Archive for the ‘Section 10: Redoubled Efforts’ Category.

126 Searching Questions

Eric was the first to react. “May I see that?” he asked, holding out his hand for the paper. I gave it to him and he held it so that Martin could see as well. “These are all Piques contacts, aren’t they? The email clearly is, and the phone exchange is the one all of the landlines here use. Have you called?”

“Not yet,” I admitted. “I wanted to figure out…” I trailed off as he pulled out his cell and called.

He listened and nodded for a moment and then hung up. “It’s an answering machine. The voice sounds like the one from the videos we shot.”

“That’s what I expected,” I said. “As I was saying, I’m assuming that if we left a message, Davis would get it. The question is, how do we make him answer?”

“Or maybe there’s something else we should be doing,” Vicky suggested. “With a first name, can’t we just check the phone listings? Piques can’t control everything.”

“Better yet,” Martin pointed out, “let’s find a paper phone book. As far as we know, Davis had no reason to hide at the start of the year. Even if his number is unlisted now, it might have been published when he first got here.”

The three of them went at it enthusiastically, almost ignoring me. I heard them suggest passing out images from the video to the Strangers, in hopes that somebody might spot him on campus – just in case the administration had simply moved him to a different building. They talked about trying to find him on Facebook; they even discussed trying to find friends or colleagues at Rocky Lake who might know him. All of them sounded like intriguing ideas, any of which might work. Why, then, was I getting a bad feeling about the whole thing?

If Vicky noticed my lack of participation, the boys certainly didn’t. They were so hot in pursuit of an interesting problem that the reticence of one petite girl in the corner barely registered. They talked about faking messages from friends and relatives, from search committees, from newspapers, and even from the Piques administration, showing that at least they’d heard my words, even if I myself seemed to be inconsequential.

Within half an hour they had used Vicky’s computer to type up a plan of action, printed four copies, and handed them out. Then they shook Vicky’s and my hands and rushed out enthusiastically, leaving my head spinning.

“I’m excited about this!” she said. “Are you…” then she did notice my expression. “What’s wrong?”

“You didn’t notice how they basically ignored me?” I managed to choke out. “I’m the one who brought the new information. I’m the one who basically organized this group. I’m the one who was most affected by this experiment, and –”

“And right now, you’re a girl. Guys do this all the time; I guess you’ve never noticed. You’ve been having so much fun with your oh, gee, it’s so much fun to wear dresses and have a boyfriend who takes care of me thing that you’ve pretty much ignored real life. One boy at a time – the right boy – is a lot of fun. But you try working with a group of them and they might not even hear you.

“But don’t worry,” she continued. “We’re going to save you despite yourself. You’ll be much happier, Marsh, when you’re back to your own body, and can get back to what you’re used to.” I opened my mouth to reply, but she cut me off again. “Don’t thank me, Marsh. I’m just doing what a good girlfriend should. I’m watching out for my guy.”

“Don’t – don’t I get a choice, here?” I asked, sounding a bit whinier than I would have liked.

“You won’t have a choice if we don’t find Davis!” she retorted in exasperation. “Is that what you’re asking for? That we call off the search?”

“No. No, of course not. I just don’t want to be forced into anything, that’s all.”

She sat on the bed next to me and put her arm around my shoulder. “Marsh, this isn’t just about you. Maybe you could be happy either way, but… well, I want my boyfriend back, and your father wants his son back, and… well, if you change back, your cousin Tyler will have been born, and…”

I could hear her struggling for more reasons, and with a sigh I supplied some. “If I were a boy, Tina would get a lead in the high school musical, and some girls I don’t know would end up with the roles I’ve gotten, and another one would get Jeremy…” I rested my head on her shoulder, very conscious of our role-reversal. “You think I’m being selfish, don’t you? A lot of people could be happier the other way.”

“And I think you will be, too, actually. Didn’t you say it bothered you, being in the wrong body? Feeling like a phony?”

I nodded, reluctantly. Why had I told her? Now she was using it against me. I needed to think; there should be some way for all of this to make sense, some way for it to come out the way I wanted it to. With a sigh, I picked up the plan and looked for my name. “Looks as though my first job is to go look up the archives at The Messenger and see if they have any press releases about Prof Davis coming to Piques. I suppose I can write to that reporter and see if he’ll help me again. And… you’re going to try to find a paper phonebook. Eric and Martin took the more promising possibilities for themselves. Terrific.”

“Don’t let it get you down, Marsh,” she encouraged me. “It doesn’t really matter who finds the answer, as long as we find it, right?” Then she walked me out.

Troubled, I walked back to my dorm a bit more slowly than usual. Dad’s call had made me question things I thought I had just resolved, and Vicky had pushed me even further – I was pretty certain I didn’t want to change back, but I wasn’t sure I could justify not taking the chance, if given it. I might have to just start thinking of this time as a chance to explore and to cherish, but not to keep.

Jeremy’s ringtone sounded from my phone just as I thought that, and I jumped guiltily, remembering how I’d snapped at him. “Hi-Jeremy-I’m-sorry” I said hurriedly, and waited for his reaction.

It sounded as though I had really caught him by surprise, as he sort of choked a bit before laughing, “You mean I shouldn’t apologize?”

He’s always been so sweet to me, I thought. Maybe it would be better if I moved aside and let him fall for a real girl – maybe even that girl I’d seen in the bathroom this morning. Not just yet, though, I promised myself. What, me, jealous? Maybe more than a bit.

“Marsh?” he asked again, when I didn’t answer right away.

“Oh!” I said, embarrassed. “No, you shouldn’t–”

“I just wondered if I could see you tonight.”

“Yes!” I said, eagerly. After all, if I was going to be forced to give him up, the more time I could spend with him in the meantime, the better.

“Great. Um, I don’t real feel like dancing or a movie; how about ice skating?”

“Ice skating?” I echoed, a bit surprised. “I didn’t know you ice skated. I mean, yes, I’d love to.”

“I’m not great, but I can mostly get around without falling I think it’ll be fun.”

I’d always thought of skating as a perfect date, actually. “I agree,” I said. “Come get me around… 7:30?”

“See you then,” he agreed before hanging up.

My step was definitely lighter as I made my way back to my room, and I’d nearly gotten there before I realized that I’d been humming, I’m in Love With a Wonderful Guy. Hmm.

When I told me roommates our plans, Lee Ann looked thoughtful. “You know, long skirts aren’t really practical for ice skating. Let’s see what I have that could work.”

When she took out a pair of stretch pants, I was hesitant.

She saw my expression and forestalled me. “I know you’re worried about modesty, Marsh, but I think it won’t be a problem. As I remember, you said that the problem with pants was that it accentuates the crotch area, right? And you don’t wear short skirts because you don’t think you should be showing off your legs, and because you think boys will be hoping for a glimpse of your underwear?”

I nodded. I’d never heard it explained that way, but it made sense to me.

“Well, we can fix that. These pants will cover your legs, and,” she then took out a miniskirt, “if you wear this skirt over it, it hides your crotch area but doesn’t inhibit your movement.” It also gave me an excuse to wear a short skirt, which I hadn’t dared do since Jeremy spotted me in the one I’d just bought.

I was a bit nervous when Jeremy came to pick me up, and I was hardly surprised when his eyes bulged on seeing me. I knew what the male imagination could do, even if I was technically dressed modestly. “Is it OK?” I asked, turning so he could get the full effect.

“Um…,” he choked out. “You… look great.” Terry snickered from the door to her room, and I glared at her.

Looking back at Jeremy, I asked, as innocently as I could, “so it’s OK for me to wear short skirts, now?” and watched him turn an interesting shade of red. It was going to be a fun evening.

As we walked to his car, he seemed to feel the need to defend himself. “I didn’t mean that you weren’t allowed to wear short skirts,” he said, “I just really appreciate that you’re usually so modest. You’re not, you know, practically falling out of your clothes in public and besides, what you’re wearing isn’t really immodest or anything and it really is more practical, and…”

“It’s OK,” I cut him off, giggling. “I’m just enjoying your reaction. It’s flattering to see you noticing my body.”

“I never not notice you! I mean, I think you’re beautiful, and I really like looking at you and–” This time I stopped him by putting my arms around his neck and giving him a long kiss. Then we just gazed into each other’s eyes in silence for a few moments before kissing again, briefly. If not for his ‘no sex before marriage’ principal, I suspect we might not have made it to the rink.

It turned out that my experience with roller skating hadn’t quite prepared me for ice skating; fortunately, he was a pretty decent skater, and he did keep me from losing my balance a few times. But he wasn’t all that familiar with skating with a partner and at one point I tripped and wound up pulling him down on top of me. He managed to break my fall so it didn’t hurt, and we just lay on the ice for a minute or two, laughing, while the other skaters went around us.

“Why don’t we take a break?” he asked, as he helped me up. “You find us someplace to sit, and I’ll go get us some hot chocolate.”

I smiled and nodded and headed for some benches on the side of the rink. In fact, I think my smile was almost hurting at this point; I had been smiling constantly for some time. I’m really enjoying myself, I realized. I don’t want this feeling to end. I can’t believe we haven’t been together for much more than a month.

Jeremy obviously noticed my expression when he came back and handed me my drink. “I didn’t realize you liked skating so much,” he said, sitting next to me, “you’re a lot happier than you were this morning.”

I rested my head against his shoulder. “It’s not the skating,” I said, laughing, “it’s you.”

We sipped our hot chocolate. It warmed my insides, but I was already feeling pretty warm, cuddled against him. It’s not fair, I thought. Why does this have to be borrowed time?

“You seem lost in thought,” he observed. “Anything you care to share?”

I giggled and shook my head.

“Well I have a thought to share,” he said, carefully taking my half-filled cup from me and putting both of them on the bench next to him. I looked at him curiously, and he put his hands around my shoulders, drew me close and kissed me, a slow, lingering kiss. Then with our faces just an inch apart, he said, “I love you, Marsh.”

“I love you, too, Jeremy,” I responded, and kissed him back. And then I realized what I was doing. I had no right to be falling in love right now. Even if he didn’t remember anything, my changing back would be a breakup. What if he did have some memory of it? What if I started pulling away as things came to a head with the search?

“What’s wrong?” he asked, clearly reading my sudden hesitation.

I pushed myself away and stood up, facing him. At the very least, I need to wait until we track down Davis, I told myself. All kinds of things could happen, and it’s not fair to him; not fair at all. “I… I can’t do this,” I said aloud. Jeremy, I… there’s something I have to work out before… it’s not fair to you. I have no business dating anybody until this is resolved.”

“What?!” he exclaimed, coming up behind me and putting his hands on my shoulders. “Until what’s resolved?”

“It’s just important,” I said, starting to cry. How I wanted to just lean back against him and pretend it was nothing. “I… I have a terrible secret, Jeremy. I…” Wait, I can’t tell him the truth, not now! He’d feel horribly betrayed and embarrassed if I told him he’d just confessed love to another guy. “I can’t tell you. I just can’t. I never should have let things go this far.”

“Whatever it is, Hun, we can talk it out.”

“No!” I exclaimed, facing him. Then I realized that I was causing a scene in public. “We need to go,” I whispered. “I’ve made a horrible mess of things. We need to break up. This isn’t fair to you. I need to set you free so you can be with another girl. Somebody who doesn’t have these problems.”

“I’m not interested in another girl,” he whispered back. “How long is this secret going to take you to resolve?”

I sniffed and tried to wipe my tears with my glove. “I don’t know… days, weeks, months, maybe? Years? I don’t know.”

He took off his own glove and used a napkin he’d gotten with the hot chocolate to dab tenderly at my tears. “I’ll tell you what, then,” he whispered. “We love each other, right? We’ve just said so.” I nodded. “Then we’ll stay together, for now. I’m willing to risk any heartache; I don’t want to lose you. If this isn’t resolved by the time I graduate, and you still think we have to break up, we’ll break up then, and we’ll probably never see each other again. OK?”

I should have stood firm. I thought of warning him that he could be risking being alone for Spring House Parties, that he could get badly hurt, but I was too weak. I wanted to hold on to him as long as I could, so I agreed and clung to him with all my might.

But one thing was now absolutely clear to me. One way or another, I had to resolve this. Finding Professor Davis was now my number one priority.

127 Skating on Thin Ice

“Now that I’ve destroyed the mood,” I told Jeremy, sadly, “I suppose you should just take me home.”

“I don’t want to, but if you insist, I will. Can I persuade you to stay?” And he batted his eyes at me until I laughed, and then he kissed me. When he pulled away, I was grinning. “There!” he said, “all fixed.”

What could I say? I was going to lose him all too soon, in all likelihood, so each moment together was precious. I let him lead me back onto the ice and we skated for another half hour, and this time he managed to keep me from falling at all. Then we took a break and said, “I think we should stop.”

“Why?” I asked. “I’m having fun. Aren’t you?”

“Absolutely. But if you haven’t done this before, or at least not in a long time, your legs are going to be sore tomorrow. I just don’t want you to overdo it.”

I couldn’t disagree with that, so we got into his car to drive back to campus. “Can I ask you something?” he asked as we pulled away from the rink.

“Of course,” I answered, just a bit wary.

“Why do you go by the name ‘Marsh’? It’s not a very feminine-sounding name. Why not go by ‘Marsha’ or even ‘Jennifer’?”

I had to think about that. As a boy, I’d decided in elementary school that ‘Dwight” sounded kind of dorky, and ‘Marshall’ had sounded really tough and military. I’d never asked anybody what Marsha’s motivations had been; but that was hardly something I was ready to explain to Jeremy just now.

“It’s just shorter, like the way I call my sister, ‘Teen’ half the time. I don’t really mind if you want to call me, ‘Marsha.’ But ‘Jennifer’ is such a common name – so many girls are called that.”

He nodded; it was a plausible explanation, and for all I knew it was the right one.

“And why do you want to be a doctor?” he asked next. “You seem to have a real passion for theater and for sewing, but I don’t hear you talk about medicine that way.”

I tilted my head at him. “Why all the questions?”

“I’m just trying to figure out things I’ve been curious about. There are still plenty of things I don’t know about you.” He smiled very tenderly at me and my heart fluttered. “After all, you’re the most fascinating subject I know.”

My face turned red as I tried to suppress a grin. “Flatterer… not that I’m complaining, mind you. Where did you learn to talk like that?” I’d had the impression of him as really nervous and inept around girls.

He sounded a bit abashed. “You’re not actually my first girlfriend, you know. I made some mistakes with… um, a girl I used to date, and I’m trying hard not to make the same ones with you. Plus, well, Janine’s sort of coaching me. She says you’re the best that’s happened to me since I got to Piques, and, well, I definitely agree. So… I want to know everything there is to know about you.”

I wanted to sink through my seat. I was definitely not the one he should be saying things like this to. Now what, Marsh? I asked myself. How do I tell him I’m a fraud? How am I supposed to tell him the truth? I forced myself to smile.

“So, the doctor question?” he asked again.

“Oh. Well… I was named for my great-uncle Marshall, and he was a doctor, and I just always figured that’s what I would do, too. Plus, I couldn’t really make a living in theater or sewing, you know. And you–” I had to bite my tongue, as I’d almost said, you need to make a living to support a wife and kids. Aloud, I improvised. “You need to make a living doing something that interests you, and biology does interest me. So why not medicine?”

He nodded. “OK, I guess that makes sense.”

We drove in silence for a bit and then, as we started getting close to Piques, he suddenly said, “Now about this secret of yours…”

I jumped guiltily. I am such a blabbermouth, these days. I should have found some other way to approach this.

“I just want to know if it’s serious,” he persisted. “Is this some health thing? Do I have to worry… about losing you?”

“No, no,” I shook my head. “I’m perfectly healthy.”

“And you’re not already married or seeing somebody else or something like that?”

I laughed. “No, nothing like that. It’s just…” I really need to think before answering him, this time. “I’m really sorry, B–Babe. I– I guess I’m sort of insecure about things. I didn’t…” I paused and took a breath. “Let me give this some thought. I need to figure things out for myself, first.”

He parked the car and got out. I was about to follow, when I saw him walking quickly around the hood, so I stayed put and let him open my door for me. “Thank you,” I said as he gave me his hand to help me out.

“You’re getting me really worried, you know,” he told me as we starting walking.

“I know. I’m sorry. I’m going to try to make it better. I just can’t say anything more right now.”

He opened his mouth as though he was going to say something and closed it again, presumably thinking better of it. Then he said, “I meant it when I said I loved you.”

“And… and I did, too.”

“I don’t want you to think you need to hide things from me. I’m not going to judge you. You–”

I held up my hand to stop him. “Please. I have to think about this a bit. Don’t press me right now, OK?”

He flinched back, which made me feel even guiltier, but he backed off. But then he gave me only a very brief kiss at my door and wouldn’t come in, which probably served me right. Still, as patient as he was trying to be, there had to be limits. It just wasn’t reasonable to expect him to handle this.

I didn’t see any reasonable solution without hurting him that didn’t involve undoing this whole mess, and that meant finally tracking down Professor Davis. That was what I should really be doing now. It wasn’t even ten o’clock yet, and my roommates had gone out, so I was alone and free to work on it. The problem was, now I was almost too upset to do anything productive, so I called Vicky.

I didn’t get an answer, which didn’t surprise me. Vicky wouldn’t be sitting in her room, all alone. She’d be out partying with somebody, maybe Geoff. The thought made me just a bit jealous. Was there some way I could have told Jeremy, so he would have stayed? The more I thought about it, though, the more impossible it seemed.

I tried Nikki, but as expected, she was out, too. I chose not to leave a message; I just wanted somebody to talk to now.

Automatically, I looked at Ben’s guitar, but I knew it wouldn’t help. I’d impressed Mom and Dad by playing a few songs, but I knew how much work they’d taken. It felt good to be able to play them, but it wasn’t relaxing. No, my best stress killer nowadays was sewing; only I couldn’t do that as automatically as I’d been able to play my guitar. Each piece required something just a bit different; enough that I had to focus consciously. Still, it would get my mind off my Jeremy problem until I could talk it out.

I’d only been sewing for about ten minutes before Vicky called me back. “What’s up, Marsh?” I could hear music in the background.”

“I just need to talk,” I said “Are you really busy?”

“I’m out with some friends. Can it wait?”

“I don’t know… I think I really messed up tonight.”


“I told Jeremy that I had a secret and we needed to break up, but I wouldn’t tell him why.”

“Marsh, it’s OK. You’re really better off without him – this whole thing has been really confusing for you; I understand that. You’ve been letting your hormones take over. You’ll be able to think much more clearly when you’re not hanging around some guy.” She laughed. “I’m not saying I’m an expert on healthy relationships, but I do know what it feels like when you’re with a boy you like. This was a good move, Marsh.”

“Um…” I realized I hadn’t been clear. “We… didn’t actually break up. He said we should stay together until he graduates, at least.”

She scoffed. “And you went along? Why would he even think you’d be interested, after you gave him the brush off?”

“Well… maybe because I’d just told him that I loved him?”

She didn’t answer for what seemed an eternity. I was just about to speak to see if we’d been disconnected when she said tightly, “Marsh, are you in your room?”


“Don’t do anything. I’ll be right over.” And she hung up.

I looked at the phone with chagrin. I hadn’t intended to disrupt her evening, at least not consciously. I shrugged and went back to my sewing machine, leaving my door open so that I’d be sure to hear Vicky knock.

I had time to finish a simple zipper replacement and start working on a torn seam before she got to my room. When I opened the door, she stared at me in apparent disbelief, backed me into my bedroom in silence, and closed the door behind us before asking, “Are you out of your mind?”

“I don’t know,” I answered quietly, sitting on the bed.

“What in the world would possess you to tell a boy that you loved him?”

“He said it first,” I explained. “Anyway, it’s true. I told you earlier, Vicky. I love him. He’s… well, I only wish I could have been as good a boyfriend to you as he is. He’s really wonderful and… I don’t want him to get hurt by any of this. That’s why I tried to break up with him – he deserves a real girl, one who can be what he expects and deserves. I can’t, and I know it.” I didn’t add, I wish I could. That would only hurt Vicky needlessly.

“Well, isn’t that just dandy?” she commented, icily.

“That’s why I need to change back,” I went on, ignoring her. “It’s the only way to make sure I don’t hurt him.”

She stared at me for a moment and then sat next to me. “I’d kind of hoped that you wanted to change back so you could be with me,” she said, sounding a bit subdued.

“I do,” I insisted, taking her hands. “I want to make both of you happy… somehow.”

“Oh, Marsh… you really make things complicated, don’t you?”

“My whole existence is complicated, Vixy!”

“So we just need to get going on that action list, right?” She stood up. “Where’s your copy? Maybe we can look ahead a bit. Have you done your first action?”

I put a hand on her arm to stop her. “I sent an email to the same reporter I spoke to a while ago, yeah, but…” she turned at my hesitation. “I just really resent the guys taking over this whole thing. I want to believe that there’s something they’ve overlooked. I want you and me to be the ones to solve this.”

She laughed, but it sounded a bit forced. “Boys versus girls? And you’re one of the girls? OK… Yeah. So where’s the sheet?”

I crossed to my desk and picked it up. “Here it is.” I sat back on the bed and she sat next to me so that we could both read the sheet.

“I think they did a pretty thorough job,” she said. “Nothing’s jumping out a me.”

“Wait a minute…” I said, studying the list. Then I laughed. “The grad student! Brian something or other – they completely ignored him!”

“But we don’t know anything about him,” she objected. “How do we find him?”

“There has to be a way.” I declared. “I want there to be a way, and right now, that needs to be enough.”

“What are you going to do?” she asked, skeptically. “Look him up on Facebook?”

I considered that for a moment.

“I was joking, Marsh – you sort of need his whole name, you know, and we’ve already checked Davis – if he ever had an account, he’s canceled it.”

“Yeah, but I’m hoping maybe a student would be more likely to have a Facebook account and less likely to think he needs to hide it. He’s got to have come from Rocky Lake with Davis, right? So we can look for students from there named Brian.”

“Do you have any idea how many students you’ll have to go through? And what if he’s not there? And how would you know which was the right Brian?”

“Well, maybe I can call the Rocky Lake physics department? I can say that I was looking for him– “

“And they’ll just give you the same Piques contact information. Or else they’ll take your name and ask him to call, and he’ll say, ‘Oh Marsha Steen? She was one of our subjects – better not call her…’”

“He won’t know my name, will he? He’ll be looking for Marshall Steen.”

“You think he doesn’t know you’re a girl, now?”

“OK, wait… I know. I’ll get one of my girlfriends from home to call. Like Maddy – he wouldn’t know she knows me or has any connection to Piques at all. And they’ll just think she met him at a dance or something.”

“But…” she started to object. Then she blinked and looked at me and said, “You know, that might work. Of course, he might still say that he doesn’t know her and refuse to call back.”

“OK, good point. Maybe we can use Facebook another way? You know, send messages to a bunch of Rocky Lake students and ask them if they know a physics grad student named Brian whose advisor is Rolf Davis?”

“Sounds time consuming, but I guess it couldn’t hurt.”

“Come on, Vixy, get excited about this, OK? It’s something concrete we can do. If we find a physics major, they’re bound to know him. Even if somebody messages us back and says, ‘Oh, you mean Brian Smith?’ we’ll at least have his name. And we know what he looks like.”

“You’re right, Marsh, you’re right. Tell you what. Make a list of all the students you can find and we’ll split them up. You sure you don’t want to involve Martin and Eric in this?”

“No, I don’t want to feel that being a girl means I’m any less capable than I was as a boy. Do you? I think it would serve them right for taking over the way they did if we could just call them up in a few days and say, ‘Oh boys, look what we found!’”