After parting ways with Josh after the wedding, I did the only thing that came to mind, the same thing I always do. I left.
He was leaving anyway for the Honeymoon, so you would think I could just hang out in the city by myself. It probably would have made the transition to single life easier, give me time to make arrangements. In fact, that was what Valerie insisted I had to do, feeding me scripts on who I needed to tell and what to say. But this was a situation where, for whatever reason, I needed to get in the driver's seat.
Maybe it's the last remnants of my male pride. Maybe a polecat doesn't change his stripes anyway.
So while Josh was bound for Hawaii I went on a trip of my own... to a place I didn't think I would actually go again.
I went back to friggin' Alabama.
I did it in the stupidest way possible, too, since I didn't give Carrie the head's up before I landed on her doorstep. I wasn't even sure if she'd recognize me. It was a cold, rainy day and all I had was the bag I had packed for Hawaii. Some good it was... reckon I probably wasn't gonna do much swimming there.
I showed up at her apartment, my hair a tangled, dripping mess, my cheeks blotted with rain and tears and smudged makeup, dragging my sad little wheelie bag behind me. I knocked on the door and it opened and for the first time ever, I was looking up at her.
She gave me a look of mixed surprise and confusion but she clicked almost immediately with what was going on, mouthing "Ty?" which I nodded to confirm. She reads the blog, so she did have a sense of my current physical appearance, so when a stranger matching that description showed up at her place randomly, well... she's the smartest Blake of the bunch, I always said.
"Sweetie!" she piped up loudly in away that alerted me she was not alone. "Come in, get dry! I can't believe you're here!" She wrapped me up in a big warm hug and it felt amazing for a moment.
A voice called from the kitchen. "Care, babe? Who's there?"
"Oh, it's just my friend--" she stumbled over the name until I whispered it. "Valerie! I haven't seen her in forever!"
Then he came out to get a look at me, and I saw him there.
Luke Anderson. Carrie's high school boyfriend, who I was not a fan of. I couldn't stop myself from immediately fixing Carrie with a bug-eyed glare of shock, and she responded with a look of mixed embarrassment and fear. I nearly blew my cover by asking what the hell he was doing here.
Luke, who has known Carrie since she was a kid, asked the reasonable question: "How do you two know each other?"
"Vacation!" I blurted out. "We met on vacation a few years ago."
He seemed satisfied, and Carrie excused us saying she had to speak with Val in the hallway.
Soon as the door was closed, I hissed, "What he hell!"
"Nope!" she stuck her finger up. "We'll get to that, but if you want something from me you just need to accept that this is happening and move on."
I closed my eyes tight, took a deep breath and held it in.
"Sorry, I'm a little frazzled and that was... shocking."
"Not as shocking as seeing you here I'll bet," she snickered.
"I just got on a plane and didn't even think... I'm so sorry. I can get a hotel."
"Uh-uh honey. I want you where I can see you."
"Carrie, I don't know what you think I'm gonna... okay, I know exactly what you think, but I've changed."
"Oh, I know you've changed," she said, eyeing me with a suggestive grin. I folded my arms under my chest as if to say, yeah, they're there and we all know it. "And Luke's changed too."
I didn't have anything to say to that, except to note, "Honey... that's a new one."
She shrugged. "It just came out... what can I say? You look like a honey now."
Before I could retort she asked if there was anything else I needed to say as Tyler, or if we could go back in the apartment. The hallway was freezing, so I told her I would explain everything in-character. If he asks any questions about backstory, leave them to me, I've gotten very skilled at that over the years.
"Now come along," she ushered me into the back room of the apartment. "There's somebody you'll want to meet." There lying in a crib was the baby she had given birth to over the summer.
"Tyler," she whispered, "Meet your nephew. Thomas."
I crooked an eyebrow. "You would name him after dad..."
"Think of it as being after Grandpa if it helps."
One of the great ironies of the screwed-up Blake family tree... My dad, Tom Blake Jr., had a similar relationship to his dad that I had to him. Grampy and I always got along well, but Carrie was too young when he died to have known him like I did.
She picked up the baby and passed him to me.
"Oh, I don't..."
"Ty, just... when are you going to be back here again?"
I took the little stinker.
"Hey buddy... I'm..." I said in a hushed voice, "I'm your uncle Ty." I got a little choked up as I said it.
There's a very real chance that I will never, ever be a man again, just based on luck of the draw, and, well, things I will explain later. More and more, since I was Judith, I'm learning to be "okay" using female pronouns and such, and just thinking of myself in those terms, on a potentially permanent basis. But I found myself really wanting to use the phrase "Uncle Ty" one time in my life, at least, just to pretend I'm my old self in that second... even as the kid instinctually nuzzles into my breast.
A gal's heart could melt.
I held him a while, trying not to think about how he would probably never know me, let alone know who I really am, as Luke peppered me with some of the expected questions - who are you again, what brings you here, how long will you be staying... stressful stuff that was not improving my opinion of him anyway. I could tell he wasn't that into having visitors, so I backpedaled with "Oh really, I don't want to impose, I can leave anytime..." but Carrie shut us both down on that front and insisted.
I guess I should explain the backstory between me and Luke. I disliked him from the second he came sniffing around Carrie, because he was a Junior and she was a Freshman. He was a football star and had a reputation around town as a player, so my warnings to her to be careful only made her want him more. I resisted voicing my disapproval because of one simple fact: He's black, and we're not that far removed from the time when that was reason enough for a white guy to want a guy to stay away from his sister. I probably just didn't like I'm because he was cocky and popular and all the things I hated in high school. I kept my mouth shut about it long as I could, never wanted anyone to think it was a race thing, because my dad had a rep for not exactly being progressive, so anything I could do to distance myself from his views, I wanted to. (Oddly enough he did like Luke... Because he was a popular football player.) But Luke always rubbed me the wrong way right from the start and even though I tried to give him a chance, I always heard rumors that he would pick up anything in a skirt.
She was deaf to my warnings, but hey, it's not like I was Mr. Credibility in those days.
Eventually, he got caught redhanded, got her forgiveness, then fucked up again, so she broke it off, but I could tell she never really closed the door there and she even let him string her along when he was with someone else. The guy was her kryptonite and I never liked that.
It took until the next day, when Carrie and I could get away for coffee that I explained what all had happened with the wedding and everything. She was sympathetic, but wondered if it was up to me to dissolve the marriage, if maybe Valerie preferred reconciliation. I pointed out that the "marriage" wasn't legit anyway, and that even if Valerie was sympathetic or still wanted him back, for the duration of my term as her, I would behave as I saw fit. I thought a few years on the merry-go-round ought to have bought me the right to determine that.
"So you may be sabotaging her chances, if she does want him back."
"He's got a kid on the way. You of all people should understand that situation. I know you say Luke's changed..."
She bit her lip. "Luke isn't Tom's father."
"Ah," I said. "That makes sense. That kid is so pale."
"We ran into each other at the Piggly Wiggly a while back and we... reconnected."
I raised an eyebrow. "And the father, the one you said was so stable and in the picture?"
"There isn't one. Tommy's father is a donor. I just didn't want you to worry because I knew you would."
I took a moment to digest this information. "Well, at least it's nice to be able to keep imagining my little sister has never been with a man."
She snickered, "Wish I could say the same about you!"
My face turned tomato red. "Just Kitty! Josh and I never even--"
"Okay, relax!" she said through eye-watering laughter. "Geez, your voice gets high when you're embarrassed."
I could hardly speak. She added, "But it's so amazing to, like... see 'you' in there sometimes. There's no way I would imagine the woman sitting in front of me is actually Tyler's Blake, and yet you did that thing you always did when you're thinking... you roll your eyes back into your head and pucker your lips and your jaw goes all... weird. Exactly the same as you always did. It's freaky."
I stayed long enough to have Thanksgiving dinner at my oldest brother's place... I hadn't meant to but Carrie insisted. It was so strange being an outsider there. I tried to minimize my presence, but being that the family unit doesn't get many outsiders, let alone northerners (my accent has faded to where Mobilians don't immediately recognize me as local.) So I politely fielded many personal questions and tried to make small talk with their wives, and not seem too interested in the whereabouts of the person in my body. It was actually a little weird and sad "Tyler" never came up but I probably prefer it that way.
I still hadn't warmed to Luke, but he was very domestic, helping to cook and prepare more than many boyfriends would. I did see him checking out my rack, but even if that bugs me, it wasn't any worse than the way average guys look at me. Hell, even my own brothers were sneaking peaks, which is a good reason to never, ever, ever come over again.
But if that was the worst of it, it seems pretty innocent to me. I decided Luke's eye really wasn't wandering.
On my last night there, I was up late reading, and Luke came in with the baby, who had woken up. He sighed modestly, "My turn."
I nodded in appreciation. "That's gotta suck."
He shrugged. "It's worth it. Look at this kid!"
"Yeah, he's cute. You're pretty happy, huh?"
"More than I've ever been," he said warmly. "I never even thought I wanted this. I was a bit of a player back in the day and I thought I always would be, but when I met this little guy it hit me... I needed that. I needed to grow up."
"Look at him," Luke beamed, "He's gonna be a stud. Quarterback material."
"You never know," I shrugged, "Maybe he'll be artistic. Quiet. Shy
Maybe he'll prefer boys to girls. Maybe hell be a girl."
Luke looked up at me with this frozen, hundred-yard stare for a second and I saw the wheels turning.
"Whatever makes him happy. Long as I get to be part of it."
I still have my doubts but... well, Carrie's a grown-up. She can handle her own. I should focus on myself...
More as soon as I can get around to telling it!