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

41 Kiss Off

After classes the next day, I walked into the physics building and started searching. The building was larger than I had realized, and none of it looked familiar. The grad student who had signed me up for the experiment had met me in the building lobby and walked me to the lab, but we had been talking the whole way and I hadn’t paid any attention to where we were going. I remember going in an elevator, but not which floor we had gotten to.

There were many offices and labs; some were locked, but I looked into a number of open ones. None of them looked the way I remembered, and I didn’t see that grad student anywhere. I searched for close to an hour, before deciding that I had to get back to my room and work. There’s no reason to worry, I assured myself. I just don’t know the building very well.

Before heading for rehearsal, I called Tina again. She was quite surprised.

“Marsh! You’re really getting into this regular calling thing! What’s happening?”

“I just wanted to talk something over with you. This kiss thing – it’s still a bit of an issue.”

“I thought you said it was ‘nothing’?”

“Yeah – that’s sort of it. Alvin doesn’t want it to be ‘nothing.’ He wants some emotion and affection to come through.”

“Makes sense.”

“You had to do some stage kissing in West Side Story, didn’t you? How did you get the right emotion?”

She laughed. “Well, I’d never kissed a boy before, so I was really nervous. But that was what Mr. Condrin said he wanted – for Maria to be eager and naïve, so it mostly just worked. Sam wanted to practice a lot, but I wouldn’t kiss him except when we were actually on stage. Maybe I should have.

“What does your director say?”

“Well, so far he’s said he wants us to kiss as though we’re very much in love. He told us to remember kissing somebody we really liked or were in love with.”

“Like Dirk?”

“No, not Dirk! I told you, that was Marsha, not me. If I tried to imagine myself kissing Dirk, I’d probably vomit. I was thinking of Vicky, and how she and I used to kiss if we saw each other in the morning after not spending the night together. It had been very comfortable for both of us – kisses which had said, ‘even though we didn’t do anything particularly romantic, you are still very important to me.’ I think that’s sort of what this is like.”

“Did you mention Vicky to me?”

“I’m pretty sure I did.”

“O… K…You’re going to imagine yourself kissing a girl?”

“I pretty much have to, don’t I?”

“I guess; it’s just a bit weird for me to think of you that way.”

I refrained from pushing the point. “I just wondered if you had any suggestions for me.”

“This isn’t exactly something I have a lot of experience with, Marsh. I don’t know if imagining yourself kissing a girl when you’re supposed to be acting as though you’re kissing a boy is going to work, but I don’t have a better idea for you.”

“OK, thanks, Teen,” I said, and we said good bye and hung up.

Rehearsal that night started much as the first one had for the first act; Jo wasn’t there, of course, but Nikki was, and she sat with me. To my surprise, so did Jared. In this act, the two of us were offstage together for a while, so we had some time to talk quietly during the rehearsal – if we could have thought of something to talk about.

The problem was, the only thing we seemed to have in common was theater; we were at an “I’m on your side” stage, but not really friends. Not yet, anyway. That didn’t stop him from trying.

“If you’re supposed to be angry with me in that bit we just did, would it help if I did something really obnoxious, first?” he offered in an undertone.

I grinned at the thought. Then I put on a fake “offended” tone and shot back, “Are you implying that I’m not a good enough actor to play angry without actually being angry?”

Of course, he didn’t know me well enough to tell when I was joking, and for a second he was taken aback. “I didn’t mean to imply–” he said, before realizing what was going on.

At this point, Alvin gave us a sharp look. I guess we were louder than I had realized. We shared a smirk at being rebuked together again, and went back to following the scene in our scripts.

Near the end of the act, we had another of those “intimacy” moments. Jack, playing Trotter, grabbed me from behind with one hand on my mouth and one on my neck, and pressed harder than I thought was necessary, although it did help me play the panic. “Miss Casewell” and “Major Metcalf” rushed onstage to save me. At that point, the blocking called for me to collapse onto the sofa (represented by two folding chairs); as they left, Metcalf called Giles on stage, where he rushed over to comfort me.

Unfortunately, as Jared said his line, “Mollie, Mollie, are you alright?” and reached for me, the speed of his entrance knocked over the chair I was sitting on and I went sprawling.

I said, “Well I was!” as I lay on the ground, laughing, joined by much of the cast.

“Keep going,” Alvin ordered, as Jared helped me up and righted the chair.

So we kept going. I said, “Oh Giles” and leaned against him, as he put his arms around me. But we were both still suppressing laughter, so any real feeling of intimacy would have been lost.

“Who would have dreamed it was Trotter?” he said, trying to see his script over my shoulder.

“He’s mad, quite mad,” I read from my own, and then looked up at him, before the two of us collapsed into laughter again. Alvin let us recover this time and had us restart from Giles’ entrance. This time it went much more smoothly, and we were actually able to get some real closeness into our last lines before Metcalf re-entered.

“You should have told me,” Jared said, reading and looking right at me.

“I wanted to forget,” I responded, seriously.

It was by far the best connection the two of us had made on stage yet, and Alvin complimented us when he gave his notes.

Once we had finished walking through the act twice, Alvin had us repeat the opening bit, which included the kiss. But before we started, he gave us additional instructions.

“You wouldn’t think I’d have to tell a couple of college students how to hug and kiss,” he said. “But what I am looking for is the sense that you two are newlyweds, very much in love, and very comfortable with one another. The kiss is a casual one. It should not look like a nervous ‘first date’ kiss or a forced ‘I don’t really want to kiss you’ kiss. I’ve asked you two to find a memory of somebody you might have kissed that way, or wanted to. Do you both have those memories in your heads?”

We nodded.

“Good. Make those memories strong in your minds, paying attention to how you held your face, your neck, and your mouth. OK? Now try that from Giles’ entrance.”

And we did. Jared said his line, “Shall I stoke the Aga?”

I turned and smiled as I said, “Done” and mentally reached for Vicky.

But Vicky had been five inches shorter than I, where Jared was as much taller, and my arms landed on his rear and his casual peck caught my nose, since my head was tilted down, not up. We both recoiled.

“Whoa!” Alvin stopped us. “What was that?”

I could feel my cheeks grow hot and I stammered, “My– my fault, sorry. I wasn’t paying attention.”

“OK, try it again. Same place.”

So again, I said, “Done” and smiled. This time I imagined Vicky standing on a ladder so that had to reach up for her; I reached for her shoulders as Jared leaned down – but his shoulders were quite a bit further apart than hers and I smacked him in the chest.

“No, no, no.” Alvin said. “Marsh, this time just turn your face up and keep your hands down; imagine that you are wiping them on your apron. Again.” He still sounded patient somehow, although I certainly wasn’t. I shouldn’t be screwing up like this in front of the entire cast. Fortunately, nobody had laughed – yet.

One more time I said, “Done” and smiled, and turned my face up to kiss Vicky. But with my eyes open to make sure we didn’t miss, I saw Vicky’s face suddenly transformed into that of a boy, and recoiled. We made lip contact only because Jared followed through. But it didn’t feel loving and casual, and apparently it didn’t look like it, either, as Alvin stopped us once again.

“OK, this isn’t working,” he said. “Jared, I believe that your Giles is in love with his wife. You’re leaning over with a fond and tender smile and it just works. Marsh… I don’t know what the Hell you’re doing. It’s as though you’re afraid of Giles, and I had hoped we had just fixed that. Whomever you’re imagining, it’s not working. If you can’t bring up a positive memory of a boy you’ve kissed, the next best thing would be for you to think of a guy you wish you could have. Can you do that?”

Obviously, that was going to be rather difficult. Yet thinking of Vicky didn’t give the impression that he was looking for. What was I supposed to do? I shrugged and nodded, indicating that I didn’t really have an answer, but that I would try.

“Look, take your time,” he said. “Think about it for Wednesday, and let’s move on.”

He had us run two other bits from the first act – the ends of both scenes – before letting us go.

“Good rehearsal,” Jared told me, making a thumbs-up sign.

“Except for the kissing,” I answered ruefully. Certainly, it was a much more comfortable rehearsal than it had been, other than that one part I just couldn’t get right.

Nikki intercepted me before I could leave. “Marsh, would you mind if I tried to help you with the kissing thing? Alvin thought that you might be more comfortable talking it over with another girl in private than in front of the whole cast.”

“Alright,” I agreed. “I really do seem to need some help with this. Where could we talk?”

“Well, it’s really too late to hang around here by ourselves. Why don’t we go to the Grill?”

The Grill was about a five-minute walk from the rehearsal room, so we started talking on the way. I wasn’t sure what she was going to be able to do. Even though Nikki and I had become close friends pretty quickly, sharing the real reason for my difficulty wasn’t something I was ready to share. But I couldn’t tell her that.

“Can you give me some idea of what kind of problem you’re having, Marsh?” Nikki asked. “Does the boy you are visualizing have some negative associations for you? Maybe you could try a different one. Are you trying different boys?”

“No,” I admitted. “I… I haven’t been able to think of a boy who… you know.”

She looked at me, curiously. “But didn’t you tell me that in your old life, you had dated constantly? Surely there must be one boy…”

“No,” I said again, a bit embarrassed. “There really isn’t…”

“But that doesn’t make sense, given all the…” she trailed off suddenly, and I could have kicked myself.

42 Misdirected Passion

Nikki stopped and stared at me. “All those dates you say you had in your old life… you don’t mean that you dated a lot of boys, do you? You meant girls, right?”

In the dark, she couldn’t see my expression, but my physical reaction seemed to tell her all she needed.

“I mean, I’m not judging you, Marsh. There’s nothing wrong with… I mean, it’s just a surprise, since I remember you as straight. But… I guess, that would make it a bit harder to do that scene, you know, if you don’t like boys…”

I didn’t have to see her to see that she was more embarrassed than I was – the rapidity at which she was speaking was evidence of that. And to my strong relief, she had guessed wrong. As uncomfortable as she was imagining me a lesbian, I suspect that she would have been much more so if she knew that I had been male.

“Wait! I just thought of something,” she added. “When you said that you were having trouble finding… “certain people” attractive… did you mean girls in general? You’re not attracted to girls any more?”

“As far as I can tell, yeah. As far as I can tell, I’m not attracted to anybody any more.”

“Oh, Marsh,” she said, sympathetically. “That’s horrible.” It looked as though she was torn between hugging me and feeling uncomfortable about how I might react. Then friendship, or her tendency to mothering or something kicked in, and she did hug me. “I can’t imagine what you must be going through, with this on top of everything else.”


After a moment, she held me away and looked at me. “So you’re not suddenly finding boys attractive?”

I shuddered at the idea. “Definitely not.”

“Wow, that’s going to be… I mean, not even in dreams? You can’t imagine yourself liking a boy in a dream or something like that?”

“No,” I started, and then suddenly I stopped. “Dreams…” I repeated. “Oh my… goodness, I just remembered something. When I first woke up after… this happened, I thought that I was dreaming. I took my sister to choir practice, and while I was waiting for her, I met this boy. I told myself that I should be fascinated by him… and I was.”

“So you do have a memory of being attracted to a boy.”.

“Yes, but don’t you see? It wasn’t a dream. It was real! That means… that he was real, too.” I tried to remember what I had actually said to him, but the only thing that came to mind was my telling him that I was Tina’s big brother. “He must have thought I was a total idiot.” And even worse, I had been attracted to a boy!

“Does it matter? Are you likely to see him again?”

“I… I don’t know. This is just so strange, realizing that I had been speaking with somebody while thinking he was a figment of my imagination.”

“But you can use that memory, right?” she insisted. “What was his name?”

I stopped to think. I could picture his face, and hear his voice. “I remember… he was telling me something interesting about math and music, I think. But when I got talking with Tina afterwards, I forgot all about him.’ I shook my head. “I can’t remember his name. I think it was something like… Jordi?”

“Jordi? Really?”

“No, that doesn’t sound quite right. Look, I thought I had invented him; remembering his name wasn’t important.”

“And it probably isn’t important,” she suggested. “What really matters is that you can use the memory. Jordi is sort of like ‘Jared,’ right? So does that help?”

“I… think so.” I tried to remember how I’d felt, seeing myself as a girl talking with “Jordi..” I closed my eyes and visualized him. Of course, I had no memory of wanting to kiss him, but I did remember a feeling of excitement – and it did feel something sort of like what I had felt for Vicky. Maybe not as strong, but it was definitely there. Exciting and, in retrospect, a bit horrifying.

I tried to visualize myself as Mollie, next. Mollie, seeing her husband of just a year, Giles. I felt a faint smile come on to my face as I lifted my arms towards towards an imaginary Giles – and stopped with a shudder. I seemed to have mentally labeled Jared as “harmless.” Trying to think of wanting to kiss him, or rather Giles, or “Jordi” was another step.

“I’m going to have to work on this, I think,” I told Nikki. “I have the memory, and I think I can get the feeling, but it’s this mental block, this aversion…”

“… to kissing a boy? You did seem awkward with Jared.”

“To wanting to kiss a boy. To finding one desirable. I have this memory, so that’s a start. I just have to use it somehow.


“And thanks for helping me come up with that memory. I think it’ll give me something to work with.” I shrugged. “I guess we don’t need to go to the Grill, after all. Good night.”

“Hold on,” she said. “We can go anyway. Come on, I’ll treat you to ice cream.”

“I don’t think…”

“I know that you’re not bringing in a lot of money yet, and I’ve taken on some of your more expensive jobs, so I am, and we’re friends, right?”

I smiled. “Of course.”

“And I don’t want you going to bed thinking that this revelation makes me uncomfortable around you.

“You don’t have to twist my arm, Nikki,” I grinned. “I accept.”

Over ice cream, we kept talking, but about almost anything except the play. She was particularly interested in talking about sewing. “Somehow you seem to know a lot more than you realize, Marsh. I’m just wondering how far it goes.”

“I don’t really know,” I answered. “I just seem to pick things up, almost as if I did once know them and forgot.”

“That is what it seems like. So… would you know what to do if I told you to do a lapped seam?”

“Absolutely not. I’ve never heard of it.”

“How about a flat felled seam? A topstitch?”

I shook my head. “I have no clue.”

She nodded. “And yet, I suspect that if I showed you, you’d pick it right up.”

I nodded. “My brain doesn’t know sewing at all, but my hands seem to – or at least I have an aptitude I’d certainly never expected.”

“You know, I bet you might even be ready to tackle some simple alterations. Why don’t you come over to my room… say, Thursday afternoon, so I have time to pick something out for you to work on?”

“Sounds great,” I said enthusiastically. “I’ll be looking forward to it.”

So I was in a pretty good mood, all things considered, when I set down next to Geoff in Organic Chemistry the next morning.

“Good morning!” he greeted me. “It may interest you to know that I spoke to Chandra about Lee Ann.”


“Yeah, it seems there’s a bit going on there. You were right that Lee Ann wasn’t planning on dumping her boyfriend.”

I sighed with relief. “Good. I just wanted to make sure you knew. I didn’t want you to get hurt.”

“I’m not the issue. The problem is making sure that Lee Ann doesn’t get hurt.”

I shook my head in confusion.

“Chandra says that her boyfriend is a jerk, and that Lee Ann’s parents sent her here to get her away from him. Chandra’s trying to get her to go for somebody else.” He grinned. “That’s where I come in.”

“I think you’re wrong. Stephen seems like a nice guy. I… I think you’re wasting your time.”

“Oh, you’ve met him? What’s he like?

“No. I haven’t met him,” I admitted, before realizing that Marsha probably had, given my conversation with Lee Ann about last year.

“Well, Chandra has.” He shrugged. “In any event, at least the effort will be enjoyable.”

I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. Knowing that Lee Ann wouldn’t have been leaving her boyfriend after all had been a consolation for the loss of my apparent chance to replace him. But if Chandra was right…

I didn’t get a chance to question Lee Ann at lunch because she didn’t come in until I had started to return my tray after lunch, while in the middle of a discussion about classic Rock with some of the guys. To my surprise, Marsha had a reputation of being fairly knowledgeable on the subject, despite not playing the guitar. She must have been pretty close to Grandpa, which made his overlooking her for the inheritance all the more confusing.

And it was becoming increasingly clear that Chad’s suggestion that I look for the lab was a good one, as it was taking a long time to find it. I’d gone back to the physics building with an empty notebook to track my search. This time I started a diagram, making sure to note the doors I had been unable see into. Different professors seemed to have different schedules, and there were several labs on the floors I’d already searched which had been locked the day before, some of which were locked today as well, and some were not. Patience was to be the key, clearly.

I search for another hour before going back to my room again. I couldn’t exactly ignore my studies, after all. But first, I called Tina again.

“I need some more help with the kissing thing, Teen,” I explained when she expressed surprise at my calling her two days in a row. “I think I can imagine liking a boy, but wanting to kiss him? That’s tough.”

“Because you’re thinking that you’re a boy, right?”

“Mm hmm.”

“Can you think of yourself as a girl while you do it?”

“I don’t know, Teen,” I said, skeptically. “I can think of myself as playing a girl, but actually thinking of myself as one? That’s a bit tougher.”

“Well… what do you see when you look in the mirror?”

“I see myself – in costume,” I laughed.

“You have a full-length mirror, don’t you?”

“Sure,” I replied. “It’s for when girls come in to be fitted.”

“And for you to check yourself when you get ready to go somewhere.”

“That too.”

“So try this. Take off all of your clothes and look in the mirror.”

“What?!” I sputtered.

“Just do it.”

So I did. I made sure that my door was locked, and undressed, feeling extremely self-conscious. Then I stood in front of the mirror and looked at this naked body I was wearing. No, I scolded myself. I looked at my naked body.

“Still see a boy?”

“Not really,” I had to admit. Under the dress, which had covered most of my body, it had been very easy to pretend that everything I saw was costume and make-up. Seeing myself naked, really looking at myself that way, this way, made that impossible. The curves of my body, the contours of my crotch, stripped away the illusions with which I had been comforting myself.

“Look at yourself carefully and try imagining the kiss again,” Tina suggested.

So I did. I put down the phone. I’m a girl, I told myself, at least for the moment. Looking carefully at my feminine reflection, I imagined “Jordi” in front of me. I hadn’t expected the sudden feeling of modesty that made my wrap my arms around myself in response to the thought of him seeing me this way. I took a deep breath and tried again. He’s your husband, I insisted. It’s normal for him to see you like this.

I summoned up the memory of my fascination with “Jordi.” I closed my eyes, opened my arms to reveal my nudity to “my husband” and reached up my arms to be kissed. This time, I felt a nervous excitement, a terrified passion that reached not only into my lips, but touched my breasts and… Firmly, I admonished myself to memorize the feeling in my face and my neck and my mouth, as Alvin had directed us.

After a moment, I shuddered and hid myself with my arms again. The feeling had been much more intense than I had expected. This wasn’t supposed to be a passionate kiss, Alvin had said. But I had to affix this memory in my body, so I tried it again.

I licked my lips as I pictured “Jordi” standing over me, and reached for him. I caught my breath as I imagined his arms enfolding me. Breathing slowly, I eased myself off my toes and picked up the phone again.

“I… think it worked, Teen,” I said, shakily.

“Really? Are you OK?”

“I think so. I guess my imagination works pretty well.”

“What happened? What did you feel? Tell me!”

“I, um… imagined that I was a girl kissing a guy that… “ I stopped myself from telling her what guy – it occurred to me that he had known who she was; what if she knew him? Better that he remain anonymous. I didn’t want to make him too real.

“A guy that…” Tina prompted me.

“Um. A guy that… this girl liked… that they were married, and… anyway, I felt it. I felt the kiss. I felt it in my neck and in my arms… and in my body.”


“Yeah, I think I might have overdone it a bit. I’m going to have to take it down a little.”

“Well, Mr. Condrin said that was easier than adding passion and energy, right?”

I smiled to hear my sister quoting our drama teacher the way I did. “Right. I’m gonna get dressed and try this with my clothes on. Thanks for your help, Teen.” I almost hung up, but remembered, and added, “Oh, what’s new with you?”

“Since yesterday?” she laughed. “Not too much. I’m practicing for the Carousel auditions, that’s all.”

“Well, good luck,” I wished her. “Not that you’ll need it, of course.”

“Thanks, Marsh. Take care.”

“You, too, Teen. Bye.”

43 Boy Crazy

I decided that “Jerry” was probably closer to the right name than “Jordi.” It also sounded a lot less like “Jared,” an association that bothered me – I didn’t want to start overlapping the two. Kissing a boy who could be treated as almost imaginary was a lot safer than imagining myself kissing my fellow actor.

Once dressed, then, I imagined myself standing with “Jerry” again. Being dressed carried much less of the sexual innuendo. I took a deep breath and thought, I’m a girl before reaching my arms up for a kiss. In the character of this girl I had conjured up, this girl who was surely “Jerry’s” girlfriend – not his wife – I still felt a lot of the excitement from before, but it was definitely lessened. Then I tried Alvin’s last direction. I kept my hands down and imagined simply lifting my face for a kiss. Much better. I could feel the fondness, but no excess of passion. That would be the sequence, I decided. Look up, put my hands down, and lift my face. I did it a few more times, adding my simple line, “Done” as I looked up. I can do this, I told myself. I’ll just have to choreograph the interaction with Jared. He’s already got the feeling, so it shouldn’t be too difficult for him.

I’m not going to say that I was eager to kiss Jared at the next rehearsal, but I did really want to see if I had worked out the problem. I couldn’t help smiling at the prospect of impressing Alvin with my recovery from that disastrous last attempt. The biggest downside was that I had to remember to think of myself as a girl while I did it.

I took in two more sewing jobs, including an alteration. I’m sure that the girl I pinned up would have been mortified if she’d known that I still thought of myself as a boy – no matter, I was harmless now. In fact, I would have apologized to Terry, if I could have thought of a way to do it that wouldn’t upset her.

At dinner, two of the boys where arguing about Classic Rock music again, and this time they actually asked me to decide who was right.

One of them, whose name I thought might be “Fred” asked, “Marsh, do you know the group, Three Dog Night?”

“Sure, there were big in the late 60s and early 70s, I think,” I answered.

“And how many songs did they do that actually mentioned dogs? I say it was three, to match their band name. Sam says there was only one.”

I took a moment to think. “Actually, I can’t remember even a single one.”

The other, whose name was evidently Sam, looked at me scornfully. “C’mon, Marsh everybody knows that one. You know,” he said, and sang quietly, “Jeremiah was a bulldog! Was a good friend of mine…”

“No, no, no,” I shook my head. “Not ‘bulldog,’ – ‘bullfrog.’ ‘Jeremiah was a–” Then I broke off with a realization. “Jeremy! That’s his name – Jeremy!”

“No, I’m pretty sure it’s Jeremiah,” Sam insisted.

“Not the song,” I said impatiently. “There’s no dog in the song, and I don’t think there’s a dog in any of their songs. I’m talking about this guy I met. Jeremy. I was trying to remember his name.”

We had attracted some attention from the other girls. “Who’s Jeremy?” Lee Ann asked.

I turned to her. “I met him over break.”

“Oh!” she raised her eyebrows. “Did you like him?”

“Yeah, that’s the point. I have to kiss somebody in the play, and the director told me to imagine a boy I’d want to…” I stopped as I realized how that could be interpreted. “Anyway… he’s just a nice guy, and… I couldn’t remember his name.”

I was very aware of my roommates and a lot of other people staring at me; my face was hot under their gaze.

“Yes…?” Terry prompted.

“Nothing. Nothing,” I said, wishing I had kept my mouth shut. “It’s just… nothing.”

My eyes were focused on my hands, which I seemed to be wringing awkwardly, so I couldn’t see anyone, but I was sure they were exchanging glances. How was I going to explain my way out of this?

Sheila said, “You can’t just leave us hanging like that, Marsh! Tell us more.”

“There’s nothing to tell! I just met him and we talked.”

“Uh huh.”

“Don’t worry,” Lee Ann spoke up. “Terry and I will get it out of her tonight.”

“There’s nothing to ‘get’!” I insisted.

“We’ll see,” Lee Ann grinned.

I was still protesting as the three of us walked back to our room. “You guys are reading way too much into this, you know.”

“Uh huh,” Terry said skeptically as she closed the door behind us.

“Sit down and spill,” Lee Ann added. “Where did you meet him?”

I sighed in exasperation. “I took my sister to choir practice, and he was there. His sister is also in the choir and we were both waiting for them to finish, so we just sat and talked. That’s all that happened.”

“Tell us about the part where you said you liked him,” Terry suggested.

“I just thought he was nice,” I tried, but my face grew hot again.

How nice?” Lee Ann prodded.

“Alright. Alright, I liked him. I thought he was… fascinating.” How did I get myself into this situation? I was admitting – and truthfully – that I had been attracted to a guy.

“Well, at least now we know why she wasn’t interested in Phil anymore,” Lee Ann observed.

“No, it’s not like that!” I insisted. “I didn’t think he was real – I thought I was just dreaming!”

“So he’s the man of your dreams?” Terry simpered.

“No! He’s just… a guy I met. That’s all.”

“Did he ask for your phone number?”

Fortunately, he hadn’t. I don’t know what I would have done if he had asked. Thinking it was a dream, I might well have given it to him – and wouldn’t that have been interesting to explain away if he’d called?

Aloud, I said, “No, he didn’t ask. We just talked, that’s all.”

They exchanged glances again. “So he doesn’t know how to get in touch with you?” Lee Ann asked, sounding a bit disappointed.

I hesitated, and then admitted, “He knew who my sister was; she’s pretty well known in the choir, so if he really wanted to, he could probably ask her.” But Tina probably wouldn’t give a boy my number, all things considered. I didn’t think I needed to tell them that part.

“How long ago did you meet?”

“Beginning of break.”

“That’s like three weeks ago, Lee Ann.” Terry pointed out. “If he was going to call, he probably would have down so by now.”

“You’re right,” Lee Ann agreed. Then she came over and hugged me, “Oh, Marsh, I’m so sorry.”

I laughed. “It’s really OK. I told you, I don’t have time for boys right now.”

“You are so strong, Marsh,” Lee Ann said, looking me in the eye. “I really respect that. I just hope things work out for you.”

I told them I was pretty sure they would, and thanked them for their concern. Inwardly, I wasn’t sure whether to be amused or horribly embarrassed. It was really nice to see them so concerned about me, or actually, about Marsha. It made me feel all the more guilty about deceiving them as to who I really was – but that was hardly a secret I could share.

Before rehearsal started the next day, Alvin pulled me aside. “Nikki says that you found a memory that would help with the kiss, but that you needed to work on it. Will you be ready to try it today?”

I smiled at him to show confidence I almost felt. “I think so. My sister helped me work on it.”

“Well, I don’t want you agonizing over it any more than necessary, so why don’t we start with that scene as soon as Jared gets here?”

So we did. Just before Jared’s entrance, I reminded myself of how I had looked, naked in the mirror. I’m a girl, I insisted to myself. It’s fine for me to kiss a boy.

As he said, “Shall I stoke the Aga?” I thought about Jeremy and remembered how I had felt when I met him. I imagined him standing where Jared was. Then I looked up at Jared/Jeremy, wiped my hands on an imaginary apron and lifted my face to be kissed as I said my line, “Done.”

The kiss felt right. It felt loving, and from Alvin’s murmur of approval, it read properly from the audience. I had done it! The scariest part of our blocking, and I had it nailed. If I could do that, there was no reason I couldn’t get into character for the rest of Mollie’s reactions.

The feeling of triumph carried me through the rest of rehearsal. I was on and I knew it. My energy was good, my delivery was sharp, and by the time we finished, I was emotionally spent. That’s really one of the great things about this role – Mollie goes through so many changes of emotion, from panic over finding Mrs. Boyle’s body, to concern for Chris and anger at Giles, finally ending with the terror at being threatened by Trotter, relief at rescue, and a loving reconciliation with Giles. It’s a high-energy role, and for the first time, I felt really confident that I was going to be able to do a good job with it.

Nor was I the only one who noticed. Even Naomi, who rarely spoke to me, came over and said, “Good job!”

I was so surprised that I didn’t even get a chance to respond before she left. Jared nodded his approval, and Nikki gave me a hug.

But probably the best was Alvin, who said, “Atta girl, Marsh. Now that’s the acting I was expecting when I cast you.” Then he winked. “You do realize I expect you only to get better from here on, right?”

On the way back to the dorm, I called home, and Mom answered. “I hope it’s not too late to call,” I said, “but I’m feeling terrific and I just wanted to share it.”

“It’s not too late,” she said. “What happened?”

“Just a fantastic rehearsal. The character finally clicked for me.”

“That’s a great feeling, isn’t it?”

“Oh yeah. Very definitely. Is Tina up? She helped me with part of the role, and I’m sure we wants to hear how it went.”

“She went to bed early. She has auditions tomorrow, you know.”

“Oh, right. Well, tell her it all worked out, and that I said to break a leg, OK?”

“I’ll do that. Good night, Marsh.”

“Good night, Mom,” I said before hanging up. “I love you.”

I composed myself before entering our room; after our earlier discussion, I didn’t want to admit to jubilation over managing to kiss a boy realistically on stage. I needn’t have worried. Neither was in the common room; I assumed that they were studying, which was something I really needed to do myself. So I worked on my lab notes for a couple of hours before calling it a night.

44 Man of Her Dreams

Ideally, an actor can keep the character he’s developing, and the feelings he’s acting, completely separate from his real life. In practice, though they tend to leak. That’s probably what Alvin meant when he’d talked about “cleaning the emotional canvas.” He’d wanted to make sure Jared and I didn’t have inappropriate strong feelings towards one another that would affect our acting.

It works the other way, too. At a cast party last year, one of the seniors mentioned how the girl he’d been doing romantic scenes with had developed real feelings for him, and almost wound up breaking up with her boyfriend about it. I’d never done any kind of a romantic scene before this, and in fact this show was my first ever “stage kiss,” and I was clearly feeling some of the effects. All of that work I had done establishing the proper feeling for the kiss was leaking into my dreams.

I saw myself, as Marshall again, walking from the Grill with Jared. It was odd to be taller than he was, this time, but comfortable to be my real self once more. I wasn’t sure how we got there, but suddenly we were in a dormitory furnace room. Jared turned to me and asked, “Shall I stoke the furnace?”

I looked at him lovingly and said, “already done,” and kissed him. I kissed him – as a guy!

What in the world? I sat up in shock, suddenly wide-awake. I’d never dreamed of myself kissing a boy before. I looked around wildly to make sure I was alone. I was, and I was still female, but what had brought that on? I’d made certain to establish that it was female me – me as Mollie – who was kissing “Giles.” It wasn’t me, Marshall. I’d never do such a thing. Never.

I calmed myself; it was one in the morning and nobody was around. It had been a fluke. It didn’t mean anything. I needed to sleep.

I was back in the Melodee Music lounge, listening to Tina sing, only I was Marshall again when Jeremy came in and we started talking. He was telling me that mathematicians were really musicians in disguise and that his sister was a better singer than mine. As he talked, my focus moved in and all I could see was his mouth, his beautiful mouth, so distinguished, so articulate, so kissable…

I woke up again. This was getting serious. I was straight. I knew I was straight. Hadn’t I had lots of girlfriends? Hadn’t they all thought I was so manly and wonderful? It hadn’t been lack of attraction to them that had made us break up after a few months. I know it hadn’t. I wasn’t attracted to boys, not at all. The Jeremy thing was a fluke. I had been confused, not known who I was, thought it was just a dream.

But I knew, now. I knew that this body was just one I was forced to wear. It wasn’t me; it wasn’t permanent. All I had to do was find the lab where they had changed me; I had plenty of time before winter break. There was no reason for me to be fantasizing about kissing boys! It was disgusting.

Unless… I’d heard that some guys were latent. That deep down they were really gay, but in denial. What if that were me? It wasn’t possible, was it? Had I really, subconsciously, preferred my own sex? Was that why my relationships had all failed? I didn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. It couldn’t be true, but… why the stupid dreams?

I couldn’t sleep. I lay in bed and tried not to think about it, but at the same time I was afraid to dream again. I kept looking at the clock, hoping that somehow I would just fall into sleep without dreaming. It was two o’clock. It was two-thirty, it was…

I thought about Vicky, and how I had loved her, lusted for her. That wasn’t how a gay guy would feel, was it? And Jackie before her. And Maddy, and…

Vicky and I were at a party; we had found a secluded spot and were starting to make out, when suddenly a musician appeared with a flute and started playing a strangely familiar tune. He repeated it over and over before I recognized it…

It was my ringtone for Chad, telling me that he was calling my cell phone, and it was a bit past seven-thirty. I mumbled a hello.

“Marsh,” he said, sounding excited, “I had an idea for you. Did you ever find those experimenters?”

“No,” I admitted, yawning. “I haven’t been through the whole building, yet, and some of the labs were locked when I went by.”

“Well I thought of something else. How would you feel if you found somebody who actually remembered you as a boy?”

My eyes opened. “I didn’t think that was possible. Didn’t we already figure out that nobody else should remember me that way?”

“Unless you have a friend who did the experiment – their memories should be from the ‘old’ life if it’s actually real, right?”

Now I was fully awake. “That’s brilliant, Chad! Maybe you should be the one in college, not me.”

“Oh, please. Like I wanted to spend four more years in classrooms. No offense, Marsh, but I’m doing something real, here. When I do my work, I leave something lasting behind me. Something that people can see and appreciate. Not just words on a computer file.”

I had to laugh. I had always prized his different perspective on things. It was nice to have somebody I could talk to who disagreed with me but was never disagreeable about it.

“Anyway, I think there’s just one flaw in your suggestion, Chad. I’ve mentioned the experiment to my friends, and they all scoffed at it even happening. So none of them actually were volunteers.”

“Not Marsha’s friends; Marshall’s friends. Do you even talk to them anymore?”

“Oh. Damn. Oops, I mean, ‘oh rats’ – I wasn’t thinking. Yeah, I speak to one of them pretty regularly, since he’s in my Organic Chemistry class. But I wouldn’t know how to raise it with him.”

“That’s where my idea comes in, Marsh. The guy who wrote that newspaper article obviously spoke with a number of volunteers. Maybe he has a list of people who came forward. Maybe one of your old friends is on that list.”

“Huh. You’re right. If he would help me out… Chad, that is an incredible idea. I’ve got the article with me, and the writer’s name should be on it. Thanks an awful lot, buddy!”

He chuckled. “No problem. I’m still getting used to you calling me that. Glad I could help out. Let me know how it goes, OK?”

“Will do. Talk to you later.”

That was the solution. I had known that it was dangerous to stay in character too long, and I had been playing the role of Marsha non-stop for weeks. I’d had no connection to my old life, no anchor that would hold me to it; remind me who I really was. My confused dreams had to have been caused by that. I’d been working hard at doing feminine things, at kissing a boy convincingly in my ‘play within a play’ and it was getting to me. That had to be the cause, not any real doubts about my sexuality. But if I could find somebody who remembered me as Marshall…

It was later than I usually woke up, and I probably didn’t have time for breakfast, if I was to manage to put my makeup on properly, but I did have time to send an introductory email to the author of that article. I fished out my copy, and used it to look up contact information for the writer, whose name was given as “George Cracraft.” I told him that I was another of the victims, and that I was trying to find out if any of my old friends had been part of the experiment, and asked him to send me what names he had.

At lunch, Sheila looked particularly concerned. “Marsh, are you alright? You missed breakfast.”

“I’m fine,” I assured her. “I just overslept.”

“Thinking about Jeremy?”

I stared at her, wondering how she could possible know what I had dreamed. Then I figured it out.

“Oh! My roommates must have told you about our conversation.”

“Yes, I and I know how painful it is when your feelings aren’t returned.”

I laughed. “It’s really nothing like that. I’m not interested in him; I just needed the memory for my play.”

She nodded. “Tell yourself that. It’s much better that way.”

Great. So now I had to deal with the girls assuming that I was pining over a guy.

When I got back to my room after lunch, I checked my email and found an answer from the reporter, George Cracraft. His reply said, simply:

Miss Steen,
Hope you are well. Unfortunately, please understand that I cannot divulge my sources. Good luck in your search – G. C.

He might well think that that was the end of the matter; he didn’t know me very well, though. I needed that list. I needed him to connect me with anyone who might remember me, the real me. And I had an idea for how to go about changing his mind.

45 A Discordant Note

Before I could deal with the reporter, I had to keep an appointment I had made with Nikki. I got to her room a few minutes ahead of schedule, and knocked on her door. She lived in one of the older dorms in the middle of campus, Johnston Hall, which had been build with lots of stone on its exterior; fancy column shapes against the wall, and even a couple of what I presume were supposed to be gargoyles, although they were shaped like horse heads.

Her door was one of four rooms on the third floor of a section of the dorm reachable by its own stairway, and she answered almost immediately when I knocked. Apparently, it was a single dorm room, but had a small anteroom separate from her bedroom. She had her sewing machine and clothing rack there, along with a couple of wooden chairs, but what drew my attention was an electric guitar sitting on a stand.

It was a fairly new Fender Stratocaster, painted red with a sunburst pattern, and I could feel my fingers itching for it. “I didn’t know you played the guitar,” I commented, almost as soon as she had let me in.

She gave me a pained look. “I don’t. It’s actually Ben’s, but in the life he remembers, he never learned to play, and now says he can’t bear to see it. Actually, he told me to get rid of it, but I used to love to listen to him, so I’ve just kept it in hopes that he’ll change his mind.”

“That’s kind of a nice guitar, Nikki. It’s got to be worth about a thousand dollars. You definitely don’t want just to ‘get rid of it.’” I hesitated, just because it seemed a bit presumptive to ask of someone who wasn’t actually the owner. “I… actually used to play in my old life, but I don’t own a guitar. Would you mind if… if I tried this one?”

“You play the guitar? Please, go right ahead.”

I’d tried to avoid thinking about my own guitar, now lost to me, and I hadn’t played in weeks. It was yet another sure connection to my old life, my real life, and I’d missed it. Now I could prove to myself, and to Chad, and to Tina, that I was real. I could prove it by playing that guitar in a way that Marsha never would have been able to.

I think I was even more nervous and eager as I reached for Ben’s guitar than I had been the night Cindy and I had lost our virginity to each other. The guitar felt a bit strange in my arms, mostly because I was smaller, now, so it felt larger. I plugged it into the amp and sat down with it in one of the chairs. My fingertips hurt a bit as I checked the pitches, since I didn’t have calluses on my fingers.

“It’s in good tune,” I noted. “Your brother must have taken good care of it.”

“Yes, he was never great at playing, but he was very conscientious about maintaining it. He really loved it, and it just breaks my heart to see him set it aside.”

“Well,” I said, confidently. “Let’s just see if I can’t do justice to this instrument.” It all felt so familiar, and so comfortable. It had been so long, and I wanted to savor the experience. Experimentally, I plucked a few strings, drinking in the feel of the vibrations so close to my ear. I took a breath, and launched into the rhythm line from the Beatles’ All My Loving.

Or at least, I tried to. Something seemed to be wrong with my left hand. I was strumming with my bare thumb, as I hadn’t seen a pick, and the chords were way off, and some of the strings weren’t fully depressed, and the whole song sounded nothing like what I had intended. I stopped in shock. What in the world was going on?

I looked carefully at my left hand. By paying attention to it, I could get it to finger the chords correctly, but the minute I looked away, they went bad again, and it was only with painstaking concentration that I could make the chords happen – and I couldn’t change them fast enough to play in tempo. It was almost as though I were a complete beginner again. I knew the theory – I just couldn’t execute.

And it wasn’t just the lack of calluses, which were causing me pain in my fingers, or even the size of my hands. I couldn’t play. I knew what playing meant, but I couldn’t make it happen. I was used to thinking, “G7 C Cmaj9” and knowing that my left hand would automatically do the proper fingering. But it wasn’t happening.

It was only my long years of discipline that kept me from throwing the guitar away from me in frustration. Instead, I shakily put it back onto its stand. But then, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t do anything. All along, I had known that I was an expert guitarist. It was the core of my being. It was what made me, me. It was a major part of what me Marshall, not Marsha. And it was gone. It just wasn’t there.

I couldn’t breathe. I just stood there, with the hands that didn’t know chords, in the body that was way too short and the wrong sex and wearing a stupid dress and forbidden to curse and just totally…

Dimly, I could tell that somebody was speaking. Somebody was holding me, saying words I couldn’t understand, giving me an anchor. Somebody was keeping me safe, trying to bring me back from wherever I had gone. Somebody was… Nikki. I knew her. It was Nikki. My friend, Nikki. No, wait, she was Marsha’s friend, not mine. No! She was my friend. Marsha wasn’t here, so Nikki had to be my friend. I was the one who needed her. Not Marsha. Never Marsha. I’m Marshall. I’m…

As the haze began to lift, I noticed that I wasn’t actually standing, but kneeling, and Nikki was kneeling next to me, her arms around me. My face seemed to be wet, suggesting that somebody had been crying, but it hadn’t been me. It couldn’t have been me, since guys don’t cry, and I’m a guy. OK, it was a little bit hard for people to see that right now, and I did remember crying before, but that when I was pretending to be Marsha, but this body I was wearing was only temporary. Inside, I’m a guy. I’m Marshall.

“Are you OK, Marsh?”

Finally, I could understand the question. Answering was a bit difficult, since somebody still seemed to be using my mouth to cry, so I just nodded and clung tightly to my anchor.

“I wasn’t sure what happened. You seemed to be having trouble with the guitar and then you just started screaming something. You said something about a marshal wearing a dress and cursing. I couldn’t follow you, but you were in hysterics about it.

“Oh my… goodness. I mentioned ‘Marshall’?” I was able to force words out. I rested my head on her shoulder. “Nikki, I think I finally understand what your brother is going through. I thought I could handle all of this – I knew what was important. I knew my core, and thought I still had it. Now I’m not so sure. I… I just made a fool of myself, didn’t I?”

“No, you didn’t, Marsh.” She helped me to my feet, had to pull me up, since I just didn’t have the strength to move. “I know that this whole time warp thing has been hard for you, and I think you’ve been holding up very well. Apparently, you just ran into something you hadn’t been ready for. Do you want to tell me about it?”

And I did. I had to retain something of my self. So I told her what I had told Tina about my guitar, and what exactly I had been doing instead of sewing. I told her how the guitar had gone to a cousin, although I didn’t explain why. I sort of suggested that in my old life I had had a greater aptitude for music than I did now, although I think she probably saw that as an evasion.

Nikki looked at me very sympathetically. “Marsh… would you mind if I asked you something?”

“You can ask me anything, Nikki. You’ve been a terrific friend to me.”

“Well, I don’t want you to get upset, but…” she took a deep breath. “You told me that when you woke up that day, you thought you were dreaming, right?”

I nodded.

“… which means that the change was something really obvious, probably something you didn’t even need to look in the mirror to see. And you said that in your old life you were interested in girls, and your mother never taught you to sew… and you told Alvin that what happened to you was very personal…”

I tensed. I had revealed many things about myself, each seemingly harmless. I didn’t like the way she was putting them together now.

“And you just mentioned a marshal, and it occurs to me that ‘Marshall’ is a boy’s name…” She looked me square in the eyes. “Marsh, were you by any chance a boy in your old life?”

“I… Nikki…”

“It’s OK, Marsh. It really is. But it’s true, isn’t it?”

Reluctantly, I nodded. She’d actually figured it out. I hadn’t thought that anybody could, but she had, and I was afraid.

“Oh you poor thing,” she said, hugging me again. “That’s so much worse than what happened to Ben. I don’t know how you’re managing to keep yourself going.”

“You… you don’t mind? You’re not grossed out?”

“Marsh, you’re my friend. Why would I mind?”

“But… you’ve been so open with me, and…” horrified, I remembered her undressing in front of me, trustingly, “and I’ve seen you in your underwear…”

She laughed. “We’re theater people, Marsh. We see each other in underwear all the time. Besides, you’re a girl, now. Why should I care if you were a boy in another life?”

“I didn’t want anyone to know. I don’t want people to think of me as a freak.”

“Nobody’s going to think of you as a freak, Marsh. This will be our secret. Does anybody else know?”

“Just my sister and my neighbor. I haven’t even told my Mom and Dad.”

“And I won’t tell anyone, either,” She hesitated. “But maybe your parents need to know.”

“I’ve been struggling with that,” I admitted. “I’m just afraid of how they’ll react. They’re comfortable with me, this way, and I sort of boasted to Tina that nobody would know the difference.”

“That sounds like a very boy thing to do.”

“Well, I am a boy.” In response to her raised eyebrows, I added, “I mean, underneath.”

“Well, I think you’re coping very well.”

“I still keep thinking that it’s temporary, and I’ll be able to change back.”

“If that’s what you want, I hope you can.” Then she looked at me and added, softly, “I’d miss you, though.”

And while I was processing that, she surprised me with a suggestion. “The guitar playing seems to have been very important to you, Marsh. Why don’t you borrow Ben’s guitar and teach yourself to play all over again?”

“What do you mean?”

“Marsh, if you know how to play, but your hands just aren’t used to it, isn’t all you need a lot of practice? It’s just the opposite of your sewing. You seem to have the practical experience with sewing – your hands just seem to know what to do, but your head doesn’t. You’ve picked up stitches in a day that many girls take weeks to learn. With the guitar, it’s exactly the opposite. You know the theory. You know how the instrument is supposed to sound. So now you just need to practice, to train your hands to do what needs to be done.”

“Nikki, that is so incredibly generous of you!” I almost started crying again. “But I’m not so sure I can accept. It’s Ben’s guitar–”

“…which he has no interest in,” she pointed out.

“But shouldn’t we try to teach him?”

“Marsh, he isn’t interested. If you didn’t have a queue of work and a need to earn money, would you have taken up sewing? What if you had found out you couldn’t play the guitar immediately, instead of after weeks in your new life? How would you have felt about working to pick up some other skill that your new self was expected to have?”

I saw her point.

“Besides,” she added, “what if at some point, he does decide that he wants to learn? I can’t teach him. But if you get some practice, maybe you could.”

“You do realize that you are offering me something I want terribly?”

“Good. At least somebody will get some use of it, instead of having it just sit around in my sewing room. And maybe… maybe one day you’ll be able to help Ben.”

“Nikki, I accept. I’ll do it. I’ll… I’m going to need help carrying everything. And is there a case for the guitar to protect it? I don’t want anything to happen to it.”

Somehow, the sewing lesson didn’t seem all that important just now.