Monday, June 25, 2018

Tyler/Valerie: The Rest of the Weekend

If my first couple of nights away with Maddie gave me some very strange feelings - and maybe an indication that there was something on her end as well - the rest of the weekend really flattened that out.


I guess you could chalk it up to a conflict between my male mind, female body, and in-between-everything-else. I'm still not accustomed to close female friendship without any sexual tension, and the way some women act around other women, when they're close or bonding, might read to a man as flirtatious or teasing.


I also had to process whether I wanted it - I've kind of gone heavy with this heterosexual thing lately, and I know, Meg would be the first to tell me that sexuality is fluid and I can define myself however I want -- even if Val doesn't have a proven track record of being experimental, does that mean her body doesn't have that streak, or that my mind in her body might not combine to make one? Or is it all just a distraction from what I really want, which is... I guess... a guy?


The feelings I was having for Maddie... I don't know. They were emotional, and intimate, but it was a bit of a leap to call them sexual. There was a sexual component there for sure, but it's not like I look around at other women as potential partners (it wasn't until recently that I looked at men and saw potential partners either, but here we are.) Whatever Maddie was doing must have breached that barrier, which means its possible for me to still be into women, but not exactly like it was before. And it's all moot because I'm pretty sure Maddie doesn't go that way.


(I actually don't want to be into women right now because I'm having a very good time without that on my plate, and being able to trust all the female relationships in my life as solely platonic, but I still think, intellectually, that women make better partners than men... ugh it's so complicated! A few years ago I would never have had all these thoughts or bothered analyzing it to this level, but a few years ago... things were very different, both for me and for the world.)


So, the reason why I feel pretty confident that all this flirting and connecting Maddie was doing actually didn't have any meaning to it is that the first thing Maddie said to me on Saturday morning once we were up and about was that she had texted her guyfriend and invited him to come over, and hopefully I was okay with that. I took a breath to process that and say of course, why would I stand in the way of that? She said that if I wanted, I could invite Rafe over too, but I waved that off - it was far for him to travel, and I really wasn't in the mood to see him (like I said, part of the appeal of this weekend was to detox myself from him and cleanse my palate.) Plus, even if the cat's out of the bag and everyone at the shop has figured it out, I'd rather just pretend they don't know, or pretend I don't know they know, and not let anyone see how he and I are together.


It all makes me very glad that I'm not going to be Valerie much longer.


Once this guy arrived (let's call him David) I actually found myself quite annoyed, because they retreated to the bedroom for several hours -- which, the idea of hooking up in a stranger's bed like that is a little gross to me (again, notwithstanding my personal history!) and because of course all the caretaking was left to me for pretty much the whole day, I had to walk the dogs, one after the other (because I'm not big enough to overpower one, let alone all three!) in the pouring rain, even though there was three of us now and one was a big strong man.


They also baked some pot brownies and left them out where the dogs could eat them, which would have been a huuuuge problem if I hadn't noticed.


So Saturday was a writeoff as far as I was concerned. David didn't spend the night or anything but I wasn't exactly into sharing the bed with Maddie either, so I took the one with all the dogs.


The next day, of course, because Maddie is a woman, she immediately sensed that I was upset with her and asked me to talk about it. And I didn't want to. So I tried to air my grievances - minus the confusing sexual component - and call her out for basically screwing around (literally) while she should have been earning her pay.


All she said was, "I'm sorry you see it that way. I didn't mean to let you down, but you can't expect me to not have fun while I'm here... you said you were okay with it yourself."


I just sighed. "It's not all about you... I'm just tired of being the responsible one. Feels like I never cut loose."


"Yeah," she snickered, "You are kind of a team mom around the shop. Which is totally why we have to start a business."


"We'll see," I said, looking away.


I guess that's why I fell in with Rafe - because yeah, I do have to be the Responsible Adult in the semi-relationship, but at least when we're together I feel like I can do something stupid and fun without screwing up anybody's life. It's the most free I've felt in years, even if, in the end, it will only prove temporary after I move on and get my next assignment.


Things were still a little chilly after that, but we hugged it out and got on with our last day of lounging around the house watching movies, before the Hutchinses returned, early in the afternoon. They invited us to stay for dinner, and I didn't have anything else to do, but Maddie wanted to go home and I didn't feel like staying without her, so Mrs. Hutchins - Cynthia - kindly gave us a ride to the station.


I told her what a beautiful home she had, and she said thanks... "Not bad for a gal from Tuscaloosa."


"Tuscaloosa?" I said, "Wow, I'm-- uh, I've got family down in Mobile."


"Really? I thought you grew up around here."


"Oh I did, I did... uh... New Rochelle?"


She side-eyed me. "Is that a guess?"


"Well, uh... we moved around."


"Spend a lot of time down there? I think I'm detecting an accent..."


"Maybe... maybe I'm just copying you."


"You know there's a lot of us out there... can't swing a dead cat without hittin' one it seems."


"What, you mean Alabamians?"


"Yes Val... Alabamians."


We pulled up to the train station. I put my hand on the latch of the car door.


I mouthed: "You know."


She nodded, and said in a hush "Let's talk sometime."


I gave a big sigh, wincing, as if to say I'd really rather not, but... she seems harmless.


Famous last words.


-Ty, still Val

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Saturday, June 23, 2018

Tyler/Valerie: A Better Vacation Spot than Maine, that's for sure!

It was a looooong drive from BK to Westchester, but worth it. We arrived at 8:00 Thursday Night to find a big empty house, with the Hutchinses already gone, having texted their final instructions to Maddie. We were exhausted from the drive so when we unlocked the door, we were very taken off-guard to be tackled by three very large, friendly dogs - two American Bulldogs (Piper and Sandy) and a Chocolate Lab (Pharaoh.) Piper jumped up and pushed me down by the tits and started licking my face immediately, which I was too delirious to be nervous about, so I just laughed.


"I guess this one likes me already!" I said, trying to manage the attention I was getting, as Maddie squealed in the corner, where she had been backed by the other two. I composed myself and managed to start getting them to behave... I'm no dog whisperer but my dad always had hounds of his own and I do like them and I know a bit about how to get on their good side.


Once the chaos died down, and Maddie settled her nerves, we gave ourselves a tour of the house. It was incredible. I've never seen a place like this, with an indoor and outdoor pool (technically the same pool but partly enclosed within the house) a screening room, a huge wine cellar, and more bedrooms, bathrooms, rec rooms and sitting rooms than I could count. And the kitchen! Hot damn. It looked like the set of one of those cooking shows, one of the good ones where they never make anything real people would eat.

Best of all, we've got free run of the entire place all weekend, meaning everything in the house is at our disposal, assuming we didn't break or lose anything - and even then, supposedly, they seemed not to worry.

On the first night, we were so wiped we just ordered a late night pizza and spent the whole night talking. I pried Maddie's whole story out of her, not that there's much to tell - simple girl from Long Island, moved away for school, felt too stressed and dropped out, no serious boyfriends. On the flip side, she started asking me, and I felt a little cagey, because I don't have a lot of practice talking about "my life" as Valerie, and I don't really like appropriating other peoples' lives and pretending I lived them anyway... so I gave a very, very loose version of my truth, and Valerie's, and tried to leave it at that.

What I told her, when it came time to talk about being left at the altar, was actually pretty close to the truth. That I was still reeling from a some heartbreak, and I kind of fell into Josh and I felt ready to be married for the first time in my life, and that he was the most charming man I had ever met - all true - but he turned out to be a total snake. That he ruined more lives than he could have expected, and that I wasn't sure if I would ever really get over it.

the part about never really getting over it... that's my attempt at expressing Valerie's feelings, but it might reflect my own views on subjects not relating to Josh.

Eventually we killed a bottle of wine and Maddie said she wanted to go off and try something stupid. I told her to be careful, nervous as to what she was getting up to.

When she re-appeared, she had changed into a beautiful red evening gown with a plunging neckline. She was also wearing a diamond necklace, and I think some makeup. My jaw dropped.

"Maddie!" I gasped. "What are you--"

"What?" she giggled, "The Hutchinses told us, over and over, anything we want to use or play with, we should feel free. Have you seen that woman's closet? That's my playground."

I was beet red with embarrassment (and drunkenness.) "Maddie, you can't... that's too much!" I know, I'm the last person who should be talking about going into someone else's house, wearing their clothes and pretending to be them. But at least I never did it on purpose.

She did look beautiful though.

"Come on, come on," she said, swishing the dress around, "Try something! You'll like it."

Where have I heard that before...

I eyed the dress, skeptically. "I... don't think she'll have anything in my size."

Maddie looked down at my body. "Oh, yeah... maybe not. Well hey, maybe you're her same shoe size? I saw some Louboutins with your name on them."

"Not really my style..." I sighed.

"Come on, let's have some fun, girl!"

"Okay, hold on. Stay here. Don't look."

I went over to the bedroom, and began to look and look.I returned a moment later and told Maddie to turn around.

When she saw me her eyes lit up. Her jaw dropped. "That is a look," she said.

I was standing before her in Mr. Hutchins' dark slacks, a white collared shirt that comfortably concealed my bosom (the first button-down I've worn in a year to do that!), suspenders, and some kind of grey fedora that looked like something out of Mad Men. The legs of the pants were way too long, and as were the sleeves of the shirt which made me look like a pirate, but it amused Maddie, and myself.

I stuck my hands in my pockets and said in a mock-masculine tone, "Hey there... pretty lady,"

"Hey yourself," she giggled.

"What's for dinner, Mrs. Hutchins?" I sauntered over to her in a parody of a man's swagger.

"I don't know," she said in a posh upstate voice, "Why don't I have the maid whip something up?"

I smiled and came face to face with her. She tipped the hat off my head and laughed, "Can you imagine?? Okay, we should probably change back... I'll have to wash her underwear in the morning."

My eyes bugged out. "You wore her underwear??"

"Well, yeah! I wasn't going to wear this dress with my ratty old Joe Fresh undies! Besides, this lady's got lingerie that costs more than my rent. Tell me you're not curious."

"To wear a stranger's underwear? Uh..." Again, not for fun...

We each took a bed for the night - Mr. & Mrs. Hutchins have separate, adjoining rooms. It was the best sleep of my life. In the morning we had to feed the dogs and I made us a great breakfast, which Maddie moaned in pleasure as she ate, like she'd never had an omelette before.

"Unff, seriously," she said between bites, "Whatever guy let you go was crazy. Crazy!!"

"Well, I didn't cook for him much," I sighed. "And I'd rather not talk about it, if it's okay."

"Oh of course." She asked what we should do today, and I said I wasn't sure, we had a lot of options but I really just wanted to get away from all the testosterone in my life. "Oh, I know," she agreed, "Guys are disgusting. I had three older brothers."

"Oh yeah? I had two-- uh, to... wonder what that would be like. I just have a sister." Smooth. You would think I wouldn't slip up so much but damn, I really don't spend a lot of time "playing" Valerie.

In fact, the whole thing started to feel like a re-up on what it's like just being around another woman - a real woman - for a lengthy span of time, since outside of work, it's all about the men in my life, or Pete.

We decided we couldn't go the whole weekend without swimming ("You remembered your suit, right?" Yes...) so after we waited the customary span after eating, we changed.

That was when I had this really weird moment.

I went to the bedroom to change, and I'm clasping the front of this bikini and... it's tight. Really tight. In fact, this suit, which I inherited from Val but haven't ever worn, feels just wrong.

I look at myself in the mirror and I notice... this is not really the body that I got from her.

The changes are subtle, but when you're standing there half-naked in a skin-tight two piece, you really take notice. Love handles. Chubby thighs. Butt flab. Belly fat. I've been an idiot. I eat whatever I feel like, I don't really exercise, I haven't stepped on a scale in forever... I've just been trusting my body to maintain its shape the way it did when I was a man. I must have gained twenty pounds.

And it's not like that would matter to me. If it were just me, I would shrug and live life the way I wanted to, I think. I look fine. Great, even. It's not like it's so much gain that I have to buy new clothes since most of what I wear as Valerie is stretchy and accommodating. But I have to answer to Valerie, who is fairly controlling and judgmental in nature (don't let her absence since the break-up fool you) and who is probably already battling some serious emotional issues. I felt like I had failed her, and myself.

My eyes watered. I haven't hated this body so much in a long time. This life. It's moments like this when exhaustion sets in and I just hate the way things have turned out.

Maddie walked in on me sobbing in a heap on the bed in my bikini and came to comfort me. She said she may not know what I'm going through right now (understatement!) but she was here for me. I thanked her, we hugged, I dried my eyes and composed myself and we went for our dip.

As we splashed around - I really am not in any shape to do laps, but we did toss a ball around and use the diving board - we talked about relationships. I said there was a guy I was kind of seeing, who was a bit of a jerk and very aloof and wanted to keep things "casual."

"Oh, Rafe?" she smirked.

"Is it that obvious?" I winced.

"Only if you have eyes," she winked. "I think most of us have figured it out, at least it's the gossip, but nobody is quite sure."

"Well, don't tell, okay? I want to keep my reputation intact."

"You're too good for him," she said warmly.

"Yeah, well... that's a first," I sighed.

I asked her, and she said she was doing the Tinder thing and there was a guy she had seen a few times but wasn't sure about.

I actually felt strange hearing that. I wasn't sure exactly what I was feeling about Maddie lately... harmless girl-crush? Friendship? Something more? I play at Valerie-style heterosexuality, and women don't do "it" for me the way they used to, but you spend enough time with someone, and you grow fond of them... certain ideas start to occur to you, and Valerie's body is very confused about how to interpret them.

She continued, "I feel like if we get serious I'm going to turn into the girl I always am in relationships... clingy, needy, drive him away. I hate it but I can't help myself. Plus, it's not like I'm in love with the guy... But I kind of want to stick it out and see where it goes. You know, it's better than being alone."

I told her that being alone was a little underrated, but I get it, since that's the whole reason I'm "with" Rafe. "Actually..." I said, giving in to my girlish need to gossip, "I'm only 'with' Rafe because I can't be with someone else right now."

Maddie smiled. "Juicy. Who's the guy?"

"One of my roommates, Ryan."

"Oh, the hottie with the stick-thin girlfriend? I hate her."

"She's all right, I think. A little bland."

"He doesn't know what he's missing."

Her next idea was to do makeovers. I told her she didn't want me doing her makeup, so she said okay it can just be one-sided. I was still reluctant, since it reminded me of when Kitty/Adrian would try to control how I styled myself, or Lauren's mother would. But as she did, we talked more, about the future, life after the coffee shop - again, I had to play coy, but she remains insistent we have to start a business. I don't know how to let her down easy.

We watched movies the rest of the day, and tended to the dogs. We had a hell of a time trying to walk them given our combined upper body strength is practically nil.

We turned in pretty late, after marathoning some of her favorite scary movies (I didn't know they made so many Purges!) I retired to Mr. Hutchins' room and climbed into bed. A little later there wasa knock at the door.

"Hey, so, um, this is awkward, but the dogs have decided to take my bed. I mean, Mrs. Hutchins'."

I sat up. "Is there... anywhere else?"

"Well, there's the kids rooms, but I don't think I could be comfortable in there."

"All right, climb in," I sighed.

"Thanks. I'll try not to snore. Does Rafe snore?"

"I don't know... we've never stayed over."

"Poor you... the sleeping is the best part."

"Poor you," I said back, "If you think the sleeping is the best part."

She scooched herself close, backing up to me.

"Don't be shy, girl... spoon me!"

"I haven't been the big spoon in... ever," I said, quickly correcting to Valerie's version of things. "My boobs are in the way."

"I like them," she said back, "They're real soft."

"Thanks," I said, "You can have them."

"Nah," she said, "I'll just use them tonight and leave them for the maid in the morning."

She fell asleep. And I felt all these pangs of a life I was not living - one in which she and I could be together, and I wouldn't feel weird and conflicted about it. Before drifting off to another of the best sleeps of my life.

I woke up early and decided to write all this.

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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Simon/Joy: Shoe on the Other Foot

I try to power through all the crap having stayed at the Inn brings, because no good comes of letting your opponent see a weakness, even if that opponent is cancer or whatever cursed the Trading Post Inn, but I've got to admit, the last few months have given me a few setbacks. 

I didn't wine up going back to the office after storming out of there at the start of March.  I wanted to, but another lesson you learn working in sales is that sometimes you have to be ready and willing to not just look like you're going to walk away from a bad deal, but actually do it.  I hate it - it usually means you've misjudged something - but none of the guys from the office made even the slightest token motion of support by the time I was dressed and ready to head to my car.  I don't consider myself any kind of feminist, but folks who aren't even going to talk to you privately when you've been attacked?  Fuck 'em!

(And, yeah, I have spent some time racking my brain trying to think if that includes me. I feel like I've never been in the situation, but Treena thinks I have and it just didn't make enough of an impression on me.)

It was an effort to find new work after that, because my/Joy's one set of references in the real estate business now said I was "difficult" and ended with the story of me kneeing a potential buyer in the groin.  That does not look goods on your résumé, even if some of the women who inhabited me looked a bit encodes at points.  Eventually, you wind up lowering your expectations which is why I went from dealing with successful people looking to buy and sell houses to helping folks looking for new apartments. 

It's not a bad job for someone who isn't exactly planning on staying in this life forever.  The dress code is a little more casual, and while the hours can be longer, as far potential clients can duck out of work and so want to see places early, late, or on the weekend, things tend to get done with a minimum of haggling.  The commissions are lower, but it's easier work; sometimes the job seems like it's just a matter of them trusting me with keys.

And it gave me a big leg up when looking for a new place when Treena informed me I was moving. 

Even though it's kind of a miracle that we lasted this long - there is a lot we don't see eye to eye on - the way she did it was a real power move.  She intimated that it was about her boyfriend being ready to move in, but they've only been together a couple months.

"Fine," she says, "I'll skip the nice version - I just realized that I've had you as my roommate for almost as long as the real Joy, and ever since you've been getting cozy with Iain, the two of you have started running together in my head and I don't like it.  Then I thought, okay, it's only until he goes back to the Inn, but then I realized that meant that you'd be replaced by some other not-Joy who could be an even bigger pain or, worse, dangerous.  A girl's got to protect herself."

We had a little "I see you've made your mind up" exchange, and while I'm annoyed, because who likes moving, Treena is hardly the first woman to call me an asshole to my face or anything.  If she doesn't want me around, fine.  I've got a database full of nice-looking studios to look through, and I'm not going to have to pay an extra month as to the agency.  I can deal with it. 

Now, does she have the same attitude when I set up tables for a yard sale on Memorial Day weekend, after having put some of Joy's stuff up on Craigslist?  Nope, then it's "how can you get rid of that, it was so important to her!" and "we always shared this!"  Like, do you want me to be Joy or not?

I didn't get rid of that much in the purge, but it was enough to make the move a little easier.  I found a real hidden gem down near the beach (no ocean view, but you can almost smell the salt air), and I've got to admit - even if a lot of the contents of this new spot were once Joy's things, it does feel more like my place, both because I'm not sharing it and because I put everything where I thought it belonged.  Yeah, I felt like I'd played myself a few days ago when I woke up with red spots on my panties and nobody to borrow tampons from, but I actually felt a little better after that, too.  I may not be Joy for much longer, but I don't need training wheels as a girl anymore, either. 

-Simon/Joy

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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Tyler/Valerie: Turns out you can fight with someone when you're not actually dating them

And what's the point of that? We're supposed to be enjoying ourselves after all...

I called Rafe out on some of his less considerate behavior - he doesn't keep much in his kitchen in case his guest gets hungry, and doesn't put much effort into cleaning up. He insists I don't stay the night even though it means taking a subway home sometimes well after midnight and I am, as far as anyone knows, an easily-victimized five-foot-nothing girl. I guilted him into escorting me home once and never heard the end of it.

I wasn't even necessarily confrontational about it but apparently if you are female and express any kind of criticism toward your partner you're "nagging." Then he changes the subject and complains that he sees me "flirting with customers" all the time. I'm shocked -- "Name once!"

He points out an interaction I had with a regular named Jeff. He accuses me of batting my eyes and shaking my ass for him (behind the counter of a coffee shop!) Whatever he witnessed was probably just small talk, maybe me being a little nicer because I like to provide service to my regulars and maybe, I dunno, get more tips. I point out that that's called just being friendly, and even if it weren't - and even if Jeff didn't have a girlfriend who I've met - I'm allowed to talk to, flirt with, or go out with anyone I want. "We're casual, remember? That was your whole deal!"

Unsurprisingly this "casual" stuff seems like it just turned out to be an excuse for him to get all the benefits of a relationship while not just being lazy, but actually a jerk sometimes.

Men are insanely frustrating to be with. I take back anything I ever said about being annoyed by a woman I was dating, if I was anything like this (I was, and worse at times.) It makes me fearful about what's going to happen to me when I roll the dice again, and wind up as another woman in potentially a worse situation. Things could hardly get better, and I don't even hold my time as Valerie in particularly high esteem.

Part of me just wants to cut my losses, where Rafe is concerned. After all, I'm only weeks away from my next adventure. I'm already dodging him a bit., My main strategy for avoiding him is to take more of these side-jobs with Maddie. She convinced me to help on one of her house-sitting gigs this weekend, some millionaire from Westchester who needs their dogs fed. I have no idea how she meets these people or gets these jobs, but I admire her hustle... it's also very kind of her to ask me along because she's "mildly afraid of being alone with dogs in a big house." Fair enough.

She also keeps going on about how we should start our own business together, something to do with catering based on the knack I showed for it... because after all, who wants to pour coffee all day for the rest of their lives for no money? Not that she doesn't have a point, and I feel for her plight (and my own) and it wouldn't be a half bad idea if it weren't for, well, everything about my life. Maybe we'll get lucky and my next life will be in a position to do something like that, and I could somehow reach out and say I heard about her from a mutual... ugh, let's not put the cart before the horse here. I just want to make sure I'm still old enough to drive in a month.


Ty/Val

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Friday, June 15, 2018

Daryl/Elaine: Kind of My Own Plus One

At least, in a sense - when Elaine had J.T. RSVP for Marisa Chen's wedding, they probably figured I'd be going as the date.  I would have been Whitney's date in actually, though, and thinking of that makes me shiver a bit; Elaine's sister has a boyfriend, but I can't help but think this wouldn't stop her from getting me into bed after the reception.  She is pretty relentless in trying to mess with her sister's life using the Inn, so who knows? 

Instead, I went as Elaine, telling everybody who asked where my date was that he was unavailable, which was true enough; there was nobody who looked like the real me at the time (there is now, although we've just emailed so far).  They said that was too bad, asked if I wanted another drink, and about ten of them mentioned that Kenyon just got dumped by his girlfriend.

I don't think I did much to particularly embarrass the real Elaine; she gave me notes, seating that if something else goes wrong, she's going to build an app, put it on her phone, and be done with it.  I timed things so that I could arrive just in time, say a passing hello to anybody who recognized me in the church, and smile through the ceremony, trying not to feel too exposed.  The dress Elaine had suggested didn't actually show any cleavage and even went down far enough that I didn't have to cross my legs, butt it left my shoulders bare and the church had the AC on blast. 

I was going to make a quick am entry and exit from the reception as possible, but the happy couple sort of sets that schedule, and taking pictures took forever.  The flower girl, I'm told, had a meltdown that required a lot of her mother's attention, and since mommy was the maid of honor, well, you can guess how that went.  In the meantime, old Daryl-slash-Elaine is getting a super-concentrated version of the post-Trading Post experience, with rapid-fire introductions to a lot of Elaine's old friends who want updates on just what she's been doing and how she's been.  I try to fill in the blanks with what little I know, make my way to the bar, and try to pace myself because I know I'm smaller now but still probably overdo it a bit.  When the bride and groom do arrive, I'm probably a little Rossiter than I should be, but everybody just chalks that up to Daryl letting me down. 

So just bail as soon as dinner is done - except that I always want to dance when you get a few drinks in me, a few is even fewer than before, and Elaine's friend Marisa chose a heck of a playlist.  Based on what I found in "my" email the next morning, I must have demanded she send me a copy.  Anyway, once that kicks in, it takes a while for me to feel confident enough to get on the floor, but once I'm there, I don't really stop.  I wind up paired with this Kenyon guy a lot, and it could be worse; he picks up on how I jump the first time he touches me and saves that for when I'm about to fall over the rest of the night.  At some point, the bride ditches her heels and that means it's okay for the rest of us, and I move a little more. 

The next morning, I can't find one of the blue heels that goes with the dress anywhere, and I've fallen asleep with an underwire on (don't do that!), but my panties are where I left them! I'm alone in the room, and there are no phone numbers written anywhere, so I guess it's not a total disaster.  Nobody is shooting damn, boy/girl, you done messed up!  I fly home to Chicago, relieved.

And then, at the airport, I realize that I can't go home.  If been staying at my own apartment since returning from Maine, just popping into Elaine's quick enough to grab the dress before heading to the wedding, but now somebody else might be there, and I don't want to show up and have him think we're going to act like boyfriend and girlfriend.  So I call an Uber, give it Elaine's address, and go there.  I hit the buzzer for just long enough to remember I don't have to do that before going up. 

I take a shower, a little intimidated by how many products are still on the various shelves despite nearly two years of male occupancy, make myself some food, and try to fall asleep to some Netflix.  The next morning I wake up, and in some ways waking up alone in Elaine's apartment was just as weird as waking up in her body.  I felt like she should be there with me, but she wasn't, not in the right way.  I kind of tried pretending she was - putting on some of her sexiest underwear, feeling myself up in front of the mirror while making sexy talk - but even before I tried slipping a hand into my panties, I felt kind of pathetic. 

I killed the next few days without really meaning to, seeing the new Star Wars twice, finding a two-year-old puzzle magazine and finishing the kakuro, that sort of thing.  I went to a poetry slam thing with Elaine's friend Dorrie last night, and she asked me where "the cute nerd" was.  It felt kind of good to hear that, but I said I didn't think it was going to work, or if it did, we'd have to start all over, because, well, I can't explain.  She said that was too bad, "I" really seemed to like "him", and vice versa. 

Somehow, that was what I seemed to need to hear to realize that I didn't miss Elaine, and the unanswered voice mails meant I kind of didn't miss "me".  I decided to test a theory, went to Netflix, and searched on J.T.'s name.  The first couple of things were dumb kid stuff, but soon I found some weird low-budget sci-fi thing from three or four years back, start watching it, and, holy shit, I can see "Elaine" in his character.  I'm doubting it at first, but once I realize that I've slipped my hand into my underwear and not sure what to do next, I know what I've got to do.  Well, not exactly right them, but tonight. 

So, I'm writing this at the airport, waiting for my flight to New York, Ray to give the guy who dumped me a piece of my mind. 

-Daryl

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Harmon Keller/Alicia Polawski: Fine Art and Low "Content"

In a development that seems almost anticlimactic for how much trouble it initially caused, I have been emailed a password to a "Drop Box" account, which contains what the actual Alicia Polawski claims is the only digital copy of her having a sexual encounter with a player on the local football team.  The season has passed and the player involved is no longer on the team, so she and I have much less to fear from the person who sent her to the Inn to begin with, although Lindsey thinks that this Jeremy/Arthur is the sort of man who would never truly let leverage over people go. 

Neither, perhaps, is Alicia, but she has apparently determined that she will have little further use for it; she and her mother have informed Lindsey and me that they do not intend to return to the Inn; they and the sisters whom they have displaced have apparently come to like their current arrangement.  Parts of it sound rather incestuous, but I suspect that may seem a small price to pay to no longer be living this life. 

It is not, however, entirey without opportunities.  Though much of this job involves all the negative experiences of air travel but no actual time at the other end of the flight, once every week or two the schedule will line up and I can spend an afternoon taking in a museum or some other attraction.  There may not be enough in many cities to justify a full vacation, but they can make for a perfectly pleasant day out. 

New York is not a city I particularly love, though I have, given my field of expertise, been required to spend enough time there to develop a certain fondness for some institutions.  Several, alas, would not be particularly appropriate or welcoming places for Alicia Polawski, but with appropriate attire, I can enjoy an exhibition with only a few instances of people acting as though I do not belong. 

That was the case yesterday.  I had a few hours up enjoy the Guggenheim, and was taking advantage of the fact that this was my second free day in New York in as many weeks to take a leisurely stroll through the new Giacometti exhibition rather than dividing my time between the temporary and permanent displays.  Marvelous work, only occasionally interrupted by young men trying to pick me up with their questionable knowledge of art.

Taking time to absorb what one is seeing does have the unfortunate side-effect of being somewhat annoyed as less-conscientious visitors pass.  The solitary ones who just give the works a quick glance, perhaps spending more time reading the label than examining the art, are fleeting bothers, even if they do tend interpose themselves between oneself and what one came to see; they are at least generally quiet.  No, it is the ones who come in a group, making the most surface-level declarations of "that's pretty" and "I don't get it", presuming that because you have given something your attention, you will feel obligated to discuss it with them.  You can hear them coming behind you and the relief of the group moving along is soon dispelled by others like them. 

Yesterday was worse, because I immediately recognized one of the voices saying that something was so interesting.  It was Lindsey's voice, her real one, and I failed to make the split-second choice that would have perhaps put me out of the Coopers' view.  I tried simply studying the piece in front of me, but it was in the middle of the room, and Debbie took a position opposite myself.  "Oh my God, Har-- uh, Alicia!  Is that really you? I hardly recognized you!"

Tempting as it was to pretend that they had mistaken me for someone else, I opted for honesty.  "It is."

"Well, what a coincidence!  I suppose you're wondering why we're here..."

"Taking a vacation at my expense between the end of the academic year and your return to the Inn?"

"Well, I guess you could put it that way."   Undeterred, she continued.  "I'm just amazed at the transformation!  Seeing you at Christmas, I didn't figure you'd ever embrace your feminine side, but that skirt, those boots -- the cleavage!"

(It wasn't so much decollatage as to inspire a loud-whisper, just enough for my unruly bosom to not be pinched by being buttoned up; the boys only had an inch or so of extra heel.)

"It's a nuisance, but the idea of visiting a place like this in casual dress..."  I did not mention her "I heart NY" t-shirt and jeans.  "Well, old habits, as they say."  I turned to look at her husband, morbidly curious what he was wearing, trying not to betray my shock.  "What have you done, Cooper?"

He seems confused for a moment, then saw I was looking at the walking stick in his hand.  "Oh, this?  It's nothing, I pulled a hamstring trying to keep up with Debbie in Wal-Mart a few weeks back.  It's just about healed.  I don't really need the cane, but Debbie said not to take any chances before returning the leg to you."

"Of course, of course."  Not wanting to talk about Inn things, I instead gestured to the sculpture.  "So, what do you think of this?"

Debbie blushed.  "Oh, I don't really get it.  You know what they say, I don't know art, but I know what I like!"

"Of course you do.  May I suggest the Tannhauser Gallery?  It's far more conventional."

The Coopers agreed that this sounded "swell", but insisted on a "selfie" first.  Before they moved on, Debbie said they were planning on a late lunch at a famous deli, and I should text them when I was done to meet up.  Unless, of course, I was counting calories. 

I was not, and dutifully said I would meet them there.

It was not entirely unpleasant - though they gawked at the signed pictures on the walls, their tourist guidebook had pointed them to a fine place for a sandwich - but I did have to pass when they suggested another stop.  Not only did I have to be on a plane later, but I had to admit, I found doing things with other people in this situation, especially, disturbing, that I would prefer to simply bide my time as Alicia quietly and eventually forget that this ever happened.

They were disappointed, but did not press, not did Lindsey when I returned today.  Truth be told, I am not sure how she keeps such close contact with the Coopers.  It seems like it would be completely unnerving. 

-Harmon Keller

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Friday, June 08, 2018

Daryl/Elaine: Surprise Visit

You folks who have been reading the blog for a while can probably figure out the basics from the subject line alone - I'm Daryl Jackson, the guy who thought he was dating Elaine Preston, but it turned out to be some white guy who had been turned into her, and now the Inn has turned me into her.  It's messed up, and I'm staying to wonder if Whitney Preston just had it in for her sister or something.  Was Elaine always the successful one when they were growing up and now Whitney just keeps doing what she can to mess with her life, even though Elaine trusts her?

Or is that me extrapolating from what J.T. told me and acting like that's the dynamic with Elaine?  I suppose that from another perspective, Whitney is doing the right thing, cluing me in on the impossible situation I've found myself in by making it possible for me too believe it.

From what the real Elaine says, the original plan was that J.T. would go to the Inn and become himself again, then Whitney would follow, becoming Elaine; then her boyfriend becomes Whitney; he stays an extra two-week block to turn back; Whitney comes back and returns to normal; then, finally, at what's apparently the first chance for "Mackenzie" to vanish for a couple of weeks without getting Cary in trouble, Elaine gets her own form back.  It's an elaborate plan that's got to be coating her and Cary a chunk of change, but given that I'm just the latest in a parade of men to take on Elaine's form despite her best efforts, you can't blame her.

Maybe I'd really like that meticulous nature if she came back in August and I was none the wiser that the Elaine I'd been seeing had been replaced, I'd appreciate it.  Instead, I shrugged off her mentioning that she had an out-of-town contact for the next two or three months - we said we'd email, as you do - but after a week or so, I got the idea of surprising her for the long Memorial Day weekend.  I hadn't lined up a new gig yet but had a little money to travel, so I figured why not?  I shoot Whitney a message asking if she thinks it's practical; she says that, believe it or not, she was going to be visiting but she was sure Elaine would rather see me than her.  I offer to pay for the plane ticket and hotel reservation, but she says Elaine already had, and it was just a matter of transferring the ticket, since everything at the Inn is done with reservation numbers.  She warns me that Elaine is busy, and It might be a few days before she gets free and I see her at the Inn, even with the holiday weekend.  Tight deadlines, enough to include weekends, so don't expect her before sunset.

Having done my share of cramming both in school and at work, I respect that, so I spend much of Friday and Saturday poking around town, trying some seafood, texting back and forth with Elaine (the real one, it turns out) asking what she's up to, thinking she might drop a hint as to where she is, but no dice.  Sometime around ten, I open up my laptop and check to see who's online, and by two-ish I've switched to Fortnite, and that's when stuff starts to get weird.  I'm into it enough that as it starts, I mostly just think the lobster roll doesn't agree with me, which is also how I explain my voice sounding weird to everyone.  At some point, though, the controller slips in my hand (which has gotten smaller) and when I reach up to adjust my headset, I feel hair.  That's screwy enough for me to realize that something is really wrong, and it's like by realizing that I'm suddenly much more aware of how my whole body feels strange.  I tell everybody that I'm not feeling well and have to drop off, and I guess I hadn't spoken in long enough that I hear someone ask who the chick is before logging out.

I run to the bathroom, figuring I'm gonna have to puke or crap or something, and I don't get why it kind of hurts in the chest before seeing my reflection.  I'm, like, three-quarters of the way to Elaine, so I don't quite see it yet, but I'm clearly more woman than guy.  I reach into my pants to find that I'm a fraction of the man I'm supposed to be.  I'm starting to take off my shirt to see if I've really got tits now too, and that's when I notice the scar.  Elaine's appendectomy scar is kind of unusual - there's a little nick in it, like the surgeon was a little careless with the scalpel or something - and I've suddenly got the same one, although it looks more faded.  Or, as I suddenly realize, it's not all there yet.

Then I realize what I'm seeing in the mirror, and I already look even more like her.  I run back to the bedroom, grab my phone, and some instinct has me dial Elaine rather than the police.  I get voice mail, of course, and say random stuff about how it's Daryl and I'm turning into her and is she all right because this is really freaking me out.  Eventually there's a beep because you can only record a message that's so long.  I start to head back to the bathroom, but my feet get snagged by my laptop's power cord and I go down.  I bang my head on something, but it doesn't knock me out.  I don't get up, though I'm not sure whether it's from being dazed or just tired.

I wake up the next morning to a little white girl shaking me.  I groan, and she starts wiping some dried blood off my forehead.  "You better not have damaged my face."

The early morning hours haven't quite come back to me.  "What?"

"I'm the real Elaine Preston, and you are not my sister.  You're Daryl, right?"

I say yes, and that's when I get filled in on everything.

"Has everybody here changed?"

"Yeah, but this early in the season, they're pretty much all expecting it and expecting to go home."

"But I can stay here, get changed back in the next wave...?"

She looks sheepish.  "I did have J.T. RSVP to a wedding, a friend from college."

Oh, right.  I remembered.

Anyway, long story short, I didn't quite get Elaine Preston boot camp, but I can put on a bra and not fall over in high heels now.  I actually learned a lot of it from Cary, since Elaine was busy with sixth grade for the week after Memorial Day.

I flew back home earlier this week in order to get what Elaine calls a bit of practice "being", with Cary assuring me that in some ways it's not nearly as hard as it looks, that even without the powers of a curse, people will just assume the thing that makes sense when something doesn't seem right - that you had a bad morning, are on your period, or just screwed up.  And it's true.  I had a couple legs up on Cary and J.T. in that I had actually met Elaine's friends before and that it's almost certainly easier for a black man to know what to expect in a group of black women than a white one.  I can't speak for other transformees, but I suspect going from straight white man into the life of a black woman like they did must be among the most nerve-wracking, going from being pretty certain of your authority but expected not to throw it around to being low on the totem pole and knowing you can't give an inch.

I did okay, although I did have a couple early-morning freakouts.  I'm just hoping that the wedding tomorrow is like seeing old high school friends when you both happen to be home for the holidays - nodding, talking vaguely about what you've been up to going back home.

-Daryl

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Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Tyler/Valerie: Something I'm cut out for

I'd done a few catering gigs with Maddie last month. Usually they were uninteresting nights but a great way to make a few bucks. Admittedly, I would have made more if my service style was more friendly and smiley and outgoing, and less "Take your shrimp tempura, and don't glare at my boobs too long" but in the end I don't think it cost me that many dollars. I've never really waitressed before, so the only direct experience I have serving is at the coffee shop, where a certain level of snarky detachment is OK since nobody spends too long at the counter anyway.

I felt like I was starting to get the hang of it heading into last night's event when everything suddenly went tits up (so to speak). Our site manager came down with a nasty springtime flu, and half the food was mis-delivered and there was no way of knowing where it was, so there was no getting it back.

There was a lot of pressure since this was apparently one of our biggest clients - some big investment banker was wining and dining some European clients and this shindig was of the utmost importance.

For a minute we were panicked, completely off our game and generally screwed. It was like everyone completely forgot how to do their jobs just because Kathleen wasn't there directing traffic. For a moment I was sheepish about doing anything because i'm the new gal, but I knew we needed someone steering the ship, so I stepped up. I instructed the girls how to pace the appetizers to buy us some time so that I could send Maddie out on a supply run to track down a serviceable replacement for the entree - which I would then cook myself in the venue's kitchen. I can't even tell you how exhilarating it was to be barking out orders and commanding a team while being so petite of a presence. It feels like I had sunk into the role Valerie's body put me in and I was finally overcoming that.

It was like drawing on every skill I had ever gained as Tyler, as Judith, as Valerie... I was making snap decisions, thinking on the fly, adjusting the playbook... I really felt like I was in my element for the first time in I don't even know how long. At the end of the night, I was stressed, I was sore, I was exhausted... but I was also on some kind of euphoric high.

On the way home I texted Rafe to say I needed to blow off the extra energy somehow, and if he wasn't at my house by 1 AM there might be trouble.

It was good. It felt like I had a purpose. It made me wish this could just be my life. Not as Valerie, I mean, just this environment, finding some place in the world that gave me this thrill and feeling of accomplishment, instead of just bounding aimlessly from life to life, making a mess and working to mop it up.

It sucks that I have to start all over again soon.

-Tyler/Valerie

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Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Annette & Jordan/Yuan-wei: Graduation

Annette:

This probably comes off as a little weird, but since both Jordan and I graduated from college a couple weeks ago, we figured it would make sense to do this as one post together, rather than bore you guys twice.  We were going to do it right after my graduation, but we got really busy - I'm moving in with her for the summer, and that takes some effort, we've both been looking for work, she's got immigration things to figure out...

Jordan:

We really need to get an Inn person into ICE so that we can say "I was born here" and they'll believe you and find a way to make everything work.  Sure, I'm not the sort of person those fuckers target, but who knows whether Americans will freak out about Chinese people by the time they can send me back to Hong Kong for overstaying my student visa in a couple of months.

Worrying about that sort of stuff was part of why I thought about skipping graduation altogether.  I'd done it before and it seemed kind of strange to invite those who remembered back for another one, and it also meant that Chen-ai was going to be there.  We avoid having to pretend to be family these days, but some things can't be skipped without people hitting you with way more pity or suspicion than you want to deal with.

Despite switching up my studies after my first year as Yuan-wei, graduating late or the like was never going to happen.  I didn't get the marks I'd hoped for on "I, Fembot" even though there weren't a whole lot of complaints about technique.  Someone thought it was tacky for me to use those themes and dinged me for that. 

Annette:

If only they knew!

Jordan:

Whatever; all the folks I've shown it to who have been turned from men into women and had to deal with new urges like it, and it gives me something to show prospective employers on Vimeo.  Freaked Harmon out to see the finished product, though.

And Ernesto seemed to think it was pretty decent.  He jokes about the best part being the brain he made and seeing "Alicia" vamp it up after being so prissy off-camera, and kind of doesn't entirely get that he does a lot of the "guys expect too much of women" stuff we're spoofing, but he thinks it's funny anyway and is impressed that I did some coding for some of the effects work.  He wanted me to show it to his family on Saturday night, but his grandmother seemed like she wouldn't be amused by the sex stuff.  On the other hand, not showing them stuff we'd worked on together made them positive that I was his girlfriend.

Annette:

You should be his girlfriend.

Jordan:

Even if I was interested, Chen-ai would destroy him and you know it.  You notice I haven't heard from Jacky at all since dumping him?  You'd think he'd be at least try to win me back rather than just giving up.

Annette:

Apparently not having a penis for four years doesn't get "no means no" to sink into a guy's head.

Jordan:

You're a fuckin' riot.

Anyway, Sunday was the big day.  I got a bunch of texts in the morning, half congratulations and half asking what was going on later.  I didn't get to meet anybody who had come to town for it before heading to the building, dressed a little nicer than I initially planned to.  It was hot and humid enough for cutoffs and a crop-top, but Romain was going to be there, so I did wear a nice dress under my robe.  It would have been nice to send Chen-ai home with pictures of me looking trashy, but Romain deserved better.

Annette:

Is it weird that I've got a crush on Romain and René as a couple?  Like, I want to figure out how they could fit me in?

Jordan:

YES.

Anyway, graduation was, like, pretty much the same as the first time, only longer, and I was doing it in heels this time.  Not a huge deal - I've made stilettos my bitch by now - but not ideal.  Ernesto's folks waved, Chen-ai nodded, and that was that.  I was kind of glad Romain had decided to forego sitting in the audience (even with a couple of seats between him and Chen-ai, it would have been fucking torture for him), even though he'd wanted to be here.

Chen-ai had a list of places where she wanted pictures with "her graduate", so we ran around town for the rest of the afternoon.  I think the only time we really spoke during it was when she decided she wanted a snack at Flour and set out what sort of budget I should adhere to in various cities.  We had the conversation in Mandarin, at her insistence, leading her to say Beijing was out about halfway through.

Annette:

What's the furthest from her you could reasonably go?  New York?  London?

Jordan:

You joke, but...

Annette:

So, did she just fly in for the ceremony and then leave?

Jordan:

If she did, she's got a demonic ability to avoid jet lag.  But, no, I think she arranged some business things, and I figure she wanted to talk with Bingbing at some point.

Annette:

Must have been later in the week, because I was fifth-wheeling it with her & Max & Romain & René until you got to The Changeling, and she didn't even get a text.

Speaking of, how awesome was the cake Ashlyn and Jonah got for us? 

Jordan:

FUCKING INSANE. 

Like, I know Ashlyn likes to doodle and draw, but five or six pictures of us as we were from before we went to the Inn until we're in caps and gowns printed on a lenticular card and put on the top of the cake...

And it was a damn good cake!

Annette:

Plus, the look on Max's face when you mentioned carbs...

Jordan:

The hotness does take more than good genes and yoga to maintain, sadly.  But I guess that's another thing I've learned and gotten better at these past four years, right?  Learning how to handle my body so that, no matter how it's shaped, it looks and feels right and shit.

Annette:

To tell the truth, I'm still not sure what I want to be like that.  Sandra left me kind of skinny and living with a bunch of judgmental sorority sisters after I'd just come off three years of eating like a guy.  Like, that was kind of tough on me, and it really messed me up a lot this year, trying to catch up with low blood sugar all the time because I felt like I'd forgotten how to be a woman and tried to follow their lead.

Jordan:

And yet, you brought your GPA up over your senior year.

Annette:

Not by that much, but I've got to admit, it felt good.  My    was never actually disappointed with how Sandra or I was doing, but when you come back to your original life, you want to do better, make them understand that what they've been seeing wasn't the real you.  And I think that's why all our friends from the Inn who threw us that graduation party did it as a combined thing, because they knew that I'd want the end of the week to be just for me and my mom, even if Max is the only other one I know who's really been able to come full circle like that.

Anyway, I didn't have a hot/humid commencement like you did, and guest tickets were really at a premium, but it was kind of amazing.  I felt really lucky to be graduating from such a top school, kind of pinching myself as we got closer to it.  It's stupid, I know - everyone else in the class has kind of taken going here for granted after four years, and I've experienced literal actual magic three times, with half my friends being part of a secret club that even the most elite legacies here don't know about.

But I did it!  I did it despite strange supernatural forces sending me onto other paths.  I did it despite having to spend my first year doing it from afar, living vicariously through a girlfriend, and then having to catch up.  I don't know if a tag-team post is the right place to say it (feel free to delete this paragraph when I hand you the laptop, Jordo), but there were a lot of times where even though Jordan was the person who understood what things were like for me the most, I really resented her.  Every visit to the Inn made her younger and more attractive and was like a second chance, while mine seemed to take me further from where I wanted to be, making me older and with my options seemingly narrower, and really just a stroke of luck getting me back to my real life and worried I wouldn't fit in it any more.

But I did it.  Even if I don't know what I'm going to do now.

Jordan:

Me neither.  It's kind of fucking terrifying - I don't know what country I'll be living in by the end of summer, and the whole thing with Romain the past few weeks has been goddamn weird.  He wants to be here for me finishing what he started, but he and René don't want to take back their old lives.  But that's an improvement; at least he's willing to talk with me at all now.  I think he's kind of curious what I'll make out of his old life.

Annette:

I think I'm going to wrap it up because I've got a Skype interview early tomorrow, but I want to make sure you say the thing before we hit Publish.

Jordan:

Ugh, does it have to be a fucking announcement?  (She's nodding)  Okay, fine.

I changed my name.  Back, sort of.  When I watched the finished cut of "I, Fembot", it didn't feel right, but it didn't really hit me until later that it didn't feel like mine with "A Missy Lee Film" on it.  I fucking hate being called "Missy" - not even "Melissa", just plain "Missy" - and no offense to Romain, but I can't see putting it on my résumé or in credits for movies and the like.  I can deal with "Lee Yuan-wei", but a lot of folks here want a Western name, and since Jordan can be a girl's name, I decided to reclaim it.  I'll be "Jordan Lee" from now on.  First use of that is on my diploma.

Annette:

And, honest, I think that's a way cooler graduation/commencement thing than just moving a tassel on your hat.

Jordan:

Says the person who's not filling out a bunch of forms.

Annette:

And with that, I'm going to bed.  Wish us luck as we try to figure out what tomorrow is going to bring, but in a perfectly normal way!

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