Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Harmon Keller/Alicia Polawski: Internet Famous

Jordan is extraordinarily lucky that my current rotation does not take me to LAX until July at the earliest, because I would be sorely tempted to murder her and then escape to Maine, allowing whoever winds up as Alicia next to deal with the fallout.  For all that being this absurd parody of womanhood has been a constant series of humiliations, this past week has been the most ridiculous.

As you may recall, I stepped in to assist Jordan last year when she required assistance in finishing her student film after her star quit, though I did not truly replace her, but rather played all of the duplicate robots that she would have played.  They were more or less mindless automata, so my work was mainly a matter of standing around in tight clothing and heels well taller than necessary to make up the height deficit with the average man or to appear tastefully fashionable, enough times that Jordan could combine the images.

It was technically impressive work, I suppose, although as somebody who knows all too well that her inspiration for a film in which a man's brain is placed inside a robot shaped like an anatomically-correct woman was not, as many would presume, about an ex-boyfriend who needed to learn a lesson, I cannot much disagree with her professors who apparently found it slight and somewhat juvenile.  It has not been picked up by any but the smallest film festivals, and not getting the best position in those.  This was something of a relief for me as I decided to remain Alicia for another year, and I soon paid it no mind.

Then, yesterday, as I arrived back at the "crash pad" after a flight from Dallas that had been delayed for hours (a delay for which the attendants are not paid!), I heard howling coming from the living room, and with the intent of telling the flatmates to keep it down, I poked my head in, only to see in horror that they were watching "I, Fembot".

I try to back away to write a furious email to Jordan, but I'm seen.  "Guys, she's here!"  Someone hits pause and then all four cluster around me.  "Why didn't you tell us you had a side hustle?  This what you were doing during your leave of absence? "

I took a careful half-step back.  "No, I was just..."  How to explain talking with other people who had lost their identities thanks to a cursed hotel?  "I was using the director's spare room - one of those services - and she had a panic attack about the other girl storming off the set, saying she'd step in herself but she would need far too much padding.  Well, stepping in to help was the only decent thing, although if I'd seen the costumes..."

"But that's the best part!  You look so hot in the outfits and it's so you to just go making guys horny without giving a shit!  Because even if they're programmed to respond, you know the sex-bot doesn't actually care."

"I hardly think that's an accurate--"

"Oh, c'mon, look at you on Insta!  Racking up the followers with all the selfies but never following back, barely responding unless someone comments on the museum or whatever you're in."

I groaned.  "I've told you, I don't take those pictures for 'followers'."

They arched their eyebrows and gave me variations on "sure you don't", but it happens d to be e true.  The only follower, or fan, that actually matters the slightest bit is Daryl, who finds it useful for me to have a social media presence when somebody asks "Magda" about her daughter.  Other than that, it's simply a convenient way for me to have some record of my time as Alicia after I finish it.  I cannot see myself becoming sentimental about this anatomy, but I cannot deny that the opportunity to travel has offset the job which requires it somewhat.  With this application already on Alicia's phone, and sharing the default, it should be a simple matter to extract that which I wished to keep.

Obviously, there was no point of explain that to the gaggle, so I just repeated that my photography was for myself and what others thought of it was irrelevant.  Then I said the shower was mine, ignoring the shouted question of whether a brain in one of those robots would have PMS or cramps simulated the way arousal was, because they wouldn't stick their boyfriends in one otherwise.

The shower was useful; though the Inn has made my body more resilient than it had been for some time, I had been on my feet for some time and just an hour in Texas can make you sweat in a way that sticks even under the perfume and deodorant.  Washing my flatmates' crude comments away was a pleasant enough side benefit.

Afterward, as I say wrapped in a towel, brushing my hair, Alicia's phone buzzed with some notification, and it reminded me that I had set Instagram notifications off, as I did not intend to interact on the platform (and, indeed, most of the messages it notified me of were just men saying how life-changing intercourse would be for the pair of us).  Out of idle curiosity, I brought the program up and looked at my statistics.

I had 20,000 followers.

They came in waves, it appears - some when Jordan "at-ed" me as he put his short online, but I apparently got put on lists as well, from the obvious ("flight attendants of Instagram") to the bizarrely, specifically hostile ("bitches who think they're too good to follow back but ain't all that").  It's more people than I've had students, quite possibly on a par with the number of people who have read my books or attended my presentations at conferences.  For doing little more than taking photographs of myself.

I looked in the mirror and wondered what a picture undressed would do to all that.  It almost seemed to be worth the experiment, just to see, especially since any reputation that came as a result would fall upon someone else in a few months.  If a younger person becomes the new Alicia, she might even find an account with thousands of followers a positive.

As an economist, I find the idea intriguing, creating something of admittedly illusory value from nothing.  The other side, though, is that it could wind up like Jordan's film - harmless enough at the time, but something I shall have to live with until I no longer have Alicia's face.

-Harmon Keller

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Valerie: Why am I crying??

Safe to say I've cried more in the last 5 years than the whole rest of my life before that. Maybe I cried twice after the age of 12 prior to visiting Maine and becoming Lauren. Then it was a while before it happened, and I don't even remember what was the last straw, just an accumulation of things. Hormones played a part, for sure, but overall just not seeing any point in fighting it and bowing to reality - that for whatever reason I wanted to cry, and it felt good to do so. Then once it happened it happened with some regularity as my body took that as an acceptable response to a tough situation. Bad day at school? Guys being pricks? Seeing Meghan/Tasha with Wade? Just flat out feeling small and weak? Waterworks. I learned to embrace it. Occasionally I even cried for joy but not often.

I cried as Alan, too. When Meg and I fought, when we broke up. It feels different as a man. A form of shame that I had moved past as a woman, as if that body was rejecting what my mind was trying to tell me an understandable response to a hard situation. It felt physically worse to cry as Alan than as Lauren. It was pain.

I didn't cry when my father died, but I did feel bad, in my gut, mostly for Carrie, who loved him more than I ever could have, and knew a different version of him.

I cried some as Judith, out of frustration with Kit or raising Dylan/Olivia, or feeling like I was doing a bad job, but things were more stable and that helped. For all Kitty's faults in how we did not work together, she-he understood my situation and was there for me.

It's become something I understand about myself, how I'm different than the man I used to be. I didn't cry, wouldn't have liked crying and, for all my hardships I never felt I had much to cry about.

Since being Valerie I have been through the wringer, but even notwithstanding that it's been a lot of tears. I cried when Josh treated me good, because I didn't deserve it. I cried when he treated me bad. I cried after oursupposed wedding, and for weeks afterward when I wanted to just stop being Valerie already. I've cried when I was lonely. I've cried when I was tired. I've cried after sex - Rafe caught me only once and to say he did not know what to say would be an understatement.

When I determined I would be Valerie forever, I cried, and again when the original Valerie officially became Cynthia. It was like finishing a decathlon. My body felt too exhausted to do anything but sob.

Since then who knows what might trigger me. I get daily reminders that I am living a life permanently and it's not always good. I am stuck like this. Most people don't even know there's an option to go change into someone else. I do and I have vowed, essentially, to never do it again. So the world throws it in my face that I am a 5'0 single young woman with 32G breasts who works in a coffee shop. That it may not be possible to find and fall in love with someone who sees me for who I am. That my back is so sore from just existing I can hardly sleep, and when I do I can barely let myself move. MY shoulders hurt too, my neck, legs, feet, ankles.

That I was on a nearly year long cold streak of dating and sex, not always by choice. That I have an opportunity to do anything with life and I'm not. That I can hardly do anything with my hair. (Okay, that's a joke.)

I don't even have to be having a bad day. I had a really good conversation with a guy earlier and when it was over I was surprised find myself blinking out some teardrops. It was like my body knew something I didn't. Sometimes if I cry for no reason, a few days later my period will arrive and it will all make sense.  I invent reasons to have cried after that - not knowing my body perfectly even after two years. Anything. Whatever. I'm crying writing all this!

I cry because I can cry.

It's not like I'm constantly crying all the time, some kinda broken woman. I'm just surprised sometimes at how much I do, and what makes me do it, and that it usually feels right.

When I say I've changed, I don't just mean because I know what it's like to have a period or actively pursue dating men. I have seen things that Tyler Blake, as I knew him once, could not have processed. I react to situations differently. I'm stronger and better and more caring. I know more about the world and people and a myself I have a better experience of life, even if I'm just a coffee girl for now. What I had to give up to learn all that, and to meet myself as I currently am, all seems minuscule even if it's not. Going back to the Inn, somehow becoming male again... I'd like to think that wouldn't have erased all of that, but I could never have taken that chance. I have to be this.

It makes me stressed, especially at this part of the year, when the opportunity is present. I weep over all the other lives I will never live. Ain't that crazy?

And I cry because for better or worse, deep down, I'm still me. Now those are happy tears. I cry because despite all my stresses and frustrations I like my life, my body, my friends. I'm a lucky, and happy, woman! Go figure.

-Valerie, aka Tyler

Monday, May 27, 2019

Landon: Anyone Missing a Daughter? Sister? Girlfriend?

I'm posting here on the advice of a fellow Inn guest, because according to their experience it's the one place outside this hotel where you're likely to find people who would believe my story. That two days ago I went to sleep as one person and woke up as someone else.

To backtrack my name is Landon King and I work in insurance in Rockford, Illinois. I was taking my 2 weeks vacation by driving around the great lakes and up the eastern seaboard when I stopped at this quaint little hotel in Maine and..well..got cursed.

I woke up Friday morning to a scream...followed by another scream. When I opened my eyes I was surprised to see the nightstand. Not because it wasn't there but because I could clearly make out the numbers on the clock radio. I wear glasses and for the past 15 years every morning has been a foggy blurry search for them.

Sitting up I felt long hair fall in front of my face and a shifting on my chest that made me blink look down before jumping out of bed and running to the ensuite bathroom to see my new self.

When I saw myself I wanted to scream but all I managed was a squeal or an squeak. I was looking in the mirror at a teenage girl wearing my boxers and tank top, and they fit poorly enough that you could see outlines of body parts that I shouldn't have. Wanting answers and hearing voices, i stepped outside into to talk to my fellow guests.

What surprised me about the other dozen people I saw wasn't the people in the wrong type of clothing looking terrified, it was that almost half of them seemed properly dressed and calm, almost relieved. It was a middle aged woman who explained to me the nature of the Inn's curse, and how she had been affected last October an spent the few months living as a 6 year old.

After she assured me there was a way back she told me to check the luggage that was left for a note, but when I went back to my room I didn't find much. Just a backpack and a purse with no note. The backpack had a couple changes of clothes that fit my new body and some toiletries. The purse didn't have much else other than some makeup, 25 dollars, and a Florida ID card that said "Tara Kellas" and DOB 09/28/2002. 17 years old!

What the real Tara was doing at this hotel last year I don't know, but I know she probably wasn't doing it by herself. I imagine her instructions are included in some sort of group note that was left with the rest of her party. Agnes, the woman who had helped me before, explained that you didn't simply change into the person who was in the bed, but the person who slept closest to it. So the real Tara may have left her luggage with the rest of her party.

I just haven't been able to find the rest of her party. There is no plane ticket, no train or bus schedule, no cars in the lot with Florida plates that don't belong to anyone. Who or how Tara got to Maine or where she's supposed to go is a major mystery to me. Maybe someone else out there is missing a teenage girl who they need to take back to Florida. If so please let me know. The reservation is up in a few days and I don't know where to go looking like this.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Valerie: Coffee Chat

A while back I had a day to myself. I was out running errands - stopping off at the CVS for snack food etc - and found myself at the coffee place not far from work. I often go there for off-hours coffee since I don't like to go in to work on my day off, and I find it hard to relax in there.

I was getting my Americano when who should I spot but Kevin, aka Silvertop, who had stopped coming into our place not long after he "defended me" against some douche who told me to smile.

"So," I said, "Here's where you've been hiding."

He put down his book, something called The Secret Wisdom of Nature, and looked up at me. I could read the embarrassment on his face. "Oh... hi."

"So, what, did I scare you off?

"A little bit, yeah," he winced at the memory.

"Well, it's safe, if you ever want to come back. My co-workers all unanimously told me I blew it out of proportion. You meant well."

"Thanks," he smiled.

"I'm a little bit touchy," I went on - God only knows why. "About people knowing what's best for me. Men in particular, but anybody."

"You have a right to," he nodded and gave a forgiving smile. "I'm guessing a lot of people have presumed to know what's best for you."

"A lot of people presume a lot of things," I said, with a slight laugh, although any semblance of a joke was lost on him. I sat down even though he didn't offer me a seat - I pretty much always assume men want my company nowadays, but I rarely take them up on it.

"People see me as something that I'm not inside. Helpless. Vulnerable. In need of protection."

"I can see how that must be frustrating," he said. "I... should let you know I have my own issues. I have three daughters and seeing a woman get treated the way you do sometimes gets under my skin. I felt like I was going to explode if I saw one more guy talk to you that way."

I bit my lip. Sometimes I forget other people have issues too but this was not long after my conversation with Ariel.

I raised an eyebrow, "So if you had sons, you wouldn't notice how men treat women?"

He exhaled, again, embarrassed. "I... can't say. I can't imagine not having my girls. I'd like to think I'd be sensitive and mature if I had sons too, but the last time I didn't have a daughter, I was a dumbass in my 20's."

I looked at his finger almost as a reflex - no ring. I didn't ask.

"Life... is not easy." I started to say, clearly just rambling at this point, "And I would like to say I had a better coping mechanism than just being numb but apparently it leads to losing my temper on well meaning customers and scaring them off. Sorry again."

We talked a bit longer. He told me about his home business as a recruiter, which is why he can spend hours at coffee shops reading in the middle of the day. He said he had heard some gossip about me, that I'd been left at the altar or something, and that always made him pay attention to me, to see if I let it show, bit I never did.

"That..." I said, almost with a smile, "Was a little like it happened to someone else. Something I heard about but didn't live. But I definitely did, and it was even harder than I thought it would be."

"You really can't prepare for something like that," he said with the tone of someone who knows. He added, "The blaming yourself is the worst part. It takes years to realize that the problem isn't with you but with them. I made excuses for my ex for a long time, I don't even know why. I can't blame you for just... amputating it."

I smiled. I felt understood for the first time in a while. "Amputate. That's a good word for it. God, I can't believe I'm spilling my guts to you," I said, once I realized the conversation had lasted over an hour.

"I thought I was the one spilling," he said.

"We both spilled," I noted. He chuckled.

There was a pause. I thought he was going to say something  but he didn't.

I stood. "Well, if you want a decent cup sometime - no offense to this place - you're welcome back at my shop. First one's on me."

"I appreciate it," he said with a smile.

I left another pause in the air. Still nothing happened.

"They... we... miss you. Take care," I backed away and left.

Once outside, I glimpsed my reflection in a window. I looked like a total mess, since I hadn't taken any care with my appearance before leaving since I didn't plan on being out long. I straightened my hair, and adjusted a bra strap that had fallen during the course of the conversation, but I had been too self conscious to address during the conversation. After checking to make sure nobody was around, I dug into my cleavage to brush out some crumbs that had fallen in and itched me for the better part of the morning.

Then of course I realized he could probably see me through the window, although if he did he didn't let it show. I hurried on home after that.


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Daryl/Magda: Settling In?

I spent a couple days in April apartment-hunting with "Junah", who waited until the last minute to find a place for the summer and next school year because he was so busy just trying to live his new life without a while lot of help from anyone other than me, and while I haven't lost touch with being black or a man, college just seems like another world already.  Has it changed so much in ten years, or do you just forget?

Not that she needed my experience as a black man so much as my current self.  I was basically standing in for Jonah's parents, who still haven't come to terms with him deciding to stay his daughter's mother, or with a former white woman living his life, so while they're okay co-signing a lease, they don't want to be involved, and a young black guy looking for a place near campus is not going to have the easiest time of it.  So I pull a pantsuit out of the closet, come along and let people assume I'm his mother and he's either mixed-race or adopted.

It was weird.  I know some folks who, in my position, might get a kick out of puffing themselves up and acting like they're going to call the Better Business Bureau or something if they don't get what they want, or smile at new-Jonah finding out just how many different levels of racism there are, but it's pretty hollow.  I think we both kind of feel like we've exchanged one set of obstacles for new ones we aren't quite so sure how to navigate, and it gives us a bit of common ground with each other. 

The pronouns probably got confusing there, but that's Inn Person life to an extent.  Jonah sees himself as a guy living Krystle's life, and while he won't correct "she" all the time, it feels wrong to him.  Juliet, maybe because he's older and because he chose this life much more affirmatively than Jonah did.  He figures he's become a man, so he's a man.

And give him credit, he's been working hard to see what that means for him.  As much as he initially gravitated toward hanging out with his female classmates, he made an effort to do more "guy stuff", whether it's intramural sports, hitting up action movies, even going to a strip club one night.  That Jonah grew up in New Hampshire gives him pretty good cover when going to Harlem and otherwise trying out hip-hop and other black things.  It's sometimes kind of funny to watch, but he's out there trying, and you've got to respect that.  I'm not out there joining book clubs or stopping wine or otherwise trying to make a lot of middle-aged white lady friends.  And, who knows, when his brain finally gets over that "I'm old enough to there be her mother" reaction when a good-looking girl flirts with him.  That could totally drag him in a different direction.

Me, I'm still a solid "they" - woman in a lot of practical ways, but still thinking like a guy, and I think that J.T. likes me being kind of a guy at heart, that it cuts out a bunch of drama.  I kind of wonder if that will change should I spend more time around "other" folks like Magda.  Weird to think about.

Inevitable, though, considering some other recent visitors.  Elaine and not-Daryl made a quick trip here over the weekend and wanted to get dinner.  It kind of made me dizzy to see them sitting next to each other while I was next to J.T., because when you add it up, I've spent more time with "Elaine" as my girlfriend then I've spent as her and Magda combined, but I've been both of them, and though I know who's who, my brain keeps trying to see Elaine as J.T. and the other guy as me.  It's strange for him, too, although he's able to put on more of a facade of just meeting two folks he kind of knows.

And they're dating!  They didn't try to hide it, but they waited for me to comment on how they didn't need to hold hands so much, because there wasn't anybody they knew here.  Elaine said it started when she told J.T. not to say no to me, so there was definite attraction, so when she got back home and things were kind of in an unsettled place as between them as far as the world was concerned, and friends kept trying to get them back together, so when they wound up in the same place...

She trailed off with a shrug, so I turned to address my own face.  "Okay, I get her being attracted to me--"  We all laughed.  "--but I thought you had a girlfriend, and she was into it?"

"She was, and it got weird, dude.  Like, her new life was single and unemployed, so she could just move in with me, and it was fun - she became this really hot blonde - but after a while, she stopped using my name at all, even when we were home alone, saying it was just that she didn't want to slip when we were out, but, like, soon she was only listening to music from this other girl's playlists and...  Like, she's not planning to stay, but the way she was okay with assuming this whole other persona, not even looking for ways to be herself.  And, like, maybe she'd just switch back when we were ourselves again, but that she could kind of made me wonder about everything, y'know?"

"So when we meet at this business thing and we're able to get alone, and he could be himself and I had someone I could talk to about having been a white elementary school girl for a couple years, it was just this huge relief!  How are you supposed to not talk about that?  I mean, I can talk to Cary, but then it becomes about him and Krystle, which isn't his fault, but doesn't really help me deal with how this weird shit's gonna be in my head for a while!"

"Not gonna lie - it's kind of weird to find yourself attracted to a girl who sometimes talks about how something is like what happened at recess last year, but kind of special, too."

I look from one to the other.  "Is this an 'I want to stay like this' thing?"

He looked shocked.  "No!  The opposite - we didn't want you to hear it from someone else and get the wrong idea!  We weren't sure how well what you've got is working--"

Elaine elbowed him, but I said that was fair.  "I mean, there are challenges, but we're pretty happy."  I suddenly had a thought.  "I should text Pete."

My face looked surprised.  "You already promised him, uh, this?"

"I've brought it up, but he...  Well, he says a lot of things.  'Why would I want the body you abandoned?'  He'll joke about just getting used to being a girl, or say it's different when it's someone you know, but I kind of just think he's been bouncing around long enough that he finds it hard to commit."  My hand was next to J.T.'s, and he squeezed it, prompting me to lean over for a kiss.  "Anyway, he keeps in touch with a lot of people and has been asking around about something, well, a little more like you."  Elaine blushed as I looked at her.  "It may be destiny that I became someone J.T. could date, but maybe we could adjust it a bit.   People do talk about him and the older woman, and I haven't had a lot of luck looking for a better job."

"Hey, maybe y'all just aren't casting your net wide enough!"  Elaine pointed at her boyfriend.  "C'mon, I know you fell for this once, and maybe having been to the Inn stretches who you can be after.  I mean, everything you did and felt as me is still part of you, right?"

J.T. took a drink.  "I'd never know if we were trying to make it work, though.  Like, I pretend for a living, and I know that this is real, y'know, the way being yourselves will keep you sure what you've got is real."

"I get that.  Just wondering, since it took me so long to get home."

We finished our meal and then they went to their show.  We saw a movie and then went home. 

It was great to see them, at least.  It was a pretty good reminder that this year's Inn season is coming up fast, and even if I don't wind up changing, there's a lot of people who will have their lives turned upside-down - or right-side-up, as the case may be.


Monday, May 20, 2019

Jenn/Zack: Barriers

I'm attracted to Pete as April.

I'm confused about it, but more than that I'm confused as to why I'm confused about it. I've already indulged my hetero-male interests with David, and I know I was/am attracted to Alexa. I can do it. I could be doing it. Why don't I want to be doing it? What's my problem?

She's really cute, and the person inside is so smart and worldly. I love talking to him. I like being around him. I've kissed those lips, caressed thst skin, and it's elicited a physical response from me... the kind thst says Go! Go for it! But we only have once.

It was a nice night. A magicsl night. Pete is rhe kind of person who knows how to show you a good time. I was intoxicated - not just by the wine but by his magnetic presence. When we got home, it was a certainty what was going to happen. Kick off our shoes, pull off each other's clothes... lock away any doubts about what you were doing.

We went through with it, but the memory is tainted by my not heeding all the doubts I had before and during.

And it's because I know it's not real. And this is not fair to Pete or to me, but I have to obey that feeling.

That person he is dressing in lacey underwear for my benefit, that person whose hand I'm holding? That is not Pete, it's April. There is a difference to me and I respect it. That is another woman's body and life I am toying with, we are toying with. I suppose it would be different if we knew April would never be herself again, like Valerie, but that's not the case.

Why was it okay for me to hook up with David as Lena? I'm not sure it was. Only that I knew the man inside (so I thought). When I looked at "her" I knew who I thought I was seeing. When I look at Pete, I see April. Nobody else seems to have this problem, but I do. That's not a judgment on them but of me. I wish I didn't. Pete is beautiful inside and I wish we could explore what we have, and yet, all I see are barriers. I feel physically ill with guilt when trying to make love to Pete as April. It feels shallow to feel like I need the person I am making love with to mentally and physically be the same, because for Pete that's not possible.

Pete is normally understanding but this has frustrated him, so whatever we had is done. He is honorable so every plan we had, with regards to Maine, is intact, but I can't say the same for David, who has cut me out of the loop, and as far as I know intends to stay as Lena. Shocking considering he hates being female, but he clearly enjoys her money and status, so...

You think you know somebody.

You think you know yourself.

I'm sorry Pete. But we are wanderers together. Maybe something will happen in our next lives that will help us through this, or take us apart for good. You deserve to be happy.

I've never been so scared or so lonely through this.


Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Valerie: Out With the Girls

Once the weather started getting a little bit nicer, I noticed a change in Charli's energy. "All right people," she said one night, clapping to get our attention like she was a schoolteacher. "Winter is over. time to start having fun!"

Maddie and I looked back and forth at each other nervously. I was reading on my phone, Maddie was knitting.

"Fun?" I asked, fearfully - the way she said it almost seemed like a threat.

"That's right ladies," she said, "We're done with hibernation. It's time to get out in the world and experience some hardcore fun."

Personally, I work all day, sometimes at two jobs - relaxing at the end of the day is fun for me these days. Maddie feels similarly.

"Come on!" Charli said urgently. "You're both young, hot women in New York City! Every night you're not out seeing the world is a waste of your life."

"I have a boyfriend," Maddie reminded us.

"...Who spends four nights a week playing video games with his boyfriends, while you're sitting here knitting! That's a waste! And Valerie here still hasn't lost her virginity!"

I winced - the joke hit a little close to home, but my "prudishness" has become fair play for comment. When Charli likes you she teases you. Maddie muttered, "I like knitting..."

"Girls night. Girls night!" Charli started chanting. "Girls, girls, girls!"

"Chuck," Maddie said, using her nickname for her twin, "We have very different ideas of what constitutes a fun girls night." Personally, I'm not sure how many "girls nights" I've even had.

"Wine bar. Art show. Shitty bar band. Club. Billiards. Rave. Swap meet. AA meeting. Anything to get us out of this house because I'm sick of looking at these four walls!"

"You go out almost every night!" Maddie countered.

"Yeah, but not with you! Not with my girls!"

I had to admit, it felt good to be one of someone's "girls."

I looked around nervously. "Well, it's been a while since I've gone out to a bar..." Most of my outings lately have been unsuccessful dates, so I didn't get to enjoy myself. The idea of just going out to a bar to go to a bar seems terrifying to me as a woman, but with my "girls" by my side, maybe not so bad.

"Val! Thank you Val!" Charli took my hands in hers and squeezed. "I was worried I was going to have to take you guys to Court."

'Court' is a thing we do around the apartment to settle disputes - prosecution, defense, judge. It started as a gag but the rulings have been taken shockingly seriously - see the case of Maddie v. Thermostat, where she came prepared with energy-usage statistics and financial metrics to get us to keep the apartment two degrees cooler during the winter.

Maddie twisted in the wind about it. "I... okay. One night out once in a while isn't gonna kill me."

We settled on the neighborhood bar. Maddie stressed over what to wear but I didn't. I didn't want to put myself on display or anything, but I wanted to be comfortable and casual while not seeming closed off. I wore jeans and a sweater that emphasizes that yes, I have boobs, but doesn't feature much cleavage so it says "No, they're not for you." Maddie changed three times, eventually settling on a plain white v-neck tee, jean jacket and tights that make her butt look good. Charli just wore what she already had on - a crew neck tee and slacks.

Maddie did my hair and makeup - I welcome this, possibly for reasons that would scandalize her, because the touch of a woman is still a special thing even if it's not what I'm primarily into these days. It's a different form of intimacy from what I experienced as a man, or what I get from men, and part of me craves it.

Maddie asked me when was the last time I saw the hairstylist. That's something I haven't kept up on in a while. I did it to keep continuity when I first became Val - after being  ery self conscious about grays (and Kitty's opinion) as Judith. But since I locked into making VLal my permanent self, I got out of the habit. Maddie's comment made me think maybe I should... which is a shame since avoiding it is a good way to save money.

 I also changed into some cute underwear - a lacey thong - because it's important to be prepared. Oddly, feeling rushed and forgetting myself, I started to do this in front of Maddie, which caused her to bolt from the room. I was embarrassed that I hadn't thought twice. And then I wondered if she's a little sensitive because her twin is a lesbian and she feels the need to like, overcompensate.

In our own ways, we all looked hot.

"By the way," Charli said as we were almost there, "I invited my friend Ariel tonight. She's cool. We're sleeping together, but nobody knows it yet, so shhh."

Maddie rolled her eyes. "Come on! You wouldn't let me bring David but you're bringing your random hookup??"

"Hello! This is a Girls' Night, and she's a girl, so what's wrong with bringing her?" Plus, Charli added, they've been sleeping together for three weeks - for her, that's a commitment.

They bickered a while, and as usual I didn't chime in until called upon to make a ruling. "I decree that this is not in the spirit of Girls' Night, but it does conform to the letter of the law. Plus, I'd like to meet this chick." If it's getting serious, we might as well.

We went in. Ariel, this beautiful dark-haired, tan-skinned girl, waved us over to her table. She's almost as short as me, with a booty. She wears her hair out in a well-tamed mass of curls and has what I would call Librarian glasses. She and I were wearing very similar outfits. She gave Charli a chaste hug hello.

I wasn't sure what was supposed to happen next. We ordered drinks. We tried to talk, but it was a strain to be heard. There was indeed a crappy band playing old covers. I announced I wouldn't mind playing darts. Nobody seemed agreeable to that, but some guy offered to teach me.

I looked him up and down. There was nothing offensive about him, so I challenged him to a friendly game. I won, and he decided he didn't want to play so much anymore and went back to his friends. I wondered what the hell was wrong with me if he wasn't into me.

I found Ariel outside, vaping. I wanted to break away from the group a little bit. Partly because as different as they are, Charli and Maddie are still sisters  and occasionally whem hanging out with them I still feel likecan outsider. Or maybe it's because they've been women their whole lives and I'm... well, I can embrace it all I like but I'll never be what they are. It doesn't feel as bad when I'm hanging out one on one with a woman but in a group, ironically I start to realize I am not like them. I'm rougher, I don't have the same frame of reference for things. I get more worried about not "passing."

Besides, I was liking hanging out with Ariel. She's cool and funny and bookish, a bit like Meg. And I sensed that maybe she felt a little left out too.

"So," she said, "Charli and I are... kinda a thing, maybe? I don't know."

"Yeah," I said, trying to conceal the fact thst Char had prepared us, "I gleaned that a bit."

"I don't know why I'm so embarrassed to admit thst. You're cool people. You know Charli, you don't judge. I just... this is all new to me. Before I met her I thought I was straight.  She's my first girl... hookup... person."

I wanted to tell her I related to her confusion,  but she didn't need me to steal thunder with my backstory. I let her vent

"I get it," I said, "It's nobody's business but yours."

"It's the worst feeling. I want her to pay attention to me but I don't want it to be obvious. So I feel ignored. If you weren't here I would have bailed already."

I took the compliment and said pretty much the same.

"I'm such a dork," she sighed cutely to herself, "I thought I was so open minded. I thought, I'm not gay, but if I were, I'd be proud. My parents are liberal, but I'm still sweating bringing her home."

I wanted to joke that I wasn't sure Charli was the kind of girl you take home.

"So," she said, changing the subject, "Who's texting?"

I turned red. I thought I had been very subtle. Charli and Maddie had been so gabby all night I was pretty able to check my phone and tap out a quick response, but Ari must have been more observant

"Some guy," I said. "On a dating app."

"You like him," she said, again making an observation, not asking a question.

"I'm... interested. More than I've been in a while."

"Can I see?"

I winced. "It's, uh, complicated with this one... I'm not sure how public I want to be yet either."

She smiled, "I get ya."

Maybe eventually she will.

We went back in. I talked to her some more. She's very into soccer so I let her bring me up to speed on that, until Charli forcibly changed the subject.

The night lased a bit long for my tastes. Darts Guy came back, a little drunker, to see if he could get my number. I respectfully passed. The moment was gone. I've got my mystery guy, and a perfectly healthy masturbation routine if that doesn't work out.

Having admitted to the nature of their relationship, Ariel came home with us and slept over. In the morning I made us all eggs and broight Girls Night to its official close.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Jonah/Krystle: Game Nights

I wasn't exactly a jock in high school, or otherwise really in a position to call other kids nerds or dorks - I was, after all, the kid going to extra church - but sometimes with Calvin and his friends, I feel like maybe I should have been?  Like, I know that I'm actually five years younger than all them, but sometimes I kind of wonder when they're going to grow up.  I guess it's a bit of everything, in that they're all white and never really had to worry about certain things, and how I jumped straight into adulthood from the middle of high school and then had a kid and I guess stopped having a lot of time for frivolity.

I mean, Game Night.  A bunch of folks in their mid-twenties getting together to play board games, and, like, not even "drink a shot when you get sent to jail in Monopoly" varieties.  One of Calvin's friends orders stuff from Germany that is apparently going to be the next big thing among tabletop enthusiasts here.  It's insane, but I feel like I'll be letting Cal down or looking like some sort of b---- if I say I don't want to go, I sound like a snob, and can the black single mother really afford to sound like she's too good for these folks?  Especially when I've got a while bunch of what Penny calls "Impostor syndrome" going on?

It's not that I don't have fun at these things, so much as how you get to doing them kind of bewilders me.  I feel like I just grew out of board games, or like they're something Little Moira is going to be growing into soon, and I haven't had time to get nostalgic and try to rediscover them.  I felt kind of silly asking Ashlyn not to schedule me to work every other Monday and even sillier asking Momma Kamen to babysit because this is my "grown-up time" with a boyfriend rather than a toddler.

On top of that, Calvin was hosting this week, and somehow that meant I was responsible for snacks - "we" were, but, well, you know.  And because it's important for some reason that I impress these people despite never having learned to do much more than heat food up, I got myself into a panic a week in advance.  I set off the smoke alarms in the apartment trying to make cookies, and maybe cried a little I told Moira and she said "ye work in a bleedin' restaurant and the owners like your fella".

So half an hour before everyone else started to arrive, Ashlyn showed up with two trays of dip, one with peach cobbler, and a bunch of tortilla chips  I thanked her with promises of overtime and handing out menus, but she said not to sweat it, that we all had different challenges in our new lives that we didn't see until they were right on top of us, but that I should remember I'm only dating Calvin and not his friends.

Easy for her to say; she didn't have any of them staring daggers at me because I'd only managed "vegetarian" rather than vegan with the second tray of dip and honestly couldn't tell the couple for who that was an issue whether there were egg whites or any other sorts of animal products in the cobbler.  I didn't have a great night as Calvin's partner, either; I swear someone got a bunch of "stuff Jonah doesn't know" Pictionary cards, and during Settlers of Catan I had no idea what expansions he had and therefore what we could do.

At the end of the night, I waited for him to sit down and then flopped onto the couch beside him, laying my head on his chest.  "Why is having fun so stressful?"

He laid a hand on my belly.  "Because you've got this silly idea that you need to prove you're awesome."

"It's not silly, and I don't have to prove I'm awesome, just that I'm not a screw-up.  I've disappointed so many people."

He leaned over and kissed my forehead, and then I leaned back a little more so he could do it again on my lips, and then his hand was on my back and I turned around so he could pull me in and there could be tongue.  One of his hands went to my butt and I let it, while I felt the muscles of his back.  The little part of me that says I shouldn't be making out with a guy was blowing its whistle but I ignored it, laying back on the couch and letting him stale me while one hand went to a breast.  I pulled him in a little, just close enough to feel that he was hard, which made me break the kiss and scoot back a bit.

"Sorry," he said, "it just happens."

"Believe me, I know.  It's just--"

Maybe there's a bit of disappointment on his face as he anticipates me saying that, but despite all the talk on that subject, I don't think I noticed any.  I actually found myself thinking "don't be stupid!" because I could feel myself turned on all over and thinking what am I going to do, run to the bathroom?  So I took a breath and said "it's just that I really can't have another baby right now.  You've got to be really careful."

A big grin spread over his face as he reached in his pocket and pulled out a condom with something about extra thickness on the wrapper, did my best not to look away as he put it on, although I may have taken a little longer than necessary in pulling my dress up over my head.  I suddenly felt really naked and vulnerable in just my bra and panties, though also kind of wishing I'd worn fancier ones.  Still, I was able to put myself in his place, pulling my panties down and letting him, well, you know.

I kind of don't know what to think of it.  It felt good, because he knew what he was doing a lot better than I did.  I mean, I didn't just lay there like I did when I got knocked up, but I didn't really know what I should do!  I felt stupid for not having done anything when I was a guy, or all the things I knew I shouldn't do but which would have left me feeling less ridiculous in that moment.  He said it was okay, I was just out of practice, and I just thought about how it was a good thing that if never let on just how much practice I figure Krystle had before I took over her life.

I talked to Ashlyn about it a couple days later and she started to laugh before apologizing, saying she figured it must be even weirder than usual for me.  Then the next day she brought in a couple of DVDs, saying that unlike most porn, most of what was on them would be fun for both of us and most of it wasn't "too advanced".  I was mortified and kept looking at my purse like it was going to catch fire the rest of the night.  I've seen R-rated movies and all, but never anything like that!  I was almost relieved that there was never a good time to get them out of the back of the drawer I speed them in over the past week.

But now Momma Kamen is out for the night and I've got another date with Calvin tomorrow, and Little Moira just feel asleep.  I really don't want to study how to please a man like this - I can't help but think of the time my dad found the magazine a classmate had stuck in my backpack and what the thought of his son learning how to make a man come would be like for him - but I kind of have to, if not for Calvin, than for the man I eventually marry.

Still...  Why is having fun so stressful?


Friday, April 19, 2019

Simon/Joy: Highland Girl

I actually did it.  Everything that the original Joy ever owned is gone.  A lot of it went to thrift stores, some of it went to Treena, and the rest is in her parents' basement, but by the time I left San Diego, there was nothing in my bags that I had inherited from her.  This may seem like a silly thing to do, but once it was done, I wondered why more people who wound up in a new life long-term without the original person planning to return because of the Inn don't do it. 

Admittedly, it's not exactly financially great; purges don't bring back enough cash to replace what was gone; it maybe only really works when you're going to be traveling light and moving in with your rich boyfriend.  Still, there's a bunch of really silly stuff that goes with wearing someone else's clothes and sleeping in her bed and maybe having pictures of the girl with type current face doing things you never did on the fridge.  Like, what am I supposed to do when Treena smirks and says I'm wearing Joy's lucky panties?  And the time I've spent fiddling with her devices because she had some screwy preference that returned every time her phone rebooted.  It just feels good to have all that be mine now.

But wait, you may say, weren't you focusing on traveling light so that you can move in with Joy's ex-boyfriend?  And, yeah, I see where that come off as hypocritical.  But it's not like he ever mentions stuff he and she did very often, and I feel like the fact that he's been visiting me for the past year, so that it's mostly me choosing where we go and what we do, I feel like I've been making him my boyfriend rather than hers.

I don't mean I've been deliberately trying to change him or anything, just kind of bringing out the parts of his personality that are more in line with mine.  Some of it's guy-inside stuff, like being a little more reluctant to give head, or maybe spending an afternoon at a game rather than a nature walk or whatever, and some is just me not being girl-next-door-y in the same way.  Like, I'm not going to resist when he wants to take me to a nice restaurant or spend a couple hundred bucks on a bottle of wine, or anything like that.  I'm not gold-digging or dropping hints or anything, just not saying no or being embarrassed when life offers me nice things, and maybe she would have felt the same if she'd returned to this life after spending the better part of a year as someone else.  That she didn't is all the reminder I need that life isn't always generous and you should take what it gives you.

Although even I must admit, the castle is a bit much.

Iain's family doesn't live in an actual castle - it's not made of stone with turrets to shoot arrows at invaders or anything - but it's a pretty sizable mansion, with an enclosed courtyard, a dining hall that can accommodate a lot of people, a ballroom, and stables that I'll get to layer.  I showed some nice places to guys that had money to spend in California, but even the really nice, old ones, I'd be giving some sort of spiel about what the servants' quarters had been converted into, whereas this one still had servants living there!

Maybe more staff than family, at times.  Iain has an older half-sister, who herself is married with three kids of her own, but they live in Ireland and mainly visit around the holidays, and a younger brother who is attending school in Boston, and a few cousins who have rooms in the house to call their own - a few of them are around at any given time - but most of the time it's him and his father, plus the butler, cook, stable-master, and now a nurse.

One of the benefits of not really being Joy is that I don't remember Sir Robert Mackinnon as he was before the stroke, and as such I apparently didn't come off patronizing or pitying the way that a lot of old acquaintances do when they see the wheelchair or hear him slur his speech a little.  He's still sharp, especially when you get him talking about his horses or something else where he can get excited.  I think we've even started to bond a bit, since I'm around the major a little bit more than I'd originally expected. 

As much as being the live-in girlfriend of a rich young man sounds, it gets kind of boring at times, but getting a job in a foreign country is a kind of chicken-and-egg thing.  You can't get a job without the proper visa, and they won't issue you the visa without a job lined up.  It may go a little smoother because Joy's parents are English, but that doesn't make me a citizen.

So I kind of hang around, the staff kind of resents me because they're not running a hotel, and I try and figure out what to do next.  I would occasionally wander by the stables, and one day last week Sir Robert was there, arguing with a trainer.  The horses, you see, are the foundation of the McKinnon family fortune; they've been breeding them for decades if not centuries, but it's not something Iain and his siblings have particular interest in, and Sir Robert is apparently a canny enough businessman to recognize that diversifying the family's holdings is a smart idea.  It makes him a bit sad, though, so he seemed to be heartened by my interest, asking if I'd ever ridden.  I don't know what Joy would have said, but it's not exactly something I could fake.

He was a bit disappointed by that, but got a little happier when I started to show interest in the business.  In certain crude ways, it's a lot like what I was doing before the Inn, if you consider breeding akin to a custom manufacturing process and horses a short of durable good that certain clients might need, whether they be in the racing business, farmers, or even a couple of police departments.  Sales and contracts are...  Well, it's interesting, though he doesn't necessarily seem to think a young American girl like Joy would be interested in anything but the pretty horsies.

He seems keen to foster that interest, if only because maybe me being interested would get him interested, but didn't think much of it until I got back from doing a little shopping and had the butler, Weathers, intercept me and say there was a parcel for me from "the Master", which means Sir Robert (Weathers trends to call Iain "Mister McKinnon").  Curious, I went upstairs to find a garment bag with a riding outfit in it - boots, jacket, little cap, the whole deal.

Of course I tried it on, posing a little in the mirror.  As much as I've grown used to being Joy by now, sometimes I surprise myself, and seeing Equestrian Barbie made me giggle a little, both in delight and kind of ironically.  It wasn't hard to imagine where this could go, me as lady of the house, riding on the weekend, going to events with Iain, looking modest when he says that I'm not just a pretty face but actually run the family business.  Ridiculous, I guess, but what did I come here for if I wasn't looking at that as a possibility?

Gotta learn how to ride first, though.  First lesson with Iain tomorrow, weather permitting.


Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Jenn/Zack: What's next

If it's been quiet around here, it's not because we haven't been busy. We have to be, since even in Jersey, rent isn't cheap. I have been busting my ass to get referrals for my mediocre photography, which has gotten off the ground thanks to Alexa -- having an absolutely gorgeous woman linking you in her Insta posts really does a lot for your profile.

In celebration, Alexa and Ryan invited me and "April" out to dinner at a restaurant Ryan knew - a real up and coming hipster place. Pete didn't want to go, knowing how crappy Ryan had been and that he still hadn't been caught, but I was insistent. I didn't want to feel like a third wheel, and I still have trouble relating to guys as guys - in mixed company they're not so bad but if I have to have a one-on-one conversation with Ryan it's likely he'll say something that turns my stomach.

Plus, there were certain thoughts that I wanted to avoid having when Alexa is around.

Honestly, it's been hard to process, because when I'm around her, my hormones go off like a neon sign saying "YOU ARE ATTRACTED TO THIS!" But I get a churning feeling in my gut because I'm not a guy and if I'm lucky I won't be much longer so there would be no point in pursuing someone like her. Or anyone. Plus, she's with Ryan, even though he doesn't deserve her. And when I see them together it just pains me.

I had hoped that being "in character" with April would distract me enough, but really, compounding a secret with a lie just turns out to quadruple the negative feelings. I was constantly wondering what my body language was saying, if I was staring too long at Alexa, not looking over at April enough., if I was "passing" as male with Ryan, while simultaneously feeling the urge to fight him.

Ryan asked n innocent question about our relationship, April and Me - asking about how the last time he heard about me, I was dating that older woman. I tried to wave it off as jut a fling (and not let on that it involved a serious heartbreak) and that April, who in cover story I was with for years, was my true love. But it was hard to say those things and mean it.

Pete looked lovely, taking the opportunity to make himself very pretty and sophisticated, wearing beautiful earrings and a silvery, low-cut dress that he said was the nicest thing April owned and that he didn't think he'd get a chance to wear... any guy would be lucky to have a woman like that on his arm. I wished I could have appreciated it but I was far too distracted.

Pete deserved to be congratulated too. He had found a new job in short order, unsurprising based on April's resume and his own capabilities. It's a short-term contract too, which always sounds like such a ripoff but works out perfectly since it ends just as we are supposed to be going to the Inn this summer.

After we parted ways it was a long ride out of the city. Now it was Pete's turn to seem distant and distracted. I asked what was wrong.

"Well, I'm a little let down," he sighed. "I shouldn't be surprised, and I'm not taking it personally or anything, but... I kind  of thought this would work."

"What would?"

"This," he said, gesturing to his body, his dress, his hair and makeup. "Its... a lot, don't you think? Put a lot of work in here. I know I can't compete with Alexa - hell, if I was still on the guy side of the equation I'd be eyeing her all night the way you were. But I thought maybe I could draw some of that attention for myself."

He sighed. "It's stupid. I feel like an idiot for... thinking... anything, I guess. It's been a long time since I liked anyone as much as I like you, Jenn. I'm a romantic at heart, but just like you, I care too much to trick anyone into being with me while I look like someone else. The only shot at happiness either of us has is with someone like us."

I was shocked. We've been getting along well as "housemates" and really enjoying each other's company... I guess I just thought that was where it ended. But I appreciated that he was being open and honest with me.

I'd be lying if I said the thought hadn't crossed my mind. We're two people of compatible sexes sharing a space. I've seen "April" in all but the fullest state of undress, gotten familiar with his habits and quirks, shared jokes. It has been a little bit like a relationship - the settled, later parts. It's just that, after years with David, maybe I was hoping to be swept off my feet again. Or sweep someone off their feet.

I took my time in crafting my response as a long silence fell between us. "I just think..." I said, treading lightly to be sure if this really was what I thought, "If we're only... you know... together... because that's the easiest, or only option... is that healthy? Don't we deserve better?"

He smiled - oh, wow, how that smile lights up a room, if I'm being honest - "This has been a hreat month for me, Jenn. What could possibly be better than this?"

He touched my hand. Those soft little fingers on my rough ones.

I felt warmth inside me.

My heart started beating faster.

I wanted to kiss her right there and then.

Why... why not?

I leaned over and pressed my lips to hers. I hadn't kissed anyone in a little while, and I haven't kissed anyone new in a long while - I mean, technically, when I kissed David as Lena for the first time that was someone new, but this was something else.

I can't deny it was better. Whether because, on a shallow level, I'm more attracted to April than I was to Lena (who had beauty, but you know, the age thing and being my first "woman",) or because I was just so excited for someone to be thinking of me that way again... it was long, and hungry and passionate before we knew it.

We made out all night, and when we weren't making out we were talking like old friends, unburdening ourselves in ways we hadn't yet in all the weeks we'd been living together. I didn't know if it would just end up being one night of passion, or something more, but my eyes felt opened for the first time.

"So, does this mean," I asked around 3 AM, "I can start sleeping in the bed?"

She flashed pink-red: "Let's just take it one step at a time, okay? We have months."

Fair enough, I said...

We did fall asleep in each other's arms, though, sitting upright in a position that felt comfortable at first but left me sore in the morning.

I had left my phone in the other room. When I checked it in the morning, there was a long text from Alexa.

There was a bit of preamble, but essentially it was saying how she's never had a guyfriend like me before, and there she's starting to wonder if there's something there - a better connection than she has with Ryan. She says, she hates herself for thinking it but maybe I feel the same way and that's why I seem so indifferent about April.

She said she was sorry for putting it out there if I didn't feel the same way, but she couldn't get it out of her head.

My heart sank at that... talk about terrible timing.

-Confused Jenn

Monday, March 18, 2019

Tyler/Valerie: Smile

I have I can't tell you how many interactions with people all day behind the counter of the coffee shop. They complain to me about the quality of our baked goods, about the weather, about it being Monday. They might make some remark they really think I'll like, or be bold enough to make a remark that could be construed as flirty. For the most part I try to keep a politely neutral expression on my face. One that says, I may not be thrilled to be here and I'm really not here to make friends, but I'm not going to bite your head off. Wecan talk for the five seconds it takes to foam a latte, whatever.

Some people are better at service than I am. Maddie is a perky burst of energy. Rafe can be chummy and bro-y at the drop of a hat. The new kid, Devin, is very upbeat. I'm personally not so good at hiding my real feelings.

You would think - being a transformed person, who has lived other peoples lives for years, faking things comes naturally. But maybe that's actually why I am so averse to it. I want my inner self to come through. And if she's a little blah most days, it's not without reason.

I at least know I am providing my best service whether I'm smiling or not. Me putting on a false face, I have to believe, doesn't improve my customer's lives for eve the 30 seconds we are face to face.

When I have something to smile about, I smile. Some days I come in in a good mood, some days Maddie and I have danceoffs (she wins - I just awkwardly shuffle my body like any rhythmless former-guy with ungainly boobs.) You know, whatever. I smile when I'm happy.

You know what I'm getting at here. The number of times I've had some guy say I should be smiling - and it's always a guy - I can't count. To this day I have no set response to it. Usually, if I think I can get away with it, I just don't react. If I'm lucky I can brush it off and go to the next customer. I've had one or two guys get indignant when I've taken this approach and hiss at me about what poor service I'm giving. Sometimes I play dumb, like I didn't hear them and see if I can get them to feel embarrassed. Sometimes I even will myself to flash a smile, but I always feel disgusted with myself afterward.

Universally, it makes me feel gross. I was a man, and I know not every many goes around saying stuff like that, but it doesn't really make me feel great about the totality of my former gender to see how widespread it is. Or to feel how small and powerless and objectified it makes me feel. Being leered at is one thing - I'm worth looking at, and it doesn't inconvenience me too badly. But to be latched onto by men who want to "see me smile" just feels so sinister and wrong and makes me feel like they see me as "less." It's a reminder that to a lot of them I am less - a target, a prize, than a human to be engaged with.

Yesterday, when it happened, I tried my usual brushoff. I wasn't having a good day. My hair was being uncooperative, I was feeling certain physical ailments I never dealt with before being a woman, I was just annoyed at the world. So when this guy drops his change into the tip jar - a whopping 15 cents - and I don't smile and say thank you, he gives me this glare, and says, "Hey, not even a smile? What's the matter with you?"

I could have gone into a whole thing, but instead I gave him the fake smile, and said, "Oh, thanks." He was big and bald and honestly looked like he would take a swing at me even thought I'm five-foot nothing and female. I was too scared to try anything but go along. It's one of the worst feelings that comes along with this life.

He reluctantly accepts this, muttering under his breath as he walks away with his coffee to go sit down.

So here's where it gets screwy. We have this regular - Kevin. We call him Silvertop because he's a  little older, prematurely grey, handsome like Anderson Cooper. Well, more salt-and-pepper but whatever. He comes in every day, reads for an hour or so, then leaves quietly. I like him, generally.

He gets up and he goes over to the guy. "Excuse me," he says, "Did you just tell her to smile?"

"None of your business, pal," says the guy, who looks like he would wreck silvertop in a fight.

"That's just incredibly rude," Kevin goes on to say, "You can't just say shit like that to random women. It's 2019, pal."

"Step off," growls the other guy.

Kevin won't relent. "I'm just saying, you don't know her story. Who's to say she's got anything to smile about, just because some stranger threw a quarter her way? Why don't you think about other people for a change?"

Big Guy stands up like he's going to start a fight, but to his credit, he just leaves the shop, staring daggers at Kevin the whole way. I'm watching this unfold and I'm feeling... angry.

"Hey," I say sharply.

"Yeah?" Kevin answers back.

"Don't do that."

He looks at me for a while, then asks, "I was just trying to..."

"Well, I didn't want you to, okay. I don't need you to swoop in and tongue-lash every asshole who comes in here. Have you seen this city? That's how you get stabbed."

He looked like he was going to defend himself a bit more, but then he caught himself. "My mistake, I'm sorry."

Then he sits back down and goes back to his book.

I spent the rest of the day in a huff. I told Maddie about it, but she didn't see the big deal - she'd love to have some guy defending her, especially someone like Silvertop.

"It just feels like two sides of the same coin," I said, "The first guy thought I owed him a smile. The second wanted to seem like a hero for rescuing me."

"He was just being nice!" Maddie protested.

Charli got it better, which I guess befits her background. Not that she's a manhater per se but she's even more wary of them than I am.

Still, I spent the rest of the night first wondering if I was too harsh, then getting re-annoyed with myself for thinking I could be too harsh. It's been a while since I've mentioned it but my "natural speaking voice" in this body is like an animated kitten. Even when I work to lower my register I still sound pretty cutesy. It's annoying.

I did wonder whether I should apologize. He has always seemed like a nice enough guy, quiet, keeps to himself, his intentions were good enough. Maybe I had a valid reason but there's also a ton of baggage I bring to situations like these.

The next day when he came in, he gave his order. I gave him a smile to try to convey... an apology? The idea I might have been wrong without fully admitting it?

"I'm sorry again about yesterday" he said unprompted. "It was presumptuous of me to step in. Way out of line."

"Yeah, well" I said steeling myself to give a rare apology, "I shouldn't have jumped down your throat. I was really just... misplaced anger and stuff. Really, it was a decent gesture."

"Well, I was chastened," he said, "And you spoke your mind. I respect the hell out of that, even if I'm on the other end of it."

I appreciated him saying that.

I have to admit, the unwanted attention this body beings frustrates the hell out of me, because I can't seem to turn it off. It's one thing to doll up and draw attention to yourself, but when you don't feel comfortsble standing around looking plain and average because guys think you should be happy and perky and perfectly groomed at all times, it wears on you, makes you resent life. Ironically, it doesn't make me want to go back to being a man - it makes me want to be a better woman.


Saturday, March 09, 2019

Jenn/Zack: Mope

When I left off, I had broken up with David and, immediately afterward, been told that I was not getting my body back. Not this year at least, but I might as well consider it a life sentence since nobody ever seems to get back to normal if they miss their first chance. The asshole in my body couldn't even go a year without turning my home into a meth lab, so I know I can't rely on them. I might as well consider that a lost cause.

I've been in mourning. It feels like every day I think of some new thing I'll never see again. My parents, my brother and sisters, my grandmother, my cousins, my family dog... my old job, my co-workers, the clothes I liked wearing, my hometown. Now I'm screwed, doomed to wander around through life, always pretending to be someone else. I feel like I have no purpose, except to keep Zack's life ready for him. Nothing matters anymore. Nothing feels like "me."

I'm mad at David for not telling me, as well as basically breaking off all communications. It's just as well since in this state I've been missing him and dying for something comfortable and safe, even though it would be a mistake to go back with him. The further I get from him the more the details of our relationship seem like a nightmare. As Lana, he had so much power over me but it wasn't enough.

Pete has been so helpful. She's been there and she seems to have a lot of patience for my mopiness. Pete has a gentle soul. Pete has "been there" in a lot of ways and can guide me through what I'm dealing with.

Which makes what happened next feel that much worse. That asshole David had the balls to fire Pete/April two weeks ago.

You can't tell me it wasn't personal. Pete has been above and beyond the call of duty for April's position, basically doing the job of an executive while officially only being an EA. There are other VP's but they are subject to Lena's directives, and those directives have been coming from Pete.

When Pete told me, she put a brave face on it. So much the better - April was officially overqualified, and with Pete's brain and her CV, there was a good chance this was a great opportunity. They've been collaborating, long-distance, over what kind of jobs April is interested in applying for, since she's the one who will end up doing it. We can't afford to make it through the spring unemployed until we go back to the Inn.

It just provides more reason to be livid at David, that he would pull a stunt like this. Somehow there are no laws to prevent this, since at-will employment is a thing and even though it's so nakedly personal there's no recourse Pete can take. It's just David screwing himself because he doesn't like Pete and doesn't like that he is helping me out.

I'm angry, and sad, and lonely all the time and I want this experience to end.


Thursday, February 21, 2019

Tyler/Valerie: Girly

During parts of my life where I've been physically a woman, I've had an annoying recurring dream where I'm walking down the main street of my hometown in just my underwear. I walk past people I grew up with while they catcall me, yelling out obscene shit like "Nice tits!" "Where'd you get the panties!" "Shake that ass!" and such. I wake up feeling ashamed and bitter. Just terrible that life worked out in such a way that I now live like this. It makes me not want to get out of bed in the morning, let alone do my hair and make-up and get dressed and face the world as this.

Let it be known - I've come to like doing my hair and make-up. I'm free to slack on them, of course, but engaging in girly shit makes me feel, well, girly, in a good way. Which is important, because this is a girly body.

Let's talk about how hard it is to dress myself. Pretty much my only options are to wear something form-fitting that shows off my body, or something frumpy and baggy that may be comfortable and warm but makes me look like I'm in a potato sack. I have no choice but to acknowledge to the world that I have big boobs, round hips, and a butt that is admittedly on the flat side but still feminine. And the shit I get from the world if I choose to downplay my looks is honestly not worth the savings in time and effort. So, you win, world. You've girled me up.

I like the girly stuff, not because I ever did before, but because I've come to see it as part of being me. And no matter who you are, no matter what it takes, you can't beat the feeling of looking in the mirror and knowing the person who is looking back is the real you. However far you are from the way you started.

All this estrogen has had a transformative effect on my brain, and I'm not just talking about being willing to do something like what I did on New Years. I'm a lot more conscientious of, well... everything. I see an ad for skin cream and I think "Hm, my skin has felt dry lately - must be the weather, maybe I'll pick some up." Something that wouldn't have occurred to me during my time as a man. I also think maybe it's made me more sensitive. Charlie was sick last month, and even though we still hadn't really broken the ice, I made her soup and tea and stuff.

As to why I would have dreams knocking me down a peg, it's probably because I go through a sustained period of feeling okay about my situation, and then suddenly my brain wants to correct itself and go "No, this isn't right, you should be a man, being a woman is wrong." Tight clothes, makeup, hairspray, all wrong. Lip balm, wrong. Period, very wrong. But there's nothing I can do about it, and on balance, nothing I want to do about it.

I think what spurred these bad dreams was actually... dating. After things didn't pan out with Erik - I ghosted him, but he also ghosted me, which left me feeling oddly annoyed (what, no "thank you"? Was I not good? Does he think he can do better?) I nearly texted him but I had to remind myself I didn't like him that much, so I went on the apps.

It sucks out there. My whole line, to Pete or Jenn or anyone who asks is, I'm not actively interested in dating women, but man I miss it. I have never met a guy I liked as much as the women I dated. I went out with three guys in January and February and they were all kind of boring. They were guys who work day jobs in offices who message every reasonably attractive person they see, and I just picked the least objectionable ones.

They were full of themselves, they prattled on and on about their work, and, because I, as Valerie, am not really in the same place in my life as them, seemed not to acknowledge my observations. I was beneath them, I was more of a pet, an object, an adorable little accessory to be talked down to. And that was when they bothered to let me into the conversation. They would go on and on and usually casually reveal their cockiness, their sexism, their obliviousness to other peoples' feelings or lives.

I got invited back to all three apartments and I declined all three times even though I would like to find someone to have sex with. I didn't feel particularly attracted to them - it's so crazy how I never know what's going to, uh shall we say, light my fire. I have a few regular customers I have openly referred to as cuties, so I know I'm at least into something, but one is tall and broad-shouldered, the other is short and thin and kind of boyish, and honestly I don't think he's conventionally attractive. And don't think I haven't thought about breaking the ice there, but when you work with the public there's something to be said for keeping your relationships professional.

I was venting about all this to Charlie, of all people. When she was sick, and I helped her with stuff, we started to bond. She loves "straight girl tea" and openly drips acid all over the idea of me having a lovelife. She says I fascinate her, because I seem like such a vanilla, nothing-happening straight girl on the outside, but there's "clearly" more going on. If she only knew.

"Sometimes I wonder about you," she said with a glint in her eye. "Are you sure you're completely straight?"

I smirk, this is oddly the conversation I've wanted to have with her for months, even though I'm about to say things to her I probably shouldn't. "Can you keep a secret?"

"Of course. I'm all about that," she grinned widely.

I take a deep breath, "I've dated women. Years ago. Waaay in the past."

Her jaw dropped and she leaned in closer. "Anything serious?"

"One or two, yeah," I said. I could feel myself getting oddly cold as I edged toward the truth. Maybe this was a mistake.

"Why did you stop?"

"I... it's very complicated. It's not who I am anymore."

"I see. You met the guy who left you at the altar. You straightened out for him, and now you're worried your gay card has expired."

"More like, I let it lapse," I said.

"Uh huh," she nodded skeptically, as if this was not possible (and maybe in her world, it isn't.) "Well, I've got to say over the past few months I've noticed some weird things about you. Like, sometimes this 'normal vanilla good girl' thing is just an outfit you're trying on and it doesn't quite fit."

That stung a little. Any reminder that I'm not totally passing feels the same as those dreams. Like salt in the wounds that even if I embrace womanhood, it doesn't always see me as one of its own. But people take so little notice of others that it never seems to come up. And what she was saying was theoretically admiring (from her standpoint) but it came across as a critique. I got quiet.

"Don't tell Maddie, okay? She doesn't need to know."

"Oh, of course not," Charlie nodded. "Because then she'll get all weird, worrying that you and I might hook up. Or worse, you'd try to hit on her."

"Right..." I said, a little saddened that that might be Maddie's take on the situation.

"She made me promise I wouldn't try to get with you. Well I guess you don't need my help. But I still promise not to knock on your door some drunken night."

"Thanks," I said, "Same here."

She laughed, then coughed and sneezed and snorted in an adorably disgusting way. "Let it lapse!" she hooted, bringing back my term from earlier "That's hilarious."

Later, when it was my turn to be sick, she looked after me, then when Maddie was sick, we let her boyfriend take care of it, although I'd be lying if I didn't say there was a part of me that thought I could be doing a better job.


Monday, February 11, 2019

Jenn/Zack: What the HELL???

Breaking up with David was the hardest, most gut-wrenching process of my life. It took days of fighting and negotiating and going back and forth endlessly on text and e-mail and in person.

Before pulling the trigger, I had to make sure my bases were covered - since I have been cohabitating with him and basically using Lena's bank account as my sole means of support, I first contacted Pete and confirmed that he would be okay if I crashed on his couch until I got on my feet. Then I started lining up potential clients for "my" photography business, which was a little feeble but it was better than nothing.

I spent days mentally rehearsing my arguments, trying to figure out the most direct yet delicate way to bring it to him. The hardest part was figuring out when to initiate the breakup, since if I waited for a heated moment, an argument of some sort, I risked getting distracted. I wanted us both to be clear-headed. And I hoped that we could walk away with no hard feelings.

I don't know how well I have described David, but that really was wishful thinking.

The moment I got the first line out of my mouth ("David, we should talk...") he went on the defensive, disputing everything, insisting that if there was a problem it was me, and I was a mooch and making him do all these awful things like live as a woman and "enjoy getting f*cked like one" as if I'm in any way responsible for anything he did or chose during his time. He insinuated that we wouldn't be breaking up if I had been the woman and he the man (possible, but irrelevant) and that I really just wanted to go off and "enjoy my c*ck" with some other "b*tch" like "that tr*nny Pete." He told me to go, I was more trouble than I was worth, that he didn't love me either, that I'd regret leaving him, etc etc.

I grabbed my stuff and left for Jersey. I spent the night crying on Pete's couch while Pete - bless his heart, tried to console but really lacks the feminine touch she aspires to. David called the next day apologizing, saying it was the heat of the moment, he was blindsided, etc etc. I told him I wanted to end it on good terms so as to not jeopardize any of us getting our proper lives back, and he said not to worry about it. And I said "what do you mean" and he says... get this...

He tells me that the people in our bodies were arrested months ago for selling meth out of our apartment. They're forbidden from leaving the state of Colorado for eighteen months. Apparently he hadn't decided what he wanted to do about it, so he didn't tell me. What, was he just going to let us transform into two complete random strangers and pretend he had no idea it was coming? Or...

Weeks passed. I grieved, I screamed, I cried, I sleep-walked my way through a few photo sessions including a very concerned Alexa, who could tell I was upset about something ("Bad breakup" probably didn't cover it, but was all I could say.) David disappeared. Even PEte didn't know for a few days where he was, until he turned up on Instagram, back in Florida, laughing it up with Pina Coladas in a way-too-revealing bikini.

So now I'm like, what, does he like Lena's life? I mean, there's a lot to like about it... wealth, respect, and yet the freedom to go be a jerkoff on holiday whenever he wants. Is he planning on stealing that life? I don't know - I'd like to think the man I was dating isn't capable of that but honestly I'm starting to feel like I never knew the real David.

Meanwhile, poor Pete is caught in the middle. When David found out I was staying with him, he threatened to fire him outright, but Pete pointed out that this was a bad idea - that he was the one keeping the company together and the only one protecting the incompetent "Lena" from a very frustrated board that has seen the company's direction plummeting over the last three quarters. Pete is very eager to hand April's life back to her, and Dave needs his right-hand woman.

I reached out to April and Zack to give them a head's up that David might be planning something really scummy, but gave my assurances that Pete and I had no such ideas. It was really hard to read their response, which was a cold acceptance, that as far as David-Lena goes, things are out of their hands.

So... there's the drama I've been dealing with lately, sorry for not posting more! Honestly, it's gotten me so worked up just to recap it, I need to lie down. I don't know what's going to happen to me. I wake up every day nauseous as to what's coming. I'm not built for this, I just want my life back!!

-Jenn, "Zack"

Friday, February 08, 2019

Harmon Keller/Alicia Polawski: Social

At some point, I should have thrown the mobile phone that I inherited from Alicia into the Bay, or at the very least deleted all of her accounts and started new ones.  Perhaps not at the outset, when one might assume that Alicia would be seeking to return to her life without disruption, but certainly there was no need to preserve such continuity once she decided to remain in her new life.  By the time I decided to tolerate this existence for another year in order to find one more suitable that has not been damaged by another's stewardship the way my own had, it had become sadly convenient.  When I need to coordinate something with co-workers - and, later, flatmates - they tend to prefer using "WhatsApp" rather than a straightforward voice-mail or text message; on top of that, enough people at the airport remember one Magda or another and ask about her that it is worth regularly glancing at the Facebook page that Daryl continues to maintain to avoid questions of why I don't know what she's up to in New York.

This convenience has generally been worth the occasional moment when Alicia's phone buzzes because somebody has found her Instagram page and decided to leave some lewd comment on a picture of her not completely dressed.  At times, I find it amusing, for I am sure most of the men posting that message would be taken aback by the true identity of the person reading it.  Occasionally one is unctuous enough to merit blocking, and in a few cases people have reappeared with new accounts.  As a man, I admire their persistence, but they are a nuisance, though one that had been tapering off, as I had not added more photographs to keep it current.

Then came "Barbie".

Barbara Matheson was hired by the airline a few months ago, and as fate would have it not only wound up assigned to the same crew as I was in November, but also rented a spot in the same apartment.  It is, I suppose, natural that she would decide to look at me as a mentor and sort of older sibling, and I certainly did little to discourage it initially.  I have always appreciated the attention of young, attractive women, and though I now recognize that it will no longer lead to certain highly-pleasant experiences, I am nevertheless vulnerable to it.

Part of her being young is that she instinctively documents her entire life in real time, and tags her non-stop stream of "selfies", food photographs, and status updates with the names of everybody in the area, frequently including myself.  Every tag becomes a new, current way for people who followed a hash-tag to Barbie's page to find mine, follow me despite the year since the previous post, or decide to make some comment, creating more and more notifications.  On a number of occasions, people came to proposition us before we finished our meal because Barbie had tagged the location!  Thankfully, she has become more conscientious about waiting to post her silly food pictures until after she has finished eating.

Somewhat surprisingly, not all of the comments Barbie attracts are from men trying to get into her pants; or from family members who think that the travel involved with her job makes her life one to live vicariously, but a whole group of young women as well.  And many of them would be shrieking in capital letters not just about the obvious things, but my apparel, which I found strangely gratifying.

Contrary to what Lindsey or Daryl might have you believe, I do dress well.  It was initially emasculating the first time I donned brassieres and skirts, in large part because of the job they represented, but eventually one must work with the reality of the body one has.  Eventually, it became clear that what one wears allows one to choose who speaks to her, and if that means a black skirt, nylons, and matching heels, it is a small price to pay to converse with serious people rather than the people Alicia used to get involved with!  It can be frustratingly difficult at times - my current hips are not as conducive to a nice pencil skirt the way Lindsey's were and presumably are again, so finding the style that best creates the intend impression can require trial and error.  That means more time than I would like in changing rooms, and I've taken to traveling with a small iron in case there is not one at a city's "crash pad".

It is, in some ways, a circle of deception, with me pretending to be Alicia pretending to be a bit more high-class than her means.  The combination of all factors puts me in some strange situations on occasion, like last night, when I needed a new top and found my bank account light between paying rent last week and my pay not being deposited until today.  I took two into the changing room and had a difficult time deciding, and practically before the idea had formed, there were two new posts on Alicia's Instagram account, asking the ladies following her which I should choose.  Surprisingly, there was a flurry of responses saying that the white one with bate shoulders was "v. sophisticated" (and, yes, some would write out "sophisticated" while abbreviating "very"), so I went with that.

The Inn has made me a selfie-posting Millennial.  God help me.

- Harmon Keller

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Jonah/Krystle: You've got a boyfriend when...

... your 2-year-old daughter knows maybe a dozen people's names and "Calvin" is one of them.

This whole dating thing has been surprisingly easy so far, to the point where I sometimes find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop.  There's a part of me that wonders if Calvin has been to the Trading Post and knows I have, because he accepts me being weird so easily and doesn't push where it would freak me out, but what are the odds on that?

Like, back in October, he practically had a twinkle in his eye talking about second-date plans, and I'm like, dude, you don't know me and aren't that clever.  But I kind of enjoy that, waiting to see what he thinks I'd like.  A few days later, he texts asking if I'm free mid-week; I say yes, he says to bring workout clothes.  Interesting.

We meet at a subway station in Cambridge, and he leads me a couple blocks down the street to a rock-climbing gym.  "That's...  A choice.  You saying I'm fat or something?"

"My sister said you'd say that, and also said not to say I wanted to see you in spandex."

"You should listen to her more."

"She says that a lot.  But, honest, I just picked up on you liking sports but not really being into running.  You ever do this before?"

"Just, like, ropes in gym class."

"Trust me, you'll love it."

I don't, at first, as I go into the locker room and change.  I don't think about my butt much, especially after a couple of years - obnoxious guys tend to and grab it at work and on the subway, sure, but they to do that to everyone, and I've got more tempting targets up top - but put me in a pair of yoga pants in a room with other people, and, yeah, there's no denying that I've got a genuine black girl bottom.  It's nothing to be ashamed of, but I went to high-school with a bunch of white guys and serve a lot more in Ashlyn's, and they can get weird, like it's either gross or something exotic.  It's just my butt.

Still, getting into that and a sports bra, I couldn't help but think that this was a lot more skin than I was counting on for a second date.   I try to tell myself I'd be cool with it if I were still the guy, and you might as well rip the Band-Aid off rather than get ghosted because he finally sees your shape after a couple months, but I'm new at this and kind of nervous as I leave the locker room.

He smiles when he sees me without being creepy, though, and we go to one of the beginner walls, a trainer showing me how to work with the harnesses and all, which would probably be nothing if I'd just decided to do this on my own, but is also way more "guys I don't know touching me" than I expected on a date.

On the other hand, climbing is awesome.

I liked sports in school, but I just never got the hang of running since becoming Krystle, especially since getting pregnant.  I'll do it if Little Moira is about to get into something, but when you're as busy as I am and maybe don't have the right bra for it, it's something to be avoided.  It's probably worse if you became this top-heavy all at once, but who knows.  Yoga isn't a bad way to stay in shape in that case - it's actually really good for learning balance and stuff if the Inn changes you that much - but it's really boring.  "Hold that pose" is harder than it looks, but it's not like you're competing with the girl next to you or feeling like you're accomplishing anything.  Considering that I didn't really care if guys thought I was attractive and everything else kept me busy, I was ready to fall out of the habit.

This, though, was just fun - a lot of the stretching and feeling the burn as you balanced your weight and stretched like yoga, but you're getting closer to a goal, you can trash-talk or give your partner encouragement.  It's fun and it doesn't hurt in the wrong way, and I enjoyed it so much we wound up staying until closing.

After that, we started doing more conventional dates.  Movies, sports (I'm still not sold on hockey), skating (I am way better at that then he thought a working-class black girl would be).  I'm not sure when kissing became a thing that we just did rather than something I have into when circumstances had our lips close, or when it felt like it might hurt his feelings not to, but it did.  I admit, I nearly jumped out of my skin the first time there was tongue and the first time he touched my breasts while watching a movie, but I told myself I'd done that, and was more appreciative the next time.

Meeting each other's people was a big deal, too.  Momma Kamen has seen a lot of the original Krystle's questionable taste in men, and I had no idea if Calvin was going to fit into some pattern that had nothing to do with me from her point of view.  Plus, if my daughter didn't like him, it was game over, which admittedly wasn't really that scary - aside from the part of my brain still rebelling against dating a guy, there's one that feels like every evening I go out and leave Moira with her grandmother, on top of the ones where I'm working, is me being a bad mother.  She says I'm not nearly at the point where we have to worry about it.

I don't really think she trusts him, and I don't necessarily blame her for that; the least-involved of Karla's baby-daddies is the white guy with some money.  She grilled him pretty good, but he got out of it alive.  It was a little embarrassing, both because he's a good guy and because she doesn't really know who she's doing it for.  But I try to imagine my own parents trying to suss out his intentions and I just can't.

Little Moira likes him, though; he's a good tickler and she likes it when he lifts her up to the ceiling so she can put star stickers up.  He is also very easy to persuade that it's never too cold for ice cream, and what more does a two-year-old need?

I didn't meet many of his friends until New Year's Eve; it was our first party, I guess, and by then Momma Kamen had at least gotten to the point of accepting that Calvin was going to be a party of my life for a while, because she raised an eyebrow at me in my jeans, sweater, and Nikes.  "That's how you ring in the New Year now?"

I was trying to figure out how to say "uh, yeah" without sounding disrespectful, but then wondered about the other girls at the party - would they be dressing down?  I quickly texted Calvin, and he said not to worry about what anyone else was wearing.  I may not have been born a girl, but Moira the Elder had grumbled about something like this a few weeks earlier - "don't worry about the other girls" means "at least some of the other girls will be making an effort".

So I went to my closet, pushed my church dresses aside, and looked square at the ones I'd worn on two of the most miserable days of my life:  The day I let someone with my face have their way with me on the left, the day Joseph finished Lamont's jail term and I tried to give him a treat only to fight and find out I was pregnant on the right.  The second one looked less trashy, so I went with that and the heels and push-up bra that went with it.  Plus some black pantyhose, because it gets cold.

Then some makeup, because I look good in the mirror and it wouldn't seem right to not go that extra little way.  I don't dress up much and I've gotten used to myself naked, so it takes me a little by surprise every time I get reminded that people used to stick money in the original Krystle's panties for being hot.  I kind of feel ashamed most of the time, both because I know that me being like this is unnatural and because I took that hotness from its owner, but this time, I'm also thinking that Calvin is in for a treat.

Momma Kamen must see that I'm thinking that, too, because she says "there's my sexy little girl" and that she hasn't seen me wanting to make this effort in a while.  I blush, realizing that I do want to look nice for my boyfriend.

He appreciates it, and it doesn't suck that his friends all seem impressed with the "cute, responsible single mom" he's been telling them about.   I smile and laugh, say that when you've got a toddler, you save the time to get fancy for special occasions, and then kind of sick around Calvin for most of the night, trying not to feel too jealous of everyone talking about their recent college or had school experiences.  Could have been me, but I've got an awesome little girl, so that's not a bad trade.

I'm not really that good in heels, especially when there's a lot of dancing, so I wound up leaning on Calvin some, especially with the beer and champagne and all in my system.  There were a few times I could feel how much he was enjoying my touch, but he didn't press it when the night came to its close.

That was kind of neat, all told, although my legs felt it afterward!  Very glad that Little Moira's second birthday party could be an informal affair, and not the last bit alarmed that Calvin is trying to get in good with my daughter by spoiling her at all.