Archive for the ‘Section 3: Self-Examination’ Category.

31 Matchmakers might get burned

After dinner, I decided to put the finishing touches on my EuroLit paper. I had had a bit of trouble defending the idea that the women had to dress as men because society limited them. I kept running into ideas that seemed contradictory. On the one hand, the Church, which effectively set the social rules for medieval Europe, was categorical in stating that women were inferior to men. On the other hand, I kept running into statements that women worked alongside their husbands in the fields and were employed in workshops and were brewers and weavers and all kinds of things. I was having trouble understanding what “inferior” meant in those days, since it didn’t seem to mean what I had assumed. I suspected that I was trying too hard; this wasn’t a history paper, after all. I didn’t want to make something up, but wasn’t the point just to show that I understood the literature and could argue a position?

What I finally wrote was that it wasn’t as simple as I had initially assumed. Each woman seemed to have her own reason – for Rosalind and Zinevra it was simply to disguise their identities when they were fleeing from danger. Viola’s case seemed to be a lot less straightforward. She doesn’t seem to be in any danger at all, and it is far from clear why she couldn’t simply seek employment as herself. It seems that the whole purpose of the disguise is so that there could be a confusing plot. That was a very distressing conclusion for me to reach, as it made Shakespeare sound a lot like the writers of horror movies; if their characters acted intelligently there would be no story. But the text seemed to support the conclusion. All the same, I think my paper would go over better if I could have supported some kind of anti-female prejudice as the reason.

I was feeling pretty pleased with myself when I finished, and decided that I would reward myself by delivering the jobs I had completed and collecting payment for them. My customers were quite pleased to see them done so quickly and thanked me effusively. I could definitely get used to this.

Geoff sat next to me again the next morning. “Good morning, Marsha!”

I had to laugh at his enthusiasm. That, at least, was still familiar. “Good morning, Geoff!” I answered him.

“Did you give Lee Ann my number?”

“Yes, and she saved it in her phone.”


I was feeling a bit guilty about seeming to participate in what I was pretty sure had to be a charade. “You know, Geoff, I’m pretty sure that you’re wasting your time, there.”

He just grinned. “Well, if you want me for yourself…”

“No!” I said as strenuously as I could without raising my voice. I felt myself blushing and that just embarrassed me even more.

He laughed at me, and told me that I would have to “wait my turn.” At that moment I decided not to interfere any more in his little flirtation with Lee Ann. I had never seen him in action, flirting with a girl before, and being the target didn’t make me comfortable. I was pretty sure, though, that he could handle himself, and besides, his attentions to Lee Ann would probably keep him from making a serious pass at me.

I’m afraid my discomfort at interacting with Geoff spilled over a bit into Bio lab, as I snapped at Ron several times, and didn’t laugh at anything, even though he was clearly trying to be funny. He even whispered to me, “What’s gotten in to you? Are you on your period?” which just made my mood even more sour.

I think part of my mood was probably due to my worry about what Alvin had in mind. What if he had decided that the solution to my discomfort with kissing Jared was to have us kiss over and over until we were desensitized, or something? I was committed to doing a good job with this role, but the prospect was somewhat sickening.

I couldn’t do anything about that now, but I could try to make as good an impression as possible by working on my lines. If I showed up already knowing scene one by heart, might that make him cut me more slack? At the same time, I understood that I did have a real problem that had to be solved. I just wanted to find a painless way to do it.

At rehearsal that evening, I carried my script with me, but referred to it as little as possible. And Alvin noticed. He didn’t say anything in front of the cast, but as we took a short break between working through scene one and starting on scene two, he walked passed me and said, “Good job on learning your lines so quickly, Marsh.” I had been a bit shaky the first time we did my scenes, but was definitely starting to gain confidence as we went on and it felt very good to have my work acknowledged; I was even able, for the moment, to forget about what was going to happen at the end of rehearsal. But rehearsal ended all too soon.

“Good job again, all,” Alvin said. “I’m starting to see your characters develop. On Sunday, we’re going to try a full run-through of act  one  so that I can see how far we’ve come. Please remember that you are expected to do it without your scripts, but with prompting.” And then, just as I was hoping he might have forgotten, he added, “Jared and Marsh, could you please stick around for a bit?”

Jared had obviously not been warned. “What’s up, Alvin?” he asked as the rest of the cast started filing out, chatting as they went. Jo gave me a curious look, but said nothing.

“Hold on a sec, Jared,” Alvin replied, as he held a quick conversation with some of the departing actors. Jared looked at me to see if I knew what was going on, but I didn’t have any real answers for him. I was busy trying to keep myself calm and hoping that my imagination was just running out of control.

“OK, you two,” Alvin finally said when we were alone. “You are playing a couple who has only been married for a year, and I want to see some intimacy on-stage, but so far, you look very uncomfortable together.”

“Hey, don’t blame me,” Jared protested. “I’m perfectly comfortable with Marsh. She’s the one who’s not comfortable.”

“Well you see, Jared,” Alvin went on, “that reaction is exactly what I’m talking about. Even more than the rest of the cast, you two need to be a team. Don’t blame Marsh. For all you know, it’s you that is making her uncomfortable.

“Look, intimacy can be difficult on stage because of the normal tension – sexual and otherwise – between actors who don’t know each other very well. So I would like the two of you to become friends. If you could get to know each other outside of rehearsals, that might be helpful. I’m not telling you to date – in fact, that would be a very bad idea – but your scenes together will be easier for both of you if you are friends and can really trust and be comfortable with each other.”

“How is that going to help?” I asked. “What does it matter how well we know each other? Aren’t we just acting anyway?”

“Intimacy is something that tends to affect people at a visceral level,” Alvin explained. “Acting is not just counterfeiting feelings. As human beings, we cannot help but feel, and feelings can take control. Right now, what I’m seeing is feelings of discomfort. Those are very hard to conceal, so you need to get rid of them. Then you will have room to add the feelings that are appropriate for your characters.”

“So… if we’re supposed to be newlyweds, wouldn’t dating be a good idea?” Jared suggested, and I couldn’t help hearing a bit of a leer in his voice. It made me wonder how the real Marsha would have handled this. Would she have been attracted to him and eager to try the dating idea? I really couldn’t tell. I’ve never been able to figure out what girls look for in a guy’s appearance. Some of the weirdest looking guys seem to wind up with really cute girlfriends. Jared was… well, no more athletic than I had been, and shorter. My eyes were even with his chin, so he was probably no more than about 5’7” or 5’8”. He had bright red hair and a fair complexion, but hazel eyes rather than the green I would have expected. I would probably not have figured him for competition if he and I had been in pursuit of the same girl, but I’d been wrong about that in the past.

“No, it really wouldn’t,” Alvin said. “I’ve seen couples in productions before, and it’s dangerous, especially with new couples who are still working out their relationship. The worst I’ve seen was – and this was in a professional productions, actually – was a couple who were having marital problems, I think one of them had cheated on the other, and they had to play love scenes together. I’m sure you can imagine how much the resentment between them came out and utterly spoiled their performances. I don’t want that to happen, here.”

“But Naomi and Jack are dating, aren’t they?” Jared pointed out, apparently still intent on putting the make on me.

“Yes, they are,” admitted Alvin. “But they are not playing romantic roles opposite each other. Their interactions are supposed to be relatively stressful until the end. The risk is not nearly as great.”

“OK, we’ll do it,” Jared said, as if he had a right to speak for me. “Why don’t we meet at the Student Grill after classes tomorrow, say 2:00?”

I shrugged my acquiescence. I wasn’t really comfortable with the whole thing, but it was certainly better than the scenario I had dreamed up. And… I did have a problem that was affecting my performance. I wasn’t really comfortable with the idea of intentionally meeting a boy alone somewhere, but the Grill is pretty public. I mean, how bad could this really be?

32 An Uncomfortable Grilling

The Student Grill sits right in the middle of upper campus in the same building as the College Store, and serves light meals for those who somehow didn’t get enough from the institutionalized food that comprises the usual meal plan – or simply couldn’t stomach it. Many students meet there for soda or coffee as well. Back in the days when the drinking age was 18, I’m told, beer flowed pretty freely here, and the old taps are still in evidence, although they are supposed to be empty. There are rumors that one of them still works, but only certain Grill workers allegedly know which and how.

The room housing the Grill is large enough for about 100 students to be served at once, at tables that seat anything from two to sixteen. My freshman resident assistant used to take our entire hallway here once a month on Sundays, when the dining rooms served nothing but leftovers in order to give the cooks time off. Most of us had been quite happy to avoid repeats of the meals we had been fortunate to survive the first time around. The burgers the Grill served seemed much safer.

Jared was waiting for me at one of the two-person tables around the periphery of the room. Since I now had nearly $40 in Marsha’s purse from a few sewing jobs, I wouldn’t have to suffer the indignity of having him treat me, as though it were a date. But $40 wasn’t really a lot of money when three-quarters of it was supposed to go towards tuition, and I wasn’t sure if and when I was going to be able to tackle more lucrative work, so I just bought myself a soda and sat down across from him.

“Nice to see you,” he greeted me. “Is that all you’re going to have?” He had a burger, fries, and a soda in front of him.

“It’s enough,” I said. “Did you skip lunch? I can’t imagine being that hungry still.” And in fact, my appetite was noticeably less than I remember before the change.

“I figured we were going to spend a bit of time getting to know each other, right? Got to keep my energy up.”

“OK, so… how do we do this?” I figured that we would talk a bit and tell Alvin that we had done as he’d asked, then call it a day. Real acting is done on stage, not in the Grill.

“Well… why don’t you tell me some things about yourself? Um… what are you majoring in? What’s something interesting about you?”

Something interesting? I had to remember that I was playing Marsha, and not make a wise crack about being a guy in a girl’s body. I wasn’t really sure what the point of this whole exercise was… I certainly don’t recall having done anything of the kind for previous roles. So I told him the basics – that I was a pre-med biology major, that both my sister and I did theater. I was a bit nervous mentioning the sewing, as I wouldn’t have been able to give a good account of myself there if he had asked; fortunately, it didn’t really interest him. Actually, I wasn’t sure that most of what I was telling him interested him. He was nodding, but almost as though he had specifically told himself to nod, not because he was actually listening to me. He also seemed a bit on edge; maybe he wasn’t comfortable with this meeting, either.

Then it was his turn. He told me that he was a junior political science major and enjoyed reading about history; he tended to involve himself in various political demonstrations, and was planning one day to run for public office himself. I really tried to be interested, but it was becoming increasingly obvious that we had very little in common.

“This isn’t working, is it?” he noted ruefully. “We need to find something else.”

“Like what?”

He thought for a moment, then grinned suddenly.

“I’ve got an idea,” he said. “There’s a way we could cut right to the chase and establish the kinds of intimacy we need very quickly.” He leaned forward and put his hand on my wrist. “How about a hookup?”

“Um… what?” I asked, not sure if I had heard him correctly. But I snatched back my wrist from his touch, which had suddenly become vile.

“A hookup. You know. Sex.”

I was flabbergasted. How was I supposed to react to that? Of course I knew about “hookup” culture. Geoff had had a couple of girls come to his bedroom at night without any previous dates, and he had actually stayed with the second one for several weeks. I’d never seen the attraction. Well, that might not be completely true – I certainly understood the urge for intimacy with an attractive girl, but I’d never slept with any girl without dating her first. The idea that you could jump-start a relationship by starting with sex left me cold – and I’m sure that I would have felt the same way even if I were really Marsha and if I had found Jared attractive.

But this had just come out of nowhere! I had spent a lot of time with other student actors, and was very comfortable in that crowd. There had always seemed to be certain shared understandings of how far you could go, intimacy-wise, given that we had to work together. Maybe that was just high school actors, although I hadn’t noticed any real difference in the one show I had done as a college freshman. He had just violated what limits we had. I guess it left me wondering if he had any limits.

“But… Alvin said that dating was a bad idea,” I pointed out, trying to bypass my own panicky reaction.

“I’m not saying dating. Just a hookup. You like sex, right? It’s a perfectly healthy activity, and it could break the ice for us.”

“The whole idea is… just…” In an earlier time, presumably a girl should have just upended his drink down his shirt or his pants. Maybe Marsha would have been able to do that. I was just horrified to be propositioned like this. It’s not that I didn’t like sex – but I had no intention of trying it as Marsha, and somehow his suggesting it frightened me – a lot. “No,” I managed. “Out of the question. That’s not going to happen.”

“What’s the big deal?” he asked. “Don’t be such a tease. You’re attractive; you know guys are going to want you. I’d think most girls would be interested. I’m not bad looking.” Then he looked at me a bit suspiciously. “You’re not a lesbian, are you?”

“Why would you…?” I started. “Even if I were… it wouldn’t be any of your business.” I finally managed to get to my feet. “You know, I think this whole idea was a mistake. I think… just… never mind.” And I left, shakily, ignoring him as he tried to call me back to the table. Somehow I found my way home.

Lee Ann saw me come into the living room. “Marsh? Is something wrong?” I tried to answer, but couldn’t. I was too upset. I just dropped into a chair. She rush over, concerned, took a careful look at my pale face and exclaimed, “Oh my God! What happened to you?” but I was still shaking too much to speak. It was only when she put her arms around me that the verbal dam broke, and I managed to choke out the whole thing, crying hysterically. It was horribly embarrassing, both being propositioned like that, and crying about it. I’m supposed to be a guy – why couldn’t I just have slugged him or something?

And… I used to dream of Lee Ann holding me in her arms, but this was definitely not how I had envisioned it. I wasn’t complaining, though. I was grateful beyond words for her comfort. All the time I was crying, she just held me and cooed in my ear, telling me that I’d be all right. Finally, I ran down, emotionally spent, and Lee Ann was beside me, looking at me sympathetically.

“He asked you for sex. Just like that?”

“Mm hmm,” I whimpered.

“What a jerk. And especially considering… well, any girl would be offended. But you…” she sighed and gave me a hug. “You may want to stay away from him, Marsh.”

“Of course I want to. But that’s going to be really difficult. I’m not dropping out of this show, and we have a lot of scenes together, and a few embraces and a kiss…”

She shook her head. “Then you’re going to have to set clear limits. You don’t want him taking advantage of those moments.”

“I know. Thanks. I think… I think it won’t be too much of a problem. All he did was suggest something.” I was calming down, and at this point I wasn’t sure that my own reaction at the Grill wasn’t affecting me more than Jared’s suggestion. I’m a guy; I should have been able to handle a suggestion with more equanimity than this.

“And ignore you when you said no, and try to insult you because you weren’t attracted to him. A lot of guys are creeps, Marsh. You have to figure out which ones are nice and which aren’t. That’s probably why I’m still with Steve. He can be really exasperating at times, but he’s a really decent guy. When you find one, you don’t let him go. I think… well, now probably isn’t the time. But we need to talk about your situation.”

I could have laughed if I weren’t so upset. My situation? She had no idea. But she’d made me feel a bit better, so I thanked her and made my way back to my bedroom.

I should have tried to review my notes, or do lab write-ups, or even work on my lines, but I was still too upset. I wound up taking another afternoon nap, for the second time in two weeks. I just wasn’t used to feeling so much. How in the world did girls deal with all of this emotion on a regular basis?

Waking up, I thought a bit more about what had happened with Jared and decided that, no matter Lee Ann’s comforting agreement, I had almost certainly overreacted. Jared wasn’t about to assault me, after all. He had just suggested something that freaked me out even to consider. In some ways, wasn’t I sort of a hypocrite? I had suggested sex to girls numerous times, although that was only after we had dated for a while. Maybe he was actually a creep, or maybe he was just inept. It didn’t make me feel particularly comfortable about working close to him, much less kissing him, but at least I didn’t have to be all panicky.

Lee Ann’s comment about decent guys cut through me. I’d always thought that I was a ‘decent guy.’ Was it possible that I hadn’t been? That my girlfriends had lost patience with me? Had I been a creep? Was that why my relationships hadn’t lasted? I’d always tried to be sensitive to their feelings. Was that insufficient? Now I had something else to agonize over.

But I had calmed down quite a bit. The next rehearsal was going to be a bit tense, but it wasn’t until Sunday, so I had plenty of time to figure out how to deal with Jared, and lots of other things to deal with in the meantime. My relationship problems would have to wait even longer.

33 A Fitting Start

Nikki came back Friday afternoon to continue our lessons. “So, how are the rehearsals going?” she asked as she took several dresses from my closet.

Rehearsals. I had tried to put the issue out of my mind until Sunday, but Jared’s little stunt was making me more than a bit uncomfortable. I had tried to put on a brave front for Lee Ann, but the long time between our disastrous “get acquainted” session and the next rehearsal was allowing my nervousness to grow. It must have shown on my face, for Nikki suddenly shifted from casual friendliness to concern, and I had to tell her everything. She was livid.

“I don’t know whether to be angrier at Jared for propositioning you, or at Alvin for suggesting that you two somehow force a friendship,” she hissed. “Alvin is definitely going to hear from me on this!”

“Nikki, wait. Maybe it was my fault. I’m sure Alvin…”

“No, Marsh it was not your fault.”

“I mean, it’s not as if Jared invented the whole idea of hookups – and lots of girls do go along with them…”

“That’s not the point, Marsh. There is a way to ask for a hookup, and you don’t do it face-to-face with the girl you want unless you are sure, and you certainly don’t do it when you are supposed to be establishing a friendship!”

“Oh,” I said, surprised. “Have you been asked?” I hadn’t been part of Geoff’s hookups, but had had the sense that one of our other roommates had been. I was a little bit hazy on the details.

“Yes, before I started seeing Alvin. A couple of times. And both times it was the friend of the guy who invited me, and I just ignored him – everybody had ‘plausible deniability.’ I could pretend I’d never heard the invitation, and the guy could pretend that his friend had asked me on his own.”

“So then…” I started, but she wasn’t listening.

“Alvin knows you’re particularly vulnerable now, and shouldn’t have allowed you to be put into this kind of position. If he wanted you two to be friends, he should have had you just sit next to each other at rehearsals or something.”

“Jared could have made the same suggestion there.”

“Probably not, with the rest of the cast nearby, and if he had, you would have been among friends, not all alone with a jerk.”

I couldn’t argue with her; my inclination had been to hope that Jared would just drop it, and to be on my guard. Maybe that would work, maybe it wouldn’t. But the discomfort certainly wasn’t going to go away on its own. Maybe if Nikki spoke to Alvin, it would help? Or would it just make things worse?

“Under the circumstances, do you want to forget about the sewing lesson?” Nikki asked, watching me carefully.

“No!” I protested. “Whatever happens with Jared, I also need this. I can’t make enough money to stay… to stay in school.” I was actually thinking, “to stay with this challenge I’d undertaken,” but that wasn’t something I was going to share with her.

“OK, if you’re sure…”

I nodded, firmly. I couldn’t afford to push off my other problems, just because one of them was bothering me.

“The first step in learning about fittings, Marsh, is understanding how dresses are made. Come look at the seams on these dresses.”

I got her point almost immediately. “So you’re saying that fittings are always going to be about adjusting seams?”

“Pretty much always. There are times when you’ll have to do more, but that can be kind of tricky, and we’ll ignore those cases. But look carefully at these. Note that there are certain types of seams that you’re pretty much always going to find.”

All of Marsha’s dresses were pretty similar, in that they had modest necklines and long sleeves and skirts, so she picked one off the garment rack that was different. It was a formal gown that was supposed to be taken in, and she held it up against herself to show me.

“See? This one is strapless, so the seams are different. Look at the neckline, and what’s necessary when you have a dress that has to rely on other things besides the shoulders to stay up. We’ll work with this one. This is a bit too large for me, so you can practice pinning it on me. One sec.” She quickly threaded a needle and make short stitches in the garment. “I’ve marked the places this will need to be taken in so that I can take the pins out. I’ll put them back in when we’re done.”

As she changed into the gown, she explained, “When trying on a fitted gown like this, Marsh, it’s important that the girl is wearing the same kind of underwear she’ll be wearing with it.”

“It’s that tight?” I asked, a bit surprised.

She laughed. “It can be, but more often you need to be able to check for VPL. That’s visible panty line,” she added, when I looked confused. “You don’t want the outline of her underwear to be obvious through the dress, and you don’t want her bra straps to show.”

Following her instructions, I pulled the dress close to her body along the seams and the darts, pinning as I went. She showed me some shortcuts, but was generally very surprised at how quickly I was catching on. Perhaps if I’d had the experience she did, I would have known to be surprised as well, but it all somehow seemed so obvious once she had shown me, although I was sure I had never seen it done before, and my hands almost naturally knew exactly how and where to insert the pins to hold the measurements without jabbing the wearer.

She checked the fit against the mirror on my closet and pronounced herself quite pleased. “I think you know a lot more than you’re letting on, Marsh. This seems like old hat to you.”

“I’m guessing that I must have overheard my mother doing it many times and somehow just remembered. I promise you that I’ve never done anything like this before.”

“First time or not, you clearly knew what you were doing. I don’t see any reason that you couldn’t fit your roommate for her gown anytime you like.”

She doffed the garment and replaced the pins in their original positions, following her markings, which she then removed. “At this rate, you’re going to be able to do alterations yourself by the end of the term. I’ve never seen anybody pick up these techniques so quickly. Let’s see what you can do with the zippers I brought last week.”

So I took a look, with her supervising. The zippers actually exhibited two very different problems. The first was trivial – the bottom teeth of the zipper were bad and she showed me how to stitch a new stop to avoid them. The second was much more difficult – the zipper actually had to be replaced. Quick learner or not, it took me over an hour to follow her directions, because the seams that held the zipper were a bit complicated. But once again, once I got into it, it all felt incredibly familiar and obvious, as though I actually had once learned how and forgotten.

Nikki was full of praise again, which gave me something positive to hold on to. I might be failing as an “actress” but at least I was picking up the sewing well. “OK, take care,” she said as she left. “And I am going to talk to Alvin about this.”

After she was gone, it occurred to me to wonder how Alvin would take Nikki castigating him for send Jared and me off together like that. I almost called her back, but decided that she knew him a lot better than I did. If she felt that he would handle it well, I just had to trust her.

I called Tina. We hadn’t spoken in almost a week, and I had promised to do better about keeping in touch. The big problem was, what to tell her? I had already spoken to both Lee Ann and Nikki about Jared. Surely I didn’t need to tell Tina as well? Besides, she would be worried about the sewing thing, since I had told her that it was threatening this little experiment.

“So everything’s OK now?” she asked, hopefully, after I told her about my progress, thanks to Nikki’s help.

“I wouldn’t say OK, as much as ‘moving in the right direction’. Nikki’s teaching me, but I’m not sure how much money I’m going to be able to earn, with her having to take on the bigger and more expensive jobs. At the rate I’m going, I’m only going to pull in maybe $300 for the rest of the semester, and that’s not going to be enough.”

“I did have one idea…” she offered.


“You could bring some things home and I could help you do them on Mom’s machine.”

“Would we have enough time? I mean, you’d pretty much have to do them, since right now I’m totally useless at anything non-trivial, and I don’t want Mom knowing that. So we’d have to hope she goes out for a while. How much could we really do in, say, three hours?”

“Probably not much,” she admitted. “Maybe you could leave some and come back for them another time? I could work on them on my own.”

“Wow, that’s really generous of you, Teen, and I really appreciate the suggestion, but don’t you think Mom and Dad would wonder why I was coming home so often? I mean, that wouldn’t be usual, would it? And the train fare back and forth would really eat into my earnings. It’s not that it’s a bad idea; I just don’t see a way to make it work.”

“Um, what if we do it the other way? What if I come up to visit you? That shouldn’t be really odd, should it? Me going to visit my sister at college? And then I could help you there.”

To say that I was touched would have been an understatement. “That is an absolutely incredible offer, Teen, and I’m really tempted to take you up on it…”

“I can come up this weekend.”

“… but it’s not realistic. I’d love to have you here, although I’m really not sure where I’d put you up…”

“I’d sleep with you, of course. You’re a girl now, so what’s the big deal?”

“Um, right.” I had so far managed to avoid being undressed around girls, and I had managed not to see girls undressed – or mostly. Lee Ann and Terry did sometimes walk around in their underwear, but you get used to that when you do theater, and we have a private bathroom, so I haven’t had to share it so far. But if Tina slept over, we’d have to change in front of each other; plus, we’d have to share the bed or one of us would have to sleep on the floor. She might be comfortable with that, but I sure wasn’t. And it wasn’t something I even wanted to discuss. So I pointed out something else.

“How would we explain it to Mom and Dad?” I pointed out, and it was only partially an excuse. “I mean, sure we can say that we miss each other, but – after just a few weeks? They’d know we were up to something. Besides, even if you didn’t have choir practice, it’s really not fair to you.”

“I do have a motive, you know. I don’t want you calling an end to this and… you know.”

“I know, Teen. And it’s not going to happen. I promise. I’m really sorry I panicked. I said that I would wait until after Christmas…”

“… at the earliest, right?”

“Right – at the earliest.” There was no harm in letting her think I was considering extending this. “I think I’m just going to have to depend on Nikki to help me here, and assume that it’s enough. I do have some money that Marsha earned in the first half, after all.”

That had made me a bit uncomfortable, at first, when I discovered the account. After all, it was really Marsha’s money, not mine, wasn’t it? Or was it? How do you even work out that kind of issue? When I changed back, where would she go, and where had she been before? A philosophy major probably would have had a ball, playing with the possibilities. In the end I justified using by remembering that I was going to be paying the same bills as she would have, even if it mattered.

Tina agreed to keep looking for ideas that did not require my coming home or her coming here. Then she remembered something else. “Oh! Chad came by. He said he had some thoughts that he wanted to share with you on your… situation. Did you want to call him? I’ll get his phone number.”

“Don’t bother,” I told her. “I remember it. If for some reason I don’t get through and he calls back, you can just give him my cell number. Thanks for passing on the message, Teen. Bye”

I had probably been a bit brusque in saying goodbye, especially since we hadn’t had the kind of chat she seemed to expect – in fact she hadn’t told me anything about herself this time, or possibly I hadn’t given her a chance. It was just that I was eager to call Chad; I hadn’t spoken to him since I got back to school, and if he had an insight, it was bound to be worth hearing.

34 Seldom What They Seem

Given that Geoff’s number had changed, I probably shouldn’t have been so confident that I knew Chad’s, but the number I called turned out to be correct, and his mother answered.

“Hi, Mrs. Barnes,” I said. “It’s Marsh Steen. Is Chad in?”

“Jennifer! How are you? What’s new in college?” Whoa. Jennifer? I’d forgotten. She’d always called me “Dwight” before, rather than “Marshall,” insisting that people should be called by their first names. Chad and I used to laugh about it behind her back; apparently, that pattern had carried over. There was some logic to it, I suppose, but it was strange to hear myself called that.

“I’m fine, Mrs. Barnes,” I answered. Sometimes I could get away without a personal update when I called, but generally only when I had spoken to her recently. Marsha had probably called very rarely, so it wasn’t happening today. “I’m in some interesting classes, and I’m in a play.”

“What play?”

The Mousetrap, by Agatha Christie. I’m playing the role of Mollie – that’s a very large role. We’ve only just started rehearsing, but it looks like it’s going to be fun.” The more information I gave her, usually the fewer things she would think to ask me. I used to try to give very terse answers, but experience had taught me that it just made the grilling longer. I’d eventually gotten to the point where I could usually get past her after only three or four questions.

“How nice! And when are you performing?”

“At the beginning of December. The week before House Parties, and before exams start.”

“That’s convenient, isn’t it? Are you seeing anybody? Do you have a date?”

“Not right now, Mrs. Barnes. With the play and my classes and my sewing, I’ve decided that I don’t really have time for a social life right now. I can do that later.” And I really didn’t want to think about House Parties right now.

“That’s very sensible of you, Jennifer. Responsibilities first. It was so nice talking to you again. Did you want to talk to Chad?”

“Yes, please.”

Chad must have heard her end of the conversation, as he was right there.

“Hey, Marsh.”

“Hey, Chad,” I said eagerly, “Tina said that you had some ideas for me.”

“Well, it’s mostly just some thoughts and questions. I think it’s really odd that the writer of the article didn’t say anything about trying to find the experimenters, and I was wondering… is it possible that there is some other explanation?”

“Like what?”

“Well… I don’t want to minimize anything you’ve told me, but is it possible that this is just some kind of mass hypnosis or something? Maybe nobody remembers you as a boy because you never were one, and they just made you believe that you were? And they did the same thing for all those other students?”

“It’s an interesting thought, Chad, but it won’t fly. I don’t just ‘believe’ that I was a boy. I remember my old life. Hypnosis wouldn’t make me able to play the guitar, for example.”

“Are you sure you can? Have you tried? Maybe they just made you believe that you could.”

“Not possible. I haven’t tried because I don’t have a guitar and haven’t had time to look for one I could borrow, but I know way too much about playing. I understand music theory that Marsha wouldn’t; I know how to make dozens of chords, and I can actually remember the way it feels to play and bend strings and… lots of things somebody who doesn’t play wouldn’t know.”

“But how do you know that your memories are accurate? Have you checked with somebody who actually plays?”

I sighed. I was certain, but I didn’t have any real way to prove it. “And I remember the books I used to own, which are different from the ones Marsha has, and I understand sports better than Marsha probably would, and…” Then I had a thought. “How about your room? How could they have given me knowledge of your stash?”

“OK, good point,” he conceded. “But it doesn’t answer the original question. How do you know the experimenters are still there? Maybe their manipulation made them vanish.”

“Wait. How would it do that?”

“Well, I’m just speculating, but doesn’t it seem that if they were around, the article would have mentioned them, or the administration would have acknowledged them? What if… I’m just playing with ideas here, but… well, let’s say that they changed one of the students from birth, maybe gave them a genetic defect, and as a result, their parents wound up giving money to some medical fund instead of to Piques. What if that money was what funded the research in the first place? I mean, shouldn’t you check?”

It sounded kind of far-fetched, but… “I promised Tina that I wouldn’t go to them until after New Years, Chad.”

“I’m not saying to talk to them, Marsh. I just think you should make sure they’re there.”

“Hmm. I guess I could take a look around the physics building. My schedule’s packed to the gills, but this seems kind of important. OK, thanks, Chad.”

“So… um, otherwise, how are you doing?” He sounded a bit forced, and it took me a moment to understand why. I had told him that he and Marshall were best friends. He was apparently trying to play the role that he thought I expected of him.

The problem is, “how are you doing?” wasn’t how he and I had related. We talked sports or science fiction or gave each other problems to solve. He was trying to be friends to the guy that I had told him I was, but was relating to me as though I were a girl. He really wouldn’t be all that interested in hearing about Jared. I didn’t want to talk to him about sewing, and I wasn’t doing anything like the things that used to give me topics of conversation to share. I hadn’t read a science fiction book in nearly three weeks, since Marsha didn’t own any, and I hadn’t been following the Phillies nearly well enough to say anything intelligent about them. Living as a girl was making it hard for me to talk to my best friend.

But he seemed to expect something, so I just said, “It’s hard, but I’m managing, and now you’ve given me something else to think about. Thanks.” That’s probably what Marsha would have said, but it didn’t advance our kind of conversation. I didn’t want to relate to him as Marsha, especially after his suggestion that that’s who I really was. Or that I might be stuck as her, even if he conceded that I hadn’t started that way.

“Sure,” he said. “Um… “ And then he paused. For longer than I would have thought necessary.

“Go ahead, Chad. You need to accept that I’m really a guy, inside.”

“Yeah, yeah, it’s just… look, I’m working on it, Marsh.

“I know, and I appreciate it,” I told him. I didn’t want things to get too awkward, not with him, so I let him off the hook. “And if you have any more ideas, why don’t you just call me?” I gave him my cell number and then hung up.

Chad and his mother had raised two issues I had been trying hard to ignore. First, of course, was House Parties. Sitting in my bedroom when both of my roommates – and most of the campus – were enjoying themselves was not going to be pleasant. I’m kind of a love addict, and while I had resigned myself to being romance-free during this interlude, House Parties was going to be kind of rubbing it in. But Chad’s suggestion was downright horrifying. Spending a few months as Marsha was interesting, and getting to play Mollie was still exciting, even with the Jared problem, and I was sure that I could learn a lot of useful things from Jared, playing a lead role. But I had assumed that this was all temporary. As for his suggestion that there might actually not be a way back? Well, that didn’t really bear thinking about – not if I wanted to retain my sanity.

Friday night posed a bit of a dilemma. I really didn’t want to spend it alone, but comments had been made about my going out with the gang when I had said that I had “no time” to date. So when Lee Ann asked if I was going to a movie with the girls, I told her that I had to work on something.

“Marsh, you’re not hiding because of the guy in the Grill, are you?”

“No!” I protested. “I just need to get some work done.”

“On what?”

I hadn’t thought that far ahead, so I hesitated.

“This isn’t something I’d suggest to most girls, Marsh, but I think it would make you feel a lot better if you had a regular boyfriend.”

What? “I… I told you, Lee Ann, I don’t have-“

“If you could have simply said to that jerk that you had a boyfriend, it would have been much easier for you.”

“Lee Ann,” I tried again, “I just don’t-“

“And I have just the right guy in mind for you.”

“Haven’t we already-“


Huh? “Wait. I thought you were interested in Geoff.”

“Why would I be interested in Geoff when I have Stephen?” Seeing my look of confusion, she explained, “Geoff and I are just flirting. He knows about Stephen. Chandra’s seeing his roommate and she told him.”

“But…” I protested. “I heard Chandra tell him that you were probably going to break up with Stephen!”

She looked at me with surprise. “What? That doesn’t make any sense. Why would she…?” She looked thoughtful. “You’re sure?”

“I was standing right next to her when Geoff asked if you had a boyfriend, and I told her you did, and she said it wasn’t going to last.”

“Hmmm. I wonder what’s that’s all about. So you think that Geoff…”

“He’s been after me in Orgo to get your number.”

She sighed. “OK, looks as though I’m going to have to talk to him. But I could tell him to call you…”

“No thanks, Lee Ann,” I protested. “I’m really serious about not wanting to see any boys right now. And I’m going to have to deal with Jared myself. I just have to figure out how.”

“If you’re sure… Well, since we’ve established that you’re not actually busy tonight, how about coming to a movie with us?” And she smiled at me as she said it, so what I could say?

35 The Naked Truth

After breakfast, I headed over to the physics building. I had planned a fairly cursory search. As I remembered, I had been in a fairly large lab, so how hard could it be to find it again? Sure, the guy who signed me up for the experiment had met me at the desk in the building lobby and guided me there, but still…

My plans came to an abrupt halt when I reached the door. It was locked. Apparently, since there were no classes on the weekend, and the professors had off, the building wasn’t open. So I needed to find somebody with a key. I had one idea about who could help me, but I wouldn’t see him until lunch, so I spent the morning studying. Or tried to, at any rate.

I was interrupted by a knock. “You were really serious about being busy, weren’t you?” Terry asked as she opened my door. You’ve really turned into a study Sue. Did you have a lot of trouble with your mid-terms?”

“My grades were fine, actually,” I answered, “but I am pre-med, after all. I have to get really good grades if I want to get into medical school.”

“Sure, but you’ve never been this obsessed over it, before. You are coming to the game with us, aren’t you?”

“The game…?”

“Marsha! The football game, remember?”

“Oh, right… um, of course I’m going.” Even though I had no idea who “we” were. If Marsha had gone, then I had to, even though I wasn’t all that big a college football fan.

She looked at my garment rack. “Oh! You’re getting through your jobs. Do you have time for me, now?”

Nikki had praised my pinning skills, so I decided to take a chance. “Sure,” I answered. “Go get the gown and I’ll measure you.” Then I remembered something Nikki had told me. “And change into the underwear and shoes you’ll be wearing at the party. I’ll need to measure you in it.”

She shrugged and left, then came back immediately with the gown and shoes, much too quickly to have changed. To my surprise, she closed the door and then proceeded to take off all of her clothes before dressing as ordered.

“W- wait…” I stammered in surprise, my eyes bulging. “You… but… no underwear?”

“I intend to enjoy the entire evening, Marsh,” she explained with a conspiratorial smile. “Greg and I don’t stop partying when everybody else does.”

I didn’t say anything, but tried to act the consummate professional, keeping my thoughts to myself and my eyes in my head, although I knew that was more acting than professionalism. It would have freaked her out to have “Marsha” show too much interest, so I focusing on the pinning itself. It was enough of an effort that it took most of my attention. There were a few places that needed to be taken in, and one that seemed just a bit tight. Nikki hadn’t been explicit about it, but it seemed obvious that I would have to open a seam before measuring, so I had Terry take off the gown while I found something in the sewing box that would work. I carefully tore open the stitches, sneaking a couple of peeks at her splendid naked body when she wasn’t looking. Then I measured and pinned some more after she had put it back on. That actually had taken me a bit to puzzle out, but my acting experience helped there. Mr. Condrin had always said that when you get lost, you just carry on, and your audience won’t know, and indeed Terri never noticed anything wrong. In particular, she didn’t notice my increasing nervousness, and she would never had imagined the reason, even if she had.

Rather, she talked all through the session. “I’m really hoping that you can get this done early, Marsh. I mean, I know that you have a lot of things to do with the play and all, but I was hoping to give Greg a preview. I mean, what I wore last spring wasn’t really anything, and I think this is going to show off my figure a bit better. You know how hard it is for me to find something to look good in.”

I didn’t pay a lot of attention to what she was saying, as it didn’t seem important. That is, it seemed more important to her that she say it than that I respond. But there were times when she did seem to need an answer, so I told her general things, such as “You’re going to look great in this, Terry.” I tried to remember what Mom had said to her own customers when she fit them, but I hadn’t really paid a lot of attention. It didn’t seem to matter, though. Terry seemed quite pleased with any compliment I gave her.

When I was done, Terry took off the gown again and handed it to me.

“Any idea when you’ll have it done?” she asked, while standing before me in nothing but her heels.

“A few weeks,” I told her; I had decided to ask Nikki to help me learn to do this one myself. Since there was still about seven weeks until it was needed, that wasn’t going to be a problem. But her nudity and my silent reaction to it was a problem – possibly a very serious one – and Chad was the only one I could think of who might be able to help me. I really needed her to get dressed and leave.

“I assume you are going to be grinding away again this morning, Marsh?” She asked, finally donning her regular clothes again. “I’ll come get you when we leave for lunch.”

As soon as she left, I closed my door and called Chad. I got his mother again, of course. “Jennifer! Is something wrong?”

Not now! I thought to myself. I need to talk to Chad! But I bit my tongue and went through the ritual. “Nothing’s wrong, Mrs. Barnes, I just had something I wanted to talk to Chad about.

“Was he helpful yesterday?”

“Yes, Mrs. Barnes,” I said, trying hard not to sound as if I were clenching my teeth, “we had a very nice conversation. Your son always has an interesting perspective on things.”

“Why, thank, Jennifer. Let me go call him.”

Whew! Only two questions, that time. Still, if I ever came into money I was definitely going to buy him a cell phone.

“Marsh?” Chad was understandably surprised to hear from me two days in a row. “What’s up? Did you find them already?”

“I haven’t started yet, Chad. Look I need to talk to you about something else.”

He must have heard the urgency in my voice, because his tone switched to one of concern.

“What’s wrong?”

I got right to the point. “One of Marsha’s roommates was standing in front of me totally naked today in high heels and I didn’t feel turned on at all.”

Chad laughed. “Well, then you’re not any guy I know. Unless she was a total dog?”

“No, that’s the point, Chad,” I said, a bit annoyed. “Terry is really sexy. Three weeks ago, I would have gone for her in a heart-beat – if it weren’t for the fact that her boyfriend is the size of a small truck.”

He laughed again. “OK, you’re also definitely not Marsha. Wow. So, what were you doing? I’m pretty sure that if I were in the middle of a tough game, I probably wouldn’t react to a naked sexy girl, either. And… if you ever feel like putting me to the test on that…” He snickered. “You may be a boy inside, but your body would work as a very nice test subject.

“Come on, Chad! That’s sick! I’m not going to parade around… Ugh. You’re missing the point. I wasn’t doing anything distracting. I was just helping her with some clothing, and she tried it on without any underwear!”

“And you got an eyeful. Very nice. So, there’s a silver lining to this ‘turned into a girl’ thing, right?”

“Chad, you’re not hearing me. I got my eyeful…. And I didn’t react. Not physically, anyway. It was like she was… I don’t know, a beautiful piece of artwork or something. Intellectually, I admired her, but that was about as far as it went. I’m freaking out about this a bit. Shouldn’t I have been really turned on?”

“I don’t know. Maybe you’re just too used to the nude female body now, since you’re wearing one yourself?”

Aargh! Why am I not getting through? “Chad, in the past five years, I’ve seen lots of lots of naked girls, and I’ve never gotten tired of it or jaded. Seeing Marsha’s body is not a turn on, and never has been. But other girls’ bodies should be. So what happened?”

I heard him hesitate, and sort of hum, which was a familiar sign. It meant that he was finally thinking about the puzzle. “So looking at a beautiful naked girl didn’t turn you on? Weird.”

“Not ‘weird,’ Chad. Horrible! Look, I’m definitely in a ‘no touching’ mode with girls, since Marsha was straight. But I figured I could at least get my jollies from looking!”

“Yeah, yeah, I see what you mean. Yeah, that’s sounds like a problem. OK. OK, let’s think about this. Um, what kinds of things have turned you on since… uh, since this experiment?”

I thought for a moment, but couldn’t come up with anything. “To be honest, Chad, I’ve been so intent on trying to cope as a girl, that I haven’t gotten turned on at all.”

“Not at all?! Well…” and he paused again, but this time he sounded a bit hesitant. “What happened when you… I mean, now that you have free access… you know what I mean…? I’m sure you must have… you know… played with… the new parts?”

“You mean have I masturbated as a girl?”

“Um…. Yeah.”

“No. Absolutely not. That’s one part of my body that is definitely not mine. It’s Marsha’s, and I’m not going to… take liberties with her body like that.”

He was incredulous. “Seriously? I mean, dude, you get to finger a… um… oh boy. I’m working hard on the ‘you’re a guy’ bit, but I still feel like I’m talking to Marsha, and she’s kind of… you know, modest in the way she talks.”

“I understand, Chad, and I’ve been working hard to talk like her. Tina was really shocked when I got a bit spicy in my language a few weeks ago.”

“I’ll bet.” He thought a bit more. “But why not, you know, pleasure yourself?”

“Because this isn’t my body. I’m living in it, but the real me is inside. Besides, you’re missing the point. I’m sure that really getting turned on physically is something I could recognize. But I’m talking about what happens when I just look. Even if I didn’t fully get turned on as a guy, I’d feel something. So why aren’t I feeling anything now?

“You haven’t felt the urge to look at all?”

“I’ve felt the urge; I mean, I looked at Terry while I was working on her gown and she was naked. I just didn’t feel anything when I looked.”

“Well, maybe you just don’t know what it feels like. I mean, as a guy, it’s pretty obvious, right? It’s pretty much impossible to look and not get turned on a little. You’re used to that, and now you’re sort of missing a critical indicator.”

That sounded good. “So you’re saying that maybe I did feel something and just didn’t notice?”


It was just the answer I wanted, and I grasped at it. It proved that there wasn’t anything wrong with me; I was just working with an unfamiliar body and an unfamiliar response system.

“Thanks, Chad,” I told him. “I was starting to get a bit worried.”

“Well, you know,” he continued. “That means that you need practice, right? So you can get to know what it’s supposed to feel like.”

“Makes sense to me.”

“Right. So, here are your marching orders, Private: you need to spend the day girl-watching!”

I laughed. This was the buddy I remembered. “Problem is, Chad, I’m supposed to go to a football game with the roommates this afternoon.”

“And they don’t have cheerleaders? Sexy cheerleaders in skimpy little skirts? Little skirts that going flying as they wave their pom-poms?”

“You know they do,” I laughed again.

“And porn! That’s what the internet is for, you know. Unless you expect to have lots and lots of chances to see naked girls…?”

“Probably not. OK, the porn’s a good idea, too.”

“Right. And report back to me after the game, OK? Diss… missed!”

I laughed again and hung up, feeling much better. The football game hadn’t interested me, but now I had my own reason for going. And maybe just as important, Chad and I were back on the same page. The day was definitely taking a turn for the better.

36 Playing the Game

When I got off the phone with Chad, I still had a fair amount of time before lunch; I had started to fall a bit behind in my course reading, but it was the weekend, and my sanity was at stake, so instead I took Chad’s advice and started searching for porn on the internet. Now porn is hardly difficult to find, but I hadn’t spent a lot of time looking for it before. As I told Chad, I’d hardly lacked for sexy – and naked – female companionship, and that was a lot nicer than still pictures, but I had gone through occasional droughts, however brief, when I didn’t have anything better. This definitely qualified.

I found pictures of naked girls almost immediately – girls smiling for the camera and exposing their assets in poses that seemed intended to lure the reader, or engaging in sex acts both mundane and exotic. There wasn’t an awful lot of creativity, but then most people looking for porn probably had other things on their minds than high-minded artistic critiques. After a while, it became something of a game for me to see how many different poses I could find.

It was less than an hour later that Lee Ann knocked on my door to tell me that she and Terry were going to lunch. Hurriedly, I closed my laptop’s lid – I really didn’t want to have to explain why I was looking at pictures of naked girls. I can’t say that the session had been a great success; I still hadn’t managed to identify the erotic sensation that would let me know that I was turned on. I had even thought of touching… but somehow I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

As the three of us trooped into the lunch room, I suddenly remembered what else I had intended to do that day. Lee Ann noticed how distracted I was when we had gotten our meals.

“Marsh, are you looking for somebody?”

I was a bit embarrassed at being caught. “I’m… actually, I’m looking for Jay.”

“Jay? Wait, did I miss something?” Terry said, teasingly. “I thought you were ignoring boys for now, Marsh.”

“It’s not that – I just wanted to ask him something.”

“Uh huh…” The two of them nodded at one another, knowingly.

And damn it, I mean, confound it if they didn’t manage to make me blush! I knew perfectly well what they were suggesting and that it wasn’t anything close to the truth – but there I was, turning red anyway.

“You guys…” I started, but that only elicited a pair of giggles.

It was strange to realize that I had come to think of them as friends, rather than as Marsha’s roommates, whom I needed to deceive. It had only been two weeks, yet I had started to become close to both of them. I guess I could put up with some good-natured teasing from friends.

I was saved from the need to continue the topic by more of our friends joining us: Lisa and Susie and Phil, and eventually, Jay. Naturally, my roommates felt a need to tease just a bit more.

“Oh, Jay,” Lee Anne trilled, “Marsha was looking for you. Do you need some privacy?”

Naturally, Jay was perplexed. “Looking for me?” he echoed.

“I just wanted to ask you a few questions,” I explained, trying not to get embarrassed all over again. “You’re a physics major, aren’t you?”

“Uh huh.”

“And do you have a key to the building?”

“No… pretty much only seniors and grad students get keys. Why?”

“Oh well. I just wanted to… look for something.”

“What would you be looking for in…? Oh, wait. This wouldn’t have anything to do with that article, would it?”

“I just wanted to see if I could find the lab-“

“Marsha, give it a rest. There is no lab. There is no ‘time travel’ experiment. The whole thing is a hoax.”

“That’s what I’m trying to find out. I thought…”

“No! There is no way that anybody could ever get funding for such a thing. It violates… well, lots of things. It’s pure science fiction, and if any prof in the department were trying anything of the kind, he’d be a laughing stock and everybody would know about it.”

“Maybe he called it something else? Like ‘time variations’ or something.”

“It doesn’t matter what you call it. It didn’t happen. The department does physics, not science fiction entertainment. Drop it!”

I cringed before his vehemence. “OK, OK.” I was obviously going to have to do my searching during the week, when the building was open. I had just hoped to get a bit of a head start, but that obviously wasn’t going to be possible.

To my chagrin, many of Marsha’s friends had watched the entire exchange with evident amusement. I expected a fair bit of good-natured teasing for some time to come. Admittedly, I didn’t really understand the science behind it, but I knew that time travel was real – hadn’t I experienced its effects? Alvin and Nikki believed in the experiment. Why didn’t everyone? Several victims had come forward, hadn’t they? Why was there still so much skepticism?

I didn’t raise the subject again at lunch. Certainly I had reasons for not revealing what had happened to me. Maybe if I could find somebody else to talk to? But Nikki’s brother did not really seem like somebody who could be rational about it, and I didn’t know any other victims.

Back in our room after lunch, I asked Terry who was going.

“You, me, Lisa, and Shiela,” she answered. “Oh – and Susie finally agreed to go with us.”

“Lee Ann’s not coming?”

“No, Lee Ann never comes. I think she and Chandra are doing something this afternoon.”

As the five of us watched the early minutes of the game, Susie seemed to be having second thoughts. “This is going to be so boring,” she complained. “I don’t know what’s going on, and how can I do any boy-watching if they’re all wearing those helmuts and padding?”

That caught my attention. Considering my own intentions for the game, hearing that Susie had planned a boy-watching session was kind of funny.

“You’re looking at it wrong, Susie,” Sheila told her. “First of all, do you know what they’re wearing under those uniform pants?”

“I’ve never gone out with a football player, so how I would know?”

“It’s called a jock strap – sort of thong for boys.”

That was a characterization I’d never heard before. I mean, I’d worn one for intramural sports in high school, but had never thought of myself as wearing a ‘thong.’”

At any rate, Susie suddenly looked interested in what Sheila was saying. So did Lisa. Terry, who was sitting on the other side of me, was focused on the game, and didn’t seem to be paying a lot of attention to their conversations, but since I was sitting right next to Sheila, it was hard for me to ignore.

“So that means,” Sheila continued, “that there’s nothing between the pants and the boy – at least in the back.”

“Oh…” said Susie, suddenly peering at the field. “And when they line up all bent over between plays…”

“Exactly. Now ask Terry what the boy wearing number 83 is.”

Terry must have been listening to the conversation after all, since she answered without taking her eyes off the field, “He’s a tight end.”

At that, all three of them, Lisa, Susie, and Sheila, burst into a fit of giggles, while I tried to shrink under my seat. Listening to girls talking about boys’ physical attributes had not been part of my plans. And from that point, the conversation got even more ribald in ways that I would be embarrassed to repeat.

As I told Chad when I called him after the game,

“And they noticed me… blushing, or something. I just… didn’t expect all that sex talk. Not from girls. And not at a football game!”

I heard him coughing and laughing, maybe both at the same time. “You didn’t think girls liked to talk about boys?”

“Well, yeah, I guess, but… you know… not like that! I was expecting them to be all innocent and gushing and stuff.”

“Boy, for somebody who claims to have been a guy with lots of girlfriends, you sound pretty naïve,” he snickered. “Didn’t your girlfriends ever talk to you about sex?”

“Well, sure,” I said, feeling justifiably aggrieved. “But that was in private. This was in public!”

It really didn’t help my mood that he was laughing out loud on the other end of the line. “I don’t think you would have laughed if you had been there,” I told him, sourly.

“I don’t think they would have been so… open… if I had been there,” he pointed out, still sounding all too amused. “But that wasn’t the point of the game for you, was it? What about the cheerleaders?”

“Oh, right. The cheerleaders. Well…” I temporized. “It was hard to see their faces, you know. We were about ten rows back.’

“You weren’t supposed to be worrying about their faces, Marsh. What about those short little skirts? What about the way they moved?”

“Um. Well, they were really energetic, and they kept doing all these fancy moves, and…”

“Yeah?” he said, sounding eager.

“And I kept thinking that with all of that, their outfits were probably taking a lot of abuse and might wear out or tear…”

“That’s a good thought.”

“… and I wondered who was making money from repairing them.”

He didn’t answer for about ten seconds. When it did, it was with an incredulous, “You wondered what?”

“Well, I don’t have a guitar anymore,” I explained, feeling a bit defensive. “Marsha earned money for college as a seamstress, and I’ve been learning to sew, and a lot of what I know how to do is repair clothing, and…”

“Marsh, if you’re trying to convince me that you’re really a dude inside, going on about sewing isn’t exactly helping your case.”

“I know, I know, Chad. I guess I’m really bothered by that conversation, and I’ve been nervous about money, and I’m just trying to get by. You have no idea how hard this is, stepping into Marsha’s life, like this.” Then I realized what he had said. “Wait. You do believe me, right? That I’m really Marshall inside?”

“Well…” He paused, briefly. “I believe that you believe it. I’m not ruling anything out. Your personality is certainly different from what I remember, so something clearly happened. But right now, the only evidence is your memory. If you could find those scientists, that would help. I’ll try to come up with some more ideas, as well.”


“So the cheerleader experiment was a bust, apparently.”

“It wasn’t a fair test,” I protested. “Because of the distance, and me being distracted, and-“

“What about the porn? Did you look?”

This time it was I who paused before answering. “You know, I’ve never been all that crazy about porn…” I started.

“Marsh,” he asked firmly. “Did. You. Look. At pictures of naked girls?”

I took a deep breath before answering. “Yes, I did, Chad. And whatever it is I’m supposed to feel… I still don’t know. I’m just too new in this body. And you’re not a girl at all, so you don’t really know what it’s supposed to feel like, either. I just don’t know what to look for.”

“And how are you planning on finding that out?”

“I’m just going to have to ask a girl,” I told him. “She’ll tell me how to recognize what you’re supposed to feel, and then I’m sure I’ll be able to feel it.”

“You’re going to ask Tina about something like this?” he asked, surprised.

“No. I’m going to ask the girl who’s been teaching me to sew. She’s my friend – well, actually, she was Marsha’s friend, but now she’s mine, too. And she knows about me. Or at least part of the truth. That’s probably what I should have done in the first place. Once she tells me, I’m sure I’ll be able to feel that excitement again. That’s my only real problem, here, Chad. I just don’t know what to expect. Oh, and I’m going to have to wait until Monday to look for the guys who did this to me. But it’s going to be all right.”

“If you’re sure…”

“Yeah, I’m sure. But you let me know if you have any more ideas, OK?”

“I’ll do that, Marsh. Talk to you later.”

I thought I’d put up a good front, because I didn’t want to listen to Chad doubting me, doubting my identity. But those doubts kept yammering in my ears. And I still hadn’t figured out what to do about Jared, or how I was going to make ends meet. But one thing at a time, I reminded myself. I’ll call Nikki, and she’ll help me solve one problem at a time.

37 A Neutral Answer

I planned my call with Nikki before I dialed her number. Our friendship had been based around theater and sewing, but her warmth gave me confidence that she would help me out here, as well. Still, I would feel a lot more comfortable talking to her in person, so I decided to invite her over on a pretext and then ask.

I was afraid that she might be spending the day with Alvin, but she answered on the third ring.


“Hi, Nikki. Um… It’s Marsh.”

“Hi, Marsh!”

“Um… I wanted to ask you something. Um… I just pinned up my roommate’s gown for her, and I was wondering if you could take a look at it.”

“Oh! Well, I can certainly do that. When would be a good time for you?”

“Um… now?”

“Now?” She paused for a moment. “OK. I’ll be right over.”

She arrived about five minutes later and inspected my work with Terry’s gown.

“Not bad. I see you even figured out about opening the seam. I think that somehow, you still do remember some of this.”

“I suppose that’s possible,” I admitted. “I have no idea why I remember my old life at all.”

“You really should tell me something about that old life of yours. The way you’ve been coping makes me wonder if you aren’t better off, now.”

I was about to disillusion her on that score, but before I could say anything, she stepped back and asked me, “Now, why don’t you tell me the real reason you wanted me to come over?” Seeing my surprise, she added, “Marsh, you have several weeks to get this gown done and we haven’t even gone over how to do it. There was no reason at all for you to be in a hurry for me to look it over.”

So much for that pretext. But she had come over, which is what mattered. “It’s just something that… I’m not really sure…” I took a breath and jumped right in. “What is it supposed to feel like when you admire someone?”

“What?!” She stared at me. That was obviously not the kind of question she had been expecting.

“I mean, when you’re looking at somebody… and you think they’re really attractive…”

“Oh,” she answered, “You mean, like when you see a guy and you think to yourself, ‘Yum, I wouldn’t mind some of that’? Not that I look anymore, I mean, since I started dating Alvin.”

“You don’t?”

She smirked. “Well, not as far as he knows, anyway. Is that what you mean?”

“Yeah, something like that,” I said.

“Are you having a problem?”

It was a bit embarrassing to explain. “I just… I’ve noticed that I look at… people who I know I would have found attractive, before… before this change happened… and now I just don’t feel anything. I was wondering if somehow it’s affected my ability to… you know, enjoy the feeling.”

She looked thoughtful. “Did you date a lot in your old life?”

“Pretty much constantly,” I told her. “I hadn’t really gone without a date for more than a month or so in years.”

“That is different. The Marsha I remember barely dated at all. I think you told me about a boyfriend in high school…?”

“Dirk Simon,” I muttered.

“And I think there were a couple of dates here and there last year, but that’s it. Maybe you just don’t have the same drive you remember. Or… you know I was joking. I don’t really spend any time looking at other guys. I’m just not interested. Maybe that’s your case as well… maybe you’re still fixated on that guy from high school, so you’re not interested in other guys?”

“That wasn’t me. I didn’t date him,” I protested, “I didn’t even particularly like him, and the whole idea that people remember ‘me’ as having done so makes me sick to my stomach, actually.”

“Then I really have no ideas. It’s not a feeling that you could miss. Your pulse starts racing a bit, you feel a bit of tension in your chest… If you’re attracted to somebody, you should be able to tell.”

And that was that, apparently. I really hadn’t found any of those girls attractive, even though I thought that I should have. I knew that Marsha had been interested in boys. What if my brain and her body just couldn’t communicate on this concept? So I’d look at a girl, but was stuck reacting with her body, which just didn’t find girls attractive.

I sagged on to my bed. “I guess I‘d been sort of expecting that answer, Nikki,” I said. “I’d been hoping that I was just missing something.”

She sat next to me and took my hands. “Tell me what you’re feeling now, Marsh”

“What I’m feeling?” It wasn’t a question that I was used to being asked. “Disappointed, bereft, lonely…”

Certainly, I’d accepted that I wasn’t going to be dating. I’d seen no indication that dating another girl could possibly be considered in character for Marsha. Still, I had thought that at least I’d have had extra opportunities for girl watching, and that I could still enjoy that. Now, even that pleasure was apparently to be denied me.

“Lonely?” she prompted me.

“Well, it means that I’m pretty much asexual, now, doesn’t it?”

“I don’t know. I guess that’s something you’re going to have to figure out for yourself.” She looked at me as though trying to decide if I wasn’t telling her something. Of course, there was, but I thought that I had been ambiguous enough that she would draw the safe – and incorrect – conclusions. “Besides, even if you are, there’s no reason you couldn’t date anyway, if you want to. You could form a relationship based on other things.”

“It’s just… strange. As though I’ve lost a part of myself.”

I was calmer than I would have expected. I suppose it was easy to console myself by remembering that it was only temporary. And it might even be an advantage, since I wouldn’t have to hide my responses if I ran into my roommates – or even other girls – in the nude or in revealing clothing.

So I smiled bravely at Nikki and said simply. “I guess this means that I have that much more to learn about the new me.”

“That’s the spirit, Marsh!” she said. “If only Ben had that attitude.”

If Ben were willing to look for the experimenters and ask them to change him back, maybe he’d feel better. He was only hurting himself with his paranoid theory that people had ‘done this to him’ on purpose. Out of friendship to Nikki, I decided, I would let him know where they where when I found them and encourage him to ask them to change him back quickly. After all, he didn’t have this stupid boast to live up to, as I did.

“So,” Nikki suggested, smiling at me, “as long as I’m here, are you ready for another lesson?”

Whatever the cause of my mood, spending time with Nikki seemed a really good way to spend the evening, so I agreed. Today’s lesson was on simple repairs, and I picked it up as quickly as I had the others, realizing without even being told that a torn belt loop indicated that the material behind it needed to be reinforced. Nikki showed me how to do exactly that, using some backing material from Marsha’s sewing kit.

Following her directions, I pinned and sewed the backing material inside the pants, and then cross-stitched the loop to it. A few experimental tugs demonstrated that the repair would hold. Again, the whole procedure had just felt really natural and obvious to me. Maybe I did remember some of what Marsha had known, although I couldn’t remember anything that had actually happened to her. I’m not sure how I would have felt if I had. How would I feel if I started remembering her life? I shuddered at the idea that I might remember kissing Dirk or something of that sort.

“Well,” Nikki observed, “at least this discovery hasn’t thrown off your sewing instincts. You seem to be some kind of prodigy, Marsh. I’m wondering if you’re even going to need my help for much longer.”

“That’s not funny, Nikki,” I told her, afraid that she might not be joking. “I… I may have picked up a few tricks, but I’m not nearly –“

She laughed. “It’s OK, Marsh. I’m not going anywhere. We’re friends, remember? I was complimenting you.”

I nodded, reassured.

“Oh, by the way. Alvin spoke to Jared about propositioning you. He was as angry as I was, and he let Jared know. He’ll back off, now. You don’t have to be afraid of him.”

“Wait. He did what?”

“He told Jared off.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. I thought Alvin was supposed to be this brilliant director. How could he have done such a thing?

“But… I thought the idea was to get us to be friends! To be able to work together! How are we going to be able to do that if he resents me for running to Alvin?”

She looked nonplussed. “But… I thought that was what you wanted.”

“No, Oh no. I should have… Aaah, not your fault. But things just got that much worse.”

And it really was my fault. I should have told her not to tell Alvin. For that matter, I should have just calmly told Jared, ‘no.’

“If you need…” she started, then stopped and shook her head. “I guess I’ve done enough damage, huh?”

I nodded and she gave me a hug. At least I had a good friend. That should count for something if this all goes boom.

We cleaned up the sewing work, said our goodbyes and she left. I had one day left. One day before Jared and I came face to face again. I was not looking forward to it. Not at all.

38 Past Tense

I don’t think I have ever approached a rehearsal with less enthusiasm. I had spent the morning reviewing my lines for the first act, just to make sure that I at least looked good on that score. I figured that my probable clash with Jared was going to make me look bad enough without stumbling over lines when I was supposed to be off-book. I had spent an hour before the rehearsal in one of the open rooms, working on my screaming. I figured I could give a reasonable account of myself all around – except, of course, for the scenes alone with “my husband.”

While we were waiting to start, I sat next to Jo on the extreme stage left side of the rehearsal room. Jared saw me and made it a point to sit on the opposite side. Jo noticed me watch him come in.

“Is something wrong, Marsh?” she asked, following my stare.

I turned to her with a rueful smile. “Jared and I had sort of a… disagreement outside of rehearsals.”

“Really? About what?”

Now I didn’t really want to talk about it any more, at least not to somebody I hadn’t already told – or who had otherwise not been let in on the secret – but I had decided by that time that stonewalling wasn’t going to work well in the kinds of friendships Marsha had. With one of my buddies, I could just say that I didn’t want to talk about it and he’d understand. In fact, he might even be relieved. But that wasn’t going to work, here.

“We… were trying to… to get to know each other better. And he… well, I wasn’t comfortable with one of his ideas.”

“Which was? Tell me!”

“He suggested that we should… um, become intimate.”

She raised her eyebrows at that. “How intimate?”

I looked away. I had already made things worse by telling Nikki; I felt as if I were tattling on Jared, now. But I wasn’t sure what I could say to Jo that would satisfy her. I really should have asked Tina to give me some pointers on girl-to-girl communications. But I took a deep breath and answered.

“He thought we should just hook up. That we should have sex.”

“You’re kidding.”

I shook my head.

“He really doesn’t know you very well, does he?”

“Well, that was sort of the point. He was trying to get to know me better. To break the ice so that we could be more comfortable on stage together.”

“Oh yeah, that worked really well, didn’t it?”

It surprised me that she was more scornful than outraged on my behalf. Was it because she hadn’t seen me crying, as Lee Ann had? And didn’t know about my situation to the extent that Nikki had? I was beginning to be even more certain that I had overreacted to his proposition. Nikki had said that his approach was wrong – but what if it was more that he was clumsy than that he had been inappropriate?

“OK, let’s get started!” Alvin called out. “We’re going to be working bit by bit. Nikki is standing by with a copy of the script, so if you get stuck, just call ‘line’ and she’ll prompt you. First bit is the beginning of the show until Giles’s exit. Marsh and Jared, please.”

We came face to face very quickly, as I had only a couple of lines before his entrance. Alvin must have really reamed him out, as the resentment in his eyes was plain, and at times he almost spat his lines at me. He didn’t even pretend to try to kiss me when the script indicated it. I didn’t too much better; trying to play ‘loving’ under these conditions was impossible, and I felt more timid – or intimidated – than anything.

We slogged through the scene pretty much perfectly on our lines and blocking, but the acting was a disaster. Oh, I could tell he was trying. Every so often he would catch himself and try to speak gently to me, but it didn’t last. The murmuring from the rest of the cast indicated that they had noticed, but Alvin didn’t stop us. I wasn’t really sure what he could do, even if he had.

“O… K.” was all Alvin said when we had finished. “Marsh, why don’t you take a moment to collect yourself, and we’ll add Tom. We’ll go until Mollie and Christopher exit together.”

I thought that both Jared and I needed to sit down while somebody else worked, but there isn’t a moment in the first scene when we’re both offstage. So I took a deep breath, tried to get into the mindset of a new guesthouse hostess and smiled at Tom when I thought I was ready.

I might have overdone the cheerfulness a bit, but the interaction with Tom, in the role of Christopher Wren, felt much more comfortable. I only needed to ask for a line once, and I thought I was doing reasonably well on my character, at least until Jared came back onstage. He is supposed to be cold to Christopher and then pleasant to me, and he even stopped himself for a moment to change his mood, but then delivered his line to me, ‘Oak Room, did you say?’ to me with clenched teeth.

Tom and I finished the bit, and Alvin gave us notes.

“Marsh, don’t forget to turn off the radio before you go to greet Tom. Tom, I’d like to see you a bit more flamboyant when you enter and a bit more scornful about the taxi giving up at the gate. Excellent greeting to Giles. Jared, look at his hand for a moment before deciding to take it. Let us see from the start that he’s rubbed you the wrong way. Marsh, a bit colder on the line about being ‘married just a year.’ You should have noticed that Giles didn’t like Chris. Let that influence you, as well as his prying questioning. OK, let’s try that again.”

The bit ran a bit smoother the second time, although Jared didn’t even make eye contact with me when he addressed me, and this pattern continued throughout our rehearsal of scene one. When we were on together, the hostility was palpable. When I was onstage without him, I was able to perform well enough, given the early phase of rehearsals. When I wasn’t onstage, I had the opportunity to watch him interact with the other actors, and I have to admit that I was impressed. He didn’t miss a line, and he seemed perfectly in character. It was only when I was onstage with him that he seemed to have a problem. Fortunately, we only had one other extended interaction in scene one, and we were supposed to be arguing a bit. But of all the bits we worked on, the two in which we were onstage alone together were the only ones that Alvin didn’t comment on and run again.

We finished the scene with Paravicini’s ominous closing speech and I wished once more that I had just gone to the experimenters and had them change me back so that I could do that role. It had none of the complications I was now facing. It wasn’t as big, of course, but it had its memorable parts, and I wouldn’t have had to deal with this conflict with Jared. It was too late for that now, and holding on to the role I had was uppermost in my mind. Given Jared’s performance, what if Alvin decided to keep him and drop me?

“Ok, good work, folks,” Alvin announced when we had run that last bit twice. Lets take a short break. Jared and Marsh, come with me.”

He left the rehearsal room without even looking back. Jared looked at me and then hurriedly followed him, carrying his script, while most of the cast got up to grab sodas or chat on cell phones. As I reached for my book bag, afraid that I might not be coming back, Jo grabbed my arm and whispered, “Good luck.”

I saw Alvin standing outside a room, holding open a door, which he closed once we had joined Jared inside. The two of us waited nervously to see what he was going to say.

He took his time, staring at us both, scornfully. “OK, I hope you two know that this is not acceptable. Jared, exactly what the Hell were you thinking?”

“Hold on, Alvin,” Jared protested. “We already spoke about this!”

“Yeah, and I’m not seeing any effects of that. Poor Marsh is still looking at you as though you’re a potential rapist. I’m not sure it’s safe for me to keep you in the show.”


“Hey, Alvin,” I interjected. “That’s not fair. Jared’s doing a great job with his part. We’re just… having a rough moment or so. We can work this out. It’s not as if he tried to force me or anything. He just made an improper suggestion.”

“And why did he do that?” Alvin asked, rounding on me. “You led him on, didn’t you?”


“Maybe I need to bounce both of you.”

“You are out of line, Alvin!” Jared said. “Marsh didn’t do anything wrong! I… may have… oh, Hell. I’m really sorry, Marsh. This was my fault.”

I couldn’t say anything. To my shame, I had just burst out into tears yet again. I couldn’t help it – I had been unfairly accused, and now faced ejection from the best role I’ve ever had the chance to do.

“You two work things out,” Alvin snapped at us, and slammed the door as he left.

“It’s just not fair,” I sobbed. “He didn’t even give us a chance.”

“I don’t know what the Hell he’s doing,” Jared agreed. “And, by the way, Marsh, thanks for standing up for me.”

“You, too,” I sniffed.

“Yeah, well, I was watching you. You’re doing a great job and I don’t know how he’s going to replace you. He’s out of his mind.”

“How about you? You were right on character, line perfect…”

“Uh huh, except when we were on together. Bastard. He–“ Jared suddenly interrupted his rant and stared at me. “I don’t believe it!”


“Do you realize what just happened? We defended each other!”

“Yeah, so–“ Then I got it, and my tears stopped suddenly. “He tricked us!”

“Or something.” He started laughing. “It’s a classic maneuver. How do you unite people? Give them a common enemy!”

I laughed along with him, more in relief than anything else. “Oh, he’s good, isn’t he? He never meant to bounce us in the first place!”

“Well, at least he gave us a chance, to…” He stopped. “Marsh, I meant it. I am really sorry. I, uh… I talked it over with one of my roommates, and he said it was the stupidest come-on he’d ever heard. He shrugged. “I’ve never actually done one before, but I really wanted to, and… Oh well. Um, have you?”

“Absolutely not,” I told him. “I think hook-ups are pretty stupid, actually.”

He looked embarrassed. “At least when I do them, apparently.” He sighed. “I guess I’m not the kind of guy that girls swoon over.”

I wasn’t going to reply to that point. “You know, you said you wanted to run for office one day, but you don’t strike me as the charismatic, vote-for-me type aspiring politician.”

“Yeah,” he admitted. “I’m probably gonna wind up as a behind-the-scenes policy wonk or something. “I’d just really like to be the guy out front. I think I understand politics a lot better than half the people in office.” He looked at me sideways and grimaced. “I guess I really demonstrated charisma with you, didn’t I?”

“I didn’t do any better,” I pointed out. “I went crying to my roommate, and you hadn’t touched me, or anything.” I tilted my head. “Did you really think that was going to help?”

He chuckled. “I don’t know. I figured that if we had sex, a kiss would seem kind of like nothing by comparison. Besides, you’re really attractive, and… meh..”

He was being really friendly and I no longer felt threatened by him at all. Marsha probably would have thanked him for the compliment, so, I simply said, “Thank you.”

“So are we friends, now?” he asked, offering his hand.

“Friends,” I agreed, shaking his hand. Then with another laugh, I impulsively hugged him. After a moment, he hugged me back.

“I guess we should go back in there and tell Alvin his trick worked,” I said, when we unclenched after a few seconds.

“Yeah,” he agreed. “Oh. Actually, why don’t I go ahead while you fix your makeup?”

My makeup? I put my hand to my face, where I could still feel the after-effects of my tears. “OK, thanks,” I told him. Fix my makeup, huh? Tina never told me about that one.

39 Making Up

I still felt like a fraud whenever I entered a public ladies’ room; usually I just kept my eyes straight ahead and went into an open stall because I was afraid to be seen staring at the girls. This time, I had a different mission, and I had no clue how to accomplish it, so I pulled my cell phone out of my book bag, turned it on, and called home. Mom answered.

“Marsh!” she laughed. “I was beginning to wonder if you’d forgotten about us.”

Oh, right. Tina had said that Marsha spoke to Mom on a regular basis. That had never been my pattern, and I’d forgotten.

“So are you going to catch me up on things? How’s the play going?”

“Actually, Mom…” I said, cringing in guilt, “I’m on a quick break during rehearsal. I promise to call you as soon as it’s over, but right now I just need to ask Tina something. Is she around?”

The disappointment in Mom’s voice was evident, as was her attempt to hide it. “Of course, dear. Let me go get her.”

I paced the floor nervously, while waiting for Tina to pick up the phone. I wasn’t sure how long was reasonable for a girl to “fix her makeup,” but it was likely that I’d go over that and draw unwanted attention. So when she did answer, I almost yelled in eagerness.

“Teen, I was told to ‘fix my makeup.’ How do I do that?”

“Whoa, back up a second, Marsh. Tell me what’s wrong.”

“OK,” I said, “I was –” I broke off, suddenly realizing that I was about to confess to my sister that I had been crying. It’s normal for a girl, I reminded myself. Tina will understand. Still, habits die hard and admitting a weakness like that… I shook my head and plowed on.

“I was crying,” I forced out, “and I guess I must have messed up my makeup, and I need to fix it. How do I do that?”

“Why were you crying?”

“Does it matter?”

“Is everything OK?”

Why did she have to pry right now when I needed help? “I’m fine, Teen. Look, I’ll call you after rehearsal, OK? I’ll tell you all about it, but right now I just need to know how to fix it. Please?”

“Wait! You’re in the middle of rehearsal?”

“Tina!” I realized that I was shouting, and somebody in the hallway could have heard me. Plus, I probably shouldn’t have been yelling at my sister when I wanted her to help me. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Teen. I’m just a bit nervous. The director yelled at me and I got upset and now I need to fix my makeup. Could you help me, please?”

“Sure, Marsh. I’ll try. Um… it depends on what’s wrong.”

I waited, but all I heard was silence. Apparently, she was waiting, too, and I hadn’t realized that it as my turn to speak again. She figured it out first and prompted me. “Marsh? So what is wrong with your makeup?”

“Oh! Wait. Let me check.” I had just taken Jared’s word for it that there was something wrong. In retrospect, maybe I should have looked at myself before calling Tina. I did so, now.

“Ok, I have these black lines part way down my cheeks,” I reported, and my cheeks are kind of blotchy.”

“Sounds pretty normal,” she said. “Blot the mascara as carefully as you can to keep from making it worse, and take out your concealer.”

“My what?”

“Concealer. You should have some in your purse.”

“Um, I don’t actually have that purse with me,” I admitted.

“What?!” I winced from the volume of her outrage. “Marsh, where is your purse?”

“I left it in my room,” I explained. “I only needed something for my script and my keys, so I took my book bag, instead.”

“No,” she scolded me. “Your purse goes with you. Always. Marsha never leaves her purse in her room. Now look – how are you going to fix your makeup without it?”

“Quite frankly,” I told her, starting to get a bit annoyed, “I don’t care about ‘my’ makeup. Why do girls have to wear makeup if it’s just going to get messed up when they cry? This doesn’t make any sense. I don’t get the whole thing. Guys aren’t attracted to girls because of their makeup.”

“Marsh?” Tina’s voice was very quiet over the phone, so I had to calm down to hear her.


“Do you want help or not? Marsha wears makeup. You’re in the bathroom, right? You’ve probably already been there long enough for the cast and director to start wondering what’s wrong, and you haven’t even started to fix the problem with your face. You don’t have your purse, which means that we’re going to have to improvise and I don’t really want to hear some boy who thinks he can be a better sister to me than my real sister complain about all the trouble we girls go to in order to look good for a bunch of ignorant and ungrateful boys!”

She’d said the whole thing in a quiet but intense tone of voice, and I don’t think she could have gotten my attention better if she had reached through the phone and slapped me. Through all of my complaining, she’d been incredible supportive, despite the fact that I had told her that I wanted to undo the change, with costs to her that she feared terribly. I didn’t know how to respond. I kept looking around as though there were a simple answer written on the walls or something. Something that would tell me what to do with my hands, or my feet, or any other part of me that had suddenly found no comfortable place to land.

“Sorry, Teen,” I finally whispered. “Just tell me what to do.”

Suddenly, the bathroom door opened.

“Marsh?” Nikki called, as she came in. “Are you in here?” Then she saw me. “Are you alright? What are you doing?”


“Everybody’s waiting for you. Are you…?” She stopped and looked at my face. “Problems with your makeup?”

“Um… I forgot my purse, and… I called my sister to help me figure out what to do…”

Nikkia tsk’ed at my foolishness, and opened her own purse. “Come over to the sink; I’ll take care of you.”

“Ah, Teen,” I said into the phone. “Nikki has it under control. I’ll call you as soon as rehearsal is over, OK?”

“As soon as it is over, Marsh,” she said, clearly not mollified.  “We have a lot to talk about.” And she hung up without even saying good-bye.

I have no idea what Nikki did; it felt almost as if I were back in high school, letting the girls make me up for a play. She clearly knew what she was doing, though, as she applied towels and creams and whatnot in an authoritative fashion.

As she worked, she asked, “What happened? You left, and then Alvin came back alone and started doing bits of scene two, and then Jared came back and said you’d be back in a minute, and it was like they were fine with whatever. But you didn’t show up. I was starting to get worried.”

I started to explain, but she cut me off. “Tell me later. Alvin’s waiting for you. Come here. Tilt your head.”

So I shut up and let her work her magic. Finally, she stepped back. “Have a look.”

When I looked in the mirror, I could see that all evidence that I had been crying was gone. It didn’t look quite the way it had when I had applied it in the morning, but I couldn’t tell exactly what was different.

“Thanks,” I said. “For everything. I guess we need to get back now.”

When we entered the rehearsal room, Alvin looked up and exchanged glances with Nikki, then favored me with a wink. Jared gave me a concerned look, and acknowledged my nod in return. Jo watched me all the way back to my seat next to her, a question in her eyes, and smiled when I nodded again to let her know I was alright.

Alvin finished the scene-two bit he was working on, then called Jared and me to do the start of scene one again. This time, it was much easier, even when we got to the point of the kiss.

“Leave it all to me. Shall I stoke the Aga?” he said.

“Done,” I responded, and tensed up.

But he gave me a friendly smile before leaning in for a quick peck on the lips. “Hullo, Sweetheart. Your nose is cold.”

And that was it. I said my next line, “I’ve just come in,” and crossed away from him, as directed. It was a bit strange, but not really uncomfortable. It was a stage kiss, nothing more. It didn’t mean anything. After all that worry, it simply didn’t mean anything. I almost laughed in relief.

The rest of the act felt very smooth as well. I did bobble a few lines and Nikki had to prompt me, but the sheer relief I was feeling over actually being able to work with Jared comfortably more than made up for any embarrassment I might have felt about it.

At the end of rehearsal, Alvin spoke to all of us again. “Great job, folks. It looks as though act one is coming along just fine. Tomorrow, we are going to start working act two in detail. As before, I expect you to be off-book in a week.”

Then as we were all leaving, he pulled Jared and me aside once more. “Excellent, you two. You’re starting to show me the ability I expected when I cast you. Now we still need to work on the intimacy. What we have done so far is to clean the emotional canvas. Now it’s time to start sketching in the feelings we want to portray – a young newlywed couple very much in love, enough so to justify the hurt feelings and anger when Trotter starts raising awkward questions.

“To do this, we are going to rely on emotional memory. I am assuming that each of you has either been in love before, or at least had somebody that you were very attracted to. Your homework is to find those memories. When you interact, I want you to have the memory of those feelings in your thoughts. So, Jared, when you are kissing Mollie, I want you to remember what it felt like to kiss a girl you were very much in love with. That’s the feeling you will actually portray. Marsh, same idea. OK?”

We nodded, and left together, but I excused myself from speaking with Jared almost immediately. I had a phone call to make.

40 All in the Family

This time, it was Tina who answered.

“Teen, I’m really sorry again,” I told her, as I walked from rehearsal, back to my dorm. “I shouldn’t have been questioning you. It’s just that there is so much more that is different now than before.

“Are you saying that – as a boy – you appreciate how much work girls do to make themselves beautiful?”

“Absolutely, once I – ” I coughed, stopping myself from saying, “change back to a boy.” That was definitely not something I was going to raise with her again, at least not now. I still had a couple of months before that would even be an issue. I amended it to, “… once I saw for myself what’s involved.”

“And are you saying that – as a girl – you’re going to listen to me when I tell you how things are supposed to work? And not leave your purse behind and not argue about makeup?”

“Yeah, yeah. I guess I have to. Or at least,” I suggested with a small laugh, “I’ll wait until I understand a bit more before arguing with you.”

“OK, great. Now tell me why you were crying.”

“Oh. Um. Alvin threatened to kick me out of the show.”


“He didn’t mean it! Jared and I were having… issues.” I knew I wasn’t telling this properly, and so did my sister.

“Stop. Back up. Who’s Jared?”

So I backed up. I explained about Jared playing Giles and how Alvin had told us to get better acquainted. I explained the disastrous meeting at the Grill. At this point, Tina interrupted.

“He asked you for a hook up? You?”

“Um, yeah.”

“I’m not sure whether to laugh or to be outraged on your behalf. What a jerk! Is that what you call, ‘having issues’?”

“Pretty much.”

“And when did this happen?”

I sighed. “Thursday afternoon, after my last class.”

“Thursday? But you and I talked just a couple of days ago! Why didn’t you tell me?”

Ouch. “Um… I’m still not all that comfortable, talking to you about… you know… sex.”

“Marsh!” she whined. “You need –.” Her voice suddenly took on a cutesy, taunting tone.” You don’t really want me completely innocent and uninformed when boys come on to me, do you?”

“Um…” I really hadn’t thought about that.

“Don’t you want me to know what’s going on? So I can say no when a boy asks me to do something I don’t want to do?” Then she snickered. “And say yes when I do?”

“Um… “

“Marsh, I’m kidding. You dated a boy for two years and still wouldn’t sleep with him. I’m taking you as my model. I figure a boy needs to be committed to me for at least that long first, right?”

I released a breath I hadn’t even realized I was holding. She was actually modeling herself on Marsha, not me, a point that I was not going to raise. But it made me wonder. I had never had a discussion like this with my Tina. What if she had taken my frequent sexual relationships as her model? I might well have contributed to the corruption of my own sister!

“So this guy propositioned you. How does that get you almost kicked out of the show?”

“Well, we were supposed to work together, you know, as a couple in love – and we just sort of snapped at each other, instead. Finally, the director had just had enough.” I described Alvin’s “trick” and how Jared and I had turned on him together and spoken up for each other, and then made up. Then with a slight unease in my belly, I admitted that after all that, we’d finally managed to kiss on stage.

“My head’s spinning here, Marsh! So your director yelled at you and got you to make up. That’s pretty cool. So… how was the kiss?”

“It was nothing, which is fine.”

“Aww… your first time kissing a boy and it was nothing? How disappointing.”

“Tina!” I exclaimed in outrage. Then I saw the humor in it and started laughing, and so did she. “I’ll bet he’d be really disappointed to hear that!” I snickered.

“Serves him right, the jerk.” Tina added. “If my boyfriend suggested something like that, I’d sic Daddy on him.”

“Boyfriend? Wait. When did this happen?”

“Well you know, if you spoke to me more than once a week, you’d be up to date with things, Marsh.”

I acknowledged the rebuke. “I promise I’ll be better, Teen.” I still wasn’t crazy about the idea of Tina having a boyfriend, but with everything else I was dealing with, it just didn’t seem worth making anything out of it. After all, Dad was OK with it. Or rather, I reminded myself, ‘Daddy’ was OK with it.

So I forced myself to be the “good sister” and asked, “So tell me about him.”

“Do you really want to know?”

Not really “Of course I do, Teen! Shouldn’t I be taking an interest in what’s going on in your life? Isn’t that what Marsha would do?”

“Well, Danny bought me a charm bracelet, and we’ve been sort of spending all our lunches together, and he came over to do homework with me a couple of nights last week…”


“Yes, Marsh. All we did was homework.”

Yeah, I knew that trick. I’d done that trick. Maddy and I had started with homework at the kitchen table. After her parents had gotten comfortable with me, we’d found excuses to do some additional work in her bedroom, “so that we didn’t annoy her little brother,” which had let to quite a bit more. Maybe I could make up for whatever bad influences I’d had by warning Tina. Or maybe I should warn Mom and Dad? I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to do. Playing the ‘big sister’ when I remembered being Tina’s big brother was turning out to be a lot more complicated that I had anticipated.

I finally settled for, “Well, just watch yourself. Boys tend to be a bit aggressive about pushing for the physical, and girls often just go along with them. And I really ought to know.”

“’Go along,’ Marsh? I saw you with Dirk, remember? You weren’t just ‘going along.’”

I forced myself not to react to the mental image that had suddenly popped into my head. “That’s not the point, Teen! Just… Oh, just be careful, OK? Don’t let Danny pressure you into doing things you don’t want to do.”

“But I’m soooo innocent, Marsh. Don’t you want to tell me all about the things he might want me to do…?”

I finally figured out that she was trying to push my buttons – and succeeding. So with a smile, I was able to say, “Some other time, Teen.”

“OK. You know, this wasn’t too bad a chat, Marsh. You’re getting better. Oh – and sorry about yelling at you before, but…”

“Yeah, I know. Always carry the purse and stop complaining about make up, right?”


“Will do – can you see if Mom is around? I need to talk to her, too.”

“Really? Well, we’ll make a girl out of you yet, Marsh! I’ll go get Mom.”

Make a girl out of me, huh? I sure hope not. But I didn’t have all that much time to worry about it, since Mom picked up the phone fairly quickly.

“Hello, Marsh,” she said, pleasantly. “How is the play going?”

“Not bad,” I told her. I quickly repeated much of what I had told Tina, although I downplayed the propositioning thing, telling her only that Jared and I had started off on the wrong foot.

“So Alvin came through again, I see,” she commented. “I can see why you keep doing his shows.”

I felt like banging my head against a wall. Of course Mom had known about Marsha’s earlier plays. I had been so worried about not telling her things I didn’t want to share that I had completely overlooked how much I could have found out from her.

“And of course, Nikki being part of them works out nicely for me as well,” I ventured, guessing that Marsha would have mentioned her.

“Yes, although I suppose you won’t be helping with costumes on this one? Because you have such a large role?”

“I… hadn’t actually thought about it. I’ll ask Nikki,” I didn’t have the skills she would have expected from Marsha, but she knew that. Given how much I owed her, it was the least I could do.

“And you’re happy with your social life?” Mom asked next.

“I told you, Mom. I don’t have time to date right now. I’ve got more sewing than I can handle, and the play is taking up a lot of my time, and I do have to pay a lot of attention to my classes. But my roommates are great, and Nikki and I talk a lot. I’m not complaining right now.” And I’m definitely not going to admit to the whole asexual thing – at least not now.

“OK, Marsh. Stay in touch, OK? Oh, here’s your father.”

“Hi, Princess!” he said. Now I was at a loss. I had had the one real conversation with Dad. Daddy. Why couldn’t I get that right? But I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to speak with him in general.

“Hi, Daddy,” I managed. “How are you?”

Fortunately, he wasn’t in a talkative mood. “Much the same. Go to work, come home, miss my little girl. Mom says you’re doing fine. Take care, OK?”

“You, too, Daddy.”

And that was it. He just hung up. I had managed to speak with my entire family and not get anybody mad at me. My relationship with Tina was getting better, if a bit weird, and I was actually able to have a decent conversation with Mom, and be reasonably honest throughout. For me, now, that was quite an accomplishment.