Archive for the ‘Section 1: Midterm Break’ Category.

01 Dreams Don’t Have to Make Sense

It shouldn’t really be surprising that I was dreaming about Lee Ann Taylor. She and I had been eyeing each other for weeks, ever since my relationship with Vicky Gordon fell apart. There was no question but that we would look good together. I’m just an inch shy of six feet tall and she fit nicely under my chin. We were both slender – of course, she was only slender in the proper places; no true girl watcher could complain about her curves – and her light skin and hair made an attractive contrast with my own darker complexion. I knew that there was some long-distance boyfriend involved, but her friend Chandra something-or-other had assured me that he was about to be history. I figured that I had a very good chance of making Lee Ann my girlfriend in time for House Parties this fall and, well, the things she had said to me before midterm break would have given any guy fantasies. Besides, she had apparently been with this soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend for nearly three years, which I found rather impressive. My longest relationship so far was the six months with Vicky, and I was still unsure how we had just managed to fall out of love with each other. Lee Ann seemed like a pretty good bet for something longer term.

I would have loved to indulge in the fantasy a bit longer. It was the first day of my break, after all, and I had earned the right to sleep in, but my little sister Tina apparently had other ideas. At least I was pretty sure I had heard her say, “Don’t forget that you promised to drive me to choir practice this morning, Marshall.” I definitely did not remember making any such promise, but I had been tired when I came home last night, so anything was possible.

At any rate, the first thing I saw when I forced open one sleepy eye was the dress hanging on the closet door. Finding clothes hanging there was hardly unusual; I tend to hang my clothes outside my closet the night before so that I can get dressed in the morning without waking up enough to make decisions. It saves time and, on at least one occasion, embarrassment. But a dress?

My first thought was that I wasn’t actually alone in the bed. It was a hopeful thought, considering that I had now been celibate for almost a month, but it didn’t make sense – I wasn’t dating anyone at the moment and I wasn’t the kind of guy to bring home a girl I hadn’t been dating, and in any event I wouldn’t have a girlfriend in my bed in front of my parents. That meant that the dress must be for me, which meant that it wasn’t real – I was obviously still dreaming. If I had been able to focus on the rest of my bedroom, I might have learned more, but it was pretty hard to look anywhere but at that dress.

The most logical conclusion, of course, was that I had somehow woken up as Lee Ann herself. It wasn’t exactly obvious to me why I would have dreamed of being her, rather than being with her, but who was I to argue? I looked down for confirmation, and sure enough, I was dressed in feminine nightclothes. Now, I don’t know – yet – what Lee Ann wears to bed, but Vicky had favored a T-shirt and panties, while another of my ex-girlfriends had tended to sweatpants. None of them had worn a nightgown of the type I had dreamed up, which actually looked more like something Mom or Tina would have worn. For that matter, the dress itself was a lot more modest than I’d ever seen Lee Ann wear.

Dreams, I’m told, are supposed to be attempts by your subconscious to work out things that are bothering you, and my inability to sustain a long-term relationship would have had to be on top of my list. Since Lee Ann had been successful at this, presumably I was going to try a day in her shoes, to see how. But somehow I was going to do it in my own home and my sister’s clothes. Ah well, dreams don’t really have to make sense now, do they?

Speaking of shoes, I could see a pair of high-heeled ones sitting below the dress. I could tell where they must have come from. In the movie Switch, Steve Brooks gets reincarnated as a woman, and has incredible problems trying to wear high-heeled shoes. I think I’d seen the same gag used in other such situations, so naturally I had to dream of wearing them myself in this case. I don’t know how often Lee Ann wore heels; her feet had never been the first place I had looked at, or the second, for that matter. At any rate, the logic of my dream meant that I was going to have to wear them for a while.

Dressing wasn’t all that bad. I’d seen how my girlfriends had put on their bras, for example, and it was more logic than dexterity – fasten in front, spin the thing around and cup yourself in. A piece of cake. The dress was actually tougher, since I had to figure out how to zip it up in the back after I had put it on. I tried the zip-in-front trick, but once it was zipped, it was too tight to spin, so I had to unzip it and try again. In the end, I resorted to a brute-force approach. My arms were suddenly much more limber than they had any right to be, and I could actually reach the zipper pretty much all the way up, either from below or above. In real life, I would never have been able to get my hands to the middle of my back.

Once dressed, I had to tackle the shoes. Despite what the movies show, I’ve never actually seen a girl have trouble with high heels. Clearly then, it couldn’t be all that difficult. I had to experiment a bit before figuring out the trick. There are several strategy games and puzzles where the trap is that you have to ignore one of your assets, as any strategy that uses them is guaranteed to be a loser. That principal obviously applied here as well. The little spike at the back of the shoe is clearly way too unstable to support your weight while walking, so you need to pretend it’s just not there. It felt a bit strange walking on my tiptoes high enough to keep the spikes from hitting the ground, but it worked. After just a few practice laps in my room, I was able to walk more or less naturally. It wasn’t as funny as the inept boy-turned-girl awkwardness, but probably a lot more realistic. It wasn’t until I reached for my doorknob that I realized that anything I had believed would work probably would have, that being the way of dream logic. There was a purse hanging from the doorknob, so I grabbed that, too, as it seemed to be part of the package.

I smiled to myself as I made my way to the kitchen, imagining how Mom and Tina would react to Lee Ann joining them for breakfast. Would they think I had brought her home to spend the week? I’d never actually introduced any of my girlfriends to my parents, although Vicky had spent a week while Mom and Dad were on vacation. I’d had enough trouble without adding the complications of familial perusal to my relationships. Was that the point of the dream? That if I had just trusted my girlfriends enough to have them meet my family, it would have helped? Or that if I had trusted my family enough to introduce them to the girls I was dating, that I wouldn’t have felt guilty? Had I been unconsciously sabotaging my own relationships rather than risk an introduction? I was generating lots of questions, but not getting too many answers.

And I didn’t get one from their reactions. They didn’t even notice that I was a girl at all, much less one they didn’t know! Tina waved from across the table without looking up and informed me that we had to leave in fifteen minutes. Mom just kissed me on the cheek and said, “Good morning, Marsh. Thanks for driving your sister.” Then she looked at me, oddly, which made me wonder if she had noticed, after all, but all she said was, “You’re not going out like that, I hope?”

“I’m not planning on seeing anybody,” I told her, “and I’m on break.” But I ran my fingers through my hair to brush it back. It didn’t exactly satisfy her, but she looked as though she didn’t think it worth arguing with me. It was really odd to feel hair as long as Lee Ann’s, and yet have my lack of morning grooming the only thing she’d found worth commenting on. What was I supposed to read into that? And why did I see myself as Lee Ann, while they saw me as myself?

I studied them for clues. Mom’s a bit fairer than I; my olive skin comes from Dad, as does my height. Mom’s about a head shorter than either of us, and Tina is essentially a 15-year-old carbon copy of her. Both were intent on nothing more than breakfast. Neither showed that they had noticed anything amiss. There was probably something meaningful in that, but it wasn’t clear to me what.

Since we had time, I poured myself a bowl of cereal and grabbed the comics. It all seemed perfectly normal – except for the whole, ‘me being a girl and nobody noticing’ bit, of course. Tina was studying sheet music and listening to something, presumably the choral pieces, on her iPod. Mom was bustling about the kitchen, apparently having found something that needed to be cleaned up. With nothing particular to occupy my mind, I suddenly noticed something – or rather, failed to notice something. As a guy, I had always been aware of a presence between my legs, a constant and comforting bulk. It was easy to ignore since it was always there; now, suddenly, it was not. That made perfect sense, of course. I just wondered why magical gender transformation stories never mentioned it. I congratulated my imagination on finding a new wrinkle on what was seemingly a very old story type, or at least one I couldn’t remember having read anywhere.

Finally, Tina was ready to go. As her chauffeur for the day, I followed her to Mom’s car, tiptoeing my way. I was definitely getting better at it, although I could see that there must be more to it. Her own heels didn’t seem to be clearing the ground at all, and it even looked as though she was actually putting her weight on them, impossible as that might sound.

Once in the car, I discovered another problem. There was just no way to control the pedals with these spikes sticking out of my heels. Fortunately, the shoes came off pretty easily, and I applied the gas with a bare foot. It occurred to me, way too late, that girls tended to wear something on their feet – socks or stockings or something similar, although I don’t know if that would have made a difference. The rough pedal was very uncomfortable on bare skin. What was needed was a detachable heel – one that could come off for driving, and be restored for walking and standing. It was clear that I was missing something really obvious.

02 Music Fails to Soothe

The trip to Melodee Music, where the girls’ choir rehearsed, was a familiar one for me; when I was in high school, I had performed there on occasion, so I was pretty much driving on autopilot the whole way. I did have one problem, though. When I tried to turn onto Market Street, the shoe I had doffed had rolled under the brake pedal, and I wound up taking the corner a lot faster than I had intended. That brought a yelp from my sister, who actually pulled out her ear buds to ask what I was doing.

“Just in a bit of a hurry, I guess,” I told her, a bit embarrassed that it hadn’t occurred to me to clear the shoe away from the pedals. I did so now, with my left foot.

We arrived at the music school a bit on the early side, and joined a crowd of girls and, in some cases, their drivers, as they streamed into the front entrance. I could see our reflections in the large glass windows, and was stunned to see that the girl walking behind Tina was not Lee Ann Taylor, but someone I had never seen before. She looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t tell why. That rather tossed my incipient theories out the window. Lee Ann could well have represented the ability to foster long-term relationships, but why was I dreaming that I looked like this stranger?

I took a moment to inspect my appearance. It would have been sensible to look at myself in the mirror when I had awoken, but I hadn’t thought of it – probably more dream logic. Since I had known that I was Lee Ann, why bother to check? I took the chance to do so now, and realized the reason for the familiarity. The girl in question could easily have been a relative: a cousin, or even a sister, if my parents had had a daughter older than Tina. But I was pretty sure I had never seen her, so my imagination must have extrapolated from Tina and Mom and my cousin Tara, each of whom looked something like the image I had conjured for myself.

Tina was staring at me, no doubt wondering when her brother had become so vain as to admire his reflection in a window. “You’re going to wait for me, right, Marsh?” she asked. I actually hadn’t thought about it. It was a fifteen-minute drive home, and her rehearsal was going to last an hour-and-a-half, so I could either have stayed or drive home and back; since I didn’t really have to do anything at home, I agreed. Besides, I actually do like listening to my sister sing.

Both of us get our musical ability from Mom’s side of the family, but Tina has it in spades. My own voice was passable – I’d done minor roles in school musicals, such as Sir Sagramore in Camelot, and Sandy in Brigadoon. I’d get a line or two in a song, and lots of chorus work. Tina’s voice was in a whole other category. As a freshman last year, she had played Maria in West Side Story, and was generally considered likely to be cast as either Julie or Carrie in the upcoming production of Carousel. Naturally, then, she was doing a lot of solo work in this girls’ choir as well. So I followed her inside and sat just outside the choir practice room with my head resting against the wall near the door. That way I could hear her – or fall asleep if I was still overtired.

I actually did close my eyes for a while, waiting for practice to start, but I wasn’t quite asleep – only enough to muse about what would happen if you dreamed that you had fallen asleep. Would you dream that you were dreaming? Would you actually wake up and then return to the same point in the dream the next time you fell asleep? The ideas amused me.

“Pleasant dreams, or are they telling jokes in there?”

I looked up to see a young man a bit older than I. Compared to most people our age, he was overdressed (as was I, for that matter). Rather than the jeans and T-shirt that seemed to be a uniform for so many of my classmates, he was wearing khaki slacks and a pullover, pretty much what I wore when I wasn’t dreaming that I was a girl. Maybe he was supposed to represent me in this dream, but his voice was noticeably higher and coarser than my light baritone, and his complexion owed more to Northern Europe than my own, largely Mediterranean ancestry.

“Oh, hi,” I answered, sitting up. “I was just daydreaming a bit. Just dropping your sister off?”

“No, we live about a half hour away. By the time I got home, it would just be time to turn around and come back, so I’m waiting for her.”

“Yeah, that makes sense,” I acknowledged. I held out my hand as he dropped onto the seat next to mine. “I’m Marsh Steen.”

“Jeremy Barker,” he replied. “So, I take it you’re Tina’s big sister?”

I stared at him for a second. So somebody else was going to see me as a girl in this dream, apparently. Then I answered truthfully, “Actually, I’m her big brother.”

That got him. His mouth actually dropped open in response. Then he laughed. “I guess that was kind of a dumb question, wasn’t it? If I’d been wearing a sign, you would have known what to expect.” He said the last with a self-deprecating smile. Both his laugh and his smile were very pleasant, and I found myself liking him.

Although, as I have mentioned, I’ve had trouble sustaining a relationship with a girl, I’ve never had trouble actually finding girlfriends. I’d made something of a study of the art of meeting girls, and could usually start a new relationship within weeks of the end of previous one. I’d always used a blend of humor and attentiveness that some girls had seemed to find, if not irresistible, at least intriguing enough to want to get to know me better. But Jeremy seemed to be something of a natural. He was certainly not using any techniques that I knew of, and was anything but self-conscious, and yet I was certain that girls would be attracted to him. Naturally, since I was a girl in this dream, I was fascinated.

That got me wondering if he was the real point of the dream. The fact that he, unlike Mom and Tina, had seen me as female was suggestive. Maybe the lesson that my subconscious was drawing was that I had been trying too hard. Could the ease I’d had in meeting girls have made me value each one that much less?

At any rate, he was very easy to talk to, and had an extensive knowledge of choral music. His sister was the singer in the family, but he’d made a hobby of music appreciation, a subject that I found daunting. My musical tastes and experiences were a fair bit more pedestrian, leaning towards show tunes and rock, especially from the ‘60s and ‘70s. At first, I almost expected him to look down his nose at such things, but he was able to explain how the harmonies in The Beatle’s music demonstrated that Lennon and McCartney had had a very strong grasp of the principles of music composition. I was impressed, and made a mental note to look this up when I awoke to see if it was really true, and if so, where I might have heard about it.

And on top of that, he was actually an electrical engineer! With my own major in biology, I certainly knew that musical talent and inclination were not limited to liberal arts majors, but it hadn’t occurred to me that engineers, whom I’d always regarded as tending more towards the cold and mathematical, would be interested. I told him so, which prompted him to discourse on the mathematical nature of music and art, with allusions to works of Gödel, Escher, and Bach. By the time rehearsal was over, my head was spinning.

We had been fortunate to have the waiting room to ourselves, and now the arrival of the singers’ drivers drove the noise level to the point where we almost had to shout to make ourselves heard. It was definitely not conducive to the kinds of semi-intellectual conversation we had been enjoying, so we gave up and waited for our sisters to join us. Jeremy’s sister was first, and she interrupted his attempt to introduce us with an imperious, “Jeremy, we need to leave. Now.” He seemed quite surprised by her attitude, and tried again, but she stomped out the door. With a shrug and apologetic glance, he followed her.

Tina emerged a few minutes later in an equally foul temper. She didn’t even say anything, just nodded at me to follow her to the car.

03 A Promise Is Broken

I couldn’t imagine what had happened. Tina had been fairly upbeat on the way in. As I drove us homeward, I tried to pump her for information. After all, something that surprising pretty much had to be related to the meaning of the dream, but she was unresponsive, even turning on the radio to drown out my questions. I snapped it off and insisted, but she just jammed on her ear buds and turned it back on.

Now I was starting to get angry. This was my dream, and I needed data to understand it. If I had dreamed Tina in a snit, there had to be a reason for it, and she was withholding it. I was about to shut the radio off yet again, when I suddenly heard the name, “Piques College” – my college. That got my attention. This dream was started to get really complicated – there were more and more potential clues for me, and I wasn’t sure which were the most important. But Tina would still be here after the radio show, so that was clearly where I needed to focus first.

The format of the show was a couple of guys who seemed to be commenting on news articles, or at least “News of the Weird,” a column that ran in our local paper, the Mohawk Herald. And they’d found something there about my school, which they were going to discuss – after the commercial break, naturally. Now, I’m sure most college students think that their schools are weird in one way or another, but Piques had always seemed to be closer to boring. Just about the most eccentric thing about it was the ‘joke’, if you can even dignify it with that term, of calling the nearby turnpike, “Piques’ Pike.” If my parents hadn’t met at Piques, and managed to get a great deal on tuition, I doubt that I would have even gone there.

“And we’re back,” the first announcer said, after the commercials were done. “And we have something that definitely counts as weird. Students at nearby Piques College are claiming that a science experiment has changed their very genetic makeup!”

“That’s not really possible, is it, Harry?” the second announcer chimed in.

He was right, of course, it’s pretty much one of the ironclad rules of biology. All organisms have construction instructions, known as the genetic code, embedded in their DNA, and since essentially identical copies of that DNA are found in every cell, that code is fixed at the moment of conception. It’s simply not possible to speak of modifying a person’s genetic code.

“I’d always thought so, Pete,” the first guy replied, telling me that he wasn’t a total moron, “but these students are claiming that it was a time travel experiment that did it – that somebody went back in time and altered their DNA. One guy claims that he used to be about six inches taller, and a girl is claiming that she used to have a larger bust.”

The two of them laughed at that, commenting on how it was all wishful thinking and a really stupid prank, but I was having trouble hearing them due to the roaring that suddenly filled my brain. With every new bit of information I hadn’t known, with every logical twist in what should really have been some kind of confused tangle of events inspired by my fears, the idea that this was all a dream was becoming less and less reasonable. The only thing that had kept me from deciding otherwise was the sheer impossibility of what I was experiencing. It was simply impossible for someone to go to sleep male and awake female. In stories, sure. Stories could always invoke magic or the supernatural or mythical, otherworldly biologies. But here on Earth in the real world, it was impossible. Then this. DNA was fixed at the moment of conception, sure, but what if you could redo the moment of conception itself?

I must have frozen in panic, because Tina suddenly emerged from her sulk and asked sharply, “Marsh! What’s wrong?” I should have responded. I was – at least in theory – driving a car, but I just couldn’t. Tina actually had to reach over and turn the wheel to keep us from crashing into a tree. That unfroze me, and I managed to steer us to the shoulder of the grass-lined road and stop the car, and sat there, shaking.

“Marsh!” Tina repeated. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

Her concern was genuine, and must have reached me, because I was suddenly able to stammer, “Did you hear them, Teen? Did you hear what they said?”

“Something about your school, right? And a prank?” I hadn’t turned off the radio, and the two guys were still laughing, laughing at the ‘silly girl’ who wished that she had a larger chest and had tried to tell everybody that she’d had one and had it taken away. They’d thought it funny because everybody remembered her as being fairly flat-chested. They’d thought the whole thing the big joke that the school claimed it was, but I knew better. It was real – or was it?

That meant that this wasn’t a dream after all. That I had actually been changed in my sleep. That I was actually a girl for real, and not just my subconscious trying to work out problems. It meant that I suddenly had a major problem. I certainly didn’t want to believe it, and then I realized something I had overlooked – something that gave the lie to the whole not-a-dream thing. I had seen myself as a girl, and so had Jeremy. But Mom and Tina hadn’t. Mom and Tina hadn’t called me, “Susie” or “Donna” or some other girl’s name. They’d called me by my own name, “Marsh.” I almost laughed in relief. “Marsh” is short for “Marshall,” and nobody would ever name a girl, “Marshall,” would they? I tried to remember if I’d even heard of a girl with that name. So all I had to do was get Tina to confirm it, and I would know it was just a nightmare. I would know that the impossible hadn’t somehow come into reality.

That was all I had to do, and I would be able to relax. Just one simple question which received the obviously right answer. Something was telling me it wasn’t that simple, that I’d overlooked yet another vital clue, but it was all I had, and I could rationalize why it had to be correct. I just needed Tina to give me that right answer. Which meant that I had to ask the question, and hope.

“What’s my name, Teen?” I asked, trembling.


I ignored her confusion and insisted, “Say my name, Sis. My full name.”

“Marsh, what are you –?”

I repeated, “My name, Teen. Just… say my name. I want to hear it from your lips. Who am I? What’s my name? My full name?”

The look she gave me combined concern with impatience. Naturally, she thought her brother had lost his mind. At least, that’s what I hoped she thought. The alternative was unthinkable.

Finally she sighed and almost chanted, “Jennifer Marsha Steen, elder daughter of Arthur and Miriam Steen, and big sister to Tina Elizabeth Steen – that’s me,” she added with a wry smile, not realizing that she had just confirmed my worst fears.

“Marsha…?” I repeated in a whisper. “My name is…? Oh crap. Oh damn. Oh my fucking God!”

“Marsh!” she exclaimed, shocked! “I’ve never heard you use language like that.” She looked embarrassed. “It’s not very lady-like.”

I just gaped at her. My life was falling apart, my very being had been brutalized –and she was worried about my language?

“Whatever your problem is,” she continued, “I’m here for you, remember? You’re my sister, and I love you.”

“But I’m not…” I protested. “I can’t be.”

“Not what?” she asked, puzzled.

“Not your sister. I’m not. I can’t be. It’s impossible.”

The horror on her face was wholly unexpected. “Don’t say that,” she gasped.

Now it was my turn to be confused. “But I’m not, you see.” I knew I wasn’t explaining it well, but didn’t understand the strength of her reaction. “Didn’t you hear what those guys said? You think I’m your sister, but I’m not. Not really.”

“Don’t say that,” she whispered, eyes wide. “You promised, Marsh.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You promised!” she screamed, and with tears running down her cheeks pushed open her door and ran down the street.

“Tina!” I gasped. I was the one who was supposed to be having a nervous breakdown. What in the world was she doing? I was out my door almost as quickly as I could think, but stumbled immediately, trying to run in one high-heeled shoe. I ran back to the car, tore off the one I was wearing and tossed it on my seat, and tried to follow her, but she had vanished.

That was the last straw. I collapsed against the passenger side door and cried my head off. I’d lost my identity, lost my sister… When Dad had walked out all those years ago, Tina and I had become extremely close, despite the four years that separated us. Most guys would have found it odd to confide so much in a younger sister, but it had become almost automatic for me, and she’d trusted me as well. I had finally realized why she was so upset. Once she’d been afraid that Mom and I might leave her, too, and I had told her, “No matter what happens, I’m your brother. I’ll always be your brother, and I’ll never leave you.” No doubt she now remembered “me” saying something similar, only with “I’m your sister” and now I had broken that promise. “No matter what happens,” I had said, and I’d apparently just betrayed the one person who had expected to find me reliable forever.

04 Looking for Loopholes

I remember girlfriends telling me that they had felt better “after a good cry,” but I had never really understood it. I had rarely cried. I’m not saying that I wasn’t sensitive – I had cried in certain movies and while reading particular books, and an actor needs to be able to cry under certain circumstances, but it had never been a particularly deep cry. Even Dad leaving hadn’t broken me down, as I’d had to be the “man” of the family, and Tina had relied on me. It was a lot of pressure, and I was probably close to the breaking point when he finally came back, but I had never experienced a deep, pathetic, drawn-out cry. Until today.

By the time I had stopped, I felt as though I had run a dozen laps. I just didn’t have the energy to cry any further, and it felt almost as though I could see things in perspective – almost. It might simply have been that I had walled myself off from the things that might hurt me. I really couldn’t be sure, but I did feel almost as though I could think again.

“Marsh?” I heard, and looked up. Tina had come back. “What’s wrong?”

I almost started crying again. I had inadvertently said about the most hurtful thing to my sister that I possibly could have, and she was worried about me. She sat down besides me and we shared a hug for a long moment.

“Teen,” I started. “Didn’t you hear what they said on the radio?”

“I guess I must not have,” she admitted. “What got you so upset?”

“They were talking about an experiment at school, Teen. An experiment that changed the subjects inside and out.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that I was a boy, yesterday. I was your brother. Dwight Marshall Steen.”

I had never seen Tina do the look she gave me right then, but I recognized it instantly. It was Mom’s “patient” look, usually reserved for times when I had tried to lie to her, or to give excuses that she’d known were ridiculous and flimsy.

“No, really, Teen,” I told her, “I was a boy – I am a boy – I mean… Look, you heard what they said: a guy woke up six inches shorter. Well, I woke up a different sex.”

“Marsh,” she said, oh so patiently, “are you having problems in school? Social issues? You haven’t told me about any guys you were interested in for a while.”

I had to laugh at the idea of my 15-year-old sister trying to play, “Mom.” I was sure she remembered her “sister Marsha” doing something similar, but it was just so out of character for her. Or at least it was, as far as I remembered.

“I’m serious, Sis. I actually volunteered for an experiment that sounds just like the one they were talking about, so I know it’s real.”

“You signed up for a sex-change experiment?” she said, still putting on the mature-beyond-her-years act.

“No,” I tried to explain. “Look, you know how college students always need money?”

“You’ve mentioned that,” she conceded.

“Well, one way to supplement your income is to act as a test subject for an experiment, usually one conducted by another student. The college regulates the experiments, of course, to make sure none of the subjects will be harmed, but somehow something must have gone wrong.

“The experiment that I remember had something to do with exploration of time. I guess I did toy with the idea that they meant time travel – that they had ideas on how to make it actually work – but that was just a fantasy. Even if it were true, all I would have expected is that we’d get a chance to go back in time and look around. I think they even said that they wanted our observations.”

“And you went back in time and that turned you into a boy?”

“Into a girl. I mean, no, I didn’t go back in time. They had me sit on a table in the lab and… hmmm. I don’t remember exactly what happened next, only they gave me a packet of papers to read.”

“And what did they say?”

“I have no idea,” I admitted. “I never actually got around to reading them.”

“And you left the lab after turning into a boy?”

“No, you’re getting it backwards. I was a boy before I went to the lab and after I left, and even when I came home last night. I only turned into a girl this morning.”

She was still wearing that patient look, so I went on, if only to understand all of this myself. After all, I’d never heard of a time-travel story that involved DNA alteration, but there was just no other plausible explanation.

“Look, Teen, a person’s DNA is established at the moment of conception, when… um… the parents…” I suddenly realized that I was about to discuss “the birds and the bees” with my little sister, and was not really comfortable doing so – especially when it involved thinking of our parents… in bed together. I stumbled a bit, my face undoubtedly turning red, as I tried to find a tame way to express it.

“Um, you know how babies… um, a man and a woman…”

“Oh for crying out loud, Marsh,” she interrupted me. “I’m fifteen years old and we’ve had these conversations before. I know about sex!”

“Oh,” I responded, feeling foolish. I wasn’t sure exactly how to square what she knew with her reaction to my cursing. I had certainly never spoken to Tina about sex, although “Marsha” seemed to have.

“Anyway, the particular combination of genetic material is determined by chance – well, half of it, anyway. The man’s half. The… sperm.” I watched her face carefully, hoping to avoid any more verbal land mines. I thought that using the scientifically correct terminology and clinical phrasing would be a safe way to avoid either talking down to her or falling into objectionable speech. “So if the… um… moment of conception were delayed a bit… the results might be different.” My face was still hot with embarrassment, but at least she was listening, if only to poke holes in my story.

She was definitely not helping out, though. It would have been nice if she could have prompted me to answer things that she could use to confirm what I had to say, but… after waiting a bit, I continued, “So, imagine that at just the right time, they were to do something, like, I don’t know… make a loud and distracting noise outside. That could throw Dad off…” This was really getting into creepy territory. I was trying to describe my parents having sex without actually completely embarrassing Tina, or myself or both of us, and failing miserably. At any rate, I was embarrassed. Tina was listening implacably. “So, at any rate,” I finished lamely. “That must be what happened. And that’s why I remember being a boy yesterday and am a girl today.”

At last Tina opened her mouth, but not to express understanding. I don’t know what she thought, but it wasn’t that I had explained anything. “Marsh, I think I’d remember if you were ever a boy.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” I answered her, glad to have something a bit safer to address. “Look, we’re talking about actual time travel. If you change history, everybody’s just going to remember what changed, and not what happened originally, because for them, the thing that used to have been what happened is no longer what happened.” Numerous writers have pointed out the shortcomings of our language in discussing time travel, including the problems with referring to historical events which had been written out of history, but I had never really appreciated the difficulties until now.

“So, in that case, you shouldn’t remember it, either!” Tina pointed out, triumphantly.

And I had to admit that she had a point. If they had in fact changed the past, and changed me, I should remember growing up as a girl, shouldn’t I? It was a real flaw in my explanation, and for a moment, I leapt at the chance to embrace it. If it was impossible, that meant that none of this could have happened, and I actually was still dreaming. That would be the solution to my problem. I wouldn’t have to deal with any of this. I could just wake up and be my masculine self.

Tempting as it was, I knew it wasn’t going to fly. And even if it did… I’ve always been scornful of characters who kept saying, “It’s just a dream, so I don’t have to deal with it.” After all, if it is a dream, why not go along with it? And if it isn’t a dream, treating it as real is what you have to do, anyway, so it’s by far the most sensible path.

“Tina,” I said, “I don’t know how they did it, any more than I know how they managed to change the past. I’d always thought time travel was impossible, but obviously they managed that. The thing I do remember is that we were supposed to report our observations, so it only makes sense that they had some way to preserve our memories. The whole thing couldn’t work any other way. I’m probably supposed to tell them how my life is different as a result of the change. So I’m stuck this way for a week, and then when I get back to school, I’ll just tell them that I can’t go through with it any longer, and they have to change me back.”

Tina shook her head, sadly. “Oh, Marsh. You don’t even realize how much you’re upsetting me with all of this crazy talk. I don’t know whether you think this is a great joke, or you’re just upset. Can’t we just forget this nonsense and talk the way we always do? You haven’t been home in months, and I want to sit and chat about things. Normal things. The kinds of things that two sisters are supposed to talk about, not experiments and turning into boys or stuff like that.”

05 An Instrumental Loss

I suppose it had been too much to hope that she would believe me. If I hadn’t experienced it myself, I certainly wouldn’t have believed it. So on top of everything else, I was deprived of one of my few close confidants, since Tina would just shut me down if I kept on the subject. I really needed to de-stress before anything else, and I told her so.

“Teen, we’ll talk, but not just yet. I need to relax first. I’m just going to sit in my room and play my guitar for a while.”

She perked up, interested and clearly happy to have changed the subject. “You got a new guitar? That’s great!”

“Um, no,” I replied, a bit surprised. “I’m just talking about the one I’ve always had.”

She looked really confused. “Always had? When did you get it?”

It was as though she was getting revenge on me by acting stupid. “Teen,” I explained, “I mean my guitar. You know, the one grandpa left me?”

“He left you a guitar?”

“Oh come on!” Now I was starting to get a bit annoyed with her. “You know what I’m talking about. The one he toured with. The one he played all over the country? His 1955 Les Paul Special?”

She suddenly got a really funny look on her face. “Marsh,” she said, quietly, “I don’t know what you are talking about. Grandpa gave that to Joey.”

“Joey?” I laughed derisively, “Joey wouldn’t recognize a melody if it came with a name tag! He gave it to me, Teen. I’m four months older than Joey, and he always said that it was going to go to his oldest grandso…”

I realized the implications before the last word had quite left my mouth, and all the blood drained from my face. Tina had meant it. If I was a girl, I was no longer the oldest grandson, and the guitar, my guitar, had indeed gone to our cousin. My guitar, on which I had practiced for a dozen or so hours every week since I was twelve. My guitar, which I had played at many parties at school, and in numerous coffee shop gigs to earn money for tuition and expenses. If there was any one thing that my friends had associated with Marshall Steen, it was that guitar. I’d thought of that instrument as a sacred trust. Grandpa had left it to me, and I’d felt obligated to master it, devoted every free moment to learning it. And now, suddenly, it was gone. Gone completely.

I managed to choke out, “Did… did he at least get good at playing it?”

“Marsh…” she started. “You know better than that. Joey isn’t musical at all. He sold it a few years ago to get money for a car, remember?”

If I hadn’t been sitting against something, I might have fallen. Yes, the guitar had been incredibly valuable, and serious guitarists would have paid a lot of money for it, but… it had been like a family heirloom. I’d thought of myself more as its custodian than its owner. Joey had had no right to sell it. If he hadn’t wanted it, why hadn’t he given it to somebody else in the family? It was a betrayal. It was unreasonable. It was…

I’d cried myself out, earlier. I had no tears left, and just now, I needed them. There was only one thing left for me to do – a game Dad had taught us for dealing with major disappointments. It was very formalized; it really had to be, to keep you from focusing too painfully on what was bothering you. It forced you think of how you were going to deal with it, and allowed you to share your pain. To outsiders, it probably would have seemed funny, but Tina and I had used it many times together, and it had almost always made us feel better. So I rose to my feet, thrust an arm dramatically in the air, and intoned, “Miss Zucchini Bread, take a lemon!”

The selection of a ludicrous name is an essential part of the game. Not only does it alert your partner that you are playing, you get extra points if you can make her laugh. Tina had gotten me so well when she called me, “Mr. Cabbage-Celery Sausage” once that I’d almost forgotten the next step.

She didn’t forget now. Her hand poised over an imaginary steno pad, she replied, “Yes, Ma’am!”

That almost threw me, as I was used to her saying, “Yes, Sir!” but I caught myself.

“To the World at Large, Fate Division,” I started. “Dear Sirs: It has come to my attention that my 1955 Gibson Les Paul Special, the guitar that made me the musician I am today, has instead gone to my idiot cousin, who was unable to appreciate it. I have further learned that said cousin has sold this valuable instrument, this family trust, to outsiders, so that I can never reclaim it. But I…” I stopped suddenly and stared at my sister. Normally, I was supposed to propose a course of defiant action at this point, but suddenly it made no sense.

“But I will rise past this…” Tina prompted me.

Instead of continuing with my rant, I started to laugh.

Tina was shocked. This was not part of the ritual, after all. “Marsh, what are you doing?”

“Exactly, Teen!” I answered her. “What am I doing? Tina, my entire life has just been turned upside down and I’m worried about my guitar? It’s not fair, Teen, but that guitar isn’t Grandpa’s legacy. I am. I’m the one who learned to play, not Joey. All he got out of it was money. Ok, an awful lot of money, but he never connected with Grandpa the way I did. I’m the one with the skill, developed over years of practice, not Joey. The world thinks it can take me down with this? No way!” I turned back away from my sister and shouted at my imaginary adversaries, the invisible, invidious masters of fate who had done this to me. “Fuck you, world! I can take this!”

When I turned back to Tina, I saw that my language had shocked her yet again, but I didn’t stop. I was running on pure bravado, now. I refused to give in; I wasn’t going to despair. Changing me into a girl had been bad enough, but taking away my guitar as well? That was too much. That was just adding insult to injury, and I refused to play dead. “You know what I’m going to do, Tina? I’m not going to give up so quickly. I’m not going to tell those guys to change me back right away. I’m going to wait. I’m going to prove that I’m not beaten, that I can take whatever Fate can dish out. I’m going to be Marsha until after Christmas, and then I’ll tell them to change me back. For the next two-and-a-half months, I’m going to play the role of Marsha Steen so well that nobody will know I’m not her. I’m going to walk like her, talk like her, wear her clothes…”

“… date her boyfriends…” Tina muttered.

“Um,” I continued, after a quick double take, “the role might need a bit of rewriting. I’m sure I can come up with a good reason for ‘Marsha’ not to date anyone until after Christmas. But I’m going to need your help, Teen. You’re going to have to coach me, since you know Marsha a lot better than I do.”

“O… K…” she said, once more giving me that patient look. “So maybe you could stop the profanity?”

“Of course,” I replied. “How would Marsha have said that last bit?”

“Marsha… or rather you, would normally have said something like, ‘So much for you, World!’”

So much for you’?” I echoed. “Doesn’t have much bite to it, does it? Marsha sounds like a bit of a wimp.” Then I saw Tina’s eyes set, and quickly added, “I mean, of course that’s the way I’m going to have to say it, isn’t it?”

She sighed and nodded. “And I’ll be happy to help you be ‘you’, Marsh. I don’t know what this is all about, but you’re my sister, and I’ll do whatever I can.”

“Thanks, Teen,” I said, and pulled her to her feet for a hug. And got yet another shock. I was used to looking down on the top of her head, but suddenly my eyes only reached her lips! “Um, Tina… when did you get to be taller than me?”

“I’ve been taller than you for more than a year, Marsh. Isn’t that why you wear those extra high heels? So we can be about the same height?”

I stared at my sister for a second. Then, letting go of her, I opened the car door and reached across for ‘my’ shoes, which I placed on the ground in front of her. I climbed on top of them and noticed that they did indeed make me about her height, and maybe a bit taller. I stepped down again and inspected her shoes, noticing that she was wearing somewhat shorter heels than I was. “Wait,” I started, “then how tall am I…? Oh my God… I mean, um ‘goodness’ I’m tiny!”

“Well, I’m 5’4”, and you’re about an inch shorter.”

“I’m only 5’3”? Oh for…” I sighed. It was just another slap in the face, and minor compared to the others. And it was only until the end of the year, so I could manage. “OK, Teen. Let’s go home.”

06 Lack of Ignorance is No Longer Bliss

Our next-door neighbor, Chad Barnes, looked up and waved as I drove into our driveway. Chad and I had been classmates and best friends for years; we didn’t share a lot of hobbies, but he usually helped out with set construction for school plays. It wasn’t that he particularly cared for theater – he just loved to build things. When he was twelve, his old IKEA bed fell apart and his parents bought him a better one, and Chad scavenged the loose wood and built a nice bench. His parents have had it on their front porch for years. It wasn’t totally surprising, then, that when most of us went off to college, Chad had stayed home and found himself an apprenticeship with the local carpenters’ union. We shared a wry sense of humor and a love for science fiction, and I didn’t know anyone better than he was at seeing the simple core of what was superficially a complex problem.

I parked the car in the garage and walked into the house, Tina right behind me. I hadn’t gone very far before she stopped me. “What are you doing now, Marsh?”

I turned in surprise.

“You’re walking on your tiptoes, as though you are trying to sneak up on somebody, or afraid the floor won’t hold your weight,” she explained. “Is this part of your oh-I’m-really-a-boy shtick?”

Oops. Evidently, my brilliant deduction about the way to walk in heels wasn’t all that brilliant after all. “I’m not… I mean… I guess I don’t really know how to walk in these things.” At her look, I added, “could you just humor me on this, Teen? Pretend that I’ve forgotten, and you can teach me, OK?” Taking her sigh as acquiescence, I doffed my shoes and walked barefoot toward my bedroom.

“Welcome back, girls,” Mom called without looking up from her cleaning as we passed the kitchen. “Girls,” huh? That was going to take some getting used to.

We didn’t actually make it to my bedroom, because right then, the doorbell rang. It was Chad. “Hey, welcome home, Marsh,” he said. “Got a minute?”

“You bet,” I responded, genuinely glad to have a chance to talk with him. “Boy do I have something to tell you!”

“Marsh,” Tina interrupted. “You’re not going to tell him about… this, are you?”

“Of course I am,” I said. “I mean, he is my best friend, after all.”

“I am?” he said in surprise, even as Tina echoed, “He is?”

Oops again. “Oh… You’re just Marshall’s best friend, aren’t you? Not Marsha’s?”

I could see his eyes beginning to defocus. “Who’s ‘Marshall’?”

“Are you in a hurry?” I asked him. “Something very strange has happened to me, and I’d really like your thoughts. Tina, can you try to find the article they were talking about on the radio? Look for a section in ‘News of the Weird’ in the past few days that talks about Piques.”

I started leading him up the stairs, but Tina interrupted again. “Where are you going now? You’re not taking him to your bedroom, I hope?”

Evidently, that was out of character for Marsha as well. I sighed. I didn’t really want Mom overhearing us – I hadn’t decided what to tell my parents yet – so I had been looking for some measure of privacy. At Tina’s suggestion, Chad and I went into the study, which was far enough from the kitchen that Mom wouldn’t be likely to hear us, and not directly on the path to the bedrooms upstairs, so she probably wouldn’t pass by the doorway.

“What would you say,” I began, “if I were to tell you that I was a boy when I went to sleep last night?”

“I’d ask you where I could get some of whatever it was you were smoking,” he answered with a grin.

“Not smoking anything,” I told him. Then I explained the whole time travel and DNA change theory I’d worked out. I told him about what I’d found convincing – the fact that I had actually signed up for such an experiment, and that other students had reported being changed as well.

He listened patiently, just as I’d expected him too, but was clearly not convinced. “That’s a pretty wild story, Marsh. But I’ve known you all my life as the girl next door. How am I supposed to start believing that you’re really a boy I don’t know at all?”

His use of the term “girl next door” gave me a bit of a jolt. If this had actually been a dream, I just know that my imagination would have decided that we were dating – it was just too obvious a cliché. I shivered in disgust at the thought.

“Maybe I can tell you some things that Marsha wouldn’t have known, but Marshall would have. Would that convince you?”

“I don’t know. What you’re suggesting is pretty far out there. You’d have to come with something really impressive to make me willing to believe in time travel and genetics experiments rather than just assuming you were pulling my leg.”

He was right, of course. That’s why Tina hadn’t believed me, and probably why the story had ended up in “News of the Weird” in the first place. But it would really help me if I had somebody I could talk to about it, so I tried. “How about this? Sophomore year in high school, you, Timmy Jeffries, and I crawled around under the bleachers at a couple of pep rallies so we could look up the girls’ skirts. Sound familiar? Any reason I would know about it if I hadn’t been there?”

He was certainly surprised. “I can’t believe you know about that! Why would Timmy have told you?” Then he grinned, “But of course, the way I remember it, is that it was just me and Timmy… and you were one of the girls we peeped on!”

“You bastard!” I squealed before I could think, and I clutched my skirts protectively as though he was trying to look up them right then.

That made him laugh. “All’s fair in love and war… and peeping, Marsh! I’d have excluded you out friendship, but you’re one of the girls who can always be relied on to wear a skirt or a dress. Lots of the others only wear skirts sometimes if at all, but with you, it was always a sure thing.”

My own reaction surprised me. Why would I have been sensitive to having a boy look at my underwear? And it certainly wasn’t helping my case. “I think if you checked with Timmy, you’d find that he didn’t tell me.”

“Maybe not, but I’m sure he told somebody. It was just too good a story to keep to ourselves. For that matter, I probably told some of the guys. There’s plenty of ways you could have heard about it, four years later.”

Chad laughed again. “Marsh, if you want to play with the big boys, I’m not going to go easy on you. You want to bring up some incident four years ago to prove that youve changed overnight into a boy…”

“OK,” I admitted. “That wasn’t very convincing. What about the men’s locker room at the Y? I can describe that pretty well.”

“No good,” he replied. “Too many guys dating too many girls know it. You pick almost anything and the word has probably reached the female community.”

“OK, then you pick something,” I said in exasperation. “Something that would convince you. Something that only one of your male friends would be likely to know.”

“Hmm…” He thought for a bit. “Um, Tina, I don’t know if you want to hear about this…”

“If Marsh can take it, so can I. Just because we don’t use bad language doesnt mean we don’t know about things.”

“OK, you asked for it. Marsh, you said that I was ‘Marshall’s best friend.’ Any best friend of mine would know where I keep my porn stash – and,” he stopped me when I was about to answer. “I moved it late this summer, so any old news you have would be out of date.”

“Nothing easier,” I said confidently. “You got a new model of the Death Star in July, and used it to hide a panel you cut in the back of your closet.”

That wiped the smug smile off of his face. He was clearly impressed, if not convinced. “How in the world…? Wait, Timmy would definitely not have told you, neither would Jerry, and I know that Dirk hasn’t even been in my bedroom since then.”

“Dirk the Jerk?” I said, surprised. “What does he have to do with any of this?”

His jaw dropped. I didn’t know how, but that question surprised him a lot more than anything else I had said. I heard a gasp behind me and turned to see Tina standing at the doorway, holding a piece of the newspaper. She’d evidently found the article, and was looking absolutely floored. I took the article from her unresisting hands and checked. It was definitely the one they had been discussing on the radio.

Chad spoke first, but very slowly. “You look like Marsha, but you sure don’t sound like her.”

“Why? What did I say? What does that moron have to do with anything we’re talking about?”

‘Marsh, you dated him for two years,” Tina said quietly.

“I what??” Why in the world would I – I mean, Marsha – want to date a loser like…?” But I could see Chad nodding. Apparently, Marsha had dated Dirk Simon. And for two years!  “I mean, why did it take her two years to wise up?”

Chad coughed, a bit embarrassed. “Actually, it was Dirk who broke up with you, Marsh. You really don’t remember any of this? He broke up with you because you wouldn’t sleep with him. You cried on my shoulder for half the night over it.”

I looked at my sister again, who was nodding, a horrified look now coming to her face. “You were serious, weren’t you,” she said, trembling, “You really don’t remember being my sister. And you don’t want to be, do you?” And suddenly she turned and ran for the stairs.

07 A New Promise

“Tina!” I shouted. “Here, read this,” I said to Chad, thrusting the article at him, as my sister fled.

“Tina!” I repeated. I ran up the stairs and into her bedroom, to find her lying on her bed, crying. “What’s wrong?”

“Go away!” she snapped. “Mom says I’m not allowed to have strangers in my bedroom.”

“Tina!” I exclaimed again, upset. “It’s me, your br- I mean, your…” I stopped. That was the problem, after all. I couldn’t really say either of those alternatives, could I? At least neither was the whole truth, and she wouldn’t accept either. So I tried again. “I mean, it’s Marsh. I’m not a stranger. Talk to me!”

The eyes she turned on me were red from tears and white with anger. “I don’t have a ‘br-.’ I used to have a sister, but you killed her, didn’t you? You really aren’t Marsha, are you?”

“That’s what I was trying to tell you, Teen. I am and I’m not.”

“I didn’t want to believe you. I didn’t want to believe that Marsha was just… gone. Just like that.”

“She’s not. She… that is, I’m right here- I’m the only sibling you have, Teen. The same one you’ve always had. I’m… I’m your brother, Marshall. But it’s OK, I still love you. I promised that I’d always be there for you, and I will.”

She sat up and glared at me. “You didn’t tell me anything. Marsha did. And she obviously didn’t keep that promise, did she?”

“Both of us… I mean, I did, I mean…” This was really confusing. “Anyway, I’m here now for you, and I promise that I’ll always be here.”

“Do you? Do you really? I’ve already gotten that promise and see how that worked out. And what happens after Christmas? That’s some present you have planned for me, isn’t it?”

I had no idea what she was talking about, and I said so. “I meant always, Teen. Always.”

“But you said you were going to have those guys change you back, didn’t you? So you won’t always be here. And what happens to me, then? What happens to the Tina who grew up with a sister who was her best friend?”

“What do you mean?” I protested, trying hard not to see the implications of what she was saying. “You’re the same sister I remember. And you always loved having a big brother.”

“Am I?” she sniffled. “Everything you remember about us is different, isn’t it? Different from the way I remember it? You don’t remember how you spent all that time teaching me to put on make up? How you and I used to talk and giggle for hours? How you and Dirk took me to Hershey Park, and how he held my hand on the Big Bear roller coaster because you chickened out? Or how you guys let me stay up late and watch movies with you sometimes, even though you clearly wanted me to go to bed so you could make out?”

“Um… “ I was really creeped out at her memories of Marsha with Dirk. I was trying to think of Marsha as sort of my sister, but given that I was wearing her body, this was getting a bit too close to home. And I had to admit that I didn’t (thankfully) remember any of what she had described.

“So what happens to me if they change you back, Marsh? What happens to everything I remember?”

“I guess… I guess you’d just go back to remembering what you used to remember – what you remembered when you knew me as a boy.”

“But those aren’t my memories! Those are the memories of some other girl, some other Tina Steen. She’s gone now, and I’m here. If you give me her memories, am I really still me? Isn’t it like killing me, if my memories are all taken from me, wiped out and replaced with somebody else’s?”

That was definitely something I didn’t want to think about. If Tina was right, I had killed my own little sister, the girl I grew up with, the girl I had promised to protect, to be with no matter what. I’d had no idea what the experimented I was volunteering for was going to do, but that didn’t make it any less my fault. If Tina was right, if this Tina was right, I’d lost my sister, my real sister, just because I had wanted some extra money. The cost to myself was at least bearable, but the cost to Tina…?

“No,” I protested. “You’re the same, you have to be the same. You look the same, you act the same…” I wasn’t sure if was trying to convince her – or myself.

“But I’m not,” she wailed. “I don’t remember you as a boy. That was some other Tina, the alternate Tina. I’m the one who’s here now. And… and… and, it’s not just me,” she continued. “What about Mom? She doesn’t remember you as a boy, either. So wouldn’t you be killing her, too? And everybody else in the world that knows you? All just because you want to be a boy? What’s so great about being a boy?”

“Wait,” I stammered, but she kept right on going.

“Don’t change back, Marsh, please? Stay this way. It’s a change for the better, right? You’ll like being a girl, you really will, you always have. And… I’ll teach you, Marsh. I teach everything you taught me. About high heels, and makeup, and periods, and sex, and… Please, Marsh. Please. I don’t want to die!”

She was hysterical, and I wasn’t all that much better. I held her as close as I could, trying to comfort her. But what could I do? What could I say? How could I promise her that I would live a lie for the rest of my life? I could manage ten weeks. That was bravado, me showing that I couldn’t be beaten so easily. I would be playing a role. But you never get all the way into character, you can’t. It’s not safe. Mr. Condrin, our drama teacher, always warned us that we had to hold a little bit back; we had to remember that we were not the character we were playing. But that’s what Tina was asking – that I submerge myself so deeply into ‘Marsha’ that I give up myself.

But on the other hand, how could I tell her that I was going to change back, if it really did mean killing her? Not that I wanted to buy that interpretation; it would mean that I was hugging a stranger, that my own sister was dead, because of me. So I temporized.

“Teen, I’m not going to let anything happen to you, I’ll figure something out, you’ll be fine. I made you a promise, and I’m going to keep it.” Of course, technically, I had made my promise to the Tina I remembered, the girl she was calling, “the alternate Tina.” Didn’t I owe it to that Tina to bring her back, if I could?

“So you’ll let me teach you? And give me time to convince you to stay this way?”

“Sure, Teen,” I said, miserably. “You can teach me, I need you to teach me, and…” I didn’t want to make any promises. I didn’t want to lie to her, but if she wanted to believe that I might stay a girl, if it made her happy, how could I tell her otherwise? “… And we’ll see,” I finished, lamely.

“Promise? Do you really promise, Marsh?” It took me a moment to realize what she was asking. ‘I’ had already effectively betrayed her; it would have been perfectly reasonable for her to distrust me now – but she didn’t. She wanted to believe in me, she had to believe in me. She wanted to restore the closeness that she expected of whichever-one-of-us she thought I was. And how could I fail to respond? I needed my little sister as much as she needed me. So I gave in. I said, “Yes. I promise. You can teach me, and… I’ll give you a chance to try to convince me.”

I felt a bit guilty, because I was dead certain that try as she might, she could never succeed. I was a boy and intended to return to being one once I had fulfilled my boast. And maybe in that time, I’d be able to convince her that having her memory restored wasn’t going to be death at all. Maybe I’d even be able to convince myself.

“Tina,” I said, as gently as I could. “Are you going to be alright? Chad’s waiting for me downstairs.”

She sighed. “I guess so. I guess we should go talk with him.”

I hadn’t actually meant for her to come with me, but at least she was on my side, a bit. At least she believed me, and could help me convince him. But it turned out not to be necessary. Apparently, Marsh’s attitude towards Dirk was so different from mine, and so key to what Chad knew about her, that he was already convinced, if a bit confused.

08 Filling in Some Blanks

We found him staring at the article, shaking his head. “Huh,” he muttered. “Huh. This is… this is really weird. You really don’t remember your own life? I mean, as Marsha?”

“No, because it’s not my life. I’m Marshall, and I’m stuck in Marsha’s life.” Remembering that Tina was with me, I added, “and I have to learn how to live her life, at least for a while. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.”

“Wow. “ He shook his head again. “’Dirk the Jerk.’ You must really remember him differently. I mean, obviously, if you were a guy, you wouldn’t have been dating him, but why the hate?”

That was awkward. It seemed that Chad – this Chad – was friends with the guy I had always remembered as an oddball, and… suddenly, my dislike for Dirk seemed kind of childish. “The way I remember him, he moved to town sophomore year, and kept poking his nose into our business, and trying to be part of the gang when he wasn’t welcome…”

Chad took his turn. “The way I remember, he moved to town, and met you – I mean, Marsh – in class, and helped you – her – with some math homework, and the two of you started dating, and he became part of our group. He was our resident math geek, always willing to help one of us out. I don’t think Timmy could have gotten into Drexel if Dirk hadn’t tutored him. Yeah, he’s not the most socially adept dude around, but he’s a good guy. It’s not fair to call him a jerk. Even Marsha never really hated him after they broke up. She just wasn’t ready to go as far as he wanted to. If you’d ever given him a chance, I think you would have liked him.”

Now I felt horrible. Chad was really a down to earth sort, and if he vouched for Dirk… “I’m sorry,” I said, really meaning it. “If I ever do get back – I mean, if I wind up as Marshall again, I’ll look him up and try to make amends.”

“Is that even possible?” he asked. “The students in this article sound as though they don’t think so. If there really was a way back, wouldn’t they have tried for it?”

“I don’t know. There should be. I mean, if they changed me once, they could change me again, right?”

“But could they really put you back exactly as you were? You’re talking about just throwing the dice again and hoping for a better DNA result. How do you know things wouldn’t be even worse?”

“To be honest,” I admitted, “ I hadn’t thought about it that clearly. That’s probably why the other students didn’t try it. They probably figured it wasn’t worth the risk. But that’s not my case. If they change me again, there’s got to be about a 50% chance that I’d wind up male again, and that would be close enough. I could handle being a bit shorter or having a different color of hair much more easily than being a girl.”

“Hmm. I guess I’m really relieved that you never took me seriously when I joked about being, ‘friends with benefits.’” He said with a grin. “So… what’s that feel like, by the way? How does it feel to have your sex changed?”

“Well… I’ve sort of been freaking out about a lot of things, but… I’ve got parts that I shouldn’t have, and am missing parts that I should. I used to be…” and I raised my hand over my head to indicate my previous height, about eight inches taller than I was now.

“What about wearing a dress? I don’t think I could handle that.”

“I’m not wearing a dress.” He blinked, clearly not understanding, as he could see me wearing one. “I’m playing the role of Marsha, and she’s wearing the dress.”

“Uh. Huh.” He shook his head. “You artsy types do have a different way of looking at things, don’t you?”

Now, I’ve never really considered myself “artsy.” I’m just a pre-med bio major who happens to be into music and theater. But I understood what he meant, so I didn’t argue the point.

“So, how is your life different now, other than the really obvious?”

“I’m not sure yet. This only happened, as far as I can tell, a couple of hours ago, and I haven’t had a chance to check, other than the fact that I no longer own a guitar.” At his inquiring look, I explained a bit further, “I’m a guitarist, as Marshall, but now I have no instrument. If I can find some money, that will be one of the first things I buy. Of course, before that, I need to see about my courses. Both Marsha and I were obviously named for great-uncle Marshall Steen, and I was inspired by his history to want to become a doctor, so I’m hoping Marsha was, too?” I directed this to Tina, who hadn’t said anything since we returned to the study. She nodded, which was a major relief to me. It suggested that I would find much of Marsha’s coursework familiar.

“I think you might need to look at even more basic things, Marsh,” Chad put in. “Is that OK, by the way? Are you comfortable going by ‘Marsh’?”

“Sure. Marsha and I seem to have the same nickname, which is why it took me so long to catch on this morning.”

“Good. Has it occurred to you that you are functionally amnesiac? You probably don’t even know where you are living this year on campus.”

“What do you mean?” I asked him. “I know perfectly well where I’m…” Then I stopped, as I saw his point. It was almost certain that ‘I’ was not rooming with Mike, Geoff, and Rajiv.

“You’re living at 208 Laramie Hall, Marsh,” Tina said. That made sense, as it was a women’s dorm up-campus. But it meant that I was going to have new roommates – roommates I didn’t know. Telling Tina and Chad was one thing, but I didn’t really want anybody else to know about this. Aside from the whole, ‘stay in character’ thing, I really didn’t want people thinking of me as a man wearing a dress. It was only by maintaining the illusion that I could feel comfortable about the whole thing.

“You probably also don’t know who your friends are, do you?” Chad suggested. “You thought I was your best friend, for example.”

“What exactly is our relationship, then?” I asked him.

He grinned. “I could tell you almost anything and you’d believe me, wouldn’t you? We’ve known each other most of our lives, Marsh, and I’ve always seen you sort of as the sister I don’t have, and you don’t have a brother, so…”

“I get the picture,” I nodded.

“Obviously, I don’t know who your friends are at Piques, but you seemed to be pretty friendly with Dina, Cherise and Maddy this summer.”

“That would be Dinah Eisenstadt and Cherise, um… I think I know who you mean, but I don’t know her last name. Short, chunky brunette?”

“That’s right.”

“Cherise Souter, Marsh,” Tina interjected.

“Cherise Souter. OK. Well, I’ve spoken with Dinah, at least. I don’t really know Cherise. And by ‘Maddy’ do you mean, Madison Willingham?”

“Mm hmm.”

“OK, that’s going to be a bit awkward. We dated at the start of senior year and broke up badly after a few months.” She’d actually cheated on me, but that was none of their business. “I’m really not comfortable around her anymore.”

“That’s in your ‘Marshall’ timeline,” he pointed out. “This Maddy wouldn’t know anything about that.”

“Yeah, it’ll be all my problem.” I thought about it a bit. “These girls are going to expect me to know them pretty well. I hope I can avoid them for while.” Until at least Christmas break, I was thinking. If I was lucky, I wouldn’t have to deal with them until I was ready to pull the plug on the whole ‘Marsha’ experiment. This whole thing was already a lot more complicated than I had realized when I made my stupid promise to wait. But I wasn’t going to wimp out now.

“I guess I lucked out, having this happen over break. I don’t even want to think of what things would have been like if it had happened during midterms. This gives me about a week to get my bearings.”

“Great,” he said, standing up. “Tina’s probably got most of the answers you need, but let me know if there’s anything I can help you with.

“I’ll do that, Chad, and thanks. Wait. Didn’t you come over here for something?”

He slapped his forehead. “Oh, yeah. I totally forgot. I had a fight with Kathy… you do know that I’m dating Kathy Harrington?”

I nodded. Some things, at least, were unchanged.

“Anyway, she said some things that I didn’t really understand, and I wanted a feminine perspective on… Oh. Huh. I guess not, huh?”

I shrugged. “Sorry. Maybe Tina can help you?”

“Um, it’s not exactly something I’d feel comfortable talking to Tina about. Thanks anyway.”

Tina and I walked him out, and then headed for my bedroom. I finally had a chance to take a good look at what had happened to it. The most obvious change was in color. My blues and browns were now yellow and green and red. The shades were flowery and frilly, and even the furniture was lighter in color and larger, somehow. My reduced height may well have had something to do with that.

09 Retold Stories

“Should we start with heel-walking lessons, Marsh?” Tina suggested.

“Not just yet, Teen,” I told her. “I need to collapse. I don’t think you realize how stressful all of this is for me, and without a guitar, I don’t have my normal way of coping. I’m just going to toss on a pair of jeans and veg out for a while.”

“A pair of what?”

“Um, jeans? You know, pants made of denim?” The look on her face told me I’d said something wrong again. “No jeans? Marsha doesn’t wear jeans?”

She shook her head, so I threw open my closet door and looked. There were plenty of skirts and dresses, but as far as I could tell, not a single pair of jeans or slacks, or anything else. Not even a pantsuit, which at that point I would have considered a reasonable compromise. In hindsight, I probably should have expected that. I couldn’t remember my mother or sister wearing pants, and as Chad had reminded me, Marsha was noted for consistently wearing skirts. We’re kind of a traditional family, and it had just never occurred to me how that guided female clothing in our household. At least it meant no miniskirts. Looking back, it occurred to me that Mom and Tina had always worn their skirts long, and that’s what I found in my closet as well. If I had to wear them, at least I didn’t have to worry about immodesty.

Tina seemed to sense my mood. “What’s wrong, Marsh?”

“This is already a lot harder than I was expecting, Teen. I don’t know, I guess I was thinking that it was just going to be like my old life, only with boobs.” I stopped myself and looked at her. “Is ‘boobs’ alright for me to say?”

She shrugged, so I continued. “Now, it’s like I’m being hit all at once, with girly clothing and different friends, and my bedroom looks like it belongs to a stranger. And that’s just in the first few hours. I need a break, a timeout. I just want to catch my breath and do something familiar for a bit. I thought that I could get into familiar clothes, and read a familiar book. Anything that would make me not have to think about being Marsha. I mean it’s been nonstop. I feel as though I’ve been through the wringer, and it’s only been an hour or so since I found out. I’d take a nap, but I’m not really tired. Everywhere I go, everywhere I look, I’m reminded that I’m in a stranger’s room, a stranger’s life. My body doesn’t feel right, not when I walk, not when I sit down. These clothes…” I sighed. I was whining, and that felt inappropriate and girly, too. “I want to drop out of character, to be myself again. Only that doesn’t seem possible.”

“What can I do to help?” Tina asked.

“I don’t really know. This isn’t like a play, where we can sit backstage and take off our costumes during intermission. We don’t even get an intermission in real life. I said that I was going to keep it up until after Christmas break, but I’m going to need some way to cope, some way to be ‘off-stage’ from time to time.”

“I know. Why don’t you come into my room, so you won’t be reminded of this one?”

It was a terrific idea, and I said so. Her room would reflect her personality and needs, and should be at least somewhat familiar to me.

“And you can tell me about what it was like for you to be a boy,” she added.

“You really want to hear about that?”

“Sure! You are my… well, I hope my sister, but sort of also my brother, even though I don’t really have one. It could be interesting.”

“I think that would be a great idea, Teen.”

I hadn’t paid attention when we had been there a few minutes earlier, but her room was pretty much the way I remembered it. Whatever the changes in me, whatever the influence of Marsha instead of me, Tina seemed largely the same, even if her memories weren’t. That surprised me, and bothered me just a little. I’d like to think that I had a lot of influence on my little sister, but maybe I’ve always overrated my own importance. At any rate, I was grateful for that now.

“So what’s it like?” she asked, as she settled on to her bed and offered me her chair.

“That’s kind of hard to answer, Teen. After all, it’s all I’ve ever known – until this morning.”

“OK, what would be useful to tell me?”

So I told her about my guitar, about how elated I had been to receive it, and how I’d sort of taught myself to play from instruction books and DVDs until Dad had realized that I needed more. I told her about my guitar teachers, how the first one was into really wild stuff that would have horrified Mom and Dad. You might have thought my family straight-laced, but we knew about some really seedy things. I told Tina about my third teacher, who had actually made it for a few years as a rock musician, and how he’d warned me not to try it as a career. Fortunately, I’d never planned on it – grandpa had given me the same speech. He’d had a lot of fun touring when he was younger, but had had a job in his own father’s business to fall back on.

Tina was particularly interested when I told her about my girlfriends; apparently, Marsha had only dated two other boys besides Dirk, and neither for any length of time. Tina had always liked hearing about my dating adventures, and now I got to tell her the same stories for the first time. I had the uncomfortable feeling that I was on the verge of corrupting the innocent. With Marsha’s own example before her, Tina hadn’t really thought too much about sex, except as a theoretical possibility. In fact, while she was very attracted to boys – something I hadn’t realized before – she found the whole idea of the sex act a bit disgusting, an attitude I had no intention of changing. But she could live vicariously through my experiences. Doubly vicariously, since I was currently in no position to repeat them, even if I’d had the opportunity. I hesitated telling her too much detail. Marsha was clearly a virgin (which was very much a relief to me), and I wasn’t sure Tina could handle hearing about a brother who had slept with more than half a dozen different girls.

It hadn’t occurred to me until now, but by accepting being Marsha until the end of the year, I had just given up on Lee Ann. I didn’t know how that would play out when I changed back – would I find myself already dating her, without knowing what kind of history we had together? Or would some other guy have swept down in the meantime and stolen her heart? If she had dated the same guy for three years, maybe she would decide to take a bit of breather and not commit to any one guy, and I’d have a chance for the second half of the year.

And… I was used to having girlfriends. In fact, I don’t think I’d gone more than about a month since freshman year in high school without a date. Marsha didn’t seem to be as much of a love addict as I was, but really, how comfortable was it going to be for me not even to approach a girl for two-and-a-half months? Trying a lesbian relationship seemed more than a little extreme, and it would probably have been way out of character for Marsha, even if I had had any idea how to go about it. These were thoughts really better not shared with my sister – not yet, at any rate.

Mom came in while we were talking. Fortunately, it was easy to hear her coming upstairs, so there was no danger of her overhearing something I wouldn’t have wanted her to know about. But she poked her head in and said, “I’m going grocery shopping, girls. Do you want anything?”

“I’m almost out of nail polish remover,” Tina answered. “I can’t think of anything else.”

“Nail polish remover. Got it. Anything for you, Marsh?”

I had absolutely no idea, not having checked my room since I woke up. If she’d offered last night, I might have asked her to pick me up some shaving cream, but that didn’t seem appropriate this morning. I could well be out of all kinds of things, but I doubt that I’d be able to tell without my sister’s help anyway. At any rate, I had a week, and if Tina spotted something missing, I could always go shopping myself later.

So I just said, “Nothing for me, thanks.”

“OK, I’ll be back in a bit. Marsh, would you like to cook dinner with me when I get back?”

“Sure, Mom.”

The invitation usually meant that she wanted to talk with me, not surprising given that I had been away at school for the past couple of months. And of course, I was a reasonably competent cook, having learned when Dad left and Mom had needed us to help pick up the slack. Presumably, she expected Marsha to be as well. Again, it would probably be more or less familiar to me – or at least as much as anything was going to be, now.

10 Casting Call

After Mom left, Tina was ready to get back to trying to teach me about being Marsha. “Are you feeling better, Marsh?” she asked me. “Do you want me to start teaching you things?”

“Yeah, lots better, thanks,” I admitted. My head was still spinning, but it felt really good that both Chad and Tina knew about what was happening and were on my side. Or at least, Tina had a strong interest in making me comfortable in my role as Marsha. Telling her some of my old stories had been a strong dose of familiarity, and had calmed me enough to look at the next steps in this charade I was about to undertake.

Simply getting into the character of Marsha wasn’t going to be enough. I had to learn things that girls took for granted, and I only had a week. Clearly, I wasn’t going to become expert at them in that time; I was going to make mistakes. But as Mr. Condrin told us, audiences don’t notice most mistakes. They assume that whatever you do is what you were supposed to do, as long as you don’t make it obvious by reacting – you have to keep right on going. Nobody was going to know that I was really a boy even if they knew about the experiment. The idea that this particular thing had happened wasn’t likely to be the first explanation that would come to mind if I messed up. So what I needed was simply to become basically competent and fake the rest.

But at the same time, I needed to continue my college studies. I couldn’t have Marsha flunk out – that would be way too out of character, not to mention embarrassing. And I couldn’t afford to get too far behind in my own courses, especially those which were prerequisites for the courses I was going to be taking next semester once I became Marshall again. If I was lucky, she and I were taking some of the same courses, and I wouldn’t have too much extra work. Tina had confirmed that Marsha was pre-med like me, so the odds were in my favor.

It was time to find out. “Before doing anything else, Teen,” I said, “I need to check my courses. If Marsha isn’t taking the same ones I do, I’m going to have a lot of catching up to do.”

So we headed back to my bedroom and I looked for the relevant information. I was counting on Marsha having learned the same study skills that I had. Our guidance counselor had taught a summer course for rising seniors and my parents had made me take it. It stressed the importance of proper note-taking, and of reviewing and recopying ones notebooks. If Marsha had taken it, she would have brought her course notebooks home, and I could read them. Sure enough, there was a suitcase that she had obviously brought home for break. It contained a fair bit more laundry than I had taken home, but the important part was that there was a stack of notebooks in it.

“Organic Chemistry and Spanish 202,” I read from the first two. “Two out of two, a perfect match. That’s going to make things easy.” I glanced inside the first one and saw notes somewhat similar to the ones I remember taking, although in a much neater and of course feminine handwriting. At least it wasn’t going to be hard to read these. I reached for the next two. “European Literature? That’s different. And… Biology 201. Yes, clearly a Bio major.”

“Is that good?” Tina asked.

“Yeah, it’s not too bad. We have three out of four courses the same. I don’t see any logic notes, though.” At her blank look, I explained. “It’s a distribution requirement – you have to take courses outside your major, and the Philosophy department teaches a course on Boolean Logic, which is actually more math than philosophy, but counts. The EuroLit course probably means papers, though, and I’ve generally tried to avoid courses like that. I’m probably going to have to spend part of my break catching up on some of the reading.”

Under the notebooks were a couple of paperbacks Marsha must have brought home to read. Both were romances, which didn’t interest me at all. Evidently, my ‘sister’ and I had very different tastes in casual reading. I would have preferred a mystery or fantasy. Then something else caught my eye.

“Oh no,” I gasped, reaching for it. “I’d forgotten about this.”

“What is it, Marsh?”

I held out what I had found, a bitter taste in my mouth. “It’s a script for The Mousetrap. There’s this director at Piques, a senior, Alvin Tomlinson. He’s got a really great reputation, and I auditioned for both of his plays last year. Wasn’t cast in either of them. He’s doing Mousetrap…” I paused. Even if it wasn’t as painful as… well, everything else I’d lost, it still hurt. “He cast me as Paravicini. It’s a comic role. Not all that big, but it would have been fun… and now I’ll never get a chance to do it. We were supposed to have a read through the first day after break.” I threw the script back into the suitcase in frustration. “Damn it! It was my last chance to get him to direct me. He could have taught me so much!”

“But Marsh,” Tina started.

Then I realized what I had said. “I’m sorry, Teen. What should I have said, ‘rats’ or something like that?

“I’m not talking about that.”

“Oh, you mean that he’s probably going to be doing another show in the spring? Yes, but he’s doing Sweeney Todd, and I don’t have the voice to play one of the leads. I can probably get a role in the chorus, but it wouldn’t be the same.”

“Marsh, you’re not listening. Why do you have the script at all?”

“Because he gave it to me when he cast me, Teen. He came right to my dorm room and…” Then I got it. I didn’t have my guitar, and I had all of Marsha’s books and clothes. This couldn’t have been my script. But that meant…

With trembling hands, I retrieved the script and opened it. Sure enough, the name written inside the front cover was “Marsha Steen.” I thumbed through the pages, looking to see if any lines were highlighted. And found them. “‘Mollie’, I breathed, hardly daring to believe it.”


“Mollie. Marsha was cast as Mollie!”

“Is that good?”

“You don’t know the play?”

“No, “ she admitted.

“Well, first of all, this is one of Agatha Christie’s best. It’s been running for like forty years in London. And Mollie is the female lead, probably the best role in the show. She’s got these incredible scenes with Giles and Trotter… I could do this, Teen.”

“Do what?”

“I could play the role – I think. They’d never know. I mean, it’s not as if the real Marsha is going to show up, is it? And if Alvin is as good a director as they say, he’d be able to get me through it.”

“But, you are the real –”

“It’d be challenging, of course. I’ve never done a lead before, and I’d be playing a girl onstage. That means that the way I act is going to be under even greater scrutiny than in real life. I’m going to have to act feminine and make it seem natural, and be critiqued for it.” A happy thought struck me. “Maybe it would even help my normal off-stage performance.” The situation was starting to sound better and better.

“I’m going to do it, Teen! I’d never get a chance like this on my own. The world owes me. With everything I’ve just lost, this is the least I could get in return.” I was actually excited. Standing in for Marsha was finally going to have something positive going for it! “I want to read through the play, concentrating on Mollie’s lines. Can you read the others for me? I need to start thinking about interpretation…”

Tina grinned, “Marsh, it’s so good to see you happy about something. I’m sure I can find time to do a read-through with you. But don’t we have other things to work on first?”

She was right, of course. There were all those other ‘girl things’ that I needed to learn, and the sooner I started working on them, the better. The script was going to have to wait. But after this unexpected bit of good news, I really didn’t mind. It was going to be a fun challenge. Not only did I have to act the role of Marsha, I had to play Marsha playing Mollie; it was my own “play within a play.” I wondered if Alvin was going to film the production. It would be such a kick to be able to compare my performance to that of the girl who got it in the original timeline, after I changed back.