Saturday, August 24, 2019

Jordan/Yuan-wei: Half a World Away

Been a while since I checked in, but I guess that happens to everyone - at a certain point, you are Jordan Lee Yuan-wei, recent college graduate with a job in the visual effects industry, and the fact that you used to be Jordan Chang, male and five years older, is less important on a daily basis.  Especially with my parents doing their best to act like I was born this way.  It was weird to get earrings for Christmas from my mom, but I'm not complaining.  Even though becoming a girl hasn't made me really into jewelry, that's her accepting a lot.

Of course, I don't may have one mother now, and Yang Chen-ai has been anxious in recent weeks.

I know that not many Americans have been following the news out of Hong Kong (this country has its own issues to fill all your worrying about the world going to hell needs), but it's something I get asked about a fair amount because I'm from there as far as anybody who doesn't know about the Inn is concerned.  What's going on scares the shit out of me, to be honest, because there's not a lot of scenarios that don't have Lee Yuan-wei going back there for more than a visit at some point, and I'm scared that it's never going to be close to the place I know again.

On the one hand I don't know if Chen-ai really cares about that.  Maybe she does; even evil people can love their home, though I think she's mercenary enough to put up with anything so long as the business continued to bring money in.  On the other, well, she had had her husband killed with the intention of setting me or whoever else wound living Yuan-wei's life up for the fall, so who knows what else she's afraid of happening to her should China take more direct control over Hong Kong and start looking into things that had previously been ignored.  It's enough to spook her, enough to get in contact with Bingbing and hint that if she would like to go back to her real life, that could be arranged, if Chen-ai were to become her.

I'm almost angry that she said no, for a bunch of really fucking stupid reasons.

I suppose all of you that read this blog because you, not having been to the Inn, see it as a weird or kinky fantasy saw this coming, because it's the most dramatic way to fuck with me, but it turns out that the person who has been living the life of Chen Bingbing for the past couple years is, you guessed it, my ex-boyfriend Jacky.  The one I broke up with because Chen-ai promised to ruin our lives if I didn't.  Who then, apparently thinking that I wasn't upset enough by the whole state of affairs, proceeded to fuck and then get involved with my brother without telling either of us what was going on.

The whole finding out deal was weird - I guess Jacky found out that Chen-ai was sleeping with whoever was living his life (he was working as her personal assistant), figured that meant he was never going back, so came clean to Max.  They didn't immediately break up, but he told me, and...  Well, the whole thing felt gross, and for a while my brother and I weren't talking, but eventually he met another girl and decided he didn't want to be in a relationship that wasn't just about the two people involved.  Jacky/Bingbing graduated from college this May and went back home to HK, and we'd kind of figured that was it.  I wanted that to be it.

I asked him what he wanted, and while he said that he had come to accept the idea of being Bingbing for the foreseeable future, it wasn't like he'd put down roots, and I can testify that the call of "how things should be" is damn strong, even when everybody thinks they're probably better off.  So who am I to tell him that there's probably some major league catch?

It's got me stupidly distracted, though, to the point where people are noticing at work.  I can tell them that I'm worries about folks back "home", but the truth is, they really don't give a shit; they just can't have our team missing deadline on animating a swarm of monsters.  so there's been a lot of overtime and I probably haven't been doing my best work.

And I don't get it.  I've always had it in the back of my mind that Chen-ai might decide to leave her old life behind and become a generation younger, I always thought it would be to become Yuan-wei.  It's just so much fucking simpler!  Has she stayed liking me enough to not want to mess with my life, or does she see some other way to mess with me?

Who the fuck knows?  This shit doesn't matter as much as the rest of what's going on in Hong Kong, and I wish it wasn't my first concern about the whole thing.

-Jordo

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