Archive for the ‘Section 4: Moving Forward’ Category.

56 Cold Comfort

I stared in shock. “Why shouldn’t there be a way back?”

“Marsh,” he said, gently, “I don’t think you’ve thought this through. What exactly happened to us, here?”

“Well, they must have gone back in time and interfered with our conceptions so that a different sperm…” Then I remembered. “Oh. You mean that even if we find the experimenters, all they could do would be to interfere again and we would wind up different from what we are now.”

“Exactly. The chances of going back to what we were are pretty much miniscule. It makes much more sense simply to accept it. Now,” he added hurriedly, “I’m not saying give up. That’s what a lot of these guys think I mean. Some of them just come here to commiserate. But it’s better, I think, to see this as just another change that happens. Imagine that you were in an auto accident or something, and needed reconstructive surgery. Now I don’t know what you used to look like, but you’re very attractive now.”

Allie cleared her throat, warningly.

Dan laughed. “I’m not flirting, Als. I’m just being honest.”

She laughed. “I know.” Then she turned to me. “You can even get some positives out of this, Marsh. If it weren’t for the experiment and the Strangers, Dan and I wouldn’t have met. Trying for a different result now is taking a real chance.”

“And in fact,” Dan added, “I think that there’s sort of an object lesson here. That guitarist. In the new reality, he apparently never came to Piques, or maybe didn’t learn to play or to play as well. Nobody knows what happened to him, and I understand Vicky’s been looking. We could wind up like him, and I don’t think that’s something that any of us want.”

Vicky and I exchanged glances. When we were dating, she often used to believe that she knew what I was thinking, and usually she was wrong, but this time I was pretty sure that she did know. After a moment, she nodded to indicate that she approved of what I intended. “Um… I have some important additional information for you,” I told Dan and Allie.


“It’s kind of personal, and I’ve maybe told more people than I should have, but I think you need to know this. Only… I don’t want it to be public knowledge.”

“We won’t spread it around,” Allie assured me.

“I mean, not even,” and I nodded my head toward the others in the room, “them.”

Dan’s eyes followed my gesture, and nodded. “Why don’t we get some fresh air?”

A minute later, the four of us had made our excuses and were walking in the brisk night air outside of Christie Hall. I had donned a heavier sweater this time, but found myself still shivering, with my arms wrapped around myself. Vicky, I noticed, was in much the same situation. Dan and Allie, on the other hand, had their arms around each other, and seemed to be handling the cold just fine.

We had reached the middle of the adjoining quadrangle before Dan prompted me. “So… what is this ‘important information’ you have?”

“I know what happened to the guitarist.”

“You do? How?”

I smirked and caught Vicky’s eye before continuing. “Well, we’re kind of close. There’s probably nobody who knew him better than I.”

I glanced at Vicky again, but she looked more annoyed than amused. “Marsh, just tell them.” Then she turned to the two of them and told them herself. “Marsh was the guitarist. The experiment turned him into a girl, and ‘she’ didn’t learn to play the guitar. That’s why he wasn’t in the concert.”

The news had its effect, although I think I could have gotten a better reaction if Vicky hadn’t interfered. “Wait. You were…?” Allie started even as Dan sputtered, “Turned him into…?”

“Hold it.” Dan let go of Allie and held up his hands in surprise. “Wait. Are you saying that you changed sex?”

“I don’t look much like a guy anymore, do I?” I asked, striking a dramatic pose.

“But that’s… ” Dan said before interrupting himself. “I don’t believe it. How did I miss this? Logically, half of the Strangers should have changed sex, and yet you’re the first one I’ve heard of who did.”

“For all you know, half of them did,” Vicky suggested, “You didn’t know that Marsh had until he– I mean, she, told you.”

“Yeah, I know, I know. But somehow I can’t believe that none of them would have said something. Hmm. Let’s think about this.”

“And can we please keep walking while we do?” Vicky pleaded. “It’s kind of cold out here.”

“My dorm is just ahead,” Allie said.

“OK, so let’s think of the possibilities,” Dan said as we walked.

“Well, the first is that half of the Strangers did change sex and nobody wants to admit it,” I said.

“Right. I think that there are some problems with that idea, but let’s list them all, first. An obvious second is that for some reason, sex changes are unlikely in this experiment.”

“Well, there are some biological factors which can influence sex selection. According to my Human Bio prof, timing and Ph balance and a few other things can make a difference.”

“So that’s explained?”

“I don’t know. I sort of had the impression that it just tilted the odds. So it might be 60% likely that you would have a boy under certain conditions.”

We had reached Allie’s dorm by this point, and being inside was a real relief. I had never appreciated how my old size had insulated me against the cold. Seeing how Vicky had been shivering just now, I wondered if I had been insensitive to her about the cold. Then I realized that we had only dated during warm months, so the subject wouldn’t have come up. Maybe I was just looking for reasons to beat myself up.

“Oh, Cindy!” Allie said, as she ushered us into a typical freshman dorm room, with two beds. “This is Marsh and Vicky, and you know Dan.”

“Sure, hi.”

We exchanged greetings and then Allie added, “Cindy, we need to have sort of a private discussion for a bit. Would you mind…?”

Cindy shrugged. “No problem. I can hang out in the lounge for a few. How much time do you need?”

We looked at each other, and Dan suggested, “how about fifteen minutes?”


“You’re taking this rather in stride,” I observed to Dan, after Cindy had left. “I expected you to be weirded out by me or something.”

“Well I am, a bit. I mean…”

“So I’m really the exception. Yeah, I understand about not wanting to throw the dice, and maybe get an even worse result. But I would love to throw the dice again, and again, until I wind up male again.”

“So it really does matter if we can find Professor Davis,” Vicky added.

“If that’s even his name,” I added. “There’s a Professor Davidson in the department, too. Could he be the one?”

“Davidson’s a solid state guy, Marsh,” Allie commented. “According to my brother, we wouldn’t have anything to do with this kind of work.”

“But it was a good thought, Marsh,” Dan said kindly. “We’ve just already been through the whole department and came up empty, and of course we stopped, since it didn’t seem to matter. Your case is a bit different, though. Give me a sec. I think I’m just a bit off-balance, here. I mean, I feel really stupid for not expecting something like this, and I have to believe that if something like that had happened to me, I wouldn’t be as calm as you seem to be.”

I laughed. “You should have seen me when I realized what had happened to me. Calm is not the word that applied. I’ve been living with this for a while now, and as long as I know there’s a way back I’ll be fine.” I held up my hand to ward off his objection. “And I know that I probably can’t go back to what I was, exactly. I just want to be a guy again. That should be possible, right?”

He started to answer, but Allie tugged on his arm and the two of them whispered back and forth for a short while, while Vicky and I looked at each other. Surely that shouldn’t have been such a difficult question?

Finally, Dan faced us and answered. “I don’t honestly know, Marsh. We’ve been so focused on learning to accept this and move on. I can see that’s not so simple for you. But the problem is, we haven’t been able to find Professor Davis, and we don’t know if it would even do any good. There’s all kinds of traps inherent in a time travel manipulation – at least all the stories say so. Assuming that this is the first time it’s ever be done, there might not have been any past lessons to rely on, and they could well have wiped out all the research needed for it. So even if you managed to find him, he might have no idea of the experiment any more.”

“But didn’t you say that the lack of upperclassmen suggests that something might have happened two years ago on campus? Wouldn’t the most likely explanation be that he ran the same experiment then?”

“Maybe. And it probably got a lot of attention on campus, and gained him some kind of a bad rep, but not bad enough to get the administration to hide him. That does make sense.”

“So… have you tried asking a junior or senior about it?”

“Not yet,” he admitted. “As I say, we’ve been focused elsewhere. But you’re right – you really do need more answers. Asking an upperclassman seems like an easy and obvious place to start. Why don’t you look into that, and tell us what you find out at the next meeting?”

I nodded. At the very least, I could ask Nikki. I was tempted to ask Jay as well; could his reactions to the time travel idea have had anything to do with something that had happened two years ago?

57 Alterations

“So…” I said to Vicki as we left Allie’s dorm room.

“So…” she replied. We walked on toward her room in silence for a moment before she added, “Marsh, I’m sorry. I really thought he might have a better answer.”

“I’m not thinking about that now,” I answered, tightly. “I’m trying to stay positive. I have something to do, even though I don’t see how it’s going to help. The more we know, the better my chances, right?”

She nodded. “I hadn’t been to meetings in a while. I didn’t realize that he had decided that just living with it was the answer.”

“Well, for him, and most of you, it probably is the answer. Chad and I discussed this a month ago. If you’re hoping to get back to exactly the same place, that’s not too likely. But I would be happy with looking even close to what I did, as long as I could be male again.”

“That would make me happy, too. I really liked dating you, Marsh. I can’t imagine finding another guy who’d be so right for me.”

I broke the next silence after about a minute. “Um, I’m a bit embarrassed about the whole baby incident, though. I’d just never seen a baby so cute. I’m surprised you didn’t want to hold him.”

She laughed. “I’m used to finding babies cute, Marsh. If we hadn’t been in a rush, I absolutely would have made a fuss over him, but I thought getting you to that meeting was kind of critical. I guess it was a new experience for you, and you weren’t ready for it.

“Oh… and speaking of new experiences,” she added, “are you getting your period?”

I flushed a bit. “Yeah, were you able to tell?”

“I had a hunch. I’ll bet that was a shock for you, getting to experience what I’ve been going through all this time. I mean, I remember my first period. I’m still getting used to them after five years, and I expected to have them. For you… I can’t even imagine what it must be like.”

“I’ll say. This is actually my second time. The first was a total disaster: I bled all over my sheets and kind of panicked. So I took precautions this time. Rather than be surprised, I set an alert on my calendar, and put in a tampon ahead of time, just in case.”

She winced and stopped walking. “That’s really not a great idea, Marsh. The tampon absorbs whatever there is to absorb, and if you don’t have a flow, it’s going to absorb stuff it shouldn’t and you could end up with toxic shock syndrome. People die from that, Marsh.”

I’d stopped when she did, and now I stared at her. “You’ve got to be joking.”

“Did you read the package carefully? You sort of have a habit of not reading directions, but it’s all there. Don’t insert a tampon early. If you want to do something early, a pad is much safer.”

“I… I’m not sure if I have any. Why does this have to be so complicated?”

“Complicated? Try weird,” she observed, as we started walking again. “I never thought I’d be giving my ex-boyfriend instructions on feminine hygiene.”

“Yeah, there is that,” I admitted, a bit chagrined.

Finally, we reached her door. Automatically, I started to reach for her, but stopped in confusion. “What are we…?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “I guess, sometimes when we’re just talking and not actually looking at each other, I can ignore your higher voice and imagine you’re still Marshall. I wish…”


“Marsh… if there’s anything I can do…”

“I know, Vix. I appreciate it.”

She went in alone, closing the door after herself, and leaving me outside alone. I sighed and walked back to my own room.

Nikki and I had arranged for me to come over for another attempt at my lesson in alterations, so I headed there in the early afternoon, after my regular fruitless search of the physics building. It’s not that I really expected to find the lab any more – I just didn’t have any better ideas yet, and I had to do something.

The lesson followed the somewhat predictable pattern. Nikki showed me what to do, and I picked it up quickly, as though my hands had been doing it for years. In a sense, they had, since they were Marsha’s hands, which was very convenient for me in my need to earn money, even if it had cost me my skill with the guitar. I probably wouldn’t have made the trade if given the choice, but just now it was necessary.

While we were taking turns at the sewing machine, I raised the question of the night before. “So, if no upperclassmen volunteered for the experiment,” I said, “we suspected that they might have known something that the rest of us didn’t. Can you think of something that might have served as a warning from two years ago?”

Nikki thought for a moment, and then shook her head. “I don’t remember anything, If I had wanted to volunteer for experiments, I can’t think of any reason I would have avoided that one. Besides, if there were something I’d known, don’t you think I would have warned Ben?”

I conceded the point. “There has to be some other explanation, then. Maybe the experimenters specifically rejected any junior or senior volunteers. Or…” and I suddenly had another thought. “Maybe it was just easier to use the older students as some kind of a control, and they did a different type of experiment on them, one that didn’t change their pasts.”

“Or they might had advertised someplace that only freshman and sophomores would look,” Nikki suggested. “Do you remember how you found out about it?”

“I think I saw it on a college web site,” I said, after thinking a bit. “I don’t remember exactly where. Or maybe it was a mailing list? It’s hard to remember, since I signed up for a bunch of them, mostly in the Psych department. This is the only one I remember being Physics, and that’s what intrigued me.”

“Well, if it was a mailing list, maybe they only sent it to underclassmen?”

“That’s possible. I’ll have to ask the others what they remember. Does your brother ever talk about the experiment?”

She shuddered. “A lot, actually. But I don’t remember him saying how he found out about it. He’s been spending time outside the gymnasium where the team practices, trying to get a glimpse, trying to talk the coach into giving him another tryout. The problem is, he’s not anything close to athletic enough.”

“Yeah, I guess in one sense I’m lucky that my passion was something I did alone, and I wasn’t playing in a band. That would have hurt even more if I was, and I saw them jamming without me.”

“I really admire your attitude, Marsh. You’re always so positive about things.”

I laughed bitterly. “No, I just haven’t had a meltdown in front of you, that’s all. It’s getting a lot harder, now. Every chance I thought I had to change back isn’t panning out. I’m crazy about Vicky, but she made me face something I really would rather not have, that I’m not really in control of this, that I might be stuck. You think I’m positive? Maybe I’ve just been putting the crash off again and again. If it comes, you might not really want to be around me. I… I just want to get through the show. If I can make it through the performance without falling apart, at least I’ll have that as a positive. I’m not sure how much else I’ll have.”

“What about Vicky? Doesn’t finding her count as a positive?”

I nodded. “OK, yes. She’s definitely a positive. She’s my link to the past and – I hope – the future. Sometimes when we talk, it’s as though she still sees the real me. I can almost feel like my old self. She and I – we have at least the memory of our relationship and the hope to resume it, and I can almost pretend in my mind that we’re still dating. But… what happens if she does find somebody else? Somebody who’s actually a guy now?”

“That won’t feel good, will it?”

“No. I keep thinking that I’m just so lucky that the guys here are obviously too stupid to figure out how great she is. But what happens if one of them does? Where will that leave me?”

“Marsh, no matter what happens, you have your friends. Remember that. We love you as you are, and we’ll be here to support you.”

“Thanks,” I murmured. “Thing is, I can’t help thinking that you’re friends with Marsha, though. Sometimes I feel so jealous of her. OK, she didn’t get the guitar and can’t play, but she’s a better singer than I am, probably a better actor… I thought I was really close to my sister, but she seems to have been even closer to Marsha than she was to me. And I was here first! Marsha probably shouldn’t ever have existed, but now she seems to be trying to replace me.”

“Marsh. I’m friends with you. Yes, I remember Marsha, and I liked her. You are more alike than you realize, I think. And I really admire the way you’ve been coping with what must be an unbearable situation, much worse than what Ben is going through, and handling it so much better.

“Whatever Marsha’s reality, you are the one who’s here now. Not Marsha. You are the one who’s replaced her, essentially. Would she cope as well if she were put into your shoes? Who knows? But don’t sell yourself short. You have enormous strength, and that’s what your friends respect. Vicky didn’t even know Marsha, right? And you’re the one who exists now.”

I managed a small smile, got up from the machine and hugged Nikki. “Thanks,” I said. “That really does help. There are times I just want to… I don’t know. I’m not a quitter, but why couldn’t I just wake up and discover that this was all a dream?”

She hugged me tighter, but didn’t say anything, and somehow… somehow that was enough.

After dinner, I got Dan’s name from Vicky and looked him up in the student directory.

“Alright, scratch that idea,” he said when I told him about my conversation with Nikki. “I like her suggestion that they might have used a mailing list only for the younger students.”

“But don’t you remember how you found out about the experiment?” I asked.

“Marsh, do you have any idea how many experiments I volunteered for? I found them in all kinds of different places and made a list. I’m pretty sure the rest of the Strangers did much the same. If you’re trying to raise some cash by being a guinea pig, you assume that the college has checked all of the experiments to make sure they’re safe.”

“And we can’t even check with whoever would have done that, since the administration’s official word is that there was no such experiment.”


“OK,” I asked, “what’s next? Do you have any more ideas on how we track these guys down? Does anybody have instruction sheets from the experiment that we can look at?”

“I’m pretty sure they didn’t hand anything out. I remember signing something, and they told me to take notes and come back for an interview, but that’s it.”

“I don’t suppose anybody remembers doing the interview?”

“You’re kidding, right?”


He looked at me as though I were stupid. “After you woke up like this, was your first thought, ‘Gee, I should go for an interview with these guys’?”

“Oh.” His assessment was right. Boy did I feel dumb. “I didn’t even give it a thought.”

“Yeah, well, I think two people did try to go in for the interview, but couldn’t find them. About half of the rest tried to find them to change back or get an explanation – also no luck. The rest did pretty much as you did. I mean, when you find your body physically changed, helping somebody with a lab experiment doesn’t see very important, does it?”

I nodded. “So it’s just one dead end after another.”

“I know, right? I’ve been racking my brains, trying to figure out what else we can use, but as I said, so far I cannot think of anything at all to distinguish between time travel wiping out the experiment and the experimenters just going into hiding. Marsh, seriously. If I come up with anything, I’ll give you a call. I just don’t know what else to tell you right now.”

58 Obsession

I am a pervert.

I am a pervert and I’m not even sure if I should feel guilty about it, given all that has happened to me. I mean, a guy’s got to take whatever– a guy. Yeah, right.

I had been so enthusiastic about meeting other people who had been trying to figure this out for longer than I had, and they were no closer to an answer than I was, despite having explored ideas I hadn’t even thought of. Their answer, those of them that were even trying for answers, was, “just accept it.” It may yet come to that, but… how am I supposed to accept this?

And Vicky… finding her had been like a dream. Not only was there somebody who remembered me, and remembered me fondly, but there had even been the promise that we could go back to what we used to have, at least once I went back to what I was.

So I was totally unprepared for the way the conversation went after dinner on Thursday. The previous two days had been ones of ups and downs for me. The plus sides were the play, which was coming together nicely, and my sewing which was clearly improving, even to the point where I was making progress on Terry’s gown. Searching the physics building, on the other hand, was beginning to feel futile, and every web search I did came up empty. It certainly did not pass my notice that all of my successes were in my more feminine activities, while those intended to restore or at least bolster my masculinity were falling flat. About the only thing I could rely on was my relationship with Vicky, in which we both made it a point to remember what I had been.

And yet… Vicky could tell that I was still bothered by something, and unsurprisingly wormed it out of me.

“I cannot believe that you are still obsessing over the baby thing, Marsh,” she said as we sat together on her bed.

“I can’t help it,” I replied, hugging my knees to my chest. “It was so not me. I can’t figure out why I did it.”

“Don’t you remember the argument we had about my cousin’s baby last summer? And how you dismissed my feelings as thoughtless biological urges?”

“OK. Fine, so I was wrong.”

“Not necessarily, Marsh. There’s probably a lot in female biology that leads to the mothering instinct. You’re just feeling it now, is all.”

“Vix, I will never dismiss your feelings like that again,” I promised her. “This was just kind of an extreme way to have it rubbed in my face. I guess I shouldn’t have griped. There’s got to be something that makes girls willing to cuddle up next to a hairy guy.”

She laughed. “You’re really funny, Marsh. Sometimes you are so sophisticated, and other times you come off as so naïve.”

“What do mean?” I asked, stretching out to look at her.

“All the time we were together and you never realized that I found you physically attractive and sexy? I have a harder time figuring out why guys find us attractive.”

“Huh?” I asked, surprised. “Girls are…” I stopped, a bit confused. “Well, I know I used to find girls sexy. Because after all, girls are… well, they’re shaped, you know, sexy and curvy and…”


“Huh. So, what exactly do you find attractive about guys?”

She looked a bit embarrassed. “I’m not sure I want to say, but I really thought your neck was… wow!”

“My neck?”

“Yes,” she answered quite definitely. “Your neck. It was so strong and… manly.”

I stared at her, incredulous. “Oh boy. Guys and girls really do think about things differently, don’t they? I mean, I can’t even imagine wanting to look at a guy that way, but if I did, I expect that I’d be looking at… You know, let’s just not go there.”

She shrugged. “The point is, most girls like the way boys look. You don’t have to want a baby to think that a boy is cute, or that you’d enjoy being with him. Um…” She looked uncomfortably nervous all of a sudden. “That reminds me…”


“I… that is… it’s not as if there’s a real alternative, anyway…”

“What?” I knew her well enough to recognize when she was on the verge of telling me something I wasn’t going to like, and I tensed.

She took a deep breath. “Thing is, Kevin Perez sort of asked me. To go to House Parties with him.”

If she had simply stood up and kicked me in the stomach, she probably couldn’t have given me a worse jolt. I tried to say something, but the only thing that came out of my mouth was “Wha…? Bu…!”

She spoke quickly and nervously. “I mean, it’s not as if you and I were planning to go together, right? We’re not even attracted to each other right now, and…”

“Stop. Wait.” I managed. It was just so wrong. She was my girl, wasn’t she? How could she even consider…?

“Marsh…” she pleaded. “I’m really sorry about this. I- I really wanted to go. I mean, we had a great time last year, didn’t we? And I’d want to go with you, if… well…”

“…If I weren’t female.”

“And if you changed back, it would probably turn out that we had gone together, after all, right? So It’s not as if you’re really losing out. Doesn’t that make sense?”


“If what?”

“You said, ‘if.’ ‘If you changed back.’”

“Oh. I meant, ‘when.’ ‘When you change back.’”

“No, no you didn’t,” I said shakily. You meant, ‘if.’ You don’t really think it’s going to happen, do you?”

She answered reluctantly. “Well… I want you to change back. I really do, Marsh. I can’t imagine any boyfriend as great you were. I just… I just don’t see how it’s possible, now.”

I tried to keep the whining out of my voice, but it was so hard – so very unfair. “I… I just thought…” I shook my head, ignoring the way my long hair flew against my face. “No, I guess I really didn’t think. I want… Oh foo.” I’d worked so hard not to curse, that now when I really needed to, I couldn’t. “You know,” I started to say. “I think… I just remembered that I need to…”

And that was as far as I got because in the next moment I was running without looking back. Running out of her room so that she couldn’t see the tears flowing down my cheeks. I mean, I had to keep my dignity somehow. A guy shouldn’t let his girlfriend see him cry like that. It’s not manly, it’s not…”

I hadn’t gotten very far before I ran out of steam, sat on the steps outside my dorm, and just cried my heart out. I’d been so proud of my guitar playing and my acting, and the progress I was making in sewing, but it was pretty clear that my absolute best skill par excellance, was self-deception. Who was I kidding? Even Vicky didn’t think I could change back, not really. I looked down at my girly body and my girly clothing and just cried like a girl. Because that’s pretty much what I was, now. Whether Davis had gone into hiding, or had changed his own history so that he never did the experiment didn’t really matter. If I couldn’t find him, it didn’t matter why.

After I ran down, I decided that there was one vestige on my masculinity I could salvage. I could – maybe for the last time – be a big brother to my sister. My last call had upset her, and she had been brave, all for me. Well, now it was my turn. My turn to be brave for her and make her feel better.

I was fortunate that she answered the phone. I didn’t think I could handle talking to Mom just now.

“Hey, Teen…” I started, trying to sound positive, and failing.

She spoke quickly to cut me off. “Marsh, it’s OK. I’ve got it all planned. When you come home for Christmas, we’re going to take a trip together, and we’re going to do projects together, and just spend lots and lots of time together. It won’t be so bad, I guess… not if I know that you’ll remember me. I know that I was sort of not even supposed to have a chance – that the other Tina was here first. And it’s only right that she come back. I’ve really… I’ve really enjoyed having you as my big sister, and I wish–”

“Tina,” I interrupted her. “It’s not going to happen.”

“Of course it is, Marsh. We’ll make it happen. You and I, together, we can–“

“Tina. Listen to me. I’m not changing back. You’re not going away. We’re staying the way we are. Do you understand me? There’s nothing to worry about.”

“Wait, you’re… hold on, let me make sure Mom and Dad aren’t listening.” There was a pause before she came back. “OK, are you telling me that you’re going to stay a girl, Marsh?”

“That’s what I’m telling you, Teen. I’m not changing back.”

“But… I don’t understand. Just a few days ago you were all excited about changing back. You said that Vicky wanted you to. What happened?”

I sighed. If I could at least pretend this had been my decision, maybe I wouldn’t feel so horrible.

“We can’t find them, Teen. There’s a whole group of people who went through this, the ones who went to the newspaper. They’ve been searching for the guys who did this to us for longer than I have, and… nothing. Whether Chad was right about the experiment wiping itself or something else, they’re as good as gone. So… I’m stuck.”

“Oh, Marsh. I’m so sorry.”

“I know,” I told her. “I’m sort of in shock here, but at least I wanted you to know, so that you could stop worrying. I love you, Teen. And it looks as though you’re stuck with me now. No more big brother for you, young lady!”

Could I hear the wistful smile in her voice, or was I just imagining it? “Marsh, I promise you, I am going to do everything I can to make you happy about this. I know you can learn to like it. I remember you being very happy to be a girl. And I love you, Marsh. Um… do you want me to avoid calling you, ‘Marsha’? Would that… make you upset?”

“Teen, I don’t know. I don’t know anything, right now. I just wanted to make sure you were OK. I’ve got a bunch of stuff to think about. I’ll call you again in a few days, OK?”

“OK,” she said. “Bye. Marsh.”

“Bye, Teen,” I answered, and hung up. I sighed. That was about the last manly act I could think of to do. And now… since I was already acting the role of ‘Marsha,’ it looked as though I was going to have to do that for the rest of my life. Of course, I was free to change the role now – my boast was pretty much meaningless at this point – but I couldn’t think of what I would change. I was used to being Marsha the way I was.

And all in all, I suppose I could have had worse fates. My biggest problem was being asexual. I had always treasured my relationships; even I hadn’t been any good at sustaining them. The closeness, the physical and the emotional, the cuddling, the kissing, the companionship – all were denied to me, now. The closest I had now was imagining my encounter with Jeremy and kissing ‘Giles’ in character. It was no substitute for the real thing. I was fated to spend the rest of my life alone. I could see myself, a couple of decades hence, as a maiden aunt, fussing over Tina’s children. I shuddered.

And suddenly, returning to my room, Marsha’s room, was unbearable. It felt a prison. So I sat on the steps for a while, and while I sat, I enviously watched one happy couple after another, strolling with the arms around each other. Those boys didn’t even realize how precious the gift they had – to be able to admire their girlfriends, to find them attractive, to enjoy intimacy with them.

And the girls, with their skimpy short skirts and low-cut tops, vainly secure in their attractiveness, knowing that they could enjoy cuddling and kissing, and being admired. How could they bear to dress that way, with their tops and bottoms hanging out? I tried to imagine myself wearing such clothing, showing off my permanently female body, the tops of my breasts visible to the world, my thighs immodestly exposed…

And suddenly, to my surprise, I felt something: something at once completely new and maddeningly familiar. I was turned on! I was sexually stimulated! Not by looking at a sexy girl, not by caresses, but by imagining myself in revealing clothing! It was sick. It was perverted. It was… interesting. I could feel my nipples suddenly hardening and rubbing against the inside of my bra. I could feel dampness between my legs. I was horribly embarrassed to be stimulated like this in full view of everyone who might be passing by. My only saving grace was that, unlike similar situations when I was a boy, nobody could tell – at least I thought they couldn’t.

Gingerly, I stood up, trying to act casual, and walked slowly and as calmly as I could to my room. Naturally, both of my roommates were in our living room.

“Marsh, is something wrong?” Lee Ann asked, no doubt misinterpreting the shock and embarrassment on my face.

“You’ve been avoiding us for days, is something going on?” Terry chimed in.

“No really,” I gasped. “I’m just…” and then I realized something else. If I was permanently Marsha, these girls were going to be my roommates for the rest of the year. To my surprise, the idea made my heart leap.

“I’m just feeling a bit… queasy,” I lied, unwilling to admit the truth. I suspected that the real Marsha might have been comfortable being more forthcoming, but I was way too embarrassed.

“Oh, well, then go lie down,” Lee Ann said hurriedly. Can I get you something?”

“No thanks, I’ll be fine. I just need to lie down,” I told them. And I quickly slipped into my room and shut the door. I was still quite stimulated, and it had occurred to that this was an opportunity I shouldn’t pass up. With the exception of my not-actually-a-dream reaction to Jeremy on my first day as a girl, I had not felt any kind of sexual excitement, and that had been more in my heart and less in my… feminine parts.

I had avoided touching myself intimately, refusing to accept that what was between my legs was actually mine; that self-deception was no longer tenable, and no longer necessary. It was time to “try out the equipment.”

But first, I looked at myself in the mirror and tried to imagine myself in skimpy clothing. I unbuttoned my blouse and pulled it out of the top of my skirt so that I could manipulate it to look like a midriff-baring, low-cut blouse. I rolled up my skirt to pull the hem above my knees. I was… more than pleased with the results. Not that I would ever want anyone to see me that way, but I was definitely finding the result to be exciting.

I took off all my clothing and looked at myself in the mirror again. I didn’t find my naked body particularly exciting, but it did serve as a very visible reminder of my permanent reality. It was time to get into bed and see what I could manage.

Just before I started, though, I had a thought. Some of my girlfriends had been rather… vocal when they had climaxed. I didn’t want to broadcast what I was doing to my roommates, so I pulled down the winter quilt from my closet, pulled it over my face, and got to work.

Touching myself down there was… interesting. My hand was encountering familiar territory, of course, but I had never felt this kind of touch from the inside, as it were. At first, my excitement rose in response, both from the actual touch and the anticipation of what I was about to experience. But after a few minutes, I seemed to have reached a plateau. The feeling wasn’t getting any more intense, and even worse, my hand was getting sore.

After nearly fifteen frustrating minutes, I gave up. My wrist was killing me, and my body was on the verge and on the verge, but I couldn’t get any relief. I was exhausted and couldn’t think of anything to do but get some sleep; however, Mother Nature had one more trick to play on me.

There had been times when Vicky and I had had sex, and after I was done, she had only been getting started, but I had been too tired to continue. She had told me that she was too stimulated too sleep, but I had never understand that, or, I’m sorry to say, been all that understanding, feeling nothing but the need to sleep myself. I now understood in spades.

Payback is such a bitch.

59 Getting Up is Hard to Do

An hour later, I was still awake. I was no longer stimulated, just seething, with all that had been done to me. I ran down the list in my mind. Stuck as a girl forever? Check. Vicky going to House Parties with another guy? Check. Grandpa’s guitar and my ability to play it gone? Yup. Unable to be attracted to another human being? Oh boy – and getting turned on by the idea of myself in sexy clothing I wouldn’t be caught dead in was just sick, not to mention frustrating when I couldn’t even bring myself to a climax.

If only I could find something to do with my anger! It would be one thing if we had found the guys responsible and they had refused to help. The Strangers would have been able to pressure them or expose them or… something. But now? For all we could tell, they might no longer even be aware of having harmed us. The whole thing was just so horribly unfair. It was futile. It was… nothing. I could do nothing, none of us could.

I have no idea how I finally managed to fall asleep – probably from sheer exhaustion – but I wasn’t sleeping when the knock came at my door the next morning. I had been awake for a while, and just hadn’t mustered the will to get out of bed, but whoever was on the other side of my door sure seemed in a hurry about something. I couldn’t figure out what could possibly be so important.

After a moment, a voice joined the knocks. It was Lee Ann, and she seemed to be worried about something. “Marsh? Are you all right in there? Marsh?”

After a deep breath or two, I decided that answering her made sense. “I’m coming,” I muttered. And with great effort I forced myself to climb out of bed.

“What’s going on?!” Lee Ann asked as I unlocked and opened the door. “You never sleep this late! You’re missing breakfast! You’re… you’re naked.”

I looked down. “I?! Oh… right.” I hadn’t bothered to put on my nightgown before falling asleep. I went to get it now.

“Um, Marsh?”

I turned and raised a questioning eyebrow.

“Breakfast? And then classes? Remember?”

Breakfast. That did seem like something I should be doing. Maybe. Classes were a pain, though. I had no use for classes now. What was the point? I was in the wrong body, in the wrong life. I couldn’t feel love. Couldn’t make music. What did it matter if I went to classes?

Lee Ann sighed at me, even more annoyed than before. “Marsha. Clothes. You need to get dressed.”

And wash. And put on make up. I knew the drill. It was just all too much work.

“Marsha! Say something! And put something on! This is getting a little weird.”

“Oh… good morning, Lee Ann.” I did manage to walk over to my dresser and put on my underwear, although I was a bit dubious about the bra. I should be able to refuse to do that, right? But I saw Lee Ann glare at me when I put it back in the drawer, so I retrieved it and fastened it around myself.

I sort of dithered as to what, if anything, I should do next, but Lee Ann didn’t wait. She dragged me over to the bed, sat me down and set next to me, holding both my hands.

“Now, spill,” she insisted. “What happened last night?”

“Last night?” I echoed. I tried to focus. Concealing the actual truth about myself had become a habit, and I struggled to think of what I could say, even as I wondered if it mattered what I said.

“Marsha. You came in last night, walking funny, and not especially communicative. Now you’re acting as though something is seriously wrong. Were you… molested? Did somebody force you?”

“Huh?” She had it all wrong. I knew I could give her a better answer than that.

“OK, that’s it. Get dressed. I’m taking you to the infirmary.”

That shocked me into action, at least a bit. I needed to take control of the situation. I really did. It was just so hard to be assertive right now.

“Wait… Lee Ann, please. I mean it. There’s nothing wrong with me… medically, that is. I haven’t been physically attacked or… molested, or… anything else like that. I just…” I sighed again. “I’m just feeling really down. I feel like… I don’t know. Like I just don’t…” I shook my head and forced myself to smile. “I think I’ll be all right. I just need to snap out of this mood.”

“You’re not answering the question, Marsh. Something obviously happened. Who were you with last night?”

“Nobody! I mean… just Vicky.”

“No boys? Did a boy touch you?”

“No!” I insisted. “There were no boys involved.”

“Just you and Vicky, hmm?”

“Yes, just the two of us.”

She thought for a moment and peered at me as though she was trying to see through me, and I started to feel just a bit self-conscious about wearing nothing but a bra and panties.

“So what did Vicky do?”

“Nothing! She just told me that she had a date for House Parties, is all.”

At that, Lee Ann sat back with a knowing expression. “Ah… House Parties. We’re back to that again.”


“Why? Why do you do this to yourself? Marsh, if you want to go, find a date. Some of the guys still haven’t asked anybody.”

“I don’t–”

“You don’t what? Are you going to sit here and tell me that you’re not going to be miserable when Terry and I are partying with our boyfriends and you’re by yourself?”

I shook my head. I couldn’t tell her that. I didn’t want to be miserable. I just didn’t see any alternative.

“Look, let me fix you up. I’m not saying that you have to fall in love with the boy. Just have somebody to party with and dance with.”

I shook my head even more vigorously. “I’m not interested. Really. I don’t want to–”

“I know, I know,” she said impatiently. “You don’t want a date, but you’re miserable that you don’t have a date.”

I cringed. I couldn’t really explain it to her, now could I? There simply wasn’t any solution that I could see. House Parties this year was going to be horrible for me. I sort of sensed that this situation should be funny, or ironic, or something, given that Lee Ann was both way off the mark and right on it at the same time. Too bad I wasn’t in the mood to appreciate it.

“Can you get dressed and ready for class, and…” she peered closely at me. “Oh boy, you’re really in a bad way, aren’t you? You didn’t even take off your make up last night.”

My hand went to my face. Usually I was pretty good about nighttime rituals, but considering how I had been feeling, I suppose I had forgotten.

“OK, to the bathroom. Let’s go. I’m going to take care of you; we’ll get the old make up off and I think you’d better tone down the makeup this morning. It’s probably not too bad a problem, but you should give your skin some time to recover before putting on more.”

At my blank look, she took my hand and led me into the bathroom, where she applied make up remover, washed my face, and then applied some make up in a fashion Tina hadn’t taught me. I recognized the moisturizer, but then she put on powder instead of my usual foundation, lip balm instead of lipstick, and then lined my eyes. Her skill was evident, and I wound up looking (to my as-yet-inexpert eyes) much the same as I usually did, and maybe better.

She also picked out my clothing and handed me my shoes, which I thought a bit much, but somehow it just didn’t seem worth complaining about it.

“Are you planning on kissing me good bye and packing me a lunch, ‘Mommy’?” I said as we left the dorm.

She rewarded me with a smirk. “Well at least you still have some kind of sense of humor left. But Marsh, you really need to decide what you want here. I don’t want to put you on the spot, but it seems to me that either you’re afraid of being out with any boy, or else you’re mooning over one particular boy and agonizing because he hasn’t asked you. Let us help you, Marsh. Terry and I care about you and hate to see you tormenting yourself. Whenever you’re ready to talk about it, we’re ready to listen. OK?”

I nodded, grateful for the support, even if the suggestions weren’t very helpful. “Let me think about it,” I muttered. What was I going to do? She was right about one thing. I was going to have to figure out how I was going to cope, now that changing back had been taken from me. But just not yet; I wasn’t ready.

For now, all I could do was go through the motions. Get dressed. Go to class. Eat meals. Earn money and do the show. I had plenty of things on my plate already, and most of them didn’t require me to feel, just act. Anything more was asking too much.

60 Bitter Patter

I didn’t really pay attention as Lee Ann whispered to our friends at the breakfast table. It was obvious she was telling them something about me, but whether it was to laugh at me, tell everybody to lay off me, or plan a date for me, I just didn’t really care. I had decided that I was going to do only what I needed to do to get by just now. Eat because I needed food to survive, study because I needed to get decent grades, and sew to get money. Rehearsal might be a problem, but I had more than two days before I had to worry about that.

The first thing I had to deal with after breakfast was Geoff, in Organic Chemistry.

“Good morning, Marsha!” he trilled as usual as sat in the seat next to mine.

“Look Geoff,” I snapped. “I’m not in a good mood today, so please don’t talk to me.” The fact that he habitually called me, ‘Marsha,’ rather than ‘Marsh’ didn’t help. He was surprised, of course, but what was the point? He couldn’t imagine what I was going through, still being male. Why did he get to be a guy when I couldn’t? So obviously, nothing he said was going to matter.

His eyes widened, and he sort of leaned away from me, but he didn’t say anything, but through the lecture he looked over at me every so often when he thought I wouldn’t notice. I noticed. I started feeling a bit guilty, but couldn’t bring myself to do anything about it.

I managed to get through the lecture without biting anybody else’s head off, and headed to Spanish class, but as I left the lecture hall, I saw Vicky. She didn’t notice me, as she was talking to a guy I didn’t know. Figures, I thought. Her new boyfriend is also a pre-med student. Couldn’t she at least have the decency not to speak to my replacement in front of me? I turned away from them and started walking out of the building, but she suddenly called my name.

“Marsh!” she yelled from behind me. “Do you have a second?” Reluctantly, I stopped and turned around. Automatically, I sized up my rival as I approached them. Of course, technically we weren’t rivals, since I had been disqualified from the contest.

“Marsh, this is Seth Groner,” she said, indicating him. “Seth, this is my friend, Marsha Steen.” So I was Marsha, now, huh?

The bastard put out his hand and I had to shake it. “Nice to meet you, Marsha.” Then he turned to Vicky and added, “Great running into you, Vicky. I’ll see you in class.”

“See you!” she called after him as he left. Then she turned back to me and saw the question in my eyes. “Seth is in my art class. I had no idea he was also taking Orgo. Do you have a minute?”

“I… sort of have to get to my Spanish class,” I muttered, but I was curious, so I made no effort to leave.

“I’ll walk with you, then. Marsh,” she started as we started walking. “I didn’t want to do this over the phone. Marsh, I’m really sorry.”

I sighed. “It’s not your fault, Vicky. I’ve lost. Fine. You’re not interested and you’re moving on. I can understand that. I just… Oh, I don’t know. I just don’t think I can stand seeing you and your new boyfriend together just now.”

“Seth is not my ‘new boyfriend’ and neither is Kevin. Seth is just a friend, and Kevin… is just a guy who asked me out. I have no idea how far things are going to go between us.”

I shrugged. “It’s really none of my business, I guess.”

“Of course it’s your business, Marsh! We’re still friends, right? And… I really do still hope you can change back. I’d much rather be going with you. I just…”

“You don’t believe it’s going to happen, right?”

She looked away from me. When she turned back, there were the beginnings of tears in her eyes. “I just don’t see a way, Marsh. You were so confident when we met at the Grill; I sort of hoped you had some extra information. I didn’t really believe it, but I wanted to, you know?”

It took me a moment to respond from the dark place my heart had gone. “It’s all so easy for you,” I finally said, bitterly. “Lose one boyfriend, and there’s always another available. But what about me? I’m not even attracted to girls any more – what exactly am I supposed to do?”

“Oh, Marsh, I don’t know. You have no idea how sorry I am. I wish… but that’s not going to help. I hope you’ll still talk to me. I couldn’t bear not having you in my life any more, even if we can’t…”

I sighed once again. I could feel tears welling up in my own eyes and I didn’t want them to come out, but it all hurt so much! “It’s not so easy for me, Vix. But yeah, I don’t want to lose you, either. Even…” I took a deep breath and got myself mostly under control. After all, as an actor, I’m supposed to be in control of my emotions, right? “We’ll keep talking, Vix. I don’t know how much I can stand to hear about you and… well, any guy you’re seeing, but we’ll find something to talk about. OK?”

She exhaled in relief. “OK. Um… you want to go to a movie or something together tonight? Just to be together?”

I nodded. “Sure. Now I really have to get to class. I can…” I had been about to say, I can pick you up, but that seemed phony, now. Guys picked girls up. Girls didn’t… “Why don’t we meet tonight? I’ll give you a call, OK?”

“OK. Great. I’ll talk to you later. Bye”

Well. At least one of us was feeling better. I survived the rest of the morning classes with no real surprises and then had to face my friends for lunch. Terry and Lee Ann positioned themselves on either side of me, as if to protect me, I guess. I didn’t really spend much time looking at them, but I could feel them exchanging glances over my head. Or maybe that’s not exactly fair – Lee Ann wasn’t that much taller than I was.

It was Terry who leaned in first. “How are you feeling, Marsh?”

I shrugged, and then felt guilty about it. One part of me could tell that she was genuinely trying to help, and that part starting kicking the other part that just didn’t really wanted to talk at all. After yet another sigh, I forced myself to say, “I feel horrible. I feel as if everything I care about is now out of reach, and nothing really matters. I feel like I just want to curl up in bed and stay there for the rest of my life.”

Terry leaned in and spoke softly. “That’s terrible. What happened?”

I spread my hands. “I can’t really explain. I just thought everything was going to be all right.”

“It will be, Marsh,” Lee Ann put in. “You’ll see. You’re strong. There will be other chances. And we’re here for you.”

“Other chances,” I muttered. “Right.”

“Hey, what’s wrong with Marsh?” one of the boys suddenly asked, but Lee Ann glared at him and he backed off.

Lee Ann looked at Terry and me. “Look, why don’t we hold off on talking until we get back to the room. This sounds like too serious a talk to have at lunch in front of everybody.”

“I have a lab after lunch,” I protested.

“Then let’s eat quickly. We should really talk this out as soon as possible.” I saw Terry nod, so it was two against one. I pretty much just picked at my food; somehow, I didn’t have much of an appetite. Then I had to put up with my roommates escorting me back to our room, sitting me down, and demanding answers.

“This is worse than I thought, Marsh. I’ve never seen you like this, even before House Parties weekend last year. You need to talk to us. Have you given any thought to what I said this morning? Have you decided yet what you’re going to do?” Lee Ann

“I’m just going to grit my teeth and keep going, I guess,” I told them. “I don’t see what else I can do.”

“You can let us pamper you, is what you can do,” Terry suggested. “Why don’t the three of us go on an ice cream and party binge tonight?”

“I thought you had…” Lee Ann started, but Terry cut her off.

“I’m going to cancel,” Terry shot back.

“Guys, I really appreciate this,” I said. “But I made arrangements to hang out with Vicky tonight.”

Lee Ann stared at me. “Vicky? But wasn’t she sort of part of the problem?”

“No, it’s really all right. We… talked this morning, and we’re OK.” At least, I hope so, I thought. Our relationship is even more complicated than ever.

“I don’t know, Marsh. If she was able to affect you that much…”

“It’s not that – we just used to be really close, and–”

“Do I know this girl?” Terry suddenly asked.

“I… don’t think so,” I told her. “I think she and I stopped talking before I met you.”

“So this is a girl you knew before coming to Piques.”

Uh Oh. Terry’s comment made one thing obvious – she had met Marsha early last year, and would probably have known any really close friends she had had. In the original timeline, I had met Vicky last school year. Now I either had to tell a lie that might sound like the truth, or a partial truth and have it sound like a lie, or tell the full truth and have my roommates reject and fear me. There didn’t seem to be any good answers, here.

61 Slipping Away

I dithered so long that Lee Ann and Terry noticed.

“Marsh?” Lee Ann asked. “Is something wrong?”

I stood up, trying to ignore the pounding of my heart. “I really have to go. I’m going to be late for bio lab.”

Lee Ann grabbed my arm. “Wait! Marsh, you need to tell us–”

“Back off, Lee Ann,” Terry interrupted. “There’s something going on here, and it doesn’t sound simple.” I looked at her gratefully and she added, “Marsh, it’s OK. I don’t know why you’re reacting like that to a simple question, but that’s your business. We’ll be here when you’re ready to talk.”

Relieved, I fled.

Today’s lab involved studying the muscle groups in the arm, which in this case meant that Ron and I were exploring each other’s arm muscles and tendons. I can’t say I really cared to have him fondling my arm, but it was in the interest of science, so I gritted my teeth and bore it. My reaction to touching his arm, though, was even more discomforting. His flexed bicep was so large and strong, whereas my own comparatively weak bicep was barely visible. It was yet another humiliation.

He seemed to notice something, because he asked, “Hey, are you all right?” more than once as we worked, and all I could really do was shrug. I was starting to hate all guys for flaunting what had been stolen from me. Finally, I snapped.

“No, I’m not all right! Stop asking me if I’m all right!” I yelled at him. “And stop flexing your muscles at me like…” Suddenly I realized that everyone was staring at me and shut up. Instead, I hissed at him, “You’re not impressing anybody, you know.”

He stared at me as if I were crazy. “I was just trying to make it easier for you to find the muscles so that you could identify them.”

“Yeah, right,” I muttered. “And I suppose you were fondling my arm like that because my muscles are so puny. You’re just–” I shook my head in exasperation.

He peered even harder. “Are you on your period or something?”

The look I gave him in response should rightfully have frozen his marrow. I really didn’t need to be reminded right then that I even had a period, much less was in the middle of it just now. I had the horrible feeling that I had forgotten to change my tampon this morning, and that I was probably leaking all over my underwear, and wouldn’t that just be a topper to the day?

But he backed off after that, and I only had to take notes on the muscles controlling the tendons in his hand before finishing the lab. At least that was less uncomfortable, although it still bothered me to be touching his forearm with all of its hair, and comparing it to my own practically hairless one.

I did notice that he was extremely deferential to me as we finished up; I wasn’t sure whether to be satisfied that I had gotten him to give me space or offended that he was treating me as a crazy woman. He did look as though he wanted me to assure him that we were still friends, and a thought crossed my mind that I probably owed him an apology. Next time, maybe.

Of course, leaving the lab just put me back to the same problem. I had to deal with this whole ‘being a girl for keeps’ thing and I might have just screwed up my relationship with my roommates. And speaking of all that, I did make a stop in the bathroom to take care of the embarrassing period thing. Fortunately, it hadn’t leaked yet. How I was going to manage this every month for the rest of my life without going crazy, I just didn’t know.

I was too frustrated to go back to my room, and I wasn’t prepared to face Terry without a decent answer to her question about Vicky. My usual pattern after bio lab for the past few weeks had been to head to the Physics building. I did start there automatically, but quickly stopping, realizing the futility of it all. There was just nowhere left for that stupid time travel lab to be. I’d checked every door, every office. I’d gone up every staircase, tried every floor the elevator reached. I had no ideas left, and every time I’d thought there was something else to try, it had turned out that the Strangers had already tried it.

I wandered around campus for a bit, trying to decide where to go, what I could do, and most importantly, how to explain my relationship with Vicky. I didn’t realize that I actually had made a decision until I found myself outside of Nikki’s dorm. And still, I hesitated. I was a big boy, and should be able to handle my problems on my own, shouldn’t I?. But you’re actually not a big boy any more, my subconscious reminded me, and that was enough. I climbed the steps to Nikki’s room and knocked on her door.

“Hi, Marsh,” Nikki said in a questioning tone as she opened the door. I stared at her for a moment before speaking.

“Hi, Nikki,” I said, all my emotions flat without any specific source of anger. “I’m wearing a dress. See the dress?” I spread my arms wide for her to see.


I walked past her without being invited in and went straight into her sewing room. She had something or other under the needle; I had obviously interrupted her at work.

“Are you OK, Marsh?” she asked as she followed me.

I think I had been asked that question too many times, wondered about it too often. I shrugged. “Of course I’m OK,” I said. “I obviously just need to get back to my sewing. You want to teach me?”

“OK, what happened?”

I shrugged. “Vicky’s got a date. Isn’t that great? She’s going to House Parties with a boy. And he won’t even be wearing a dress. Only her. At least I think she will. Maybe I’m the only one.”

She came over and peered into my eyes and I just looked right back. Then I shook my head and looked away.

She took my shoulder in one hand and my chin in the other and made me face her. “Marsh, what’s gotten in to you? What happened?”

I shrugged again. “Does it matter? It’s over. I’m stuck. They’re gone. Hidden or just gone and I don’t know how to find them. So I’m stuck.”

She stared at me. “OK, now you’re starting to sound like Ben. This isn’t you, Marsh.”

“It is now,” I informed her. “Forever and ever. Meet the new me. Guess it’s convenient. I already know my lines. If I changed back, I’d have to learn Paravicini’s.”

“OK, stop this right now!” she said, her voice raised.

“I really wish I could,” I said, breaking away and sitting in the chair she had for her customers. “I’d give just about anything to stop being Marsha. I don’t think I like Marsha very much.”

She didn’t say anything, just left the room. A moment later I heard her outer door open and close. Curious, I peeked out of the sewing room. A moment later, she came back in, carrying a small pail. And threw a pail full of water in my face.

“What was that for?!” I howled. “Look at me! I’m all wet! Do you have any idea how cold it is outside?”

“Do I have your attention?” she said, dragging me back into her sewing room.


“Sometimes, when I want to talk to Ben lately, that’s what works. Now sit and tell me what happened.”


“There’s plenty more water, you know.”

“No!” I protested, sitting as ordered, “It’s already into my bra, and it’s very uncomfortable, and–”

“Then talk. What happened?”

“Oh. I…” I hesitated, but I was in no mood to be drenched again. “Vicky no longer believes that I can change back, and accepted a date with another guy. I don’t think I can, either. I mean, everything I’ve tried hasn’t worked, and I’ve been searching for the lab for weeks, and so have a bunch of other people. Most of them had already accepted that they can’t change back, and I don’t see how there’s any other answer. So I’m stuck as a girl. I’ll never be my old self, my real self, again.”

“And that bothers you.”

“Of course it bothers me. I’m a boy! I’m supposed to be a boy. I want to be a boy. But now I can’t be.” This time, I was conscious of the tone in my voice. “I don’t mean to whine, but I hate this. I hate what’s happened to me. I hate what I’ve been turned into. And I don’t know what I’m supposed to do about it.”

She came over and hugged me. “Oh, Marsh, I’m so sorry. You were handling this all so well, I guess it didn’t occur to me just how much you wanted to change back.”

“Yeah, well, I was handling it because I didn’t really believe that I was stuck. I guess I just figured that it was going to be easy. I’d just waltz into the lab, tell them that they’d made a mistake, and they would apologize and fix me.”

Nikki shook her head.

“Yeah, I know,” I continued. “I was naïve and stupid. Now I’m… I don’t know. I’m lost. There hardly seems to be any point to anything. As long as I could believe that I was going to change back, this was almost like a game. I would get to see what it was really like to be a girl, maybe get some insights into the female mind, maybe be able to figure out things for when I changed back.

“Now… I just hadn’t planned for this. This isn’t the way it was supposed to happen. I’m supposed to be Marshall, not Marsha. I’m supposed to be–”

“Obviously, not. If you were supposed to be, you would be.”

“Yeah, but my whole life–”

“… has obviously changed.”

I sat back. I didn’t seem to be getting sympathy any more. “You know, this is really uncomfortable. I’m sopping wet, and–”

“So why not just take it off?”

“Take it off?” I echoed.

“Sure. It’s just water. Take off your dress and we can hang it up to dry. It shouldn’t take too long.”

“But… OK. Can you give me a robe to wear in the meantime?”

She looked me in the eye. “Why be modest? We’re all girls in here.”

I stared at her.

“You need to face this, Marsh. You need…” She stopped and looked at me even more intently. “You need to face this, Marsha. You’re a girl. You’re always going to be a girl. You need to be a big girl about this, Marsha.

“Why… why are you calling me that?”

“Because maybe you’ve been using your nickname as a way to pretend. Maybe it’s making things worse. Now, off with the dress and the bra and hang them up to dry!”


“You’ve been taking the easy way out for too long. It’s time to face facts.”

“Simple as that, huh?”

She sagged. “No, it’s not as simple as that. If I had an easy answer, don’t you think I would have used it on Ben? But I’ve seen you happy since this happened to you. I think you’re stronger than he is, more resilient than he is. It might not work for him, but maybe it’ll work for you.”

I wasn’t too keen on the idea, but the water was annoying me, and maybe I could at least get that fixed, so I stripped down to my panties, very conscious of my nudity. I couldn’t think of a time before today when anybody but me had seen my bare breasts, and I kept one arm across them – or tried to. I had never done this before, after all, and they kept slipping. It took me several tries before I could get them to behave.

Nikki hung up my clothes and then watched me, obviously amused. “I guess this is a new experience for you.”

“You have no idea.”

“Maybe a robe wouldn’t be a bad thing.”

I started to nod, but that just made my left breast slip out from under my arm again and I had to adjust, while Nikki left the room. Fortunately, she returned quickly, and handed me a robe, which I donned with my back to her.

“For somebody who’s not used to being a girl, you’re awfully modest with those things,” she observed.

I shrugged again, although this time it was more of a lack of a response than indifference.

“OK. Comfy? Let’s talk.”

62 Touching Moments

“OK,” Nikki said, as I settled in, her robe around my near-naked body. “Would you like me to make some tea or coffee?”

“I… guess some tea would be nice,” I admitted. At least it would warm me up.

A few minutes later, she came back with two hot cups and handed me one. While waiting for it to cool enough to drink, I inhaled the aroma of the herbs.

“Now,” she said, sitting next to me. “Tell me why you’re so convinced that you’re stuck.”

I looked at her in surprise. That wasn’t the direction I had expected her to take. “Well, I just told you. I’ve looked, and the Strangers in the Mirror have looked. They’re not in the physics building, which is where we all remember them being. There’s no record of any physics professor who might have been involved with such an experiment ever having been at Piques. If time changed so he never did it, there is no way back, and if he’s still around, we have no ideas on how to find him.”

“But you still want to change back.”


“OK, so instead of giving up, why not keep an eye out for more ideas, and in the meantime try to see how you can accept staying this way, since you might have to.”

Will have to, you mean,” I contradicted her. “I just don’t see any realistic solution.”

“Maybe there is, maybe there isn’t,” she said calmly, and sipped her tea. “But until you get more information, you can’t do anything about it, right?”


“So in the meantime, why don’t we talk about your other option? What don’t you like about being a girl? You’ve seemed to be pretty happy the past month.”

“I told you–” I started.

“Yes, I know. You thought it was just temporary. But if you hated something that you thought was temporary, wouldn’t you just grit your teeth and bear it? I’ve seen you happy, Marsh. Not just putting up with things, but actually enjoying yourself. So it must be possible for you to be happy this way, even if you are really are stuck.”

I shook my head. “Doing something for a short while is one thing. Sure, I could find things to be happy about, but that’s because I was only thinking of this as an experiment.” I sipped my own tea as she watched me. When she didn’t say anything, I added, “It’s like playing a character. I knew lots of girls in high school who thought it was fun to play loose women or prostitute characters on stage. That doesn’t mean that they’d be willing to live that way.”

“But do you really have a choice? Isn’t that what you just told me? That you’re stuck? So it seems to me, Marsha,” and I winced as she said that name again, “that your only real choice is whether to be a happy girl or an unhappy girl.”

I didn’t answer immediately, but stood up and paced the room away from her. After a moment I turned back and answered. “Obviously, I want to be happy, but–”

“You want to be a happy girl,” she insisted. “Say it, Marsha. You need to acknowledge this. Say that you want to be a happy girl.”

“Look, I need time. Accepting this isn’t that easy. I mean… I know I’m stuck. I know I’m… that I’m…”

“A girl. Say it.”

“It’s not that easy!”

“Sure it is.” She stood up and walked right up to me. “Say it. Say, “I. Am. A. Girl.”

Exasperated, I muttered, “I’m a girl.”

“I. Want. To. Be. A. Happy. Girl.”

“I… I can’t. I can’t say that. Please, Nikki.”

She sighed and went back to her seat. “OK, let’s try something else. “Tell me why you’re not happy today and she put up a hand when I started to answer. “Aside from being stuck as a girl. Is that the only reason you were so down when you came over? Is that the only thing bothering you?”

“No,” I admitted, returning to my seat. “I told my roommates that I was going to be spending time with Vicky, and that we were really close, and Terry wanted to know why she’d never heard of Vicky before, since she’s known me since we got here. I don’t have a good answer, and I told her that I’d met Vicky before I knew her because I didn’t know that she’d known me – I mean, Marsha – for so long. So anything I say is going to be a lie, since I can’t tell her about Marshall. I don’t want to lie to her.”

Nikki gave me an appraising glance. “I think it’s interesting that the first thing that you thought of when I asked you what was bothering you about being a girl was your relationship with your roommate. You’re definitely learning to think as a girl. I don’t know that a boy would have thought about relationships so quickly.”

“Well… if I were having problems with my roommates, wouldn’t I be worried about that? I don’t see how that’s a girl thing.”

She shrugged. “At any rate, let’s see what we can come up with. When did you actually meet Vicky?”

I had to think a bit. “I think Geoff was seeing her roommate, and Vicky didn’t have a boyfriend, so she tagged along to a dance. I had just broken up with Jackie, and I went to sit with Geoff and… umm I think her name was Cherise, and Vicky was sitting with them. I asked her to dance, and we just sort of kept on seeing each other. That would have been, like, the end of March.”

“And you dated over the summer?”

I nodded. “We were going out for about six months until we sort of drifted apart. At least that’s the way I remember it. Vicky says that I lost interest in her after meeting Lee Ann and so she let me break up with her.”

“She let you break up with her?”

“That’s what she said.”

“Does she have self-esteem problems?”

“I don’t know. I guess I never thought about it. Why does it matter?”

Nikki looked surprised by my question. “I was just trying to understand her, is all. Hmm… I suppose that’s not important now, but it does sound like an odd thing to say.”

“I… don’t feel comfortable talking about Vicky right now. I just want to focus on what I’m supposed to tell Terry and Lee Ann.”

She raised her eyebrows. “You might have a bit of work to do on your girl talk, Marsh. But OK. What if you said that you met Vicky at the beginning of last year, but only got close over the summer? Maybe you talked online a lot, and then lost touch at the beginning of the new school year?”

I thought about it. It seemed to be consistent with what I had already said. “Of course, that’s not exactly true, is it?”

“What’s true is that Marsha might never have met Vicky at all, right? As far as you both know? But isn’t it also possible that the two met as I said?”

The idea surprised me, and bothered me somehow, as though I didn’t like the idea that Marsha might have known Vicky, too. But I nodded. “I suppose it is possible. So it’s more of a guess than a lie, right?”

“Right. But haven’t you sort of been doing a lot of that lately, anyway?”

The accusation hurt, at least in part because I couldn’t totally deny it. “I think I’ve been trying to do that as little as possible. I mean, acting a role isn’t technically lying, is it? Besides, telling the whole truth would be so much worse, and I’d be making people miserable, and–”

Nikki put up her hand to stop me. “I’m not accusing you. You do what you have to do. I’m not sure where you’re drawing the line.”

“Well, I’d rather let people draw the wrong conclusions than outright lie to them, if I can. My whole life is a lie right now, sort of, and I’m just trying to get by. But yeah, I can use your idea. The fact is that we’re close, and that’s what really matters, right?”

“Right. So, problem solved. Would you like some more tea?”

I looked at my cup in surprise. I had finished it while we were talking, so I handed it to Nikki and she went to get refills. I rehearsed explaining Vicky to Terry, and felt comfortable with the result; it was about as close to the truth as I could reasonably get.

Nikki came back and handed me my now-refilled cup. “OK, one problem solved. What else is bothering you?”

I laughed. “Nikki, you don’t think you’re going to make everything all right in one sitting, do you?”

“Well, you’re already in a better mood, so I think we’re making good progress. We don’t have to solve everything, Marsh. Just make you feel better. Here’s the thing. You’ve got friends. You’ve got people who care about you. Me, your roommates, your sister, your parents… Isn’t that what really matters?”

“Well… I mean it does kind of matter if you’re a boy or a girl.”

“But why does it matter? What did you like about being a boy that you can’t do now?”

“Uh… I don’t know exactly. I just liked it. It was comfortable”

“No reason you can’t like being a girl too, right? You just need to work at it. So tell me something else that is bothering you.”

She looked so confident, and so concerned, that I couldn’t help smiling and trying to play along. I was definitely feeling less angsty already. I knew I was upset. I just couldn’t quite feel all of it. It gave me a bit of confidence to bring up a subject that was really embarrassing, but to which I really wanted an answer.

“Well…” I started. “You remember that I told you I was asexual? That I didn’t find anybody sexually attractive?”

She nodded.

“Well, that’s not quite true anymore.”

“That’s great, Marsh! Who’s the lucky guy? Or girl, as it may be?”

I hesitated, trying to think of the best way to say it – which for me basically meant the most dramatic way. But I didn’t have any great ideas, so I just told her straight out, “Me, actually.”

“That’s a good attitude, but who are you finding attractive?”

“That’s what I mean. Um… I seem to be attracted to myself. Or at least, myself in skimpy clothing.”

She tilted her head. “I don’t think I’m following you.”

I looked away, embarrassed. “I mean, that I was looking at some of the girls here; you know the way they dress…”

“Like normal college girls?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, mostly not like… this. You know… short skirts and… revealing tops.”

She laughed. “Well, certainly not quite the way you do.”

I took a breath. “Anyway, I sort of imagined myself dressing… like that. And I got turned on by the idea.”

Nikki raised her eyebrows. “You got turned on by the idea of yourself dressing like a lot of the girls on campus?”

“Um… yeah.” I could feel my face getting hot. “So I tried to… um… pleasure myself. And… I failed.” At her astonished look, I added, “In my own bedroom! Not in front of anybody!”

“O… K… But this wasn’t the first time you tried, was it?”

I couldn’t look her in the eye, but I nodded. “I had sort of been telling myself that it wasn’t really my body, but when I decided I couldn’t change back, I thought it would be alright. All I managed to do was get myself even more turned on.”

“That… must have been… uncomfortable,” Nikki said. Her words were sympathetic, but she sounded amused, and I looked at her sharply. She was biting her lip, clearly trying not to laugh. When she saw me looking, though, she put her cup down, stood and came over to give me a hug.

“I’m sorry, Marsh. It’s really not all that funny. I know this is painful for you, especially since masturbating is so much more difficult for girls. Um… would you like me to teach you?”

I hadn’t thought that my face could turn any redder, but it certainly tried. Automatically, I opened my mouth to refuse, but forced myself to swallow my objection and nodded, instead.

“OK. First, you should know that girls tend to be a bit more open with things like this. I think you’re not really used to that, right?”

I nodded again.

“Now, probably the most important thing is your mood. You have to be relaxed and comfortable and sure that nobody is going to walk in on you. Do you have a lock on your door?” At my nod, she continued. “You also really need to get to know your body. If you were afraid to touch yourself, you’ve probably never really studied what you have down there. And as interested as guys are in the female anatomy, most don’t have the patience to study it that well.

“Now, I don’t want to embarrass you too much, so I’m going to send you home with an assignment. I want you to take some private time and just touch yourself. See what feels good. You can even treat it as a science experiment and take notes, if that makes you feel more comfortable, but the idea is to learn about your body and your new parts. You might even want to use a mirror to examine yourself down there. We’ll talk about it some more, OK? But don’t get too wrapped up in this. It’s a perfectly healthy way to enjoy yourself, but it’s going to take some time to learn how to do it well.”

63 Game Theory

I left Nikki’s dorm with my mind starting to function again. While my outlook was still pretty bleak, I had some specific recommendations for action – and that meant that I could focus on the here-and-now and not think too much about the future. I had gotten pretty good at not thinking about things over the past month.

I was standing outside my dorm room, fumbling in my purse for the key, when through the door I heard a voice suddenly raised in anger. It was Lee Ann.

“… cheating on her!”

I hesitated for a moment, and then unlocked the door. I felt nothing but disgust for whomever they were discussing. The guy didn’t even realize how good he had it, still being male, and here he was, cheating on his girlfriend. I may not be perfect, but at least I could console myself that I had never done that. I had never cheated on a girlfriend.

But as I opened the door, an unwelcome memory intruded. According to Vicky, I had lost interest in her when I met Lee Ann. OK, technically, I hadn’t cheated on her, but wasn’t it still a betrayal at the emotional level? I really didn’t need to think that way. Not now. I might start thinking that this turned-into-a-girl thing was a punishment or something, and that I deserved it.

The conversation stopped abruptly as I entered, and after a moment I realized that my roommates were staring at me.

“Don’t mind me,” I said. “Go on and discuss the jerk – I’m sure he deserves it.” I was halfway to my room when I realized that they were still not talking, and turned in surprise. “I could hear you out in the hallway,” I explained, taking their silence for embarrassment at being overheard.

But apparently that wasn’t it. “I was just worried about you,” Lee Ann told me.

“Me?” I responded, my curiosity pulling me a bit out of my thoughts. “What does this have to do with me?”

“I told her she was imagining things,” Terry put in, a touch of anger in her voice.

“You didn’t see how miserable she was,” Lee Ann shot back, sounding defensive. I, of course, remained clueless, and I looked back and forth at my roommates, looking for an answer that made sense.

After the two of them stared at each other for another moment, Terry finally started, “Marsh, it’s not that we’d have any objections…”

“… and we really understand…” Lee Ann added.

“Objections to what?” I asked, puzzled.

“Vicky,” Lee Ann said firmly.

“You and Vicky,” Terry added. “And Lee Ann thinks she’s cheating on you.”

“What? Cheating?! But…” In a sense, she was correct. I had felt as though Vicky was cheating on me by agreeing to go out with Kevin. Technically, though, she wasn’t. And technically, I hadn’t cheated on her, either, but it still hurt. Trying to dismiss the thought, I spoke the truth that I thought relevant. “Neither of us is into girls, Lee Ann.”

“I just thought…”

“Lee Ann thought that there was something odd about the way you were reacting this morning. And then there was the way you got really embarrassed when I asked you about Vicky…”

I shrugged and shook my head. At this point, I probably wouldn’t have minded if they were right, but that wasn’t happening.

“Marsh, I’m really sorry,” Lee Ann told me. “I hope you’re not offended.”

I shrugged again. Being thought a lesbian was so far down the list of my problems, I wasn’t sure it was even on the list at this point. Besides, lesbians were almost certainly higher on the scale of social acceptability than whatever I was.

“Well, at least you seem to be in a better mood,” Terry noted.

I nodded. “I had a nice talk with my friend Nikki, and she helped me.”

Lee Ann looked at me expectantly. “Can you tell us what’s bothering you? Is it the House Parties thing?”

I sighed. I had just done the “talk things out” thing with Nikki, and I wasn’t really in the mood to do it again right now. “I guess that’s part of it,” I conceded. Even it wasn’t a particularly big part. “I’m still working things out.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“It’s OK, Marsh,” Terry said when I hesitated. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Lee Ann nodded in agreement, which just made me feel worse. My roommates were being much kinder to me than I deserved. They trusted me, and I was keeping secrets from them, important secrets, secrets that I couldn’t reveal, both for my dignity as well as their peace of mind. I didn’t deserve to be treated so well.

And after all that preparation, they never asked again how I had met Vicky!

After dinner, I called Vicky to figure out our plans for the evening.

“Why don’t you pick me up and we’ll decide then, OK?” she suggested.

I was a bit surprised, and said so. “You don’t think it’s a bit weird, one girl picking another one up?”

“Um, no,” she reassured me. “It’s pretty normal, actually. Unless you’re not comfortable with the idea, seeing as… you know.”

“No, that’s OK. At least I know where your room is. It’s easier than trying to find you outside of wherever we’re going.”

Still, it felt strange, picking her up from her room. Strange because it was so familiar, and so little in my new life was. Strange because I had to pretend not to know her roommates as Vicky introduced us. And strange because the whole idea of picking up Vicky for a date was what I wished I could be doing in earnest, and yet had to pretend that it was just two girls getting together as friends. Somehow, it all just irked me even further than I already was.

“So, where did you want to go?” I asked as we left. “Did you want to check out the movies? What do two girls who are just friends do when they go out, anyway? Should we go get our hair done? Maybe go dress shopping?”

She stopped walking and confronted me, hands on hips. “I think you’re making way too much of this, Marsh. Didn’t you tell me you’d gone out with your roommates and some of the other girls on your hall?”

“‘Too much’?” I echoed. “Oh, sure, since it’s clearly not too much to have your entire identity stripped from you, to lose everything that you cared about, everything you enjoyed. Oh yeah, I’m definitely overreacting here.”

“That’s not what I mean and you know it! What’s happened to you is horrible, but that doesn’t mean that you have to make it even worse.”

“‘Make it worse’? How could I make this worse?”

“By pretending that you’re not enjoying anything at all. You’re enjoying the play, aren’t you? At least you were a few days ago. And I knew you were enjoying the sewing – you said you would even want to keep doing it if you changed back.”

“If,” I muttered, but she kept right on going.

“I’ll bet there’s a bunch of other things you’re enjoying about being a girl, that you won’t admit, even to yourself. I saw you with that baby, Marsh. You were definitely enjoying yourself.”

“Will you forget about the baby? I’m embarrassed enough about that.”

“Fine. But don’t tell me that you’ve lost everything you cared about or enjoyed.”

“So you think that I’m better off this way? You prefer me this way?”

“No,” she said quietly. “I don’t. Marsh, you know I want you back, don’t you?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know why, now that you have Kevin.”

Her tone turned soft. “Oh, Marsh, are you still agonizing about that? Kevin could never replace you in my heart. It’s just… I don’t have a lot of options, right now.” As she said that, she turned her hands over in a gesture of futility, and I noticed a bruise on her right hand.

I grabbed her hand and pulled her under a light. She had a pretty bad welt on her wrist. “What did you do to yourself?”

She looked embarrassed. “Oh, it was just something stupid. Kevin asked me out, you know, so that House Parties wouldn’t be our first date, and I told him I was going out with you, so we got together this afternoon.”

“Why this afternoon? House Parties is four weeks away.”

“Yeah, I told him that, but he sort of insisted. So we drove into town and sort of walked around.”

“He has a car? Terrific. One more thing he does better than me.”

“Will you stop it? This isn’t about you!”

I nodded. “I’m sorry. I just…”

“Anyway,” she continued, ignoring me, “we walked around and… you know how you used to joke about walking on either side of a lamp post and crashing us into it? Well, we were holding hands and I went to the other side of one from him, and he didn’t let go in time. So I wound up with a bruise.”

“What an idiot! How much sense does it take to figure out that you need to let go before running into a lamp post?”

“Yeah, well, I think he was already mad at me.”

“So the ‘something stupid’ was him, not you.”

She nodded. “I think that, no matter how angry you were, you would have made sure to let go.”


We had started walking again, even though we hadn’t agreed yet on where.

“I just wish you had some ideas, Marsh. Isn’t there something you can try?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “Seems like every idea I have, the Strangers say that they’ve already tried. But you know, now that I’ve lost everything, maybe I’ll feel less pressure to come up with a sensible idea.”

“You haven’t lost – wait. How is that a good thing?”

I stopped and faced her. “My ideas don’t have to be sensible, now. So I can try anything. It can hardly hurt, right?”

“Does that mean that you have an idea?”

I shook my head and starting walking again. “Not really.”


“Thing is,” I continued. “If we see this as a game, the first thing we do is assume away whatever makes it unwinnable. So the possibility that changing the past might have eliminated the experiment can be ignored. If it happened, we can’t do anything about. The only way to get anywhere is to assume that they’re still around somewhere.”


“Which means that they are in hiding. So how would we find them if they are hiding?”


“I don’t know. But maybe there’s another way to go about this. Assume that the administration really did a good job hiding them, and stop trying to find them physically.”


Recasting the problem did seem to be helping me think about it. If my chances of success were pretty much zero, it meant that I could treat it as an intellectual exercise, a puzzle, rather than an emergency. And that was exactly the kind of thing that an aspiring pre-med science major should be able to solve.

“So how else could we find them? Papers, that’s how.”

“But didn’t you already do searches for papers?”

“Sure, using web searches and looking for the name ‘Davis.’ That’s obviously not the way. But scientists do research using papers all the time.”


“I have no idea,” I admitted. “You usually learn that junior or senior year, and we’re all freshman and sophomores.” I looked at her as a sudden thought came into my mind. “You don’t suppose that’s why no upperclassmen were included, do you? So that we wouldn’t be able to find them?”

She shrugged, but I was mostly talking at her at this point. Our outing was turning into a problem-solving session, so when we hit the path that led to the Grill, I took it rather than one that would take us to an on-campus movie.

“You know, maybe looking by name was the mistake. Something like time travel wouldn’t be developed all at once, judging by the way science works. This guy must have published other work that hinted at time travel, or set the stages for it. That’s what we need to find.”

“Marsh, that’s it!” Vicky said enthusiastically. “That’s how to find them!”

“Maybe. I’m not getting too hopeful. Not yet. Thinking it’s just a game seems to be working for me, and I don’t know what the chances are. Besides, I wouldn’t have the first idea of how to actually find such papers. What we really need is an upperclassman who is majoring in physics, and the only one I know is so dismissive of the whole idea that I doubt he’d be willing to spend any time on it. I could ask him, I guess. Nothing to lose, right?”

“What about Allie’s brother?”


“Didn’t Allie say that her big brother was a physics major?”

I stopped and stared. “I completely forgot about that.” Maybe there was a chance, after all, however slim. “Do you think he’d help us?”

“I don’t know,” she answered with a smile, “but I think we’ve just figured out what we’re going to be doing, tonight.”

64 Ice Cream Social

Allie was just getting ready to go out when Vicky called her, but she was happy to help out. She called her brother Eric, who called Vicky back and agreed to meet us at the Grill. Fifteen minutes later, the three of us were chatting over sodas and ice cream sundaes.

“Thanks again for coming out to meet with us,” I told him after we were all settled.

He laughed. “I had expected to be alone tonight. Spending it with two lovely ladies is a definite improvement.”

Vicky simpered at the compliment, while I forced a smile and tried to figure out how I should have reacted. Forcing the problem out of my mind, I asked, “Did Allie explain what we wanted?”

“Well, she was in a hurry, but she said something about trying to find a research paper?”

“Sort of. We want to find any papers that might have been written by the guy who did the time travel experiment.”

“Oh. This is Strangers in the Mirror business? Allie didn’t say.”

“Is that a problem?” Vicky asked, concerned.

Eric looked thoughtful. “Well… I understand that Allie and some others have looked, but didn’t find anything.”

“That’s because they were looking for papers written by somebody named, ‘Davis’,” I explained. “I think that’s too limiting. I think we need to expand the search.”

“And how do you propose to do that?” he asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Well, that’s where you come in. I haven’t learned how to do that kind of research, and I wouldn’t know a relevant paper if I saw it. I figure that’s the kind of stuff that you, as a senior in the department, would know.”

He seemed amused. “And how do you propose to the limit the search?”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you have any idea how many physics papers are published every year? You’re not suggesting that I read every one ever written, are you?”

“I guess I assumed that you could look for papers on certain topic.”

“Ah, but what topics? Trust me, if anybody had ever submitted a serious paper proposing time travel, he would have been laughed out of the field. And if the reviewers were impressed, the news would have shot through every physics department in the world. Most of us are science fiction readers, after all. I think I can safely say, without doing any research at all, that no papers on time travel have been submitted to any reputable journal.”

I sat back in my chair. I had been so sure that my idea was going to work. “So you’re saying that this is a waste of time?”

“No, I’m not saying that at all. I just want you to realize the magnitude of what you’re asking. We have to have some way to narrow down the possibilities, or it really would be a waste of time.”

“Oh. So how should we proceed?”

“Well, the first place to start would be with any papers published by the department over the past, say, five years. We can probably get them from the department library; I think they maintain reprints of all the professors’ articles. That will take some time to go through. The problem is you are assuming that there has to have been a cover-up, right?

“Right, because otherwise there’s no way to find them.”

“I agree. But in that case, they would probably have pulled his articles from the library, as well.”


“And there’s a problem with the whole idea of a cover-up in the first place. Professors generally teach courses and have grad students doing research for them, and those grad students tend to teach or run labs or otherwise interact with the undergraduates. It’s simply not that easy to make a professor disappear and not have anybody notice. Even if they got all the professors and all the grad students to go along with a conspiracy, what about all the other students? I’d think I would have noticed.”

I was stricken. “But… you just said that this wasn’t a waste of time.”

“Well, actually I simply said that I wasn’t saying that it was a waste of time. It might well be; I don’t know. Maybe there is a way to make a prof disappear without anybody noticing. I don’t know.”

“As long as we’re raising objections,” I said morosely, “a junior I know in the department says that time travel is impossible, anyway.”

He nodded. “Could be. As far as I know, there’s nothing in any theory we know of that would have a problem if time travel is possible, and nothing that would have a problem if it’s impossible. So I wouldn’t rule it out completely, but it does point up the basic problem in trying to guess what papers would lead to time travel.”

“You keep saying this isn’t a waste of time, but every point you make seems to push it further into the ‘impossible’ category,” I pointed out.

He didn’t answer immediately, but stood up. I thought I might have offended him, but all he said was, “You’ve finished your ice cream. Would you like another? My treat.”

Caught off guard, I could only reply, “No thanks, I have to–” I stopped myself in time, as the next words about to leave my mouth seemed to be, “watch my figure.” I’m pretty sure I’d heard Vicky – or maybe it was Jackie – say that in the past. My subconscious must have decided that that was the proper female response to the offer. I would really have to try not to get distracted, but how exactly do you stay on your guard all the time? “… Sure,” I forced myself to say.

He returned shortly with two fresh sundaes, and I saw Vicky, who had refused the offer, eyeing mine, so I offered her a share. While the two of us were digging in, Eric continued his thought.

“OK, so this isn’t going to be easy, but there are some things we can do. First, I need to know absolutely everything you girls remember about the experiment. I’ll ask Allie for her take as well, and I presume you can get answers from some of the other subjects. So… who’s going to go first?”

Vicky and I looked at one another for a moment, and then she started. “I remember them saying something about what if you could examine something in the past and how it would be different if it happened differently. Um, I think they said that I would actually be able to see it and would need to tell them what I saw.”

“And how did they say that you would be able to see it?” Eric prompted her.

“Well, they had me lie down on this table – it looked something like the tables you lie on in the doctor’s office. They put like a helmet or something on my head. Then there was this noise from below me, and… I think they said it would take some time before anything happened and that I was supposed to come back and tell them about…” She shook her head. I think the thing made me a bit drowsy, ‘cause I’m having trouble remembering some of the details. I woke up changed a few weeks later. I tried to find the lab again because I was freaking out, but I couldn’t. That’s all I remember.”

Eric looked at me next.

“Well, I remember the table pretty much the way Vicky does, although I don’t really remember leaving. It’s like I must have been in a daze for a while afterwards. I think they told me to imagine being able to see how a small moment years ago could make a difference in today. Oh, any they asked me a bunch of questions about when I was born and where, how old my parents were, if we had moved since they got married. Stuff like that.”

“Oh, right,” Vicky said. “They asked me those things, too.”

“Obviously, they needed that kind of information to figure out where and when we were conceived, since that’s what they were going to change.”

“Makes sense. Do either of you remember them describing the apparatus they used? Did they use some kind of technical term? You keep saying, ‘they.’ How many people were in the lab?”

“There were three guys,” I said. “One was the grad student who met me at the entrance to the physics building and there were two more in the lab.”

“And they mentioned something about fielding,” Vicky put in.

“Fielding?” Eric asked.

“I think so. Or maybe it was shielding.” She looked at me for confirmation. “Wielding?”

“I think it was shielding,” I said. “One of them said something about enabling the shielding. Is this helping at all?”

“Well, not as much as I could hope,” he answered. “I suppose it’s too much to ask that they explained the theory.”

I shook my head. “I probably wouldn’t have understood it anyway,” I admitted. “I haven’t taken any physics since high school.”

“I didn’t even take any in high school,” Vicky added.

“All right,” Eric said. “I’m not really surprised. The whole experiment is just so weird. I’ve never heard of a physics experiment using volunteers like this. Can you describe the helmet? Was there something under the table?”

“That’s where the helmet was before they put it on my head,” I remembered. I guess there were some wires, but I couldn’t really see them, but they must have led to some kind of device to preserve our memories across the time change.” Then something else occurred to me. “That’s probably why our memories of leaving the experiment are blurred. It couldn’t have been captured.”

Eric sighed. “OK, this isn’t really an awful lot to go on. I’m going to talk it over with some of my classmates. Maybe we can come up with a better strategy than just reading everything in sight, because that’s just not going to be useful.”

“So you have no idea how long it would take to figure things out?” I asked him.

“Not based on what you’ve told me, no. But as long as I can find time, I’ll keep looking until graduation. It’ll give me an excuse to read lots of different physics articles, anyway.” He looked thoughtful. “Maybe we can make into some kind of a game, just to keep it interesting. Some articles can be pretty dry if they’re not your area of study.”

“Should we offer some kind of prize?” Vicky asked.

He laughed. “I don’t think thats necessary. I mean, we major in physics because we like physics. Now if you want to meet some physics majors, I could introduce you. We’re really nice guys. Um…” He looked at me. “Of course, if you’d like to go out to movie or something with me, that could be fun…”

“No thanks,” I said. His invitation didn’t seem as threatening as it might have; still, it was the first time a guy had actually asked me out, and I had expected to feel queasy at the prospect. I didn’t. I didn’t actually feel anything.

There was a brief moment of awkward silence, which Vicky broke. “Anyway, thanks for doing this.”

“Yeah, we really appreciate it,” I said.

“And thanks for the ice cream!” Vicky added.


He eyed us for a moment, as though he expected something more. “OK. Just see if you can get me any more information, OK? Um, can I walk you guys somewhere?”

“No thanks,” I said again. “We’re probably going to just hang out here for a while.”

“OK… I’ll be in touch, then. If I have any more questions, I’ll let you know.” And he left.

“Well?” Vicky asked after he was gone. “What do you think?”

“What a difference from Jay! I think he’s actually taking us seriously!”

“I know, right?”

“Even if he seemed a bit tentative, we’re actually doing something now! Finally! We need to do something to thank Allie. And maybe I can be a guy again. What do you think?”

“I hope so, Marsh. You know I do. So what do we do now?”

“Well, we need to go back to the Strangers and see if anybody remembers anything more; something that would help Eric narrow things down.”

I nodded. It might not be a great chance, but it was a chance. There had to be a trail we could follow. There just had to be.