Archive for the ‘Section 11: Making Choices’ Category.

128 Making Resolutions

Author’s Note: First, a big thank you to April King, who got my blog running again when an interrupted installation brought it down. Second, here we go to the ending. I’ve actually written 12,000 words so far and I’m not quite done yet, but I should be by the time these next few chapters have shown up. We’re going to finish with a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule, just as I had originally promised.

Terry had spent the night with Greg, so it was only two of us in the room the next morning. After we got back from breakfast, Lee Ann commented, “You know, I’ve been wondering about something. If your old life was different, why are you able to do all the things that our Marsh can do? You know, acting, and sewing, and taking her subjects. Were those the same for you, too?”

Neither of us had any plans for the day, so we were just hanging out in our living room. Well, I did have something I wanted to get to – the search for Brian – but it didn’t look as if it was going to be quick, so there was no real rush. Besides, it was way too early to call Maddy.

“Believe me, I spent a lot of time worrying about that,” I laughed. “A lot of my old life was pretty similar – acting and a lot of the same classes – and I got help. You should have seen me when Terry asked me to take in her gown – I had no idea that I was even supposed to know how to sew, and had to pretend to know what I was talking about!”

She looked at me curiously. “Your mother didn’t teach you to sew?”

This time I was ready with an explanation. “My grandpa left me his guitar, and I spent most of my free time learning to play it. I’m sure Mom would have taught me if I’d asked, but I wasn’t really interested. It’s funny, though. I can sew now, but I’m not so great with the guitar. However those guys did it, I have my own memories, but this body’s reflexes.”

“Huh. You know, I realize that you didn’t really know us, but I can’t help wishing that somehow you’d realized sooner that you could have trusted us. Maybe we could have helped.” We smiled and nodded at one another, pleased that I was now able to be so trusting. I firmly ignored the area in which I still didn’t dare trust them – it wouldn’t be relevant soon anyway, once I threw away this life and all the relationships I’d made in it. However much it hurts, it’s for the best. I had to believe that.

“Actually,” I said, ignoring the yammering doubts, “maybe you can help me know. I’m trying to locate the grad student who was involved in the experiments, and I thought I could use Facebook.” I outlined my plan to search through the names of students at Rocky Lake, and also to have somebody totally unassociated with Piques to try to contact him.

“Why not just make a new account?” she asked. “Lots of people have multiple accounts, and if you’re afraid they might recognize your name, just register with your first and middle names. Some of my girlfriends do that, so they don’t give away too much information. They probably don’t even know your first name, so ‘Jennifer Marsha’ wouldn’t be familiar to them at all.”

“Lee Ann, that’s a great idea!” I enthused. “It’ll be so much easier than having somebody else do it – and I can post messages on their university’s page, too, asking if anybody knows him.”

She laughed. “They’ll probably think you guys met at a party and he promised to call and never did!”

“If he has a girlfriend, he could get in some real trouble,” I grinned back.

“I know, right? Serve him right, the jerk, for not calling you!” We both laughed. “You know,” she said, “it sounds as though you’re starting to come out of your shell. I think Jeremy’s been really good for you. Hold on to him, Marsh. When you find the right guy, it’s just magic.”

Magic, right. My smile was suddenly plastered-on. I hoped she didn’t notice. “Well, then, I’ll just go create that account, right? Thanks for your help!”

“Is something wrong? You guys didn’t have a fight or anything?”

“No! No, no, nothing like that. It’s just… well, I better take care of this.” I walked quickly to my bedroom without looking back. What am I doing? I asked myself. This is the right thing; I know it is. It’s really my only option, and it’s best for Jeremy. I just wish it didn’t keep it hurting.

Creating the account was quick, and then I found the “Rocky Lake University” page and liked it. That let me post a simple message:

I am trying to find a boy at Rocky Lake named Brian; I know he’s a grad student in physics and his advisor’s last name is Davis. Can anybody help me?

Let them assume whatever they wanted. To cover my bets, I tried finding a list of Rocky Lake students, but that wasn’t as easy as I had assumed – at least I couldn’t figure out to get it from Facebook. I tried a web search, but while several major universities made it easy to find their grad students online, Rocky Lake wasn’t among them. OK, I’d have to wait to see if my post brought any results.

In the meantime, what should I do about Lee Ann? She’d recognized that I was upset about something related to Jeremy, and after our little talk about trust, I didn’t see an obvious way to put her off. Was there a way I could be honest with her about my feelings without telling her something that would creep her out?

When I left my room, she was sitting in the living room, playing a game I didn’t recognize. I started to walk past her as though I had always intended to head to the bathroom, but she paused the game and asked, “Did you want to talk about it?”

How did girls do that? I wasn’t even looking at her as I walked past. Why hadn’t I been granted these mind-reading powers? I could imagine several times they could have come in handy. I turned back and sat back down on the couch next to her. “Might as well,” I said, resigned.


“So I told him last night that we had to stop seeing each other.” It felt even worse now that it had last night.

“Oh no! Why…?”

I opened my mouth but nothing came out. I spread my hands to show that I was having trouble putting it into words, and all the while my heart was falling to shards; but it wasn’t until she actually put her arms around me and hugged me that I began to cry. “He even told me he loved me,” I sobbed. “I can’t do it.”

She just hugged me and rocked me back and forth for a while before speaking. “And how do you feel about him?” she asked.

“I… I love him, too,” I sniffled. “And I told him so. That’s why it’s so hard.”

“You know, Marsh, I realize that you don’t have a lot of experience dating boys, but usually when say that you love each other, that’s supposed to be a happy moment.”

“I know,” I whimpered.

“OK… so what is it you can’t do?”

“I can’t… Lee Ann, I… I don’t know how to… you know…”

“… have sex?” she asked, sounding surprised.

“No! Love. Relationships. I don’t know how to do that; it’ll just fall apart. How did you manage to stay with Stephen all this time? What’s the secret?”

She laughed and released me after a quick squeeze. “I sometimes think Stephen’s and my secret is that we don’t see each other very much. That’s probably not very helpful. The only time we get to be around each other a lot is summer vacation and breaks.”

“Isn’t that frustrating?” I asked, forgetting even to worry that she and Marsha had probably had this very conversation in the past. Then I remembered to worry, and then I remembered that she knew I wouldn’t remember if they had. Having my roommates know about the experiment made things so much easier!

“Well,” she answered, smiling, “We’ve talked about him transferring here, or me transferring there, but mostly we don’t want to change what’s working. In the future, well… I don’t want to get too far ahead of things. What we have works for us, at least for now.”


“Yeah, I guess that didn’t really help you,” she admitted. “I can’t say I know what works and what doesn’t. But you don’t run away from a relationship that’s making you happy. So how did you guys leave it?”

“We’re still together; I’m just really afraid I’m going to hurt him, disappoint him.”

“And breaking up with him now won’t?” she asked, incredulous. “Marsh, it’s taken you so long to get to this point, and you really lucked out. Have a little patience!”

I nodded in agreement; the advice was sound – or would be if I were actually the girl she thought I was. “Thank you,” I said, meaning the talk more than the advice. “So… you have plans today? I don’t really feeling like doing any studying right now.” And I wanted to stay out of my room for a little while to keep myself from obsessively checking facebook every few minutes.

“You see how busy I am,” she said wryly, pointing at the game controller she’d just dropped, so she saved her game, found one the two of us could play, worked hard and doing absolutely nothing important until lunch.

After lunch, I did check facebook and found nothing. I knew it could take days for me to get the answer I wanted, so I tried putting it out of my head and doing something relatively mindless – sewing. Of course, that just left me free to think about my discussion with Lee Ann.

I knew that I didn’t really have any future with Jeremy – even if I got over the whole I’m really a guy thing, I had more than enough experience with relationships to know that I couldn’t sustain one – but now I was regretting it even more. What if this latest effort to reverse my change didn’t work? Was there a way for me to deal with the relationship problem? Lee Ann hadn’t had any great ideas for me, and I just didn’t see an answer.

It was after I’d finished my third simple repair job that it occurred to me how easily I was taking this for granted. Just a few months ago, I couldn’t sew at all, and now I could do a lot without really even thinking about it. How did that work, anyway? It was one more question I had for Davis when I found him.

I had just started a basic alteration for a girl who was in denial about her weight problems when I heard a knock on our outer door. I paused to listen, to see if Lee Ann would get it, but when it was repeated about twenty seconds later I sighed, put down my work, and went to answer the door.

“Hi, Marsh,” Vicky said, when I had opened the door. “You busy. I thought we could start doing those searches we talked about.”

“Actually,” I said, ushering her in, “Lee Ann gave me an idea that I think will be easier and might work better.” I explained about the “Jennifer Marsha” account.

“You told Lee Ann?” she whispered, shocked, as we entered my bedroom.

“Only that I had been changed. She and Terry think I’m the girl who lost inches,” I answered, indicating my bust.

She giggled a bit at that. “Technically, you did lose inches there, didn’t you? I mean, you used to have like a 40” chest, right?”

I grinned back. “I don’t think I was quite that big, but yeah.”

“So what’s this great idea she gave you?”

I explained and showed her my new Facebook account. There was one reply. “Forget him, Jennifer, he’s not worth it,” which amused Vicky no end.

“I don’t think Lee Ann’s suggestion is working out too well,” she laughed.

“Give it time,” I said, a bit annoyed and embarrassed. “My other ideas haven’t panned out, either. The page only lists a few people, and none of them are named Brian.”

“Really? Let me try something.” She sat at my computer and clicked to the Rocky Lake University page. “Huh. There’s no ‘see all’ link.”

“That’s what I mean. We’d need to find a student directory.”

“Well, let’s see.” She opened a new browser tab and tried some searches. “Rocky Lake Student directory” turned up nothing. “Rocky Lake Physics Department” gave us a listing of professors, but not students. “Rolf Davis” was there, of course, but the only contact information looked like a campus extension.

“OK,” she admitted. “This doesn’t look like it’s going to be easy.” She clicked back to Facebook. “Hey, you got another reply.”

This one said, “@Jennifer: no grad students in physics this yr are named brian.”

Vicky and I stared at each other. “Are you sure he was from Rocky Lake?” she asked.

“He said ‘this year.’ Maybe he doesn’t know about last year? We’re assuming that they’ve been away all year.”

“Maybe…” she agreed, “this really isn’t easy, is it?”

“Give it time. We only need a reply from one person who knows him.”

“I suppose so… I’m just trying to figure out why, if they are the ‘good guys’ that Luke thinks they are, they’re hiding.”

“Probably afraid of a group of furious teenagers tearing them limb from limb.”

“C’mon, you saw the Strangers; they’re more beaten down than furious, and Luke has to have told them so. Why couldn’t they just meet with us? If they wanted data, we could give them lots of it.”

“Luke seemed to believe that it was the administration, but what hold do they have on them? Money? Jobs? If Davis is a prof at Rocky Lake, I don’t understand why they couldn’t just go back there.”

“I’ll bet Martin would know,” Vicky suggested. “Do you want to call him?”

“I… why don’t we plan to get together tomorrow morning? That’s mostly been our pattern anyway.”

“Is there a problem?”

It was hard to explain my reluctance. It just didn’t feel right running to Martin so quickly. “I guess I want to give this idea a bit more time, first. I’ll explain it to both Martin and Eric when we get together tomorrow.”

She sighed in exasperation. “Fine. I’ll call them and set up another meeting here for tomorrow morning. So now what?’

I shrugged. “I don’t have any more ideas right now – I’m supposed to talk with that reporter on Monday… I suppose we just have to be patient.”

“OK, fine… I haven’t gotten far with my assignment, either. So… you want to do something tonight?” She must have seen me hesitate, because she erupted, “Oh c’mon, Marsh! Now what?”

“I… was just hoping to spend more time with Jeremy…”

“You’re unbelievable, you know that? Here we are, trying to get you back to being a boy again, and you want to play girl with this guy? Look, I broke up with Kevin – don’t you think it’s time you dumped Jeremy?”

“Are we going to have this fight every time, Vicky?” I said, standing up. “My relationship with Jeremy is going to end soon enough, one way or another; do you really begrudge me this time?”

“I just want to be sure you’re not holding back, Marsh. We’ve been trying to find Davis for months. Are you going to back away now?”

“No! What have we been doing all this time? Vicky, I’m the one who told everybody about what Dad found. I’m the one who came up with the idea of looking for Brian whatshisname. This is important to me. Only…” I sat back on the bed next to her and took her hands. “I just want what little time I have left to spend with him.” We stared at each other for a moment. “Besides, you know perfectly well that you could always out me to him, if you really thought I was going overboard.”

She looked away. “I wouldn’t do that to you, Marsh. I wouldn’t want something like that between us afterward.”

“Then trust me, OK? I really need to get this resolved and I intend to see it through.”

After a moment, she nodded. “OK, I’ll set up the meeting and let you know.”

129 Getting a Clue

After she left, I returned to my sewing until almost dinnertime. The rhythmic throb of the needle was soothing, and completing one job after another gave me a great feeling of accomplishment.

Jeremy hadn’t actually asked me out for the evening, and for all I knew, he had plans, but I called him anyway before we headed to the dining room. He sounded surprised. “Wow, decided to tell me already?”

I was so focused on what I had called him for that it actually took me a couple of seconds to realize what he was talking about. “Actually,” I said, a bit embarrassed, “I just hoped we could get together again tonight. I mean, if you’re not busy,” I added hurriedly. “When we first met, you mentioned something about music and math, and I just wondered if you could sort of explain further…”

“Oh! Um, I could grab a few CDs and come over a bit later, if you like.”

“I’d like… maybe seven or so?”

“See you then,” he said, and hung up. It was with a smile on my face that I headed out for dinner.

When he showed up after dinner, my roommates and I were in the living room waiting; I’d told them he was coming over. He was a bit nonplussed at seeing them there, and I knew better than to try for a kiss. I’ll have to work on that with him, I thought as I led him to my bedroom after some very brief greetings and giggles from Lee Ann and Terry. It was only after I’d closed the door behind us that I remembered that I wasn’t likely to have any time to “work on him” over anything.

“So, um, you wanted to hear about music theory?” he asked as I sat on my bed and looked at him expectantly.

“I just like hearing you explain things,” I told him, batting my eyes in hopes of making him laugh. “Seriously, I wanted to see you and… I do like hearing you explain stuff.”

“OK, um… I’m really used to lecturing in a bedroom, but… may I play some music in your computer?” I nodded and he put in one of the CDs he had brought and then came and sat next to me. I immediately cuddled up next to him, of course.

“Now, you know that music is very mathematical, of course.”

“I nodded, and listened attentively as he explained about rhythm, which I knew perfectly well as both a singer and guitarist, and then proceeded to talk about the mathematical basis for pitch and intervals and harmonies, much of which I didn’t know – at least not to the extent that he did. At some point, though, I sort of lost myself in the sound of his voice, as well as his physical presence. How was it possible that I had once doubted that girls found boys physically attractive?

I really hated that I knew our relationship was doomed, and that made me feel all the more guilty at taking pleasure from it. I wanted to prolong it as much as possible, but if I didn’t manage to change back, I was going to wind up hurting him when I couldn’t keep it going. Why did Brian what’s-his-name have to make himself hard to find?

“So you see why we don’t use Lydian mode and Phyrigian mode, and so on?,” he asked.

I pulled myself from my reverie. “Um… because we don’t like the sound?” I guessed.

He rolled his eyes. “You zoned out a while ago, didn’t you? He looked at me, staring at him adoringly. “Um, are you still interested in this? I have the feeling that you sort of zoned out a while ago.”

I giggled. “I never get bored at hearing you talk, you know. But if you’re tired of talking…” I reached up and kissed him, and then we were done with talking for a while.

He left a bit after midnight, and this time there was no problem getting a long, lingering kiss good night at the door. My roommates had either not come home yet or were already in their rooms, but the way we were feeling, I think he would have kissed me anyway.

As I closed the door after him, my heart was still pounding. Given his sense of honor, I’d regretfully given up on trying to seduce him, but the cuddling had been really nice, and I was not going to be short of pleasant thoughts tonight. The morning would be soon enough for doubts and frustrations.

As soon as I got up the next morning, I checked Facebook, and was elated to see a new comment, addressed to the guy who had claimed that there was no Brian in the physics department: “Mebbe she means Brian Harlin; he was here last yr.”

“Brian Harlin”! That had to be him. I was closing in!

“Quickly I typed my own response: “Yes, I think so! How can I reach him?” Then I had to force myself to relax. Who knew how long it would take before I got another answer? But in the meantime, I had something I could search for.

Facebook showed eight accounts in the name of “Brian Harlin.” Trying different spellings for his first and last name brought the total to more than forty. Still, that was serious progress. Some of them were easy to eliminate because they had profile pictures that were almost certainly the account owners, but did not resemble the guy in the video. Others had no pictures, or drawings, or dogs, or girls – presumably girlfriends, and that’s where I got stuck.

I had narrowed my search for not quite a dozen possibles; the next step was to check their friends – if I found one with multiple students who listed Rocky Lake as their school, I’d know I’d found him. Well, I had no such luck. Many of them had hidden their friends lists from strangers, or at least filtered them. As a last resort, I might try sending friend requests to each account, but that just brought me back to the same question of how to get him to respond.

I hung my head in frustration. It’s like we could get ever so close, so temptingly close, and just hadn’t been able to make the final connection. At this point, I was more than willing to see Martin and Eric succeed even without me.

Well, wishing doesn’t it make it so.

“I sent Allie copies of the pictures from the video,” Eric said when we met in my room after brunch, “and she passed them out to about two dozen Strangers. Nobody has spotted the guy yet, but that’s OK – it’s only been a couple of days. I found an old copy of the local phonebook, but it was printed over the summer; even if Davis had a landline, he might have missed the cut off.”

“And if all he had was a cell phone, he wouldn’t have been listed anyway,” Martin pointed out.

“Right,” Eric continued. “As far as we know, it was only a few months between the time he got here and the time he went into hiding, so he might not have left much of an impact.”

“Except on his victims,” I muttered.

“I’m going to try calling some apartment buildings to see if they have a lease for him listed,” Martin said. “I have no idea if they’ll tell me, though. There might be some privacy issues.”

“Well, when you look, you can also ask about Brian Harlin,” I told them triumphantly. “I found out his last name.”

“Hey! ’Atta girl!” Eric exclaimed, offering me a fist bump.

“Yeah,” I smiled, “so I got some information, but I haven’t been able to find him on Facebook yet. I asked the people who knew him for information on how to contact him; I haven’t checked if they got back to me yet.”

“Let me just do that now,” Vicky said, moving quickly to my computer. I hadn’t logged off the Jennifer Marsha account, so she was able to bring it up without logging in. “You have two replies!”

We all turned to listen while she read the messages. “The first one says, ‘I think I remember him now.’”

“Oh very helpful,” Eric sneered.

“But listen to this!” Vicky went on, ignoring him. “’I just spoke with him and he doesn’t remember you, Jennifer. Where did you meet him?’”

That triggered a bit of an uproar among our little group. “You found him!” one of the boys said, even as the other shouted, “Ask for his number!” I could do nothing but gape.

“‘At. A. Dance. Last. Year’” Vicky said aloud as she started typing.

“You can’t say that, Vix,” I protested. “I never met him.”

“Do you want to find him or not?” she retorted. She added, “‘Have. Him. Message. Me’” and hit return to send it before I could stop her. “Oh don’t worry. He probably met lots of girls at dances. Maybe he’ll be curious and friend you and you’ll be able to talk with him. If he’s in hiding, I’ll bet he’s really lonely now.”

I was about to argue, but held my tongue, remembering that Eric and Martin didn’t know the whole story. Considering what I was letting people believe, maybe Vicky’s untruth was comparatively tame, so I just shrugged my acquiescence.

“At any rate, I think we need to get back to our last problem,” I said, changing the subject. “How do we get Davis… or Harlin… to respond when we do contact them?”

“And how are they hiding?” Vicky added.

“Actually,” Eric put in, “I’ve been thinking about that a bit. What if their facilities and apartments are in the school’s name? There wouldn’t be anything for us to find; Piques could have plenty of offices off-campus for one reason or another, and maybe they maintain a bunch of apartments for short-term visitors. The only thing that would be in Davis’s name – or the grad student’s–”

“Brian Harlin,” I reminded him.

“Or Harlin’s – might be personal stuff like their phones, and those are probably the ones they brought with them.”

“Then how are we supposed to find them?” Vicky demanded.

“I guess we’re going to have to use the contact info we have and try to entice a response,” Eric observed. “So we need to think about why they’re hiding.”

And for that we needed Martin’s expertise. As a physics grad student himself, he would have the most insight into what might motivate a professor and grad student to play at being secret agents or protected witnesses or whatever they were doing. And yet, it still bothered me that I couldn’t figure it out myself. “I suppose we should also think about what the college’s role is in all this. Did they force Davis to hide? Help him hide? Maybe even not know why he’s hiding?”

“I thought we’d decided that already,” Vicky said, sounding puzzled. “Luke said that they were hiding from the administration.”

“OK, but why?” I persisted. “Why would they feel a need to hide?”

She stared at me. “After what they did to you? I mean, to all of us? They were smart to hide, the bastards!”

I winced. “You realize, that’s not going to make it easy for us to draw them out, if they’re afraid of us. Besides, why would they be afraid of the administration?”

She gave me a look that I interpreted as meaning something like, whose side are you on? and then Martin jumped in hurriedly. I guess he was afraid the two of us were about to engage in a catfight or something.

“It doesn’t make sense to me that they would be hiding from the administration,” he said. “What would they be living on?”

Vicky and I turned to look at him, and he continued. “Science labs run on grants, and both professors and their grad students are paid from the grant money, but the college administers the money – at least they do here. If they were hiding, they wouldn’t have any money. Piques could easily stop paying into their accounts and they’d be in trouble. Count on it – the college knows perfectly well how to reach them.”

“Then why did Luke say they were being secretive?” Vicky wondered.

“Well, Piques could be using the money to keep them from being available, you know, to protect themselves from lawsuits over harm to students.”

“I for one have no desire to sue anybody,” I said. “I just want my old life back.”

“But what if they can’t help you?” Martin pointed out. “Maybe they’re hiding because they can’t put things back the way they were, and Piques knows that. You’d sue then, wouldn’t you?”

“On what basis?” Eric interjected. “How would you even prove something like that? I believe something has happened because Allie believes it, and I know her well enough to see that she’s legit bothered by all this. But don’t you have to convince a jury of strangers if you want to sue somebody? I just don’t see how that’s a real threat.”

We argued back and forth, not really reaching a consensus, but it did seem that money might be a lever. If one of us only knew a friendly millionaire who could promise to fund the research if they would just come out of hiding! It was probably a silly idea – we still couldn’t rule out the possibility that they were just hiding from the publicity, and were still able to manipulate us; according to this idea, championed by Vicky, the reason they had stopped talking to Luke was fear that the Strangers were getting too close, despite what he was telling them. In any event, it was something to run past Dad.

130 The Best Policy

At Sweeney Todd rehearsals, we had now starting practicing scenes, and I actually got to do the romantic scenes with “Anthony.” It wasn’t as fun as I had anticipated, mostly because I was now really starting to feel guilty about Jeremy. What business did I have enjoying flirting with and kissing another boy, when I was already hurting my own boyfriend?

Nikki read my mood, as she always seemed to, and invited me to talk quietly when I came off stage. I quickly outlined the status of our search and my faux pas in telling Jeremy that I had a secret.

“So you want to change back because you’re embarrassed to be honest with your boyfriend?” she asked, accusingly.

“No!” I retorted, then looked around to see if I had been too loud. A couple of girls sitting a few rows away turned and stared for a moment, but otherwise people seemed to have ignore my outburst. Remembering to keep my voice down, I explained, “I told you – I can’t stay this way. I’m a fake, and he deserves better. Besides, with my dating history, I’m hardly a good bet for a long-term relationship.”

“Your dating history, huh?”

“As in, the fact that I’ve never been able to keep a relationship going for more than six months.”

“And you won’t have that problem as a boy?”

That brought me up short. Of course it would be a problem for me as a boy – in fact, that was what had been on my mind when I’d assumed I was dreaming, all those months ago. My being a girl had never been the cause of that problem. “Now I feel stupid,” I admitted. “I guess that would be a problem with dating Vicky as well.”

“So that’s not a reason to change back,” she noted.

“But I need to figure it out, either way, right?” I looked at her with added interest. “You guys have been together for a while. How?”

She waved off the question. “I don’t know – it just works, I guess. We’re in love. We’re comfortable with each other.”

“I thought I was in love with all my girlfriends. I know I’m in love with Jeremy. Why would it work now, if it didn’t before? Lots of couples have problems – what makes some people lucky? Just happening never to have had problems?”

“I don’t know what to tell you, Marsh,” she shrugged. “Alvin and I haven’t had problems.”

“And Vicky and I didn’t have any problems, either. I think I must just have lost interest; she didn’t. I was just an idiot.”

She nodded. “I’m going to have to get back to taking notes,” she said. “Maybe you need to find somebody who’s actually had problems and still managed to stay together.”

“Yeah, if only,” I muttered, as I when back to review my script.

It wasn’t until the end of rehearsal that I realized what I had overlooked. My own mother! Dad had left and she’d gotten him back somehow. Excitedly, I told Nikki. “I can’t believe I’ve never asked her about relationship advice! You know,” I added bitterly, “if I were a real girl, she’d probably have been the first person I’d asked.”

“Maybe… but yeah, a girl really needs to talk to her mother a lot.”

“Tonight,” I declared. “If there is a secret, Mom will know it. It’s just the kind of thing she would know.”

That night was my regular call with Chad and my father, and I wasted no time bringing them up to date.

“What happened to the ‘mad scientist’ idea?” Chad asked. “You seem to be assuming that the people who changed you are nice guys.”

“That’s what Luke said,” I reminded him, “and when we saw them on the video, they looked nervous, not devious.”

“Honey,” Dad said, “You can’t expect villains to cackle and twirl their mustaches or stroke cats like movie villains. The fact is, these guys hurt a bunch of people and didn’t do anything to help them afterwards. Even if it was all an accident, and even if they’re being put under duress by the school, they had an obligation to let people know what was going on and to try to make things better. At the very least, they’ve been incredibly irresponsible even if there was no malice involved.”

“But if the school had them over a barrel…” I objected.

“Even so. Nowadays it is incredibly easy to communicate anonymously; in fact, they were already doing it with Luke. They could have collected email addresses from the Strangers and used them to apologize and explain. They could have rejected the school’s pressure and declared that it was their obligation to help. Your friend is right about the burden of proof; I certainly wouldn’t want to try to convince a jury that you used to be a boy or that a science experiment had made a girl flat-chested. I’d be laughed out of court. The scientists might not realize that, but the Piques administration certainly should have.”

“So why is the school making them hide?” Chad asked. “I mean, assuming that they are.”

“Seems to me,” Dad suggested, “that it could be a bureaucratic overreaction to something out of the ordinary. Somebody panicked and set the whole ‘pretend this never happened’ thing into operation and now they can’t undo it without getting into all kinds of trouble, or at least so they think. That’s the way bureaucracies work – their biggest fear is being caught in an embarrassing mistake, so they double down and deny, deny, deny. If they were to turn around and admit that the experiment had happened and that they’d covered it up, that probably would open them up to lawsuits. Juries would figure that where there’s smoke, there’s fire and that the school must have done something wrong. They might take the description of what actually happened as part of the cover up.”

“So we have to offer Davis money?” I asked, trying hard not to whine. “Will that even work?

Dad sighed, and sounded a bit hesitant when he spoke next. “I suspect it would take a lot more than I could get a hold of. What are we talking about? $1 million? $2 million? If I had that kind of money, I might have sent you to a more expensive school.”

“Why not ask the parents of the Strangers to chip in?”

“Marsh,” Chad started, and his voice sounded unusually gentle. “You’re not thinking this through. You’re especially eager to catch these guys because you want to change back, right?”


“But you’re the only one, I suspect. Didn’t you say the others were more depressed than angry? And resigned? You’ve said that you want them to try the same thing over again on you, figuring you’ve got a 50-50 chance of winding up as a boy again, right?”


“Marsh, what are you talking about?” Dad interjected. “Are you saying that you’d take a chance if they couldn’t promise to put things back the way they were?”

Chad and I fell over each other explaining about my willingness to take a chance at being male again, even if I couldn’t actually change back. Dad sounded skeptical, but willing to listen more before making a big deal of it.

“But that doesn’t apply to everybody else,” Chad continued “Most of the changes, from what you’ve said, sounded pretty minor. Even the girl whose chest is smaller would have to be leery of taking a chance at winding up as a boy, don’t you think? So the only ones who would really be eager enough to find money would be anyone else who changed sex and hasn’t admitted it.”

“That still might be half of them,” I pointed out.

“Only if they’re willing to admit it now, and willing to take a chance on things going even worse.”

“I don’t even think you should take a chance like that, Marsh,” Dad said. “If they could change you back, that would be one thing, but just asking to be changed sounds like a really stupid risk.”

I didn’t argue. I had my reasons for wanting to try, but I wasn’t going to explain it to Dad and Chad just now. The only other idea we came up with was of offering the missing experimenters legal help in fighting the college. Dad was optimistic that they’d go for it; Chad and I had our doubts.

Finally, we seemed to be running out of ideas, and I had to stop Dad from hanging up. “Could you put Mom on?” I asked. “I need to talk with her.”

She was on the phone in less than a minute. “What is it, Baby?” she asked.

“Um…” I suddenly froze up. It might be perfectly usual for girls to talk to their mothers about relationships, but I’d never really done it – at least not on this kind of level. Sure, I’d called her after my date on Friday and told her what had happened, so she knew I was in love with Jeremy. This felt different, somehow.

She didn’t say anything. No prompting, no questions, just gave me time to collect myself. After a few false starts, I blurted out, “Mom, how do you make a relationship last?”

“Hmm?” was all she said, so I tried again.

“I know Marsha dated Dirk for two years, but I told you I’d never had a relationship last that long, and I thought you might be able to help me figure out how to do it.”

“With Jeremy, you mean?”

“Well…” Why was I blushing? That was the obvious context, after all. “I don’t know if that’s possible, for the other reasons I’ve told you about, but if it were, then yeah, and… if I do change back, then with Vicky or somebody else. I must be doing something wrong, and I want to fix it, and I thought you might know how… because of Dad, I mean?”

“Because of your father?”

“You know, like when he walked out on us and you guys got back together? If it were me, I’d never have been able to keep a relationship going after something like that. How did you do it?”

“Well… it’s not exactly true that he ‘walked out on us.’ We were… having problems… and it just seemed better to separate for a while. I never intended it to be permanent, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t either, but it was a really rough time for all of us.”

I opened my mouth to ask for more details, but snapped it shut, remembering the way she’d said, having problems. Obviously, it was one of those things that she wasn’t willing to share. Instead, I asked, “But how did you do it? And how have you stayed together and in love all this time when so many marriages are ending in divorce? What’s the secret?”

“There’s no secret…” she started, and I cut her off.

“Mom! That’s what everybody keeps telling me, but if there’s no secret, how have you’ve been able to do it and others like me couldn’t? What am I missing?”

“It’s mostly commitment, I guess. You just decide that the relationship is going to work out and you do what it takes to make that happen. You close the exits. Most relationships fall apart because people aren’t really committed to each other – they’re happy to stay as long as it’s fun, but leave when it starts to feel like an effort. But you have to make the effort out of love.”

“It can’t be that simple, Mom. I mean, I fell out of love with… with the last person I was dating.” For some reason, even though we both knew about my past, it felt really awkward just then to be talking about having been in love with another girl. We had established this great mother-daughter moment and I didn’t want to mess it up.

“Well, as for that” she replied thoughtfully, “you need to make love to your partner.”

My jaw dropped. I tried to think back. Had Vicky and I stopped sleeping together before our relationship fell apart? I was pretty sure not. “Are you saying that the secret of keeping a relationship together is sex?”

“No, dear,” she laughed. “I know everybody uses ‘make love’ to mean sex, but that’s not how you create love. I make love to your father when he comes home exhausted and I have a cup of tea and his favorite pastry waiting for him. He makes love to me when he sneaks down in the middle of the night and cleans the kitchen when I was too tired or busy to do it myself.

“You make love to your partner by thinking of what will make them happy, and acting on it. You go out of your way to be considerate to them.”

“I see,” I nodded. “You keep doing things for them so that they’ll love you.”

“No, Honey,” she said. “You do those things so you will love them.”


“When you go out of your way for somebody else, it reinforces your love for them; at least it does if you can see that they’re pleased. That’s why Moms love their children so much – we’re constantly going out of our way to do things for them.”

I thought about that. It seemed backwards to me, but if it worked… I tried to think about how much I’d gone out of my way in my past relationships, and had a hard time remembering consciously having done so. Oh sure, I’d take them out a bunch and tried to be romantic with them. Did that count?

“OK, thanks, Mom,” I said aloud. “Do you think that’s why Jeremy said he loved me? Because he keeps making things for me?”

“It probably doesn’t hurt. He thinks about you while he makes them, and anticipates you being pleased by his efforts, and then when he actually gives them to you, you’re happy, I presume?”

I nodded. “Yes, they’re very nice, and it’s really wonderful how… hmmm.”

“Do you need help thinking of things that you can do for him?”

“Let me think about… “ and then I did think, and winced. “Mom? Does this include not keeping secrets? When you know they might hurt somebody?”

“As in?”

“Well, I’ve been really afraid to tell Jeremy about… me. I’m afraid that it’ll hurt him if I tell him, and he won’t want to be with me.”

“And so you hope you won’t ever have to tell him?”

“Well, if I change back, it won’t matter, right?”

“And if you don’t? If telling him is going to hurt him, won’t it hurt even more if you put it off and put it off?”

And that was indeed the problem. I knew it could just get worse and worse for both of us the longer I delayed. “But I don’t want to lose him,” I whined.

Mom didn’t say anything.

The silence ate at me until I admitted, “but I’m going to lose him anyway, aren’t I? I’ve already realized that. Even if I wind up not changing back, this issue is going to be between us.”

“If telling him means that you’ll lose him, then yes, you will.”

“I will,” I muttered, remembering when he’d jumped away from me that one time.

“Then he isn’t the right one for you,” she said softly. “And if not, the sooner you find out, the better for both of you.”

My heart clenched. I knew she was right, but I didn’t want to do it. I was really enjoying being with Jeremy. “I’m not ready, Mom. I’m just not ready.” And once again, she didn’t say anything; nothing that would get me off the hook. Instead, after a moment with neither of us speaking, she changed the subject, and we spent the rest of the conversation talking about nothing very important.

But the issue remained.

131 Not Exactly Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

132 Going Downtown

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

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

“Yeah, that’s what he calls it.”

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

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

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

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

“I don’t suppose you know the name…?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Um, skiing with Jeremy?” she guessed.

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

“Tell me then?”

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

“You– you’ve got to be kidding me.”

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

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

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

“Because it’s dangerous, that’s why!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

133 Confrontation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I raised my eyebrows at him, but said nothing.

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

I waited.

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

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

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

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

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

“Bravo!” I said sarcastically, clapping slowly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

“Marsh, are you OK?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And…?” I prompted him.

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

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

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

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

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

“Corresponding person? Wait. Are you saying–”

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

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

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

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

“Um, yeah.”

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

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

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

He blinked.

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


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

“What are you–”

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

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

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

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

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


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

“We really didn’t mean…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

134 Cards on the Table

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

“Volunteers, you mean,” Brian suggested.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you out of your mind?”

“This is important, Miss… uh… Marsh.”

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

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

“Are you out of there?”

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

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

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

“So you feel good about this, then?”

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

“So it’s all good?”

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


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

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

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

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

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

“I’m sure it’s an adjustment.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“May I help you?” he said eagerly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I hope not,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

“But that’s what–”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

135 Unexpected Reactions

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, I had lunch with Jeremy.”

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

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

“I look forward to it!”

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

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

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

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

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

My worries, it turned out, were optimistic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“Wow, that’s really not good.”

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


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

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

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

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

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

“OK. What’s your idea for Ben?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They watched me, patiently.

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

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

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

“Clear as mud,” Lee Ann muttered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was them – and suddenly they wanted to talk.


136 Plans and Revelations

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

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

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

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

“Probably,” she said, wryly. “Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So who are you, again?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

“And what makes you think I know Vicky?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Really? What’s going on?”

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

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

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

“News about…?”


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

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

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

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

“Yes, Daddy,” I answered.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“Makes sense to me,” Chad said.

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

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

“What does it say, Princess?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And the point of the meeting?”

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

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


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

“Well, sure, but…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know, right?”

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

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

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

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

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

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


137 Confusion and Persuasion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I lost eight,” I told him, calmly.

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

“I didn’t say I was a girl.”

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

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

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

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

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

“I played Mollie in The Mousetrap, yes.”

“You were great!”

“Thank you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The guitarist? Yeah…”

“Do you happen to remember his name?”

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


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


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

“Marshall Steen,” I said.

“Could be.”

“And now I’m Marsha Steen.”

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

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

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

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

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

“The whole thing sounds impossible.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

“Huh. Weird.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Then how did they change us?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Will you try something, though?”


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

“I… I don’t know how–”

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

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

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

“You’re sure?”

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

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

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

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

“Is something wrong?” I repeated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I shook my head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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