140 Choices and Consequences

I had arranged for Brian to wait with Terry and Lee Ann in the hall lounge during our meeting; since nobody outside the Strangers was likely to recognize him, I figured that would be safe. So he was knocking at our door thirty-seconds after I called him.

The room fell silent when he first walked in. Along with him, I studied their faces, seeing hostility, fear, and confusion. I could almost hear them asking, who is this monster who did this to us? He looked at me, uncertain. I nodded, hoping to give him confidence. We’d discussed the first things he would say, but he was pretty much on his own after that.

I watched him take a breath and let it out slowly. “My name is Brian Harlan,” he said. “I’m sorry. I… really didn’t know what was going to happen. And… when we first found out, well, we were ordered to close up and hide. Obviously, it was… it just made things worse.”

Nobody had interrupted him, but the silence was too perfect. Normally, an audience makes some noises: coughing, shifting positions. When they don’t, it means that they are paying extremely close attention. When you’re working from a script, that’s great – you’ve got them really into the show. When you’re trying to keep them from lynching you, that’s a horse of a different color.

“By now, Marsh has told you that you were mistaken about what we did. Thing is, we knew what you thought because of that article, and we didn’t say anything. I don’t know if you would have felt better if we had, but we probably should have tried.”

“So why didn’t you?” somebody snapped. It was one of the boys who had started arguing near the end of my own talk.

Brian flinched slightly, and looked toward both Luke and me before answering, “Because we were being threatened by the administration that they would cut off our funding if we did,” he admitted. “I don’t know, maybe we could have tried to find money elsewhere, but it’s really hard to walk away from years of work like that.”

“So now you’re screwed, huh?” his challenger asked. “Why the change of heart?”

Brian was starting to remind me of the proverbial deer in the headlights. “Um. I don’t want to sound like I’m claiming to be a hero. The truth is, Marsh finding us sort of forced our hand. My advisor called the administration and told them what had happened, and I didn’t like the deal he worked out with them. So… I’m hoping to come up with something better.”

“And you expect us to help you?” a girl sneered.

If there’d been any place to run, I think he might have tried. “I’m just hoping that you’ll see it in your own best interests to go along with the lawsuit that Mr. Steen is planning, and that that’ll work out better for me, as well.”

“They’ve already agreed to the lawsuit,” I reminded him.

“Then just tell me what I can do to make things better,” he pleaded with the crowd. “I know I messed up. I’m still hoping I can find a way to save my thesis–”

“Over our dead bodies,” somebody muttered.

“Um, excuse me?” Ben said from the back, raising his hand timidly and standing up. Everyone had to turn to look at him, which made them face away from Brian. “I know I haven’t exactly been active with this group…”

Several people assured him that it was OK, that he had had reason to be uncomfortable. As I’d hoped, many of the Strangers seemed to be protective toward him.

“Marsh actually told me… what you guys heard tonight… a few days ago. Um. If it’s true – well, I guess it is true, at least it makes sense and she sort of showed me, well… I was supposed to be this big jock, OK? And she… well, Marsh had it a lot worse and… I felt really bad. Embarrassed, you know? I shouldn’t be showed up by, well…” He wasn’t looking at anybody, but at least he was forcing himself to talk.

“So, I don’t really know who I am. I liked the idea of being the guy I remember being, only… I guess he’s not me. I don’t know if I’m going to like being who I am, but my sister says I used to, and… well, Marsh tried teaching me to the play the guitar like… like I’m supposed to know how, and it did feel almost like my hands knew what they were doing, so anyway… I think we should try. To listen, I mean. And to see if we can be what we used to be, if that’s what we want. This guy messed with us, so I don’t really want to cut him any slack, but if he didn’t do what I thought he did, well, I think he owes us, and I want to know what he plans to do to help.

“I don’t know if I’m making any sense at all, but I think I want to hear what this guy can tell us. Don’t kill him, OK?” His face reddening, he sat down.

I watched the faces of the rest of the Strangers as they turned back to Brian. I’m not saying that they were mollified by any means, but I thought they looked a bit embarrassed over their hostility. The boy who had spoken up earlier certainly sounded calmer. “OK, look,” he told Brian, “we’re not going to assault you or anything, but as Ben says, you owe us. So what are you planning to do?”

“Well,” Brian offered, “did Marsh tell you about our idea to maybe help you guys recover memories?” He got plenty of nods, and hesitated. “Um, well…”

“Tell us what went wrong,” Ian suggested. “What did you expect to happen, and why didn’t it? I’m pretty sure you never warned us about massive memory loss or identity loss.”

“Oh! Well, the experiment, right.” He summarized what he’d told me about discovering that people exposed to their device had come away with new memories that clearly didn’t match reality, and his conclusion that he’d stumbled onto a ‘Many Worlds’ alternate universe. “What we didn’t realize was that younger subjects might have a different response.”

He explained how they’d concluded that the alternate reality must have split off before those of us in the Strangers had been conceived. “As far as we’ve been able to tell, nobody with a group 2 response was born before October 4, 1993.”

“What do you mean by a ‘group 2 response’?” The girl who’d sneered earlier asked, only this time she sounded curious, not hostile.

“OK, let me back up a bit,” Brian said, sounding more comfortable. First of all, I should note that we interviewed everybody – and that includes you guys, although you don’t seem to remember it – immediately after subjecting them to the device, and the responses were fairly consistent – 78% of our subjects were able to find something in their memories either then or in the next week that didn’t match reality – our reality. One thing that was different was that about one in ten had a memory of being the opposite sex. Not all the time – it was easy for them to identify it as a new memory, since they were clearly different in it; still, it was something we hadn’t seen at Rocky Lake. The bigger change, though, was something that happened a couple of weeks later.

“We had two girls come in, a bit confused. They remembered the experiment and remembered that they were supposed to be interviewed, but didn’t remember having done so. Further, they claimed that their appearances had changed, and they were happy about it. One girl said she was thinner than she remembered being, and the other claimed that she looked ‘prettier’ in ways that she couldn’t quite remember. Neither had reported anything of the kind when we’d interviewed them initially.”

“So what happened to them?” another girl asked.

“We spent a fair bit of time interviewing them, and we found some curious things. There were a lot of things that they remembered differently than the first time, and differently than we could verify independently. We asked them about a lot of events that we knew about happening at Piques since we’d gotten here, including the big welcoming program at the start of the school year, and we caught a break. One of the girls told us how she’d developed a bit of a crush on the guitarist who’d opened the program, but I didn’t remember him. I even checked the program the school had put out, but the first act was a duo. As it happened, the other girl had the same memory.”

“But we already know about that,” somebody pointed out.

“We do now. This is how we found out about it. So we decided that their response was different from our initial subjects that we called them ‘group two’ but didn’t know why they had reacted differently. We did find some evidence, though, that their memories had changed since the initial exposure.”


Brian looked uncomfortable. “We have some guesses on that point, but we don’t know yet. We’re working at an empirical level here. Theory will come later. At any rate, when we went back and analyzed our Piques data from earlier, we realized that every subject who reported memories of being different, not just remembering different events, had been born after September of 1993, so we called the rest of those with differing memories, ‘group three.’

“Then we started hearing some alarming things from the administration. Some students had come to them, claiming that we had changed them and disappeared. They were really hazy about exactly what we had done, or who we were, but they remembered doing an experiment and then couldn’t remember where we were. We were ordered to shut down everything and disappear for real, and threatened that if we did not, our grant money would not be paid out, and the College would deny any knowledge of our work.

“They didn’t even give us time to take our equipment with us, and we’d brought that from Rocky Lake. They ordered us not to have any further contact with anyone from Piques, to take down all public accounts like Facebook, Twitter, and so on. But before we were done what little packing they permitted, Luke came in.”

Everyone turned to look at Luke, who gave them an innocent, “who, me?” look in return. This time I could feel the interest intensify as they looked back at Brian, expectantly.

“Unlike the two girls,” he continued, “Luke was not happy about the change, and wanted to know if we could undo it. Well, we’d already had knew that we were going to need to defy the school on the no communications with students thing if we were to get to the bottom of the whole ‘group two’ phenomenon, so we suggested that he start the Strangers in the Mirror and report back to us on certain observations we wanted him to make.”

That started a firestorm. “What? Luke knew?” “This was your idea?” “You knew about us?” “What did he tell you?” A few of the guys actually stood up and took step towards him, but were immediately stopped by the others. I think everybody wanted to know what was coming next.

“And of course, there was that article, which completely mischaracterized the experiment. We did learn of a couple of students whose remembered lives were noticeably different from their real ones, and that group two was a lot larger than we had realized.”

Vicky asked, “So what actually happened? Are you saying that we swapped memories with… with the people in the other universe? That some girl out there no longer remembers dating, um, the guy I thought I’d been dating?”

“I have no reason to believe that we had any impact on the other reality,” Brain said. “And I don’t think you have all of their memories, anyway. Now they could have your memories if the same experiment was done there, but I think in that case, you’d all remember their experiment, which you don’t.

“What I think is going on, is that your lives and those of your counterparts are similar enough that what parts of your memories you retain fit well enough with their memories, that you concluded that those memories were your reality – anything you remember makes enough sense that you’ve constructed them as though they happened to the people you think they are. Even though group three includes a fair number of people with memories of being the opposite sex, those memories are the exception rather than the rule. In fact, we’d figured that the group two response was impossible with cross-gender memories.” He looked over at me. “Then we met Marsh. We haven’t interviewed her in detail yet – and I hope she’ll allow it later – but I suspect that we’d find a lot of similarities between her life and that of her counterpart – more than for most brothers and sisters. Or alternately, that the memory-transfer was a lot more complete in her case. That might do it as well.”

“Wait,” I asked. “So why was I different from group three? Why did I get so many of… of Marshall’s memories?”

“Marsh,” he said, “I just don’t know why. I’m guessing right now that some of you found it easier to assimilate those extra memories than others. Maybe you pulled in more than others, or everybody pulled in a lot and stored them in your brains somewhere and then were able to recover them. I don’t know. I think it’s an interesting problem, and one I wouldn’t mind helping with, but it’s probably way out of my field. But you said that you ‘woke up’ with this boy’s memories in your head over midterm break and that was a lot later than everybody else. It might be that it just took time, but once you’d reached some tipping point, it was just easier to treat your own memories as things that Marshall had experienced.”

“And suppressing my own as not consistent with them?”

“I would guess so. As I said, there’s a lot more work to do, here?”

Ian stood up. “So after all this, how do we get our own memories back? Marsh said something about a psych experiment.”

“Right. We had somebody do some experiments and they were able to help those first two girls recover some of their memories. It is possible that the same techniques will work with you guys. It is also possible that your memories might simply start returning as you encounter more and more things that don’t make sense in light of the memories you have. I don’t know; this wasn’t part of the things I was looking for, but now… I’ll do whatever I can to help you guys, and I know it’s probably not much.”

That was my cue. “How many people can you get into this psych experiment?” I asked. We’d discussed this in advance, so I already knew the answer.

“Right away? Well, I’m pretty sure they’ve got room for two more right now. Not sure they have the resources for more.”

Luke stood up. “OK, folks. Looks as though we need two volunteers. Who wants to be a test subject again, only this time with a guarantee of no untested scientific equipment?”

I would love to have volunteered. I really did want those memories back, but the goal right now was to get the group committed. And as I’d feared, nobody moved, at first. But after a few minutes, Ben put up his hand. “If nobody else is interested… I mean, I won’t push anybody else out…”

“That’s great, Ben,” Luke said. “Anybody else?”


“Vicky,” I whispered, but she turned her face away. I whispered again, “Vicky,” and knelt at her side. “Do it, please. I want you to find good memories, so you’ll feel better about yourself.”

“What if all I have are worse memories?” she whimpered. “What if all I ever dated were creeps.”

“I don’t believe that,” I said watching everybody else. Then a girl did finally put her hand up and claimed the last spot.

“I’m just not ready, Marsh,” Vicky told me.

“OK, we have our volunteers,” Luke said. “We still need to meet with the rest of the group, but I think we’ve made some real progress. Any more questions?”

There didn’t seem to be any, so the meeting broke up.

As people started to leave, I followed Vicky out. “I’m just too confused, Marsh,” she protested. “I just don’t know what to do anymore. As you said, I don’t know who I am anymore, and I’m really afraid to find out. I thought I was learning to like myself; you really helped me there. But now, you’re telling me that the self I was starting to like isn’t me.”

“Vicky, that’s not true. The only you that I know is the one you’ve been since we met for the first time when we thought we already knew each other. I think you’re a lot nicer than the other Vicky, at least based on the way Marshall remembered you.”

“Marshall loved the other me!”

“Yes, yes, you’re right. I just–”

“It’s this me that’s not nice, then.”

“Wait… Vicky, let’s try something else, OK? Tell your roommates about the experiment. I have. Tell them that you don’t remember your own past, or at least that you don’t know how much of what you remember is true. Ask them what you were like before you did it; what they thought of the guys you dated, and so on. OK?”

“What if I don’t like the answers?”

“At least you’ll know the truth.” She looked at me, a look of doubt in her eyes, but she gave me a hug and headed off down the hall.”

I went to the lounge to let Terry and Lee Ann know that the meeting was over; when we got back to our room, Luke, Ian, Brian, and a couple of other guys were left. Ian and Luke seemed to be getting along a bit better, and the conversation between Brian and the others seemed very civil; in fact, the guys seemed to be very interested in what he had to say. By tacit agreement, three of us chose not to interfere, but started tidying up the room around them.

Finally, the conversations started winding down and I introduced everybody. “We want to thank you ladies for letting us borrow your room,” Ian said. “Is it all right if we meet with the rest of the Strangers here tomorrow?”

My roommates agreed, and the meeting the next day went off even easier. Luke and I split the initial speech, with him apologizing up front for having hidden the fact that he’d been in touch with the missing professor. It was pretty clear that the first days attendees had passed on the word to the second group, since there was no surprise when I spoke of the lawsuit or introduced Brian. Everybody signed on pretty quickly.

Vicky called me afterwards. “Looks as though you were right again, Marsh,” she said, sounding a bit happier than I’d heard her in some time. “Mandy and Christine were practically raving about a couple of the boys I’ve dated. So… maybe I’m worth something after all.”

“I always knew you were,” I said.

“Thanks for believing in me. Um, if any spots in that psych treatment thing open up, do you think I could get in? I’d kind of like to know my secret!”

Dad’s negotiations apparently went off without any problems. Shown photos of the old and new labs and videos of the experimenters emptying the old lab, the administration caved and gave us what Dad had hoped for: the scholarships were the least of what they should have done, and with the additional money they provided, the psychology professor, who turned out to be located at a university just twenty minutes away, was able to include three more subjects, and promised to bring more in the following year. We held a lottery for the places, and Vicky got in, but I didn’t – at least this year.

As for my relationship with Jeremy, I really can’t complain. He’s seemed a lot more amused than disconcerted at the things I remember. “So you were how tall?” he’d ask, and I would remember him that I wasn’t, I just had the memories of a boy who was. I made it a point never to mention Marshall’s sexual history, suspecting that if we ever did achieve a sexual relationship of our own, he’d be intimidated at the prospect of somebody a lot more knowledgeable watching him fumble his way toward a satisfactory result. I suppose if it ever came down to it, I could tell him about Marshall’s first and very embarrassing time, but silence has seemed the wisest policy.

I try not to be amused myself at his boyish propensity to exclaim over unique rocks and stones he finds on the ground. He recognizes all of them and explains to me their properties, or how they’re formed, or where appropriate their use as semi-precious stones, and has continued to shower me with his own creations. I’ve struggled with reciprocating; it’s so hard to find things that he wants or needs. I’ve finally realized that my listening to him and learning to appreciate his hobbies and creations is one of the things that makes him the happiest.

His rock collecting led to, or rather was an excuse for a very exciting incident that the two of are going to remember for a long time. It was just after his graduation that he’d come over to have dinner with my family, and even apparently managed to be polite to them when Vicky called me in a panic, and needing to talk right away. The subject turned out to be, to my surprise, her nascent romance with Brian, of all people, and her guilt at enjoying the company of a young man who had caused all of us such grief. I had to remind her that most of the Strangers had managed to, if not forgive him, quite, at least tolerate him, and that if she was happy, that was what really mattered.

When I got back, I discovered that the family had decided that Jeremy and I should go pick up some ice cream, and that given the light and the weather; we should walk to a nearby convenience store and take our time. I certainly had no objections to a romantic walk.

“So what did you guys talk about while I was gone?” I asked as we walked across the field just outside of our development.

“Oh, different things. Where I’m going to live while in business school next year, what I’ll be studying… you… Mostly, you, actually.”

“Well, that’s kind of embarrassing,” I said.

“No, it seems to be one of your parents’ favorite subjects. I know it’s one of mine.”

“Mmhmm,” I smiled. “So where did you decided to live? Have you found a roommate yet? Are you going to have a place for me to stay when I visit…?” Suddenly I realized that I was talking to the air.

“Come look at this,” he said, kneeling on the ground again.

Rolling my eyes, I turned and stretched out my hand to receive his latest find. “I don’t even know how you can see rocks in this…” Then it registered. Him down on one knee, holding out his hand, and in his hand something that sparkled a lot more than any found semi-precious stone had a right to.

I don’t know that I was even aware of conscious thought any more until he asked, “Jennifer Marsha Steen, I am very familiar with gems and precious stones and have never found one as precious as you. Will you marry me?” and I was hugging him and crying. And kissing. And hugging some more.

And then I winked and said, “So, you think this would be a good time for me to start sharing your bed?”

Of course he whispered back, “Wedding night, hon,” but that wasn’t some remote might-be time anymore.

Or so I thought. When we got back to the house and everybody congratulated us (they’d known all along that he was going to ask me) I discovered that my parents and my new fiancé had agreed that we would be having a June wedding – after my graduation, two years hence.

“It makes perfect sense, Babe,” he said, trying to placate me. “I’ll be in school a couple hundred miles away. Then I’ll graduate from B-school when you graduate from Piques and I can look for a job near your Med school.”

“And I have to be celibate for two more years, even when we know that we’re going to be together?”

“But we’ll have the whole rest of our lives together…”

So. It looks as though happily ever after is going to take a bit more work, but considering where I started on that horrible lemon of a morning in the fall, I’d say the lemonade tastes pretty sweet.


139 Suited for its Purpose

I went to the bathroom at the end of the meal while Daddy paid the bill. When I came back, he was talking earnestly and quietly with Brian. Or perhaps I should say, to Brian, since he seemed to be doing all the talking, while Brian just keep nodding, although he didn’t seem particularly enthusiastic. Then Dad handed him a card, which he put into his wallet.

“What was that all about?” I asked as we drove back to campus.

“Getting his help with a lawsuit,” Dad answered.

“I thought you’d promised not to sue,” I said, surprised. “Wasn’t that the point of the discussion?”

“Actually,” he pointed out, “I promised not to sue him. There’s really no point in suing an impoverished student. But the school… that’s different. I pointed out to your friend–”

“Not my friend.”

“Well, to Brian then, that with his advisor making a separate deal with Piques, he was sort of out in the cold, and it was now in his interest to make a deal with us. I intend to bring a suit on behalf of the Strangers in the Mirror and any other victims, and I will ask for things that will benefit both you and he.”

“Didn’t you tell me that you thought it would be hard to win a lawsuit like this? That nobody would believe that we’d be changed? Or rather, that our memories had been changed?”

Dad chuckled. “Piques’s lawyers obviously think there’s a risk. You get me those movies you took, the email from Brian and the location of the new lab. Get the Strangers to agree, and Brian will cooperate with us, and with that, I think I can build a case good enough to force a settlement.”

“But…” I started to object. “What good is that going to do any of us? I’m pretty sure what we want is our lives back. I want my memories back. I want to feel like myself, and not this boy I thought I’d been for so long.”

“And part of the settlement has to include a way to get that for you. That means that Professor Davis has to cooperate. Brian needs to cooperate. And the school needs to provide whatever facilities are needed to figure out a way to help you.” He patted my cheek. “Trust me, Princess. This is the kind of thing I understand.”

When he dropped me off at school, I was starting to feel optimistic. The process Brian had described sounded pretty safe, just talking and using… what was it he had called it? Associative memory? At least we weren’t going to be doing any new physics experiments. The thought made me laugh for some reason – I could just imagine myself trying to convince the Strangers by saying, “Oh, don’t worry! They’re pretty sure they have it working right now!”

I took out my phone to call Vicky as I walked to my room, but then remembered how she had reacted the last time I’d tried to tell her the truth. I hated to see what she was doing to herself, and I didn’t see any easy way to convince of the truth, short of actually introducing her to Brian. She’d recognize him from the video, wouldn’t she? If I could pull this off, get the Strangers to agree to join Dad’s lawsuit and avoid other legal action, I could make it happen.

In the meantime, I needed either Ian or Luke to arrange a meeting. I was still a bit annoyed at Luke, so I called his roommate.

“Actually, I’m no longer rooming with Luke,” he informed me when I suggested the meeting. “I just didn’t feel like I could trust him, you know? He could at least have let me in on the big secret; we’d been friends for almost a year, and now I feel like such an idiot, telling everybody that we had no idea where Davis was, or even if he even still existed.

“And the problem is, my new roommates don’t know about the experiment and I don’t really want to tell them, so we can’t exactly have the meeting here.”

I tried to hide my annoyance; Ian wasn’t the right target for it, anyway. “If I can find an alternate location, can you organize the meeting? And make sure everybody shows up? We can’t have anyone left out. We’re only going to be able to get cooperation if Piques knows it can totally avoid a lawsuit if they go along.”

“I don’t know, Marsh,” he objected. “If we’re all in one place, wouldn’t that make it really easy for the administration to round us up?”

“And do what?” I asked impatiently. “Ian, they knew about the experiment, even if they didn’t have the list of subjects. The only reason Piques was interested in us was to make sure we didn’t sue and to check if Davis was keeping his agreement not to contact any of us.”

“Which they broke, gotcha. Well, could we have two meetings, one with half the group and one with another? If you have a place where half of us could meet, and if you can really bring this Brian guy, I should be able to get the Strangers there.”

That sounded like a reasonable compromise, so I thanked him and hung up.

When I got to my room, there was a small vase of flowers sitting outside my bedroom door. The card said, “Hope your meeting went well. Call me? – J.”

With a big grin, I picked up my flowers and smelled them. Delicious. I called Jeremy as I set them on my desk close to my sewing machine.

“Hey, Sweetheart,” he said, answering the phone. “How did your meeting go?”

“I think it went pretty well,” I told him. I explained about the new information we’d received and Dad’s plans for a lawsuit.

“Is there something I can do to help?”

I smiled. “Just be there for me as you have been. I’m not sure the Strangers would be comfortable with you coming to the meeting. And by the way, I love the flowers. Thank you.”

“No problem. So, when am I going to see you again?”

“I… might have some time tomorrow afternoon, if you can pull yourself away from your schoolwork,” I teased.

“It’ll be tough,” he joked back, “but I think I can squeeze you in.”

“That should have been my line,” I giggled. “Um, just to get a rise out of you.”

“Oh, believe me, you are,” he laughed.

When we hung up a few minutes later, I was feeling on top of the world. Terry commented on it when I knocked on her door.

“Well, somebody’s in a good mood, considering she went out to dinner with her father rather than her boyfriend.”

“He gave me flowers… and we talked…”

“Uh huh…”

She had no problem with the idea of my having the Strangers over for a meeting, and neither did Lee Ann. A couple of phone calls later, and the first meeting was planned for Thursday evening. At my request, Ian had included both Vicky and Ben in the first group.

Ian and Luke, as leaders of the group, showed up a bit early. Luke looked as though he wanted to make up, but Ian wasn’t having it, and sat on the far side of the room when I told them how I wanted to make my pitch. Vicky was the next to show up and pulled me aside for a private chat.

“It’s really nice of you and your roommates to let us use your place, Marsh.” She nodded her head toward Ian and Luke. “Did they give you any idea of what the big news was going to be?”

“Actually,” I said, “I’m the one who asked for this meeting.”

“Oh no,” she moaned, a look of alarm in her eyes. “You’re not going to make a fool of yourself, are you, Marshall? Are you really going to tell everybody that you’d met Davis and that he told you it wasn’t a time travel experiment?”

“Will you trust me, please, Vix?” I begged. “I know what I’m doing, and I’m going to try really hard not to say anything I can’t prove, OK?”

“OK…” she said, not really sounding mollified.

A bunch more people had arrived by the time the two of us finished talking. Luke and Ian seemed to be taking turns greeting them, but still managed to remain a good distance apart. Finally, Ian indicated that we had all the people we’d expected, about a dozen and a half, and moved to the center of the room.

“I want to thank everybody for coming,” he said. “I realize we haven’t done anything particularly exciting for quite a while. I assume most of you have met Marsh Steen?” He indicated me, and I waved. “She has some news that I think a lot of you will find extremely interesting.”

“Hi, guys,” I said, taking his place in the middle of the room. “If some of you don’t know me, and I realize that there are some of you I haven’t met, it’s because I joined kind of late, about a month after the last midterm break.” I heard some quiet murmurs of surprise. “Apparently, I woke up to what had happened to me a bit later than most of you. I have some guesses on why, but the point is, I never gave up trying to find the experimenters. I had my reasons, although I’d never told most of you guys.” I took a deep breath and looked around. Vicky was watching me warily. “In the life I remember… I was male.”

That started a lot of talk, but it died down very quickly – and now I seriously had everybody’s attention.

“So the rest of you guys felt a bit ill at ease? Imagine how I felt.” A bunch of them laughed appreciatively. “I had some great help. Vicky, who actually remembers me as her ex-boyfriend…” People looked over at her as I said that. “Allie’s brother Eric, who is in our physics department, and a physics grad student, Martin. I’d have liked them to be here, but I didn’t think you guys would feel comfortable about having strangers at a meeting of the Strangers.” I was kind of pleased with that wordplay, but all I got were some nods.

I explained about how Eric had started his search, and how it had led to Martin contacting him about the misdirected package. I told the group how we’d caught the experimenters on video, and how I’d found the piece of a crate that had pinpointed their location. When I mentioned then that I had actually met the experimenters, I got a big reaction. Vicky visibly cringed, and several shook their heads, but more than half started firing questions at me, asking where they were, if they had plans to fix everybody, and so on.

Luke finally stood up and shouted them down. “Let’s let Marsh go on. She’s done a lot of work to get this far.” (“You mean, he,” somebody shouted, but Luke ignored him). “I’m sure Marsh will answer everybody’s questions before she finishes.”

He sat down again, and nodded to me, as the group quieted down. I reached into my purse and unfolded a piece of paper. “I think most people sort of remember the grad student who signed us up…?” Several people nodded. I turned over the paper and showed them the picture I’d printed, showing Brian and me at the restaurant. “My Dad took this with his cell phone yesterday. I assume you guys recognize him?” I handed the paper to Vicky, who stared at it and then passed it on.

The others exclaimed over the picture and passed it around, but I was watching Vicky. She looked shocked. Then she stared at me, and I could almost hear her mentally pleading with me to deny the whole thing. After a moment, though, she sagged and her head drooped.

The picture was still being passed around, so I briefly knelt next to her, put my hand on her shoulder, and whispered, “Vicky, I promise I’m going to try to make things work out for you. It just won’t be the way we’d hoped. Trust me?”

She shrugged, but I knew her well enough to know that she was listening. I was hopeful that she’d come around.

I stood up and collected the picture. “I passed this around,” I said, “so that you can believe that I’m telling the truth. And I learned something very surprising. I’ve explained to Vicky and to Ben, and I think they believe me. But… the bottom line is, we were wrong about what the experiment was. I know that even before this, I had some flashes of… what things were like for me – as a girl, I mean – in this reality before midterm break. I tried to tell myself that there were really memories from my male life, or that somehow my female self’s memories were leaking. Did any of you guys have that same experience?”

Again, several people nodded. I hadn’t been as sure, since most of their changes – physical changes, anyway – we’re all that big, but apparently it had happened to them as well.

“I remembered a time from a year ago when I had smaller boobs,” one girl said. “I thought at first that it was my imagination, but I think you’re right. My memories were leaking.”

“So then,” I continued, “why exactly did we assume this was a time travel experiment? Because of the name?” I checked my notes. “The experiment was titled, ‘viewing variations in time and the effects of alternative paths on future events,’ so it does have ‘time’ there.”

“We woke up changed,” somebody said. “What else could it be?”

“Memory transfer,” I explained. “We have memories from a different reality. Our bodies are the same as they always were, but the people we remember being don’t exist in this universe.”

“How is that any different?” One boy challenged me. “Isn’t it my memories who make me who I am? Whether you go back in time, or drag my memories and self from one universe to another, you’ve changed my body and my reality around me. I don’t see how this is a big deal.”

“No, it does matter,” another guy insisted. “It means that our memories were changed, not our bodies. It means that there’s no going back. We’re stuck this way.”

“It’s fine with me,” a girl said. “I like my life better now. I have no complaints.”

“Didn’t you hear her?” another girl argued. “This is your old life. Only those bastards stole your memories of it!”

That was about all I could follow, as everybody seemed to be talking at once. This must be why they weren’t looking, I realized. They just seem to like to argue, or something.

One of the guys yelled at me, “How is this a big announcement? We’ve gone from being stuck because we couldn’t find Davis to being stuck because the change is irreversible.”

Things were getting out of hand, and I looked over to Luke, who stood and managed to quiet the crowd. I didn’t understand how he was doing it. Was I losing control because I was a girl? That would be kind of annoying.

“As I said,” Luke announced. “Marsh has a lot to say. If you want to argue, please do it later. If you have questions, you’ll have a chance to ask them. Please don’t blame Marsh for what’s happened here, though.”

For just a second, I searched his words to see if he was putting me down. I shook my head. Not the thing to be imagining now, Marsh. I turned back to the group once I knew there were listening again.

“We’ve collected a fair bit of evidence now, and my father, who is a lawyer, believes we could prevail in a lawsuit against the College and–”

“Yeah, sue the bastards!”

“Shut up!” Ian yelled at whomever had spoken. “Are you guys paying any attention here? We’ve been stuck, just feeling sorry for ourselves and arguing endlessly for months. Marsh has a way forward for us. Can you please control yourselves long enough to hear what she has to say?” As he turned to sit down, he met the eyes of Luke, who had also stood up to do much the same thing, only not as quickly. Maybe it was my imagination, but I thought the shared glance wasn’t quite so hostile as earlier.

“As I was saying,” I went on. “My Dad wants to use what we have to sue the school. He thinks he can push for a decent settlement, but will need everybody on board. And… if we can get an agreement, and finish this, there might actually be sort of a ‘way back.’”

“How?” one of the earlier arguers asked.

“The idea is that our memories might still be there, and that psychological treatment might be able to bring them back. Professor Davis actually had somebody do some experiments with some subjects, and seemed to be able to recover some. And it’s all talk therapy – no weird science.”

“Who’s going to pay for that?” somebody muttered.

“Could it be part of the lawsuit?” somebody else asked.

“Yes! That’s the idea. My Dad is thinking of ultimately settling for free-ride scholarships all around, psychological therapy or experiments or whatever, and maybe some money on top of that. It seems to me like the best deal we can get, right now.”

“Why would Piques agree?”

“To avoid a big lawsuit that might cost them even more money and bad publicity. That’s why our agreement would not let us go public with the experiment and what happened to us.” Beyond what might get written up in a paper, I thought, but didn’t think this was the time to bring it up.

“So what are the people who actually did this supposed to pay?”

“They don’t have enough money to make it worthwhile to sue them,” I told him, and explained about how the school had forced them to hide by withholding funds. About half of them seemed to think it served the experimenters right, while the other half blamed Piques.

“And as an added incentive, I will arrange for Brian to come in and talk to us. He’s the one who can answer everybody’s questions. What do you think?”

Well, it certainly didn’t surprise me that they just started arguing. I sat down next to Vicky and waited, and in about half an hour, they had all agreed, and signed papers Dad had given me.

“OK,” I said, standing once again. “I hope you’ve got time, since I’m going to call Brian now. Be nice.”

138 A Nibble of Something

Author’s Note: Taxes are done, hurrah! Now Pesach looms, which will likely impact the posting of the remaining chapters, but I’ll do my best.

There was something a bit disturbing about the way Dad was looking at me as we drove to the restaurant. “Is something the matter, Daddy?” I asked.

“No. Nothing at all,” he said, snapping his attention back onto the road.

“You’re disappointed that I turned out not to be a boy, after all,” I guessed.

“What?! No, Princess, not at all. Why would I prefer a boy I don’t know to the little girl I’ve known all her life? I… It’s just that it feels almost as though you… that I don’t really know you any more.”

“I know, right?” I said. “I don’t know myself, either. At least when I thought I was Marshall, I thought I knew who I was supposed to be, and remembered my life. Now? I’m just lucky I have such great roommates. When I introduced you to them today…”

“Well, you really couldn’t be expected to remember that you’d introduced us already.”

“It just makes me seem… feeble-minded. And I don’t even want to think about how many times in the past few months, I’ve done the same. All this time I thought I was being really clever, pretending to really be ‘Marsha,’ when in fact, I was just being stupid.”

He clucked sympathetically, and somehow that comforted me a bit. Clearly, Marsha had – that is, I had always been something of a Daddy’s girl. I wondered if I was embracing that part of myself to compensate for the nagging feeling I still had that I really should be a boy.

We pulled up at the restaurant and Dad let me out while he went to park the car. Even when I thought I was “playing the role” of Marsha, having a guy take care of me this way had felt weird and uncomfortable, but I’d gone along with what seemed to be expected. Now? I decided that I was going to have to change it somehow; the problem is, my Marshall memories told me that I might wind up hurting Dad’s feelings, or Jeremy’s, if I handled it wrong. Oddly, I seemed to care a lot more about hurting people’s feeling that than I remember having done so – of course it had been Marshall, not me, who hadn’t cared as much.

I went inside to wait, out of the cold. The reception area offered a couple of padded benches, so I sat on the one against the window and watched for Dad.

“Marsh?” I turned and saw Brian just standing up in front of the opposite bench. “Are you alone?”

“My father’s parking the car,” I answered.

“Your… father?”

“You said I could bring somebody.”

“Yeah, but… I mean, I just wanted you to not feel afraid of me. Why would you bring your father?”

“It was his idea. Anyway, he’s a lawyer, and–” I stopped because even in the sparse light of the reception area I could see that he had just gone pale.

“A lawyer,” he gasped. “Oh boy…” He sat down heavily.

That’s when Dad came in. I turned and introduced him to Brian, who nodded, his head down.

“What’s wrong with him?” Dad whispered to me.

“He seems to have an issue with lawyers,” I answered in the same tone.

We didn’t get anything more from Brian but small talk until we’d been seated; I had the feeling that he was starting to regret offering this meeting. He looked back and forth between Dad and me and a few times looked as though he was about to say something but thought better of it. He hid behind his menu for bit.

Finally, Dad said, “You know, in my experience, more lawsuits are triggered by lack of communication than by just about anything else.” Brian looked up at that. “When people talk, they can often work out their differences without needing to go to court. I will promise you, that I will not use anything you tell us today as the basis of a lawsuit against you.”

Brian licked his lips nervously and exhaled. “Well, I don’t really have anybody else to talk to about this.” He studied us carefully. “Thing is, Marsh, you really caused us a problem. I don’t know if you’ve actually told anybody yet…?” I nodded. “Well, as you said, it could get back to the administration, and then we’d be in trouble. I assume you’ve told your father the situation?” I nodded again. We’d reviewed it in the car on the way over.

“Well, Rolf – that is, Professor Davis – didn’t want to take any chances, so he called the Dean first. They seem to have come to some sort of agreement; Piques will release funding, but we have to bury these results – everything we’ve done for the past half year, plus most of what we did the previous two. My entire thesis is gone, and I’m going to have to start all over again.”

I winced in sympathy, and tried very hard to suppress the thought, serves you right.

“The problem is,” he continued, “Piques is convinced that if we did publish, if we announced what had happened to our test subjects, that we’d be openly admitting that we’d harmed them and the could sue us, and especially the school for allowing it. Now we did have everybody sign a release, and I think that should be enough, but they don’t want to take the chance.” He looked at Dad. “Sir, don’t you think a release is enough?”

“It would depend on what you disclosed,” Dad informed him. “If you have a copy with you, I could have a contracts expert look it over.”

“You’d have to convince the administration, and they have their own lawyers,” Brian said sadly. “I do have an idea, though. Marsh, maybe if you could persuade the Strangers…”

I looked at Dad, who shrugged, so I asked, “What’s the idea?”

“Well, and you understand that Professor Davis might not go along with this, but… we had a couple of subjects besides Luke come in and tell us that they thought we’d changed them. They weren’t as angry as… well, some people, but they demanded that we change them back, which of course we couldn’t. But Professor Davis thought it might be an interesting psychological experiment, so he contacted a psych prof friend of his from back home.”

“Yes…?” I prompted him when he paused. This was new.

“Well, we put them in touch with Professor Gr– I probably shouldn’t tell you his name – and one of his students started running an experiment with them.”

“Go on,” I urged him.

“So, and I guess this isn’t news to you, but the people we’ve seen so far who reacted this way not only were confused as to who they are, but they had a lot of foreign memories.”

“And we’re missing a lot of our own,” I pointed out.

“Right, so the question is whether the new memories are in addition to the old ones, or in place of the old ones. Kel- er, the student who’s actually doing the experiment, thinks that there’s no way a new memory would overwrite an old one, and that the old ones have to still be there, somewhere – the subject just can’t find them.”

“Which amounts to the same thing, right?”

“Maybe, maybe not. The idea is that maybe it is possible to find these memories, but since the person doesn’t believe that they exist, they can’t find them. I think that was the explanation. So, as long as you believed you were a boy, you had no was to find your own memories, since they weren’t part of what you remembered remembering.”

“Sounds pretty circular,” Dad observed. “Isn’t it the memories that made Marsha think she was Marshall?”

“We’re sort of getting out of my expertise,” Brian admitted. “The point was, they did manage to recover some additional memories, using… I think she said it was trans… derivative search, or something like that. They would try to find a memory that was original and delve into it, and sometimes the person would remember other things that were clearly original. If identity is associated to memory, it should theoretically be possible, if enough memory is recovered, to restore original identity as well. Or maybe it’s something independent. The point is, they were getting results. And then we got the orders to shut everything down.”

“So some other students did know the truth?” I asked, started to get a bit excited.

“Right, and we swore them to secrecy, with the promise that they could continue the experiment – only we’re not allowed to have any contact with them or the professor running the lab.”

“So it’s still going on?”

“I assume so; for all I know, it’s stopped. We’ve had no contact, remember? And no, I’m not going to just give you their names.” He looked as determined as I’d ever seen him.

“You mentioned an idea,” Dad reminded him.

“Right. Well, this experiment might be a solution to your identity problems – you and all of the Strangers. But they can’t publish without explaining our experiment, and we can’t allow that as long as there’s a threat of lawsuits.”

“So you want to be indemnified.”

He looked at Dad. “If that means a promise not to sue anybody over this, yeah, that’s what I mean. I need an agreement, signed by everybody affected, that we won’t get sued. I want it in a form that the college will accept, and I want it to be clear that I can publish without running into problems. There are two degrees riding on this: Kelly’s and mine.”

“So what happens to our foreign memories if we do this?” I asked. “I’d feel kind of strange forgetting things I remember now, even if they’re not really my memories.”

“Marsh, I can’t promise anything,” Brian reminded me. “It’s an experiment. All I know is that they’ve managed to recover some memories. It’s really the best deal you’re likely to get, you know? It’s a chance.”

Dad and I exchanged glances. “We’ll take this under advisement,” Dad told him. “Why don’t we enjoy this delicious food before us and talk of other things. We’ll get back to you.”

We talked of other things during dinner: Brian’s and my non-school interests, how we felt about Piques in general, social lives. But underlying it all for me was the idea that he held the key to my memories. With his help, I might be able to remember my high school performances, my times growing up with Tina, time spent learning with Mom and spent doing whatever a Daddy’s girl does with her father. It all depended on him. But at what price?

137 Confusion and Persuasion

My dreams were more confusing than usual that night. It seemed to be me as Marshall arguing with myself as Marsha over something. The only part I really remember was mocking (or was it being mocked) for wanting to wear dresses. The problem was that although I knew I was Marsha, my memories told me that was wishful thinking, and that I was and should have been Marshall.

Philosophical ruminations get confusing in the early morning, but I started to wonder: did Marshall’s memories in Marsha’s body mean that I really was Marshall in some sense? Did Marsha’s reactions and skills mean that I was Marsha, no matter what else I remembered and believed? And which one of us was in love with Jeremy? I decided that I was going to want hurt Brian if he didn’t have a credible answer for me.

As curious as I was to hear what he had to say, I’d made a promise to Nikki, and that had to happen first. My Marshall memories suggested that just showing up looking nice would make it more likely that Ben would at least listen to me. That meant that I needed to be in full ‘girly’ mode this afternoon.

Right after lunch, I searched through my closet for something appropriate: something a bit dressier than my usual accoutrements, but not so much as to seem obviously flirtatious. I took special care with my makeup, trying to make it look as though I weren’t really wearing any, but just naturally had perfect features. After months of practice, apparently my old skill was coming through.

I examined the result in the mirror careful, making minor adjustments until I was fully satisfied. Then I started thinking about how Jeremy would like the way I looked, and starting wondering why he hadn’t called me. Sure, it had only been a day; maybe he needed more time to think things over, but I did wish I knew what he was thinking.

Entering Ben’s dorm, I slipped off my coat so that he could get the full effect of my appearance. When I knocked on his door, a pair of boys who seemed to be in a really good mood opened it almost immediately. “Hey, it’s a girl!” one of them laughed. “Jimmy, did you order a girl?”

The other one looked past me into the hallway. “I ordered three of them,” he answered. Then he asked me, “What did you do with the other two?”

I’m afraid I stiffened in response. This was not what Nikki’s description had led me to expect, and all that came out of my mouth was, “Uhhh…”

“Well, you know,” the first one grinned at me, “it’s share and share alike, here. We don’t like to play favorites.”

I stammered, “Is… I’m looking for Ben Forsberg…?”

“No accounting for taste,” he snickered. Then he spoke into the room, “Hey, Ben. You’ve got company.”

I looked past him and saw a typical freshman dorm room, with two beds, desks, and dressers. Sitting at one of the desks was a boy, who turned upon being addressed, letting me see a definite resemblance to Nikki. In a voice much more subdued than those of the other two, he asked, “Can I help you with something?”

That brought more laughter from the other two. “Whoa! What a way to seduce her, Ben!” and “Oh man, she came right to your door and that’s all you can say?”

I winced and I caught Ben rolling his eyes, but he didn’t say anything. Then one of the jokesters, the one who was not Jimmy, said to the other. “C’mon, let’s clear out. I need to beat you in Halo. And we can let these two be alone…” Still laughing, they strode past me down the hallway.

Ben shook his head and muttered, “Don’t mind them.”

“I’m just ignoring them,” I assured him. “Hi, I’m Marsha Steen,” I said cheerfully holding out my hand. “I’m a friend of your sister’s.”

He furrowed his brow and shook my hand warily. “Yes…?”

He really wasn’t making this easy. “Well, she’s worried about you.”

He gave me a long stare before grumbling “She needn’t be. I’m passing all my classes.”

“But…” I tried to remember what Nikki had told me about him. Why hadn’t we planned this out more carefully? “She’s concerned that you’re not happy.”

“Happy?” he barked. “Happy? Did she tell you what those monsters did to me? I used to be taller. I’ve lost six inches!”

“I lost eight,” I told him, calmly.

He’d clearly not expected a response like that. He blinked at me in surprise and it seemed to take him a few seconds to find his voice as he looked me over. “That would have made you pretty tall for a girl.”

“I didn’t say I was a girl.”

His eyes widened and for the first time, he looked interested. Well, maybe shocked would be more accurate. He opened his mouth and closed it. Opened it again, but all that came out was, “What?”

I know an attentive audience when I see one. Taking my time, I pulled out the other chair and sat down. “In my memories, I used to be a boy.”

He stared even longer before managing, “Why aren’t you catatonic?”

“Well, being an actor does help; I’m used to pretending to be other people.”

He gasped. “That’s why you look familiar! You’re that girl – you were in that play Nikki did!”

“I played Mollie in The Mousetrap, yes.”

“You were great!”

“Thank you.”

“I still don’t understand how you’re not going insane.”

I stood up. “Then maybe we have something to discuss?” He nodded, and I was sure he was hooked. “Besides, I have some important news for you, and a suggestion. But not here. Let’s go somewhere a bit less private, if you don’t mind. This isn’t a seduction.”

He laughed and stood up. “I guess not! Um, we can go to the Grill, if you like.”

I nodded, pulled on my coat and waited for him to grab his. Then he held the door open for me, only to apologize after I’d gone through it. “It’s OK,” I laughed. “I’ll explain as we go.

“So what’s this been like for you?” he asked as we walked. “Actor or not, this has to be really… odd.”

“You have no idea,” I said. “I… might not have been able to do it, only I sort of got mad and made it a question of honor to go through with it.”

“Huh.” He looked at me sideways. “You’re not making this up, are you?”

“You think so? Do you remember the test the Strangers have for people who did the experiment?”

“The guitarist? Yeah…”

“Do you happen to remember his name?”

“His name?” he echoed. We walked on a few paces while he seemed to be trying to remember. “I don’t know that I was paying that much attention. I think it was sort of a… military name?”


“Yeah, like he was called… General, or… something like that?”


“Yeah! That’s it. His name was Marshall. Why?”

“Marshall Steen,” I said.

“Could be.”

“And now I’m Marsha Steen.”

He stopped and stared, his eyes bulging. “Wait! Are you saying–”

“I was the guitarist, yes. That’s why nobody remembers him in this reality. In this reality, I’m a girl and I don’t play the guitar.” I looked at him and kept on walking. “Coming?”

He hurried to catch up, clearly off balance from my revelations. Good. I wanted him focused on me, not on his self-pity. Taking him out of his room was helping me break through his shell.

“I don’t get it,” he reiterated, slowing down again to walk with me. “You seem so… natural. As though you really are a girl, and have always been one.”

Ah ha! I thought. “I didn’t really have the option to do what you’re doing, living in denial. It would have been way too embarrassing if people thought of me as a guy wearing a dress. Plus, I found out that I’d been cast in Mousetrap, and I didn’t want to give that up, and I needed to sew to get money, and I’d never learned how.”

“The whole thing sounds impossible.”

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” I admitted. “Did you even try?”

“Try what?” he asked, as we walked into the Grill.

“Nikki says that she remembers you as a fair guitarist, yourself.”

He stopped just inside the entrance and looked at me as though I was stupid. “Do you even listen to yourself? I don’t know the first thing about playing the guitar. I was a basketball player, not a musician. Me playing the guitar is about as likely as you sewing.”

I smirked as I said, “I’m actually a pretty decent seamstress now. You’re laboring under a bit of a misconception.” I saw that I’d confused and intrigued him even more, so I headed to the counter. “That’s why I can afford to treat you. I’m having hot cocoa; what about you?”

I did let him carry our drinks to a table, at least. I could see a thousand questions in his eyes, but he waited until we were seated before speaking. Although we were in public, the noise level in the room was sufficient that, as long as we didn’t shout, nobody at the nearby tables was likely to pick up on our conversation.

“Am I crazy, or are you?” he finally asked. “What am I missing?”

“Well, as I said, I couldn’t afford the luxury of not trying to sew. I had a backlog of items waiting for me, with students expecting to pay me for my work; I had to learn how, and that’s where Nikki came in.”


“She started to teach me, and we discovered something very interesting. Even though I had no memories of sewing, once she showed me, my hands seemed to know exactly what to do. I had the skill, but not the knowledge. My memories were Marshall’s but my reactions were Marsha’s. On the other hand, guitar playing was a disaster; probably as bad as what happened when you tried to play basketball.”

“Oh. Nikki told you about that,” he said ruefully.

“Mmhmm. It turned out that it was much easier for me to be Marsha than to try to be Marshall in Marsha’s body. I’m even attracted to boys and not to girls, and let me tell you, that was a real surprise.”

“Huh. Weird.”

“But I finally got the most important piece of the puzzle yesterday.” I deliberately paused until he was about to ask and then gave it to him. “I found Davis. I found the guys who did this to us.”

“How…? The Strangers looked for them! How did you find them when nobody else could?”

I grinned. He was well out of his sullenness and into outright curiosity. It looked as though this was going to work, after all. “The Strangers had mostly given up, Ben. As far as I know, nobody was changed nearly as much as you and I, and you didn’t even try.” That I had gotten a lucky break wasn’t really relevant.

“It’s not that I didn’t try,” he responded hotly. “I just didn’t see the point. It’s not as if they were going to change us back or anything. You’re still a girl, I notice. So what does it matter, even if you did find them?”

“It matters, because we had it all wrong. I had friends who should have known telling me that it couldn’t have been time travel, and it wasn’t.”

“Then how did they change us?”

“They didn’t. That’s the point. We’d been figuring on time travel plus some kind of memory manipulation, and it turns out all they did was the memory manipulation. Our memories are false – I was never a boy, and you were never a basketball player.”

“Oh come on! Are you telling me that I made up all the games I played in high school? Or that they did? Why do we all remember you playing the guitar, if it never happened?”

“It did happen – it just happened in a different reality. That was the experiment – they gave us memories from a different reality.”

“You’re telling me my whole life is a lie?”

“No. I’m telling you that most of what you remember is not your own memories. Think back. Are you sure you have no memories of ever playing the guitar? Or not being so tall? None at all?”

He looked at me suspiciously, but I thought my challenge had hit the mark, because he looked a bit guilty. “So… so what if I do? Maybe one or two things. But most of what I remember–”

“The point is, those are your own memories. You can play guitar, and you can’t play basketball, because that’s what happened in your true life, just as I can sew, but I can’t really play the guitar all that well.”

“You… I… am I just supposed to accept this… this fantasy? This bullshit? I know what I remember, and it isn’t… what you’re telling me.”

“You also remember being six inches taller,” I reminded him. “I remember being a guy. But we’re dealing with people who have given us new memories. Why do you believe your false memories? Why is it easier for you to believe that they changed your body and your reflexes and your past and somehow managed to keep your memories mostly intact than to believe that all they changed was your memories?” Never mind that I’d believed exactly that for months, but I’d accepted the alternative when offered it. “Ask Nikki. She was there on the phone right when I heard it from those guys. She’s known about me for months.” Still no reaction but a cautious stare.

“I need to think about that,” he finally said.

“Will you try something, though?”


“Let me teach you to play the guitar. I have memories of being this great guitarist, right? It would probably take me years to build up anything close to the level of skill I remember, but you have it right there in your fingers. It would make your family happy, and I think you’d really enjoy it.”

“I… I don’t know how–”

“Try it,” I said, cutting him off. “Prove to yourself that it won’t work – or that it will. If you seriously try, and it doesn’t work, I will apologize and admit I’m wrong. But if it does… I mean, seriously, you don’t have anything to lose here, do you?”

He looked at me for a long while before asking, “So… where are we going to do this?”

“My room, of course,” I smiled, feeling that I’d made that breakthrough. “I’ll explain to my roommates.”

“You’re sure?”

“Very sure,” I grinned. “I’ve wanted to for a while and never had the chance.” Well, technically, it was Marshall who’d wanted to, but I still felt some of his eagerness.

“You’re on,” he grinned back. Then suddenly he looked uncertain. I followed his gaze and saw Jeremy standing behind me, his face white with shock.

“Jeremy?” I said. “Is something wrong?”

He didn’t answer, so I excused myself and stood up to hug him. Or tried to. He was looking back and forth at Ben and me.

“Is something wrong?” I repeated.

“Can I talk to you?” he asked, urgently.

“Sure…” I turned to Ben. “I’ll be right back.”

We walked a bit away, but he didn’t seem eager to speak. He kept looking at me as though not exactly sure what to say, or whether to say it. It took me a moment to recognize the expression, but then I seemed to remember Marshall being so hesitant – he was afraid of me! I was sure of it; he was afraid that I was going to berate him.

Swallowing hard, I put my hand on his arm. “Jeremy, whatever you want to say, I promise that I won’t yell at you.”

He winced and took a deep breath. “I was thinking about… what you told me yesterday.”

I had to bite my lip to keep from interrupting him; he was going to break up with me, I was sure of it.

“It… explains things I hadn’t understood about you. How you could seem…” he lowered his voice, “so eager to have sex and still be a virgin.” He reddened, presumably at the idea of mentioning something so intimate in public. “And I realize that must be from those memories you have. I take it… this boy you remember being wasn’t a virgin?”

I shook my head.

“So maybe if I’d met you before, you might have reacted very differently, in… intimate situations.”

If he’d met me before. I was sure that was what he wished: that I didn’t have this boy’s memories in my head. “My last boyfriend broke up with me because I wouldn’t sleep with him,” I admitted.

“So now you feel as though I’m being unfair to you.”

That wasn’t where I’d expected this conversation to go. “What are you talking about?”

“I came over to talk to you, and… I overhead.”

I was completely baffled. “What are you talking about?” I repeated.

“Well, once you suggested that if you weren’t a virgin, that I wouldn’t be hesitant…” He took a breath. “I overheard you talking about meeting that guy in your room… to do it. That you’d really wanted to for a long time, but…”

I had to bite my lip. I really didn’t want to laugh at him out loud in the middle of the Grill. “We were talking about guitar lessons!”


“That’s Nikki’s brother, Ben. It’s his guitar that I borrowed and have in my bedroom.”

Now he really turned red and my chest was trembling with silent laughter. I could barely speak, I was trying so hard not to laugh out loud. “I have no…” I gasped. “… no desire….” Tears were streaming down my cheeks. “Come meet Ben,” I managed.

“Now I seem like an unreasonably jealous boyfriend,” he moaned.

I wrapped my arms around his bicep and leaned against him. “It could have been so much worse.”


136 Plans and Revelations

I debated for a moment whether I should reply to the email immediately; I certainly had reason to want to stay in touch – it might be the only way to help Vicky – but something made me hesitate. Was there an advantage in keeping my real name a secret from them? Marsha had probably given them her email when she’d signed up – or, rather, I’d given my email, but Brian knew me as “Jennifer Marsha.” The writer wasn’t sure he’d gotten the right person, so maybe he had just sent the email to several girls. The email hadn’t actually been addressed to me, I noticed. It was to ‘undisclosed recipients.’

So it was possible that they hadn’t figured out who I was, and that might be an advantage for me, if I could figure out how to use it. Replying directly to the email would squander it.

I checked the computer clock; there was still a bit of time before we were heading for dinner, so I called Vicky. “Hi, Marsh!” she answered, sounding unusually cheerful. “How are you?”

“Hi, Vix,” I answered. “Can you check to see if you received a spam email?”

“Probably,” she said, wryly. “Why?”

“I’m looking for one titled, ‘Are you the girl I met today?’”

“Oooh. Is that your new way of flirting with me?”

I bit back an annoyed response. It’s going to take time to get through to her, I reminded myself. “I’m trying to see how widely this was sent out. Did you get it? It would probably have been sent a bit before 5 o’clock.”

I heard what sounded like her moving to her computer. “Hmm… I see a lot of ‘This is interesting,’ and… ‘The ultimate weight loss supplement’ and ‘Postal Express: get the parcel,’ but not that one. Why?”

So they probably hadn’t sent it to everyone. “Do you know of any other girls in the Strangers in the Mirror named Jennifer or Marsha?”

“There’s Jen Wood,” she offered. “I don’t have the full list; you’d pretty much have to go to Luke and Ian for those, if you’re even willing to talk to them any more. Why are you interested in girls with those names, Marsh?” I was probably just imagining the jealously in her voice at the end – at least I hoped I was.

“Vicky,” I said, trying to be as patient as possible, “will you trust me on this? I am not interested at all in any other girl, OK? This has to do with getting in touch with Professor Davis.”

That mollified her, and she warmed up a lot. “I knew you wouldn’t let me down, Marsh,” she said before we hung up. She’d meant way too much to me over the past few months to leave her in pain like this; I just didn’t know what to do about it quite yet.

I called Jen Wood, but she didn’t answer her phone, so I left her a message, asking about the email and mentioning that I was part of the Strangers. I didn’t explain about actually finding Davis; I wanted to present that information in just the right way.

To my discomfort, she called me back during dinner. While Terry and Lee Ann knew my secret, everybody else didn’t, and I didn’t really want to tell them, which meant that I had to pay careful attention to what I said.

“So who are you, again?” she asked.

“I explained in the email,” I said. “I’m actually at dinner with some friends right now.”

“I don’t think we’ve met,” she persisted. “I’m not sure that I’ve ever heard of this group you mention. Tell me somebody else you know who’s in it.”

I hadn’t counted on the paranoia that Luke had instilled in the group. “Look, Jen, all I want to know is the email.”

“But you mentioned this group as if they were connected.”

“I promise to explain everything later,” I said, thinking now that I shouldn’t have left a message at all. She sounded as though she wasn’t going to admit knowledge of the Strangers and I certainly wasn’t going to mention them. “I got your name from Vicky Gordon.”

“And what makes you think I know Vicky?”

“Can we forget about everything else?” I pleaded.

“Fine. Let me check my spam folder. Hmmm… OK, yes, I do have one with that name.”

“Can you read the message, please?” She did, and it matched the one I’d gotten. “Thanks, Jen, I owe you.” I hung up and looked around, but nobody seemed to think that anything out of the ordinary had happened, but I had my answer. They’d sent emails out to more than one of us, so if I used my “Jennifer Marsha” email account to answer, they still wouldn’t be sure who I was. It might not matter, but it felt safer.

We got back to the room with about forty-five minutes to go before rehearsal, so I sent the reply, took a deep breath, and called home.

Tina answered with a surprised, “Hi Marsh? Is something up?” Since this was not my usual time to call, I could hardly blame her.

“Is Daddy home?” I asked, grinning to myself at my deliberate use of that form of his name. Tina didn’t notice, although I was pretty sure our parents would. She did confirm that they were there. “And could you see if Chad is available?” I asked next. “I want to talk with all four of you at once.”

“Really? What’s going on?”

“I’ll tell you when everybody’s there…” I said, teasing her just a bit. “Go get Chad, would you?”

Mom came on next. “Marsh? Is everything OK?”

“Everything’s fine, Mom. I just have important news, and I wanted to tell everybody at once.”

“News about…?”


“Well, since you want Chad here, I assume it has something to with the discussions you, he, and your father have been having on Sunday nights. Some kind of break through?”

“You could say that,” I admitted. “Where’s Daddy?”

“He’s right next to me. I’m going to put you on the speaker.”

“Hi Marsh,” I heard him say, “Big news?”

“Yes, Daddy,” I answered.

“’Daddy’? Marsh, I thought we’d agreed–”

“I’ll explain everything as soon as Chad and Tina get back.”


It only took another minute before I heard Chad’s voice. “I’m here, Marsh. What’s up?”

“OK,” I announced. “I do have big news. I found them. I found the guys who did this experiment.”

I was certainly not surprised when they all started talking at once, nor that Dad shouted everybody down. “Quiet! Let her explain! Go ahead, Marsh.”

“Well, the short version is simple. It wasn’t a time travel experiment at all, and I was never a boy. Marshall is the boy you might have had instead of me, Mom and Dad, and they gave me his memories. They gave all of us different memories, and we thought we were other people.”

“So you’re not going to be changing into a boy?” Tina asked excitedly.

“That’s right, Teen,” I said, smiling. “I’ve always been a girl, and I’ll always be one.”

“What was the point of this… experiment?” Dad asked.

“They say that they had no idea that this was going to happen to us. I’m really sorry I told you I was supposed to be a boy, Daddy. I hope you’re not too disappointed.”

“I’m not,” he laughed. “How could I be disappointed to know that my Princess is OK?”

I breathed a sigh of relief at that. If he was calling me Princess again, he was clearly accepting this.

“How do you feel about this, Honey?” Mom asked.

“How do I feel?” I laughed. “Relieved, happy, confused, concerned…”


“Well, my friend Vicky isn’t accepting it. She’s still convinced that I’m supposed to be her boyfriend, and that I’m in denial about the whole thing. That I’ve become so comfortable as a girl, that I’ve made the whole thing up so I wouldn’t have to face the prospect of changing ‘back.’”

There was silence on the phone, and it occurred to me that for all my family knew, Vicky was right. “She’s wrong, of course. I met them, guys. They told me exactly what had happened, what kind of experiment it was, and assured me that they hadn’t changed me physically – that they had only changed my memories.”

“Makes sense to me,” Chad said.

My family chimed in, “Absolutely.” “Of course.” “Yes.”

I very carefully did not breath a sigh of relief; I’d have hated to have them think I’d doubted them. “Anyway, I just got an email. I think it’s from the grad student, Brian. And just maybe he doesn’t want Professor Davis to know that he’s contacted me.”

“What does it say, Princess?”

“Only that he’s trying to reach me,” I said, automatically looking at my computer. “Oh wait, he sent me another one. I replied to his first email to let him know I’d gotten it.”

I clicked on the new mail. “Yeah, it’s from Brian. He asks if we can meet in a ‘neutral place.’ Not on campus and not in the lab. Oh, they’re actually downtown, now.”

“That doesn’t sound safe, Honey,” Mom pointed out.

“Well, he says I can bring one person with me if I like, but he’ll be alone. He says he needs to talk with somebody and he thinks I’m about the only one he feel comfortable talking to.”

“How well do you know him?” Dad wanted to know.

“We only talked for a few minutes. I guess he means that I’m somebody other than his advisor and the Piques administration who actually knows about his experiment, plus I’m a student.”

“And the point of the meeting?”

“I don’t know, Dad. He doesn’t say. But I need his help to help Vicky, I think, and probably a bunch of other people. All I know is that Piques has been putting pressure on them to keep things secret – afraid of lawsuits or something.”

“Hmmm… tell you what, Marsh. Try to set up the meeting for tomorrow night, and I’ll drive up and join you.”


“If there’s some kind of legal issue here, I think I’d be a good person to have around, don’t you?”

“Well, sure, but…”

“And you can’t fault me for being protective of my daughter, can you?”

That made me smile. I had memories of resenting his over-protectiveness, but those were Marshall’s memories. For some reason, I liked the idea. I wondered what it was in Marsha’s – that is, my – past that led me to such a different relationship with him. Was it just because I was a girl? “OK, Dad,” I said. “I’ll ask for a meeting tomorrow night after dinner, and I’ll tell you as soon as I know.”

“Better yet, make it dinner. Suggest a restaurant – one nice enough where the lights are dim – that will give us privacy. I think that could be important. My treat.”

With that settled, everybody else had questions for me. Mom wanted to know how much I remembered of my own life, now that my understanding of what my own life was. Tina wondered if I was happy being her big sister, and Chad was curious about the details of the experiment. There was a lot more to talk about than I had time for before rehearsal, but I did my best and then promised to call back the next night after the meeting.

I hung up and replied to Brian’s email with Dad’s suggestion and rushed off to rehearsal.

With what was happening in my real life, it was getting a bit harder to care about rehearsals, and I knew my performances were a bit off. Fortunately, it was rehearsal. What really interested me, though, was the chance to speak with Nikki.

“So, is it sinking in?” she asked when I sat next to her when I wasn’t needed on stage.

“A little bit,” I nodded. “I still catch myself thinking that I’m really Marshall. I can just imagine what my dreams are going to be like, this week.”

“I know, right?”

“So if I’m going to talk to Ben, what’s the best way to approach him?”

“I’d just suggest knocking on his door. I really think he’ll be open at least to listening to you. I should warn you, though; he might have a bit of a crush on you.”

“I hope not. I haven’t been so great with fending guys off, lately. I guess girls learn that?”

“Oh, yeah. But he’s not likely to do much; he’s just really depressed, and he really enjoyed you as Mollie.”

It turned out that he was done with classes after lunch on Tuesdays, same as me, so I promised Nikki that I would approach him then.

I got back to my room afterwards to find a confirmation from Brian; we were on for 6:30 at the Rusty Scupper. It was going to be a busy day.”


135 Unexpected Reactions

The first order of business was to get back inside. All this walking in the snow was chilling me, and since I wasn’t as large as I used to… no. I laughed at myself. Remembering that my memories were mostly somebody else’s was going to be hard to get used to. It was really a good thing that I hadn’t found out for months; that I hadn’t found out until I realized that I liked being a girl. I shudder to think how I would have reacted if I’d learned this the first time I’d gone hunting for the lab.

It was getting on to mid-afternoon and the snow had stopped, leaving a 6” field for me to tromp through. The streets in town were at least being plowed continually; on campus, it wasn’t all that easy even to tell where the walkways were supposed to be. While I was glad that I wasn’t Marshall, and had never been Marshall, just for the next hour or so, it would be really nice if I could borrow his long legs.

The first group of students I spotted seemed to be enjoying the snow a lot more than I was, but were at least apologetic when one of their hurled snowballs missed its intended target and caught me on the arm. I brushed off the little bit that sprayed into my face and smiled an acknowledgment. If all wasn’t quite right with the world, at least the main things were, and a little bit of snow was hardly going to kill my mood.

My roommates were out when I got back to my room, so I stripped off my clothes and luxuriated in a hot shower. I thought about Jeremy’s suggestion that memories hadn’t actually been overwritten; would that mean that I had two sets of memories, now? And I just didn’t know how to get at the other set? Would that work the same way amnesia did? Maybe I could do some research on how amnesia worked and whether it was curable.

I saw Lee Ann’s door open when I came out of the bathroom in my bathrobe, so I poked my head in and said hello.

“Hello yourself,” she replied, looking up from her computer. “Didn’t see you at lunch.”

“No, I had lunch with Jeremy.”

“Must have been a good lunch,” she observed. “You’re bubbling.”

“I guess I am,” I laughed. “I need to tell Terry and you about it.”

“I look forward to it!”

I got dressed and called Vicky. “Are you busy?” I asked. “I have something incredible to tell you!”

“Oh?” she asked cautiously. “About what?”

“I want to tell you in person. I want to see your face when you hear it!”

She responded in a very neutral tone. “I’m doing some drawing, so why don’t you come over?” It would have been nice to hear some enthusiasm to match my own, but then she didn’t know what a bombshell I was about to drop.

“I’ll come right over,” I promised, trying to imagine her relief at learning the truth. It wasn’t until I was actually at her dorm that I realized I wasn’t actually sure that she would be relieved. What if she was disappointed? Well, I’d started the day with a focus on truth, and I certainly owed Vicky that. I just wished I knew the best way to tell her, just in case.

My worries, it turned out, were optimistic.

“You found them?” she exclaimed when I’d gotten to that part of my story. “Then why are you still a girl? Why haven’t you changed back?”

“There is no ‘back,’ Vicky. I’ve always been a girl. The memories we have aren’t our own!” I told her what I’d learned. I could see that she wasn’t taking it well.

She just stared at me for a moment; I felt like a schoolgirl who had been called to the Vice-Principal’s office. “Let me get this straight,” she hissed. “You’re saying that we never dated? That we were actually complete strangers until a few months ago? That everything I believe about us is a lie?”

“Well, not actually a lie,” I tried to explain. “It was Marshall and the other Vicky who dated. We just have their memories.”

“What a load of crap!” she snapped. “Do you really expect me to believe that?”

“Well,” I said awkwardly, “It makes sense, doesn’t it?”

“You’re telling me that two total strangers built up the kind of relationship we’ve had for the past few months? You told me that it’s not true that all the guys I’ve been dating are jerks, that I could know I’m good enough to find a decent guy because I dated you, and now you’re saying I didn’t? That I’m not good enough?”

“Uh…” I hadn’t thought of that interpretation. I scrambled to find a different way to look at it, but she just kept right on going.

“You know what I think? I think you’re estrogen-poisoned, Marshall. I think you’ve been a girl so long, and you think you’re in love with a boy, so now you want it to be true that you were always female. I think you think it would be easier for you that way. It solves all your problems, doesn’t it? No need to feel guilty about your change messing up other people’s lives. No need to face whatever might happen if you change back.

“I think you fantasized the whole thing. Well don’t worry, Marshall.” She patted my cheek. “We’ll find them for real, soon enough. And we’ll get you changed back and you’ll be able to think clearly again. When you’re yourself, you’ll be much happier, you’ll see.”

I tried again. “Vicky, it’s real. I did find the real guys. I spoke with Davis and Harlin.”

“Why are you doing this to me?” she asked, sounding hurt.

“I’m not doing anything to you,” I said, starting to have a bit of trouble speaking patiently. “I’m just telling you the truth.”

“It’s Kevin, isn’t it? You’re getting back at me because of Kevin, right? But I broke up with him, Marshall. I did.” She started to tear up. “Please stop this. Tell me you still love me. Tell me you still want us to be together. That’s what we’ve been working toward isn’t it?”

My jaw hung loose. I stared. What was I supposed to do now? I started backing up. “Vicky,” I said tentatively, “I think I’d better come back another time, OK?”

“But you will come back, right? We’re still working on finding Professor Davis, aren’t we? Aren’t we?

“Uhhh… absolutely, Vicky. I’ll call you tomorrow.” I didn’t wait for an answer. I backed out of her room and shut the door before she could say anything more.”

I found myself actually trembling. That had not been the way I had expected her to react. I’d been so ecstatic to learn the truth, that it hadn’t occurred to me that she wouldn’t be. And what did that mean about telling Nikki’s brother, whom I didn’t even know?

I called Nikki as I started back to my dorm, feeling definitely deflated. I had to talk this out with somebody I knew would believe me. Would she still want me to speak with Ben? “C’mon, c’mon,” I muttered as the phone rang. And rang.

And went to voice mail. “Hey, this is Nikki. Leave me a message, OK?”

I snapped my phone off. Stupid. She’s not spending the day waiting around for your call. She’s spending it with her boyfriend. I wished that I could be doing the same thing. Why did Jeremy have to be working downtown? Of course, if he hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have found Davis, and I wouldn’t have learned the truth… and I wouldn’t have just really upset Vicky… whom it turns out that I hadn’t dated for six months…

Should I blame her? I’d heard the truth from the horse’s mouth, and I was still struggling to keep things straight.

I was most of the way back to my dorm when Nikki called back. “Hey Marsh, what’s up?”

“I’m starting to have second thoughts about explaining this to your brother,” I admitted. “I just told Vicky, and things did not go well.”


I explained about Vicky’s refusal to believe me, and her accusation that I was making it all up. Nikki sounded thoughtful as she listened.

“Wow, that’s really not good.”

“And worse yet, I think some of it might be my fault. I’d told her that the ‘fact’ that we’d dated proved that she was better than she thought she was. Now what do I do?”


“I can’t leave her expecting me to want to turn into a boy, Nikki. We might not have had the relationship we both remember, but we’ve spent a lot of time together over the past few months. Whatever the past, we’re friends now, and you don’t abandon friends. At least I hope I never have.” Uncomfortably, I remembered that I hadn’t spoken with Maddy and the others much since winter break, either. I’d figured I didn’t have all that much to say to them, since they were really Marsha’s friends. What a mess.

“How do you convince her of the truth, though? You can’t do the impossible, Marsh.”

“No, I know that. And the same applies to your brother, I suppose. I mean, I have a sort of idea of something I could try with him, but it might not work, and I need something more for Vicky and maybe some of the others.”

“Could you bring them to meet the experimenters?” she asked.

“I could try that,” I said doubtfully. “They didn’t seem too comfortable with me being there, but they did talk to me. I do have Davis’s number and email. I suppose I can ask.”

“OK. What’s your idea for Ben?”

I’d reached my dorm, so I sat on the steps. There wasn’t much traffic, so I wouldn’t be heard by anyone I didn’t want to let in on the secret yet. “You remember how quickly I ‘learned’ how to sew? Obviously, it was because I really did know how. So it makes sense that Ben really does know how to play the guitar – all I need to do is get him to try. I may not be able to play, but I have Marshall’s memories, so I bet I could coach him through it. All I need to do is get him to try.”

“I don’t know, Marsh. He’s been pretty resistant.”

“But do you think it’s worth a try? If it doesn’t work, I can still hope to get Davis to talk to him.”

I heard her hesitate. “You know what? At this point, I don’t think you could make things worse – and maybe he will try for you. Good luck.”

“Thanks, Nikki – for everything.” I hung up and went inside. Things weren’t exactly resolving, here.

But I did get another chance when I got to my room and found Terry and Greg there. After quick hellos Terry asked, “Is this a good time, Marsh? Lee Ann said you had something exciting to share.”

Hoping that this time might be luckier, I nodded. Greg got the hint. “Roommate talk, huh? OK.” He gave her a passionate kiss. “I’ll call you later, Gorgeous. Bye, Marsh.” And he left.

Terry ran to get Lee Ann, I put away my coat, and then we all assembled back in the living room.

“So,” I started, “I’m afraid I hadn’t told you guys everything about what happened to me in that experiment.”

“Told you,” Lee Ann said, nudging Terry.

“And it turns out that I was wrong about what had happened, in any case. For one thing, I, um, didn’t used to have a bigger bust.”

They watched me, patiently.

“It turns out… that I was never changed physically at all.”

“Then what did happen?” Terry asked, sounding confused.

“They gave me different memories,” I explained. “Memories of a different person – somebody I might have been if I hadn’t been me.”

“Clear as mud,” Lee Ann muttered.

“Memories…” I continued, watching them carefully for a reaction, “memories of who I might have been if I’d been born a boy.”

For a few seconds, they didn’t move. They just froze in place, both of them. Then they looked at each other. Then back at me. And then, as though they had rehearsed it, they both said, “Whaaat?” at the same time.

I spoke quickly to get it all out as fast as I could, before they might stop listening to me. “Most of my memories before last midterm break are those of a boy named Marshall who is my sister’s big brother in a different reality, and until this morning, I thought that I was Marshall and that this wasn’t really my body.” I tried to see some understanding in their faces, but mostly what I saw was shock. “I did say that I used to be bigger…That’s really what I meant. Marshall is about eight inches taller then I am.” I hung my head. “I’m really, really sorry for not telling you guys sooner; I was just super scared of what you’d say and I didn’t want people to see me as a freak, and I was afraid you’d kick me out and nobody would want to talk to me or room with me…”

The next thing I knew I was in the middle of a group hug.

“Omigosh, Marsh,” Lee Ann said. “That’s terrible.”

“Why would we kick you out?” Terry asked.

“Well, when it first happened, and I was measuring you, and you… took of your underwear… I thought I should be turned on, so… I snuck a few peeks.”


“And… I wasn’t turned on by looking at you at all!”

To my surprise, she started laughing. Laughing! “Well, I would hope not! Oh you poor thing. Did you forget that we’ve been friends for like a year and a half? I knew you’d been acting strangely for a few months, but I had no idea why.”

“And I’ve known you for almost a year, Marsh,” Lee Ann added. “We’re friends, although you didn’t really know that when this happened to you. Nobody’s kicking anybody out.”

I felt like crying. Actually, forget that. I did cry. I tried to resist for just a second out of habit before I remembered. The two of them just held me.

After they finally released me, Lee Ann gave me a thoughtful look. “Marsh, if you have a boy’s memories, does that mean that you know how boys think?”

“I think so,” I answered. “At least I know how Marshall thinks.”

“That might be very useful,” she said with a grin.

The two of them pumped me for “inside information” on boys until almost dinner time. Lee Ann thought it hysterical that I remembered Geoff and Rajiv from Marshall’s life, and asked about their previous love lives. I cautioned her that what I remembered might not actually match our reality – and then told her everything.

Eventually, we decided to do just a bit of work before dinner. I checked my mail and went through the usual chore of deleting the spam emails that had gotten past the school’s and my filters. One of them make me take a second look.

The subject “Are you the girl I met today?” and the from address “sender15a6b@anonymizer.nu” sure seemed like indicators of spam, but the contents said:

Not sure if I have the right person, but if you’re the girl who came to our administrative
offices today, please reply with the room number.

It was them – and suddenly they wanted to talk.


134 Cards on the Table

I had their attention. “You owe a lot to your victims, you know…”

“Volunteers, you mean,” Brian suggested.

“Test subjects, then,” I conceded. “They need to know what happened. And remember, if you were planning on hurting me, my friend knows where you are.”

The two of them looked as me as though I were crazy. “What exactly did you think we were going to do to you?” Professor Davis asked.

I looked at them carefully. They didn’t look dangerous, or even very hostile. “Well… you guys are being so secretive. I figured you’d see me as a threat,” I said awkwardly.

“I teach in a college! Why would I hurt a student?” he said, sounding incredulous. I just stared at him. “I mean, on purpose,” he admitted.

“You did harm a lot of us, and then you went into hiding, just when we all needed to talk to you,” I pointed out.

“We didn’t have a choice!” Brian put in. “They told us that under no circumstances were to have contact with any Piques students, or anyone from the school except for a few deans!”

“Or they cut off your funding?” I guessed, remembering my conversation with Dad.

The professor nodded. “You see the difficulty.” The two of them exchanged glances. “This research could make my reputation and get Brian his doctorate, but if they stop paying out the grant, we can’t do anything. Neither one of us has any savings, and I can’t get another grant without publishing the results from this one. But we can’t publish without more time to develop the paper…and probably more experiments.”

“More victims, you mean,” I said, angrily. “How can you ethically subject anybody else to… this?”

“Well…” he wouldn’t meet my eyes. “We’re going to be really careful, next time.”

“Are you out of your mind?”

“This is important, Miss… uh… Marsh.”

“So you’ve got a problem,” I told them, deciding that I was wasting my time. “And you’ve no real concern with those you’re hurting. Well, I’m going to give you another one.” I grabbed my things and started backing to the door, making sure they weren’t between me and the exit. “I’m going to let your victims know the truth. If word gets out to the administration, well, too bad. If you want to contact me, reach me on Facebook. Oh, and don’t go anywhere. I know I’m going to have more questions.” I reached the door and let myself out. Then I stopped to listen at the door. They didn’t seem to be in any hurry to chase after me.

I called Nikki back. “See? There was nothing to worry about. So what do you think?”

“Are you out of there?”

“Yes, and… oh, I forgot to ask them if they knew where the jewelry store was!”

“The jewelry store? The one on Fourth and Oak?”

I laughed. “I guess so. I’m heading there now. Jeremy works there and I need to tell him the truth. I’m just happier to be able to tell him the true truth instead of the truth I thought was true a few minutes ago.”

“So you feel good about this, then?”

“Well, I guess it hasn’t really sunk in yet. All of my memories tell me that I’m supposed to be a boy, but my feelings say that I’d rather be a girl if I didn’t feel like a fake – and now, I know I’m not a fake.”

“So it’s all good?”

“Well… actually, I’m going to find a bench and have a nervous breakdown. It’s starting to hit me. I’m a girl, Nikki!”


“And practically of my memories are lies! Or at least… some of my memories, it’s kind of hard to tell if they’re Marshall memories or Marsha memories. Oh this is freaky. I’ve spent all this time wondering if Marsha did this, and envying her that, and… I’m really her!”

“You’re entitled to a breakdown now, you know. Are you sure you’re ready to confront Jeremy?”

“Yes, very much so. I am floating so high, I have to keep looking down to make sure the ground’s still under my feet. I’ll find time for the breakdown afterwards. Nikki, when I get home, I am going to start going through every picture and video Mom and Dad have of me, so I can see what I’ve done. So I can try to get some memories of my life. Oh, I have to call them. No, Dad won’t be home until tonight, and I want to be the one to tell him.” I laughed again. “What am I saying, ‘Dad’? I’ve kept wanting to call him Daddy lately, and only refrained because he wasn’t comfortable with a boy calling him that. Well, guess what, Daddy?”

“I’m really happy for you, Marsh. Or do you want to be called Marsha, now?”

“No, I’m used to Marsh, and that’s what Marsha was called… I mean.” I laughed yet again. “Listen to me. I need to get out of the habit of referring to Marsha as somebody else!”

“I’m sure it’s an adjustment.”

“And I need to tell the Strangers. But not anybody else. Oh, are you going to tell Ben, now?”

She suddenly sounded awkward. “I don’t think he’d believe me; we’re only getting along now, because I’ve stopped mentioning it. But… if you wouldn’t mind… he might believe you.”

“Me? He has no idea who I am. I mean, you haven’t told him about me, have you?”

“Certainly not. But he came to see Mousetrap and he was very impressed. I think he’d love to meet you.”

“OK, Nikki,” I agreed. “I’ll do it for you. Besides, I owe him for borrowing his guitar.”

I was getting close to Oak Street, so I said good-bye and prepared myself to see Jeremy. My heart was beating a mile-a-minute. I’m a girl for real. For just a moment, I imagined the Blue Fairy from the story saying, “You’re a real boy, Pinocchio!” and giggled. Automatically, I stopped myself – and then remembered that it was perfectly normal for me to giggle. I was bouncing on my feet.

Be serious now, Marsh, I told myself. You’re going to tell Jeremy something very important. But it was so hard to be anything but ecstatic. I spotted Felton’s Jewelry on the corner and picked my way through the snow as quickly as I could.

The shop was pretty much empty, of course. I’m sure the young man behind the counter would have been just as happy to have a day off, and didn’t expect any business. His face lit up when I entered.

“May I help you?” he said eagerly.

“Is Jeremy here?” I asked, my eagerness easily a match for his.

His face fell and I felt sort of sorry for him; I’d just let him know that I wasn’t a customer. But he recovered quickly. “Barker!” he called. “You’ve got company!”

It took but a moment for Jeremy to push through a curtain in the wall behind the counter, a puzzled expression on his face. He was holding a towel and his hands seemed to be a bit discolored. “Why would–” then he spotted me and smiled. “What are you doing here?”

I didn’t give him much time to talk, but threw my arms around his neck and kissed him enthusiastically. “I came to see you!” I kissed him again, although he seemed to be trying to pull away.”

“Hey, get a room, you two,” cracked the clerk.

“I’m up for that,” I whispered in my boyfriend’s ear.

He extricated himself and whispered back, his eyes staring at me, “Marsh’s what’s gotten into you?”

I rested my head on his chest and purred, “The question is who’s going to…”


This time I could see that I’d gone too far. But I wasn’t going to give in to his phobia. Not today. “You are not going to get away with refusing to kiss me in public,” I insisted, looking up at him. “Not any more. But right now, I’m taking you out to lunch. I have a lot to tell you.”

“Uh…” he stammered, looking at the clerk. “It’s only about eleven-thirty, and I sort of have work, Babe. I was planning on working through lunch to catch up on things. How about tonight?”

The clerk seemed to be on my side, fortunately. “The lady wants to take you to lunch. Go with her. We’re not exactly overwhelmed, today. You can finish up later.”

That’s right, I smiled at him smugly. Go with the lady.

It took him a few minutes to wash up, grab his coat and join me. “Burger King OK?” he asked as we stepped out the door. “It’s just a few blocks.” I nodded, and he put out his arm for me to hold.

“So,” he asked as we crossed the street. “What’s up? Does this have anything to do with that secret you didn’t want to tell me?”

“Mmhmm,” I nodded. “Um, let’s wait until we’re eating.” I wanted to do this just right.

He gave me a long look. “You were pretty nervous about telling me, before. Now you seem excited. So something’s changed. You sure this is the same secret?” I nodded again, but also waggled my hand to show uncertainty. “Huh. So it’s almost the same. And you don’t want to tell me until we’re sitting down because it’ll be more dramatic that way.” I giggled and nodded. It felt so good to do that without being self-conscious about it!

He sighed. “I guess this is what it’s like when you’re dating an actress. Am I allowed to guess?” I shook my head. “Well, you’re in a really good mood, and you’re holding tight to me, so I guess it can’t be anything really bad.”

“I hope not,” I said.

We ordered our meals and then we had a small argument about who was going to pay. I wanted to pay, since I had invited him out; he felt that since he was getting a paycheck that he should pay. In the end, I let him pay, since I remembered Marshall feeling uncomfortable when his girlfriends insisted on paying for meals. I promised myself that I would find another way to spend money on him.

We sat down and unwrapped our food. He took one bite from his burger and looked at me, expectantly.

“Do you remember an article in The Messenger about students waking up in the wrong bodies?”

He chewed quickly to clear his mouth and swallowed before asking, “You mean the time travel hoax? Vaguely. Were you in on that?”

“Um, not the article, no. And it wasn’t time-travel and it wasn’t a hoax.”

“But that’s what–”

“There was a real experiment, Jeremy, and people really did think they’d been changed, but it wasn’t time travel. I just found the experimenters – they’d been in hiding – and they explained what they had actually done.”

He stared at me as though trying to figure out if I was kidding him. He even tried a bit of a smile, but let it die when I didn’t smile back. “You’re serious. You were practically bouncing all the way here, and now you’re serious.”

“I’m serious,” I confirmed. “I volunteered for the experiment, and thought I was in the wrong body for months. Until about half an hour ago, in fact.”

He gave me a long gaze this time, opened his mouth to say something, and closed it again. Then he tried again with no success.

So I continued. “I thought I was supposed to be a boy, Jeremy. I woke up over midterm break thinking that I was a boy who had been turned into a girl.”

He stared some more, opened his mouth yet again and shook his head as if to clear it. “You’re serious.”

“I’m not crazy, Jeremy,” I said. “I really have memories of a life I’ve never lived. I proved it some people who’ve known me practically all my life. I showed them that I knew things that there is no way I should have known.”

“But you’re not saying that you actually were a boy.”

“No. This is who I am and always was. I just had these memories. Check with my sister; she was one of the first ones I told.”

I told him what I’d learned about the nature of the experiment, and then he seemed finally to believe me. “So, when we first met, and you told me you were Tina’s brother, you were serious?”

“I really thought I was,” I nodded. “And it took a look time before I could even imagine myself dating a boy.”

He looked thoughtful. “And all the time we’ve been dating, you thought you were really a boy?” At my nod, all he said at first was “Huh.” Then he laughed, but it sounded forced. “So what does that say about me, that you thought you were a boy, but still wanted to date me?”

“It says that you’re so manly that my subconscious was attracted to you, even though I thought I shouldn’t be,” I said firmly. He relaxed visibly and laughed quietly at that. “Does it bother you?” I asked, concerned.

“Well, I don’t know. I mean, the first thing that comes to mind is, I want to punch whoever did this to you in the nose. And then… I really don’t know what to think. I don’t remember you doing anything that struck me as… well, overly masculine. Was this guy you remember being… um…”

“He had a lot of girlfriends, if that’s what you’re asking.” I thought it better not to mention that I had his memories of having had sex with those girls.

“Wow. That’s really a lot to think about, isn’t it?”

“I’m sorry,” I said, suddenly worried about how he was taking it. “I just thought I should be honest with you.”

“No, no, I mean, that’s OK. I just… yeah.”

He ate thoughtfully, as I peered at him and tried to figure out what he was thinking. He wasn’t talking, that was for sure. I didn’t get that much more from him before we finished. He collected all of our trash and threw it away while I put my coat back on, and then we started walking back to the shop.

“So they must have set up some kind of resonance between your brain and that of your counterpart – Marshall,” he said thoughtfully. “Enough to let you absorb some of his memories. But why don’t you remember your own life?”

“I have gotten glimpses of my past,” I remembered aloud. There’d been Cherise, and Terry’s reaction last Founder’s Day, and maybe that Girl Scout meeting, at least. “And Marshall’s life and mine are close enough that sometimes I don’t know for sure if something is my memory or his.”

“Hmm… so at least some of your memories are still there?”

It was a hopeful thought. Neither of us knew that much about how memory worked, but he didn’t think that new memories overwrote old ones; maybe they were still there, somewhere. Of course, with an experiment like this, who knew?

We kissed good-bye and he went back to work. He’d seemed distracted; who wouldn’t be. At least he hadn’t run away screaming from me. I turned back to campus and started walking. I had my own mission of mercy to plan.

133 Confrontation

Clearly not expecting somebody to speak to him just then, the poor boy lost his grip on one of the sodas, made a grab for it and missed. It caromed off his pants leg and emptied its contents all over the floor. With a cry of exasperation, he knelt down and starting mopping at it with a napkin from the food bag. I grabbed another and knelt down beside him to help.

Intent on his efforts, he muttered a distracted, “Thanks.” Suddenly he looked up at me, a confused look on his face. “What did you…? Wait, do I know you?”

“You’re not an easy man to track down, Mr. Harlin,” I responded. “Most students have facebook accounts, these days.”

At that, he looked even more puzzled, and then he opened his mouth in surprise. “You’re Jennifer Marsha, aren’t you?”

“Got it in one,” I told him. “Call me Marsh.”

“Oh. Well… I mean, I’m flattered that you went through all this trouble to find me, but…. I’m afraid I don’t really know why.” He peered intently at me. “Why would you come all this way just to talk to somebody you met at a dance? I mean, I hope I didn’t–”

“Actually, I’m a student at Piques, and I’m here to talk to you about the experiment.”

The sudden change of subject made his eyes defocus for a moment. “What experi…? Oh!” He stood up, looking scared. “Uh… Um… I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

I looked at him with pity. He really wasn’t very good at this undercover stuff. Ostentatiously I looked at the number on the door. “Room 14, huh?” I started to walk off. “I know a newspaper reporter who would be fascinated to know where to find you guys.”

“Wait!” he called after me before I’d gone more than a few steps. When I turned, he looked as though he was on the verge on panic. “Look. I can’t tell you anything.”

I raised my eyebrows at him, but said nothing.

“I mean… you have to understand, we’re not bad people. We weren’t trying to hurt anybody.”

I waited.

He broke. “I’m just trying to get my degree!” he wailed.

“I’m sure that’ll be a big comfort,” I said, crossing my arms.

“OK, OK, I understand that it’s been a bit… difficult for some people. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. We didn’t really expect–”

“A bit difficult?!” I snapped. “Do I look like a boy to you?”

“No, of course not!” he responded, confusion now vying with panic for his dominant emotional state. “You’re beautiful – really feminine…” Then he blinked, and confusion won, but only temporarily. “Wait. Why…?” He stared some more, and now shock dominated its rivals. “You’re not… you couldn’t be…” His voice dropped to whisper as he peered into my eyes. “Are you saying that you remember being a boy?”

“Bravo!” I said sarcastically, clapping slowly.

He stared into space, obviously trying to work things out in his mind. “That’s impossible… I just don’t see how…” Then he looked at me with a hopeful expression. “Do you have a few minutes? I’d like to introduce you to somebody; we’ll want to ask you a few questions.”

Yes! “I’m at your disposal,” I said with a smile.

The next thing I knew he’d handed me the remaining soda and the bag with an excited, “hold these!” With his hands now free, he unlocked the door, took back the soda, grabbed my now free left wrist, and pulled me into the office, shouting, “Hey, Rolf!”

The older man we’d seen in the videos poked his head out of a door partway down the hallway. “Good, I’m hungr–” he started to say. Then he saw me. “Who is that?”

Brian stopped and gestured with his now-free hand. “Marsh, this is Professor Davis. Rolf, Marsh was one of our volunteers. Group two, apparently.”

“What?” the professor gasped, coming to greet us. “And you brought her here? Are you nuts?”

“She found us,” his student explained. “Or rather me, I think. Somehow she tracked us down. Anyway, here’s the point. She says she remembers being a boy!”

The older man’s head swiveled towards me once more. “But–” He looked at me, then back to Brian. “How? What did we miss?”

“All I can think of was when we had that disagreement over… what was it? Equation fourteen? Fifteen?”

They stared at one another and then ran together for the door from which the professor had recently emerged, completely ignoring me. When I followed after doffing my coat, mittens and boots, Brian was sitting at a computer, Davis was writing at a white board and the two of them were shouting back and forth at one another.

I couldn’t follow any of it, which hardly surprised me – each discipline has its own terminology, after all – but I thought I heard them mention “zeta functions” and “cat vectors” and “probability distributions.” After several minutes of this incomprehensible nonsense, Davis snatched up a calculator and started punching numbers into it, checking with his student on some of them. Then suddenly he turned to me with a smile.

“Do you have any idea of the odds against this happening?” he said with glee. “At least half a million to one! You should play the lottery!”

Brian nodded in agreement. “It turns out that it was possible after all. I guess we made a mistake.”

I stared back and forth and the two of them. They seemed positively elated at this find – not one thought between them that there was more to it than getting the facts right. “The question is,” I stated, shaking the bag I was still holding at them, “can you fix your mistake?”

The older man nodded confidently. “Not a problem at all.”

“R-Really?” I gasped. Even after telling myself over and over that the hard part was finding these guys, that once I’d found them everything else was easy, deep down I had had my doubts. Actually hearing it from Professor Davis’s lips was amazing.

“Absolutely,” he continued. “We won’t be publishing for at least a year-and-a-half; plenty of time to make the corrections and follow through on the implications. Plus, with your data, we’ll have a better idea of whom to choose as our next test subjects.”

With great effort, I refrained from banging my head against the wall, or better yet, his. “No,” I explained, “I mean me. Fix me.” Both of them looked at me blankly. “I want to wake up as the boy I remember being. Or any boy,” I added softly.

For the first time I saw embarrassment on their faces. Their eyes met and then Brian told me, shamefacedly, “We… can’t do that, Marsh. You do see that, don’t you?”

“No!” I wailed. “I don’t see that. Why?! Why can’t you just do whatever you did again? I’ll take my chances… I don’t understand…”

And then suddenly Davis’s words penetrated. At least a half million to one, he’d said. Even if they had their equipment set up again and working, it wasn’t the fifty-fifty chance I had counted on. That was why nobody else had changed sexes. That was why they had believed it impossible until now.

I was in a haze. All emotions were gone. I was stuck. I still had to tell Jeremy, I still had to live the rest of my life as a girl, knowing that I was a fake. My hope that all of this could be fixed was gone.


Somebody was talking to me, talking to the fake, the damaged person they had created, certainly the worst victim of their insane, irresponsible, inconsiderate…


I blinked. It took me a moment to resolve the face in front of me, to realize where I was. The room around me was unfamiliar. I looked around. Somehow I had made my way back to the office vestibule where I had left my coat. I was sitting on the floor, my back against a wall, and Brian was talking to me.

“Marsh, are you OK?”

Stupid question. It wasn’t easy to see him through the haze, but he could see me, couldn’t he? Couldn’t he see that I wasn’t OK? I wiped away the haze from my eyes, but it was still on my cheeks. And why not? I’m a girl forever, now, and girls are allowed to cry, aren’t they? We? Whatever.

“What do I say to make you feel better? If I’d known what you wanted…”

Bastard expects me to talk, does he? Does he know nothing? OK, fine, I ‘ll talk to him, give him a piece of my mind, put my thoughts together, somehow, even though everything is shattered.

So many questions I’d wanted to ask. I opened my mouth, but none of them could find their way to my lips. Finally one did, probably the first question I’d asked, way back when.

“How… when you went back in time to change my DNA, how did you keep my memories the same?” It sounded inane to my ears. What did it even matter, now? I guess the scientist in me, the drive to know, was the only part still functioning. Everything else hurt too badly.

Even through my tears I could see something wrong with his reaction. He looked… annoyed? Then sympathetic. “How much of the experiment do you remember?”

“Not all that much,” I admitted. “Why?” And why are you patronizing me?

“That seems to be the rule with group two,” he nodded. “Look, have you studied quantum mechanics?”

I rolled my eyes. “What does that…?” I shook my head. “I’m a bio major. I don’t need all the details. Dumb it down for me.”

“Right.” He stood up and helped me to my feet. “So you’ve never heard of the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics?”

I shook my head. How was this answering my question? The phrase sounded vaguely familiar; no doubt Jay had mentioned it while lecturing the rest of us over lunch.

He persisted. “Science fiction, then? Alternate universes? Theory doesn’t predict that we should be able to see them, or have any way of knowing whether they exist, but… about six years ago, Rolf ran into an interesting result, and thought he might have found one.”

OK, I didn’t see the connection, but it did at least sound interesting.

“One of his students – this was before I started studying with him, mind you – was doing an experiment and thought he’d gotten a glimpse of something a bit different than what he remembered was true. They tried a few things, and decided it was probably just some kind of dizziness caused by the equipment he was working with.”

“You’re saying it wasn’t?” I asked, now curious.

He grinned. “When I joined the lab, I needed to come up with a topic for my thesis, and I was sort of floundering. He mentioned the incident, and I decided to see if it was repeatable, and if it meant anything. So we got a bunch of volunteers, and subjected them to variations of the same stimulus and asked them to tell us what they experienced. Marsh, a lot of them got the same kinds of reactions – it was as though they had suddenly remembered things that they knew weren’t true. We even had two students remember the same thing happening that clearly hadn’t.”

“And…?” I prompted him.

“Well, my idea was that we’d somehow tapped into one of these alternate universes. Students seemed to be getting glimpses of memories from this other reality. We went through as many student volunteers as we could get at Rocky Lake and spent two years classifying our data. Then we wanted a fresh set of volunteers.”

“So you came here, and something went wrong.”

“Right. Rolf had been corresponding with the head of the department here, and arranged a grant to study what I had found. Marsh, we’re on the verge of proving the Many Worlds interpretation! Do you have any idea of the impact?”

“Um, no…?” Slowly, my brain was trying to apply this to what had happened to me. Was he implying…?

“Anyway, yeah, something went wrong. Some of the younger students… you see the idea is that an alternate universe splits off at a specific time. Everything before that time is the same, but after that time… well, apparently the split was about twenty years ago – before most of the sophomore class was conceived. So the corresponding person whose memories you got didn’t have the same DNA.”

“Corresponding person? Wait. Are you saying–”

“We didn’t go back in time, Marsh. You’re still the same girl you were when you volunteered.”

“But… corresponding…? You’re saying I’m not Marshall?”

This was hard to accept. I remember being Marshall, and now he was saying… He looked very uncomfortable. “We hadn’t realized that some of our subjects might have thought themselves to be the corresponding person. For a lot of the younger students, though, it was pretty obvious because they suddenly remembered looking different. We thought we had figured out when it happened and what conditions were required, and it seemed pretty certain it could never happen when there was a sex difference. Obviously not. We have some more analysis to do.”

My mind felt as if it was exploding. Was everything I remembered wrong? “But you’re saying, I’m really a girl. That’s I was never a boy. Wait. That means… I’m Marsha!”

“Um, yeah.”

“’Yeah’? That’s all you can say? I’ve spent the last four months thinking I was the wrong person?”

He had the grace to look embarrassed. “I’m afraid so.”

I stared at my hands, having moved from one shock to another, but now starting to make sense of it all. “That’s why I can’t play the guitar well. I never learned how!”

He blinked.

“And… I’m the one who had the lead in the high school musicals… four years in a row!”


“And…” my head was swimming. “I’m the one who dated Dirk for two years, and the bastard dumped me!”

“What are you–”

I grabbed his collar and shouted up at his face. “I’m a girl!”

“That’s what I was trying to tell you.”

“Then I’m not a fake at all. I’m really a girl!” I stared at my body. “This is who I am, who I’m supposed to be!”

“So, everything’s OK, right?” he asked hopefully, gently trying to pry hands free.

“No, everything’s not OK. Where are my memories?”


“My memories, you bastard! Do you have any idea what kind of Hell you put me through?”

“We really didn’t mean…”

“I’ve just spent the past four months terrified about being found out, thinking I was lying to everybody about who I was. I’ve had experiences that I now remember dreaming of having, and you took them all away from me!”

“We didn’t know that was going to happen!”

“And you didn’t try to make things better, either! You didn’t contact us and say, ‘sorry, this is what went wrong.’ You didn’t try to find a way of fixing your mistakes, either, did you?”

“We couldn’t!” Now he was almost pleading. “Look, we’re working largely empirically here. We’ve got some idea of who got new memories, and who didn’t, and we can see a lot of what’s different, but we don’t know why some of you no longer seem to remember your own lives. We did repeat the experiment with some of our earlier volunteers, but it didn’t seem to undo anything.”

“So you knew you couldn’t undo it and you kept on doing the experiment anyway?”

“I’m sorry! We didn’t know!” And now he was cringing. He had a good ten inches on me, and he was cringing before a tiny 5’3” girl. I almost felt bad for him. Almost.

“But what about when you did know?” I snapped, hammering the points at him and grabbing his shirt again. “What about the uncertainty? Maybe you didn’t expect this to happen, but shouldn’t you have contacted all of us when it did?”

“The administration has their hands at our throats, Marsh.” I looked up to see that Professor Davis was standing nearby. How long had he been there? “Please let go of my student,” he said. With a glare, I complied.

“This is kind of a problem for us, you being here,” he explained. “We’re starving for data on the last experiment, but we’re also forbidden to be in contact with any Piques students.”

“Well, you’re in contact, now,” I informed him, triumphantly pulling my phone out of my purse. “I had my phone on speaker the whole time. Nikki, did you hear?”

It took her a few seconds to unmute her own phone. “I heard enough,” she said to the shocked scientists. “435 West Ash Street, number 14, right?”

“Thanks, Nikki,” I said. “I’ll call you back when I leave.”

“And you guys better not hurt her”, she warned before hanging up.

I put the phone back into my purse and faced them. “Let’s talk.”

132 Going Downtown

“He’s not there,” called the boy I had just passed. I turned my head in surprise. “He said at breakfast that he was going to go into the shop this morning, since he had the time off.”

The shop? “You mean the jewelry store?” I asked.

“Yeah, that’s what he calls it.”

I wanted to bang my head against his door. How could he pick now to go do some work? Well, it was pretty obvious that I was going to have to get there myself somehow. If I stopped now, it could be days before I got up the nerve again to do this. “And where exactly is this jewelry store where he works?”

“Aren’t you his girlfriend? I thought he’d have told you.”

“Well he didn’t,” I said impatiently. “I never asked him.”

The boy shrugged. “All I know is that it’s somewhere near east campus. I think he mentioned that it was on some street named for a tree. Oak or Walnut, or something.”

“I don’t suppose you know the name…?”

“Sorry,” he said and kept walking. He didn’t look particularly sorry, and I opened my mouth to snap at him, but couldn’t think of anything appropriate, which just made me angrier. How could Jeremy do this to me?

The easiest thing, of course, would have been to call him, but then he would know I was coming and would start to think happy thoughts, which I would then crush. It would be too painful; besides, I was seriously annoyed at this point, and didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of me asking.

My annoyance ebbed, though, as I trekked through the snow across the campus. I was starting to feel a bit stupid, knowing that I was going to be walking for an hour in snow that was already four inches deep and still falling. I thought I had bundled warmly, but I was still not quite used to the way my smaller body reacted to the cold.

Then I reached the engineering buildings and my heart clenched, remembering the time I’d run into him, the day of House Parties and realized for the first time how I’d felt about him. And that led me to remembering how I’d agonized, watched him dancing with Janine. How was I going to feel when I saw him dancing with a new girlfriend? Don’t think that way! I scolded myself. You know you have to do this. I just didn’t have to like it.

You’d think an hour would feel like an eternity when walking in the snow, but it still seemed all too soon that I reached the road between the campus and the town. There was the clothing store where I’d bought the skirt that Jeremy had seen me in, to my embarrassment, and which he had mentioned as a reason to break up with me. Maybe it would have been better if he had, I thought. At least I’d be over this now. But then I would have missed all the wonderful times we’d had together.

Well. I could hardly blame Jeremy – this was my fault, for thinking I could actually live as a girl, while knowing my whole existence was a lie. That was why I needed to take care of things now. I just had to find the store where he worked. There couldn’t be that many Jewelry stores in a shopping district this size. How hard could it be?

The first cross street was Oak Street, and I peered down it, hoping to see obvious evidence of a jewelry store. Seeing none, I walked to the next, which was Elm Street. That was when I started getting worried. Maple Street was next, then Ash Street and Walnut Street, and I realized that “some street named for a tree” wasn’t really a useful direction. Doggedly, I headed down Walnut, just a few blocks, in case I happened to see it. I didn’t really expect to, and I wasn’t surprised when I reached the residential area after six blocks without finding anything.

At that point I laughed at myself. There were people in the stores, after all. Not many, due to the snow, but I only needed one. I was a girl now, so why not just ask directions?

I saw a man coming out of a hardware store with a snow shovel and grinned. That was an errand that justified coming out in the snow, for sure. I stopped him before he got into his car. “Excuse me, sir. I’m trying to find a jewelry store. Do you know where it is?”

His eyes defocused a bit, as he was apparently trying to remember. Then he looked at me confidently and pointed. “It’s about three-four blocks that way, and a little bit up.” So I thanked him and he drove off.

OK, so it wasn’t that far, and had I tried one of the earlier streets, I might have found it. I turned around and headed back up Walnut towards Piques, looking for the first cross street, so in case his “a little bit up” wasn’t very much, I wouldn’t miss it.

The first one was more of a one-way access road that passed behind a few buildings. There were back entrances, dumpsters, and a few parked cars. I had just started down the road when a car chose that exact moment to drive on it from the other side, forcing me to scoot over next to one of the dumpsters, and still managed to shower me with snow. I wasn’t exactly in a good mood then when I stumbled over a board.

Irate, I bent down to grab it – it was just a piece of 1×3 a few feet long, but I banged it on the ground and tossed it into the dumpster. I’d gone two more steps before my brain registered what I had just seen. I’d just knocked much of the snow off, and the board had had printing on it, and it seemed familiar!

Quickly, I retrieved it from the dumpster, wiped off the rest of the snow with my mitten and stared. ALLENTOWN MILLS ENGINEERING stared back at me.

My jaw dropped and my heart started pounding. I tried to remember what we’d seen on the crate as I turned the board in my hands. This fit! The board could easily have been part of a crate; I found nails or nail holes on both ends. It was actually the nails that had tripped me, in fact. The words fit what we’d known – the first word ended in “N,” the second in “ILLS” and the third word started with “ENG.” It had to be. They were here!

Wildly, I looked around. With all the bad luck we’d been running into, it was about time something like this went our way. They must have tossed the remains of one of the crates into the dumpster and missed this board – and now I had them!

This changed everything. If I could get them to change me back, I’d never have to tell Jeremy; I wouldn’t have to hurt him. Oh, I’d still probably agonize for a while at the prospect of him being with another girl, but I wouldn’t be a girl, so she wouldn’t really be my rival, anyway. The important thing was, that he wouldn’t be hurt. Dad would have the son he clearly wanted; Tina would get her role; Tyler would exist again. And now it was finally possible. They had to be in one of these buildings, but which one?

I walked around to the front of the buildings. Two were storefronts; two were office buildings. The office buildings seemed more likely, so I went inside and looked for directories. “Allentown Mills Engineering” wasn’t listed on either of them. Just to be sure, I checked the storefronts as well. No dice.

OK, I shouldn’t have expected it to be that easy. But I’d seen listings for “Piques College” in both office buildings, and Eric had thought that they could be in a college-owned office, so those seemed good places to try. I didn’t want to think that they might have used some other buildings dumpster; not when I could be this close to finding them.

So the next question was, which building? I could just go and knock on all of the Piques College doors, I suppose, and tell them… something. It just seemed such a pedestrian way to end things; besides, if they were hiding, they probably had some way to put off random visitors. There had to be another way.

Then I got a brainwave. There was a bench where I could sit and see the main entrances to both buildings. It was almost lunchtime; they had to eat, didn’t they? Maybe they would go our for lunch, or one of them would run out and pick up lunch, and if I were sitting and watching, I might see them. If it didn’t work, I could always try the “knock on all the doors” idea.

I quickly found a couple of problems with my idea. First, just sitting still robbed me of the heat I had been generating by walking, and it was cold. Second, due to the weather, everybody was bundled up. If you knew somebody well, you could probably recognize them from the way they walked, but otherwise, it didn’t seem likely. If I hadn’t gotten a break within twenty minutes, I’m sure I would have given up, but things seemed to be going my way today.

When Chad and I were younger, we were into playing ‘spies’ in a big way. We’d disguise ourselves and try to pick up information we weren’t supposed to have, mostly form listening to grownups’ – and girls’ – conversations. One lesson we learned was that the quick peeks and sidling up to doors that spies seem to do in the cartoons just didn’t work. They called attention to you. What you needed to do was to act as though you had nothing to hide and you had every right to be where you were.

Brian Harlin had clearly never learned that lesson. If he had, I probably would never have noticed him, but when the door of one of the buildings opened just a crack – and then a bit more, and then a face peered around it, I noticed. And when he took of his cap briefly to brush the hair out of his eyes, I was sure.

I didn’t say anything yet, because I didn’t just want to find him; I wanted the lab, and I was afraid that if he knew I was there he might still manage to conceal its location. But if he was going out, he had to come back, didn’t he? I waited for him to leave and then I went into the building from which he had just emerged.

The building had three floors, which meant that I couldn’t just camp out in a single hallway and wait. Brian would have seen me anyway. Nor could I see him coming, since the outside door was opaque. After a lot of agonizing, I decided that it would be perfectly natural to be seen talking on a cell phone – so I waited five minutes and then called Nikki.

“You’re not going to believe where I am,” I chuckled when she answered.

“Um, skiing with Jeremy?” she guessed.

“Not even close,” I giggled. Then I caught myself and turned it into a laugh. No more giggling for me, no sir!

“Tell me then?”

“I am in an office building,” I gloated. “An office building from which Professor Davis’s grad student just emerged to go get lunch. I am now waiting for him to come back so I can get him to bring me into the lab, where I will insist that they change me back!”

“You– you’ve got to be kidding me.”

“I’m serious. So if I cut off suddenly, it just means that he’s back and I need to watch him. You know, I probably should have taken a picture of him, but I expect him to be back here within the hour.”

“You’re not planning on confronting him alone, are you?”

“Of course I am,” I told her. “Why not?”

“Because it’s dangerous, that’s why!”

“Oh please. They’re academics. What are they doing to do, read me a boring lecture, or something?”

I heard her sigh over the phone. “That’s the boy in you talking, Marsh. Any girl would know to be careful. Strangers are dangerous. These people have disrupted the lives of numerous students, completely changed their pasts, using who knows what kinds of techniques. They’ve been sneaking around for months, when people are trying to find them. How do you think they’ll react when you just walk in on them?”

“I don’t know. I figured I should find out. They hold the key to my changing back, Nikki! They can set my life back to where it should be!”

“Or make things even worse for you, if they think you’re an inconvenience to them. You should wait until we can bring a group of people.”

“No,” I said firmly. “I know where he is today. What if I leave and he goes somewhere else? What if they have another lab and don’t come back to this one? This could be my only chance! I don’t want to throw it away.”

“Fine. Fine. Go and confront him, if you want. I just want you to take one precaution, OK?”

I listened to her idea. It sounded perfectly reasonable, so I agreed.

“So… how will this work, exactly? This changing back.”

“I don’t know, Nikki,” I admitted. And now suddenly I was nervous. If this worked the way I expected, I was suddenly going to lose a whole bunch of friends. I was going to feel like a stranger in my own body and life for a while until I got used to it. What would Vicky remember? Would she know that I had been a girl for a few months? Would all of the growth I’d seen her experience go away? It was still the right thing to do, I was sure of that. I just wasn’t so sure that I was going to enjoy it as much as I would have, had I changed back sooner.

“So… this is goodbye?” she asked, and her voice didn’t even waver.

“You don’t think it’s really going to happen, do you?” I said, trying to keep the resentment out of my voice. The alternative, it seemed to me, was that she didn’t care if she didn’t remember me.

“Marsh, I’ve told what I think. I hate the idea that we won’t be friends anymore, but I won’t remember, will I? So you’re the one who’s going to be remembering the friendship we have now and missing it. So if you do decide to go through with this, I just want you to know that you’ve been a good friend, and even though I won’t remember, there’ll be something missing from my life.”

“Now I feel guilty,” I whined. “I’ve thought of how almost everybody’s life will be better if I change back, except maybe yours. I don’t want to be inconsiderate.”

“Marsh, this whole idea sounds incredible to me. I have no memory of you as a boy, so it is hard for me to really feel what that’s like. If that’s the way things are supposed to be, how can I really complain? I won’t know what I’ve lost”.

“But I will,” I said, under my breath. I wasn’t deterred – I really had no choice, but I hadn’t thought very much about the downsides. Maybe I didn’t want to think too much about them.

The whole thing got me even angrier at Davis and Harlin. How could they have been so irresponsible as to turn people’s lives upside down like this?

“I don’t get how you can be so calm, Nikki,” I told her, starting to watch the outside door a bit more closely.

She laughed. Laughed! “Would getting upset help? I figure it’s nothing I can control and nothing I’ll actually notice. And you don’t actually know what will happen either, do you?”

“Well no,” I admitted. And then I had to work hard not to laugh myself, because the outside door had opened suddenly, and my quarry had spun himself around so that he could see if anybody outside had noticed his entrance. He spilled a couple of French fries as he did so, looked at them with annoyance and then allowed the door to close after him.

I turned my back, dropped the phone into my purse and listened very carefully. I heard his footsteps approach and then pass me. To my relief, he didn’t go up the stairs or elevator, but stopped at a door marked, “Administrative Offices.” I watched him juggle a bag of food and two full drink cups at the same time he was fumbling in his pocket, presumably for his key.

With a smirk, I crept up behind and casually asked, “Do you think you have enough data yet?”

131 Not Exactly Opportunity

It felt unreal to be back to my usual weekday class schedule the next day, with almost nobody else even aware of the emotional tumult of the weekend for me. Oh, Lee Ann did ask if I’d had any luck with my Facebook search and was pleased to hear that I’d learned something, even if I hadn’t actually made contact with the guy.

Before class, I sent off an email to George Cracraft, reminding him of our previous meeting and what had come of it, and asking if he had any information on Professor Davis. When I checked that afternoon, I found a reply:

Miss Steen,
Nice to hear from you again. Glad you found your friend. Our archives contain announcement that 
physics professor J. Rolf Davis of Rocky Lake University will be at Piques this year to continue 
an experiment into “viewing variations in time and the effects of alternative paths on future events.” 
No further information provided. Hope this helps – G.C.

In particular, there was apparently no contact information. I suppose that even if there had been, it would just have been what Dad had already found. We did have a name for the experiment, although I wasn’t quite sure what we could do with the information. I forwarded copies to Vicky, Eric and Martin.

I really should have copied my lecture notes then, but I was really bothered by my conversation with Mom, and I needed to talk to Vicky about it. She was in and free, so I went over to her room.

“Vicky,” I said once the two of us were seated on her bed, “did I ever go out of my way to think of you when we were dating?”

She looked really surprised at the question. “I told you that I had no complaints,” she said. “You were considerate and kind and you never said anything mean… or hit me.”

“But I never did anything special for you? Something that showed I was thinking about you.”

She looked blank, so I explained using Mom’s examples and the gifts Jeremy had made for me. “I didn’t need anything like that, Marsh,” she said. “Just to be cared for.”

“Yeah, but now I think I needed to be doing things like that for you.” I took her hands and looked her in the eyes. “Vicky, I promise you that if– I mean when– I change back, I’m going to go out of my way to think of things that will make you happy, more than just not hurting you. I’m going to be a better boyfriend than I was, and I’ll make sure I don’t fall out of love with you again.”

She looked a me a bit open-mouthed. “That’s… wow, Marsh, that’s really incredible. I think…” she looked away, “I know I haven’t always been as nice as I could be, but I’m really going to try.” She looked back at me again. “I can’t believe you really love me that much. I mean, I know you’re really attracted to Jeremy and that you’re in love with me, and still… you mean that you’re choosing me over him?”

“That’s what I mean, Vixy. And, well… part of that is just choosing the real me over this me.”

“Wow, Marsh,” she repeated. “And all this time I’ve been jealous. I was afraid you were going to choose him over me, and I’ve been really bitchy to you over it. But I’ve been stupid – as you said, if you couldn’t be with me, why shouldn’t you find somebody else who could make you happy?” A look of determination came into her face. “I’m going to do better, Marsh. If he’s making you happy, then I’m going to help you do exactly what you’ve promised, only for him.” She faltered a bit. “I don’t know how good I can be at figuring out what to do for a boy whose not particularly interested in sex, but I’ll try. And you’ll have to help me help you.”

I smiled at her, but my smile dies quickly. “I already know what I have to do for him, Vixy. I’m going to tell him the truth about me.”

She flinched in shock. “But… he’ll break up with you! He’ll be horrified and not want anything to do with you! You can’t tell him that, Marsh. Are you crazy?”

“I have to, Vix. Right now, he’s got this… image of me as somebody I’m not, and as you said, he’s thinking about a serious relationship, and you know I can’t be that for him.”

“Would you even want to? I mean, if you couldn’t change back?”

I wrung my hands. “I don’t know, Vixy. There’s a part of me that just wants so much to be with him for as long as possible. But I have this problem – I’m living a lie, and I know it, and I can’t ever be comfortable that way. Yes, I know I’m going to lose him – believe me, I’ve thought about this for so long – but it’s better this way. It will give him a chance to find a real girl to love. I love him so much, and I want him to be happy, and… I just can’t be the one to do it. I wish I could, but I can’t.”

Vicky stared at me. “I… I don’t believe you’re giving him up like that. Why not keep it a secret? Wouldn’t that be worth it to keep him?” She shook her head. “I can’t believe I’m arguing in favor of you being with a boy.”

“I just have to do the right thing,” I said, miserably. “I’m not happy about it, but I don’t know how long I can put it off – Mom says it will just get harder for both of us.”

“So you’re going to do it the next time you see him?”

“I… don’t know… I mean I have rehearsal tonight and I’m supposed to study with him tomorrow, but it’s going to upset him, so maybe I shouldn’t do it when he has to focus on studying, only I’m not sure if it’s better to wait… maybe this weekend if we’re not really busy?”

“Don’t ask me; I think you’re making a big mistake.”

“Yeah, but I don’t see a real alternative, here.” I was looking down, feeling horrible about the whole thing, and she touched my chin to get me to look at her and then gave me a hug. It was the most supporting I ever remember her being, and maybe – jut maybe – it was a positive sign for the future.

When I awoke the next morning, I checked Facebook again, only to find a message from the guy who’d said he’d been talking with Brain. This one said, “He says he’s sure he doesn’t know you – maybe you’re thinking of somebody else?”

Oh well. I hadn’t really expected that to work; I was obviously going to have to try something else. At this point, Dad’s idea of offering legal help seemed to be the best idea on the table, but I wasn’t ready to try it until I was sure we couldn’t come up with anything better.

I was just gathering my bathroom supplies when I heard a pounding on my door. “Marsh!” came Terry’s excited voice from the other side, “have you looked out your window?”

I hadn’t, so I looked now. It was snowing hard and while it wasn’t very light outside yet, it was clear that several inches had fallen overnight.

“Founder’s Day, Marsh!” Terry shouted gleefully. “I just checked the website. Classes are canceled! Woohoo!”

Her enthusiasm was infectious and I couldn’t help grinning – I could certainly use the day off; there were so many things to do. I had fallen behind on my notebook transcribing, I needed to review my songs and my lines, and… then it hit me. I was free for the day, and so was Jeremy. What I really would have liked to do was to spend it with him, but… I’d put off telling him on the basis that I didn’t want to upset him in the middle of his class schedule. That excuse wouldn’t work today. The freedom from classes gave me an obligation that I couldn’t easily justify putting off any longer.

I showered and prepared for the day weighed down by what I had to do. At breakfast, some of the girls saw my mood and joked about it. “Don’t worry, Marsh, you’re only missing one day of classes!” they said. If only they knew, but then I could hardly tell them, now could I?

But even after I got back to my room, I delayed. I guess I was trying to think of a reason to put it off; maybe we could have just one more day together, I suggested to myself. But no, I couldn’t justify it – especially know that I knew I was going to tell him. He’d see my mood and ask and I couldn’t lie to him; I couldn’t keep telling him that I was keeping a secret.

It was mid-morning before I finally took a breath and got myself moving. I carefully put on my coat and boots and mittens; I knew I was stalling, but as long as I was going to do it, what did that matter? It was going to be a very sad moment for both of us, why rush into it? But all too soon I was dressed for the snow and I let myself out. Fortunately, Terry and Lee Ann had already found other things to do – I didn’t want to have to explain my mission.

The trek to Jeremy’s dorm had always seemed so long; now I couldn’t believe how quickly I had arrived. Slowly I ascended the steps, furiously trying to think of something I’d missed, some very good reason not to tell him; but I couldn’t think of anything. And then I was on his floor and I started walking slowly down the hallway, nodding somberly to his hall mate who gave me a curious look as I passed him. I imagined the smile on his face when he opened the door, and how I’d have to stop him when he reached for me, and the horror in his expression when I told him the truth. Then I reached Jeremy’s door and, heart pounding, lifted my fist to knock.