Archive for the ‘Section 6: An Attractive Nuisance’ Category.

82 Whispered Secrets

We left Sunday afternoon, with hugs and kisses all around. As we pulled onto the highway, Tina leaned over to me and whispered, “You seemed to getting along with Joey, near the end. Did he seem surprised?”

“What do you mean?” I whispered back.

“Well, maybe I forgot to mention it, but Marsha and he had been feuding for a few years.”

Mom had looked over her shoulder at us, briefly, but I suppose sisters whispering together isn’t unusual, so she turned back to talking with Dad. “I know,” I told Tina. “Joey and I sort of blew up at each other yesterday and cleared the air. I apologized, and I think our little feud is over.”

“Just like that?”

I shrugged. “He had a good point. I’m not saying I don’t wish he hadn’t sold the guitar, but… oh, well.”

“You seem to be… calmer than you were at the start of the weekend,” she observed.

“I don’t know if I’m resigned, or just tired. I hadn’t expected more drama at Grandma’s than we’re going to have on stage this coming weekend.”

Tina giggled at that. “I wish we could come up to see you.”

“Me, too. But Alvin said he was going to have somebody videotape it, so I’ll see if I can send you a DVD or something.”

The trip back to Piques was relatively uneventful. As promised, Mom and Dad didn’t say anything about my meltdown until we got to campus.

“Now, remember, Princess,” Dad reminded me as I kissed him goodbye, “You are to call your mother at least every other day.”

“I’ll remember, Daddy,” I said. I watched the family drive off and walked back to my room.

I called Vicky when I got back to my room, but she told me she was a couple of hours away from getting back, so I promised to call her after rehearsal, and spent the next hour reviewing my script.

“How was your weekend?” Jo greeted me when I saw her, just outside the theater room.

“Fine, thanks. How was yours?” I said automatically, and gave her a hug. Then I noticed her giving me a strange look. “Is something wrong?”

“Well, you must have had a great weekend. I don’t remember you being so huggy.”

“Oh. Yeah…” I answered, surprised. “Great…” I wasn’t conscious of being different, though. Hugging a friend after not seeing her for almost a week just seemed a natural thing to do.

As we walked in together, we could see how the stage had been transformed into the Great Hall of a large old home. Flats at the back and side had been painted in a Victorian style, with fake molding, and two  large arched windows, with additional flats behind them to represent the wintry outdoors. Doorways opened on both sides, with curtains behind them. Somehow, the set builders had found an eclectic mix of armchairs and sideboards to place around the walls.

“They did a great job, didn’t they?” I observed. A few of the actors were already on stage, walking around the set, so Jo and I joined them. We tried out some of our blocking, just to see how the set would affect it; the distances were almost certain to be different, and sitting in an armchair wasn’t quite the same as sitting on a folding chair.

We did that for a few minutes before Alvin hurried in, looking a bit flustered. “Sorry, I’m late, folks. Ran into a bit of traffic, getting back. Could the actors please get into costume? We’re going to set up the lighting now, and we’ll want to check light levels and colors.”

So we filed off the sides of the stages into the dressing rooms, where our costumes were waiting. I had two: one for the first scene, and one for the rest of the play, which is supposed to take place the following day; both were my own dresses, which Nikki had altered slightly to make more suitable for the period. Once we were all changed, we returned to the stage.

Some of the stage lighting was on, by then, and some guys I didn’t know, who were presumably the tech crew, were on ladders up the lights, which they had hung the previous week.

“OK, folks, let’s set up for the start of the show. All the props should be in place. See Bill if you can’t find yours. We’re going to walk through the show – we’ll be stopping at every light cue. Nikki will be on book this rehearsal, but by now I don’t expect anybody to need prompting. Just do your scenes until I stop you.”

I started, of course, since I am on stage for about a minute before anybody else. That made me the guinea pig. Alvin stopped me before I said my first line, so that they could adjust a light for my entrance, and then again just before I came back onstage after Jared’s entrance. And then we started again. And stopped. And started. By the time we reached the end of the first act, the actors were definitely starting to get tired.

The one good thing about the rehearsal from my perspective was that my brief times off-stage were much longer. That gave me a chance to talk to Nikki.

“How was your break?” I asked as I dropped into the vacant seat next to her.

“Not bad,” she answered. “I spent Thursday and Friday with my parents, and the weekend at Alvin’s house.”

“Nice. You get along well with his family?”

“Mh hmm. How about you?”

“Well, it was nice seeing the family, and I sort of resolved things with my cousin – you know, the one I blamed for selling Grandpa’s guitar?”

“Mm hmm.”

“But I also had some weird things happen with my memory. Did–” I broke off as Alvin came back and the actions started again, meaning that Nikki had to pay attention in case somebody dropped a line. When Alvin stopped the show again to work on the next lighting cue, I continued. “Has Ben found himself remembering anything from the wrong life? You know, the one where he plays guitar instead of basketball?”

“Not as far as he’s told me,” she replied. “Why?”

“Just wondering. I remembered something over break, and I’m just worried that it was Marsha’s memory, not mine.”

“Is that possible?”

“I have no idea. I don’t even know why I am in her life with my memories. I guess, my worry is that I might wind up losing my own memories.”

She looked at me, very concerned. “That’s scary.”

“I know.”

“Um… I don’t even know what to say about something like that.”


Then I really wished I hadn’t said anything, as I seemed to have killed the conversation. I guess it can be a real downer to tell somebody that you thought you could be… what? Dying? Going insane? Was there even an equivalent for what I might be facing? I needed to change the subject.

“I found … um, Marsha’s vibrator,” I said, lowering my voice in case Alvin came back in mid-conversation.


“It, um, worked,” I told her, suddenly a bit embarrassed. “But my sister walked in on my me.”

That made her laugh, although she stifled it as quickly as she could. And then we looked at each other and we both giggled. Then Alvin came back again and we had to stop. I was due back on stage again, soon, anyway.

We finished close to eleven o’clock, and I called Vicky as I left.

“Marsh!” she said. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t back before. The traffic…”

“Yeah, Alvin told us there was a lot of traffic. Is it OK to come over now?”

“Sure! How was your break?”

“Oh, you know,” I started, intending to answer the same non-committal way I had always answered such questions, when I remembered that “it’s fine” wasn’t going to be close to correct. So I changed mid-thought to, “Actually, not all that well. I mean, it’s been great to see the family and all, but I sort of told Mom and Dad about the experiment.”

I could hear the tension flow back into her voice. “Uh huh… and it didn’t go well, I take it?”

“I sort of freaked out. Did I ever mention my cousin Tyler?”

“I… don’t remember.”

I nodded to myself. I had hoped I had, but didn’t expect it. If I had done so, at least somebody else would have remembered him. “Well, he was younger than Tina, and he loved my guitar playing, and…” I stopped. It was still hard to say.

“Yes…?” she prompted me after a few seconds.

I took a deep breath and let it out. “In this new timeline, he doesn’t exist. He was never born.”

“Oh my gosh,” she said softly.

“Yeah, anyway, I didn’t find out until just before dinner, and I had been thinking about him a lot, and I really reacted badly when things seemed so normal even though he wasn’t there, and I freaked out, and told Mom about the experiment. Then she made me tell Dad, and neither of them believed me.”

“You can hardly blame them, can you?”

“No, I guess not. Anyway, Dad called somebody he knows in the Dean’s office and asked him about the Strangers and the guy told him it was all a hoax, and –”

“Wait,” she broke in, “you told somebody in the Dean’s office about Strangers in the Mirror?”

“Well, my Dad did, actually.”

“Marsh, as far we know, nobody associated with the college knows about the Strangers, or at least they don’t know any names. Now somebody knows your name and that you know the group.”

I felt my chest tighten. Not that I really believed any of Ian and Luke’s paranoia, but Vicky sure sounded as though she might, and was now about to blame me for something going wrong. “Well, they probably don’t know what the group name means,” I suggested, maybe a bit defensively. “I mean, it’s just something you guys called yourself in private, right?”

“Marsh, you’re not thinking. To somebody who knows about the experiment, the name is pretty much a dead giveaway. Obviously it has to mean the people who volunteered.”

“But wait…” I tried to think this out quickly. I didn’t want Vicky thinking badly of me, not when we had just made up after our fight. “Wouldn’t they already know who the volunteers are? I mean, couldn’t they get a list from the experimenters?”

“I… I don’t know,” she said, hesitantly. “I don’t think I’ve heard that point discussed, but you’re right, they ought to know… unless maybe Professor Davis wouldn’t give them the list? I mean, we don’t know if he cooperated with them.”

“Oh… right. You know, we also don’t know if the school did a cover up, or if they honestly think this is a hoax. If they think it’s a hoax, maybe they won’t care to find the group.”

“So we could figure out whether there was a cover up by how they react!” Now she sounded excited. “Marsh, this could be either really good or really bad.”

“So we need to go back to the group and tell them about it, right?”

“Um, actually, probably you shouldn’t. I think you need to stay clear of anybody in the Strangers for now. Just until we know if somebody actually might be following you.”

“Anybody?” I echoed, feeling chilled. “Does that mean you, too?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted.

“Well, I’m, like, just outside your dorm now. Do you want me to come in now or not?”

I heard her hesitate.

“You don’t seriously think anybody’s following me tonight, do you?” I said, after a moment.

“Um… probably not… but…”

I sighed. “Vix, I really hope this isn’t going to mean we can’t see each other.”


“Look, it’s kind of late anyway. Why don’t you think about it and call me, OK?”


I turned and walked back to my room, suddenly feeling more alone than I had in a long while.

83 These Eyes are Prying

Terry and I were sitting on her bed after classes on Monday, watching reruns of Heroes on her computer, while I tried vainly to ignore the fact that the most comfortable position for sitting on a bed was with my legs tucked under me, a clearly feminine posture. The problem was, my legs were too short to reach the floor and just letting them hang was tiring. Terry, of course, had no such problem; her feet were resting comfortably on the floor where they belonged.

Lee Ann poked her head in about fifteen minutes into the second episode. “Hey, I picked up the mail. This looks pretty official.” And she tossed a small envelope onto my lap.

I looked down and my heart froze.

“What is it?” Terry asked, pausing the show.

“It’s from the Dean’s office,” I replied, tearing it open, although I was pretty sure I already knew what it said.

“What’d you do?” Lee Ann asked.

I shook my head as I unfolded the note inside:

I was delighted to speak with your father, who is an old friend of mine, 
about you. I am eager to meet with you to set your mind at ease regarding
the pranks played by some of your friends. I hope you can make time for me
this week.
R. Peterson, Assoc. Dean of Students

There wasn’t anything revealing in it, so I handed it over to my roommates to goggle over.

Of course, I wasn’t fooled; this wasn’t a friendly note. The question was, what was I going to do about it? What if he was going to try pumping me for information on the Strangers? I really should tell Vicky about it, but she had told me not to contact her just now. I hoped that after she spoke with Ian and Luke, she would find a way for us to talk, but in the mean time…

“He’s a family friend?” Lee Ann asked.

“I think Dad went to school with him, that’s all, and now he’s decided to keep on eye on me, or something.”

“What’s this about pranks?”

“He means that time travel story; you know, the one that Jay keeps yelling at me about?”

“Why does a Dean care about that?” Terry wondered.

“I told my parents about it, and that I knew some of the people mentioned in the article, and Dad called this guy to find out the real story. So now he’s got to ‘reassure’ me.” I sighed. “This really isn’t great timing. We’re in Tech Week, and I’m already starting to get stressed out. This is the biggest role I’ve ever done, plus my EuroLit and Bio profs both announced that we’re behind schedule and we need to step up the amount of material we’re covering to get it all in before finals, and now this.”

“That really sucks,” Lee Ann said sympathetically, sitting next to me on the bed.

“Well, I know my lines, but there’s a lot of them, and that means a lot of things that can go wrong; a lot of chances for me to embarrass myself.”

“I don’t know how you do it; I’d die if I had to stand up in front of a whole bunch of strangers like that.” She started rubbing my back. “You are tense.”

Terry, sitting on my other side, nodded, “I know, I get that feeling all the time during games. There’s all those people watching, and half the time they’re hoping that I’ll mess us. You just have to keep focused.”

“Right,” I laughed. “At least people who come see me aren’t rooting against me. Thanks for the perspective, Terry.” My tension was definitely easing.

“So why do you need to have your mind set at ease?” Lee Ann asked. “Hey, you have to relax if this going to do you any good,” she added as I tensed up again at the question. I hadn’t thought of an explanation that I could give my roommates, and suddenly I had to think quickly of something that would be true but not revealing.

Fortunately, Ian and Luke’s behavior when I met them was enough. “Well, I met them and they seemed pretty worried that the college was going to come down hard on them.”

Terry scoffed. “For a hoax? Why?”

“I don’t know; maybe because the guy who wrote the story said that the administration was pestering him for their names.”

“That’s stupid. It was inept and nobody believed it even for a second.”

“I know, but still…”

“Look, Marsh, he used your first name,” Lee Ann pointed out. “That means that he’s being casual and just speaking as a friend of the family, right? If it were something official, he’d have called you Ms. Steen or something.”

“Yeah, I suppose…”

I tried to relax and just continue with the conversation, and Terry un-paused the show so we could watch the rest of the episode, but I was really worried. Peterson had to be intending to pump me for information. How was I going to handle that?

After we went back to our own bedrooms to study, I decided that Chad would be my best bet, but he wouldn’t be home from work until almost dinnertime. The problem was, I was really starting to worry about this; I couldn’t think of what an associate dean could realistically do to me, but my concentration just wasn’t there. I kept checking the time every few minutes, until I realized that studying just wasn’t going to happen.

To de-stress, I looked over my sewing jobs, looking for something I could get into. I was almost done with Terry’s gown, but I really wanted to have Nikki check what I had done so far before doing more. I found a couple of simple repair jobs, a broken zipper and a torn seam, and threw myself into them.

By the time I was finished, it was a quarter to six, so I picked up my phone and called Chad’s home.

“Jennifer!” his mother answered. “How are you?”

I bit my lip to keep from laughing. I really didn’t want to spend time talking with her just now. “I’m fine, Mrs. Barnes. Is Chad home?”

“Yes, he just came in. How is your play going?”

“Well, we’re in tech week,” I explained, “and it’s really intense. They’re keeping us very busy.”

“Busy is good,” she continued, completely ignoring my hint. “Are you excited?”

“Very much so. It’s a great opportunity for me.”

“I hope you have a great time. Break a leg!”


“Let me go get Chad,” she finally said.

He picked up after a moment. “Hi, Marsh. Hey, where were you this weekend? I figured you’d be home for Thanksgiving.”

“We went to my Grandmother’s for Thanksgiving,” I explained. “The reason I –“

He cut me off. “I had a thought about your situation, Marsh.”


“Well, you remember that I said you were being too passive?”


“Well, it occurred to me that you were assuming that there’s a conspiracy going on. You know, to hide the experiment.”

“Uh huh…”

“But a conspiracy requires a whole lot of people to agree to keep a secret. In this case, you’re talking about everybody who knew about this experiment or this professor or his students. That just seems like an awful lot of people not to talk about something really strange happening, doesn’t it?”

“Wait,” I said, my heart sinking. “You’re saying that… that if anybody really knew about the guys who did the experiment, that it couldn’t be kept a secret? So that means that they’re definitely not around any more?”

“Well, maybe. But on the other hand, if they are still around, it should be possible to get somebody to talk.”

I considered that. “But you don’t really think that they are.”

“I didn’t say that. In fact, I think they almost have to be.”

“Wait, wait, wait,” I protested. “Which way are you arguing? I thought you just said that they couldn’t be, since if they were, it would be impossible to keep it a secret.”

“No, I’m saying that, assuming that they are around, which I think is almost certain, it should be possible to find them.”

“And why do they almost certainly still have to be around?”

“Because when you found yourself turned into Marsha, there was already a newspaper article that explained what had happened,” he said, as if that explained everything.

When I didn’t say anything, he prompted me, “Come on, Marsh. Think about it.”

“OK,” I said, “Let me see. The article was there, which means that other people had changed before I had.”

“Right. And…?”

“So the changes didn’t happen all at once. But if I’m right about how they did it, I wouldn’t have expected that anyway. Um… your idea was that maybe one of the changes affected whether they got funding to do the experiment, right?”

“Or something else.”

“So all of the previous changes couldn’t have had that effect, because if they had, I wouldn’t have been changed.”


“Oh!” Now I finally got it. “So unless my change was what made them disappear, or else they did even more changes later, they must still be around.”

“Bingo. And there’s no reason that your being a girl instead of a boy should have changed whether the experiment happened. So they must still be there, unless it was a later change that did it.”

“Hmm. Maybe.”

“What do you mean, ‘maybe?’” he asked, astounded that I wasn’t buying his proof. “What’s wrong with it? I mean, your family thinks you’re special, and you’re my friend, but that doesn’t make you important to a bunch of strangers.”

I sighed. I really wanted to believe his argument. “The problem, Chad, is the whole situation doesn’t seem to work logically at all! Why should me being a girl have caused my cousin not to be born? Why wasn’t Tina affected at all, as far as I can tell? That would have made a lot more sense.” I told him about what I had learned over Thanksgiving break, about Tyler being gone.

“Huh” was all he said at the revelation, although he said it more than once as I explained how I had reacted to the news, and how my parents had reacted to me reacting. Then I told him about the note from Dean Peterson.

“So, if Tyler’s disappearance doesn’t make sense, that means that the experiment still could have vanished, and it seems the simplest explanation now of why we haven’t found out anything,” I concluded.

“Yeah…” he said reluctantly, “although I still think they’re probably there.”

“Well, I think you just hate to give up a nice theory.”

“I don’t get you, Marsh,” he said. “Don’t you want to be able to change back? Don’t you need them still to be there?”

“Of course I do!” I exclaimed. “I’m just… I don’t know… I’m trying to be realistic. It was hard enough to try to accept this, without suddenly believing that I have a chance and then finding out that I really don’t.”

“So you’re giving up.”

“No… I mean… Dad’s friend wants to see me. Maybe… maybe I’ll find out something from him, assuming that there is something to think about. And if so, he’ll be trying to find out something from me.” I blinked to clear my head. This was getting really complex.

“And if he thinks it’s a hoax, he still might be trying to find out who did it.”

“Oh, nuts.” Chad was right. He could be pressing me for information whether he believed in the experiment or not, and he might not actually believe in it even if there had been a coverup.

“Come on, Dude, you can’t give up now,” Chad chided me. “You want your manhood back, you’re gonna have to work for it. Right? Right?”

I had to chuckle at his attempt at a pep talk. “Yeah, you’re right,” I acknowledged. “Thanks.”

“No problem. So what you need to do is find somebody that you can talk to; somebody who knew this professor and maybe isn’t all that crazy about them making him vanish. I mean, there’s got to be somebody who knows it’s genuine and thinks that all of you got a raw deal.”


“I don’t know. That’s something you need to figure out.”

I nodded, and then said, “Yeah, you’re right. I know somebody I could ask for ideas, if he hasn’t already just given up on the whole plan.” And I needed to get in touch with Eric anyway.

“So what are you going to do about this Dean guy?”

“I guess I’ll just drop in on him, you know, and pretend that I think it really is all a hoax, and that I don’t really know the group all that well.”

“He’s probably going to want names. Tell him that you can’t give him any, because you don’t want your friends to get into trouble. That’s pretty normal, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, I guess so. Thanks again, Chad. I’ll let you know how it goes.”

“Cool. Talk to you later, Marsh. And good luck.”

84 Making Contact

Talking with Chad had given me a direction, at least for now. I needed to get in touch with Eric and ask him for ideas on who might have noticed Professor Davis’s disappearance, if not he. There was just one problem; I didn’t know how to reach him! I didn’t know his last name, and it was he who had called Vicky after Vicky had called Allie. Either of them should have his cell phone number, but Vicky had told me not to contact either of them, or anybody else in the Strangers. Marsh had never met Allie, so my Facebook contact trick wasn’t going to help.

I was still trying to puzzle this out when Terry knocked at my door and told me that it was time for dinner. Lee Ann was at Chandra’s, so we stopped there, and Chandra and Lisa joined us.

“Are you feeling better, Marsh?” Lee Ann asked, as we left their room.

Lisa looked closely at me. “Is something wrong?”

I shook my head. “Just a touch of stage fright, I think.” That was easy to explain, anyway. Obviously, I wasn’t going to tell them what I had discussed with Chad. At Terry’s prompting, I also repeated what I had told my roommates regarding the note from Dean Peterson.

“Whoa, that’s an awful lot, all at once,” Lisa commented. “I’m really looking forward to seeing your show; I hope you get this Dean issue straightened out.”

“Thanks,” I said.

Jay got to the table a few minutes after we had started eating, and actually glared at me for a moment, before shaking his head and sitting down.

“What was that about?” I asked him. “Usually, you wait until I actually say something before getting angry.”

He sighed. “Probably nothing; I mean, there’s no way you could have anything to do with this.” At my questioning look, he went on. “You and your time-travel obsession. Well, you’re not the only one. Some of the seniors in the department have this new game, where they read articles the professors have published in the past few years and try to make up reasons that they might be related to time travel.

“And it’s really a joke. I mean, solid-state physics? But one of them suggested that a paper on solid-state could lead to a new kind of semi-conductor that could be used to control a time machine. Seriously. They’re not even thinking very deeply on these things. Or a paper on sparse matrices – one guy suggested that you might need them to compute time travel possibilities.”

“So what’s the big deal?” Lee Ann asked. “It sounds like good, harmless fun.”

“It’s making a joke out of physics! Out of science! Science is not about fun. It’s serious business!” Then he looked at me again. “You’re a science major, Marsh – you know this.”

I shrugged. I wasn’t going to get into it with him, not now, especially not to let him know that I actually did have something to do with it. He didn’t realize it, but he had answered my question; Eric was at least trying something, and hiding it as a joke. Suddenly, I really liked him. And suddenly, I realized something else Jay could do for me.

“Jay, a girl I met mentioned that she had a brother who was a physics major. His name is Eric. Was he part of this?”

“Eric Anderson? Yeah, he was one of them. Why?”

“Nothing. Just wondering.” Eric Anderson, huh? Thank you, Jay.

“I just hope your friend doesn’t take after her brother,” he muttered.

As soon as I got back to my room, I looked Eric up in the student directory before rushing off to rehearsal. Adding his number to my phone, I planned to call him when I got a few minutes free.

The rehearsal starting feeling normal again, as we started getting used to being on our real set. We stopped a couple of times to fix lighting cues, and that gave me the chance to call Eric.

“Who’s this?” he asked.

“It’s Marsh Steen, Eric,” I said. “How’s the search going?”

“Marsh! Hi! Well, we’ve pretty much just started, but I’ve got half a dozen guys helping me out.”

“Jay Fowler tells me you’ve made a game of it.”

“He’s a friend of yours?” Eric asked cautiously.

“He’s a friend of a friend,” I explained. “We eat together, usually, and he yells at me every time I ask about anything to do with time travel.”

“Yeah, what a prig. Physics is supposed to be fun; that’s why most of us do it. He takes himself way too seriously.”

I laughed. “Yeah, I’ve noticed.”

“Anyway, we’re only just starting. It could be a long time before we find the paper we need. If ever.”

“I figured that,” I admitted. “But I had another question for you.”


“You said that you didn’t notice Davis vanishing. Is there somebody who would have?”

“Hmm… well, I don’t know all the professors in the department… I’d think most of them would notice, or some of the grad students. Definitely the department chair, but if there’s a cover up, he’d have to be involved.”

“Yeah, so what I’m looking for is somebody who would have noticed, but wouldn’t actually have wanted to go along with it.”

“Hmm…” He seemed to think about that for a while. “The problem is, there are a few different groups in the department. It’s certainly possible that a grad student in the math physics group wouldn’t know all the profs in the high energy group, for example.”

“And we don’t know which group Davis would have been in, right?”


“Which group are you in?”

He laughed. “I’m an undergrad, Marsh. The groups are the professors and their graduate students. But I’m taking an advanced course with Davidson, in astrophysics. He’s the one I really know best. Tell you what; let me think about this for a bit. A grad student is probably your best bet, but I don’t know which one. I mean, I only really know a few of them. Is this a good number to call you at?”

“Yeah, it’s my cell.”

“OK, I’ll get back to you. Take care.”

“Thanks, Eric. You, too.”

Alvin had us run the show twice, so we didn’t get out until after eleven. Some of the cast decided to go to the Student Union, but I was exhausted, so I just headed back to my room and collapsed into bed.

The next morning, I called the Dean’s office during my first break.

“Piques College,” intoned the secretary who answered the phone. “Office of the Dean of Student Affairs. How may I help you?”

“My name is Marsha Steen. Could I speak with Dean Peterson, please?”

“One moment.”

Then a new voice came on. “Hello, Marsha! Thank you for getting back to me so quickly.”

“Hi!” I said. “You wanted to see me?”

“Yes, whenever it’s convenient for you. Are you able to come into the office today? Or maybe tomorrow?”

I hesitated. Now that I had actually called, I was getting a bit nervous. I would really have liked to talk things over with Vicky, first; unfortunately, I had no idea when that was going to be possible. Better just to get it over with, then, so it wasn’t hanging over my head during a performance. “This afternoon is fine,” I said. “I have no classes after lunch.”

“So, would 1:30 work for you?”

I shrugged, even though he couldn’t see me. “That’s fine.”

“Great! I’ll see you then.”

As I hung up, it occurred to me that he really did sound like what he was claiming to be: just a friend of the family who was looking out for his friend’s daughter. It was certainly possible that I was getting all worked up over nothing.

“So,” I told my roommates as we walked home after lunch. “I’ve got an appointment with the Dean in about forty-five minutes.”

“Oooh,” said Terry. Then she tilted her head at me. “If he kicks you out of school, are you still going to finish my gown?”

“Terry!” I gasped.

“Dibs on her wardrobe,” Lee Ann said in a mock serious tone. “I could use a second one.”

“Guys…!” I whined. “I’m kind of nervous about this!”

Terry laughed. “Relax, Marsh. He’s not going to do anything to you.”

“… Except maybe bore you with stories of when he and your Dad were young,” Lee Ann suggested.

“You’d better be careful, Marsh,” Terry added, wagging her finger at me. “He might have a son he wants you to meet.”

“Oooh, married to the son of a Dean. What a fate!” joked Lee Ann.

It’s really hard to stay nervous when you’re laughing, and my roommates had gotten to me again. I was still smiling to myself when I left my room half an hour later. As I got closer to his office, however, it occurred to me that I didn’t really know what Dad had told him. Had he mentioned my claiming to be a boy, or a victim of the experiment at all? That might be bad. I was going to have to let him take the lead in our conversation.

The secretary showed me into his office shortly after I arrived, and the Dean greeted me at his door, and shook my hand. “Hello, Marsha. Very nice to meet you. How’s your family?”

“Um, fine…” I replied, taking the seat he indicated.

“That’s good. Classes going well?”


“Anything I can do, for the daughter of an old friend?”

“Mmm… Nothing that I can think of.” If he was trying to make me comfortable, it wasn’t working. He had alluded to the events mentioned in that article, dismissing them as ‘pranks’ and the more he delayed talking about it, the more worried I got.

“So,” he said, finally leaning forward and getting to the point, “your father tells me that you’ve gotten involved with our little hoaxers.”

“Um,” I started, and then realized that it was a statement rather than a question. “I don’t know…”

“Marsha, you do realize that we take this kind of thing very seriously.”

I nodded.

“A hoax that is intended to amuse the student body is one thing, but this was a slander against the college, published in the local paper where many people could read it.”

“That… that doesn’t sound very good.”

“It’s not good. It reflects very badly on the entire college, on the professor who is supposed to have performed this experiment, and on the administration for permitting it. Our rules forbid any experiment that could cause harm to a student. Do you understand me? The idea that we would countenance such a thing…!”

“I see,” I whispered, feeling very small and vulnerable in the face of his verbal assault.

“I’d like to have every one of them here in my office, so that I could explain this to them personally, and hear them apologize,” he insisted. He stared at me. “I’m not asking you to betray your friends, Marsha, but I would hope…” He lifted his head. “How did you get involved with this group, if I may ask?”

A direct question – and that meant that I had to answer, with at least a kernel of truth. “I was… curious,” I admitted. That was safe; anybody in my dining group could confirm that. “I went to meet the reporter who wrote the story and asked how I could reach the people he cited.”

“And he told you? He wasn’t as forthcoming with us.”

“Um, no. But I gave him my name and number and he passed them along, and the group contacted me.”

He nodded. “Clever…” although I wasn’t sure if he meant the Strangers or me. “So, you could ask them to come see me.”

It wasn’t a question. “I… well, I don’t think they’re talking to me anymore,” I explained.

“And why is that?”

“Well, I mentioned that I had said something about it to my father–”

“You did more than that, didn’t you?” he asked, cutting me off. “You claimed to have been a boy and that you were turned into a girl.”

I paled. I had hoped that Dad hadn’t told him that part.

“Did they put you up to that? I don’t think so. It sounds as though you were trying to top their already ludicrous claims. None of them went that far. They couldn’t. There’s no way that… anyway, if they won’t speak with you anymore, don’t worry about it. Just tell me whom to contact and I’ll take care of it myself.” He looked at me expectantly, his pen hovering over a notepad.

“I… I’d rather not. I mean, they seemed afraid of what you might do.”

“Ridiculous,” he scoffed. “What do they think I’m going to do to them? I’ve already told you all I intend. I want an apology and an explanation. Nothing more.”

“I… still don’t think I should tell you,” I insisted, but maybe a bit more timidly than I should have.”

He slammed the pad and pen back on his desk. “Alright. Alright, I can’t force you. But I want you to think clearly on your responsibilities to your fellow students, and to alumni such as your parents, who don’t want to see the reputation of their school sullied.” Then he smiled. It was clearly meant to be a friendly smile, but to me it looked as friendly as the smile of a shark. “You know how to reach me, Marsha. Think about what I’ve said. I’m sure you’ll make the right decision. Let me walk you out.”

85 Looking Up

I wasn’t sure I had handled the meeting with Dean Peterson as well as I had intended; on the other hand, I was pretty sure he had made a big mistake, and might not even realize it. If I had read him correctly, I now had actual evidence that somebody other than the victims knew about the experiment in some detail, in this timeline. This was something I definitely had to share with Vicky, so I called her cell. It rang three times and then went to voice mail, so I just hung up, a bit annoyed – either she had left her phone somewhere, or she was serious about me not contacting her. I debated walking over to her room, but I decided that I could wait her out, at least for a day or two. If she wasn’t going to talk to me, she could wait for the good news. At any rate, her phone would tell her that I had called; maybe she would be curious enough about why, to call me back.

Terry was sitting on the couch, and looked up from her reading when I slipped back into our dorm room. “How did it go, Marsh?” she asked.

“OK, I guess,” I shrugged. “He asked about my family, and how I was doing in school, and about my friends.” I thought for a moment about whether I could actually share my news, but couldn’t think how, without revealing way too much. Terry had already caught me unprepared with her questions about Vicky, and I didn’t trust myself to stay one ahead of her in conversation when I was trying to keep a secret. I had planned my response to her probable question while walking here.

“How boring,” she commented.

I smiled. “Sometimes, boring is good.”

“Especially when dealing with administrators,” she laughed.

I don’t know whether it was feeling that I had ‘won’ in my meeting, or that I was just getting used to all of the emotion my new body was feeling, but my head felt clearer than it had in months. The fear, the depression, the anxiety all seemed distant now. I went back to my room to review – I was a day behind because of yesterday – and studying just seemed to flow. I copied my lecture notes, and it felt like a pleasure rather than a chore.

Rehearsal that evening was starting to feel more and more comfortable. There was energy among the cast I hadn’t noticed before. Jared dropped a line, and I covered for him so smoothly that I was sure almost nobody noticed. Everything just felt so good!

Alvin even made a point of praising us afterwards. “Folks, this is by far the best run-through we’ve had. Your timing was on, your emotions felt real, and I actually believed that you meant what you were saying. Cody, your flat aspect with just that little touch of amusement when Jack starting asking you about the skis was perfect. Marsh, great cover. Naomi, I loved the way you handled your interview with Trotter.

“OK, we are off tomorrow, everybody get a good night’s sleep, please, and be back her for final dress on Thursday. I want everyone on stage, in make up, by 7:00. See you then.”

I should have been exhausted, but I wasn’t. I was flying. We were just three days from opening, and I had had a great day, so I joined the crowd going to the Student Center. It was Alvin, Nikki, Jack, Naomi, Jared, Cody (who played Major Metcalf), and me. Somehow, the talk turned to dropped lines and missed entrances; apparently, that was something very popular to talk about among actors, although I hadn’t seen it in my high school productions.

“So, I was directing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, freshman year,” Alvin said, “and my Mom came to see the second performance. Now, you know that the second scene is the artisans, who are planning a play in honor of the Duke. The lights go up, and their leader, Peter Quince, says, ‘Is all our company here?’ and I see them looking around, because in fact, Nick Bottom, who has half the lines in the scene, including the very next one is not on stage. And I can see it in their eyes; there is no way they are going to be able to do this scene without him, and they start looking really scared. But they keep their cool, and start ad libbing. Mostly, they just used lines from the scene, but in a very different order.

“Quince basically runs the scene backwards, casting all of the roles except for Bottom’s, and just as they are about to run out of things to say, Bottom comes on stage, and they manage to finish. I really had to hand it to them, they never dropped character, they managed to improvise Shakespeare, and they stayed funny. Mom was sitting next to me, laughing, and at one point I hissed to her, ‘Stop laughing, Mom, that’s not the way I directed it!’”

Everybody laughed, even people I was sure must have heard the story before, since most of the people there had worked with Alvin in other shows.

“So what happened to the actor playing Bottom?” Jared asked, to my relief. I’d wanted to ask, but wasn’t sure if Marsha was already supposed to know.

“For some reason he had gotten it into his head that Hermia was supposed to exit after the previous scene where he was standing, so he was waiting for her. Of course, he was wrong, and after a while he snuck around to a different exit to see what was happening on stage, and there she was! So he ran back to his spot and entered late.”

Amidst the laughter, Jack turned to me and suggested, “Tell the Camelot story, Marsh.”

I turned red, because of course I didn’t know ‘the Camelot story.’ But before I could stammer out an excuse, Alvin came to my rescue. “Let me tell it, Marsh.” He looked around. “Just so you know that this doesn’t only happen in my productions…

“If you know Camelot, you know that the first act ends with this big knighting scene, which follows the big joust scene. Now, in between, is a little drawing room scene; it’s very easy to forget about. Marsh forgot.

“So there she is, standing at the back of the house, waiting to make her entrance in the act finale, and Arthur and Pellinore are chatting back and forth, and they’re saying lines she has never heard before. Apparently, the guy playing Pellinore had found this alternate version of the script, which had lots of allusions to Merlin turning Arthur into a rabbit when he was growing up. And now he’s using them. And why? Because Marsh, as Guinevere, is not on stage. So he’s ad libbing. ‘Arthur, I liked you better as a rabbit!’ ‘What do you think Lancelot would be like as a rabbit?’ and the audience is in hysterics.

“After several minutes of this, the stage manager finds Marsh and hustles her backstage so she could make her entrance, and now Pellinore suddenly blanks. He says to her, ‘You stood there looking at Lancelot, and he stood there looking at you…’ and then stops. He’s supposed to say, ‘It was very touching,’ but what he actually comes out with is, “… and I stood there, looking at the both of you!’”

Everybody laughed again, but I found myself thinking, “So, Marsha, it seems you’re not a perfect little actress after all.” I found that strangely comforting.

I slept well that night.

The next morning, I was leaving my Orgo lecture with Geoff, ignoring his attempts to ask me to House Parties, when I suddenly spotted Vicky, waiting outside. She wasn’t talking to anybody else this time, and when she saw me, she waved, so I excused myself and went over to her.

“Walk me to my next class, Marsh?” she asked. I nodded, and we started walking. “Let’s cut across the quad here,” she suggested. “There’s too many people on the walkways.”

“I’m wearing heels, Vix,” I objected. “The ground is soft from the rain last night, and my shoes will get stuck.”

“So walk on your toes,” she said, and started across the grass.

I had little choice, so I followed her, stepping gingerly over the grass and leaves. Not gingerly enough, though, because I slipped on a pile of freshly fallen leaves that must have been concealing wet leaves underneath. Fortunately, Vicky caught me.

“Well, that’s different,” she said, pulling me upright. “In the past, it was always you catching me.”

“So, we’re allowed to talk, now?” I asked.

She nodded. “I spoke with Ian. You and I are known to be friends, so it doesn’t make sense to pretend that we’re not. We’ve also met publicly with Eric, so we can do that, too, but neither of us should make any direct contact with the Strangers for now. If we want to tell them anything, we’ll tell Eric, he’ll tell Allie, and she can tell Ian and Luke.”

“That sounds really complicated.”

“They’re scared, Marsh. Thanks to your Dad, the college now knows about the Strangers, and they might try following you; Luke thinks they might even try tapping your phone. We need to discuss how you’re going to handle meeting with Dean Peterson.”

“Um, I already did,” I admitted. “I didn’t know when you’d be allowed to talk to me, again, and I wanted to get it out of the way before this weekend.”

She stopped and looked at me. “How did it go?” she asked, tensing.

“Not too badly, actually,” I said. “He tried to get me to give him names, but I wouldn’t, and he got mad.”

“That’s ‘not too badly’?”

“Yup. When he got mad, I think he let something slip. He said that my claim to have been a boy was ridiculous, and it couldn’t happen.”

“But that’s been their line all along.”

“No, but don’t you see? He didn’t say that about the other claims – only mine! I think he knows that they are real; but for some reason he thinks that a sex change couldn’t have happened. And remember that we couldn’t find anybody else who had experienced one? What if there’s something about the experiment that should make sex changes all but impossible? And they thought it actually was impossible?”


“I think I read something once that might explain it. I’m going to have to do some searching to track it down.”

“Marsh, that’s incredible.”

“And, I talked to Eric. He actually has the seniors looking at papers for relevance to time travel, but they’re treating it as a joke, as a cover.”

“That’s… good, I guess?”

“And he’s going to try to think of somebody we can talk to; somebody who might actually have noticed Davis’s disappearance, but didn’t agree with the cover-up. Somebody who might be willing to talk.”

Her eyes widened. “Wow. You’ve been really busy, Marsh. You took control of the situation. I really like that. I–” She broke off, and failed to repress a snicker. “You know, it’s really hard to think of you as being manly when you’re wearing a dress and lipstick.”

“…And three inches shorter than you!” I laughed.

“I can’t believe this. It sounds as though this could really happen. You could really change back!”

“I know, Vix. We’ve been just assuming that the people who did this were still around and knew about the experiment. This all but confirms it. Now, all we have to do is find them and convince them to change me back, but I feel like we’re closer than ever. So,” I added, “when are you coming to see Mousetrap?”

“I haven’t asked Kevin, yet. But if he doesn’t want to go, I promise I’ll be there opening night by myself, Marsh. Or maybe I’ll bring my roommates. Just promise me one thing?”

“What’s that?”

“That this is the last time I have to watch you kissing a boy.”

“I sure hope so, Vixy,” I laughed. “It won’t happen again if I have anything to say about it!”

86 Cued Up

Here I go, I thought, as I got ready to head to the theater a bit after dinner on Friday. Opening night.

“Are you psyched?” Lee Ann asked me, as I headed out the door.

“Psyched? I am flying!” I responded. It was actually happening. I was about to perform the largest role I had ever done.

“That’s great. Well, we’re all going to be there to root you on. Terry and I should get ready to go, I guess.” And she went into Terry’s bedroom, while I headed out the front door.

I had opened the door when I suddenly realized that I wanted to have something to read while backstage, just in case I couldn’t talk to anybody, so I pulled the door of the room closed again and returned to my bedroom to grab a book. I was about to leave again, but I froze when I heard my roommates’ voices.

“You still think this is going to be bad?” Lee Ann asked. “She’s really worked hard on this play.”

“I don’t know,” Terry answered. “She was good in the small roles she did last year, but this one is really big and more complicated. I told you when she was cast I thought it was too much.”

“I remember. I disagreed then, and I still do. I think you’re underestimating her.”

“Maybe. But seriously, you saw how she freaked out just dancing with Bill. How is she going to play a loving newlywed on stage?”

“I don’t know.”

“Me, neither. I just don’t know how she’s going to pull it off.”

How… how could she say something like that? Or even think it? I peeked out my door, but I didn’t see them. Cautiously moving along the wall, I confirmed that they were still in Terry’s bedroom.

“You’re not going to tell she did a poor job, are you?”

“Of course not!” insisted Terry. “I’m going to the show to support her. I’ll keep my opinion to myself.”

“And she might actually be good.”

“I hope so,” she said skeptically.

I was trapped. They would be horribly embarrassed if they knew that I had overheard them, but I had to leave and they would hear the door open again. Fortunately, being as wound up as I was also meant that I could sometimes see the obvious solution. Chiding myself for almost missing it, I just opened our door and called out, “Hey guys, I forgot my book!” Then I pretended to grab it from my bedroom and left again with a cheery “See you there!”

I couldn’t believe it, though. How could Terry doubt me? She’s the one who had known Marsha since the beginning of freshman year. Hadn’t they talked about acting at all? Well, to be sure, she and I hadn’t really said much about it; in fact, I’d explained about blocking and she had seemed interested, and hadn’t mentioned that ‘I’ had already done so the year before, so maybe not. How well had she and Marsha known each other, anyway?

Partway to the theater, I stopped and shook my head. This was not going to work; I couldn’t be worrying about what my roommate thought, not if I wanted to give a good performance. I wanted to give one good enough that she would be amazed, and take back what she had just said about me. I wanted her to admit that I had surprised her. I wanted… I shook my head again to clear it. I couldn’t be thinking about Terry, not now.

I could feel the tension when I entered the dressing room. Naomi and Jo were already in front of the makeup mirrors, and I would have to wait my turn. I was the first to go onstage, so I thought I should have had first crack at the mirrors. If I had not gone back for my book, if my roommates hadn’t decided to tear me down behind my back, I would have been here first. It wasn’t fair.

I opened my mouth to say something, but just as I did, Naomi turned to me. “Hey, Marsh. Do you want to get in here? You’re on stage before I am.” I snapped my mouth shut in embarrassment.

“Actually,” I admitted, looking at the clock, “there’s plenty of time. You go ahead. You’re doing Jo’s make up as well as yours.”

“Not until I get my base done, she’s not,” Jo chimed in. “I can do that much myself.”

“So I’ll wait,” I concluded. “I brought a book to read, anyway.” I will not be a stuck-up diva, I promised myself.

I didn’t really want to be reading just now, but I couldn’t justify pushing my way ahead; not now. Of course, I wasn’t actually getting any reading done. I kept hearing Terry’s voice: “I don’t know how she’s going to pull it off.” “… this one is really big and more complicated…”

I snapped the book shut in frustration.

“Something wrong, Marsh?” Jo said, looking up.

“No, just a bit of opening night jitters, I guess.”

“Yeah, tell me about it. I told my friends to come tomorrow night, so I could almost think of this as a rehearsal.”

“No!” Naomi yelped.

“Yeah, seriously, Jo,” I chimed in. “I’ve got all my friends coming tonight… and I really want to impress them.” And Vicky should be coming too, I reminded myself, probably with Kevin.

“I’m kidding!” she protested. “I’m going to go all out, tonight. Just… I’m just getting a bit nervous, that’s all.”

“Neither of you should be nervous,” Naomi scolded us. “You were fine in rehearsals; Alvin cast you both, and he knows what he’s doing.” She stood up. “OK, Marsh, I’m done. Jo, let’s have a look.”

As I sat down, a knock came at the entrance to our dressing room. “Are you ladies decent?” Alvin called.

“Decent?” Naomi answered superciliously. “We’re spectacular. Come on in.”

“I just wanted to drop this off,” he said, walking in with a large bouquet of flowers. “Looks like you have an admirer, Marsh.”

“Me?” I squeaked. “Who’s it from?” Maybe my roommates had sent them, I thought. That would have been a nice gesture, no matter what Terry said about me.

“I didn’t know the guy, Marsh. Sorry.” He put the flowers on the makeup table next to me. “I’m going to address the cast in the green room fifteen minutes before curtain. See you then.” And he left.

“A secret admirer, Marsh?” Jo cooed. “Sounds like somebody might have a date for House Parties after all.”

“I have no idea who this is from,” I protested. I had been sure that I had successfully discouraged every guy who might have been making eyes at me, much less who going to be doing something so disgusting as sending me flowers. I stared at them as though they were going to jump me.

“Aren’t you going to see who it’s from?” Naomi prompted me.

“Oh, right.” I gingerly took the note that had been stuck to the flowers and opened it. And gasped, “It’s from my high school drama teacher! Why is Mr. Condrin here?”

“Your drama teacher?” Jo echoed. “That’s really cool!”

“Yeah, except…” Suddenly all I could think of was the story Alvin had told about Camelot. “The last show he directed me in… I missed an entrance and screwed up a scene.” Or rather, Marsha had done so, but he wouldn’t know the difference. “What if he expects me to mess up again?”

“Will you cut it out?” Naomi snapped. “Stop talking yourself into a bad performance. If he came all this way, it has to be because he remembers you fondly and wants to support you.”

“Maybe,” I muttered. All I could think of was that Alvin had expected Marsha to be doing this role. He’d assigned me a much smaller one. And if Marsha could have made that error, what might I do? I managed to get my make up all right, but a lot of the joy had gone out the evening, to be replaced with dread. I should have just confessed that I couldn’t do it, I scolded myself. Alvin knew what he was doing, all right, and he cast me as comic relief, not the lead.

I sat quietly through Alvin’s opening night pep talk. It was all about how hard we had worked and how we were a great cast and a lot of other stuff. Mr. Condrin used to say that, too, and then I – or rather, Marsha – had gone and blown it.

When he was done, Alvin come over and squatted down in front of me. “Head up, Marsh,” he said quietly, so that nobody else could hear. “I know you’re nervous. This is a big role. But I saw you all through rehearsals. Whatever you did in your old life, I promise you, you can do this. I had plenty of chances to replace you, but you proved that you could do it. Not some other version of you. You.”

I looked up. That sounded positive.

“Stage fright is perfectly normal. But you have the ability, and you worked hard, and you will be fine.” He straightened up, and spoke aloud, “I’ll be back at intermission. Break a leg, all!”

“Places, everybody,” called the stage manager.

Jo and I exchanged hugs. Jared came over and gave me a fist bump. I headed out to the stage, and waited for the radio announcer’s voice and my cue.

Applause greeted me when I made my first entrance, and I thought I heard a few of my friends shouting my name, but I ignored them, and forced myself not to smile. That wouldn’t have been in character, and I needed to be in character, right now. I could feel the stage-fright butterflies brushing their wings against the walls of my stomach.

Fortunately, the radio announcer had a few lines yet before I had to speak, which gave me a chance to collect myself, and focus on being a young newlywed starting a guest-house with her new husband. By the time Jared made his entrance, and we moved into our choreographed kiss, habit built of two months worth of rehearsals took over, and I was able to ignore the butterflies’ fluttering.

I could hear the audience listening intently. They chuckled appreciatively at the antics of our young fake architect, Chris. They applauded at Giles’ verbal take-down of the overbearing Mrs. Boyle (Jo playing her role with verve), and I had to wait until they finished to restart my line after a slight stumble. On the whole, though the scene just… flowed, and Paravicini’s scene-ending wicked laugh caused more than a few intaken breaths.

One very quick scene change later (and a backstage costume change for me), and we were into the second scene. We had the audience. Pete was playing the eccentric Paravicini with incredible flair, drawing suspicious murmurings on almost every other speech. Cody’s bass rumblings gave a solid grounding to his portrayal of the gruff Major Metcalf, and though it all, Jared and I seemed to just click as though we actually had been together for a year. When I ended the act by discovering Mrs. Boyle’s dead body and screaming, more than a few girls in the audience screamed along with me.

During the intermission, we were bouncing with enthusiasm in the green room. Alvin stepped in to quell the congratulatory air.

“Great first act, folks. But please remember that we have another act to do. Don’t get too cocky. Remember your timing, remember your eye contact, and have fun.”

“Well, I’m dead now, and I’m going live it up!” Jo cracked. “I’m just going to sit down here and listen to the rest of you work.”

We all got into position behind the curtain and back into character. I had to force down my excitement into the state of panic that Mollie was displaying over the shock of finding Mrs. Boyle, and Jack took charge of the scene as Detective-Sergeant Trotter. The second act was even more exciting for me, because that’s where I had my best scenes: a tender moment with the young and confused Chris, followed by a clash with the now suspicious Giles, involving the two of us accusing one another of deceit.

“Mollie, what’s come over you?” Jared asked plaintively, near the end of the latter scene. “You’re different all of a sudden. I feel as if I don’t know you any more.”

“Perhaps you never did know me,” I responded, bitterly. “We’ve been married how long – a year? But you don’t really know anything about me. What I’d done or thought or felt or suffered before you knew me.”

He took a second to stare at me before continuing with his sorrowful accusation, “Molly, you’re crazy…”

“All right then,” I snapped. “I’m crazy! Why not? Perhaps it’s fun to be crazy!”

He came right back with an angry, “What the hell are you…?” and then after a second, he continued, “… doing… Mollie? … Why would you say that?”

What was he doing? He had already finished his line, why was he still talking? As I looked at him with shock, I saw that his eyes were wide and staring at something behind me; or more correctly, as I realized to my dismay, at nothing. Pete, as Paravicini, was supposed to enter right then, from behind me. He was supposed to interrupt us. But obviously, the two of us were still alone on stage. We had used up all of our lines for the scene, confident that Pete would come in. And he hadn’t. We were stuck.

87 Stuck in Place

My mind raced. Positive thoughts, I told myself. Back to basics. “Why would I say it?” I echoed, in a taunting tone. “Why do you think?” Mr. Condrin had always said that the easiest ad lib was just to repeat a line.

“If I knew, I wouldn’t have asked!” he responded, staring me down.

There. We had started. We just had to ping-pong back and forth until one of us figured out how to continue the scene – or until Pete finally showed up.

“If you knew me, you wouldn’t need to ask!” I snapped.

He shot back, “Well, maybe we got married too quickly!”

I parried with, “Well, you’re the one who proposed!”

“And you didn’t put up much of a fight, if I remember correctly!”

We were now nose to nose. “Is that what you were expecting? Me to fight you about it?” I could see Jared sweating; I was, too. Any time now, Pete, I thought.

“Well, I don’t really know what to –”

“Now, now,” Pete interjected, finally rushing on stage, “I do hope you young people are not both saying a little more than you mean. One is so apt to in these lovers’ quarrels.”

I turned to look at him and was disconcerted to notice him zipping up his trousers. I don’t think I could have responded right then if I had had to; fortunately, the next line was Jared’s, and then we were back on track, although I did have a few seconds to wonder what Pete had been doing.

As things returned to normal, I had a chance to listen to the audience: There was nothing. No whispers as they told each other how closely we had come to messing up, or anything. They really didn’t seem to have noticed, and they were still paying rapt attention to the play. There were quiet gasps when the murderer was finally revealed, relieved sighs when the attempt on my life was foiled, and satisfied murmurs as Giles and Mollie reconciled at the end. The final curtain was followed by enthusiastic applause, which only strengthened as we took our bows.

As the curtain closed again, Jared suddenly swept me into a hug and spun me around. “Marsh,” he said, “I cannot believe we got through that. I was terrified you wouldn’t know that Pete wasn’t on stage!”

“Well, I suspected something like that,” I responded, laughing in relief. “Your eyes were wide and you looked as though you were about to soil your trousers.”

“I really was!”

“I really did,” muttered Pete, behind us. The two of us turned in surprise. “I am so sorry, guys,” he continued. “I was laughing really hard backstage and had a bit of an accident and I had to change my pants. That’s why I was late.”

Jared and I didn’t have much time to react to that before we were both swept up into another hug. “You guys!” laughed Alvin, an arm around each of us. “That was fantastic! I mean, great performances, everybody, but… You know, Pete, just because we were joking about missed entrances the other day didn’t mean that I wanted to see an example of one!”

“Yeah, I’m really sorry, Alvin, I–”

“Forget it,” Alvin cut him off, still laughing. “This is live theater. It happens. Just don’t do it again.”

“Marsh!” boomed a bass voice. I looked into the crowd of audience members who had made their way backstage to congratulate us, and there he was.

“Mr. Condrin!” I shouted, raising my hand. “Over here!”

“Great job, Marsh! And nice recovery, too.”

“I thought you always said the audience wouldn’t notice something like that,” I teased.

He chuckled. “They will if they’ve directed the show before.”

I laughed back and then called to Alvin. “Alvin, come meet my high school drama teacher! Mr. Condrin, this is Alvin Tomlinson, our director.”

“Please to meet you, sir,” Alvin said politely, “Marsh has spoken about you a lot. Glad you could make it.”

“I’m directing her sister in another production, and when she told me that Marsh had the lead, I knew I had to come up. They’re good little actresses, these Steen girls.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed the ‘little’ part,” Alvin joked. Nikki, who had come up behind him, elbowed him in the ribs, thus saving me the trouble.


I turned to see Lee Ann and Terry and a bunch of our friends.

“Hey, guys! Mr. Condrin, these are my roommates, Lee Ann and Terry, and our friends, Susie, Phil, Jay, Fred, and Sheila.”

“Marsh, you were spectacular!” Lee Ann said, throwing her arms around me.

“Seriously,” added Terry. “You really impressed me. I… well, I was impressed.” She didn’t know I had overheard her doubts; no matter, I think I showed her.

“Give the credit to my director,” I grinned, letting the point slide. And then of course, I had to introduce him to my friends as well.

As the rest of my friends added their congratulations, Lee Ann announced, “We’re all going to the Grill, Marsh. Can you join us?”

“Sure,” I said, “let me just get changed. Mr. Condrin, it was great seeing you again. Um… did you want to come out with us?”

He waved off the suggestion. “No, I have some other people to get in touch with, as long as I’m up here. Is your family coming to see you?”

“Sure. I talked to Mom on Wednesday, and she said they would be here tomorrow night.”

“I’m sure they’ll enjoy your performance. Take care of yourself, Marsha!”


I started for the dressing room, but I hadn’t gotten more than a few feet before Vicky found me. “Marsh? Great job! I really believed you as that guy’s wife.” Then she indicated the boy next to her. “This is Kevin.”

I put out my hand to shake his, and he took it with a mumbled, “nice to meetcha.” Then he turned to Vicky. “You ready to go, Babe?”

“Just a sec, Kev,” she responded. “I want to talk with my girlfriend. Why don’t you wait outside the theater for me?”

I could have sworn he grunted as he left, but maybe I was just projecting. He was also maybe a bit too good-looking for my taste.

“Vicky, what in the world?” I asked, as we moved to a corner to get away from the crowd.



“Oh, he’s just really shy, that’s all. He’s not all that comfortable around people.”

“I don’t like him. Couldn’t you have done any better?”

“Actually,” she said archly. “No. You may remember that my last boyfriend isn’t currently available, so I’m doing the best I can.”

“I’d have thought that after m– after your last boyfriend, that you’d have higher standards.”

“Higher standards don’t do a girl much good if there’s nobody around who can meet them. There’s kind of a shortage of guys on campus, you may remember – and one less than there should be, at present.”

“Yeah, right… Look, a bunch of my friends are going to the Grill. You want to join us?”

“No, I told you, Kevin isn’t very social.” At my look, she hurriedly added, “But he’s very sweet in private. Besides, after my last outing with your friends, I’m not sure I’d be all that welcome.”

“You’re my friend, Vixy. Of course you’d be welcome.”

“Thanks all the same. I just wondered if you’d made any progress on that research you were doing.”

“Oh, yeah.” I gave her a chagrined look. “Well, it turns out that the timing of fertilization can strongly tilt the odds towards one sex or the other, but the effect isn’t nearly strong enough for anybody to rely on. So either they didn’t really understand biology, or there’s something else going on.”

“Or maybe Peterson doesn’t actually know the experiment at all,” she pointed out. “Maybe all he had to go on was what was in the article.”

I shook my head. “I don’t believe that. He seemed really sure that…” I looked around and lowered my voice. “… that certain types of changes shouldn’t happen. Just because they weren’t listed in the article shouldn’t have been enough to convince him of that.”

“Then I don’t know what else to suggest. I don’t suppose you’ve heard back from Eric?”

“No, he didn’t expect to have…” I broke off as I noticed something.

“Vicky, what’s wrong with your arm? That’s the third time you’ve rubbed it in the last few minutes.”

She looked embarrassed as she answered. “Oh. You remember how you fell on the wet leaves when we were talking the other day?”


“Well, I did the same thing, only nobody caught me.”

“Ouch! I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Yeah, I’ve been kind of clumsy, lately. This whole thing has me out of sorts, and I keep losing my concentration.”

I stared at her. “I don’t get you. I would have thought that, you know, with this new romance of yours, my changing back wouldn’t be such a big deal for you.”

“Well it is,” she snapped, glaring at me. “Why, are you happy the way you are, now that you’re a big deal actress? Are you saying that all this was worth…” and she did, thankfully lower her voice to continue,” … was worth losing your manhood?”

“Of course not! But… this was a triumph for me. Can’t you let me enjoy it? Do I have to spend my entire… however long until this gets resolved… agonizing? I worked really hard for this, Vicky! Give me a chance to revel in my success and then first thing after we close, I’ll start worrying about what to do next.”

She bit her lip, sighed, and nodded. “You’re right, Marsh. I’m sorry.”

“And you do need to take care of yourself, Vix. Don’t get so distracted that you get hurt or anything. You mean a lot to me, you know.”

“That’s really nice to hear you say that,” she smiled. “I really appreciate it. Now, I should really let you go so you can meet your friends; besides, Kevin will get impatient if I make him wait too long.”

“OK, Vix,” I said, hugging her. “Talk to you later.”

“You, too. And you really did a terrific job, Marsh. I’m sorry I was a little mean about it.”

“I understand,” I said. “And I promise that I’ll pester Eric as soon as the weekend is over. OK?”

She nodded and walked off to join Kevin, and I watched her go. It seemed odd, but sometimes it really did feel as though her problems were even worse than mine.

88 Worn Out

Closing night came all too soon; one final performance, one final round of audience congratulations, only this time we had to stick around as they filed out. “OK, folks,” Alvin announced, “the sooner we get out of costumes, the stage struck and everything away, the sooner we can get to the party.”

It wasn’t long before Nikki and I found ourselves back in the costume room, checking to see what kinds of repairs or cleaning was going to be necessary before putting away everything we had pulled for the show. Most of the work was pretty trivial. We’d put some temporary stitches into some of the costumes which had to be undone, and there were a few seams that needed to be reinforced; otherwise, she was going to send some of the suits to be cleaned, while laundering the rest herself.

“Another great performance,” she commented, as we worked.

“Mm hmm,” I agreed.

“I thought you got stronger as the run went on; that final scene with Jack was really intense tonight.”


“Alvin was very pleased. The whole thing came together. He’s going to be interested in having you audition for one of the leads in his next show.”

“Maybe,” I shrugged.

“You should be very proud of yourself.”


“OK, what’s wrong?” she asked, putting down her sewing.

I looked at her in surprise. “What do you mean?”

“Well, you were really hyper after every performance. I would have expected that to last you longer than this, but you’re already looking really down. Come on! We’ve just completed a very successful, if all too brief, run, and you were great! Smile!”

“I’m just thinking about something Vicky said.”

Nikki winced. “You’re still letting her drag you down, aren’t you?”

“It’s not like that!” I protested. “Vicky is… well, she’s very important to me, and–”

“And she’s never going to accept the ‘new’ you, anyway. What did she say this time?”

“Oh, well…” I looked down and wrung my hands. “She said that I shouldn’t really be so pleased at being good at playing a girl. She questioned whether I really minded…” I had to take a breath to continue. “Whether it really bothered me any more to have lost my manhood.”

“And does it?”

My head snapped up. “Of course it does!” I protested. “It bothers me every day! But why should that mean that I can’t do a good job with the role?”

“It doesn’t, Marsh. What does she think you should have done? Retreated into a shell, like my brother? Refused to do the role of Mollie because ‘it wouldn’t be manly’?”

“I… I don’t know. It’s just that it really bothers me. That it didn’t bother me to do it, I mean.”

Nikki sighed. “You’re saying that you would be happier if you’d been miserable?”

I stared at her. “I guess that doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?”

“Well… Your feelings are your feelings. If it bothers you, it bothers you. But shouldn’t you feel better at least at being bothered…” she scrunched her eyes closed. “… at not being bothered?” When I didn’t have an answer, she went on. “You’ve adapted, Marsh. You’ve dealt with what you needed to deal with. You’re not really in control of whether you can ever change back, are you? Aren’t you doing everything you can on that end?”

“I’m… not really sure. I mean, Chad says that it should be possible for me to find somebody who knows and would be willing to talk.”

“And is it?”

“I don’t know,” I wailed. “Eric is trying to think of who might be a good candidate. Then I have to think of a way to approach them so that if they don’t know what I’m talking about, they won’t think I’m crazy, and if they do know, and they agree with the conspiracy, they won’t report me, but if they do know and they don’t agree, they’ll help me.”

“I see.” She really looked as though she was trying to be patient with me. If I thought back on what I had said, I wasn’t completely sure that it sounded sensible. “So what’s different about tonight? You seemed fine since we opened. What’s changed? Is it just the downer about the play being over?”



“I guess a lot of people are really up about next weekend…”

“Ah, I see. So this is about House Parties? Is that the problem?”

“I guess…” I wandered over to another corner of the room, unable to stay still. “House Parties. The big couples event of the semester. Where you really see who’s with somebody and who’s not. Where singles stand out and get laughed at.”


“Well, that’s what it’s always felt like to me,” I said, defiantly. “Do you understand? I’ve pretty much always had a girlfriend, Nikki. For more than four years, I’ve always had somebody to be with, somebody to dance with, cuddle with. Somebody who thought I was the most special person she knew. Last year, I took Jackie to Fall House Parties and Vicky in the Spring. This time around, I have nobody, and no prospects for anybody. I’m alone, and as long as I’m a girl, that’s the way it’s going to be. Alone. For the rest of my life.

“Oh, I’m putting up a good front. I’ve pretty much got my roommates convinced that I don’t really care; that I’ve come to terms with being alone and all that. But I’m not. I hate being alone. I haven’t been on a date in over two months, and that’s the longest I’ve ever been alone since I started dating. I just… I feel like such a loser.”

“You are not a loser. Marsh, if you really wanted somebody…”

“Yeah, the problem is I want somebody, but it has to be somebody I would be attracted to, and I can’t even imagine being attracted to anybody. I mean, I sometimes dream about being myself and being with Vicky again, but I don’t feel that thrill that I remember when looking at a girl.” At her inquiring look, I hurriedly added, “or a guy.” I shivered. “The very idea disgusts me.”

“That sounds really tough.”

“Yeah.” I took a deep breath and let it out. “Anyway, it looks like we’re about done. We might as well get back to the theater and see if we can help out.”


I forced myself to smile. “I’ll manage, Nikki. I really will. I just don’t know how, yet.”

And I really didn’t. I tried to ignore my little funk at the party. At least, I don’t think anybody else but Nikki noticed. I tried not to pay attention to the fact that so many of the cast and crew were paired off: Alvin and Nikki, Jack and Naomi, Jared and Jo, and whoever those girls were who were with Pete and Cody. At least I didn’t hear anybody comment about my mood by the time the party broke up.

I threw myself into my schoolwork more than I had earlier; with the play over, I had more time free in the evenings, and with finals just around the corner, I had no trouble finding something to do with that time. Of course, I had to finish Terry’s gown first, and she was suitably pleased when I presented it to her.

“It fits perfectly, Marsh,” she said, showing Lee Ann and me. “Greg is going to be so pleased!”

“And you look beautiful in it,” Lee Ann complimented her. “Nice work, Marsh.”

“All I did was adjust some seams,” I grinned, but I was quite pleased, too. It might have been a piece of cake for Marsh, but it was the most difficult sewing job I had tackled yet, and I was feeling pretty good about it.”

“Well, I owe you big time, Marsh,” Terry said, hugging me. “I just…” She looked at me regretfully.

“Seriously,” Lee Ann added. “It would be so epic if the three of us could all be there.”

“In the spring, for sure, right, Marsh?”

“Um… maybe,” I said, not sure at all what I was supposed to say.

“I think we’re going to have to start working on a date for her as soon as we come back from break,” Lee Ann told Terry.

Inwardly, I groaned. But at least I had about six months to figure out what to do about it.

When Friday night rolled around, I was polite to Lee Ann’s boyfriend, Stephen, and retreated to my bedroom, hoping to avoid the many “loving couples” that were now infesting the campus. Both of my roommates had dates, my ex-girlfriend had a date, the guy that everyone had expected me to go out with had a date… The only real positive I could take away was that I had done a really good job on Terry’s gown, and she looked great in it, but there was just so much pleasure I could take from that accomplishment when I was busy feeling lonely.

To make it worse, one of the dance floors was in the building across the quad from my dorm, and I could hear the band hired for the occasion. I could imagine all those lucky guys watching their girlfriends gyrate to the music and really getting to appreciate it. I could imagine what they would be doing afterwards, too, another activity of which I was now seemingly forever to be deprived.

I tried to drown it out by practicing the guitar with my headphones on, but my inept chording was all too vivid a reminder of all that I had lost. Listening to rock music on my iPod was much better – at first. When my mix perversely hit one of the songs Vicky and I used to listen to, though, I tore off my headphones in disgust. There had to be something I could do that wouldn’t bring up unfortunate memories.

I wasn’t really in the mood to review my notes, even though exams were starting on Monday. I’d been keeping up with those pretty well this term. All my sewing and rehearsal time had been relatively modest; I’d spent no time whatsoever on romance – no dates, no thinking about dates, no cuddling… I suppose there was a bright side in that. At least my grades were probably going to be higher now.

The closest I’d come so far was my miniskirt and low-neckline fantasy, and even that was beginning to pale. I needed something a bit stronger, and right now, I thought, I deserved it. I’d been very responsible with money, had managed to become competent with a new skill, and had spent almost nothing on myself in months. It helped that Marsha’s agreement with Mom and Dad hadn’t required her to contribute quite as much as I had had to. Even setting aside the money I needed to buy Christmas presents, I had a reasonable amount left over, and now was the time to spend it. I was actually going to buy myself some sexy clothing. Not for anyone else’s eyes, of course, but it would be something I could wear in the privacy of my dorm room when I needed to get turned on.

A quick search showed that there was a suitable clothing store about a mile-and-a-half from campus. Since pretty much everybody I knew was occupied, and nobody really cared where I was, I decided that a long walk in the morning would be good for me.

The next morning, I set off right after breakfast. Counting the distance from the dining hall, I had a two-mile walk ahead of me, and it was probably going to take me more than an hour at a leisurely pace. The most troubling portion of the walk was the start, due to all of the couples I had to pass, and whose public affection excited my envy. Eventually my path took me through the north section of campus, which housed the engineering and art departments. That area was empty, fortunately, which I didn’t find particularly surprising. On Saturday, the only students likely to be there were a few upper-class engineers, obsessed with their ongoing projects. I didn’t expect them to have dates, frankly, although to be honest I didn’t actually know any junior or senior engineers.

I reached the clothing store after about an hour of walking through the brisk November morning, and then hesitated. I had never actually enjoyed clothing shopping, and had so far not ventured into a clothing store at all since waking up female. I remembered my girlfriends suggesting that there was something very confusing about women’s clothing sizes. It would have been sensible for me, as a budding seamstress, to know a lot about how clothing was sized and how it fit, but that was a lesson Nikki and I had not gotten to as yet. My own clothing had a confusing mix of sizes, ranging from 2 to 6, yet all seemed to fit about the same.

I dithered in front of a rack of skirts, unsure exactly how I was going to find what I wanted. It had all seemed so simple – buy a short skirt. But the reality was proving to be a bit more confusing. There were so many! They came in different styles, and colors, and I couldn’t really tell why you would wear one versus another. I had had no idea what I wanted beyond, “something that will turn me on.”

“May I help you?”

I turned to see a salesgirl smiling politely at me.

“I’m looking for, um… a skirt.”

“Something like the one you’re wearing? Our longer skirts are over this way,” and she started walking away from me.

“No!” I said, a bit louder than I had intended. “No, I want one that is… you know…” and I gestured with my hand, about halfway down my thigh, then moved it lower… and then forced myself to move it higher again. “Around here.”

“Pleated? A-line? Where will you be wearing it?”


“General school use, then?”

I seized on that. “Yes! Something that a girl might wear while going to classes.”

“For the winter? How about this navy pleated skirt? It should look good with the blouse you have on now, and will match with several colors, if you have more like it.”

“Perfect!” I grabbed the skirt she indicated.

“You can try it on in the dressing room. Here, take this one, and this one… they’re all reasonably similar, and should also match your blouse.”

In the dressing room, I forced myself to calm down. There was no reason that I should be nervous, I reminded myself. I was just buying clothing. The salesgirl had no idea what I was going to be doing with it. She was just being helpful. And now I had three different skirts – all much shorter than my usual. I took off my own skirt and tried on the first one she had shown me. Looking at myself in the mirror, I started to feel very sexy, indeed. I tried on the other two. Both were quite nice, but didn’t have quite the same effect on me. Not quite. It didn’t matter, though. I had found the skirt I wanted.

Putting my own back on, I handed the one I had chosen to the salesgirl and said, “I’ll take this one.”

“We’re having a sale, you know,” she said. “What else can I show you?”

“Nothing else,” I said, hastily. “This is fine.”


“Um… yeah,” I replied, wondering what I had just done wrong. “That’s all I wanted.”

“OK…” She rang up the skirt for me, and I paid with cash. Then I remembered that I had intended to buy a low-cut blouse, as well, but suddenly I just didn’t dare ask for something else. It would probably have been too much money to buy them both, I told myself. But then I felt even more embarrassed to have wimped out.

I started to leave, but then got an idea. “Can I just change into this now?” I asked. She shrugged, so I returned to the dressing room and put on my purchase. It had occurred to me that I could walk pretty much all the way to Johnstone Hall without running into anybody who would know me. Strangers would just see a college girl, dressed more or less they way most girls on campus were dressed. That way, I could make up for my cowardice by wearing this skirt in public without actually been noticed.

As I walked, I smiled to myself. Nobody knew how daring I was actually being. I found the idea, along with the skirt itself, to be very exciting. By the time I had reached the engineering buildings, I was already quite turned on. It might have been a mistake; I wasn’t sure how much privacy I would be able to get this early in the day, especially with my roommates’ boyfriends hanging around, and I was definitely going to need to give myself some relief. I started imagining how I could remain completely quiet while pleasuring myself at the same time. I deserve this, I told myself. It’s compensation for being alone all the time.

But the entire pleasurable picture came crashing down when a voice called my name.

89 Frozen Out

For a moment I froze, wishing I could just sink through the ground. It was impossible. There was no way that he… I whirled and gasped. “Jeremy?!”

I couldn’t read anything on his face but surprise as he walked toward me. “It is you!” he said. “What are you doing at Piques? Are you here for House Parties?”

I stared at him, my old reaction to him coming back even stronger after spending weeks imagining myself in love with him. The fact that I was already incredibly turned on from my clothing escapade just added to the intensity. “I… I’m a student here,” I managed, swallowing hard. “I’m a sophomore.”

He stopped and favored me with an incredible smile. I’d forgotten how much I’d liked that smile. “I don’t believe this! I’m a senior here. I can’t believe we never ran into each other! Where are you living?”

“L-Laramie Hall,” I managed. “And my classes…”

“Hmm… and I have most of my classes out here, so our paths really weren’t likely to cross. So… how are you? Did you have a good time last night? At House Parties, I mean?”

“I…” I was staring at him, wide-eyed, and thinking was really, really hard. “I didn’t go…” I told him. “I didn’t have a date…” As soon as the words left my mouth, I wished that I could have called them back. What if he took them as an opening? What if he thought I was hinting? What if he asked me to go with him tonight, and I spent the entire evening in his arms?

“Oh…” he said, “that’s too bad. There were some great bands last night. Janine and I had a terrific time.”

Janine? I didn’t know her, but I already hated her. Why did he have to…? What was I thinking? I wasn’t thinking, couldn’t think; all I knew was that I hated her. Janine?! Not even “Janine so-and-so,” but just Janine, as in my Janine, the one everybody thinks about when they think of me, the Janine whose name is so closely linked with mine that I don’t have to mention her last name.

I swallowed hard. I had to get away. If I didn’t get away right now… “It was really nice running into you, Jeremy,” I forced myself to say, “I have to get back… I think my roommates were expecting me a while ago… I… I’ll see you!”

“Oh! Oh, OK,” he said. “Maybe we’ll run into each other again, some time.”

“Yeah… maybe…” and I slowly, deliberately backed away from him and slowly, deliberately, without any indication of haste, walked away from him, heading toward the corner of the nearest building. As soon as I turned the corner and he was no longer in sight, I ran. I ran for all I was worth, tore open the nearest door and fled for the safety of the ladies’ room.

Once inside, I collapsed in tears, berating myself. “Stupid! Stupid, stupid, stupid! How could I have been so blind? How could I have lied to myself all this time? Now what am I supposed to do?”

Years of habit gave me the answer. I fumbled my cell phone out of my purse and called home. Mom answered, but I didn’t want to talk to her right then. Sobbing, I asked, “Mom, is Tina there?”

“Marsh? What’s wrong?”

“I need to talk to Tina, Mom!” I said, desperately.

Fortunately, she knew all about our game, and didn’t argue with me, but called her. “She’s coming, Marsh, but you’re going to talk to me after you’re done with her.”

“Ok, Mom,” I agreed, willing to agree to just about anything.

And then Tina was there. “Marsh? What is it?”

“Miss Pie-crust Panjandrum,” I gasped, not forgetting to gesture dramatically from the bathroom floor, “take a lemon!”

“Yes, Ma’am,” she whispered.

“To the world at large, romance division, Dear Sirs,” I started, my voice breaking badly. “It… it has come to my attention that I am not…” I had to swallow and start again. “I am not, as I thought, completely asexual…” This would have been so much easier if I weren’t crying as I said it, but the strict formalism of the game helped me. “I am, in fact, apparently attracted to boys, or at least…” I sniffed, and wiped my face as my voice cracked, “… one particular boy. I have further been informed that said boy…” and this part was even harder to get out, “… has a girlfriend and I have no chance…” I wailed at the sheer perversity of the whole thing.

I heard Tina inhale sharply. Technically, she wasn’t supposed to react, but under the circumstances, it was understandable.

“But I will rise above this…” I said next. That was the rule. You had to propose a solution; a way to deal with your pain. But I froze, my mind a blank. “I will rise above this,” I repeated. “I will…” Actually doing something seemed impossible. I’d never had to get over a crush before; never found myself in a position where I was even attracted to somebody I wished I hadn’t been, much less where the whole idea had been something I hadn’t wanted to think about. Maybe I could deal with the whole, ‘attracted to boys’ idea. Was I really attracted to boys, suddenly?

“I… need to find out if I really am attracted to boys. If I like one, I should be able to like others, right?” You weren’t really supposed to ask questions, but Tina murmured a tentative agreement. “So I need to find out… so… “ There was only one obvious solution. “The next time a boy asks me out…” I took a deep breath. “… I’m going to say yes. And then I’ll be able to find out.”

“I think that’s a good idea, Marsh,” Tina murmured. “Oh, Marsh, that must really hurt.”

“You have no idea, Teen,” I said, my tears flowing freely. “I couldn’t believe it. I was so sure I wasn’t interested and then to run into him and find out…”

“Yeah, that’s really not fair. Why did he have to tell you something like that?”

“He didn’t know, Teen. I didn’t know. I don’t know which is worse, that I can’t have him, or that I want him in the first place.”

“Do want to talk about this guy? About his girlfriend?”

“No,” I said, managing to force a smile for the first time since finding out. “I’ve just been stupid. I’m in shock. I… don’t think I can think. It really hurts, Teen.”

“I’m sure it does.”

“I can’t believe that I didn’t realize how I’d felt; I’d been imagining myself kissing this guy – you know, for the play–”

“A real guy?” she interrupted me. “You didn’t tell me that part! You just said that you were imaging a guy that your character liked.”

“W- Well…” I stammered. “It was easier to imagine a real guy; I mean, I met him only once and I didn’t think I was ever going to see him again…”

“And you liked this guy when you met him? Who is he? Why didn’t you think you would see him again?”

Those were questions I really didn’t want to answer. Jeremy had known who Tina was; what if she actually knew him as well? It was bad enough crushing on a guy, especially one who wasn’t available, without my sister being reminded of it whenever she saw him. “None of that matters, Teen. I was stupid, OK? The point is, I had convinced myself that I was only using the memory of meeting him, that I couldn’t possibly like him for real.”

“Hmmm… and what changed?”

“I don’t know,” I answered, miserably. “I guess… being a girl this long just got to me or something. I don’t know. Look, I don’t think I want to talk about this anymore. What’s happening with you?”

She laughed. “Compared with what you’re going through? I can’t think of anything close to that. Are you sure you don’t want to talk about it?”

“No, I mean, what am I supposed to say? I’m shattered. I… I don’t know who I am anymore. I thought I did, I thought I had it under control; I was resigned to not having any relationships at all, and now this.”

“So… this is good, right?”

“Um… I don’t know… I guess so. It’s just so… unexpected. It’s scary, Teen.”

“I wish I could give you a hug right now, Marsh. Why couldn’t this have happened when we were there with you?”

“Yeah, I know what you mean…”


“Yeah. At least I sort of have a plan.”

“Think somebody will ask you out soon?” Tina asked, sounding maybe a bit too eager for my state of mind.

“I hope not…” I told her.

“Marsh!” she snapped at me. “Don’t try to get out of this. You did ‘take a lemon.’ You promised!”

“I know, I know. It’s just really scary. But…we’ve got exams coming up. I don’t think too many…” I exhaled nervously. “I don’t think too many guys are going to be thinking about asking… asking girls out during exams.”

“That makes sense. But you have to say yes if one of them does.”

“I know, I will… Oh boy…” I sighed. “I guess I should talk to Mom, now. I promised her.”

“OK, Marsh, take care of yourself. And Marsh?”


“I think… no, never mind. This isn’t the time for it, anyway.”


In a moment, Mom came back on the phone. “What is it, honey? What’s wrong? Do you feel better after talking with your sister?”

“A bit,” I admitted. “I mean, it really hurts, Mom. I just… I just found out that the guy I like has a girlfriend.” I didn’t need to tell her the rest of it.

“I thought you told me you weren’t interested in anybody right now,” she said, sounding a bit confused. “You were sure. Is this new?”

“Kind of. I… I guess I had sort of convinced myself that I wasn’t interested.”

“Oh, I am so sorry, Marsh.”


“You know that the right guy is out there for you, Honey. You just have to find him.”

If I hadn’t been still on the verge of tears, I might have laughed. The idea that I would have even found myself wanting “the right guy” was just too bizarre, made even more so by the possibility that it might actually be true, now. But that wasn’t something I needed to share, so I simply said, “Thanks, Mom.”

“I don’t have an awful lot of easy answers for you, Marsh. It really does hurt when you fall for the wrong guy. And sometimes, telling a girl that she’ll get through it isn’t really all that helpful. But you’ve already been through a breakup with a very long-term boyfriend – this can’t be as bad as that. As long as you remember that your family loves you, you’ll get through this one, too.”

“Yeah, I guess… thanks, Mom.”

We said our goodbyes and hung up, and I just sat there on the bathroom floor for a few minutes more. Then I stood up and took off the stupid skirt that had gotten me into this trouble in the first place. What had I been thinking, anyway? Now I had blown money on a skirt that I didn’t even want to think about wearing anymore. I could probably return it, but that would mean walking past where I had run into Jeremy again.

I jammed it into the bag and put on my own comfortable skirt again and left the bathroom and the building, making sure Jeremy wasn’t around. I thought about going to see Nikki; this was something she would definitely want to know about, but she was probably busy with Alvin this weekend and I didn’t want to bother her, so I just walked back to my dorm.

Of course, my roommates spotted the tear streaks in my makeup, which I hadn’t bothered fixing, and the next thing I knew they had left their boyfriends in the living room and hustled me into Lee Ann’s bedroom, where I burst into tears all over again, and told them what had happened.

“Jeremy?” Terry exclaimed, when I was finished. “The guy you liked from home? He goes to Piques?”

“You poor thing,” Lee Ann said, hugging me. “It, um… doesn’t sound like you knew him very well, Marsh.”

“I guess I didn’t,” I admitted, miserably.

“So you built him up in your mind and developed a crush on what was pretty much your own imaginary ideal guy.”

“I guess so…”

“That doesn’t make it any less painful, of course,” Terry pointed out. “Sometimes crushes like that can take a long time to heal.”

“I just can’t believe how stupid I’ve been,” I moaned.

“It happens, Marsh. You’re not the first girl to do something like this.”

“I think you need a night out, Marsh,” Lee Ann suggested. “Come with us tonight. You can dance with Geoff if you like, or just sit and hang out.”

“No, I can’t,” I insisted. “I might see him… with her.” Or Vicky with Kevin, I added, or do I even still care about that? I didn’t know.

“Marsh, you need to get over this!” Terry said, impatiently.

“I think we can make allowances this one last time,” Lee Ann countered, putting her hand on Terry’s arm. Then she addressed me again. “But starting in January, I don’t want to hear any more about how you’re not interested, OK? We’re not going to push you during exams, but when the new term starts, we’re going to start fixing you up, and no more excuses. Right?”

I nodded. It’s what I had agreed with Tina anyway. I just wasn’t really looking forward to it.

90 Dancing Away

“Hey, Marsh, we’re leaving,” Lee Ann said, poking her head into my bedroom. “If you change your mind, we’re going to start at Blair, and maybe go to Danby after an hour or so.”

“OK, thanks,” I said. “Have fun, and don’t expect me.”

“You know, if you’re not into Geoff, I’m sure I can find somebody else for you to dance with.”

“Thanks, anyway.”

“Look,” she said, coming in and sitting next to me on my bed, “I know you’re broken up about Jeremy, but you can’t hide from him forever. So what if you see him with his girlfriend? You know he has one, so what will seeing her do?”

“I’m… just not ready, Lee Ann. I promise I’ll go out with a guy next month. I just need a bit more time.”

She sighed, and hugged me and looked me in the eye. “I’m holding you to that, Marsh. Take care of yourself, OK?”

She left, and there I was, alone in the room again, while just about everybody else was enjoying themselves at the second night of House Parties. I knew I was being stupid. Lee Ann had been right; I didn’t really know Jeremy very well. All I had to go on was maybe an hour of conversation when I hadn’t even known who I was, much less him. But the pain was real. I wanted to be with him, I wanted… I didn’t even want to be a girl at all, but I wanted to be his girlfriend. Boy, am I sick, I thought, shaking my head.

So now what? I asked myself. I wish I could talk with Nikki. But I had gone back to her dorm after lunch, and had been about to knock, when I heard her and Alvin inside. It wouldn’t have been fair for me to interrupt them now; this was a weekend for lovers, and singles like me had no real place in it. I’d have just brought them down, anyway.

There was no point in studying; I wasn’t relaxed enough to focus on any of my classes. I’d trying practicing the guitar the night before, so I already knew how futile that would be. I’m just going to have to try to face this. I need to figure it out; why did Jeremy affect me so much, anyway?

If Nikki were here, she would probably try to get me to face the idea that I was now attracted to boys, or something. But how could that have happened? I remember deciding that I wasn’t attracted to anybody because my liking for girls didn’t mesh well with Marsha’s preference for boys; could her preferences have just overwhelmed mine? Maybe whatever they did to let me keep my memory was wearing off. Now that was a really scary thought.

No, that wasn’t something I wanted to face; there had to be some less scary answer than me being on the verge of completely losing my identity. What if… what if I had always been attracted to boys, and my apparent preference for girls was just a front? What if that was the reason that I could never keep a relationship going, because deep down I didn’t really want to have a girlfriend? Hurriedly, I pushed that thought away; it was even worse.

OK, I told myself, stop it. You’re panicking. Most girls like boys, so it’s obviously biological, just like having periods, or something. Maybe I had just been refusing to see it? I’d met Jeremy when I’d thought I was dreaming, so being attracted to him hadn’t seemed scary, so I’d developed that attraction, and using it for the play had just built him up in my mind. That meant then when I met him I was already feeling it and it was just the surprise that got me.

That seemed reasonable, but it also meant that I probably did find guys attractive now, and that was still a scary thought. OK, I’m a science major; I know how to deal with hypotheses. I can just think of a bunch of boys I know and see if I like them that way. Except that I wasn’t sure I really wanted to like them in the first place… This would be so much easier if I could just talk it out with somebody…

I sighed. Nikki was the best choice, but she was out with Alvin; Vicky would understand me, but would probably freak out worse than I was about the idea of me liking boys, and besides, she was out with Kevin. Out with Kevin instead of me as Marshall, leaving me to struggle with the foreign messages my new body was sending.

OK, so what if I phrased the question differently? Thinking about the boys I knew, if I were really a girl, would I be attracted to them? That seemed safe enough, so I tried it. I thought about my old roommates, guys I knew really well, and certainly liked. Could I imagine myself, if I thought of myself really as a girl, as attracted to them?

Geoff? No. Rajiv? Definitely not. Mike? Not at all. So maybe I wasn’t really thinking that way at all. I imagined the guys associated with the play. Alvin had been really nice to me, but I couldn’t see it, even if he weren’t Nikki’s boyfriend. I spent extra time trying to imagine myself attracted to Jared, since I did like him as a friend, and Jo had thought of the two of us as a couple, but I didn’t feel anything. And I certainly wasn’t attracted to any of the other guys in the cast.

I was feeling a bit better, now. It was beginning to look as though Jeremy had just been an anomaly; maybe I wasn’t attracted to boys, after all. But just to be complete, I decided to go through the guys I sat with at meals. I started with Jay – it would really be messed up if it turned out that I was attracted to him, but no, I found him no more attractive than I had any of the others. Sam? Nothing? Ditto, Fred.

Then I got to Phil; I seemed to have put off thinking about him. Suddenly, his face filled my imagination and I realized that he was… I struggled against the word, but the only description I could think of was cute! Phil? Cute?! Really? Not as much as Jeremy, certainly not, but definitely somebody I could really enjoy spending time with; stare at, admire… I don’t believe this, I thought. I’ve been talking with him for months; how did I never notice? Maybe it was a good thing he was now seeing Susie, right? I really wasn’t sure. Did I want to start dating boys? Did I really? The idea just seemed so icky, and yet…

Logic insisted that if I was going to stay female, I should learn to like boys and be comfortable dating boys, and being affectionate with boys… but how exactly would you learn something like that? I’d never had to learn to want to be intimate with girls, it had just happened naturally.

Everything was happening too fast. It was as if I had been holding everything back and then running into Jeremy had released it all. Jeremy… Aaagh! I had to stop thinking about him, had to get over this…

What if I did go to the dance tonight? Lee Ann could find me somebody safe to dance with. That would be OK, wouldn’t it? Of course, it was mostly swing dancing tonight, and that was pretty much all contact, but…

Just to see, I lifted my arms to see how it would feel. Of course, I had never swing-danced as a girl, so it was going to be different. My arms moved naturally to the guy’s position: left hand holding my partner’s, right hand on her waist. So I had to reverse it. I put my right hand up to hold my partner’s, and the left hand went… I had to think about it for a bit, but then I remembered that the girl’s left hand was supposed to go on her partner’s shoulder. And then I had to reverse the steps as well. Backwards with the right foot instead of forward with the left as a start, plus learn to follow instead of lead.

It was too much. There was no way I could do this; I would just make a fool of myself. I dropped back onto my bed. Why was I even thinking this way? Did I really want to let a boy put his hand on my waist and steer me around the floor? I’d probably wind up tripping over his feet or something and then Janine would see me and laugh at me…

Stop it! I told myself. Janine has no idea who you are. She doesn’t know that you’re crushing on her boyfriend, wanting to take her place, and hating that you want it at all.

I threw myself down on my bed. Control, Marsh, Control, I reminded myself. You’re an actor – you can deal with emotion. Emotion is just a tool that you use. You are its master, not it, yours. But it was so hard! I was feeling things more than I was used to. I’d think I was in control, and then something would happen, and all of sudden I’d be crying. What does it take to get used to this?

Staying here when everybody else was at House Parties was a defeat. If I was not to be defeated, I just had to go, that’s all. I had to ignore the fact that I was alone; ignore the fact that everybody I could possibly be or have been attracted to had a partner while I didn’t. Ignore the fact that it would be yet another reminded of who and what I had become. Just going and not falling apart would be a victory of sorts.

Fine. So I checked the closet. There had to be an appropriate dress of some kind, there, even if it wasn’t the kind of gowns my roommates had. Certainly it would be more modest, but it should be a bit dressier, maybe with some kind of shawl to cover the shoulders? And there it was, all the way at one end; a deep blue gown, with a shallow rhinestone-trimmed neckline. It bared the arms almost all the way to the shoulder; modest compared to what the other girls were wearing, but much more daring than anything else in my closet. Had Marsha purchased it in hopes of going with Phil this year? Or some random boy I didn’t know, last year? I suddenly realized that I knew way too little of the hopes and dreams of this girl whose life I had taken over.

I made a mental note to call Tina, but right now I had a mission. I had to ignore the fact that I didn’t really know the proper makeup for an event like this; if it was a problem, Lee Ann would just take me into the ladies room and make whatever corrections were needed; so I just did the best I could. Then suddenly feeling like Cinderella after her fairy godmother showed up, I struggled into the gown and found a pair of suitable shoes. Where’s my golden coach? I snickered to myself, grabbed a jacket for protection against the cold and headed out the door.

91 Playing the Game

Nervously, I stood outside of Blair Gymnasium, listening to the music. My determination had carried me to the door, now I just needed to take the next step. I hesitated as some couples I didn’t know pushed open the door and entered, and waited a bit longer as four couples left. Everybody was with somebody, which just made me stand out more.

Holding my breath, I forced myself to follow the next couple inside and to the tables; I had never been here for a dance before, and had a hard time associating the room in its current form with its usual use as a ticketing and refreshments area. I took a peek into the basketball court, now converted to a dance floor. It was almost like being in high school again, with streamers covering the walls and the scoreboard pivoted out of the way.

Now I had to find my roommates. As I searched among the tables, it occurred to me that I hadn’t given a lot of thought to exactly what I was going to be doing. Dancing, certainly – but based on what Lee Ann had been saying, it sounded as though Geoff was going to be hanging out with them, and didn’t have a date. That meant that he and I were likely going to be a couple for the night, a prospect that made me very uncomfortable. I had noticed a difference in my reaction to the boys like Geoff, whom I had known as Marshall, and those like Phil, whom I’d only met as Marsha; for the former, I couldn’t help but see our relationships as pretty much what they had been – which mean that I felt male when talking to them, which would be really creepy tonight. But, I had decided that I needed this evening, so I wasn’t going to say anything. I was just going to take dancing with Geoff like a man.

When I finally found Lee Ann, I didn’t actually see Geoff, which gave me a moment of relief. Of course, Terry and Greg weren’t there, either. Fred and Lisa were… and so were Susie and Phil. I made it a point not to look at Phil as I tapped Lee Ann on the shoulder.

“Marsh!” she gasped. “You came!” My other friends added their greetings.

I gave them an embarrassed smile. “Yeah, I decided to just come and hang out with you guys.”

“And dance?”

“I… guess so…”

“Great!” she said, enthusiastically. “Geoff went to grab some drinks, but he’ll be back soon.” Oh well. “But while you’re waiting…” she looked at her boyfriend. “Hey, Babe, you want to dance a bit with Marsh while I rest?”

“Sure,” he said, getting to his feet, “come on, Marsh.” Surprised, I almost forgot to hand Lee Ann my purse before following him.

This was my first test. I’d slow-danced with Bill, so this shouldn’t be too bad. Instead of putting his arms around me, Stephen took my hand in one of his, and placed his other on my waist, which somehow seemed uncomfortably intimate. I didn’t have much time to think about it, though, before he swept me into a foxtrot.

I might have stumbled, only he seemed to be really good at leading. Not only did he use sure pressure on our clasped hands and my waist to let me know where he wanted me to go, anytime I started to feel a bit off-balance, he was there to support me. It was a very different experience from when I had danced with girls. It made me feel… protected, which was at once secure and discomforting.

“So you didn’t have a date again this time,” he observed as I started getting a bit more comfortable following his lead. “I guess it must be tough with so many girls on campus.”

It was a reminder that he also had known Marsha, presumably from last spring’s House Parties. “I hadn’t actually been looking all that hard this time,” I told him.

“Well, I wish you would. Lee Ann’s really been worried about you.” Enough to talk to her boyfriend about me, apparently. I wouldn’t have thought my social life would be all that interesting to her. I’m sure Geoff and Rajiv hadn’t paid any real attention when I’d broken up with Jackie or Vicky.

After two dances, he evidently decided that he had fulfilled his obligation, so he walked me back to the table. Susie and Phil were gone, but Geoff was back, and greeted me a bit more enthusiastically than I would have liked.

“Hey Marsh!” Geoff said, leaping from his seat on the other side of Lee Ann from Stephen. He held the chair next him for me, and I really had no choice but to accept it. I made myself smile, as I sat down.

“Lee Ann said you were here, so I got you a soda, too. Diet Coke OK?”

“Thanks,” I nodded, smiling despite my wish that he would just ignore me. His puppy-dog eagerness could be wearing, but I’d never really been able to get angry with him.

“So why are you here alone?” he asked. “I’d think a cute girl like you would have lots of guys chasing after her.”

Ugh. Was he hitting on me or just making friendly conversation?

“She set her heart on the wrong guy,” Lee Ann commented.

“And I’m alone because I set my heart on the wrong girl,” Geoff grinned. “We can commiserate!”

I bit my lip. I couldn’t believe he was mentioning his infatuation with Lee Ann right in front of her boyfriend.

“So, you want to dance?”

Actually, I didn’t, but I didn’t have a good excuse. This was a dance, after all, and I was supposedly trying to get used to doing “date” things with guys, so… “Sure,” I agreed.

We reached the dance floor in time to try a waltz, which shouldn’t have been all that difficult, except that Geoff wasn’t nearly as good a dancer as Stephen, and between the mistakes he kept making, and my lack of familiarity with dancing as a girl, we kept getting confused and having to start again. Plus, while I had been able – just barely – to see over Stephen’s shoulder, Geoff’s greater height meant that his shoulder was pretty much all I could see, unless I tilted my head way up to look at his face. We stumbled through a couple of foxtrots, and at some point, fell into something that approximated the correct steps. It all worked, though, because every time one of us messed up, he laughed, and after a while he had me laughing, too.

Then the music switched again and he got this really funny look on his face. “I… don’t think this one’s going to work.”

I couldn’t help but grin at him. “Never learned the jitterbug?”

“Not really. But you should have seen me last night, Marsh! I can move with the music just fine. It’s the steps I have trouble with!”

“Let’s just go sit down, then,” I laughed.

As we made our way back to our friends, he commented, “At least you seem to know what you’re doing, Marsh. Is this one of those stage things?”

I shrugged. “Not really, and I’m mostly faking it anyway. I think I could do the jitterbug with practice.” And probably a lot of it – the girl’s steps can be a lot different from the guys, what with spins and dips, and I didn’t even think to practice them.

The only ones at the table when we got there were Phil and Susie. I nodded my thanks to Geoff as he held out my chair for me again, and tried to ignore the fact that I was now sitting next to Phil.

“So what finally brought you out tonight, Marsh?” Susie asked.

“Oh, I was just feeling sorry for myself and lonely, and I decided that just being with the gang even without a date was better than staying at home.”

“And you get to dance with multiple boys this way,” she added.

I nodded, again deliberately not looking at Phil, which was a bit difficult, given that I had to look past him to see her.

“Well, I’m glad you decided to join us,” Phil said, jumping into the conversation.

It would have been rude not to look now, so I did, and swallowed hard. There was definitely something appealing about him. I wondered if I had realized it all along, and just deliberately ignored it.

“Thanks,” I said.

“You’re an important part of this group, Marsh, and it just wasn’t the same without you last night,” he went on, and favored me with an enchanting smile. It wasn’t as terrific as Jeremy’s smile, but boy did it make my chest tighten.

I smiled back. “I missed you guys, too. Maybe I was just worrying a bit too much about some of my own insecurities.”

“Insecurities? I refuse to believe that a girl who could get up on stage like you did could be insecure about anything.”

Talking to him like this, I suddenly felt shy. Shy! A lock of my hair had fallen in front of my face, so I brushed it aside. “Thanks. But when I’m on stage, I feel like I’m in control. Off-stage, not always so much.”

“I think you underestimate yourself,” he grinned. He was making me feel really nervous, and I tossed my head to clear it.

“You know,” Susie said suddenly, “I think I need to fix my makeup. Join me, Marsh?”

Startled, I pulled my gaze away from Phil. “Oh, sure,” I said, grabbing my purse. Maybe I can get her to help me with my own makeup.

“Having fun dancing with Geoff?” she asked as we walked.

“Sure,” I answered. “I mean, he’s not the best dancer, but…”

As soon as we got into the ladies’ room, though, she grabbed my arm and turned on me. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“What?” I was taken aback. I hadn’t been aware of doing anything in particular that she might object to.

“I mean, flirting with Phil. You had your chance with him, Marsh. You told me you weren’t interested. Now, hands off!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I protested. “All we were doing was talking politely.”

“Talking?” she sneered. “You were practically drooling! It’s not fair, Marsh! Do you have any idea how hard I’ve worked to get us to this point? You can’t toss a guy over and then decided to come back and pick him up again, just like that. It’s not fair!”

“Susie,” I said, as sincerely as I could. “I promise you, I wasn’t trying…”

“I saw the way you were looking at him. In another minute, he would have asked you to dance, and then I would have been the one all alone.”

“I wasn’t…”

“Just… stay away from him tonight, OK?”

Taken aback, I could only agree. “OK…”

She stomped out of the bathroom without a backwards glance, and I looked at myself in the mirror. Had I really been flirting with him? It felt really awkward and embarrassing. I didn’t even know how girls were supposed to flirt. Jackie had once told me that she had practiced looks and gestures, although she wouldn’t tell me what was practiced and what was natural. Maybe I needed to learn how, if for no other reason than to avoid flirting when I didn’t want to.

Or did I? I was really new to this whole being attracted to boys thing. In hindsight, I probably wouldn’t have minded if Phil had danced with me. I was trying to learn about relationships with boys, after all. I mean, I just trying to be practical.

Sighing, I opened my purse and tried to see what I could do about my makeup. The other girls were clearly wearing something different. Was it the mascara? Eye-liner? I took out a highlighter and dithered with it in front of the mirror.

The door opened and another girl came in and went right to the mirror, expertly making adjustments to her own makeup. I envied her skill; after all, as long as I was a girl, I should at least get good at it, right? Suddenly, she said, “darn,” and fished futilely in her purse. Then she turned to me. “Do you have a dark brown pencil?”

Surprised, I fumbled in my purse again and pulled out a couple of pencils and offered them to her. She selected one, quickly drew it along her lashes, and returned it to me with her thanks, and then left. I sighed. I hated feeling inept.

I figured that it was probably safe to go back to the table. Surely, Susie would have pulled Phil back on to the dance floor, if only to get him away from me. And in fact, they were gone; Geoff was still there, along with Fred and Lisa.

“Hey,” he greeted me. “Feel like dancing some more?”

“Why not?” I agreed, dropped my purse on the table, and walked with him back to the floor, where we moved into a simple two-step. As we danced, I noticed the girl from the bathroom, who nodded at me in recognition over her partner’s shoulder. Then the two of them turned, and my heart skipped a beat as I recognized her partner. It was Jeremy.