Archive for the ‘Section 5: A Family Affair’ Category.

71 Packed With Emotion

“What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” I asked Ron, as we cleaned up our work area at the end of Wednesday’s lab.

He looked up. “Nothing much. My sister and her husband are coming over, and we’ll probably go out to a movie Friday night. What about you?”

“We’re all going up to my grandmother’s house in upstate New York. Our family, grandma, and my aunt, uncle, and cousins.”

“Oh, well, it’s always nice, getting together with family. Are you close with your cousins?”

I shrugged as I pulled on my coat. “My cousin Tara is nice, although she’s closer to my sister than to me. Tyler is pretty cool, he–” I stopped myself just in time. Tyler had always been enamored of my guitar playing; I wondered what our relationship would be now. The six-year gap between us would probably loom a lot larger, now that we didn’t have music as a bond. “He’s into video games – a lot,” I finished.

“My cousin Joey, on the other hand…” I paused, and Ron looked at me expectantly as we walked out of the lab. “Well, we’ve never been all that close. He’s into cars and I’m really not, and he’s not musical at all, so we don’t have a lot in common, even though he’s much closer in age to me – he’s just a year younger than I am.” I didn’t add, and I’ll probably never forgive him for selling my guitar. Seeing him for the first time after finding that out would be strange. I suppose Marsha had already told him off about it, so I couldn’t get the release that yelling at him might bring.

“Well, you can’t choose your relatives, I guess,” he laughed. “Have a great break.”

“Yeah, you, too,” I answered, and walked back to my dorm room. All the way there, I kept thinking about the past week, unquestionably the most emotionally exhausting one of my life, from the realization that I wasn’t in control over when and if I changed back, to the somewhat embarrassing talk with Nikki in the costume room yesterday. And I tried not to think to hard about the results last night of following her latest advice.

As I reached the dorm, I forced myself to think about the task at hand, instead. After all, I wasn’t finished packing, and my family was going to be picking me up in about an hour. As I started up the stairs, the elevator on the first floor opened and Lee Ann walked out, wheeling her suitcase.

“Hey, Lee Ann,” I called. “Have a good Thanksgiving!”

I had only gone a few steps up when I realized that she hadn’t answered me, which was more than unusual for her. “Lee Ann?” I tried, but she just walked toward the doorway, a slightly dazed look on her face.

That worried me, so hurried back down the stairs and to her. “Lee Ann, is something wrong?” I waved my hand in front of her face to get her attention.

“Oh, Marsh!” she said, looking up in surprise. “The strangest thing just happened. Geoff asked me to House Parties weekend.”

“Why are you surprised? You guys have been spending a lot of time together.”

“Yeah, but just for fun! I mean, we’ve never gone beyond a friendly kiss. I don’t understand it. Chandra said that she had told him about Stephen and me. I don’t think I led him on…”

Guiltily, I remembered that I had intended to tell her just exactly what Chandra had told Geoff, and had never actually gotten around to it. I hastened to rectify my error. “Actually, according to Geoff, Chandra told him that she and your parents were… well, that your parents didn’t approve of Stephen.”

“What?! My parents love Stephen! Why would she say something like…?” She looked very thoughtful, then her eyes filled with distress. “No. She wouldn’t…”

“Wouldn’t what?”

“Well, she and Stephen got into a big fight last May. You don’t suppose she was trying to break us up, do you? That she was still angry about that?”

“I couldn’t say. I mean, she’s your friend.”

Lee Ann wrung her hands. “I don’t believe this. I never meant for anybody to get hurt. Marsh, you need to help me out, here.”


“Go with Geoff to House Parties, OK? I mean, I know you guys talk. You have that chemistry class together, right? If he has a date for the weekend, he won’t feel so bad, and I won’t feel so bad… and he’s your friend, right? You said that it was OK for you to dance with a guy if you knew he wasn’t going to make a pass at you, and Geoff’s clearly not interested, so it should be OK, right?”

“I–” The idea was revolting. I mean, I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of dating any boy, but Geoff had been my roommate! We’d… done guy things together. Joked about girls. The idea of having him think he should treat me as a girl he was on a date with… well, that was just too much. “I– I mean, no. No, Lee Ann. I’m not going to House Parties. Geoff will just have to find another girl. There are plenty of them, here, and he’s got more than two weeks.”


“Really. Look, it’ll work out. I warned Geoff that he was wasting his time with you. I mean, trying to make something serious about a relationship with you. But I’m not the solution. And neither is he.”

I could see that my answer wasn’t making her happy; quite the contrary, actually. Her eyes widened in dismay. She clearly needed a hug – so I gave her one. “Lee Ann, you can’t blame yourself. He wanted to believe that he had a chance with you, so he listened to Chandra, and ignored me. You didn’t do anything wrong. He did it to himself. He’s a big boy; he’ll deal with the disappointment, and maybe next time, he’ll listen to me.”

She hugged me back. “Thanks, Marsh.” Then she suddenly held me at arms length and stared at me. “When did you suddenly become so confident?”

I reddened. “Oh, I guess I just decided… I don’t know. I think deciding that I wasn’t going to worry about House Parties was kind of liberating for me.”

In fact, it had probably been the realization that my way back to Marshallhood wasn’t going to be easy, and that the terms of my boast no longer applied. I was no longer intentionally delaying speaking with the experimenters – not if they weren’t around and easy to find. It was out of my hands. I had been playing the role of Marsha as timid. OK, I guess I had actually been timid, but if I no longer needed to think about playing a role, if I actually was a girl now, and for at least a while, I could act however made sense to me.

Deciding – and pretty much accepting – that I was asexual, that I wasn’t actually attracted to anybody now, meant that I didn’t have to think about my sex. If I wasn’t going to be intimate with anyone, to be cuddling with anyone, did it really matter how my body was shaped? No sex for me, now. Well… masturbation didn’t really count as sex, did it? Especially when my fantasizing was about my own body in certain types of clothing? I wasnt very good at it yet, but my conversation with Nikki in the costume room the day before had left me a fair bit to think about. I doubted that Id have a chance to act on her suggestions until after break, though.

Lee Ann shook her head and smiled. “I can’t say I understand, but if you’re happy, I’m happy for you. Um… and thanks. Have a great Thanksgiving!”

“You, too, Lee Ann.”

I watched her leave, and then headed back up the stairs and into my room. Terry had left before lunch, so I left my bedroom door open. I wasn’t quite done packing about an hour later, when I got a call from Dad’s cell phone.

“Hi, Dad,” I answered, totally forgetting that I was supposed to call him, “Daddy.”

“It’s me, Marsh,” Tina answered. “We’re just pulling into the parking lot. Are you ready? Do you want help with your suitcase?”

“I’m almost done, Teen,” I replied. “I can manage, but if you’d like to come up, we can talk while we walk to the car.” I hadn’t spoken with her since the night I’d decided I was stuck, and Chad had said that she was upset. I probably should have called her then, but I didn’t know what to say. Talking about my situation wouldn’t be possible in front of Mom and Dad – “Daddy” – so this was going to be our best chance before we got to Grandma’s house.

It was a few minutes before she knocked on the outer door and I let her in.

“Wow, so this is your dorm, huh? Are your roommates here?”

“No, they’ve already left. I’m the only one of us with afternoon classes on Wednesday. Come on in, I’m almost done.”

She followed me into my bedroom. “So… how are you doing?”

I grinned at her. “I’m dealing with things. That’s all you can do, right? Deal?”

“You really sounded bad when you called me. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be bothering you if I called before Thanksgiving.”

I nodded. “Yeah, it was a tough few days, but I have some good friends, and they’ve helped me through things.” I hadn’t spoken with Vicky since the party, though, and that bothered me.

“Friends… who know about you?”

“Some. One, especially. I don’t really know what’s going to happen. I’m just taking it one day at a time.”

“How much stuff are you taking?” she asked, as I threw yet another dress into my suitcase. “We’re only going to be at Grandma’s for four days.”

“Yeah, I might have overdone it a bit. I’m really not used to packing as a girl. I mean, I don’t know how much to bring, and I thought I’d err on the side of having too much.”

“Well, don’t. You’ll never be able to carry all of that. Um…” she looked into my suitcase and pulled out a couple of outfits. “You don’t need these…”

“I thought you wanted to talk about… what I was doing.”

“Not if you don’t want to,” she said, still throwing my clothing around, with more force than I really thought necessary.

“Well… I suppose I should. I’m just not sure what to talk about.”

She turned on me. “You said that you were really eager to change back. Now you’ve found that you can’t. And you’re saying that it’s all right?”

“Well… it’s not as if I have choice, right?”

“I was ready to disappear – to have my memory wiped out, my identity destroyed – and I was going along with it, because I love you. Because you’re my sister. I mean… you’re my–”

“Sister is fine, Teen. That’s what I am now, and that’s the only way you really remember me.”

“So why aren’t you screaming and jumping up and down or crying and sulking or… something?”

“I… I did all that, Teen. I was horribly depressed; I couldn’t even get out of bed. Lee Ann had to take over and make me get dressed, and everything.”

Tina stared at me. “And now you’re OK, just like that?”

“Well, I spent some time talking with Nikki over tea. I think she might have put something in my tea, actually. She helped me a lot.”

“So, everything’s OK, now? And you never called me to work through things?”

“I didn’t want to bother you. I knew you were upset.”

“Upset? Marsh, I don’t know how things work in that boy brain of yours, but if a girl you know is upset, you talk to her. And if you’re upset, you don’t ignore your own sister, who is more than happy to talk to you, any time. I mean, you could at least have done ‘take a lemon’ with me.”

“I couldn’t, Teen. ‘Take a lemon’ is more for when you’re surprised and angry and upset. I was depressed. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to talk to anybody.”

“And now?”

“Now? Now, I’m just dealing with things. I don’t know, maybe I’ll start freaking out again, or maybe I’ll just curl up in a ball and pull the covers over my head one day, but for now, I’m focusing on getting through things one day at a time.”

She came over and hugged me.

“What was that for?” I asked.

She laughed. “Do I need a reason to hug my sister? I thought you needed it. Anyway, I think you’re all packed now. Let’s go.”

So we went.

72 Gone

“Hey, Princess,” Dad called to me as we approached the car. He and Mom were standing beside it, waiting for us.

The nickname reminded me of his expectations, so I kissed him like a dutiful daughter and said, “Hi, Daddy.” Then, as I kissed Mom, I wondered at my actions. Hadn’t I decided that I was no longer trying to imitate Marsha? That I was going to be my own person? Surely I could just go back to calling him, “Dad”? But that might involve drawing attention to myself and explaining the reason for the change. Maybe it was just simpler to go along with Marsha’s way of speaking for now.

Dad took my suitcase from me and put it in the trunk, and we all got in and drove off; Tina and I sat in the back, while Dad drove, with Mom beside him. That was pretty much the way we’d always traveled as a family. Dad would drive and restrict himself to occasional comments, while Mom probed and chattered.

Naturally, since I had been away from the family for weeks, I was the immediate target.

“Everything good at school, Marsh?” she asked.

“Classes are pretty good,” I responded. That was pretty safe and general. “We’re coming up on opening night for Mousetrap, and I think things are going pretty well, there, too.”

“You’re not nervous at all?”

I laughed. “I didn’t say that. This is a big role, and I just know there are things I could be doing better. Alvin’s been pretty positive, but I have a feeling that a more experienced actress might be able to do a better job with it.”

“But he chose you.”

“Right. And he hasn’t complained. At least not too much,” I’d almost managed to forget the incident when he had yelled at Jared and me.

“Of course not. You’re going to be fine.”

“Thanks, Mom.” That was the attitude I needed, of course, and it was what I had decided for myself. I was going to be positive, now. I was going to be confident and assertive.

“And… your social life is good?”

“Um…” I should have expected the question, and planned on an answer. “My social life is… pretty much where it should be, I guess. I mean, I’m kind of busy, with classes and the play and my sewing. And I have some very good friends.”

Mom nodded. “Well, as long as you’re happy.” At least she wasn’t going to pry about my love life. Happy? I wouldn’t go that far, but I had made my peace with things for now. I wasn’t attracted to anybody, and I didn’t need to worry about being with anybody. I just had to remind myself of that, until we figured out how I could change back.

And yet… I saw Tina eyeing me, curiously. She had picked up on something that Mom hadn’t – or at least shouldn’t have, not knowing my situation. I had a feeling that there was going to be some kind of interesting questioning when we got to Grandma’s house. As it was, I felt guilty about not telling Mom. I just wasn’t sure what I could say, or how she would react. And I wasn’t sure how I would want her to react. Have her try to treat me as a boy somehow? Have her think me slightly insane? I just couldn’t think of anything good that would come of telling her, and yet I did have that urge.

And I needed to talk to Tina; there were questions I had thought of; questions I needed answers to before I made a fool of myself with our cousins, especially my relationship with them. I should have asked while she was helping me pack, and now I was going to have to wait until we arrived. I passed the time listening to music; I didn’t really think I had a chance to land a role in Sweeney Todd next semester, but Marsha supposedly had had a decent singing voice, and it would be good to familiarize myself with the music, just in case.

Grandma greeted us when we knocked on her door, just before dinnertime.

“Hi, Mom,” my mother kissed her, and then of course each of us followed with a kiss, while Dad brought in the luggage. I felt bad at not helping, but my offer had been laughed off.

Our cousin Tara ran up to us excitedly, looking decidedly more casual than Tina and I in her light blue pantsuit. “Hey, guys, come on up! Gran redecorated our room!”

Our room, huh? I thought, as Tina and I followed her up the stairs. I hadn’t thought it through, yet again. Of course Tina and I would be sharing the guest bedroom with Tara, while Joey and Tyler would presumably sleep in the family room. I had been with them last year.

“Isn’t it great?” Tara cooed, as we entered. I hadn’t spent much time in the guest room before, since it had always been Tara and Tina’s room when we came for Thanksgiving, but I could tell that the room had been totally redone. The walls were a beautiful bright yellow, with an attractive red flower stencil that matched the new curtains and the covering on the daybed. There were small vases on side tables that contained red flowers of some type that seemed very similar to those on the wall, and which suffused the room with a pleasant smell. All in all, it seemed like a very comfortable place to spend a few days.

The daybed worried me, a bit. I didn’t see anywhere else to sleep – were the three of us expected to share it? None of us were all that large, but three in a bed seemed really cramped. My sister and cousin had obviously done this before; I’d have to get Tina alone and ask.

Tina clearly had no worries at all. With an exclamation of, “I love it!” she rushed about the room, looking at everything. She pulled open drawers, felt the curtains, and bent over to sniff the flowers. I contented myself with a nod of agreement, and felt somehow that I should have matched her enthusiasm somehow – at least if I were trying to remain in character for Marsha, which I wasn’t.

Tara sat on the bed and pulled the two of us to sit beside her. “So spill. We have a few before dinner. What’s happening with you guys?”

I started on the same litany I had used with Mom. “Classes are good, and my play is opening in a bit over a week.” That just earned me an impatient look.

“Come on,” she insisted. “Tell me the good stuff.”

“Marsh doesn’t have any good stuff – her life is boring,” Tina said quickly. “Now I, on the other hand…”

“Yes?” Tara asked eagerly, turning to my sister.

“Danny and I went to this school dance, and he showed me a list of twenty different types of kisses and we spent about an hour trying them.”

“Oooh! Hot!”

“And then we went back in and slow-danced a lot – even when the music was fast.”


My cousin then looked at me, expectantly. I don’t know why, but this was making me feel really inadequate.

“Well, I slow-danced with a boy last weekend…” I offered hesitantly.

“Oh? Tell me about him,” she prompted me. Behind her, I saw Tina’s eyebrows rise.

“Well…” I started, feeling my face grow hot, “there’s nothing much to tell. I mean, my roommate introduced us, and we danced. That’s it.”


“And nothing.” Suddenly I wished I had kept my mouth shut. “He has a girlfriend, but she doesn’t go to Piques, so he just needed somebody to dance with.”

Tara shook her head. “So you’re there and she’s not. Take advantage. Do you want this guy?”

I put my hands up as if to defend myself. “No! Definitely not. He’s just a guy I danced with, that’s all.”

She looked disappointed. “That’s it? And there’s nobody else?”

“No, I… I have to focus on school and the play and stuff. I mean, I am pre-med. I have to get good grades.”

“Wow. Tina was right. Your life is boring.” And rolling her eyes at me, she turned back to Tina, while I sat there open-mouthed.

I couldn’t believe that I had just been put down like that. I didn’t think my life was boring – far from it. As the other two nattered on about their boyfriends, I found myself trying to think of other times I could talk about being with boys. Did kissing Jared onstage count?

Then I suddenly realized what I was doing. I wasn’t interested in kissing boys and slow-dancing with boys. Why should it matter what my cousin thought? Sure, the dancing had been fun, but that had nothing to do with… sexual attraction or anything.

I didn’t hear it, but apparently somebody called Tara, as she suddenly excused herself, leaving Tina and me alone. Before I could say anything, she grabbed my arm. “Slow-danced, Marsh? You slow-danced with a boy? What was that like for you?”

“Oh. Well… I mean… I guess I liked the closeness – but there wasn’t anything more to it than that. He was just a boy my roommate found for me to dance with. I mean, she thought that I should be dancing with boys – that I wasn’t dating because I was shy.”


“And nothing. I’m not interested, if that’s what you mean.”

“I was wondering, since you said you weren’t going to be changing back. Are you planning on dating boys now?”

I shook my head again. “No. I’m not interested at all. In fact, the whole idea creeps me out. I… I don’t really know what I’m going to do, but dating boys is not something I’m considering.”

She shrugged. “OK.”

I lowered my voice. “Teen. Before Tara comes back, I need to know a couple of things. What are the sleeping arrangements, here? There’s only one bed!”

“Oh, right. I guess you wouldn’t know. Tara’s going to sleep on the cot – there’s one in the closet – and you and I will share the bed.”

“Share the bed? Um, why can’t I get the cot and you and Tara could share?”

“Because Tara’s taller than either of us, and you and I are sisters. It’s just more comfortable that way.” At my concerned look, she added, “Don’t worry, we’ve done this before. We’re neither of us all that big, after all, so there’s plenty of room for both of us.”

That’s easy for you to say, I thought, but I didn’t see any way out, so I just moved on to the next subject. “OK. And what is my relationship with Tyler, now?”

She looked at me, surprised. “Huh?”

“Well, before, he was really into my guitar playing, and we were kind of close. Obviously that’s not going to be the same, now.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Tyler. Before I see him at dinner, I want to know what to expect. I mean, I don’t think I could stand to talk to Joey just now, but I do expect to spend time with Tyler.”

“Who’s Tyler?”

“What? Tyler Greene. Tara’s little brother.” She still looked confused. “Wait? This didn’t even occur to me. Did they give him a different name? I mean, most things have been pretty much the same, but some haven’t been.”

Marsh,” Tina said slowly, “Joey and Tara don’t have a little brother. It’s just the two of them. Are you saying that… in your boy world, they had a brother?”

I stared at my sister in horror. I tried to speak, but words seemed hard to form, suddenly. After several tries, I managed to force something out. “No. Please tell me you’re joking. You- you can’t mean that. You’re saying that he’s just… gone? Just like that? Gone?”

“Marsh, I’m telling you that I have never heard of ‘Tyler’ and neither have Joey and Tara. There is no little brother. There’s just the two of them, like there’s two of us.”

73 Coming to the Table

I had little time to react to Tina’s revelation, because Joey suddenly appeared at our door, even more casually dressed than his sister, in jeans and a t-shirt. “Hey, you girls coming or what? Gran wants everybody in the dining room now.”

“Um, hi, Joey,” I stammered. It was strange to find myself looking up at him, although that was hardly unexpected. What was odder is that I no longer felt any need to yell at him; after all, he’d only sold my guitar – I’d killed his only brother. What right did I have to complain?

“Yeah, hi, Marsh. Hi, Teen,” he muttered. “Anyway, Gran wants you downstairs.” And he hurried ahead of us.

I grabbed Tina’s arm as she moved to follow him. “Wait. I can’t go down now! I have to process this. Did you even hear what I said?”

“Marsh, there’s no time. Grandma’s expecting us. Look, nobody’s going to ask about this… this non-existent cousin; they’ve never heard of him. We’ll talk tonight and figure things out.”

“But–” I started, but she was already following Joey down the steps, so I ran after them.

In the dining room, Tina and I gave Uncle Doug and Aunt Jackie hugs, and Tina received the usual exclamations over how much she’d grown. I couldn’t help looking at them closely, searching for signs of mourning. I knew it was foolish; I was the only one, probably in the world, who had any memories of Tyler, but still… I mean, how could parents lose a child and not know somehow that something was wrong?

Again, there really wasn’t time to think about it, as Grandma started the meal. “Well,” she smiled, “I’m so glad to see everybody today! Jackie, Miriam, and I have worked hard to make you all a delicious dinner. Shall we sit down?”

At Grandma’s house, we follow Grandma’s rules. Uncle Doug held Grandma’s chair for her, and then did the same for Aunt Jackie. Joey seated his sister. Last year, I had done the same for Tina; this year, Dad seated Mom, and then Tina and me. I was probably a bit awkward, never having had anyone hold my seat for me before, but if anybody noticed, they didn’t say anything. Of course, I had my mind elsewhere.

Once “the ladies” had all been seated, Dad, Uncle Doug, and Joey headed into the kitchen to bring out the food. Uncle Doug had presumably carved the turkey while Tina and I were upstairs, and now circled the table, serving us. Dad parceled out stuffing and carrot stew, while Joey served green beans. The guys had to do two rounds since there were only three of them; last year, there had been five of us, and that just drove in Tyler’s absence even more for me.

I kept watching Aunt Jackie. She was talking with Mom and laughing, and all I could think about was, how could she laugh? I forced myself to eat; the turkey was quite good, as usual, and Mom’s green beans were always my favorite. I didn’t realize that somebody was saying my name until Tina elbowed me.

“Marsha?” Grandma looked at me with concern. “Are you all right? I asked you how school was going.”

“Oh!” I said, wrenching my attention back to the meal, “Sorry, Grandma. Um… It’s OK. I mean… I think I’m doing well in my classes, and… I really like my Organic Chemistry prof.”


“And… um, I’m in a play – I actually have the female lead – and we’re just about ready for the performance.”


“And…” I groped for something else to tell her beyond the standard answer I’d given everyone else, but the news about Tyler had me totally rattled. “I’m learning to sew… better, I mean. I mean, a friend is teaching me new techniques. Techniques I didn’t already know.” My face was hot. I couldn’t believe I had said that.

“Really?” Mom asked, staring at me. “Like what?”

I ignored Tina’s choking. “Um… you know, like… different stitches. Um… I… I don’t remember what they’re called.”

“Well, you’ll have to show me, after dinner.” Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Tina staring at me in horror.

“Uh…. Right,” I gasped. Pretty much everybody at the table was staring at me, so I looked away. I looked down, I looked across the table… And that might have been a mistake, since across the table from me was at Tara, and to her left was the place where Tyler should have been.

I guess I sort of whimpered, because Dad then joined in. “Princess, what is it?”

“Uh, noth– I mean… I’m just…” and then I couldn’t stand it any longer, pushed back my chair and ran from the dining room, shouting, “Excuse me!” over my shoulder as I did.

I stopped in the living room across the hallway and tried to catch my breath. Calm down! I admonished myself. This is your family! They’re on your side! I was hyperventilating. I was trying really hard to clear my mind – to get myself under control. And I didn’t even hear Mom follow me, so I jumped when she put her hands on my shoulders.

“Honey, what’s wrong?”

“N– nothing,” I stammered. “I mean…”

She turned me to face her. “Tell me, baby. Tell me.” And she pulled me into her arms.

That was it. The damn broke, and I collapsed in tears on her shoulder, “It’s my fault, Mom. I did it, and I’m never going to see him again!”

Mom rubbed my back and cooed at me, “Shhh… It’s going to be fine. It’s going to work out.”

“No, no, it’s not!”

“It’ll be OK, Marsh. You’ll see. And if not, there are plenty of other boys. You’ll meet somebody else.”

“No,” I insisted. “I killed him. I killed Tyler! It’s my fault he’s gone!”

I felt Mom hesitate. “You–” Then she resumed, “Marsh, you didn’t… You… W–wait. Tyler? I didn’t think you were dating anybody. Why would you…?”

I pushed myself away. I had to get this out now. I had to explain. “Not like that, Mom. Not a boy at school.”


I hugged myself and turned away. “I… At school, I signed up for an experiment. As a volunteer, you know?”


“And… they changed us. They went back in time and changed us. There’s a whole group – they call themselves, ‘strangers in the mirror,’ because that’s what we see.”

“You see… stop. Back up. And look at me when you’re talking.”

“That’s… It’s an experiment. A physics experiment. In time-travel. But we each woke up and we’re different.” I was whining, and I knew it, but I couldn’t help myself.

Mom crossed her arms and gave me a hard look. “What do you mean, ‘different’?”

“I mean… well…” I was suddenly unsure of exactly how much I wanted to tell her. I decided to wait to tell her about the sex change thing. “I look… not the way I used to. I look like I could be my old self’s sister.”

“Uh huh. And Tyler? He did the experiment, too?”

“No… Tyler is… was… my cousin. Joey and Tara’s little brother – and now he’s gone. He was never born.”

Mom sighed and put the back of her hand on my forehead, as if she thought I might have a fever. “Marsh, I think you might be under too much pressure. Do you… want to think about taking the next semester off?”

“No,” I insisted, pulling away. “This is not about me. I mean, it’s annoying and uncomfortable and freaking me out, but at least I’m still alive. Tyler is gone, Mom. He’s gone, and nobody even remembers him. And it’s all my fault.”

“Marsh,” Mom said, putting her hands on my upper arms. “There is no Tyler. There never was a Tyler. Doug and Jackie never had a third child.” She pulled me back into hug. “Baby, now I’m really worried. I wonder if I should even let you go back to school next week.”

I started to pull away again, but she just hugged me even tighter. “I know you want to go back, and if you can convince your father and me that you’ll be all right, we won’t try to stop you, but I think you probably need to pull back a bit. You’re working too hard.”

I moaned. “You don’t believe me, do you?”

“Well… Of course I believe you, Baby. But you have to understand how crazy this is. College experiments are safe. They have to be. When your father and I were in school, I volunteered for a psych experiment in which I had to drink something and then sing. The idea was to see if alcohol would lower your inhibitions enough that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to keep on singing, so they gave me a cup full of mint-flavored liquid that might or might not contain alcohol.

“The student who designed the experiment had wanted to give people the equivalent of four drinks, to really get them a bit intoxicated, but the school wouldn’t let them. So each volunteer could only get at most the equivalent of a single drink. They don’t take chances with students’ health. So how could they possibly make an experiment that physically changed you?”

“I don’t know, Mom, but they did. I found… a really close friend who had volunteered, too, and we both remember each other from before. Things are different, Mom. They’re different. I have different roommates, and… some people have different phone numbers… and Tyler was never born.”

I felt her sigh. “Marsh, I don’t know what to do with you. You have this idea… did this start before your midterm break?”

“It started the first morning of break, Mom, when I woke up different.”

“I wondered. You did seem to be acting a bit oddly, but I thought that you would tell me if you were under too much pressure already. But now with your insistence on this ‘Tyler’… I just don’t know, Marsh. I just don’t know. Have you told anybody else about… about ‘killing Tyler’?”

“I just told Tina. She didn’t believe me, either. And she knew about the experiment already.”

“She did?”

“I told her not to tell you!” I said quickly. “And Chad knows about the experiment, but not about Tyler.”

“So you’ve told a lot of people.”

“Not a lot. Just… just a few people who needed to know.”

“And your father and I didn’t?”

I cringed. “I wanted to tell you… I mean, I knew I should. I was just afraid of how you would react.”

“Honey, if you’re cracking under the pressure, you don’t do yourself any favors by hiding it.”

“I… I think I’m OK, Mom. Really.”

“I think your father and I are going to have to talk with you sometime this weekend. Maybe you need to see a therapist. We need to make sure.”


“And I don’t want to hear any more talk of this non-existent cousin of yours, OK?”


“Good. Why don’t you go fix your makeup and come back to the table?”

I watched her walk back to the table, as though she had solved me. I could have told Mom and Dad a long time ago, and they probably would have reacted the same way, I realized. And if I had told her I used to be a boy, she would have been certain that I had completely lost it.

In the front hall bathroom, I got to work on my makeup. After the last time, I had looked up ‘fixing makeup after crying’ on the internet, just in case, so I had a rough idea of what to do. I don’t really believe this, I thought with a sigh, My cousin is gone, and I’m worried about how my makeup looks. But what exactly am I supposed to do? Well, there probably wasn’t anything else I could do right now, and crying to Mom had at least taken some of the edges of my agitation, at least. But it did mean that changing back – if it was even possible – could be vital for more than just me.

74 Center of Attention

The table conversation paused abruptly when I entered the dining room, and didn’t resume until a few moments after I had sat down. The family seemed deliberately to be trying to avoid mentioning what had just happened, but Tina gave me a worried look, to which I replied with a nod of acknowledgement. We’d have to talk after dinner before my likely grilling by Mom and Dad.

Or maybe not. As we finished cleaning up after dinner, Mom said, “Marsha, let’s talk in the study” and I knew I was in trouble. Tina knew it, too, but all we could do was to exchange glances. I sighed, dried the last of Grandma’s silver and put it away, and then headed for the study while Mom went to find Dad.

Alone, I examined the room. It had been Grandpa’s domain before he died, and the walls were still full of pictures of him on tour. The old Encyclopedia Brittanica from the early 1960s took up a sizeable portion of the bookshelf space. There were newer touches, of course. Pictures of Mom and Dad’s wedding, as well as Uncle Doug and Aunt Jackie’s, along with pictures of us kids. Most of these were unchanged.

The most obvious differences were the picture of Marsha’s graduation rather than mine, and where there used to be a picture of me with Grandpa’s guitar, there was now one of Marsha and Dirk, presumably taken at their senior Prom. I stared it; it was one thing to be told that Marsha had been dating him; it was something else to see her lean against him, his arm wrapped possessively around her waist. My waist, now. I shuddered at the thought.

“You miss him, don’t you, Honey?” Mom said, quietly.

I jumped. “Oh, I didn’t hear you come in, Mom.”

“You were so happy when the two of you were dating,” she continued. “It’s really too bad, the way things worked out.”

“Um… yeah,” I agreed, not sure what else to say. I mean, what if things had gone differently? What if I had awoken as Marsha to find that, like her roommates, she had a longtime boyfriend – Dirk – who expected her to sleep with him on a regular basis? I would absolutely have vomited.

“Anyway, your father is unavailable until the game is over. Do you want to sit and talk? I want to hear what’s been getting to you this semester. Last year didn’t seem as difficult.”

Sure, because last year I was in the right body. I didn’t say that aloud, though. At this point, I was in major damage-control mode. The truth would probably get me locked up – or at least pulled out of school. And if there was any chance to change back, it required me to be on campus.

“Well,” I started, “I think classes are going all right…” Then I remembered. I had told her that before, along with an update on the play. But girls usually went into more detail, didn’t they? Well, I could tell her about my lab partners, and about my papers, and–

“And I do want to hear all about them, Marsh. But right now, I want to focus on what isn’t going all right. You seemed fine on the way up. What set you off? What brought on this imaginary cousin? Why were you talking about learning how to sew?”

“Mom,” I said, miserably, “if I told you the truth you’d think I was crazy, and if I told you what you would believe, I might be lying.”

“This ‘science experiment’ again?” At my nod, she sighed. “Maybe we’ll wait until your father is free, then.”

“OK,” I said, before she could change her mind, “I’ll be with Tina and Tara until then,” and I ran out of the room.

I found the two of them still in the kitchen, talking with Grandma and Aunt Jackie. “Teen, can I talk to you?” I asked quietly, and she excused herself immediately.

Our bedroom seemed the best bet for privacy, so we headed there. “So…?” Tina prompted, as we sat together on the bed.

I exhaled and took a moment to prepare myself before admitting, “I… told Mom. About the experiment, I mean.”

The shock in my sister’s face was plain. “You did?”


Tina studied my face for a moment. “She didn’t believe you, did she?”

I shrugged. “Not exactly. I told her about Tyler, too.”

“Oh boy.”

“Yeah. She thinks I’ve lost it. That I’m cracking under the pressure of school.”

“Well, you have to admit, talking about a cousin nobody’s ever seen…”

“I know, I know, it’s just… I can’t believe he’s gone. That he never existed. I mean, I was really looking forward to seeing him. Tara’s great, and all, but Tyler is the one I used to connect with most.”

She put her hand on my arm and said sympathetically, “I didn’t realize that. I’m really sorry, Marsh. Do you… want to tell me about him?”

“I… guess.” But what was I supposed to say? Describing him was almost like trivializing him. “Well… he was really into the Beatles, and knew just about every one of their songs. I could play just a few measures and he could tell me the lyrics, who wrote it, and when. He was a wizard at video games. Once in a while we’d play something competitive and he always beat me.”

I paused to think. There was a lot more to him than this. “He wasn’t into cars too much,” I continued, “so a lot of what Joey talked to him about bored him. I mean, he did try, and he actually memorized a bunch of car trivia, since Joey liked it, but it if weren’t for Joey, he wouldn’t have gone near cars at all. I just…” I let myself trail off, shaking my head.

The next thing I knew, Tina’s arms were around me and I was crying again. “Marsh, I am so sorry. He sounds nice. I wish I’d known him– I mean, I wish I remembered him.”

“Yeah…” After a moment, I forced myself to stop and pushed her away. “Anyway, we have to figure out what I’m supposed to tell Mom and Dad. I don’t want to lie to them, but I don’t want them thinking I’m crazy and need to take time off or something.”

“Then you can’t talk about the experiment. Just tell them that you were upset about… um… Oh man.”

“Don’t tell them?”

“Well, you remember that Chad and I didn’t believe you, at first.”

“But you do, now,” I pointed out.

“Sure, but that was only after the way you reacted to Dirk. ‘Dirk the Jerk.’ Wow, that was so unlike you– I mean, Marsha. And that was on top of everything else, plus you had that article.”

“The article. Right.” It was at school, somewhere. I’d sort of lost track of it after I went to newspaper offices.

“And at this point, if you called Dirk a jerk, Mom and Dad would probably decide that you just resented him after all this time.”

I nodded. Tina was making a lot of sense. “And if I told them I used to be a boy…”

“I don’t even want to think of how they’d react. Probably pull you out of school right now.”

“You’re right, you’re right. So how do I explain why I was claiming to have another cousin? Mom saw me really upset.”

“I don’t know,” Tina said. “Um… I don’t suppose you could say it was some kind of act?”

I shook my head. “Mom wouldn’t buy that for a minute.”

“No, I guess not.”

“I’m just going to have to say that I was upset… I don’t have to give a reason, do I? I mean, girls do get upset over nothing, right?”

“Excuse me?” she glared. “I do not get upset over ‘nothing.’ Just because I can’t always explain why I’m upset, or don’t want to, doesn’t mean it’s ‘nothing.’”

I grinned. “See? You just did it.”

Tina sighed in exasperation. “Boy, you look and sound like a girl, but sometimes, Marsh…”

My grin got larger. “Sometimes, I can still act like a boy. OK,” I said, standing up. “I think that’s what I’m going to have to do. I’ll just tell them that I was upset, but I can’t explain why. Thanks, Teen.”

We went back down to the kitchen and rejoined the rest of the women, who were now sipping tea and chatting. I was really tempted to go join the guys watching football, but right now, with Mom having doubts about my sanity, going out of character for Marsha didn’t seem such a great idea.

“So, what’s going on, guys?” Tara asked, coming over to Tina and me. Indicating the older women with a nod of her head, she added, “I was afraid you were going to leave me with them all night. They’re planning tomorrow’s dinner – and Gran wants us to sit for family portraits in the morning. Bo-o-o-ring….”

Tina and I giggled. Tara was just as theatrical as either of us, and the expression on her face was perfect. Then she turned to Tina. “And speaking of boring, what are we going to do about your sister?”

“What?” I yelped. “What are you talking about?”

“All work and no play makes Jane a dull girl,” she retorted. “It’s time to come out of your shell, Marsh.”

“What shell?”

Tara shared a look with Tina that expressed doubts about my cluefulness before turning on me again. “Have you gone on any dates since summer?”

She meant Marsha, of course, and I didn’t know whether she had dated before midterms, so I snuck a glance at Tina, who shook her head very slightly.

“Uh, no…” I admitted, “but I have a very demanding course schedule, and I need to get good grades to get into medical school.”

“Yeah, more like spinster school,” she retorted mockingly. “Are you seriously locked in your room, working all weekend?”

“No… I sometimes go out with my roommates or a friend.”

“So you do have the time. You’re just afraid.”

Behind her, I could see Tina wincing apologetically.

Tara pressed on. “We can help you, Marsh. Which boys do you like?”

“Well, I…” I stammered, and then I realized what I was doing. I was falling into the same pattern with Tara as I had with Lee Ann, and I had since decided that I wasn’t going to play that game.

“No,” I said definitely. “It’s not a question of afraid. I’m… just not interested in dating right now.”

Tara was shocked. “Seriously? Why not?”

“I’m just not. I have some things I need to work out for myself… I mean, before I’ll be interested in going out with anyone.”

“Are you telling me that you’re not crushing on anyone? Not even a little?”

“Not even a little. I’m happy with who I am, and I don’t need anybody else to make me happy.” Somehow I managed to say that with a straight face, even when Tina dropped her jaw at me from behind Tara’s back.”

I was saved from having to support my statement because Dad poked his head into the kitchen right then. “OK, Mir, I’m ready.”

Mom looked up. “Game’s over?”

Dad sounded disgusted. “It might as well be. The Giants aren’t even close to being in this game.” Then he looked at me. “You ready, Princess?” I nodded, and the three of us filed into the study.

75 Study and Inquiry

“Let’s sit down,” Dad said, closing the study door after us. There were two high-backed chairs opposite a love seat. Mom sat on the love seat, so I took one of the chairs. Dad sat next to Mom, and the two of them looked at me, expectantly. “I understand you’re a bit upset, Marsh,” he said.

I nodded. This was going to be pretty easy. “I’m really sorry for worrying you, Mom,” I told her. “I… I guess had been just thinking too much about school and not paying attention to dinner, and I… just lost it. I’m fine, now. Really. I’m OK, Daddy; sorry to take you away from your game.”

“Just as simple as that, Marsh?” Mom asked. She didn’t look convinced.

“Yeah, I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I wasn’t thinking. But I’m fine.”

“So is this the truth we won’t believe, or the lie that we will?” Dad asked, smiling. “I think I want to hear more about this experiment you mentioned to your mother.”

When did he hear about that? Mom must have told him while I was talking to Tina, probably during a commercial. “Oh, that was nothing,” I said, as calmly as I could. “I… I just had this stupid dream, and–”

Dad cut me off. “Marsha, I want to hear it. If it bothered you enough that you were freaking out, I want to know what it was. Why exactly would somebody make an experiment that changed how you look?”

He wasn’t buying it. I’d said too much, panicked too much. I had seriously messed up, this time. This could be very, very bad. “Daddy, please…” I whimpered.


“Please… please don’t pull me out of school. I… I can really handle it. I’m doing well in my classes, and… and I have some great friends who are always there for me, and…”

“Marsha, your mother and I are worried about you.”

“I know, but–”

“Your mother’s worried that you might hurt yourself, somehow.”

“I won’t!” I wailed. “Please…”

“You’ve always made good choices, Princess, so as long as you can convince us that you’re not going to do anything stupid, I don’t see any reason to keep you out of school.”

“I’m not… I–”

“But I want to hear this ‘true story.’ I want to hear about this ‘experiment’ that changed you.”

My mouth went dry. Dad seemed really relaxed, but he wasn’t giving up. I’d already blabbed so much, I just didn’t feel comfortable lying, any more. I’d just have to trust my parents. Dad had said that they weren’t going to pull me out. I just had to sound calm and collected. Yeah, right.

I took a deep breath and let it out. Then, watching Mom and Dad closely, I explained, “It was some kind of time travel experiment, Daddy. I think they said they wanted to see how things might be different. We thought it meant that we would get to see things and report, you know, as explorers, or something. But…” I hesitated again. How were they going to react to this? “Before the experiment… I was a boy.”

Mom looked at Dad. Dad didn’t move, although his eyes flickered. I was surprised. That revelation had been really hard for me. Why were they taking it so casually? Dad just said, “Go on…” as though I were telling an interesting story, instead of confessing to hiding a terrible secret.

“Well… I was tall,” I added, indicating my old height by holding one hand above my head. “I was taller than you, Daddy. And… I dated a lot. I had girlfriends all the time. And then I woke up like this… and everything was wrong, and I had to keep pretending that it was OK.” I was in agony. Admitting this should have been a relief, but now what was going to happen to me?

Dad put out his arms and I ran to him and sobbed on his shoulder, his arms wrapped comfortingly around me. He stroked the back of my head and said, “It’s OK, Honey. It’s OK.”

“The question, Mir,” he said to Mom, speaking over the top of my head, “is what would make our beautiful daughter want to believe that she was a boy?”

What? I almost popped my head up at that.

“You think it’s wishful thinking… or escapism, or something like that?” Mom asked.

“As opposed to what? That somebody invented a time machine to change the way people look?”

“No, of course, not.” Mom looked at me with concern. “Marsh, honey, did a boy… do something to you?”

“Or make an inappropriate suggestion?” Dad added.

“No,” I answered, a bit thrown by the way they were taking this. “Nobody… oh, wait. But that doesn’t have anything–”

“What doesn’t?” Dad interrupted. And now there was an edge to his voice.

“I mean… we worked things out…”

“What. Happened?” Dad insisted.

“The… the guy who’s playing my ‘husband’ in the show. We met at the Grill, you know, to get to know each other, and… and he asked me to sleep with him.”


“Daddy, it’s OK,” I protested hurriedly, looking up at him. “We worked things out. He apologized, said it was a really stupid thing to do, and now we’re friends. So it’s fine.”

“But how did you feel when he asked, Marsh?” Mom prodded.

“Horrible… vulnerable, afraid. I mean, I panicked, and I know I overreacted, but my roommate said that I was right to. That I shouldn’t have anything to do with a guy who would do such a thing.”

“I should think not,” Mom agreed.

“But it was all a mistake. He was just really clumsy, and he never did anything like that again, and I think he’s dating one of the girls in the cast now. We’re cool. We’re friends. I trust him.”

“You’re sure.”

“Yes. I don’t have anything to worry about there.”

“OK,” Dad chimed in. “And I wonder how this relates to the conversation we had over your midterm break, Princess.”

“What conversation, Art?”

“When I took Marsha to the train, she asked me if I was sorry not to have a son.”

“Oh, Marsh,” Mom said sympathetically, “How could you even imagine that about your father?”

“Princess, your aunt and uncle have a boy and a girl, and I’m sure they are very happy with them, but I wouldn’t trade. There’s something very special to a father about having a daughter – and I have two! How lucky can a guy get?”

“And don’t worry about not dating anybody right now, Marsh,” Mom said. “You just have high standards. I admire that. Too many girls seem to think that they aren’t worth anything if they don’t have a boyfriend. I’m very proud of you, that you don’t need one to feel good about yourself.”

I was in shock. Mom and Dad had jumped to what was probably a more sensible conclusion, howbeit wrong, than the truth. They thought I was horribly insecure, and were love-bombing me to make me feel better. But I didn’t laugh; it just felt too good. Dad still had an arm around me, and it was very nice, feeling protected and cared for. So what if they didn’t believe me? I had told them the truth, hadn’t I? Even though I had been afraid to? The important thing is, they were there for me; they were absolutely on my side, and not looking at me as though I was some kind of freak – or a stranger in my own family.

“Now, honey,” Mom said, standing up. Obviously, what she had decided had reassured her. “You do seem to be feeling better, but I want to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. I’m fine with you going back to school, but I want you to call me at least every other day.”

“Every other day?” I repeated, doubtfully. What in the world were we supposed to talk about? But I stood up as well.

“Yes. I don’t mean for a long conversation each time; I know you’re busy with school. But I do want to make sure that if you are ever upset about something, that you feel comfortable telling me. You never called about this boy in the Grill, for example. If I had known about him… well, I think I could have helped you, or at least made you feel better.”

“This is really important, Marsh,” Dad put in. “College can be very stressful, and sometimes talking to your mother can be just what you need.”

I grinned. I knew he didn’t mean talking to him.

“Art, wait,” Mom said. “What about this imaginary cousin?”

“Oh, that’s right. Marsh, can you explain?”

“Do you think she even knows? Consciously?”

Now I was looking back and forth between my parents. They had rationalized away my sex change; what would they do with my panic over Tyler?

“Well, it does sound as though she’s feeling guilty about something. What haven’t you told us, Princess? What do you think you might have done?”

Oh boy. I just stared blankly. I had no idea at all what to say.

“You know,” Dad said cautiously. “On second thought, maybe we should see what happens over the next few days. If there’s no recurrence of… tonight’s episode, I feel comfortable with you returning to school, Marsh, as long as you talk to your mother regularly. But, I think we should wait to make a final decision until Sunday. Just for your own safety. OK, Princess?”

I nodded, slowly. I was pretty sure I could keep from freaking out again this weekend. Tina might have to help me try to anticipate any more surprises, though.

“OK, honey,” Mom said, kissing me on the cheek. “Remember that we love you and we just want the best for you. OK?”

“And I love you too, Mom,” I replied, kissing her back. Then I stood on my toes to kiss my father on the cheek as well. “And you, Daddy.” And since they seemed to be done with me, and before they could change their minds, I left the room quickly, and returned to the kitchen.

76 Posing on Command

When I got there, the only ones in the kitchen were Grandma and Aunt Jackie.

“Oh!” I said, surprised. “Where’s–”

“The girls went upstairs, Marsha,” Grandma said. “They said they wanted to start getting the room ready.” As I turned to follow them, she asked, “Did everything work out with your parents?”

“Oh. Sure…” I replied. “I apologized and they just want to make sure I talk to Mom more, that’s all.”

“You should be doing that anyway, honey,” she added.

“Yes. You’re right, I should,” I said, inching my way to the door.

“Tell Tara I need her down here,” Aunt Jackie called after me,

“I will,” I shouted over my shoulder. With no further comments or advice coming, I ran up the stairs. I had dodged a bullet with my parents, and I was in no mood to let something slip to other adult relatives that might put me back into jeopardy.

When I got to our bedroom, my sister and cousin were making up the cot. That just reminded me that Tina and I were going to share. I really wasn’t looking forward to that. It was one thing to be pressed up close to a girl all night, but my sister? That was just… gross.

“How’s it going?” I greeted them as I entered and sat on my bed.

“What happened with Mom and Dad?” Tina asked urgently, as she looked up from tucking in her blanket.

I shrugged. “Not a problem. Daddy said that I just had to make sure to call Mom, like every other day. He and Mom decided that I was just freaking out because Jared wanted to have sex with me.”

Tara’s eyes bulged. “I thought you said you weren’t seeing anybody.”

“I’m not. We were just meeting for a soda to get acquainted.”

“He asked for sex on the first date?! Gross.”

“Yeah, well, it wasn’t a date. Just a get-together so we could be comfortable kissing each other.”

“Wait, wait, wait.” Tara looked totally confused. “You’re kissing a boy and he wants to have sex with you and you don’t count that? That’s more action than half my friends are getting.”

“Wait…” I said, finally realizing how it all sounded. “No, there’s nothing between us. We have to kiss in the play, that’s all. And we were kind of awkward, and we were trying to get comfortable with each other – as friends.”

She looked disappointed. “Oh. Then I’m back to ‘gross’ if you were just trying to get to be friends.”

“Yeah.” Then I remembered. “Oh, Aunt Jackie wants you downstairs.”

“Oh, for… I mean, it’s not like I get to spend with time you guys every week.” She sighed. “I’ll be right back – I hope.”

Tina waited until she was out of earshot. “So, what else didn’t you want her to hear?”

“Not much. I mean, I told them I used to be a boy, and Daddy decided that I must have some reason I wished I were. I didn’t see any point in correcting him.”

Who decided?”

“Daddy. Why?”

“It’s just… really strange to hear you calling him that, now,” she answered slowly.

“Why is it–?” I started, then realized what I had said and clapped my hand to my mouth.

“Yeah, you’ve been calling him, ‘Dad’ when it was just the two of us. I guess you must have decided that if you were staying this way–”

“No,” I said, just a bit surprised at myself. “I didn’t realize I was doing it. I guess it’s just that when Daddy – I mean, ‘Dad’ – put his arms around me when I got upset, I really kind of felt girly, and… Wow.”

“Because he held you?”

“Yeah, it felt, you know, really kind of comfortable and… he sort of stroked my hair, and…” I shivered a bit. “I hadn’t really intended to, you know, girl up so much.”

“Well, is it a real problem? After all, you’re a girl now for keeps, right? So why not?”

“Because it doesn’t feel like me. It feels like I’m surrendering to ‘Marsha.’”

“Like the way you’re sitting?”

I looked down. To my surprise, instead of hanging my legs over the side of the bed, I had them tucked under me. Hurriedly, I straightened out and let them hang in front of me. And then deliberately moved my knees a few inches apart, for good measure. Given the length of my skirt, it wasn’t actually immodest.

“I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, Marsh. Your feet don’t reach the ground and you’ve always been more comfortable – I mean, Marsha was always more comfortable – sitting the way you just were.”

“Yeah, well I don’t usually do that. Am I picking up any more of… her… habits?”

“How should I know?” Tina asked, impatiently. “I know Marsha very well, and I don’t really know your habits much at all. How am I supposed to know which ones you never did? Besides, why does it really matter?”

I bit my lip. “Maybe it doesn’t,” I admitted. Unless I do manage to change back and find myself acting girly still, I thought, but didn’t say aloud. “It just bothers me that I didn’t realize I was doing them. It’s almost as though Marsha is still in here, somewhere, and is trying to get her body back when I’m not paying attention.”

“Whoooo…” Tina said in a spooky tone and then laughed. “Like Invasion of the Zombie Catchers!”

Body Snatchers,” I corrected her, also laughing.

“What did I miss?” asked Tara, coming back into the room while we were laughing. Mom wanted to talk to me about what I was going to wear tomorrow. What are you guys wearing?”

“Mom bought us new matching dresses just for the pictures,” Tina told her, to my surprise. “They’re probably still in her room.”

“You guys are so lucky,” Tara exclaimed. “I wish I had a sister. Why couldn’t Joey have been a girl?” And then we wouldn’t explain why we laughed yet again.

Sleeping in the same bed as my sister was strange. I’d slept this close to girls before, but that was when I was a guy, and we were being intimate. It’s just not the same. We started sort of back to back, with me facing the wall and curling my arms in front of me. Sometime in the middle of the night, though, I woke up to find an arm wrapped around me, with Tina essentially spooning me. It took me several minutes to move her arm, because I didn’t want to wake her up and explain. Once I was free, I climbed out of the bed and watched her sprawl face down in the middle, and I spent the next half hour gently nudging her to her side so that I could get back into bed. By that time, I was so tired that I fell back into a dead sleep; I don’t think I would have noticed if she had bear-hugged me.

The next morning, all nine of us piled into two cars to go to the photo studio in the local mall, Tina and I now wearing matching pink dresses, and having spent over an hour fixing our makeup. Tina had to help me with mine, of course; while I had by now achieved a reasonable level of competence, I had nowhere near what proficiency she had gained after two years of practice. I had, however, developed awareness from watching my roommates that Tina’s skills were not quite up to what was expected of a girl my age. Between us, we did manage something reasonable.

Grandma had booked a fairly extensive shoot. We started with Tina, me, and our parents; then Tara and her family, Joey all alone as the only grandson, followed by the three of us granddaughters and then all of the grandchildren. The photographers posed us at least two different ways for each grouping. When Mom was called up to pose with her mother and brother, she sent me to retrieve Dad, who had walked away from us for a while, but would be needed for the final all-family shots.

I found him in the unused front studio, talking on his cell phone. As I reached him, I overheard him say, “… mirror… No, ‘Strangers in the Mirror,’” and froze. Who might he be talking to?

“You’re sure?” he continued after a pause, not having noticed me come in. Then, “I see… yes, that’s certainly possible… I’d appreciate that… OK, I’ll tell her… Yeah, thanks, Rick. ‘Bye.”

I backed out of the studio and waited until I heard him hang up the phone. Then I knocked on the open door. “Daddy? Mom sent me. We need you again.”

He turned. “Oh, hi, Princess. I was just about to come back.”

After we had finished the shoot, getting two poses with the full family, Dad suddenly announced. “I haven’t seen my older daughter for some time, because of school. Would the rest of you mind if I took her for ice cream while we’re waiting for the pictures to be ready?”

Of course, nobody else minded; I suspect that most of them were going to start gift shopping in the meantime, but I was a bit surprised. It was only 11:30; that seemed kind of early for ice cream. Obviously, Dad wanted to talk to me, and maybe I would find out what his phone call was about.

“This is kind of an odd lunch,” I commented, as we sat down, him with a cone and me with a sundae.

“Just keeping up our tradition, Princess,” he smiled. “Are you enjoying your break?”

“Aside from my little freak out yesterday, you mean?”

“Aside from that,” he agreed. He still seemed pretty casual, so I figured I couldn’t be in too much trouble.

“Well, it’s nice to have some time off,” I started. “And I’m enjoying the time with Tara and Tina.” The three of us had talked for almost two hours before falling asleep last night. Or more precisely, the two of them had talked, with me offering rare comments. Tara was apparently going through something of a boy-crazy stage, and wasn’t all that eager to talk about too many other subjects. Not having a boyfriend or even a crush had made anything I had to say much less interesting to her.

“That’s good,” Dad said, interrupting my short reverie. “Marsha,” he continued, sounding just a bit uncomfortable, “I spoke with Rick Peterson, an old classmate of mine who is in the Dean’s office up at Piques…”

So that’s whom he had been talking to. Maybe he hadn’t fooled himself last night as thoroughly as I had assumed.

“He told me that there was indeed no time-travel experiment on campus.” At my look, he hurriedly added, “Not that I really expected there to be, but I just wanted to see if there was anything like it. There wasn’t, of course.”

I nodded. The administration’s concealing of the experiment, assuming that was what had happened, was finally working in my favor.

“On the other hand, he did tell me about a very interesting article in the local paper…”

I inhaled sharply in surprise, and he raised his eyebrows. “I thought you might know something about it. Some Piques students making the same claims you had about a time travel experiment? He said that they had been trying to locate the students responsible for this… hoax. I take it you know who they are?”

I nodded slowly, tensing up just a bit.

“Were you involved in this article?”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “I… met them only afterwards.”

“Mm hmm. These students… would they be the ‘Strangers in the Mirror’?”

I nodded.

“And was yesterday’s ‘freak out’ related to this group and the contents of the article?”

I nodded again.

Dad sighed. “Marsha, I’m a bit disappointed in you. You really upset your mother. Did you think that this little hoax was funny?”

I shook my head.

“And did that… that boy really proposition you like that?”

“Yes, he did,” I said. “And I really did… overreact. I was really upset about that.” He raised his eyebrows in surprise. “But,” I admitted, “It had nothing to do with the Strangers in the Mirror thing.”

“Oh. OK.”

We sat silently eating our ice cream for a moment. I wasn’t quite sure where he was going with this.

Suddenly he grinned. “Princess, that is about the lamest hoax I have ever heard of! I’m glad you weren’t involved in thinking it up, but seriously. It wasn’t funny the first time they did it, and bringing it home to spring on your mother didn’t help. Tell me, did this group tell you what to say? Are they the ones who came up with the ‘missing cousin’ bit?”


“If you want to have a good hoax, I’d say that the first rule is that you not make your mother think you’re cracking up, OK?”

I nodded, thinking fast. He had found yet another way to misinterpret the facts, but who could blame him? I had already known that the ‘hoax’ angle was the one being put around by the Administration.

“And the next step is make sure it’s actually funny, at least in hindsight. I’ll tell you about a great hoax I heard about when your mother and I were at Piques. I don’t know where this happened, but apparently some college had a Civil War cannon mostly buried in the middle of a lawn. Those things are really heavy, but one morning the school woke up to find a hole there instead, with an enormous pile of dirt. The cannon was gone, but there was no sign of any heavy equipment that would have been needed to carry it away.”


“Any idea on how they might have done it?” he asked with a smile.

I thought about it for a while. “Um, could they have brought in large panels of something to protect the grass and driven a crane over them?”

“Good thought, but no. Panels like that would have left an impression. The grass around the hole was completely undisturbed.”

“Then I have no idea,” I admitted.

Dad chuckled. “Nor did anyone else, until they brought in the groundskeepers to put the dirt back into the hole. The cannon had never been moved. It was under the pile of dirt all along!”

We both laughed at that.

“You see?” he said, finishing up his cone. “That’s a great hoax. It got people very worried – a cannon like that is very valuable and probably irreplaceable – but ultimately, there was no harm done, except that a lot of people felt very foolish. Your time machine story, on the other hand, fails because all it does it make people think that the ones making the claim are crazy or lying.”

I nodded again. If he wanted to view this as a hoax, I didn’t see any way to prove him wrong, even if I wanted to. For all I knew, there might not be any evidence that the experiment had happened, other than the memories of a bunch of students. It all depended on what Eric found.

“So you owe your mother an apology,” he concluded. I opened my mouth to respond, but he cut me off. “Yes, I know you apologized last night, but I think your mother deserves the full explanation. I’ll tell her what I found out and then you can apologize again, this time. OK?”

I agreed, relieved. I had been afraid for a moment that he was going to make me tell Mom that it was a hoax, which would have put me in a really bad spot. If I did as he asked, I would be lying, and if I didn’t, he would think that I was lying. I was still sort of lying by omission, but that wasn’t as bad. At least that’s what I told myself.

“By the way, I do still expect you to follow the terms I set out for you. I want you calling your mother at least every other day. She worries about you, and wants to be sure that you tell her if you’re upset.”

I nodded.

“And I don’t want to hear another word about this, OK?”


“Good.” He leaned across the table and kissed me on the forehead. “Finish your ice cream and let’s get back to the family.”

77 A Question of Truth

“Jennifer Marsha Steen!” Mom exclaimed when Dad told her what he’d learned. “You lied to me?”

I went rigid at the accusation. My eyes rapidly scanned the wall of the study behind her while I tried to think of a way to answer the question. Obviously, I hadn’t lied about the experiment or Tyler, but if I claimed I hadn’t, Dad would call me out for lying. I tried to think back to all the things I had told her since break, what with trying to keep it a secret. I must have lied to her about something in that time, I decided, so I cringed and nodded, “I’m sorry, Mom.”

She sighed. “I’m not really sure what we can do to punish you, young lady. You’re grounded for the rest of this weekend, of course, but we can hardly enforce that when you’re back at school. And it’s not as if you seem to be going out a lot, anyway. You do understand how disappointed I am in you, I hope?”

“Yes, Mom.” I deserved that, I guess. I wonder what would have happened if I had told her the truth the first day.

“Did you think it was funny, getting me worried about you like that?”

“No, Mom.”

She put her hands on my shoulders and looked me straight in the eye. “Do you realize how disappointed I am right now, Marsh?”

I nodded quickly. I knew I had messed up, badly.

Suddenly, she pulled me into her arms. “Honey, I’m sure you didn’t mean to be deceitful, but you really shouldn’t be pulling pranks like this on your parents. Don’t you remember the story of the ‘boy who cried wolf’?”

I murmured, “Mm hmm” over her shoulder.

“Daddy and I are here to help you; please don’t pretend to be really upset when you’re not.”

“Mm hmm.” I said again. Of course, I had been upset – it hadn’t been an act – but I didn’t see any way to make them believe that, now. At least I couldn’t think of a way without somehow getting them to believe in the experiment, and I still wasn’t sure that I wanted to do that, even if I could.

“You’re such a good actress, honey; I don’t want to have to start taking that into consideration the next time you start crying.”

“I understand, Mom,” I told her.


“I’m really, really sorry, Mom.” I pushed myself away from her, reluctantly. “I’m sorry, Daddy.”

“OK, Princess,” he said, hugging me. Then he kissed the top of my head, and I automatically started to snuggle against his chest, until I realized what I was doing. Eyes wide, I forced myself to wait a few seconds before gently pushing away. He was smiling, and so was Mom, so it appeared that the worst was over.

“I’m going to go spend some time with Tina and Tara,” I ventured, and when they nodded, I fled.

My sister and cousin weren’t in our room when I checked, so I changed from my ‘photography’ dress into a blouse and skirt, while trying to figure out why Dad being affectionate was having that effect on me. It was the second time in as many days that I had turned girly when he cuddled me.

I found Tara and my sister in the TV room, watching Enchanted on DVD. I’d really enjoyed that movie – it was corny, sure, but it was a real movie musical, with a great sense of humor. I’d taken Maddy to see it, back when we were still enjoying being together.

“What was it this time?” Tina asked as I joined them on the coach.

“Well, I’m grounded for the weekend,” I told her with a shrug.

“What did you do?” Tara asked.

“It’s not really important,” I replied, definitely not wanting to push the ‘hoax’ angle any further than Dad already had. Tara stared at me, wide-eyed and admiring.

“Boy, you don’t talk much of a game, but you’re a serious bad girl, aren’t you?”

I gaped at her, while Tina choked with laughter between us.

Tara looked confused. “What? What’s so funny?”

“It’s the idea of Marsh as a ‘bad girl,’” Tina laughed.

“I think you’ve sort of misunderstood something,” I added. “I was grounded for… well, something kind of tame that I would rather not discuss.”

“And what about that guy…?”

“Oh, please. I told you, that was just another misunderstanding. I didn’t do anything.”

“OK…” she said, not looking particularly convinced. It was as if she didn’t want to be convinced. I’d have to find time to ask Tina what Marsha and Tara’s relationship had been like. At least she didn’t pursue the matter.

We watched the movie for a few more minutes before Tara looked at me again, and said, “I just remembered what I wanted to ask you, Marsh. Do you remember a girl named Sarah Harrison?”

The movie had gotten to the part where Giselle sings. “How Does She Know You Love Her?” with random Central Park goers, to Robert’s consternation. It’s one of my favorite scenes, so I wasn’t really paying attention to Tara, but when she mentioned the name, I suddenly remembered a girl I’d known slightly when I was about ten or eleven, so I nodded.

“We were in…” I started to explain, when I suddenly realized where I though I knew her from and my heart skipped a beat. Impossible. But I finished, “um… in something together.”

“Girl Scouts, right?”

“Um… sure,” I agreed, causing Tina to swing around and stare at me.

Tara, of course, was oblivious. “She’s my boyfriend’s big sister,” she explained, “and when he told me they used to live in Rosemont, I asked if they knew you guys, and Sarah said she remembered you. Were you close?”

“Um, not… not all that close,” I muttered, heart pounding. Tina was still staring at me, and I really wanted to talk to her alone, but Tara showed no sign of conveniently leaving the room.

“Well, I think it’s pretty neat,” Tara went on. “I mean, what are the chances that you’d know my boyfriend’s sister from when you were a little girl?”

“Ah… I’m at least as surprised as you are,” I told her. My ability to concentrate on the movie was shot now, and I really, really needed to talk this out. What in the world was happening to me?

I tried watching the movie, forcing myself to be calm. I was not going to do another freak-out and have my parents come down on me again. I was not going to call further attention to myself if I could help it. But I really needed Tara to leave for just a few minutes.

Then I had an idea. “Hey, anybody want a drink?” I asked, suddenly. The other girls nodded, so I ran to the kitchen for a big bottle of soda and three glasses. It took until nearly the end of the movie, and I actually had to use the bathroom before she did, but Tara eventually asked us to pause the movie so she could answer the call of nature.

Tina turned to me as soon as our cousin was out of the room. “Girl Scouts?”

“All I know,” I answered, “is that when Tara mentioned this girl’s name, I suddenly had this memory of her wearing a Girl Scout uniform, and there were a lot of other girls around wearing the uniform, too.”

“And you…?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I was just hanging out with them for some reason, you know, as a guy. Maybe it was some kind of combined Boy Scout / Girl Scout thing. I mean, I was in Boy Scouts. But what if it was a Girl Scout meeting and I was one of them? What if I’m remembering part of Marsha’s life? What if I have some of her memories?”

“That would be… kind of weird, wouldn’t it?” Then she tilted her head, trying to think it out. “Wait, don’t you have some of her memories? Isn’t that how you’re able to sew?”

“No, all I have is her reflexes – I think. All my actual memories are my own, as far as I know. At least they have been. Memories of being Marshall. It’s going to be weird if I also remember parts of her life. What if her memories start replacing my own?”

“I… I don’t know.”

“And I keep acting all girly around Dad. I don’t like this, Teen.”

“I don’t know what to say, Marsh.”

I looked at her carefully. I was almost afraid to ask her, but… “Teen… you know… if her memories do all take over… you’d have Marsha back. You wouldn’t have to deal with… well, me. Wouldn’t that makes things easier for you?”

She looked away and started fidgeting. “That’s… I’m not sure how to answer that, Marsh. Marshall. I mean, I was really upset when you started acting all strange, and said you were a boy, and all, but… I mean, you’re my si– my sibling. I don’t want to lose you. Sure, I’d love to have Marsha back, but…” She turned to face me. “Marsh, please don’t put me on the spot like this. I don’t know what I’m supposed to say.”

“I don’t either, Teen. I don’t either.”

78 Pleasant Memories

“What do you mean, ‘she’s not coming’?”

I was in the dining room, putting away some of Grandma’s dishes while everybody else was getting ready to go out to a movie, when I heard her raise her voice in the kitchen.

“She’s grounded, Mom,” my mother answered, “and that’s for the entire weekend.”

“Why?! Why are you punishing me? I want to take my family out to a movie, and you’re saying that my eldest grandchild cannot come?”

“It’s not…” Mom protested. Then she sighed in exasperation. “Look, Mom, this is a discipline issue, and it is between Art, Marsha, and me.”

“But I’m affected.”

“Somebody else is always going to be affected, Mom!”

“So why can’t you make it start tomorrow morning, Miriam? What is so serious that she can’t just come to see a movie with us?”

At that point, I had finished putting away the dishes, and left the dining room by the other door; I really didn’t want to listen to Mom and Grandma arguing. Mom wasn’t going to give in, and I can’t say that I really cared all that much. Sure, I really did want to see Princess and the Frog, as I’d heard really good things about it; but I could probably persuade some of my friends to go with me back at school.

Of course, Grandma wasn’t the only one angry: Tina had been outraged on my behalf when I told her why I was grounded.

“You’re being punished for telling the truth? That’s not fair!” she’d whispered as we cleared the dishes after lunch.

“Yeah, but I don’t think I want them to believe the truth, and anyway, I don’t think they’d believe me at this point, so telling the truth is sort of lying, here.”

“What if I told them that I believed you?”

“Then I’d just be in even more trouble for getting you to go along with the ‘hoax’ after they had specifically told me to drop it,” I’d pointed out. “At this point, the easiest thing to do is to leave things alone.”

She hadn’t liked it, and now, when everybody was getting ready to go out, she seemed to be feeling guilty about leaving me behind. “Marsh,” she said, while putting on her coat, “do you want me to stay with you? Maybe we can go to the movie together another time.”

I just hugged her and laughed. “I’ll be fine,” I told her. “Really. Go have a good time. I want to look over the music for Sweeney Todd, and I don’t think anyone is going to enjoy hearing me sing right now.”

“What are you talking about? You’ve got a beautiful voice!”

I lowered my voice to reply. “Marsha had a beautiful voice. I haven’t really even tried singing for real since… since I wound up in her body. I have no idea what’s going to happen, but it probably won’t sound much like what the family expects from her. Besides, this music is kind of hard. I’m going to be hitting a bunch of wrong notes and bad rhythm, and stuff.”

“You want me to coach you?”

I smiled. “Another time. Thanks for the offer.”

“OK,” she said, finally accepting that I meant it.

Mom even came over to me before she walked out, and said, “Marsh, I do hope you understand…”

“I do, Mom,” I assured her. “Have a great time.”

I breathed a sigh of relief when the door finally closed behind them. I really did need ‘alone time’ just now; with the family around, it was impossible simply to sit and think for any length of time without interruptions, except at night. Talking things over with Tina had led only to more questions; what I needed was answers. I needed to understand what was happening with my memory.

While heading back up the guest room for my iPod and Sweeny Todd sheet music, I tried to search my memory for anything that would have to be a ‘Marsha’ memory. I think my biggest fear would be remembering making out with her longtime boyfriend, Dirk. The very idea made me shudder.

But try as I might, I couldn’t positively identify any memories as specifically from Marsha. No memory of her dates, or wearing dresses before midterm break, or anything that only a girl would remember. But did that mean that I didn’t really have any of Marsha’s memories? Or just that I didn’t know what to try to remember? How could I know if I was remembering a memory that I don’t remember remembering before I changed?

Eventually, I gave up and turned to the music. I’d been listening to the recording for a while, so I ventured, Mrs. Lovett’s By The Sea. I had no illusions that – even with Marsha’s vocal cords – I had any shot at one of the leads, but I do like singing Sondheim, and even my usual spot in the chorus would be a lot of fun.

I couldn’t tell if I was doing justice to the song. It’s one of the easiest in the show, so it didn’t me all that long to learn it – or at least well enough to sing it on pitch; projecting, the way a lead would, was another matter. There were real differences in the way my diaphragm felt when I tried for support. If my sewing experience was any hint, I was going to need a lot of coaching to unlock the potential my body was supposed to have. That would have to wait until winter break, I figured.

My next attempt was Green Finch and Linnet Bird, Johanna’s main song. It’s a bit trickier, melodically and, to my surprise, too high for my new voice. So either Marsha – or rather, I – was a mezzo, or I just didn’t know how to coax those high notes out. It didn’t really matter; there’s plenty of work for mezzos in the chorus, but by this point my throat was starting to get a bit sore from the straining, and I decided to stop.

I had one more thing I wanted to do. Something I needed privacy for much more than either puzzling through my memories or experimenting with my voice. Something that harkened back to that conversation I had had with Nikki in the costume room.

I remember her casually picking out costumes and handing them to me, talking as she went; talking about the show, the costumes, things she and Alvin had planned – almost everything but the delicate subject she had intimated we would be discussing. Finally, I’d felt the need to broach it myself.

“Um, Nikki…”

She didn’t say anything, just stopped talking and looked at me, waiting for me to go on.

“You said that we were going to talk about…” I’d paused again, hoping she would interrupt. “I mean, you said we needed to have a private chat…”

She’d just kept looking at me, and I’d finally realized she was going to make me say it. So I took a breath. “I mean, you laughed when I said that I thought… um… female orgasm wasn’t all that special.”

She’d taken the clothing out of my hands and made me sit down.

“You sure you were a boy? You seem really uncomfortable with the subject. I thought boys liked to talk about sex.” She was smiling, but it had really felt like a bit of a dig.

“It’s just… I mean, it’s one thing to talk about sex with other guys, as a guy. You know, if you’re…” I’d sighed uncomfortably. “… if you and your girlfriend are… getting it on… but we didn’t actually go into details. You know…?”

“I know. Alvin and I have discussed this. Well, Marsh, girls do talk about sex in a bit more detail, I think. But the answer you are looking for, I think, is that it should be every bit as pleasurable for a girl as it is for a boy.”

“But then…” I was confused. I was so sure that I had followed her instructions, and yet I hadn’t felt anything particularly great.

“But it’s usually a lot harder for a girl to climax than it is for a boy. On the other hand, we can, or at least some of us can, achieve multiple climaxes in a row.”

“Well, that sounds pretty good.”

“Mm hmm. It just takes practice.”

My face must have fallen at that point, because she’d grinned at me, and added, “There is a shortcut, you know.” I’d perked up, eager to learn this ‘shortcut.’”

“Have you ever heard of a vibrator?” she asked me.

I was back to confused. “You mean, like for sore muscles?”

Her laughter was not mean, but it had been pretty obvious that I’d said something stupid. “Oh, Marsh, I keep forgetting how naïve you can be. I guess a lot of boys don’t know too much about them, but the main – or at least a main – purpose of vibrators is to aid in female masturbation.”

“Oh.” I was really glad that nobody else had been around, because I was horribly embarrassed, and that was just talking with Nikki. “So, I need to buy… a vibrator? I’m not sure I can afford–”

“Well first of all, you might already have one. You don’t – or rather, I should say, Marsha didn’t – have a boyfriend, so there’s a pretty good chance she owned one.”

“Well, how do you know she even… you know…”

“Masturbated? Certainly, there’s a chance she didn’t, but… I think most girls do. It’s harmless and pleasurable, so why not?”

“Oh…” I had stammered, “I guess I’ll just have to search my room. Maybe she hid it in the closet or under some clothes or something.”

“Why don’t you do that?”

So when I got back to my room, I checked my dresser and sewing basket without success, and then realized that I couldn’t see what was on the shelf in the closet, since it was so far above my head. By standing on my desk chair and rooting around in the back, I found my prize. Now it was just a question of finding the right time to try it.

That time had finally come. So it was with a combination of embarrassment and eagerness that I went back upstairs. According to the clock, the family couldn’t possibly be back in less than an hour, assuming that they came right home as soon as the movie was over; chances are, they would go out for ice cream or something.

There was no mirror in our bedroom, so I looked at myself in the one in the bathroom, once again adjusting my clothing to simulate a skimpy skirt and blouse. It didn’t seem to be having quite the same impact on me that it had, previously, although I wasn’t sure if that was due to the circumstances, or just the repetition. I might really have to see if I could somehow justify buying a sexy outfit for real.

I might not have been as turned on as I’d hope, but I was still feeling something, so I went into the bedroom and closed the door. Even though I was alone in the house, having the door closed still felt more private. Then I took off all my clothing and got into bed.

Nikki had suggested a lot of exploration all up and down my body with this new toy, if only to get a feel for how it worked. I probably spent a good half hour stimulating everything from my shoulders to my breasts, to my calves. It was definitely a nice feeling. Finally, I felt that I was ready for the ‘main event.’ I took a deep breath and applied it between my legs. The sensation was a lot stronger than I had expected, and I pulled it away.

I had to experiment a bit with more and less pressure, and different positions, but it started to feel really… nice. The feeling got more and more intense and then suddenly, it hit and I actually climaxed – and nearly fell off the bed in surprise. I suppose I should have expected it, but I hadn’t. Somehow I hadn’t really believed that it was going to happen. And… I was aware that I had actually cried out right at that moment. I was very glad that nobody else was in the house.

But… I was still alone, and I remembered that girls don’t need the recovery time that boys do, so I tried again. Um… and again. As Nikki had said, it was pleasurable, and it didn’t hurt anybody, so why not?

I guess I might have overdone it, just a bit. I was rapidly approaching yet another climax, when I suddenly heard the door open downstairs. I felt the orgasm hit me, and in a panic, forced my mouth shut so that I wouldn’t cry out.

It was very uncomfortable, then, when I heard Tina call me. “Marsh? We brought you some ice cream!”

I was seriously out of breath. I was naked. I was still in the midst of a fairly intense orgasm. And my sister was on her way up to the room!

I managed to get the vibrator turned off, rolled off the bed, and pulled the cover after me. When Tina opened the door, which I had foolishly neglected to lock, I was panting on the floor, but unfortunately not hidden by the bed. She stared at me.

“Marsh, what are you doing?”

“I…” I gasped, “I… I just…”

Then I saw the box that the vibrator had come in, sitting out on the floor. Tina followed my eyes and spotted it, too. My sister is no dummy, and apparently knew a bit more about vibrators than I had, because she quickly closed the door and starting laughing.

I stared at her in outrage, or tried so. I tried to catch my breath, but I couldn’t, because even as the climax left me it was replaced by laughter. I think if Tina had ever caught me like this when I was boy, I would have been really upset, but somehow… somehow…

Well, let’s just say that I am glad to have found something to laugh about because I was a girl.

79 Cold Realities

“Oh, Marsh,” Tina laughed, while trying to sound sympathetic at the same time, “I didn’t mean to walk in on you like that!”

“My fault,” I acknowledged, sheepishly. “I lost track of the time.”

“Do you do that a lot?”

“No! I mean… this is the first time, I’ve… well, my first time.”

“Really?! You mean, all this time…? I had the impression that guys did it a lot, so I just assumed…”

“I… I didn’t know how, OK?” I said, more than a little embarrassed. “It’s different for boys. I had to ask a friend, and I found this in my closet, and… this was the first time I’d gotten a chance to try.”

Tina  bit her lip, probably to keep from laughing at me. “Um, why don’t I just leave you alone so you can get dressed? Grandma bought ice cream for the four of us and we’re eating it in the kitchen.”

She left before I could say anything more, which was probably just as well. I would have liked to shower as well, but was afraid to take the time, if they were really waiting for me.

The ice cream – a butterscotch sundae – was delicious, and I concentrated on it and tried to ignore the excited talk about the movie. Even Joey was excited, and I couldn’t remember too many times in the last half dozen or so years I’d ever seen him excited about anything but cars.

“You really missed something great, Marsh,” Joey declared. “Is there a 3-D movie theater near your school?”

I tried to think; usually, we just watched movies on-campus, and they tended to be a bit older films. “I’m not sure – I might have to watch it in 2-D.”

“You don’t want to do that, Marsh,” Tara insisted. “You’ll miss half of the impact of the movie.”

My cousins seemed really enamored of this movie. I couldn’t imagine what the big deal was, and I shrugged. “I guess I’ll have to wait until Christmas break, then. Just means that I’ll have to figure out somebody else to go with.” That would be very strange. Obviously, I couldn’t go out with my old group. Chad would be OK with it, I was sure, but I had the impression that the other guys hadn’t been that close to Marsha.

“Don’t you have any girlfriends that you hang out with over the summer?” Tara asked, looking puzzled.

I hesitated a moment, at least in part because, to me, “girlfriend” still meant a girl I had dated, even though I had learned to use it in the sense that Tara intended. But even then it wasn’t all that easy. Marsha’s “girlfriends,” according to Chad, were Dinah, Maddy, and one other girl I couldn’t remember. But the only one I really knew was Maddy, and she would be a problem. Not only did she count as a former “girlfriend” in the way I was used to using the term, the way we had ended our relationship would make going to the movies with her kind of awkward for me.

“I’ve… sort of lost touch with them,” I finally said. “At least, I haven’t spoken with them in some time.”

“But you need to fix that, Marsh,” my cousin advised me, looking very serious. “You were in Girl Scouts. Don’t you remember singing, ‘Make new friends, but keep the old…’?”

… One is silver and the other gold, I finished in my head. I did remember that, although I hoped that I remembered it from Tina singing it, and not from hearing it at Girl Scout meetings. “Yeah, I suppose I should call, or something.” That would be strange, though; I’d have no idea what to say to them. Maybe it would be easier to let one of them call me.

But the idea of calling up old girlfriends reminded me of something I did need to take care of on my own. Vicky. We hadn’t spoken since that dance, and I was trying to be more proactive, so…

“I’ll call one of my girlfriends tomorrow,” I promised. “I guess it’s too late, now.”

Tara nodded approvingly, while Tina, who had been quiet through most of the conversation gave me that curious look that I was seeing a lot this weekend. I was pretty sure I knew what it meant. I had said something that she wanted to ask me about, but couldn’t in front of somebody who wasn’t supposed to be in on my secret. And with Tara sharing the bedroom with us, we had to look hard for opportunities to speak privately.

In the meantime, I had to worry about what exactly I was supposed to say to Vicky. She was the one who had walked out on me, and my inclination would normally have been to wait until she was over her mad and called me, but I was trying not to be so passive about things. And that just reminded me of Chad’s comment about letting Eric do all the hard lifting in trying to find the guys responsible for all this, and that reminded me of Eric and the fact that I hadn’t heard from him yet…

“Hello? Earth to Marsha…” I looked up to see my sister waving her hand in front of my face.

“Oh! I did it again, didn’t I?” I said, coming out of my reverie.

“’Again’? Are you doing this space cadet thing a lot, lately?”

“I guess… I’ve just had a lot on my mind, lately.”

“Tell us,” demanded Tara. Then with an eye toward her brother, she added, “This could get really girly, Joe, so you might not want to be here.”

Joey said, “I’m going,” and gobbled the rest of his ice cream so quickly that I winced, imagining the brain freeze he had just assured himself. But he just laughed and walked out, dropping the remains of his sundae in the trash.

Tara looked at me expectantly, while Tina looked simply curious.

“No, no, nothing girly,” I protested. “I just had a fight with… with one of my girlfriends. She walked out when my roommate sort of fixed me up with that guy I told you about.”

“The one you slow-danced with?”

“Mm hmm.”

“And why did this girl care?”

Oops. I couldn’t exactly tell Tara the real reason, so I paused for a second to think. “I guess she… just didn’t think it was appropriate for me… plus, she despised my roommate.”


Now I wasn’t sure which point she was asking about, so I answered the second, since I had a mostly easy answer. “Um… well, she says that Lee Ann stole her old boyfriend.”

That got Tina’s attention, too. “And did she?” my sister asked.

“Well,” I started, now having to confront the situation myself, “Lee Ann had been sort of flirting with the guy, but not seriously, since she has a long-term off-campus boyfriend. But the guy didn’t know that, and sort of cooled down towards Vicky – my friend – and she sort of let him go.”

“Why did she let him go?” Tara demanded.

The question took me aback. I had mostly focused on my own behavior, and it hadn’t even occurred to me to question Vicky’s. “I… I don’t know. I guess she thought she’d lost him and was just getting out of his way.”

Tara didn’t buy it. “That’s stupid,” she said. “If another girl was flirting with my boyfriend and he started buying into it, I wouldn’t let him go so easily. It sounds to me as though she really didn’t care so much about him.”

“No!” I protested. “She said that he was the best boyfriend she’d ever had, and after… after she had some other issues come up in her life, she tried to get him back.”

“And what happened then? Did he take her back? And if he was such a great boyfriend, why was he flirting with your roommate and why did Vicky let him go?”

“I… don’t know.” I didn’t have any good answers, never having thought all of this through. “I always thought… well that the two of them had just sort of decided they weren’t interested anymore. She says not, though.”

“And what about the guy? Did he take her back?”

‘Um… I think he would have… I mean, I know he would have… but he had to… um, he left campus and… he’s not around any more.”

Tara sat back and crossed her arms. “Well, that sucks. No wonder your friend doesn’t like your roommate. I mean, the guy sounds like a real jerk, but Vicky sounds like a wimp or something. Or maybe she just doesn’t think she deserves to have a ‘great boyfriend.’ You probably just got caught in the middle of her fight with Lee Ann.”

Nikki had said sort of the same thing, now that I thought about it. She had asked if Vicky had self-esteem problems, and we hadn’t pursued the question. Now I really felt that I needed to speak with her. If she was feeling bad about herself, it sure sounded as though I had contributed to that.”

“I think you’re probably right about the guy,” I admitted. “I’ll call her first thing in the morning and talk things out.”

“Yeah, and if she’s hurting over him enough, she’s going to need a good friend to talk to.” She put down her empty ice cream cup. “Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired. You guys ready for bed?”

Tina and I looked at each other. “We’ll be right up,” she said, and waited until Tara had left.

“So, Vicky is the girlfriend you meant?” Tina asked, lowering her voice so that we wouldn’t be overheard. “About calling, I mean?”

“Yeah, I have no idea what I’m going to do about Maddy and Dinah.”

“What was the fight really about?”

I put up my hands. “It was pretty much as I said, except that I was the boyfriend who had been flirting with Lee Ann… and Vicky was upset about my going along with the dancing thing. She really doesn’t like it when I do girl things.”

Tina twisted her face. “She’s going to have to get used to it, isn’t she?” Then she laughed. “I guess it’s a good thing she didn’t hear you last night,”

“I guess so,” I nodded, still embarrassed about how I had reacted to Dad.

My sister stood up and came over to hug me. “I know this is really hard for you, Marsh, but you really shouldn’t be embarrassed. You’re a girl, and you’re going to be doing girl things and acting girly, more or less. You’re not quite the same as Marsha; I know her – knew her, I guess – better than most people, and I see a difference. I mean, I known you – her – all my life. You’re strong, and I’ve always looked up to you. I know that you’ll be fine.”

“I guess I’m pretty lucky, at least,” I told her, “I can’t even imagine going through all this without somebody close to talk with. And I’m somebody who never thought that having somebody to talk feelings with was important.” Our eyes met. “Thanks, Teen. I’m going to finish my ice cream and I’ll be right up.”

80 Cutting Corners

Grandma cornered me the next morning when I came down for breakfast.

“Would you like to tell me what this is all about, Hon?” she said, crossing her arms.

“Well, it’s really something between me, Mom and Dad,” I protested. “I don’t think I should talk about it.”

“Marsha, I just had to go out with the family without you. I don’t get to see you that often, and I think I should be allowed to know why. Exactly what did you do?”

“Um,” I dithered, looking over my shoulder. “I really really don’t want to discuss it…”

“Afraid of being overheard? Fine. Let me take you out for breakfast and we can have a private chat.”

“You can’t, Grandma. I’m grounded, remember? I can’t go anywhere. Not until we all leave as a family.”

“Very convenient,” she scowled at me. “OK… fine. I won’t press you now. But I expect a phone call next week, and I want you to tell me all about it. Can I count on you, Marsh?”

“I have rehearsals all next week, Grandma. I’m going to be kind of busy until pretty late…” Then I saw the determined look in her eyes and hurriedly added, “but I can call you when I get back from rehearsal, if it’s not too late.” Next week at least gave me a few days to decide what to tell her. It would be so much easier if I could just lie to her and have her drop the subject, but I knew that wouldn’t work.

“I’m usually awake until ten o’clock. If you can’t call during the week, I expect a call by Saturday at noon. Is it a promise?”

I sighed. “I promise, Grandma. I’ll call you.”

I called Vicky a bit after lunch, and she answered in kind of a neutral tone. “Hi, Marsh… what’s up?”

What’s up? After all that I’d agonized over calling her, I’d been expecting a bit more than that.

“Um, I just called to see how you were feeling.”

“Oh,” she answered, still showing no particular enthusiasm, “I guess I’m alright.”

“You don’t sound alright,” I observed. When she didn’t answer, I pressed on. “I guess I was really hoping you would call. You were really upset when you walked out on me at that dance.”

“Well, you gave me reason to be, didn’t you?” she said, sulkily.

“I didn’t do anything to you, Vixy. All I did was try to be social, and you practically took my head off.”

“Well, what do you expect?” she grumped. “Do you have any idea how hard this is for me?”

“For you?!” I automatically snapped back. “How do you think it’s–” Then I caught myself. I’m going to be more in control, I had told myself. I am going to be more mature, I’d said and meant it, my little meltdown in front of Mom and Dad notwithstanding. Biting my lip, I explained, “I’m going through an awful lot, Vix. I’m just trying to get by.”

“Well, you seem to adapting pretty quickly,” Vicky said, bitterly. “Got right back into that boy’s arms, didn’t you?”

“What? What are you talking about?” I was pretty sure that she had left before Lee Ann had browbeaten me into taking the slow dancing seriously. I was really glad that she didn’t know about that.

“Well, I…” she paused and I heard her take a breath. “I sort of called Lee Ann a couple of days later, and warned her to lay off you. I told her you weren’t interesting in boys, at least not just then.” Her voice turned saccharine. “And guess what she told me? That you went right back on the floor and threw yourself into his arms and generally had a really cuddly high old time.”

“Well, that’s not–”

She cut me off. “So how do you expect me to feel? Not only are you turning all girly and flirting with boys, you apparently now even have a boyfriend! And I’m not sure if I do. You’re not supposed to be out-feminizing me, Marsh. It’s not fair! You’re supposed to be my boyfriend! Not another girl competing for the few decent guys on campus! It’s not fair!”

“Vicky…” I said, trying to be placating.

“What?” she snarled at me.

“I don’t think Lee Ann gave you quite an accurate picture.”

“Oh?” Her challenging tone might have put my back up, but her reactions had brought to mind Nikki’s analysis, that she was seeing me as a girl standing between her and Marshall. It made it easier to be sympathetic. While she was obviously not going through what I was, she was having a hard time of her own. I’d always sort of been the strong one in our relationship, hadn’t I?

“In the first place, you missed the bit where Lee Ann jumped down my throat for being rude to Bill. She forced me to go back on the dance floor with him, and told me that I was being rude and unreasonable.”

“But you enjoyed it, didn’t you?” she said, skeptically.

“Well… I guess, sort of yes and no. I mean, having somebody hold you in their arms is sort of nice.”

“Even a guy? A guy who’s putting the moves on you? Where exactly did he put his arms, Marshall?”

Be mature, I reminded myself. Be calm. “He put his arms around my back, above my waist. That’s it. He didn’t fondle me, or anything like that. And he has a steady girlfriend, and he didn’t come on to me at all. We just danced. Nothing else. Vicky, he didn’t even offer to walk me home or ask for my phone number. Nothing.”

“Hmm,” she replied, sounding as though she might be accepting this, however grudgingly. “But you still enjoyed it.”

“And what if I did? Is that so wrong? Vicky, I’m asexual. I’m not attracted to boys or girls, but having anybody hug you can be comforting, if they’re friendly about it. I don’t know what’s going on with you and Kevin, but you have a chance for a relationship. How do you think I feel about that? Don’t you know how much that hurts me? That he can be a guy with you, and I can’t? Knowing that you should have been mine, were mine, and now we can’t be together? Not unless Eric…”

“Oh. I guess… I guess I wasn’t really thinking about that.”

“But you know what? I’m going to be happy for you, if things work out. I’m going to hate it for me, but I’m going to be happy for you, ‘cause you deserve it, and I can’t be there with you. I’m going to happy for you, because I want you to be happy, because that’s what it means when you lo– when you really care about somebody.”

She didn’t say anything for what seemed an eternity, but was probably no more than about fifteen seconds. When she finally spoke, it was in a quiet, pleased voice. “Thank you, Marsh. That really means a lot to me. I… I’m sorry for what I said. I know what you’re going through is horrible – much worse than what I am. I just wish…”

“I know, Vix. I know.” Then I remembered what Tara had said yesterday. “Vicky… a few months ago, when we… when I started paying a lot of attention to Lee Ann… why did you just let me go? Why didn’t you fight with me and try to keep me?”

“What good would it have done?” Her tone was back to bitter, just a bit. “Lee Ann is really beautiful, and I could understand you wanting to upgrade. What chance did I have?”

“Vicky, what are you talking about? You’re beautiful.”

“That’s very kind of you to say so, but I’m realistic, Marsh. I expected you to move on, eventually. I always knew being your girlfriend was too good to last.”

“How can you say that? Vicky, you’re spectacular! I was really lucky to find you, and really stupid for letting you go. Lee Ann was a mistake. And I didn’t even know how bad a mistake until… well, until I turned into a girl and talked to her about her boyfriend. There was never any chance that she and I would have been together, any more than Geoff had a chance with her.”

“She should have made that clear.”

“She did. Or she tried to, but Chandra kept telling me – and Geoff – that she was on the verge of dumping her boyfriend, Stephen. I only just found out that it was all a lie – that Chandra was trying to break them up because she can’t stand Stephen.”

“What a bitch!” she exclaimed. I decided to believe that she meant Chandra, not Lee Ann.

“Yeah, but the point is,” I continued, “that I was stupid, and not just because of Stephen. You and I had something really special, and I should have been more sensitive to your feelings, and not paid so much attention to another girl. I’m really sorry, Vix.”

“Hmm. You know, Marsh, being a girl seems to have made you a bit more sensitive.”

“Oh, please don’t say that,” I laughed.

“So… when are you getting back to school?”

“Well, I’m not sure what time we’re leaving tomorrow, but I have to be back sort of early for our tech walk-through. We open on Friday.”

“That’s great!” she said, sounding honestly enthusiastic. “Are you excited?”

“You know I am. This is the biggest role I’ve ever had in my life. I mean, I’m a bit nervous, but I’m excited at the same time. Do you know which night you’re coming, yet?”

“I’ll have to talk to Kevin. Um… that’s OK if he comes with me, isn’t it?”

I must have choked slightly, because she immediately started backing off. “Oh, I mean, if it’s a problem, he doesn’t have to. I can go with my roommates, or by myself.”

“No,” I forced myself to say. “If he’s the guy you’re seeing, you should come together. I’m going to have to get used to you being… with him. I’ll just… well, I just have to get used to it.”

“We’re not exactly seeing each other, yet. I mean, we’ve only had a couple of dates…”

“Plus he’s taking you to both dances, House Parties weekend, right?”

“Mm hmm.” She actually sounded apologetic.

“Then that counts.”

“Marsh, I really am sorry. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

“I have to get over this, Vix. If I can’t change back, I’m just going to have to be a big… um… a big…” I laughed at myself a bit ruefully. If I couldn’t even say it…? “A big girl about this, won’t I?”

“Wow,” she said quietly, “that sounded really weird.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, “and you have no idea how weird it was to say. So… yeah, bring him. I need to check this guy out, for you, don’t I? Isn’t that what a girlfriend is supposed to do for you?”

“Brrr… I really don’t think I’m ready to think of you like that, Marsh. As a girlfriend. But, OK… if you get to campus earlier tomorrow, give me a call, OK?”

“Sure, Vix…” Then it started feeling kind of awkward. Had we said everything we needed to say? We might be seeing each other tomorrow; after all… maybe we needed to save something to talk about then? Not that any subjects immediately came to mind, not beyond this guy who had succeeded me, anyway. So I just moved to end the call. “It was great talking with you,” I told her.

“Oh. Good talking to you, too, Marsh. Bye.”

“Bye.” And we hung up. Girlfriend, huh? Yeah, that was definitely going to take some getting used to.