled another pair out that wasn't quite so high and was a lot more solid.  "This should be good for just speaking in class."

"Thank God."  She threw the other pair back in the cost, not looking where landed.  "Of course, I'm going to freeze my ass off between now and then.  It's negative five, or, um..."  She tried to do a Celsius-to-Fahrenheit conversion for me, but went with "it's really cold."

"I haven't tried them myself, but Yuan-wei says pantyhose keeps your legs surprisingly warm."

She looked skeptical, but pulled a pair from the dresser.  She stuck a foot in and only for it halfway to a knee, and I could see her searching her memory for how a girlfriend or sister put them on.  She finally managed it, slipped on the shoes and stood without wobbling much, and looked in the mirror.  "Well, she's going to give me shit about my hair, but oh well."  She looked around for her coat, found it, threw it on, and then stood on tiptoe to give me a kiss.  "Thank you so much for helping me not get murdered by my classmate.  You're the best."

She left, and I started getting ready for my day (still looking for work).  She just called an hour ago to ask if I wanted to see Star Wars or the new Yuen Woo-ping movie tonight, her treat, and to meet her at the theater, so I guess the presentation went well.

I called Jordan, but it went right to voice mail, so I guess I should throw it open to everyone - am I nuts, or did some kind of line get crossed today?

-Max

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Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Jordan/"Missy" Yuan-wei: And... Action?

As you might expect, I've gotten pretty damn comfortable with naked (or nearly naked) female bodies by now, both my own and others.  Not that I wasn't before I had my own boobs - I was down for naked chicks any time - but it's different now.  I still feel a level of appreciation that I doubt any girl who has never been a heterosexual man can truly understand when I wake up in the morning and see myself naked in the mirror, and when I'm in a changing room or something (but, like, not in a pervy way).  I've been naked with guys and found that I really like being picked up, squeezed, and given a little taste of a guy's strength - not really rough, but definitely not hesitant.  I don't freak out at guys' dicks, whether they're visible and erect or just a promising bulge, though that admittedly took a while.

And yet, spending two days in my underwear shooting my scenes for Ernesto's sort was weird.  I'm playing some sort of high-end escort, so I actually had to do way more with my hair than I usually do, with a wave and some chestnut coloring, on top of wearing my fanciest matching set of undies that isn't actually sheer enough to let people see my nipples or landing strip.  I also brought a nice dress to just sit in a heap on the floor (I'm half-tempted to send Ernesto the receipt from the cleaners).  The make-up lay not only did my face so that it would look properly lit on camera, but also so my lipstick would look like it had been super-red the night before but just faded enough now.  I have fun getting this body all dolled up, but the whiplash between folks treating me like a prop and then wanting me to show human emotion on a set is not really something I enjoy being on this side of.

Plus, you're half-naked around a bunch of people.  It's a student film, so there aren't a bunch of assistant directors and stuff, and there's only one other cast member in my scenes.  He's a local professional - I suspect that student shorts are a non-trivial part of his income, along with local indies and whatever he can scrounge up in New York - and is odd going from flurry to businesslike and back when Ernesto says "cut!" or "action!", especially since I get the feeling he thinks I've only got this part because Ernesto is fucking me (and correcting him to "no, it's because Ernesto fucked me once" would just undermine someone who is nervous enough).  Even besides him, though,  there's still a lot of people in the room, and that is okay for them to be watching me intently while the camera is recording, but kind of looking away until I've got my robe on while everybody sets up and tasks about what we might try in the next shot, is kind of screwy.

Annette laughs at me feeling weird about that, since she figures is about what I deserve for "I, Fembot" being such a super-sexualized thing, which is rich because she got me to pull a bunch of stuff out as more creepy than sexy.  Maybe she's right; I know the first auditions, before I did that little acting gig, had me really enjoying that I could ask a girl looking for a job to show me her tits, on how sexy she could walk in stiletto heels, that sort of thing.  It's part of the story, sure, but as someone who used to get told to fuck off by hot girls on the regular, it feels really damn good.  And it led to hiring someone who I think is going to kill it, even if she's done way more work as a burlesque dancer than an actress.  If nothing else, I know that nobody is going to watch her scenes in my movie like they might watch mine in Ernesto's and be like "meh, whatever, she's like a six" (probably because they just don't like Asian girls).

And that carried over into casting the other roles (aside - even casting a short film is fucking agonizing, since you've got to do it for every damn person in the foreground and there's like a thousand people and lining up schedules so that people can read together is a pain in the ass and the only thing worse than the idiots who can't figure out what you want from the character are the smart ones who find something you miss that means you might have to adjust everything else...).  Like, I don't need to see the best friend's cleavage or the abs of the guy who gets killed twenty seconds in, but I wanna, especially if I've just been looking at guys to play the nerdy inventor and trying to determine if they're just the right amount of schlubby.

And that's before you take into account all the producer crap I've taken on because, I dunno, it seems like cheating to hire someone to do stuff and I get a certain amount of satisfaction in spending Chen-ai's money.  After haggling with a building owner who should be fucking thankful that I want to rent his lab space for a few days, or putting what seems like too big a deposit down on lights, I deserve a few perks, whether it be checking out a hot girl or seeing if one of the guys would like to discuss his part further over drinks.  I start to understand where Harvey Weinstein was coming from until you remember that he would bend me right the fuck over a table and probably not bother with a condom.

So I'm trying to be better than that, but, honestly, there are days when, after cramming so much of getting ready to make this movie around my actual classes, I honestly wonder how Ernesto manages not to be a dick on set without having to worry about that scenario nearly as much.

Ah, well.  Shooting starts the day after Christmas, which means I've got an excuse not to go back "home".

-Jordo/Missy/Yuan-wei

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Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Simon/Joy: Holiday Cards

Thanksgiving has barely passed and December has barely started, but we're already starting to get holiday cards from everybody Treena or Joy has ever met, from the old lady on the ground floor to Joy's ex-boyfriend in Scotland.  It's kind of interesting how the different groups affect me when looking at them, and it's not necessarily what you'd expect.  I've long accepted that Joy's family are my family for as long as I'm her, for example.  We've got the same genes, and that counts for something.  I can look in the mirror, see bits of Joy's mother there, and keeping in touch with her seems natural.  Similarly, I may not have as much history with Joy's friends as they think I do, but I've talked with them, hung out with them, talked them into doing things.  It makes sense to hear from them.

The others, though, are really weird.  You know, the ones who met Joy in some other way and keep sending her cards even though I can't find their names anywhere in the social media accounts I've inherited and their addresses apparently didn't migrate between phones at some point.  I can call Joy's family and friends my family and friends, but even though they're kind of inconsequential, relationship-wise, it feels kind of weird to call people acquaintances if I have not actually made their acquaintance.  I mean, sure, whatever, you keep it up, guy who went to high school with Joy and thinks dropping five bucks on a card every year might get her to hook up with you at the reunion, your letter is kind of more interesting than the baby pictures, but it's not going to get you into these panties.

I am trying to write one of those letters of my own, because it does seem like the kind of thing that would be in-character for Joy, and a couple of them did mention not hearing from her for the past couple of years.  It's a little easier this year than it would have been before, when I would have had to make up stuff to fill in a seven-or-eight-month gap, but it's still a little harder to fill in than I thought.  I can't include the Inn-related stuff, obviously, and a lot of the exciting stuff this year has involved sex (or not having sex), and I'm not really up to writing two letters, with one of them censored, and trying to figure out who might not think the fun one was completely inappropriate.

The office card was a lot more straightforward - make sure I dress nice the day the photographer comes in, and it's not like I ever show up in sweats.  They didn't put me front-and-center, but I got a prominent place, as a pretty blonde with bare legs sure breaks up a wall of thirty-something year-old guys in suits.  It would be great if it helped me out professionally - I'll certainly be the one they remember if a former client gets the cards and says "huh, maybe I should sell the beach house, and I should go with the realty office who helped me buy it even if the actual person I worked with isn't there any more" - but I know it's mostly a way to humanize the crew that wants a big commission.  It's certainly not going to get my numbers up by the end of the quarter.

Which is too bad, because I could probably use the money to cover some expenses and sock away.  When I went out to the parking garage Monday night, I got a big shock when I saw the car's rear end had been absolutely crushed, enough to bend the axle, and while I figure it has to be the guy with the Hummer, the security camera was apparently busted, which means the insurance company is almost certainly going to be dicks about covering it.  On top of that, the body shop told me I wouldn't be able to get a loaner that night, which meant I was looking at taking the bus or an Uber home.

Fortunately, Teddy had been on a call when I was getting ready to leave, so he made it to the garage just as the tow truck was pulling out.  His eyebrows went up at the damage, but he asked if he could give me a ride.  I said he certainly could with only about half the innuendo I could have, which amused him more than anything.  I turned around to stow my bag in the back seat, and that's when I caught a glimpse of the pay stubs he had dropped there.

Now, I know enough not to read too much into any one paycheck when you're in sales.  Not only does seniority count for something, but what you do week-to-week is a big deal when you're being paid a commission; some weeks I'll do better than him, others he out-earns me.  But the one on top of that pile was the holiday bonus, and it was almost three times mine, and I know he hasn't been in the office that much longer than I have or outperformed me that significantly.

I mentioned it to Treena in passing as part of bitching about what happened to the car, and she immediately seized on it as bullshit.  I was pretty determined to act like it was none of my business, but the next morning made it tough, as the body shop tried to pad the estimate and stuck me in a sub-compact with their name on the side in big letters for a loaner car, which just makes for a great impression with clients.  Waiting for the shop to open and dealing with all that got me to work a little late, and when Stretch made a pretty harmless comment about it I snapped at him, saying that when folks try to charge you twice as much despite your only pulling in half the money, you've got to spend time haggling.

The laughter that came in response was a bit more nervous than usually happens when I make a joke, but I didn't think too much of it, diving into work, making calls and emails, setting up some showings.  I didn't think much of it until I was about to step out for lunch and the boss called me into his office.  I stepped in, took a seat, and asked what was up.

"Joy, are you happy here?"

"Uh....  Yeah, I'm pretty happy here.  The work's good, the pay is good, and so are the co-workers."  I tried to pay it casual, but conversations that start like this are usually dangerous.

"Good, good...  From some of your comments this morning, I was worried that you might be dissatisfied and, perhaps, trying to lay the groundwork to get more than your due."

"Oh, no, just, you know, dealing with car stuff this morning.  Can't live without your car in California, right?"

"You certainly can't.  It's not that we were particularly worried, but you know how it goes - a woman takes a job in a place that has a lot of money going through it, they're often looking to hook onto a man, whether it be a customer or a co-worker, but we'd never had that feeling about you."

"No sir - trust me, if there was anyone looking to make money off getting laid here, it wouldn't be me!"
He pulled forward a bit in his chair, so he was looking at me at just a little bit more of a downward angle, trying to adopt just a teeny bit more of a dominant posture.  "Are you trying to imply something?  Something you can use later?"

I swallowed, my mouth suddenly dry.  "What?  No!  I mean, I might have heard something that sounded bad, but I might have misinterpreted it.  I mean, guys in any kind of sales job have to be competitive, right?  And sometimes, out of context, that can sound a lot worse than it actually is."

He smiled, pleased at this response.  "I'm glad you understand.  A lot of women don't."

A lot of days, if have made the funny-to-me comment that I wasn't most women, but instead I just thanked him and went to get a salad from the place down the street.  I was kind of feeling like "most women" at that moment, or at least the group that have been making such a big stink about guys being guys lately.  And I hated that; I wasn't going to be one of them.

That attitude carried me through the rest of the afternoon and into the evening, getting home with just enough time to do little more than pass Treena in the doorway, telling her to keep her feminist agenda to herself.  She was kind of in a joking mood, saying I really should have noticed it was my feminist agenda too by now.  She stopped for a second when I said it almost got me fired, but I said not to worry, I'd handled it.  She said that was good, but if I wanted to talk, she wouldn't be out very late.
Oh, and there was another card on the kitchen table, and this one might mean something.

I looked.  Yeah, it did - it was from "Simon Woodford".  Me.  Or at least, Brian Meeks with my body and life.  There were two letters in the card, one the printed-out version everyone got, talking about work and home repair projects that I had always put off that Brian took on, and finding out he had testicular cancer, which he joked about as much as he could.  One was handwritten and obviously just for me, apologizing if I found the other letter inappropriate, but it seemed like humor was the best way to cope on a day-to-day basis.  He got into a lot more detail about the surgery and radiation, and how the doctors were really encouraged.  He said he was mostly worried about my dad, who seemed to take the diagnosis kind of hard and sometimes needed a reminder to take care of himself too.

And then there was the picture, me but not really me - he'd apparently decided to shave his head when some of his hair started falling out, on top of a few more lines on his face but also a weird smile that I knew was phony from all the apologies and guilt that came out of his mouth when talking to me.

Really, a bummer of a Christmas card, but kind of a perfect cap on 24 hours of not feeling like I'm in control of my life the way I usually do.

-Simon/Joy

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