Archive for the ‘Section 9: A Change in Direction’ Category.

120 Handling Change

I thanked Vicky when we got to my door. “This is a first, isn’t it?” I commented morosely. “I’m pretty sure you’ve never walked me home before. A fitting burial for my erstwhile manhood.”

“Marsh, I don’t know what else to say,” she said, hugging me. “I’ll keep trying to think of something. I don’t think I’m very good at comforting, but… well, do you want me to come in and talk some more?”

I shook my head. “I think I just need time to myself for now. Thank you, though.” I hugged her back and then let myself in.

But ‘time to myself’ was not in the cards just then. Lee Ann popped her head out of her room and spotted me. “Marsh? What’s wrong?”

“I… just got some disappointing news,” I temporized. Then I remembered that she knew my secret – or at least part of it – and explained further. “We thought we had a lead on how to find the guys who did this to me – to us – and we did, only all the leads dried up.”


“Well, I’d really wanted to talk to them; find out how it all happened and if there was some way for me to change back.”

She rolled her eyes. “Because you think you’re too… small?” she scoffed, indicating her chest. “Marsh, you look great and you’ve got great friends, and from I hear, a great boyfriend, too.” By now she had come out of her bedroom and had grasped my hands. “I understand that this has been a great shock to you, but you’ve adjusted so well, and from what you’ve told us, you’re probably a happier girl now than before. Do you want to talk about it?”

My first thought was that if I were to tell her the whole truth, she’d have to be on my side – if she knew just how big the change had been, she’d never tell me to accept it. My second thought was that she’d be so horrified that she’d make me move out and would never speak to me again. I clamped my mouth shut and shook my head.

“I just need to be alone,” I told her, gently pulling my hands free. I started walking to my room, then stopped and turned around. She hadn’t moved. “Thank you,” I murmured before going inside.

I automatically started to reach for the guitar, but remembered that I could no longer play it properly. Badly played blues would just be annoying, rather than comforting, and the guitar itself was just a reminder of what I’d lost. With a sigh of resignation, I grabbed the next job on my garment rack and sat down at the sewing machine. At least that was something I could do while brooding, and it was more productive than smashing things in frustration.

I’d been sewing for maybe twenty minutes when I was startled by a knock at my door. Although I wasn’t really in the mood for further conversation, I stopped the machine and got up to answer it. To my surprise, Jeremy was standing there when I opened it.

“Wh- what are you doing here?” I gasped.

“Are you OK?” he asked, at almost the same time. I goggled at him, unable to form words. “Your roommate was worried about you,” he continued. “She said I should come over and try to make you feel better.”

“Uh…” was all I managed. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate him coming over; only right now, when I was mourning my lost masculinity, it seemed awkward to be playing girlfriend. OK, that really wasn’t fair. I wasn’t playing at anything. I really was his girlfriend; it just wasn’t something I wanted to think about right now.  And then he put his arms around me and I humiliated myself by bursting into tears.

He said, “Oh boy,” and starting rubbing my back while I sobbed against his shoulder. “Do you… want to talk about it?”

I shook my head, still pressed against him. How could I discuss this with him, of all people? Telling my parents had turned out alright, and I’d been unable to avoid letting my roommates know part of the truth, but letting Jeremy know would be a disaster. Maybe I did need to talk things out, but not with him. Not about this.

He offered me his sleeve to wipe my eyes when I finally stopped bawling. “Feeling better?” he asked.

“Not really,” I said, “but thanks. I guess I needed to cry on somebody’s shoulder. I’m such a mess.”

“No, you look fine. I mean you’re beautiful. Um, do you want to talk? About something else, maybe? To take your mind off of… whatever it is you don’t want to talk about? You know, so you feel I’m here for you? That’s what makes girls feel better, right? Talking?”

I shrugged, and then he kissed me. “So should we talk? Or cuddle? Or… do you want me to leave?”

I smiled. “I don’t want you to leave. I guess we can talk about something. I don’t feel much like cuddling, but I don’t think I want to be alone, after all.”

He led me over to my bed and we sat next to each other. “So, what should we talk about?” he asked. “Um, sports? Do you like sports?”

I snickered. “Jer, you don’t even like sports.”

“How about what happens after school?” he suggested.

“You mean, like now?” I asked, amused. He was definitely making it harder for me to feel sorry for myself.

“Well… actually, I meant sort of after we graduate. Like, I told you I’m going to business school, right?” I nodded. “And I got decent scores on my GMATs, and I expect to get into a decent school, and then I figure with an engineering degree and an MBA I should be able to score a job that pays really well, even in today’s economy.”

“It’s really great that you know what you want for your future,” I said.

“And you?”

“You know I’m hoping to go to medical school.”

“Right, and then… internship and residency?”

I nodded. At least this was something that hadn’t changed in my life – it was an area of stability, and was all the more important as a result. “And maybe a fellowship, depending on what area of medicine I want to go into. I haven’t really decided yet.”

“So… that’s what… ten years after you get out of Piques before you’re done with training and really in the ‘real world’?”

“There’s an awful lot to learn, so yeah,” I said. “I mean, you’re playing with people’s lives.”

He looked a bit puzzled about something. “And are you… do you think you’re going to have children?”

Such a simple question, and six months ago it would have been so easy to answer. After all, getting married and having kids was something most people did when they grew up, right? I’d always expected that I’d find a wife sometime in my twenties and we’d have two children, just like my parents did. But until he raised the subject, it hadn’t occurred to me that now, I’d be the one bearing any children I had. And even ignoring the whole squickiness of the idea, that meant somehow working around my medical training and possibly having some restrictions in residencies… I’d have to find out about that. Agghh… it was so much easier when I was a guy!

The next thing I knew he had sprung away from me as though I were radioactive and was staring at me with horror in his eyes. Surely, I couldn’t have said that last thought out loud, could I? The blood drained from my face. I couldn’t blow my secret like that. I couldn’t lose him through such stupidity. I forced myself to laugh. “I was joking. I mean you should see your face. What I meant to say was that it would be so much easier if I was a guy.”

He stared at me warily and for a bit longer than I would have liked. Then he shook his head, but it looked as though he wasn’t completely sure. “I… no, you couldn’t be…”

“Of course not,” I said with confidence I didn’t really feel.

“I guess… for a moment I thought you were saying that you were trans.”

Again I forced a laugh. “Jeremy, you know I’m not just wearing girl clothes. You’ve seen me naked. You know I’m a girl under this outfit.”

He blinked. “Not transvestite, Marsh. Transsexual. You know, somebody who is born one sex and changes to the other?”

I winced, feeling stupid. “Oh. Right. Well, still, I don’t see how you could have thought that, even for a second. I mean, I don’t look like a boy at all, do I? I don’t know what they’re teaching you in those engineering classes,” I laughed, “but boys and girls are kind of different physically, haven’t you noticed? I mean, guys are tall and muscled, and, and girls are mostly short and curvy; it’s not just what you have between your legs. You can’t turn somebody who looks like you into somebody who looks like me.” Not without getting caught in an out-of-control time travel experiment, anyway.

“You can make a pretty good approximation, Marsh.”

He sounded so certain of himself. “Why would you think that was even possible?” I asked, incredulous.

“It’s kind of common knowledge, actually. But I actually know somebody.”

I stared again. “Somebody who… changed sex?”

“Mmhmm.” He sat next to me again. “Freshman year, my first lab course, I had this guy as a lab partner. He wasn’t what you might call the most masculine guy you ever met. I don’t mean he was gay or anything, he definitely liked girls, but there was something… different about him. The kind of thing that probably got him teased a lot in high school.

“Well, we got along pretty well, and even hung out sometimes outside of class, so I looked for him again as a partner the next semester. Only, he was gone. He hadn’t said anything, but he’d clearly dropped out of school, and none of our few mutual friends knew what had happened to the guy.”

Jeremy stood up and started pacing nervously. “Well, last year, second semester, I was helping out with the freshman lab, and this girl asked for my help, and she knew my name. Now, you know I’m not the most adept guy when it comes to girls…”

“I’m not complaining,” I whispered, but he ignored me.

“… but it really bothered me that a girl – any girl – would know me and I’d have forgotten her. At the end of the lab, she said, ‘You don’t know who am I, do you?’ and I had to admit that I didn’t, expecting her to tell me when we’d met, but she didn’t.

“I think it was like the third week of the lab when she asked me as we were walking out if I remembered the guy I mentioned to you earlier – my old lab partner – and then I realized why she’d looked familiar and I asked if she was his sister. And she just shook her head and said, ‘no, I was him.’”

“And you believed her?” I asked.

“I just stood there in shock for a moment. I mean I’d heard of sex changes but I’d never actually met anyone who had done it. But I ran after her and she agreed to meet me at the Grill and explain.”

“And she actually was a girl?”

“Well, I never saw her undressed, but yeah, she definitely looked female to me. Not that I’m an expert or anything, but I’ve been looking at girls for a long time, and I didn’t even suspect until she mentioned it to me.

“So we met and it turned out she knew way too much about me and my freshman lab to be a complete stranger. She said she’d had a lot of hesitation about telling me, but we’d been good friends in the past, so… apparently she’d had plastic surgery to make her face look feminine, and was taking hormones, which had changed her body, too…”

“That much?” I asked, not really wanting to believe him. “I thought it was just, you know, down there.”

“I don’t know about down there, but she looked pretty convincingly female to me. I didn’t ask to confirm, in case you were wondering.”

“I wasn’t. But…” I stammered, “But what about body hair, and… lots of things?”

“She said she’d had to go through a lot. Like zapping hairs all over her body, and having her Adam’s Apple removed.” My hand moved involuntarily to my throat. “She made it sound really expensive. And there’s a long recovery time, too, which is why she’d missed two years of school.”

“I… I never realized all that,” I said, a bit shaken. “It sounds horribly painful. I guess I’d never really thought about it that much. I can’t imagine wanting it so badly – and after all that, she doesn’t wind up completely female, either, right? I mean, even if she looks the part.” I can’t say that I’d ever much considered the option for myself, for that reason. I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t have been happy with the result, even if I’d been willing to undergo all the surgery.

“She told me it was pretty much either that or suicide.” He looked at me closely. “Are you OK? Did I just upset you?”

“No, I just… I’m just a bit dumbfounded…” I wondered if that was why everything had fallen through. Had I just not wanted it enough to take even a semblance of manhood at great cost and great pain? I’d been hoping for an easy solution – I’d wanted just to wake up one day as a guy again, with my old body and… I shook my head. The sex change solution had never appealed to me; to look male on the outside but be female on the inside wasn’t good enough.

“Oh boy. I just messed up, didn’t I?” Jeremy said, putting his hands on my shoulders. “I came over to make you feel better and now I’ve made you feel worse.”

“You didn’t,” I reassured him, putting my hand over his and kissing him on the cheek. “You’ve just sort of surprised me, is all. I think the term too much information might apply. Thank you so much for coming over, but I think I need to be alone to rest now.”

“OK… are you going to be over for the study group on Thursday?”

“I will,” I promised him, and walked him out. I had a lot of thinking to do.

121 Taking Out the Male

“And I’m starting to wonder,” I told Vicky in her room the next day, “if I need to step back and just try living this way for a month or so without agonizing about changing back.” I’d already described the conversation with Jeremy and the additional research I’d done online about transgender folk, and how of course I didn’t see surgery as a solution.

All in all, I’d been talking pretty much nonstop for about fifteen minutes, and Vicky hadn’t said a word in response. She just kept staring at me with what appeared to be horror.

“And what I’m realizing,” I continued, “is that I don’t feel male inside at all. I have most of my old habits, but my reactions… well, if I were physically male again and found myself still crushing on Jeremy, I’d be pretty upset.”

I stopped, expecting her to comment, but she just kept staring. “Vicky?” I waved my hand before her eyes. “Are you even listening to me?”

“He talked to you about having children?!” she finally asked.

I blinked in surprise. “Well, yeah, that’s how we got onto the subject. I mean, he really took me by surprise. I hadn’t–”

“Children? Seriously?”

“Uh, yeah… you know, really short people, look like their parents…”

“And he’s the one who brought up the subject? Not you?”

“Why would I talk about children? Vicky, why are you freaking out? It was just a conv–”

“Exactly what did he say?!”

She was starting to freak me out at this point. “How am I supposed to remember his exact words? Um… he pointed out that I’ll be busy with school and training for a long time and that – and this is really hypothetical, mind you – if I wanted to have children–”

“Marsh! Boys our age don’t generally talk about children!”

“But he did,” I insisted. “It was a practical–”

“They don’t talk about children,” she interrupted me again, “unless they’re thinking that the girl they’re with might make a good wife.”

That stopped me cold. “What? Wife? But he couldn’t! I mean…”

“I’m not saying he’s going to propose to you tomorrow, but I think you’re naïve if you think he doesn’t see that as a possibility. Are you sure he’s never told you he loved you?”

“But… He… propose?” I stammered. “Uh… not in so many words.” Of course, then I had to explain how he’d referred to me as “the girl I love” when explaining his hesitation to take my virginity. “Are you OK?” I asked, seeing the pained expression on her face when I was done. I was already off-balance. What else did she think I might have missed?

“I’m really trying not to make this about me,” she said, her voice sounding strained. “I’m really working hard on accepting that we’re probably never going to be together again. I’d even decided that I’ve been using Kevin as a crutch and really need to break up with him – and now this. Marsh, what are you doing?”

“Hey, this wasn’t my idea!” I protested. “We’ve only been going out for maybe two months. How was I supposed to know he was going to start getting serious?”

“You’ve obviously done something that makes him think it might be a good idea. Is this… is this something you might actually consider?”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Vicky, that’s just not reasonable. I mean, sure I like him… OK, I like him a lot–”

“Maybe even love him?”

“I… I don’t know…” I stammered, wringing my hands awkwardly. “Even if I do feel female inside, that doesn’t mean I really think of myself that way. I know I’m supposed to be a guy. Why do you think I keep freaking out when I’m with him? Besides, even if I get over that, I don’t exactly have a great track record with relationships. The six months you and I were together is still my record.”

“You’re not answering the question, Marsh. Do you love him? Could you imagine yourself married to him?”

“How am I supposed to feel? I… OK, maybe I do love him. And… well… I can’t even let myself think about the rest. I can’t think about it.” And why is my stupid heart pounding so much at the thought? “It’s impossible. I have to change back… somehow.”

“Easier said than done. So what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted again, failing to keep the whine out of my voice. “I guess I have to tell him something. I just don’t know what? How exactly do I admit that I’m a fraud? That I’m not the girl he thinks I am?” I couldn’t look her in the eye; I knew how she wanted to see me, and it wasn’t how I was seeing myself. “I never should have dated him. I shouldn’t have told Tina I was crushing on anybody. I should have just sucked it up and pretended I didn’t feel anything.”

When I ventured a look at Vicky, she was staring at me with her mouth open. “I don’t even know what I’m supposed to say to that. Am I supposed to argue that you’re really a girl now and you should be dating boys? Is that what you’re expecting from me? You’ve just made me feel like I’d be a jerk not to say something like that, but… how nice a person do you think I can be?”

Chagrined, I shook my head. “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to pressure you. I was looking to wallow in self-pity, but you’re not the right person – not now, at least. Well, I’m not seeing Jeremy until tomorrow, so that gives me time to figure things out, right?”

She looked pained. “Good luck with that,” she answered. Then she reached over and patted my hand. “I guess I really am going to have to get over this. Plus, I have a boyfriend to dump… good luck.”

“Yeah, you, too.” I hugged her goodbye, and left.

Nikki was at rehearsals that evening and I went over to her when I’d finished. “How did it go, tonight?” she asked.

I plopped into the chair next to her. “Rehearsal was fine. We did some of the  Anthony/Joanna scenes – which meant that we did a fair amount of singing and… well, kissing.”

“Oh? And did you enjoy it as much as you’d hoped?”

“I wasn’t really in the mood. I have a problem. Do you have some time to talk?”

“Sure – I just need to get Todd’s sizes and then I’m basically done for today.”

“Why don’t I wait here,” I suggested. “This isn’t something he should overhear.”

She came back in a few minutes and we grabbed our coats and headed for her room. “So what’s wrong?” she asked, once we were outside and away from any potential eavesdroppers.

“It’s Jeremy,” I explained. “Vicky thinks he’s starting to really get serious about our relationship.” I gave her a quick synopsis of my conversations with Jeremy and Vicky, and then had to explain about the confrontation with Luke and the disaster that had been.

“Wow,” she commented. “Sounds as though you’ve really been busy. So what exactly is the problem?”

“Well, don’t you think Jeremy is being a bit premature?”

“Maybe, but maybe he’s just being thorough. It sounds as though he’s decided that he’d like to get married sooner rather than later, and he’s planned things out so that would be possible. He’s chosen a very practical pair of degrees so that he can support a wife, and he thinks you might be the girl he’ll want.”

“But… but that’s crazy!”

“Why is it crazy? Do you not expect to marry one day?”

“But… I hadn’t planned on getting married as a girl?”

She didn’t answer; just kept on walking. I’d stopped and now had to hurry to catch up. “Nikki, don’t you see? I was really expecting to be able to change back. This is all happening too fast!”

She looked at me curiously, but still didn’t answer. And then we reached her dorm, and there were other students around, so I couldn’t press the point until we were safely inside her room. And even then, she held up a hand to stop me while she turned on her hot pot so we could have tea.

Then she turned back to me and asked quietly, “and exactly what do you expect to be when you get married?”

“I… OK, I guess I don’t really have a choice any more, do I?”

“And if you did, would you really still want to change back?”

My jaw dropped. “How can you ask that? Haven’t I been talking about changing back for months?”

“Yes, you have. But when you first changed, you were freaking out about the very idea of a boy touching you. You had serious trouble kissing Jared, even though it was a simple chaste peck on the lips. Do you want black or herbal tea?”

“Um… black, I guess. I still have a bunch of homework tonight–”

“But you’ve changed,” she went on, pulling out the teabags and cups. “You’ve got a boyfriend, spent the night with him, and not long ago you told me you were even looking forward to kissing scenes with another boy. You’re very comfortable as a girl now, aren’t you?”

“Well, I suppose…”

“So what’s the problem?”

“I… but don’t you see…?” She handed me my cup and I followed her to the couch. “Nikki… OK, yes, I’m comfortable as a girl. I’m just not comfortable being a girl. Not for keeps.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s not how it’s supposed to be! I’m supposed to be a guy!”

“Says who?”

I needed time to think about that one. It was obvious, wasn’t it? So why couldn’t I put it into words? “OK, I think this is what I mean. I’ve spent almost nineteen years learning that I was a boy. That I was going to be a man, and that meant things – things that are different from what it would be like to grow up to be a woman. Boys and girls are different, and not just physically – we have different dreams, different expectations… I’ve seen my sister and her friends playing dolls and dress-up and imagining their weddings… I never did any of that. My best friend and I communicated through jokes and stuff we were doing, not talking about feelings.”

“And yet you’ve talked about your feelings just fine with me, and with Vicky and your roommates, right?”

“Don’t get me wrong, Nikki. I enjoy being a girl. If somebody just, I don’t know, hit me on the head or something and made me forget I was supposed to be a guy, I know I’d be happy this way. I think part of the problem is that those bastards forced this on me. They stole who I was! Just because I kind of like the new me, too, doesn’t mean it’s OK that they did it or that I can accept it. It’s like…” I reached for a comparison. “Well, it’s like saying to a girl who was raped that she if she had an orgasm she has nothing to complain about.”

She winced. “OK, I think I get the point, but that’s really offensive. I’d look for a different way to phrase that if you ever have to explain it to somebody else. You feel cheated, right? That the world owes you whatever advantages you had in being a boy?”

I shook my head. “I’m still not explaining it right. It’s not advantages, per se, but identity. I’m a fake. Everybody thinks I’m a girl, but I’m not.” I tapped on my chest, “Inside here, I know I’m male. I’m just playing a role as best I can, and now Jeremy might want me to be… to be a wife and I… I can’t do it. How could I go through life pretending I’m what he wants me to be, what he deserves to have the girl he marries be, and know it’s all a big lie?”

Suddenly I felt her taking the cup from my hand and putting her arms around me. “Oh, Honey, you must feel horrible. But one thing you’re not is a fake. You’re just in a very confusing position – a very, very, very confusing position. But you’re managing. You’re managing very well, considering.”

I nodded against her shoulder. “I just don’t want to hurt him.” I said, miserably.

“And is that what this is about?”

“Well, he was really hurt by his last girlfriend. He’d built her up as this perfect virginal whatever and then when she came up to visit him at college she publicly embarrassed him by acting all… loose, and…” Guiltily, I remembered that I’d sort of done the same thing, although at least we’d been alone. “I’m just afraid that he might have built me up in his mind as somebody to live with and he’ll be hurt when I can’t.”

She held me away from her and looked me in the eye. “Marsh, let’s back up a bit. I get what you’re saying, but maybe you’re being a little bit, well, you’re getting way ahead of things. All he’s done so far is show that he thinks of you as a serious girlfriend, not just somebody to have fun with, and that for him, serious means maybe marriage one day.

“But you’ve only dated for a couple of months, I don’t think you even answered his question, and you haven’t met each other’s parents. A proposal, if it even comes, is almost certainly months, if not years away. So for right now, why don’t you stop worrying about marriage? You need to be thinking about who you are, and when you figure that out, then maybe you can think about whether you might be ready to join your life with somebody else’s. Does that make sense to you?”

“Yeah, but he also wants not to have sex before marriage,” I pointed out. “Doesn’t that suggest that he is thinking about marriage sooner rather than later?”

Nikki opened her mouth as if she was going to say something and then changed her mind, before telling me, “OK, you know what? You don’t know. You won’t know until he asks, if he does, but let’s just say that I am skeptical.”

“So you think I don’t need to think about breaking up with him, just in case?”

“I think,” she said, smiling and shaking her head, “that you’re being a drama queen. I don’t know whether actors are more prone to it than other people, but I’ve worked with a bunch of actors in Alvin’s shows who’ve, let’s say, found more angst in situations that I think was absolutely necessary.

“You say you feel like a fake, Marsh. Why don’t you focus on that, first? How you can change that feeling? Maybe we can brainstorm a bit.”

That seemed like something reasonable to do, but something was still bothering me. “Let me think about it a bit, Nikki?” I felt as though I were pleading with her. Maybe I didn’t want to lose that feeling? Maybe it would feel as though I would be betraying my old self? “It seems like there’s all kinds of things tied up in this. I mean, you’re right, I should do it, but I don’t think I’m ready. Not just yet. OK?”

It wasn’t until I was most of the way home from Nikki’s room that I realized the problem. This was a very scary step, trying to put my old life, what I still thought of as my real life, behind me. To give up on ever being Marshall again and accept myself, really accept myself as a girl. I needed a very safe environment even to consider that, and as helpful as Nikki was, she wasn’t quite safe enough.

No, it was clear to me that this was something I was going to need help on from Mom.

122 Good Call

It was after ten when I got back to my room, and I was a bit hesitant about calling home so close to Mom and Dad’s usual bedtime. After agonizing for a few minutes, I decided to try, figuring that if they sounded tired or grumpy I could try the next night. To my surprise, it was Dad who answered.

“Hi, Marsh,” he said. “Would you like me to fetch your mother?”

“Please,” I answered. “But could you hold on a moment? I need to tell you both something, first.”

“I’ve… I’ve got some bad news. It looks like changing back isn’t going to happen,” I told them when she picked up another line. I then explained yet again about the confrontation with Luke. “The only clue we have left of any kind seems to be that address fragment, but not enough of it for there to be a reasonable chance that we could find them.”

“Oh, Baby, you must feel devastated,” Mom said, sympathetically.

“I don’t know what to say, Marsh,” Dad added. “I hate to think that there’s nothing we can do. Would you be able to give me this guy’s number so I can see if there might be something you’ve missed?”

“I can do that, Dad,” I conceded. “But at this point, I’m just trying to do what I can to accept… to accept that I’m always going to be a girl, now. It’s really hard. I’m not saying I hate it or anything, but it’s really confusing. When this first happened, I had no doubts; I wanted to be male again. Now? I just don’t know. I thought that maybe talking it out with Mom would help.”

“Of course, Pr– uh, sorry, Marsh,” Dad said quietly. “Just remember that I’m here for you. There is nothing I wouldn’t do if you needed me to.”

“I know… and thanks. Oh, and Dad? Could you tell Chad about this? I don’t think I can face him just now. I know he got on my case about giving up the last time and… I just don’t have the strength. I love you, Dad.”

“Sure, I can do that,” he responded. “And I love you too.”

I heard him hang up and I felt horribly guilty about pushing him away. “How’s Dad doing, Mom?” I asked. “He seems really down.”

“Well, this has been incredibly difficult for him,” she said. “He feels as though he’s lost his little girl, his princess, and at the same time that he’s missed out on having a son that he hadn’t even really thought he’d wanted. Your father has never wished that one of you was a boy, and now that you’ve told him you were supposed to be, and he doesn’t even remember you that way… well…”

“I guess I hadn’t really thought about that,” I admitted. “Now I wonder if it would’ve been better if I’d just kept this whole thing a secret.”

“No, Baby. If you’re going through something, of course we want to know so we can help you. But it’s just hard for your Dad. You heard him. He’s not even sure he knows what to call you any more.”

“Mom, it was his idea not to call me ‘Princess’ any more. I was getting used to it. And I was even managing to call him ‘Daddy’ until he started looking uncomfortable about it.” I stopped and took a breath. “But that’s not what I called about. I’m really confused and I wanted to talk it out. I’m not sure how to do this; I don’t have enough experience at this kind of thing. Do you think it might help to talk about, you know, the plusses and minuses? You know, to see if it resolves things in my mind?”

“Sure, you can try that,” she said. “I admit, I’m a bit curious. What did you like about being a boy, and what do you like now about being a girl?”

“OK, well, and this isn’t in any particular order; there are so many things, picking the most important ones is really tough. Um, I liked being tall. I used to be taller than Daddy – than Dad, I mean. I wasn’t the tallest guy around; I had friends who were even taller, but I was taller than most people. You get used to that. I liked being able to reach things and being able to pick up heavy things, and, um… well, I liked liking girls, and dating girls, and…” I hesitated. “How honest should I be, Mom?”

“This is for you, Honey, remember? If you think it’s helpful to mention it, go ahead – I’m not going to be shocked. I’ve been married for more than two decades and I’ve had two daughters, and I just cannot believe that you’ll have done anything, even as a boy, that would really gross me out. You are my child, after all.”

“OK, well…” and I still hesitated, but… “Well, I liked having sex with girls, and… well, there were a fair number of them. Boy that sounds like an incredible double standard, doesn’t it? Tina called me out on it months ago when I got queasy about the idea of her having sex with her boyfriend–”

Mom coughed. “And when did this happen?” she asked, her voice pitching a bit higher.

“The conversation? Over midterm break… Oh, I didn’t mean to imply… no, Tina never… we were just talking about… things.”

“Never mind,” Mom said. “I’ll have a talk with your sister.”

I winced. I was pretty sure Tina didn’t have any important secrets from Mom, and that she would have told me if anything much more than kissing had happened, but it wasn’t my place to make Mom worry.

“Anyway,” I hurried back on topic, “I liked the way I used to joke around with other guys – talking with Chad now just doesn’t feel the same, even though he’s really trying to be my ‘buddy.’ It just doesn’t work. I liked being really good with my guitar and playing in front of crowds and knowing they were enjoying the music, and, well, I was comfortable; I knew I was who I was supposed to be. I didn’t have any important secrets that I had to hide from the people I cared about; secrets that might hurt them, like this one did with Dad.” I paused. “I think that’s most of the important things.”

“And what’s nice about being a girl?”

“Oh, well…” I actually blushed a bit. “I like how I feel when I’m with Jeremy, I… this is going to sound really dumb, but I like how he’s so much taller than I am and I can sort of snuggle under his arm…

“I like the way I can fix things and create things with my sewing machine and I can look at some girl wearing them and think, I did that. I like the way I can sing now; I love being able to do leads in plays and musicals. I like the way I can just talk and talk with other girls and it doesn’t even have to be about anything in particular. And I kind of like the way I look; I have sort of a unique style, you know? There aren’t too many girls on campus who dress the way I do, with long skirts and all. I can be girly and not look as if my body is all I have to attract somebody.” I found myself blushing even more.

“So you really have enjoyed both sides,” Mom observed. “That’s pretty amazing. It’s not a chance too many people get.”

“I know,” I admitted, “and in some ways, I guess it’s kind of nice. But it just feels wrong for me to be a girl, and I don’t know how to get over that. It feels like I’m lying every time people assume things about me that I know just aren’t true. Being a boy again seems incredibly foreign, but I think it’s wrong for me not to change back.”

“But if you don’t have a choice any more…”

“It doesn’t change the wrongness, Mom. I have this horrible secret I can never tell Jeremy, and it might matter.” I explained about the conversation he and I had, and what Vicky had said it might mean. “And I don’t know how I can go on in a serious relationship with him not knowing the truth about me.”

“And you really can’t tell him…?”

“Mom,” I wailed. “I’ll lose him. I sort of accidentally did tell him, only I convinced him that I’d just misspoken or that it was a joke; only you should have seen the way he looked at me. It’s not a question of being afraid how he’d react, I know. And I can’t really blame him, either. If one of the girls I’d dated had told me something like that, well, I’d never be able to look at her the same way again. I wouldn’t have dropped her immediately, but I’m sure I’d have started backing out of that relationship.”

Mom didn’t answer immediately, and I figured she must have been thinking the same thing I was; this would be a problem with any guy I ever dated. But what could I do?

123 Perchance to Dream

When I hung up with Mom, I felt better, even though I hadn’t actually resolved anything. I don’t really get it; it must have something to do with the way girls think. I’m a girl now, but I still don’t understand them.

Mom had told me to think of myself as somebody with a unique perspective, and said that I might have to look very hard to find somebody who could appreciate that; telling the truth about myself might well be a way to figure out when I had. That didn’t make me ready to tell Jeremy, of course, but it did make me feel worse about not doing so.

Between rehearsal, my talk with Nikki, and my phone call with Mom, I’d lost a lot of study time, and now I was going to pay for it. I still had notes to recopy, a bit of online research to do, and a bit of backlog on my clothing rack. Unfortunately, one of the perils of online research is that there are so many possible distractions, and in the end I didn’t fall asleep until almost three, having barely made a dent in my backlog.

Even if I’d been tempted to ignore my alarm and sleep through breakfast, my roommates never gave me the chance. “Marsh… time to get up,” Terry sang, knocking on my door. That meant that the other girls had already showered, and if I didn’t get up now, I wouldn’t have time to throw on even basic makeup. I wondered if I could get away with no makeup at all, just this once. Probably not. I’d look terrible and I’d draw unwanted attention to myself. With a sigh, I pried open my eyelids and climbed out of bed. At least I could drink coffee with breakfast.

I didn’t think my tiredness was all that obvious, at least once I’d touched up a bit under my eyes, but Jay noticed immediately. “Wow, you look horrible, Marsh,” he commented.

“I love you, too, Jay,” I shot back, testily.

“Seriously,” he said. “You shouldn’t be pulling an all-nighter this early in the term. You don’t have an exam today, do you?”

I took a deep breath, hissing through my teeth. Given the way he’d been on my case since midterm break, I didn’t think he had any right to be asking me things like this. “I had something I needed to study, OK?” I snapped.

He leaned back and put up his hands as if to show he wasn’t being aggressive. “I just wanted to say that I know about the pressure pre-meds have, and maybe if you need to do something like an all-nighter to catch up on study, you should wait for Founder’s Day, OK? We ought to be getting plenty of snow soon enough.”

“Jay!” a couple of people hissed, pointing at Susie, and Jay flinched, looking chagrined, while Susie and I looked at each other in surprise.

“Susie’s a transfer student this year,” Terry whispered in my ear, explaining Jay’s gaffe. Marsha would have known that, of course.

“Well, you’ve blown it, Jay,” Lisa told him sardonically. “If we don’t tell her, she’ll just google it, so you might as well explain now.”

“I’m sorry, Susie,” Jay said our still-mystified friend. “It’s a Piques tradition that on a day in January, usually after the first decent snowfall, the administration cancels all classes. It’s big fun day with everybody running out and playing in the snow like kids, and it’s supposed to be a surprise for freshmen, so we don’t talk about it in advance. I forgot that you weren’t here last year.”

“Right,” Lisa added, glaring at him, “and some people just stay in and study or catch up on projects or whatever. It’s really a lot of fun, but the surprise is the best part.”

“You should have seen Terry last year when they posted the announcement on the web site,” I laughed. “She ran through the hall, banging on everybody’s door, yelling ‘Woo hoo! No classes!’”

A bunch of the others laughed as well, and Susie shrugged. “Well, it’ll still be a surprise when it happens, right? I can’t wait!”

I didn’t feel quite so tired by the end of breakfast, and had no problems getting ready for class. I noticed Lee Ann looking at me curiously as I left for Organic Chemistry, but she didn’t say anything, so I didn’t worry about it. If it were important, she’d tell me.

At least Geoff was cheerful as always, greeting me with his usual, “Good morning, Marsha!”

“How are you this morning, Geoff?”

“Not bad, not bad. Beat my roommates in the Tsukuba endurance race last night. By three hours in, I was already five laps ahead.”

“’Three hours in?” I echoed incredulously. “Are you saying that you played one video game for three hours straight and all you did was drive around and around the same track?”

“Four hours, actually. Had to stop for new tires about every fifty minutes, but I won.”

“Uh… huh. I think you need a girlfriend.”

He chuckled. “Bored with what’s-his-name already?”

“No,” I said, embarrassed at him coming on to me again, even if it was just teasing, “I mean for my friend Vicky.” At his impatient look, I quickly added, “She’s breaking up with her boyfriend. She told me so.”

“She’s still a bit of a nutcase,” he said, shaking his head.

“She’s a very nice girl, Geoff. She’s… just having a bit of a hard time. This guy was really wrong for her, and she needs a decent guy.”

“And I’m the sacrificial lamb, huh? Why are you so eager to fix this girl up, anyway?”

“She’s a friend; a close friend,” I explained. “I care about her a lot.”

He stared at me for a moment. “I don’t know, Marsh…”

“Think about it,” I insisted. “You don’t seem to be trying to commit to anybody, so I’m not asking for that. But give it some thought. I think you two would be good together.”

He shrugged. “Maybe. I’ll think about it.” I don’t know if he was just trying to shut me up, but at least it was a start.

By dinnertime, I was starting to get tired; actually I was practically nodding in my soup, or would have been if I had had any soup. “Marsh, are you OK?” Terry asked as we walked back to our room.

“Well, I was OK after lunch, and then I wanted to copy over my notes, and I had some reading to do… and I need to review my lines and a couple of songs, and then I still have a bunch of sewing I need to get done, and–”

“And you’re planning on doing all of this when exactly?”

“As soon as I get back from my study session with Jeremy.”

“If I were you, I’d skip the study session,” Lee Ann put in. “You need to make up for the sleep you didn’t get.”

“But I promised him,” I said.

“He’ll understand.”

“Maybe I’ll just go for a bit. We sort of left a conversation unfinished. Besides, the walk in the cold woke me up again,” I insisted. “See?” I dashed inside to grab my books and papers and headed out again before they could think of a good excuse to keep me there.

I was actually the first person in the lounge as a result, so I pulled out my script and started going over it quietly. I was doing much better in my logic class, and I didn’t really need Jeremy’s help, but it was nice having him review it with me.

I kept losing focus – I’d look over a line, look away and recite it from memory, and then I’d catch my head starting to droop. Shaking my head to wake myself up was only helping so much.

And then I felt a hand on my shoulder and I looked up into Jeremy’s eyes. “Hey, you don’t look good,” he said.

“I love you too,” I mumbled.

He sat down next to me. “Are you sleep-deprived?”

“Can’t sleep,” I said, desperately trying to keep my head up. “I have songs to sew and a whole rack of papers.”

He pulled me to my feet. “OK. Time to go, Babe. Night’s over. I’m putting you to bed.”

With an effort, I forced my eyes to open. “I’m awake,” I said, yawning.

“Yeah, let’s go.”

I let him put my coat on me and pick up my books and papers, and followed him out into the hallway. A moment later, I said, “This isn’t the way to my dorm.”

“No,” he agreed. “If I bring you home, you’re just going to try to do some more work. I’m putting you in my bed and I’m going to make sure you go to sleep.”

“If I’m in your bed tonight, I don’t think I’m going to do much sleeping,” I giggled.

“In my bed alone. I’m going to sleep on the floor.” He opened the door and ushered me in. While my mouth hung agape at the idea, he pulled a T-shirt from his dresser and handed it to me. “Get changed.” Then he turned his back, blocking the door, as if he thought I might try to make a break for it.

I was really too tired to resist anyway, and I wouldn’t have complained if he’d undressed me himself, but I pulled off my shirt and skirt and tossed them on the end of the bed, lacking the energy even to fold them. Then I remembered, and forced myself to take off my makeup as best I could with a face wipe and a mirror from my purse. I unfastened my bra and then pulled his t-shirt over my head. It hung most of the way down my thighs, and I took off my underwear under it.  “I’m done,” I announced.

“And sleepy?” he asked, turning around to look at me. I nodded. I couldn’t believe he was really going to do this. “Good. Into bed with you.”

Obediently, I climbed under the covers. “Don’t you want the blanket or something?” I asked.

“I’ll be fine,” he reassured me. “Roll over.” So I did, and then I felt strong fingers kneading my shoulders. I tensed briefly, and then relaxed as the soothing pressure moved from down my back and my sides. Off I drifted, until…

I was in a classroom, and the professor was droning on about something that sounded like anatomy, but what he was speaking wasn’t quite English, and I had to strain to tell what he was talking about. The strain traveled down my neck and into my chest and hit my huge belly and got stuck there and it was really painful and then a man said, “Time to go, Babe.”

I was lying in bed holding a baby and just as I was about to cuddle him against my chest, the professor came in and took him from me and handed me a clipboard. “You have 30 minutes,” he said. “Go.” And I flipped to the first page, but it was in Spanish and I didn’t know most of the words, and then I flipped to the next, and the next, and…

I was freezing, which wasn’t surprising, since I’d apparently kicked my covers off. I looked down, half expecting my belly to be bulging, but all I noticed was that my nightgown had ridden up almost to my waist. I pushed it down all the way to just above my ankles, pulled the sheet and blanket up to my chin and fell back asleep.

When I woke up, the first rays of dawn were just beginning to peek through the window. I stared at the walls for a moment in confusion before I remembered where I was. Then I sat up and looked for Jeremy. He was sleeping on the floor next to the bed, curled into a ball. His coat, which he must have used as a cover, was draped partially over his legs, and his head looked quite uncomfortable on the floor.

I got up, pulled the blanket off of his bed and covered him, and then very gently wedged his pillow under his head. I was pleased that I’d managed to do that without waking him. Then I looked down. I was wearing my nightgown. Hadn’t I fallen asleep in his shirt?

The clock radio on his desk read 6:58; if I hurried, I could get back to my room without being seen. I just needed to get dressed, write a note and slip out quietly. I looked around for my clothes, and there, hanging on his closet door, was a dress… the same dress I had seen the first morning I’d awoken as a girl.

124 Showered With Trouble

I stared at the dress in shock. How could it possibly be here? Had something else changed? Had I changed? I reached for my purse to pull out my compact and noticed something else, or rather two something else’s. My phone, which I had left inside the purse, was now sitting on the floor next to it, and so was my cosmetic case, which I always leave in my bedroom.

The room lurching, I quickly sat on the bed, trying not to faint. I took several slow breaths, trying to calm my pounding heart and then reached again for my purse and the compact inside it. There had to be a logical explanation for all of this. In the dim light, it was hard to be absolutely certain, but my reflection certainly looked like me , or rather the female me – Marsha. Could they have somehow changed my reality without changing my appearance? Or possibly I just couldn’t tell? Some of the changes that had affected others in the Strangers had been very subtle.

OK, time to think. Why would I be wearing my nightgown? Why would my dress be here when I hadn’t worn it yesterday? Was it possible that I had just lost a day, having come back here the next day, only better prepared to spend the night? I grabbed my phone to check the date. No dice, it was Thursday, just as I expected it to be. If there’d been a change in my reality though, was it possible that I had moved in with Jeremy? Or had arranged to spend nights on a regular basis? It seemed out of character for him, but it was something I could check. Surely he would have given me one of the drawers in his dresser.

I looked at him again. Covered with the blanket, he was now stretched out on the floor. That didn’t make sense – if I were sleeping here regularly, surely he would have been in the bed with me? Still, I crept as quietly as I could to the dresser and slowly eased open the top drawer.

It was full of his underwear and socks, so I tried the next, and the next. Each held only his clothing and none of mine. When I pulled open the second-to-bottom drawer, I heard him ask, sleepily, “Are you looking for something?”

I jumped in surprise and turned around, closing the drawer with the back of my legs. If things had changed out from under me, obviously he wouldn’t notice, and I wouldn’t want him to notice. I needed to change the subject, distract him, until I have this figured out. “I… I think I was a bit tired last night,” I said. “I don’t remember hanging my dress on your closet door.”

“You didn’t,” he said, shaking his head and standing up. “I did.” My eyes bulged. Had we been living together long enough for him to know my habit of putting out my clothes the night before? “You seemed really uncomfortable when you left here the last time, and Janine told me that it’s embarrassing for girls when they have to walk home the next day in the same clothes they wore the night before – she called it the ‘walk of shame’ – so I called your roommate and arranged to get you a change of clothes.”

“You… called my roommate?” I gaped at him. “How did you…?” My brain was frazzled.

“Terry Baldwin, right? I found her number in your phone. I remembered you had introduced one of your roommates as ‘Terry’ and she was the only one in there. I told her what I wanted and she had everything ready for me when I got there.”

“And my nightgown?”

“She said you’d be more comfortable that way than in a t-shirt, and also that you would want your makeup.” That was possible. Terry certainly could have said all that.

“And… you put it on me?” I asked. He’d be sure I was too inhibited to allow that, surely?

“No,” he said, looking a bit embarrassed. “When I came back, you sat up, so I gave it to you. Before I could turn around, you took off the shirt and… well, next I saw you were under the covers. Obviously, you put on the nightgown and lay down again; I’m not sure you actually even woke up.”

Huh. That would explain why it had been pushed up to my waist. I must have put it on sitting up and then gone back to sleep. I was being stupid. Of course that’s what happened! Always look for the simplest explanation! I almost laughed with relief. How could I have imagined they would change time on me again?

“Anyway, now you can use my bathrobe and go take a shower and change into fresh clothes, if you want?” he concluded. Then he gave me a concerned look. “Is everything OK? Did I do something wrong?”

“No! No,” I answered, trying to regain my composure. “You were great. Thank you! I really appreciate it. I think I will go take that shower now!”

He handed me his robe, a towel, and brand new containers of body wash and shampoo and said, “I’m going to take a shower too, so I’ll leave the door unlocked for you.”

“Wait!” I said. “Don’t you need this stuff?”

“The campus store was still open after you fell asleep, so I just picked them up for you last night.” He looked so… open and innocent, not having any idea what kinds of things I’d been imagining just minutes ago. I couldn’t help staring open-mouthed just a moment more before standing on my tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek.

At his direction, I walked down the hallway to the left towards the women’s bathroom, thinking furiously as I went. This isn’t working. I’m jumping at shadows. It has to be as he said, a perfectly innocent, although incredibly sweet gesture. He went out of his way to please me, and I freaked because he just happened to bring back the dress from the start of this whole thing.

The problem, I realized, is that those guys are still out there, somewhere. Maybe they can’t do anything more to me. Maybe I can go on and live this new life without thinking about them. But what if I can’t? After all, they changed Dirk, didn’t they, and he almost certainly never met them.

But what can I do? Luke was our best chance at finding them and even he doesn’t have any way to reach them now. It’s hopeless, isn’t it? And isn’t that for the best? Why do I need to worry that maybe something could happen? I don’t worry about lightning strikes, right? You can’t worry about everything happening. You have to just go along, even if you’re stuck in the wrong body, in the wrong life.

In the bathroom, I walked right past a vaguely familiar girl at the sink, my eyes focused only on the nearest empty shower stall. Ignoring everybody around me, I stripped and stepped into the shower, hanging the towel and bathrobe on the hook. As I reached to turn on the water, a voice from the direction of the sinks said, “Oh! Aren’t you Jeremy’s girlfriend? I forget your name.”

Surprised at having my thoughts interrupted, I froze. “Um, hi,” I said, “Yes, I’m Marsha.”

“I guess you guys are getting along pretty well, huh?”

Did I hear a note of envy in her voice? I forced myself to laugh. “Oh, you mean my being here this morning? I was exhausted last night when I came to the study session and Jeremy insisted on putting me to bed!”

“And on joining you there?” she asked again. This time I was sure. She was definitely envious.

“He slept on the floor,” I answered, putting my head under the water and trying to make it sound all matter-of-fact.


That gave me something else to think about. I knew how unbalanced the sex ratio was on campus. Surely, if I were still Marshall, Jeremy would have found another girl. Maybe even this girl. What if she were the one he was supposed to be with? What if I were in effect stealing some other girl’s man?

I can’t think that way, I told myself, I didn’t ask for this life, and I don’t even know if I can keep it. It’s not my fault. Complain to them if you don’t have a boyfriend, I thought at the nameless girl. I’m just making the best of what I was given.

For a moment, I heard nothing but the water, and took the opportunity to rub shampoo into my hair.

“So it’s not a serious relationship, then?” the girl persisted. Why couldn’t she just leave?

“Actually, it is,” I informed her. These are the cards I was dealt, after all. I didn’t ask for this, but I’m not giving him up so easily, Tramp.


I heard the bathroom door open and close. If I was lucky, she was gone.

But I wasn’t really alone. It was still with me, the feeling, even as I soaped and rinsed my body. The feeling that I was a fake, that I didn’t belong, that I was still vulnerable, that somehow they might keep changing things and thereby make my life a living Hell. And the thing was, now I knew. I knew that I wanted to stay this way, to be Jeremy’s girlfriend, and who knew what the future would bring? Maybe I didn’t deserve him, maybe I was a fake; that didn’t mean I couldn’t try to enjoy myself, did it?

I heard the bathroom door open again as I wrung my hair dry and wrapped it in the towel. Then I pulled the bathrobe around myself and stepped out of the shower carefully, trying to avoid tripping over the long ends. Two girls had come in, chattering to each other, and headed for the empty shower stalls.

“Excuse me,” I said. “I spent the night in my boyfriend’s room and I don’t have my hair-dryer. Could one of your lend me one?”

The two of them looked at each other and then one pulled a black hairdryer from her pile of supplies. “You’re Jeremy’s girl, right? Marsh? Just leave it on the sink.

I nodded my thanks, and took the dryer to one of the sinks, placing my shampoo and body wash in the pockets of the robe as I did. As I dried my hair, I thought some more. I need to be a better girlfriend. There’s really no excuse for me not to have thanked him a lot more profusely. He really went out of his way for me. I considered what had actually happened. Professor Davis and his shenanigans are behind me, aren’t they? All the changes I remember – Dirk, Tyler, there’s no reason they couldn’t have happened all at the same time. Just because those guys were still poking around the physics building doesn’t mean they were still mucking with time, after all. I have to be able to believe that.

I started feeling better. If I can’t even find them, and I obviously can’t, there’s nothing I can do, right? It’s time to forget that this isn’t the original reality. What matters now is Jeremy and me, that’s what’s really important.

Feeling much better, I put the hairdryer on the sink, picked up my towel, and headed back to Jeremy’s room. To my surprise, he was already back and dressed. I didn’t think I had taken all that much time; how had he gotten done so quickly? “Jeremy,” I said a bit hesitantly, “I… I don’t think I thanked you adequately. You really went above and beyond for me last night. Thank you so much for taking such good care of me.” And I put my arms around his neck and gave him a long, lingering kiss.

He chuckled when we stopped, his arms still around me. “Hey, that’s my job, isn’t it?” He looked into my eyes for a moment. “You look fantastic.”

Shyly, I pulled away. “I don’t even have my makeup on.” Adjusting his robe, I sat on his bed and took out my cosmetic case. “Um. You really don’t need to see this, do you?” I asked, facing away from him.

He laughed, but I really didn’t want him to see me put on my concealer; it would just draw attention to the imperfections that he wasn’t supposed to know about – I really only wanted him to see the final result. “OK,” he grinned. “You want me to step outside the room while you get ready?”

“Please.” Then I remembered something else. “Oh, by the way, remember you asked me about doctors having children? I kind of did a bit of research, and women do sometimes have babies while in medical school or during their residencies. You just have to find a program that lets you take time off.” I was really glad he couldn’t see my face. It was feeling awfully hot just then, but he had asked, and he deserved an answer, and I had needed to know as well.

I probably set a record in getting my makeup on; at least, I was a lot faster now than I had been the first time Tina had shown me how. I threw on the fresh underwear and the dress, marveling at the improbability of Terry having picked out this dress for me, just when it might give me a heart attack to see it.

After one last check in the mirror to make sure I was presentable, I opened his door and found him talking with one of the boys from the study group. “Hey, good morning, Marsh!” he greeted me. Turning to Jeremy, he added, “see you at breakfast!”

Jeremy looked at me after his friend left and smiled. “You’re so gorgeous,” he said. “You’re joining us for breakfast, I hope?”

There was no reason for me to refuse – sure, people would assume that we’d been intimate, but we hadn’t been. In any case, I had been more than willing to be; yet I felt an odd reluctance at being so public with evidence of our relationship. Still, there was no way I could refuse him at this point, so I nodded.

“Great,” he said, taking me hand. “This way.” We’d just reached the steps downstairs when my phone beeped with the signal that I’d received a text message. Glancing at my phone, I noticed it was from Dad, which surprised me. Usually he waited for me to call him. Let me just check my message, Babe?” I said.

A couple button presses later, Dad’s message was displayed on my screen:

Found contact info for Prof Davis. Call me.

125 Loose Ends Unravelling

When I was about ten, it really annoyed me that I couldn’t see over the tops of the front seats when we went for a drive, so I did what I thought was the most obvious thing: I removed the parts of the seat that made them higher than I thought they needed to be and tossed them in the trunk. Mom and Dad didn’t agree with my solution. Dad said that the tops were called headrests and that without them people got whiplash, which is what happens when your head is going along in one direction and suddenly starts going in a different direction because of an unexpected stop. I’d never actually experienced it, but I had a feeling I knew what it was like, just about now.

How could Dad have suddenly found Professor Davis? And why now, just as I’d pretty much decided that I was ready to have him vanish from my life completely? When I’d finalized decided that I wanted to just find a way to live this life that I was in, why suddenly tell me that there might be a way out of it?

I don’t know what was showing on my face, but it can’t have been good, because Jeremy put his hand on my shoulder and asked in a concerned voice, “What is it? Marsh, what’s happened?”

Guiltily, I hid the front of my phone against my shoulder and gasped, “just a bit of a surprise, that’s all.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked.

I squeezed my eyes shut in exasperation and worked really hard to make my voice calm. Placing a finger on his lips, I told him, “Jeremy… I’m crazy about you, but you’re trying too hard. This is something I need to deal with on my own.” Then he flinched back, looking every bit like a little boy whose mother had scolded him for putting jam on the cat, so I rested my head on his chest and let him put his arms around me, as if he needed reassurance that I wasn’t too angry with him.

“Is breakfast still OK?” he asked.

“I think… I think need to take a rain check, if you don’t mind?”

I felt his chest tense, but after a moment, he relaxed, stroked my hair and said, “OK. Another time, then.”

I nodded, and he walked me back to his room so I could grab my things. Our good-bye kiss outside the door to his dorm lingered, as though both of us were afraid that “another time, then” was just a lie that we had silently agreed to believe.

As soon as I was out of site of his dorm, I pulled out my phone and called Dad. “Hey, Marsh,” he answered. “I’m just running out the door. I’ll call you when I get to the office. What’s a good time for you?”

“Uh… my first class isn’t until 9:00, but can you at least–”

“Great! I’ll call you before then,” he said, hanging up before I could even ask how he had done it.” And I knew perfectly well that there was no point in calling him back and insisting that he tell me now; he never used his cellphone while driving, unless it was a real emergency. His daughter’s curiosity wouldn’t count.

I continued walking to my room, and suddenly stopped with a jolt. “His daughter,” I had thought. Was that the first time I’d ever actually thought of myself that way? Not as his son, transformed into a girl by mad scientists, but as his daughter? I really wasn’t sure what to make of it, but boy did it sound strange.

My roommates had already left for breakfast when I got to the dorm, so I dropped off my books and hurried to the dining hall, making my excuses for being late. Nobody said anything, although I was pretty sure that if I had been wearing the same clothing today that I had yesterday, somebody would have noticed. Silently, I thanked Jeremy for his foresight and Terry for her discretion.

I did have the feeling that Jay was staring at me for some reason, but whenever I glanced over, his eyes were focused on the pancakes he was eating, so I might have been just imagining things.

The conversation as the group of us walked back to the dorm was pretty safe as well; clearly, either only my roommates knew where I’d spent the night, or nobody cared – and the idea that none of the other girls would care where virginal Marsha Steen had spent the night didn’t make a lot of sense. But the studied non-interest vanished once the three of us were back in our room.

“I’m kind of impressed with your boyfriend,” Lee Ann said, closing the door behind us. “I’m just not sure what to think of you, right now.”

“Nothing happened,” I explained, possibly a bit more defensively than absolutely necessary. “And why would it matter if it had? I followed your advice. I’ve been on the Pill for a few weeks; what’s the big deal?”

“The big deal, Marsh,” Terry explained, “is that you told us that you remember nothing of… well, knowing the two of us before midterm break.”

“I don’t!” I insisted. “Well, I sort of knew Lee Ann in my old life, but–”

“But you somehow knew how Terry had reacted last Founder’s Day,” Lee Ann stated.

“What?!” I exclaimed. “Of course I don’t rememb–” then suddenly, I did remember. I remembered breakfast the previous day, and talking about Terry’s enthusiasm upon learning the news. My jaw dropped. “How could I possibly…?” I whispered, dropping onto the couch at the realization. I shook my head to clear it. “My memory of Founder’s Day last year was waking up because Chris Ba–” I coughed as I realized I’d been about to say my male freshman year roommate’s name. “–Booch,” I corrected myself. “My roommate was shaking me awake to tell me I could sleep in.”

“Chris Booch?” echoed Lee Ann. “I don’t think I know her.” Thank goodness for androgynous first names!

I shrugged, trying calm myself. I had suspected something like this could be happening – this was just proof. “Terry running down the halls isn’t my memory, guys… I seem to be having her memories leaking into mine. The old Marsha Steen’s memories, I mean.”

Lee Ann sounded really skeptical. “Really?”

“I promise you,” I said. “You said yourselves that I was acting oddly. I don’t have a lot of her memories, but I do have this one. And I think Celeste – that girl who wanted me to alter those old dresses – was another.” I didn’t mention the Girl Scout meeting, but now it seemed likely that that was a Marsha memory as well.

“Sounds pretty convenient.”

“Maybe – as long as I’m not forgetting my own memories in their place. That’s my fear; I don’t want to forget being me.” And what was I going to do if I lost their trust?

The two of them looked at each other, and then Lee Ann said, “I want to believe you, Marsh. I think at some point, you’re going to need to tell us a lot more of this old life of yours.” And convince us that it’s real, she didn’t say, but I knew she had to be thinking it.

If you did change back, a small voice in my head suggested, you wouldn’t ever have to tell. It wasn’t so tempting, anymore, though – all it did was make me feel even worse. At any rate, they stopped pressing me, and we all headed to our rooms to get ready for class, although how I was supposed to focus on Organic Chemistry at the moment was beyond me.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard the ringtone I had assigned to Dad’s office phone, and answered it eagerly. “I’m all ears, Dad,” I said.

He chuckled. “Sometimes it helps to have somebody not quite as close to the matter. I have an email address, a phone number, and a mailing address.”

“That’s amazing!” I exclaimed. “How?”

“Well, I called your friend Luke, and he said he had no more information than he’d told you beyond the nature of his interview with the experimenters, and he insisted that they were ‘good guys,’ but he did tell me something you hadn’t mentioned.”


“Professor Davis’s first name – Rolf. It turns out not to be all that common a combination of names, and when I found a Professor Rolf Davis in the Physics department at Rocky Lake University in Oregon, I was pretty sure I had the right guy.”

I felt like banging my head on my desk. Now that I thought about it, Luke had been on a first name basis with the people who had done this to us. Why hadn’t Vicky or I thought of that?

“So I had my secretary call the physics department,” Dad went on, “and they told her that he was on an extended leave, doing research… at Piques College! And they gave her his contact information there. Check your email; I’ve sent it to you.”

“So Piques tried a cover-up and forgot to tell his old university,” I realized.

“Exactly! Now, I’m sure some of these won’t be very useful – the address seems to be in your Physics Building – but they’d have arranged to forward his correspondence, don’t you think?”

Of course, that didn’t mean that he would actually answer, but… “Dad, thank you so very much,” I gushed. “This is a great breakthrough, and we never could have done it without you.”

“You’re very welcome, Princess,” he said. “Good luck.”

As he hung up, I smiled to myself. So he did still think of me that way, even if he thought he shouldn’t. The question now was, what to do next?

I started by calling Vicky while walking to class, telling her that we had new information, and asking her to arrange a meeting with Martin and Eric. I knew that her Friday schedule wasn’t as full as mine, so she’d have the time. “And how did things go with Kevin?” I asked.

“Depressingly easily,” she told me. “I broke up with him over the phone, and he just laughed in a superior way and said, ‘your loss – I’ll have another girl in my bed by Sunday. I guess you’re gonna be sleeping alone for a long time.’ I just hope you’re right about this, Marsh.”

When saw Geoff that morning in Orgo, I told him that she had actually done it, and he nodded. I think he might have seemed a bit interested this time. But after the lecture was over, I stopped to think. Shouldn’t knowing that we now actually had a way to get in touch with Professor Davis have made me hesitant in fixing the two of them up? What if I did have to change back, now? Surely I’d want her not to be dating another guy?

I got to Vicky’s room for our meeting that afternoon, and found myself the first one there. Her roommates were out, but we still went into her bedroom for privacy. “So what’s this new information?” she asked after I had taken off my coat.

I grinned. “Come on, Vix. You know me. I want to do this in the most dramatic fashion, in front of everybody.”

“I know,” she responded. “That’s why I told the boys to come fifteen minutes later than I told you. Come on, Marsh. They’re helping us – you and I are the main interested parties, here.”


“Don’t ‘Vicky’ me. I have a right. I want to know what this is all about, and maybe – just maybe – I want to talk you into not quite telling them everything.”

“Why wouldn’t I tell them everything?”

“I don’t know, do I, since you haven’t told me what this secret is!

I shook my head. I couldn’t just sit here for a quarter of an hour and not discuss it. I could lose graciously. “OK. Here it is, then. Dad did a bit of research for me and came up with a phone number, and an office address, and an email address for Professor Rolf Davis!”


“Incredible, huh?”

“So what happened when you called him?” she asked breathlessly.

“Well, I haven’t, yet.”

“Why not?!” she shrieked.

“Whoa, Vicky, slow down. I haven’t called because I haven’t figured out what to say. I thought I should get ideas from everybody, first.”

“Really? Are you sure that’s the reason?”

“What do you mean?” I asked, hearing something a bit dangerous in her tone.

“Well, Geoff called me this afternoon and asked me if I wanted to hang out with him. He said you’d put him up to it.”

“Well, I just figured–”

“So now I’m wondering why you would do that, if you knew about this phone number stuff.” Her gaze suddenly seemed to pierce through me. “It’s as though you’ve already made your choice. Do you want to stay a girl, Marshall? Are you picking Jeremy over me?”

I tried to laugh off her suggestion. “Vicky, you know what I want.”

“Do I?” Her voice started pitching up again. “A few months ago, you were desperate to change back. You hated being a girl. You said you were hoping to get back together with me.”


“And now you’re actually fixing me up with another guy?! I mean, how is that supposed to make me feel, Marsh? I’m used to the idea of thinking of other girls as my rivals, potentially. I’ve seen guys who I thought were mine, suddenly flirting with somebody else who might be a bit prettier, or cuter, or whatever. But how am I supposed to deal with the idea that you’re interested in another man instead of me?”

I found myself backing up, reacting to her just the way I would have if I were still male – used to the idea that fighting was done by physical dominance and hindered by the internalized rule that you didn’t do that with girls. But then I caught myself and realized something. I’m not a boy. I shook my head to clear it. There was no reason for me to react this way.

I stopped backing up, put my hands on my hips and stared up at her. “You just need to accept it, Vicky. I have no idea what’s going to happen. There’s no particular reason to say that I’ll change back, or that I even want to any more.”

That stopped her. She blinked at me. “What? What did you say?”

“Do you want to be a boy, Vicky?”

“What? No, of course not! I mean, I like boys, but I wouldn’t want to be one.”

“So why should I want to be one?”

“What? But… I mean, you are a boy…”

“Oh, Vicky,” I said, taking her hands in mine. “Look at me. Do I really look like a boy? I… for all I know, I do need to change back, but it’s not because I want to. It’s taken me all this time to realize that I’m comfortable this way – I remember being a boy, and I remember liking being a boy, only… it’s getting harder and harder to remember why. If I choose to change back now, it’ll be because no matter what I feel like, I’ll always have this horrible secret that I’m afraid to tell, or because it feels dishonest to be a girl. Or because… well, there are some problems, but mostly because I don’t know what else Davis and company might be able to do – and if we can talk to them, maybe we can find out or stop them or something. But I’m not a boy stuck in a girl’s body – my brain and body and even a lot of my habits now, are just as female as you.

“I… mentioned you to Geoff because… even if we’re not attracted to each other, I still love you and want you to be happy. I think you’d be a lot happier with somebody like Geoff than with a creep like Kevin. And if I do change back… well, I guess I have to take the chance that you might prefer him to me by then. It feels as though there’s two parts to me. Marshall loves you, Vicky. That we’ve been able to be as close as we have these past few months proves to me that it’s more than just lust. It’s love. But at the same time, that part of me that’s Marsha… loves Jeremy. And I really hope you can accept that.”

She sat down on the bed, hard, her face a mixture of confusion, jealousy, and shock. She was staring, not at the floor, nor at me. “I don’t know how you do this, Marsh,” she said, her voice squeaking in the middle. “Just when I think I have things figured out, you hand me something I can’t quite grasp. I don’t see how I’m supposed to accept this. It’s like you keep forcing me to try to be a better and more understanding person – do you have any idea how uncomfortable that is for me?”

“But you can do it.”

“I don’t know that!” She looked up at me and I saw the tears streaming down her face. “I just want to go back to the way we were. It was so much easier. Even being afraid I was going to lose you, I knew who I was. You let me be who I was. Why are you making me grow and change? I thought boys just accepted their partners and wanted them never to change. It’s girls who are always trying to change their part…” She broke off and I saw her expression change to surprise. “Oh my gosh…”

I reached for her to comfort her, and in the worst timing of the afternoon, we heard a knock at the door. “I’ll get it,” I said. “You fix your makeup, or whatever you’re supposed to say.” I managed a smile of chagrin. “I’m still not really good at this.”

I opened the door to find Martin and Eric and waved them in.

“I was going to apologize for being early,” Martin said, “only I see you still beat us here. What’s the news?”

“Come into Vicky’s bedroom, and I’ll explain,” I said.

“Am I missing something?” I heard Eric whisper humorously to Martin. “I mean, we do seem to keep getting invited into the girls’ bedrooms…” I was pleased to see Martin elbow him into silence.

When we got back to Vicky, she was sitting on the bed, placidly, with no sign of tearing on her cheeks. I really wish I knew how she’d done that; I could see it coming in handy. “OK, guys,” I announced. “The news itself is simple. The hard part is: what do we do about it?” I left a dramatic pause before pulling a sheet of paper from my purse. “I have here Professor Davis’s mailing address, e-mail address, and phone number.”

I waited for the boys to react before continuing. “Now we actually still have a problem. As I think we’ve mentioned, Luke says he doesn’t want to speak with students, and maybe not with anybody about the experiment, so just getting a message to him isn’t enough. We have to get him to respond.

“Any ideas?”