Monday, August 19, 2019

Jenn/Shona: The Mystery of Shona

I have been Shona Nash for over two months 1now. I have cried as her, sweat as her, bled as her. Once or twice I've smiled, laughed, even danced as her. I still don't really know who she is, or was.

From the way people who know her act around me, she seems like she was fun, intelligent, and had a biting sense of humor they were borderline afraid of. On balance it seems like she had a good life, and she knew it. But I can only draw the conclusion that there's a reason she didn't want to live it anymore.

In my head it seems obvious. I mean hello. Take everything that's hard about being a woman and multiple it by 100 when you're this size. The world isn't built for you, people on the street look at you like a freak. I ballooned up literally overnight so of course I was not going to handle it well, not right at first. Did Shona ever get used to it?

I have become damn near obsessed with figuring this woman out. On her social media she seems more comfortable in her skin than I could ever hope to be, with lengthy rants on body positivity under her pics, mant of which do show considerable skin (rolls and all.) She seemed proud to be Shona. Why run from it? Deep down was it an act? Did something better come along? I'm dying to know but I may never.

In that spirit I decided to keep trying with Steven. If he was good enough for her perhaps there was something to that. But I wanted to try on my terms. Physical limitations be damned I wanted to hike some of the trails here. New York was fun but nothing compares to the true outdoors. I invited him alog.

Steven was a little confused but game. So we packed some backpacks with plenty of water and granola and took a hike. It was exhausting. My feet throbbed, my body was rashy with sweat and chafing. My god, next time, remind me to pick up some anto-chafe stick for my... everything.

Steven complained, probably just tryong to make a joke of it. Normally in that situation I'd tell him to man up but I was right there with him. But I didn't voice my own complaints since I was the one who spurred this. My role was to urge us on, to make sure it became an enjoyable day at all costs.

We settled in a secluded area to rest and est and got to talking, which for me meant very delicately feeling him out and trying not to sound like we just met. I know the "curse" is supposed to... well, I'm not even sure but I was counting on it to avoid raising suspicion but I didn't want to invite any questions either way.

I wonder, the longer I drag this out, if he'll find it weird that I forgot where he works, or how many siblings he has, or what his favorite band is.

He asked me why the sudden health kick. I said it wasn't a kick, this is what I'm interested in going forward. I haven't decided what to do, if it's disrespectful go start going hard in the gym and try to make Shona's body something it wasn't (and may not realistically ever be) or if I should just accept that this is me now and make do. In either case, the hiking isn't a weight loss thing, it's just something I enjoy. It's harder and more problematic for me now but I don't want the Inn to take that away from me.

I wasn't sure how to tell him that though. I guess when you're big, people think it defines you and everything must be in service to weight loss. I'm guilty of that too.

Did Shona leave her life because she hated being fat? Or was it something else? Maybe I'll never know. I thought of asking Steven, coyly if possible, if I ever mentioned anything like that  but... honestly, if I were her, that's the last person I would tell. She went to the Inn without him and as nice as he she doesn't seem to be missing him.

A shame. He's nice, he deserves better.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Valerie: The Art of Cooking

When I mused in my last post about not knowing what to wear for my date with Kevin, I wasn't kidding around. I was right puzzled by the situation and a girl like me really has to think hard about what kind of message she sends with her clothes. We were in uncharted territory. I had arranged a meeting that may or may not have been a date, with a guy I was maybe sorta getting to like, and who I thought kinda liked me. Getting the fine details right is crucial.

Luckily I have three roommates who are lifelong females, two of whom are quite femme and glad to help me play dressup.

In the years I've been a woman, I've reached a grudging acceptance that clothes make the woman. I was Judith after all, and Lauren before that. But as Valerie - as myself - I am free to dress how I see fit. I don't need to please clients or compare myself to other teenage girls. Mostly I work, and when I'm slinging coffee that means jeans (or yoga pants) and whatever top I see fit, usually a dark crew neck tee. I do have the occasional night out but it's not hard to fit the right mood: casual, fun or (more rarely) fancy. I don't mind being the most modest girl at the party. I don't usually want the attention.

Now I had to walk the line and I didn't even know where it was. In theory this was just a cooking lesson. I could go right from work and seem right in character. But I wanted it to look like I'd put some thought in. Maybe to suggest that I would be up for more, but not that I was planning on it. (See? For womwn fashion is practically a language. And they speak it to men without them even knowing.)

I've got this little black dress I've been itching to wear all summer. It falls just at the sweet spot midway up my thigh, and really showcases my chest in a tasteful way because it has a high neckline, uet managrs to a oid looking like a potsto sack. I bought it months ago but haven't had the courage, or a reason, to wear it out. If I wore that it would be clear what message I was sending: "Let's go straight to dessert."

Don't think I didn't consider it, but that's more of a third date outfit.

In the end I wore my "good-ass" jeans and a top that is a little more revealing than what I wear to work, with a deeper neckline. It reads casual, as if I might not know my tits are on display. Rest assured, with the bra I was wearing, I knew full well.

I also did my makeup more than usual and curled my hair. It kills me how men never notice these things, and we don't even expect them to. It's just to make ourselves feel like our version of sexy. I also wore nice underwear, on the off chance it came up. For the men's part, I remember sort of taking it for granted that women's looks just kind of fell together easily without so much dang work.

Arriving at his place, I felt more nervous than I have been for a very long time. I felt like I was crossing a threshold. All the dates I've been on since the beginning of the year felt more like something to do, with guys I could take or leave (and mostly left.) This was the first guy I was starting to really like, and my uncertainty about how he felt about me, my need to win him over, was really affecting me. He greeted me with an ambiguous hug. I leaned into him to try to put him - and myself - at ease.

His place was pretty nice, considering what I'm used to around here. I mean, having a place to yourself in Brooklyn is pretty much a sign you're doing well as far as I'm concerned. That was intimidating. I'm not as young as I look, but this guy had a whole "grown up" life that I guess I haven't experienced since being Judith, or even much before that.

It's oddly intimidating being around him, in a way. I'm so used to being in positions where I have more life experience than people. But this guy is older than me, and he's lived a life and matured in ways that even Kitty never seemed. Being around him makes me feel not just my age, but Valerie's, like I'm still a kid to him, even though I've lived five lives and seen and done incredible things.

He offered me a drink of wine. I thought okay, that's pretty datey, semi-romantic, right? Setting the mood.

I felt better once I started cooking. I didn't know his skill level so I thought I would focus on the basics - correctly cooking a chicken, with some seasoning and presentation. How to design an idiot-proof meal. Get him to where he can stop buying meals that come in a box, and just buy the ingredients for them instead.

We got to talking some. He noted my skill and comfort in the kitchen, and asked why I wasn't doing this for a living.

"Working in a restaurant? Eh, I've been there and done that. All kitchens are is just a bunch of douchey tattooed man-children sweating and swearing and pulling their cocks out for laughs. I kind of outgrew it."

He nearly choked on his wine from laughing when I said that. "I had no idea you had such a mouth on you!"

"Oh, sweetie I've been around!" I said, consciously more feminine language. "I may look pretty and delicate but I'm a tough cookie inside."

"Yeah? Are you secretly one of those tattooed sweaty guys inside?"

I grinned wide. "Oh, totally. That's me all over," I said in a tone that maybe sounded like a joke. I think I might have been blushing. Might have been the wine.

I switched the topic. We talked about his work, and his kids - why they live with their grandparents much of the time and not him. With some shame he admitted he didn't feel comfortable being a single parent, and wanted his kids to have a more stable upbringing.

I didn't ask, but he explained this much about his ex: "She got in some trouble a few years back, and the court had to... well, it's an ongoing issue."

We ate, and again he raved at the quality of this very basic meal. "You sure you don't want to get back into the food biz? Maybe open your own place?"

"I don't think so," I said, "Like, that just seems like another way to get me in a room with those guys I was describing earlier. The amount of work, money, sweat... hell, I don't even have the education necessary to be a chef."

"Don't you work for a catering company on the side? Why not start your own?"

"Yeah, that's more my speed, but I never thought about going into business for myself or anything."

"Why not? All you'd need is some investment money."

"Right, all those millions I have socked away under my mattress," I sighed.

"Well, I'm enjoying your work tonight," he said with a smile.

I told him this was nothing - wait until I make him some buttermilk friend chicken, with Hushpuppies.

"Oh, is this going to be a whole regular thing?" he said.

"If you want it to be," I said, trying to ease off the gas a little if that was what he was feeling.

"No, it's cool, very cool..." then he got a little distant. Like he was trying to work up the nerve to say something. It didn't feel impossible he was trying to work out a way to kiss me. I thought about lunging forward, but I... was very mindful of seeming to eager.

But he was being such a gentleman, really charming and warm, it only solidified the feelings I'd been having, and strengthened my resolve to pursue this.

He killed the bottle of wine between both out glasses. We moved over to the couch.

I decided to take a liberty and laid back and propped my feet on his lap. "Do you mind?" I asked, "I've been on my feet all day, and my back is killing."

"Really... back problems already? You're what, 25?"

"Oh, yeah," I said, "It's these things." I cupped my boobs. For a second he looked nervous like he didn't know where to put his eyes. I told him he could look - I know they're there.

"They're a pain in the ass," I said, really just venting off the cuff and barely realizing I was now openly discussing my boobs with this guy. "Ever since I got them. I've thought about getting them reduced but..."

"But what? Money again?"

"No," I said, thinking of the gift I got from the former Valerie back at Christmas. "I could swing that. It's just... they're a part of me. It's hard to explain. I hate them, but I... I'm not sure I'd still be who I am without them."

"That's ridiculous," he smirked. "You're more than a pair of..."

"I... really can't explain. I have a very complicated relationship with my body. The idea of doing something to change it like that is both... very easy, and very hard to contemplate."

What I as trying to say was, part of me wants to keep this body as close to how I found it as I can, and that includes the massive boobs, as much of a hindrance as they are. Objectively, it really only makes sense to go down several sizes. But I worry about losing touch with my conception of who I am as Valerie.

A weird silence hung in the air as we both tried to reckon with the fact that I had just stirred up a conversation about my breasts. I felt like maybe I was getting a bit drunk.

"Listen, I really appreciate this," he said tentatively. I could sort of read where he was going, but I stayed quiet in hopes I was wrong. "I should be up front. I didn't mean for things to go too far here, I didn't even realize... I mean, if you were expecting this to be something else, besides... well..."

He hesitated. I finished his thought for him. "This isn't a date."

He shook his head.

"You don't... feel that way toward me."

He stayed still.

"Val, you're really lovely, but I'm not in a place to pursue something like that right now."

"What does that mean?" I said flatly, trying real hard not to let my growing disappointment - and anger - show.

"I have some serious baggage. I'm not the man for you. I really need you to know that - it's me."

"I have baggage too," I insisted. "I have been through shit that, no disrespect, you couldn't even fathom. I mean that."

"Why, because your ex cheated on you? I don't mean to minimize that, but..."

"Bud, that's the least of it."

I was getting very upset that I couldn't play the 'I had my body stolen years ago ad had to learn to like being a woman - basically to get to this' card.

He took a breath.

"It's really not you. You're great. And you deserve a great guy. Ever since things went down with my wife, I... oh God, this is really hard to say, okay, so please, please bear with me...

"...I have completely lost interest in sex and relationships."

I looked at him probably very suspiciously. "You what?"

"I just don't want that anymore. None of it. I don't feel that way about anybody. I'm in therapy, and I don't know, maybe with some work I can learn to feel that way again, but... trust me, being with someone like me is the last thing a young person like you deserves."

I honestly didn't know how to take that.

I was still mad at the rejection even though it had nothing to do with me. I was hurt, confused. It was hard to process, and yet in the days since I have been able to understand it a bit better... after all, I've dealt with my own desires changing away from what I used to want, what I still wanted-to-want, to what my body, and my heart, really does seem to want. So why couldn't it go the same, in a different direction?

But in that moment I really didn't know what to say, so I finished my drink and shook his hand and offered an awkward hug, and called for a ride.

I was so upset. For days. And I couldn't even be mad at him without feeling guilty, because it's not his fault. But part of me did take it personally, did resent all of that, and was mad at him, and at myself for getting so invested in the possibility that someone so good would be interested in me. I've made my peace with it, but in that moment I sure felt like an idiot who worked too hard to make herself pretty.

Part of me still suspects it's a lie, even if the idea of a man lying to not have sex with a much younger woman seems absurd when you say it out loud.

In the end, I reached out to tell him it was fine, and I could be his friend and teach him to cook for his daughters and anything else he needed. And I felt like I meant it, but I'd be lying if I said my feelings for him completely dissipated.

-Val

Monday, August 12, 2019

Jonah/Krystle: Beach Body

Jordan's employers gave her enough time away from her workstation last week to get out and about, which meant a few pictures and videos on social media as she tried to learn to surf like a real California girl - she really seems to be having a ball!

After one which was just her kind of just lying on a surfboard in her bikini, leg dangling over the side, I DMed her saying I didn't know how she was able to do that with such confidence - Calvin had invited me to go with him to the beach for a few days and was a nervous wreck.  She says it's no big deal, especially if you've got something like surfing or whatever going on instead of just sitting there, and it's not like we didn't used to go shirtless.  Sure, I say, but it's different when you've got stuff hanging out rather than the bits that needed covering being safely in the middle of some baggy trunks.  She asks if I've been slacking off some we stopped going to yoga together, and since I got that message while changing for the climbing wall, I send her a selfie. See, she says, I've got nothing to be ashamed of.

Believe it out not, I'm inclined to agree.  It's taken me something like four years to really feel good about this body, but I'm really confident these days.  My boobs are finally back down to their pre-pregnancy size, which is not always easy to deal with, but I'm kind of forgetting what flat feels like.  I've also become kind of a gym rat, not just from climbing with Calvin, but also going with Momma Kamen - her doctor told her to make some changes, but because she's apparently been the type who prioritized looking after her family more than herself (and burned what calories she needed to by running after kids and grandkids), she won't think to hit the gym unless Klara or I go with her.  So we do - well, I do, mostly, with Auntie Klara watching little Moira - and now she's got a lot more stamina and I've got abs.

Not the sort of chiseled six-pack I wanted as a teenage boy, of course, but enough that I don't look scrawny.  My legs are really toned, too, and arms have some real definition.  I don't look masculine, and Calvin will attest that I don't feel that way (and, yeah, maybe getting a little better at the giving and receiving physical pleasure also has me feeling better about my body).  I've found a hairstylist who gives me a natural look that I like, and I've even started wearing the tops that show a bit of cleavage at work.  I guess feeling like I've made my body a certain way makes me a little more comfortable using it rather than hiding it.  I even got a kind of warm feeling when the original Krystle made a comment about my muscles being gross on Facebook; I'm never not going to feel guilty about taking this life from her, but it makes me feel more like myself and not an imitation.

So, like Jordan says, I've got nothing to be ashamed of, but I still get some anxiety around Calvin's successful white friends, and being more or less in my underwear didn't feel like it would make things easier.  But it has been a really hot summer, and the pictures he showed off the little cottage his family had on the Cape looked nice.  Completely un-cursed, too, although that didn't really enter my head until someone asked me when the last time I went to the beach was.  It looked like a good time, so why not?

It was a big surprise for Moira, who has never been to the beach before.  She wasn't thrilled with getting into her car seat - she's a city girl who expects to either be carried or in a stroller (or tries to run up and down the subway cars) and this thing where she gets strapped in and faces the back of the car while Mommy and Calvin are up front for an hour or more is some garbage as far as she's concerned, even if she does eventually fall asleep.  For as crazy as the terrible twos can make you, though, there are also the moments when you get her out of the car and take her around back of the house and her eyes go wide, and then she turns around and says "Mommy, it's a sandbox with no box!"  Then she runs to the water and giggles when it's cold on her feet.

In no time whatsoever, she's letting me change her into a bathing suit and excited about the bag of new plastic beach toys.  She's kind of impatient while I change, which gives me relatively little time to really fret about how even a pretty modest one-piece exposes half my butt cheeks.  Well, never I never complained about seeing that sort of thing before, and I could throw on some shorts if need be.

Moira loves the beach; she'll dig in the sand and splash and pick up the wet sand by the water and just throw it back at the ground for hours.  After a while we blew up a floatie and that, also, was the best.  Being part of that is amazing in a way that's hard to explain, and it made Calvin smile too.  My girl is amazing.

She crashed after a few hours, and I got a chance to stroll down the beach while Calvin tried to put the fire pit his father bought together.  The change from the city was something I didn't really know I'd needed, but the sound of the waves and them lapping at my feet was kind of beautiful.  Of course, during the summer, you're not really going to be alone, and a three-year-old crashed into me a few houses down.   His mom came over to apologize, but lot up when she heard my name.  "You're Cal's girlfriend!  He's said so much about you!  I'm Annalise; he's been my summer neighbor since we were nine."

We chatted for a while, until her husband came out and gave me a weird look, like I didn't belong in a place with summer neighbors.  I headed back "home".

Despite Annalise's skepticism Calvin did manage to get the fire pit together, and actually grilled some acceptable steaks and baked potatoes with it, though Moira was initially skeptical about his insistence that he burned the hot dogs he made for her on purpose.

After she went down for the night, we sat out on the porch, and I mentioned meeting Annalise, saying she seemed nice.  He said he had been looking forward to introducing all his friends the next day but Annalise was definitely the one to meet first.  I mentioned that, seeing as this was his parents' place, there seemed to be other people for me to meet, but didn't push too much.  He's meet Momma Kamen and Klara, but not my real family, so I can't really demand more.

I murat have looked a bit tense after that, because he asked me if something was bothering me as we went to bed, but that wasn't it.  This was the first time we were sharing a bed while Moira was in the next room.  He asked if that meant we should be quiet, but I pointed out that we'd tired her out pretty good.

When getting ready to go to the neighbor's the next day, I saw with a bit of dismay that I had spilled some wine on the swimsuit I'd worn the previous day, and with no time to wash it, that meant going with the bikini.  That one is bright green, tends to squish my breasts together, and has dangling ties that I was sure Moira would pull on in just the right way to get me in trouble given half a chance.  A pair of shorts and a loose t-shirt covered it up quick, and who knows, maybe I could just stay in that all day.

It was not to be; I made it a couple hours, but then Moira was like "come swim, mommy!", and you can only put up a fight so long, especially in front of other parents, so off comes the outer layer, and then it's time to ignore the jokes about "so that's why Cal's hooking up with a single mom!"

I try to smile like a good sport, making it about the work I've put in rather than what I've stolen in my head.  I say under my breath that people used to pay money to see this body naked so they're lucky to see this much for free, but not too loud, because there's no need for Calvin and his friends to think of me that way, especially when it wasn't me. 

It's just a couple people, though, and the kids make it easy to put that out of my head.  Annalise apologizes for the boys being idiots, and says she's jealous of Moira being so fond of the water - her boy is about a year older but still scared.  I say that's just Moira; she's generally fearless, probably from spending so much time around her cousins and trying hard to keep up.

It wasn't that much of a pep talk, but it's not like she knew I needed one or that I'd be watching her as we got out of the water and noticing that she walked around like wearing a bikini on a beach was no big deal.  I've got to admit, it felt kind of nice to actually feel the sun and breeze on my upper body, and I was able to eventually work my way up to running around or playing volleyball without worrying that stuff would fall out.

Without a nap, Moira crashed hard when we got back to the house, and so did I, which means we didn't have much time to talk.  Sunday wasn't really a big day for discussion either, as we went into town to eat at this clam shack that Calvin probably thinks is twice as good as it actually is because he associates it with summer vacation, along with some frozen custard that actually was pretty great.  Moira saw a kite in a shop window, so we got to discover that none of us know anything about flying kites before packing up the car and heading back to Boston.

Once Moira was napping, I turned to Cal and tried to give a playful smile that girls who don't have a bunch of impossible secrets wear.  "So, did you and Annalise ever hook up?  She was really nice to me but who you're dating seems kind of important to her."

"What?  No!  She's actually more my sister's friend, and that would have been weird."

"Uh-huh.  So, do they think you dating me is weird, or am I okay?"

"Like I care what a bunch of people I see one weekend a year thinks of who I date."

That was kind of nice to hear.  "Well, I'm sorry if I was weird.  I just feel like I don't know what to do most of the time.  Like, I want to be more fun, especially when we're out together, but don't know how."

He looked a bit uncomfortable.  "Is this because you and I, uh..."

"Because we're different?  Nah.  It's all me."  Am I bad for liking how flustered he gets when he has to stop and consider how being white and coming from a family who can afford a vacation home can put me on the spot?  Because I kind of do like it.  It makes me think he might do okay if he wound up at the Inn and had to live a different life for a while.

"Well, it just so happens that girls who love sports, don't know how sexy they are, and are great moms are just my type."

I smiled and laid my head on his shoulder, not sure when I really started liking the sound of stuff like that rather than playing along, and let him drive us home in warm silence.

-Jonah/Krystle

Monday, August 05, 2019

Simon/Joy: Professional Girlfriend

The title of this post sounds kind of disreputable, but it's kind of what I feel like some of the time.  I don't have a job, and a fair amount of what I've been up to this spring and summer has been traveling with Iain, or just going out with him for events where you're kind of expected to bring a plus-one.  There's enough of this stuff to do that we're out a couple times a week and not always nearby - that condo in London is not just a place he has because it's annoying to rent a hotel room, although given how few neighbors we see when we're there, it is for some other people in the building.  We've been there, and to Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Copenhagen besides.  The travel and event schedule is just enough that even if I had the right sort of visa to get a job here, I'd be a terrible employee for all the scheduling leeway is be asking for because this can be the only way to see Iain for longer than it takes him to get up and go to work.

Which isn't too suggest he's keeping me around because I look nice in a dress, have excellent small-talk skills that he can't know have been home over a couple of decades in sales, and know what a man likes in bed on top of that.  No, more and more I feel like he genuinely likes me and doesn't think much about how "Joy" is different than she was a few years back.  We have fun going out together even if it's not a work thing.

Not that some people don't occasionally notice.  We were having a sort of low-key night out on Saturday with some of his old school friends, who had apparently met her but not me, and someone made a remark that I hadn't been a whiskey girl in the past.  I shrugged and said I'd developed a taste for it, but this woman was weirdly insistent and annoyed all evening.  I asked Iain what was up with that, and he said that even if she were not a professional party planner, she had sort of been groomed as a hostess from a very early age, and apparently knowing the favorite drinks of your guests was a big deal, both for looking like you cared about them personally and making sure you had the proper amounts of spirits on hand.  Eminently reasonable - I still remember what a lot of clients favored - but it kind of rubbed me the wrong way that night (maybe it wouldn't have if I'd been drinking white wine).

"Is that my future if we stick together a few more years?  A mental file of how to properly flatter everybody you do business with and everyone else in the UK besides?"

"Nah, I figure that'll be my job while you sell the horses."

He said it as a joke, but I am kind of getting better at all the house stuff.  I'm not really good at riding yet, but I'm finding that I really like it.  I've never really thought about how much girls liked horses, but they really can hit this sweet spot of being pretty, powerful, and (hopefully) not threatening.  Iain's family are breeders, so it's not like the horses in the stables were ever wild, but when you sit arop one, you don't feel small and weak and like prey.  Maybe that's not such a big deal to born women, but I definitely notice it.

I haven't quite reached the point where I ask Sir Robert if I can shadow him doing business; it would be really presumptuous with my not actually being part of the family, and as much as I'm okay with having that as a goal - women like Joy have been guaranteeing their futures like that forever and I would be a realist even if I didn't actually like Iain - it's not the sort of thing you can be too plain about.

Is that too "professional"?  I don't know.  Maybe.  Joy didn't really like this sort of thing based on her diaries, but those also make it seem like Iain wasn't too thrilled with them either, and maybe he's either learned to enjoy them more with a date who doesn't complain or he just grew up and realized this is how the world works, and maybe Joy would have too.  Or maybe she wouldn't have, but it doesn't matter, because I'm Joy now.

-Simon/Joy

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Jenn/Shona: Trying

After several days of putting it off, I decided to meet with Steven. It almost seemed unfair to be holding him back this way, even if from my perspective he's a total stranger who only thinks he has a right to my time.

As that last paragraph should tell you, I was and am still extremely bitter about (gestures around wildly) all this, up to and including being told "this stranger thinks you're his girlfriend."

My thing is, I so badly want to live my life, my way. But that's so not possible. The life I lived as Jenn - oh God we're getting to the point where Jenn is a past-tense person aren't we? - no longer exists. The man who took my life made some terrible choices, besmirched my name, and will live out his days being punished for it. As me. My stomach turns at this.

Steven won me over, or wore me down you could say, by showing a lot of respect and concern for me during this time. Yes, he was texting constantly, giving me updates on his life and asking how I was, but he really seemed to care, and when I indicated I wasn't feeling up to engaging with him, he demonstrated that he respected my privacy and reminded me he would be available instantly if I felt I needed someone.

Well damn! Steven, why did you have to be so good?

I do need someone. I hate to feel like I'm using him as some kind of emotional crutch here but a lot has been put on my plate lately and sympathetic ears have been hard to come by.

So I agreed to meet him for ice cream. Now, I still haven't gotten over my self-consciousness of my appearance to where being seen enjoying a double scoop on a hot day doesn't feel a little embarrassing - like, "look at the fat chick going to down on that sundae" - but I really am trying to lean into this "fuck the haters" thing and be body-positive. I might have some trouble with it behind closed doors but out in public, it's their problem and their opinions aren't worth hearing.

Besides, more of America looks like me than like Chrissy Teigen.

With some reservations I agreed to meet him. I had a hard time figuring out my exact wording, how to set up a date that wasn't quite a date, where I could basically say "Hey, this is to determine if I want to actually have you as my boyfriend." I thought about breaking his heart. I didn't want to do that without at least meeting him. I owed him that.

We went. I was more nervous than I thought I would be, since I haven't had a real first date in years. I wore some of Shona's nicer clothes and even pit on makeup - but I was a little out of practice and Shona's face is quite different from what I'm used to so the result was not quite up to my standards, or what I'd seen from Shona's social media. I suspected Steven wouldn't notice though.

The weirdest part was as much as I wanted him to like me, I realized that was almost an afterthought and what I was really nervous about was whether I would like him. On the one hand I built him up in my head as a really exceptional guy and how much of a relief that would be after all I've been through, and on the other I was afraid of liking him too much and feeling like I had to stay with him, feeling like I couldn't bring myself to let him down, trying to let him into my life while he is convinced I am actually a totally different woman. It would be so much easier if he just... sucked.

The reality was somewhere between. His face was very kind, very plain, round with a beard. Two years ago, when I was me and in a very different headspace than today, I would have swiped past him on Tinder with hardly a thought. He seemed very mild and meek. Physically I didn't think he took overly good care of himself. Everything about him seemed to me to be the kind of person who would be with someone like Shona, and maybe, based on her Instagram feed where she's having fun and living out loud, lucky to be with her.

If it had truly been our first date, and I was me, he might have been too intimidated to do anything and been poor company. As it was it was clear he was at ease with Shona. I liked that. There were moments where it felt like he took our setup for granted - overly physical, some tellingly obnoxious remarks I guess I was expected to find amusing and a lot of the conversation was anecdotes about people and tings I guess I was supposed to know or care about, which was boring for me - but mostly he was quite nice. I had to remind myself there was a reason he wasn't working too hard to impress me, and that from his perspective the relationship is established and lived in. He sure did act like it.

I paid him a kiss at the end of the night and told him candidly that I was at a crossroads, and that might mean putting "us" on hold. That it wasn't personal really - all it was was about me - and I owed it to him to be straight up.

He accepted that without question. That annoyed me. I actually kind of wanted him to fight back.

It all left me more uncertain than when I went in. I had hopes he would fall one way or the other - jerk or saint - but as with most things in life it wasn't so clear cut. If I was with him he might actually be the nicest person I've ever dated, but niceness isn't everything.

Do I feel like I deserve better than what I've been given? Maybe. But is it realistic to throw away a potentially good thing?

I just don't know.

-Jenn/Shona

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Jenn/Shona: How To Be Fat

Not to harp on it or anything but... I'm fat. Borderline obese, in medical terms. I can't seem to forget about it, so why try letting you?

I say that word to myself every day, you know. As a way of trying to own it and get okay with it. The way people tap dance around the obviousness of it all.. curvy, plus-sized, "bigger" "full figured"... it's all just a nice way of saying "fat." But "fat" is a fact. I might as well admit it. Reclaim the word... somehow.
I'm trying to be okay with it but so far it's been very hard. I can't get over the change. It feels too different form how I started. Going from being Jenn to being Zack was in someways easier. I'm very aware of the space I take up, of the reactions from strangers that I pass on the street. Of how I look if I try to eat anything. If it's bad food, "Ugh, she just can't help herself!" If I try to eat a salad, "Bless her heart, she's trying!" Damn it all.

Shona left behind an interesting example to follow. On her Instagram she is a very pretty woman - great at make-up, keeps her hair well-styled, with this very confident, "Give No Fucks" image. she dresses stylishly in a way that highlights her body rather than trying to downplay it. On the woman in the Insta feed, I think it looks good, and "good for her" for looking so pretty. When I try it on myself, I feel like a fake. I feel like I don't know how to be "that" person. Not yet. I aspire to it for sure, but it's frustrating trying to get there, outwardly and inwardly. To learn the ins and outs of dressing and styling yourself when you're a fat girl. To feel good about yourself. To feel like you deserve to look good.

Steven has texted me. A lot. I have kept him at arm's length. I don't like being "bequeathed" someone's old boyfriend. I took my time getting back to Gainesville and didn't let him know when I arrived. He didn't take the hint and is happy to "give me space" but won't stop checking in or updating me on the minutiae of his life. I suppose it fits... we're supposed to be a couple. I can see why someone would want to be with this guy, but I am so far from being "there" it's more of a nuisance than anything.

I guess I can't completely bring myself to cut the cord. I look at myself in the mirror and think, if this is "it" for me, where am I going to find someone who wants me, who I think I deserve? I know that's just an awful thought, but I guess I've been brainwashed and I can't quit it.

It wouldn't feel right to pursue anything with this guy, and yet I feel like he's, well... a bird in the hand.

On the plus side... it's beautiful here. Georgia is very scenic and there's lots of hiking trails. I only wish I felt fit enough to spend much time on them, so that's another thing that weighs on me... so to speak.

I bought a new camera, since I got the photography bug from Zack. It makes me a little homesick for Colorado, but it's nice in its own way.  I'll probably never be home again.

Excuse me while I cry a minute...

-Jenn/Shona

Monday, July 29, 2019

Valerie: My Friend

It began innocently enough.

I was having a rough day. One of those hot, sweaty, fast-paced, never-ending, "What am I even doing in a coffee shop in Brooklyn in the body of Valerie Stewart" kind of days. Everything was frustrating, needlessly aggressive customers, snide "real housewives" types, leering college boys... just everything that cold be thrown at me.

Then my saving grace. At 2:30 PM, almost right on cue, in walks Kevin, aka Silvertop. He gets his coffee, gives me his usual nod, and goes over to his usual seat by the window to read.

We hadn't talked much since I ran into him a few months ago at a competing coffee shop and had a really nice conversation. Just chitchat in passing - he keeps to himself, and I am usually pretty swamped.

Today, I needed to vent, and there was no Maddie or anyone around that I felt like I could. So I made like I had to go wipe down some tables and approached.

"Hey - mind if I sit?"

He looked up from his book - one of those weird nonfiction things he likes reading - and first seemed surprised and maybe a little confused, but he gestured in a friendly way.

We got to talking again, I started to go off on what was bugging me about my job and my life, and I got a few minutes in when he raised a finger. "Hold on, I just want to be clear on something. This is one of those conversations where you just want someone to hear you out, isn't it? You don't actually want me to try to offer any solutions, right?"

I smiled. "You've been married."

"Long time ago, yeah," he said bashfully.

I went on and on and honestly I don't even remember what I was annoyed about that day, but the underlying theme is that sometimes it sucks being Valerie the Coffee Girl.

The next time I saw him, he asked how I was, and I said fine, and he eased me for giving a generic answer, so I elaborated on some things that were not fine.

The time after that, I must have gotten him talking about his life - about being a divorced father of two, a small business owner, just generally getting his perspective on things. I'm always wary not to take up too much of his time, because he's reading all these books because he enjoys them, not because he's waiting for someone to talk to, but he still lets me chat him up for ten or fifteen minutes during my shift.

And then somewhere along the way we became friends.

I had already kind of looked forward to seeing him, just because it was nice to see a friendly face. And then when we start talking, I thought, it's nice to have a guy to talk to - as much as I enjoy inhabiting the world of women, there are ways that I still feel excluded, where I feel like I have to fake it, where having the complete matching set does not make me a true woman underneath.

But to Kevin, I'm... I don't know. A nice younger woman, someone to keep him company. I gave him my phone number and told him he could text me if he wanted to, and the second I did that I thought, "Oh, shit... what am I hoping to get out of this?"

I mean, I really screwed myself up a little bit. Without realizing it I had developed like, a really serious crush on this guy. And it's so weird, because yeah, I've crushed on guys before - specifically Ryan, but if we're being honest it goes back to Josh and even, way way back, things I didn't want to let myself feel for Phil when I was Lauren. But it's different because this guy is... well,  different.

He's older than my real self, he's experienced, he's smart and funny. He has kids! It's weird that I should find myself interested in him and entertaining the notion that he might be interested in me!

I'm trying to play it cool - honestly I'm trying to completely pack it away, because he hasn't really indicated that he thinks of me that way, and I feel silly getting my hopes up.

But during our texts he mentioned oh, I have my daughters on weekends and they're getting really tired of chicken fingers and spaghetti. I reminded him that I cater sometimes and have a few cooking tips and tricks up my sleeve... any interest in learning some of my techniques?

He said sure and asked if I was free Thursday night.

I am.

It...  it feels like a date, right? This is suspiciously datey.

I couldn't believe it. I wasn't even sure I wanted to do anything, it just fell out of me, and when it was out, I only halfway wished I could take it back. It just felt weird, because I haven't ever really pursued a guy this way. As Valerie I am so accustomed to being pursued that it never occurred to me that I might like someone enough to make the moves on them.

It's almost annoying that I have been the one to push for him - like, hello, can you not see what's in front of you? But that might be what's so appealing to me. The idea that he might be a little immune to my looks. I like that.

I... am very nervous. Surprisingly so. I don't know what's coming next. At least I have a few days to figure out what to wear...

-Valerie

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Jenn: Back to the Inn Part 2

It was shocking to realize I was going from being lean, athletic Zack to overweight Shona.

I hadn't expected it based on her photo. Maybe it was out of date. Maybe the DMV lighting flattered her. But really I guess I expected... in my imagination, being a woman meant being my old self. My old proportions, a face not too different from my own.

As I lay there I just felt... heavy. And dejected. My only thought was... how am I going to do this? How am I going to face the world looking this way?

It's shameful, really. I thought I would have more... I don't know, body positivity. Open mindedness. Well it's all well and good whwn you have years to work on self-acceptance.  But it's a whole different matter if your body transforms in a night. It takes time to process. Later, once I had accepted my fate, I beat myself up over fixating on myself, my looks my new figure. I probably seem so shallow and superficial.

I heaved myself upright. I made my way over to the mirror. I wanted to see my new face in realtime. She was actually quite pretty. (I know, I'm fixated on appearances but people treat you based on your appearance most of the time and mine has changed drastically!) Big round green eyes, a cute little nose and full lips. But beneath that face, two or three chins.

I didn't even want to think about sleeping. How could I? I was so uncomfortable. I texted Pete. "Done transforming. Don't think I can sleep." A minute later there was a knock at the door. I was hesitant to open it. I was still naked. I threw a blanket over myself like a robe and opened the door a crack.

The face there gave an involuntary jump of wide-eyed surprise upon seeing me, a prelude to how people would look at me from now on.

Even in shadow I could tell Pete had won the lottery again. He was older now than I had ever seen him, for sure, but it was hard to pin down his new body's age. When he said 41, I thought wow, she's even better preserved than Lena because she could pass for late 20's or early 30's. She was larger than April (I think - hard to tell from here) but still petite, with a curvy mom bod and well-styled shoulder-length sandy brown hair (definitely dyed but still.) She wore April's pjs, and they were only a little missized. I took in her cheekbones and angular jaw and felt a pang of envy.

As he stepped in he probably did his best to be delicate, saying "wow what a change, how do you feel?" I was probably similarly not considerate in hiding my feelings by saying "Better than I look, probably," which was also probably downplaying how I felt. I paced the room trying desperately  ot to let my footfalls be too heavy, trying not to jiggle my extra flesh, as I tried to mentally come to grips with my new reality.

It's only a body, I told myself. It is just my exterior shell. I'm still me inside... yeah, I thought, but I was facing a year of people looking at me like there was something wrong. And worse, I knew I was going to be ne of those people too. It just wasn't going to be something I wanted to deal with. I wanted a nice, easily-ignored body that could get from point a to point b and maybe wouldn't look too bad in a little black dress.

I distracted myself by asking if Pete knew who he was. He said Laura Carling - a mother of two from the Boston suburbs. I was disappointed to hear this meant our journey together was over, but it made me feel very justified in thinking we would have been wrong to pursue anything that might complicate matters. Given how completely unsexy I felt in that moment it seemed to be for the best.

Once we talked through Pete's situation, the topic turned to the 250-lb gorilla in the room. I had located a lengthy typed note from the original Shona. She detailed her recent employment history and some moderate health issues, and her relationship with a guy named Steven.

As I read it through it I reached this paragraph and my hands shook:

"As surprised as I was to find myself in this situation - transformed, reborn, whatever you may call it - I have decided to embrace it. I am Shona Nash no more. Do what you will with the life I leave behind. Please make no attempt to contact me. If I need to, I will find you."

I was struck. I had lost my body and now here was someone happily casting their asidd. What had she found i her new life, did it even matter? She didn't say, nor did she obviously point out why she had to leave it. I assumed automatically it was related to her body.

I just sunk. I know from Tyler how hard it can be to get into a situation where keeping a body doesn't feel like stealing... and how crazy it would be to pass up the opportunity like this. But I'm not prepared to commit to being Shona permanently. I just... can't make that decision right now.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Jenn: Back to the Inn Part 1

A month ago, we headed off to the Inn. I put in a lot of work smoothing things over with Pete, not that he would ever have declined to go back, but I want things to be good between us because there's an outside chance that we're not done taking this ride together. We did get separate rooms, in an effort to ensure Zack and April get sorted back to their proper places.


The first few days were relaxing as Pete and I had managed to get in ahead of the crowd. We had good weather and hung out on the beach. Knowing there was no chance we would be transforming soon was both relaxing and stressful. We talked some, but it was awkward because anytime the conversation turned to the future, I cringed. If the topic came up my mind would spiral at the possibilities.

Of course the first thing I did when we got there was to open the suitcase in my room. I was extremely relieved to find it was that of a woman. While I have enjoyed peeking through to the male experience, I just don't feel loke that's who I truly am. Maleness is so intoxicating though... Being treated the way everyone probably should be treated, beig listened too and admired rather than dismissed. And there's something to be said for being tall, leanly muscled and hamdsome. But I knew I would feel more at home in the body of a woman. When I looked and saw I was to assume the life of one Shona Nash, 23, of Gainesville, Georgia, I practically squealed. I knew it wouldn't be permanent but it felt like a heartening move.

I was downright giddy for the  hance to be a woman again. Hair and makeup, fashion, girltalk... I would even welcome periods and bras. It's not out of dislike for being male, truly Zack's was a great body to be in but it's not "me" and somehow, perversely, I would give up all the privileges on manhood, the raw primal experidnces of Feeling Male, to get back in touch with my feminine side.

I studied her face over and over across the days. There's not much you can learn from the overtly serious bland face on a drivers license photo. Was she fun? Easygoing? Driven? Friendly, mean? Did she have a sense of humour, did she cook?

Was her family missing her?

So many questions and no answers. I dared not rifle through her things further. That was for later. You never know.

It was around midnight on Saturday night that I guess the magic started to happen. My skin felt... itchy, tingly, hot and cold. Like hives mixed with a charge of static. If you didn't know what it was you would probably sleep through it, but I was waiting. I had sequestered myself in my room in anticipation for days, to ensure I was where I was supposed to be for Zack.

I waited and waited. It was maybe an hour of just that feeling and noting obvious happening. I thought maybe I felt a gurgling inside me - perhaps my insides were becoming Shona's? I kept changing position, pacing the room, feeling my hair to see if it was growing. Finally I was reaching over to grab my phone and text Pete to check on him, when I noticed my fingers had become more stubby and slender. The hue of my skin had changed ever so slightly.

Good, I thought. I stood up straight, expecting to start shrinking anytime now.

I stripped naked. From what I could see looking down, my legs were now hairless, as was my chest. My pecs and abs were softening too. I bid them a fond farewell. The penis was noticeably retracting, which was fascinating to watch, and for an instant it was like I was a man with no penis and the faintest of breasts.

I liked that. I immediately felt reborn. I would miss the strength and confidence that I jad come to associate with that appendage, and yet losing it didn't make me feel weaker, it energized me.

My body started to take of a familiarly feminine shape as Zack's hips grew round and wide. Those pecs started to swell and sag. But they weren't the only things. My hips seemingly doubling in width from Zack's. Hm, I thought. That's quite... extreme.

I had no idea.

As dark hair draped itself across my shoulders, my nipples expanded across my breasts, whoch were swelling out bigger and bigger. I started to pace again and felt the movement of a bulkier mass behind me than I expected. I reached back and ran my hands across the surface of my bum - a much much bigger territory than I was expecting to find.

I noticed that my thighs had swollen out into each other, and my once rather well defined arms soon became saggy with flab. My belly had been softening through this but it soon became clear it was ballooning too, forming rows of rolls.

I lay back on the bed and felt the frame creak and sag under me. I hyperventilated, waiting for the end.


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.


-Tyler/Valerie

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.

-Magdaryl

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.

-Jenn/Zack

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?

-Jonah/Krystle