Archive for the ‘Section 7: Winter Break’ Category.

100 Found Wanting

“You found it?” I gasped. “Where? I searched all over the physics building!”

“You remember I told you I was making a game of the time travel thing?” Eric asked. “Well, I got a bunch of grad students thinking I was a bit loopy.”

I winced. “I’m really sorry about that.”

“It’s not a problem. I don’t mind being seen as a bit of clown; I’m not going to be here next year anyway, after all. Anyway, I just got a call from a grad student in the gravity group – a guy who’s studying under Morton Davis. And he says that one of the locked and seemingly unused labs seems to belong – or else used to belong – to our mysterious missing Professor Davis.”


“Yup! This is just great. So he’s cleaning up his advisor’s lab before going home for break, and he comes across this package that hadn’t been opened, so of course he opens it and starts unpacking it to put into the lab inventory, only he doesn’t recognize any of the stuff inside. It’s all this electronics gizmos that they don’t use, so he double-checks the label. And guess what?”


“It’s not supposed to be there; the package was addressed to Professor James Davis, and there’s a room number. So he packs it all back up and goes along to deliver it to the right place, only the lab is locked and there’s no name on the door. And he checks the department list, and there is no Professor James Davis. So he starts thinking, and remembers that news story and the claims of a missing professor, and then thinks of my little game…”

“And he decided you might be interested.”

“Exactly. He says he’ll show it to us when we get back in January, but I thought you’d want to know.”

“I sure did,” I told him. “Thank you very much, Eric!”

“No problem. I told Allie, of course, and she’s going to let the Strangers know, but you seemed to be the one who’s worried about this most. Anyway, take care, and I’ll see you in January.”

“See you then!” I hung up, ecstatic. We’ve found the lab! It was the first step. Even if it was really abandoned, it should at least be a clue; this was definitive evidence we’d found yet that Davis and his experiment still existed. Maybe changing back was going to be possible after all… and then I remembered what I’d done the night before.

I went on a date with a boy, I remembered, and I kissed him. And what’s more, I’d made a date with him for tonight… and, I realized, swallowing hard, that I really wanted to go out with him again. What was I doing?!

“Found what, Marsh?” Mom asked from behind me.

I spun… and realized that, surprised by Eric’s news, I’d never actually left the kitchen. Mom had heard the whole thing. I tried to answer. I moved my mouth, but no sound came out.

“You seemed excited by the news,” she continued, putting her arms around me, “but now you look panicky. What’s wrong?”

“Uh…” was about all I could manage. Now what was I supposed to do? My mind raced, looking for a why to keep my secret without actually lying.

“What did they find, Honey? And why does it have you upset?”

Bolstered by the comfort of her arms around me, I decided to risk it. “The… they found the… the lab.”

Mom held me away far enough that she could look at my face. With narrowed eyes, she asked, “What lab, Baby?”

My heart was hammering. What would happen if she knew the truth? “Ah… the…” I swallowed hard. “The lab where they did the…” I turned my face away, unable to meet her glance. “The time travel experiment.”

I heard her sigh as she held me out to arms’ length. “The one you’ve already admitted was a hoax?” she asked, quietly. “Oh, Marsh, what are you doing?” She pulled me back into an embrace. “Marsh, whenever you get upset now, you go to this story. Why can’t you tell me what’s wrong? Why don’t you confide in me any more? Have I done something to make you not trust me?”

“No, Mom!” I hurriedly answered, mortified at the suggestion. “You’ve been great. I just… This whole thing…” I took a breath to calm myself. “It’s not a hoax, Mom.”

“Marsh, your father spoke with Bob Peterson, and–”

“Dean Peterson is a liar!” I snapped. “He knows perfectly well that it’s not a hoax and he’s trying to cover it up! They changed us, Mom! You said it yourself – you said I’m ‘in a strange mood’ and that I don’t talk to you the way I used to. That’s just it, Mom. I’m changed. I’ve been doing the best I can, but I don’t know how Marsha is supposed to act. I don’t remember her life. I don’t remember dating Dirk or hanging out with her girlfriends! I don’t…”

I trailed off, because Mom’s arms had suddenly loosened around me, and she’d stepped back. I wish I could forget the look of horror and fear in her eyes.

“You don’t remember… Marsha’s life…?”

I might have gone a bit too far. “Um… no,” I said, in a small voice. “I… think of myself as ‘Marsh’ to distinguish between us…”

“Honey, I think we need to take you to the doctor. Please sit down.” She put the back of her hand against my forehead. “You don’t have a fever, but you’re clearly delirious.”

I sat back and rested my hand against my eyes in frustrated resignation. “I’m not delirious, Mom,” I said as calmly and quietly as I could. “Tina knows. She’s been helping me fit into this life; this life that I don’t remember at all. Chad knows. That’s why he yelled at me; he’s convinced that I’ve given up, that I’m not even trying to change back any more.”

She pulled over a chair so that she could sit facing me, and just sat there for a moment, just staring at me. Finally, she said, “OK… Marsha… Oh, I’m sorry, do you prefer ‘Marsh’ now?”

“Either one,” I said, glumly, waving my hand to show that it didn’t matter. What mattered was that I had told her, and I couldn’t undo that, now.

“OK, Marsh. Let’s assume that I believe you. That there was an experiment that changed you and the College is trying to hush it up. Why…?” she shook her head. “I have a lot of questions, here. Let’s start with, ‘how have you managed to keep this from me?’ I wouldn’t have expected a stranger to fit in with our family.”

“I’m not a stranger, Mom. I grew up in this house; it’s just that some things happened differently, is all. My life turned out differently. There’s a lot that’s the same. You’re the same; Dad’s the same, Tina’s the same. Most of the family is just as I remember. I’m the one who’s different.”

“And this imaginary cousin?”

So she hadn’t forgotten that. “In the old… the other timeline, Aunt Jackie had a third child. In this one she didn’t. So that’s different. Um… some people at school are a bit different, although not so most people would notice. My girlfriend Vicky is changed so slightly that only somebody who knew her as well as I do could even tell. I mean, you don’t look all that closely at most people. I remember a guy last year who had a moustache and when he shaved it off, people knew that there was something different about him, but it took them a long time to realize what.”

“OK… and why does Chad want you to ‘change back’?”

“Well… I told him I really needed to, only I couldn’t find the lab, and he’s been helping me try to figure out where it was… and when I told him I had a date with Jeremy, he got mad at me and said I was giving up and I should have just told him I didn’t care and not made him work so hard to help me if I wasn’t going to follow through.”

Mom closed her eyes and put hand to her head. I could see that she was really upset. Then she looked back up. “I’m very worried about you, Marsha. I wonder if the pressure of school has gotten to you. I know that being a pre-med student can be very stressful, and I know that you’ve been lonely. I had hoped that landing that role would lift your spirits; I know that you were excited about it, and you did it marvelously, but maybe… maybe it was too much pressure at once. Maybe you should take the next semester off.”

“No!” I leaped to my feet. “You can’t do that! Eric is expecting to see me in January to show me the lab, and…” I compressed my lips, uncomfortable under her gaze, trying to think of arguments in my favor.

“I… I’m comfortable at school. I’m getting along with my new roommates and my new friends, and… I even talk with some of my old friends, although most of them don’t remember me. Vicky is the only one who does, but that’s because she did the experiment, too.” And Jeremy will be there, too, came unbidden into my head.

“I don’t know, Honey. I need to talk this over with your father.”

“Don’t do that, Mom, please? Don’t tell Dad about it.”

“Why in the world would I keep this from your father?” she asked me, astonished.

“Well…” Putting it into words wasn’t all that easy. “When I told you, you sort of flinched away from me. I don’t… I don’t want Daddy to look at me like I’m a stranger, or crazy, or anything.”

“Marsha, this is not like you.”

“Oh course it’s not like me!” I howled. “Or not like Marsha, I should say. That’s what I’m telling you, Mom. I’m not me. I mean, I’m not Marsha. I’m not the girl you remember. I’m the child you might have had if things went differently, when they did go differently.

“Look,” I said, lowering my voice. “Marsh doesn’t play the guitar, does she?” When Mom shook her head, I continued, “But I do. Not as well as I used to, because I don’t have the muscle memory, but I already play a lot better than you’d expect for somebody who’d only been practicing for a couple of months. Let me get the guitar I borrowed and show you.”

Without waiting for her assent, I ran to my room and grabbed the guitar and ran back. As I tuned it, I explained. “This actually belongs to the brother of a close friend, but he did the experiment, too, and in his other life he never learned how to play it, so he doesn’t even want to see it.” I finished and played a few test chords. “Now remember, I don’t have the muscle memory I had, so this won’t be great, but it should make my point. And I launched into All My Loving, the same song on which I had failed so spectacularly in Nikki’s room. It wasn’t up to my old standards, but I thought it would pass.

When I finished, I look at Mom for a reaction and was surprised to see her crying. “I… I don’t know how you did that, Honey, but that was beautiful. Grandpa used to play that all the time, and you did it with his little flairs and touches. How in the world…?”

“Grandpa taught me a bit before he died, Mom,” I explained. “And I used to listen to recordings he’d made when I was learning. I guess… I’d never really thought about it, but I suppose I did copy some of his style. I’ve been playing for years, Mom, and I always hoped he would have been proud of me. There’s no way Marsha could have done this, could she?”

“I don’t know… I don’t…” She kept shaking her head. “I don’t know if you’re going crazy, or I am, or… I don’t see how what you’re telling me could be true, but I don’t see how you could play as well as you just did, either.”

“It’s not much,” I pointed out. “I only have a repertoire of like three songs, at this point. I’m having to relearn everything I used to know.”

“That’s still rather… amazing,” she commented. She took the guitar out of my hands and put it down carefully on the counter before hugging me. “Baby, I don’t what’s going on, I can’t think of you as a stranger, but clearly something’s happened to you. I’m very hurt that you confided in your sister and Chad, but not your father and me.”

“I was afraid…” I explained in a small voice. “You just threatened to keep me home from school, and to take me to a doctor. I didn’t want that to happen, so I didn’t tell you. I was afraid that if you knew I wasn’t the daughter you remembered, that you’d be afraid of me, or not… well, not comfortable with me. I need you, Mom. I wasn’t going to tell you, but you overheard a conversation and I didn’t want to lie.”

“You didn’t want to lie?” I shook my head. “But you told me it was a hoax, didn’t you? So you have lied, one way or the other.”

I squirmed uncomfortably. “I’m sorry, Mom. I didn’t know what to do.”

“Well, teenagers do keep secrets for stupid reasons. I’m not so old that I don’t remember being afraid to tell everything that happened to me. I’m going to have to think about things, Marsh.” Then, releasing me, she looked me in the eye. “Do you not want me to call you Marsha any more?”

“I don’t want anybody to treat me any differently. I don’t want people to think I’m a freak, or anything.”

With a slight smile, Mom said, “Well, I certainly remember that feeling. OK, Honey. I am going to have to discuss this with your father, but,” she held up a hand when I started to object, “I think you underestimate him. I promise that we won’t force you to do anything you’re uncomfortable with.”

I nodded, but I couldn’t help remembering that he had called Dean Peterson on me. What if he did something like that again?

101 Food For Thought

I waited in my room while Mom spoke with Dad when he got back from taking Tina to choir. Boy, had I messed up now. I had blabbed, and things were no longer in my hands. If my parents made the wrong decision, my life could be over – and they would think they were doing it ‘for my own good.’

I called the only person that I thought would understand.

“Hello?” Nikki said.

“Hi, Nikki. Got a few minutes?”

“Marsh! You sound terrible! What’s wrong?”

“I think I just messed up badly,” I admitted. “Um… I told Mom the truth, and now she’s telling Dad.”

“And… didn’t we discuss this? I thought you had agreed that you should tell them.”

“I suppose… but Nikki, what if they don’t believe me? When I told Tina, she really freaked out. Chad at least seemed really surprised. Mom seemed to think I was overworked or something. I played something for her, and that impressed her, but… I can’t tell what she’s decided happened. And now she’s talking to Dad, and… I don’t know what they’re going to do. I’m really worried that they won’t let me go back to Piques.”

“If they decide you’re overworked and overstressed, you mean?”

“Exactly.” She’d gone right to the heart of it. “If Dad thinks this is all the product of stress, he’ll think that a semester off, where the family can keep an eye on me, could be just what I need.”

“Well…” she said thoughtfully, “that might not be the worst of things. You’ve got Eric looking for the lab; he’ll still be here. And maybe it will give you a chance to, you know, get used to your new body without the pressure of school.”

“But he found the lab!” I exclaimed. I wasn’t explaining this well. “Or rather a grad student did and told him about it. He just called and Mom overheard me, and that’s why I told her. It was either that or lie.”

“He found it? That’s great!”

“Yeah, not so great if I’m still here when he gets to see it. And what good would it do me if they can fix things and I’m still here? And this is Jeremy’s last year and I won’t get to see him all year, and – oh, I forgot to tell you, he took me dancing last night and we’re going to a movie tonight. Or we were supposed to…”

“Wait. Wait. Wait. Jeremy? The boy you were crying about? And why are you…? Marsh, back up a bit. Are you planning to be a boy again or a girl?”

“I…” It was as though I hadn’t really thought it through. No, I hadn’t at all, actually. This had all happened too fast. “I definitely want to be a boy again. I do. Only…”

“Yes?” she prompted when I hesitated?

“Jeremy and I got talking and it turned out that he didn’t actually have a girlfriend and he really liked me, and…”

“And as a boy, that disgusts you and you don’t want to have anything to do with him.”

“Right. No! I mean… I don’t know… I mean…”

“You sound really confused, Marsh. Let’s take this one step at a time. You said he took you dancing?”

So I explained one more time about the arranged date and our soap-opera-like conversation in the car, and the good night kiss, and agreeing to another date tonight.

“So, you really like this guy?” she observed when I had finished.

“A lot,” I agreed. “Like with weak knees and floating on the ceiling and all. I haven’t felt like this in… well, a long time.”

“MmmHmm. Sounds to me as if somebody’s in love again. From what you’ve told me, that seems to be a pattern with you. Do you think you’re in love with him, or with the idea of being in love?”

“What? It’s not love. We’ve only had one date!”

“And now that you think you can be a boy again, you’re going to call the whole thing off, right? Cancel your date tonight?”

I felt my chest constrict. “Um… I don’t know. Do you think I need to?”

She laughed. “No, I’m not making that decision for you. I just wanted to see how you would react to the idea. You are one confused little puppy, aren’t you, Marsh?”

“Seriously,” I admitted. “I guess what I want is to change back… but maybe not just quite yet. I mean, I really like Jeremy a lot, and I know he likes me, and that will have to end if I… I mean, when I change back – if I can. I’m just not ready to give him up just yet.”

“And what happens when you do?”

“Oh, man. Well, he won’t remember having met me, and… I guess the best thing for him will be to find another girl… only I’ll remember and probably still be a little bit in love with him, even though I won’t be attracted to him any more. At least I hope I won’t. So it’ll be almost like with Vicky, where I can remember loving her, but I’m definitely not interested in her right now.”

“And I think you were jealous of the guy she is dating now?”

I sighed “Yeah, and I’ll probably be jealous of his new girlfriend, too, only it won’t be quite the same. With Vicky… I know that she wants me back and I want to be her boyfriend again, and…”

“Still? After all the fights you’ve had?”

“Yeah. There’s just something between us. So the real difference will be that if I see him again afterwards, it’ll hurt me, but not him, and I’ll just have to live with it.”

“It’ll hurt even worse if you keep going out with him, you know.”

“I know. But it’s going to hurt even more if I just stop now, and… well, I still don’t know that I can change back.”

“So what do you want to do?”

“I guess… I want to go out with him again, and see… and then I’ll worry about it after I change back, if I can change back, and that depends on whether Mom and Dad let me go back to school.”

“Which you don’t think you can control.”

“I can’t! If they decide that I’m inventing the whole thing, they’ll decide that I need to be under a doctor’s care – Mom already suggested that – or that I need to stay home and rest.”

“That would really suck.”

“Yeah. Mom promised that they wouldn’t do anything that made me uncomfortable, so maybe I’m just worrying for nothing.”

“Will your Dad go along with that?”

“I have no idea. I don’t remember her saying anything… Oh, I have to go. I hear them coming.”

“Talk to you later, Marsh. Let me know what happens.”

“I will. Thanks!” And I hung up, about ten seconds before I heard them knock at my door.

“Marsh?” called Dad. “May we come in?”

“Come in!” I called, sitting up on my bed. At some point in the telephone conversation, I seem to have lain down on it.

The door opened and my parents came in, first Dad, looking at me as though I were a stranger, then Mom, looking very worried. I think Dad’s expression hurt more. There was none of the fondness I was used to, and depended on. I had been afraid that this would happen if he ever found out, and now here it was.

Mom took the desk chair, the only chair in the room, and Dad stood halfway from the door to the bed. “So,” he said. “I assume this is the truth that we weren’t supposed to believe?”

“I know it’s hard to believe,” I told them quietly, “but it’s the truth. It’s not a hoax, Daddy. They really did change us.”

“Well, your mother seemed pretty impressed with your guitar playing, and I admit that I don’t have a good explanation for how you might have learned to play as well as she claims, nor would I be able to judge just how good you are. So I have to admit that there is something going on here. But… I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a story of people going back in time just to change other people. Usually there’s something else they’re trying to do, and then people wind up changed as a result. Going back in time only to make other people miserable seems gratuitously cruel.”

“I don’t know, Daddy. I didn’t pay as much attention to the details as I probably should have. They asked a bunch of questions about our family, though, and said that we should imagine how small changes could lead to big changes.”

“Now, on Thanksgiving, you made a lot of claims, which you later agreed were lies. How many of them are you now saying are true?”

“I… don’t remember everything I said, then. I was pretty upset.”

“About this cousin.”

“Tyler. Yes.”

“So that’s one of the things you say was not part of the hoax.”

I sighed in frustration. “It’s not…” I took a breath. “Tyler did exist. His disappearance was one of the changes as a result of the experiment.”

“Which means that it was not only the volunteers who were changed; supposedly a lot of people were changed.”

I nodded.

“So why did Bob Peterson say it was a hoax?”

“The Strangers in the Mirror say that it’s a cover-up; for some reason the College doesn’t want people to know about it.”

“And neither did you, apparently. So if it’s a cover-up, you went along with it.”

“I did tell you at Thanksgiving,” I pointed out.

“Yes, but you also said you were a boy. I saw you last night, Princess. That was not the reaction of a boy.”

I turned red. “I… It was a very nice date.”

“And you reacted just the way I’d seen you react on dates with your last boyfriend.” He sat next to me on the bed and put his arm around me. “Marsh, I realize that somebody must have happened, and I promise that I’m going to do whatever it takes to fix this and make whoever did this to you, pay. But it seems to me that we have an awful lot of questions and not very many answers. We have a few clues: your claims and those of your friends, this lab that your friend found, and the insistence by Piques College that it’s a hoax.”

“How is that last a clue?”

“Well, let’s take stipulate that there really was an experiment. It was clearly conducted with school approval, right? I mean, you didn’t hear about it through some back channels?”

“No, they posted an ad on the school’s internal website.”

“And now they’re denying that it even happened. I don’t suppose the ad’s still around? Or that anybody made a copy of it?”

I shook my head. “They only usually run for a couple of weeks.”

“The fact that they are claiming it’s a hoax suggests that something went wrong. That it didn’t work the way the College expected. So talking to the people who did it might be useful.”

“If we could find them. We’ve been looking for a long time.”

“But now your friend knows where the lab is, right, Honey?” Mom put in.

“We think so,” I said, although I wasn’t quite as excited about it as I had been.

“So we need to see that lab,” Dad concluded. “And we need somebody who will understand what we’re seeing. That means that we need a physicist, right? One who is not connected with Piques College. I’m going to have to ask around to see who might owe me a favor.”

“Isn’t Sylvia Shimmer’s husband a physicist?” Mom asked.

“I don’t know,” Dad responded. “Ask her. Just don’t get too specific yet about why. We might also need to see if there is a legal angle here; if we can get in touch with the parents of the other victims, maybe a class action lawsuit will work. Marsh, do you have a way to reach the others?”

“Um… I’m not sure. And I’m pretty sure that most of them won’t be willing. They’re pretty frightened of even being found out.” And I had already lost control. I really wasn’t too crazy about the way Dad was taking over. This was my life we were talking about. I should have just come up with an excuse for Mom.

“Well, work on them. Call them and try to make them see reason. I’m sure they’ll make the right decision.” I shivered. That was too much like the way Dean Peterson had spoken.

“Marsha, what’s wrong?” Mom asked. It was as though she could read my mind.

“It’s just… It feels like Daddy’s trying to bring in all the big guns and it’s going to bring all kinds of attention on us, and… it makes me wish I hadn’t told you.”

Mom and Dad looked at each other. “OK, Princess,” Dad said after a moment. “We don’t have to do it that way. What did you have in mind?”

“I guess…” I squirmed a bit. “I sort of thought we could start by seeing what’s in the lab and go from there.”

“And maybe, Art, what she really needs now is support, not solutions,” Mom explained. And then she came over and set on my other side and put her arms around me.

“OK. OK,” Dad said, watching me rest my head on Mom’s shoulder. “I just… feel like I want to do something about this. If what you’re saying is true, Marsh, that means that you and all of your friends… had their lives violated. I’m your father, Princess. Nobody should be able to do that to my little girl and get away with it.”

“Let us know what you want from us, Honey,” Mom said. “If you want lawyers, we’ll get lawyers. If you want scientists or commandos, or whatever, we’ll figure out a way.”

“Commandos?” I asked, picking up my head.

She grinned. “I’m just being dramatic. The point is, while this is very strange for us, you are our daughter and we are on your side.”

I nodded.

“Seriously strange,” Dad agreed. “Um… I can’t help feeling as though this is just a dream or something.”

“It’s been a nightmare for me,” I said.

“I get that, and I’m going to try not to ‘take over.’ But I do hate feeling as though I can’t do anything.”

“I’ll let you know, Daddy,” I said, and I kissed him on the cheek.

Then he stood up and pulled Mom and me to our feet. “OK. So if we can’t solve this, can we solve something else? Why don’t we all pick up Tina and then go out to lunch? Sort of just to celebrate Marsh being home – whichever version of her she happens to be.”

102 Looking Better All the Time

I remembered after lunch that I had made a promise to meet Dirk for ice cream, to “talk about our relationship.” After what had happened with Jeremy, though, it didn’t seem fair to him to go through with it, especially if he expected to pay for me. I therefore excused myself from the table to call him.

I found his number in the history on my phone. “Hey, Mel,” he said, answering on the second ring. “What’s up?”

“I just wanted to be honest with you,” I explained. “My date last night went really well, and I’m seeing him again tonight, so…”

“Oh.” I could hear the disappointment in his voice, and I could almost feel sorry for him. I don’t remember him having had a lot of dating success, and losing one of the few girls who had actually wanted to be with him must hurt.

“So I just wanted to be fair,” I concluded.

“You know, Mel,” he persisted. “I still value you as a friend. We’ve barely spoken since we broke up…”

“Since you dumped me,” I corrected him, remembering what Tina and Chad had said.

“Uh, yeah. I’m going to have to keep apologizing for that. Still, it’s been about nine months, and I’d still like to meet up, just to talk. Is that all right?”

I figured I could give him that, at least, so I said, “Sure. Just to talk? That’ll be fine. See you then.”

It wasn’t until we’d hung up that I remembered that with my lack of memory of Marsha’s life, I wasn’t going to be able to reminisce along with him. Maybe I could just say that I didn’t really want to talk about the past? Calling back at this point to change my mind didn’t seem fair, so I decided that I would just have to bluff my way through it.

I borrowed the car to head back to the Mall, arriving a bit early. Walking through the crowds without any urgent need to get anywhere, I realized one interesting benefit of my starting to get comfortable being attracted to boys – I could boy-watch! It wasn’t quite the same as my old pastime of girl-watching; for one thing, I didn’t know the rules. I definitely didn’t want to be caught looking and have some guy think I was flirting with him. Not only that, but I seemed to be more selective now. It used to be that I could find well over half of girls attractive, although of course I had focused on the most beautiful. With boys, though, it seemed as though no more than about one in ten was worth looking at, at all.

I got to the Häagen-Daz early, and didn’t see Dirk, so grabbed a small table to wait. There was only one boy there really worth looking at, and he was with a girl, and the way the two of them were looking at each other, I was pretty sure that it would not do to have her catch me looking. I shrugged and pulled out a book to read while I was waiting. It was one of Marsha’s romances, and I was prepared to hate it, but I found it surprisingly engrossing – so much so that I didn’t notice when a boy sat down opposite me.

“Hey, Melanie! How long have you been here?”

I looked up and gasped. “Dirk?!” He was gorgeous. That’s not Dirk! I thought, but who else would have called me, “Melanie”?

“Um, yeah. Is something wrong?” he asked.

“Um… no…” I choked out. “I’d just… forgotten how… I mean… you startled me.”

I couldn’t help staring. Looking closely, I could see a family resemblance, ruling out the likelihood that this was just a different boy with the same first name. They’d changed him, too! “Um… I… uh… d-did… did you sign up for a time travel experiment at school?”

“Did I what?!”

“J-just… I… never mind… I’m just a little bit…”

“Time travel? What? Did you say, ‘time travel’?”

“I’m just a little… you know what? Forget it. I was just reading, um…” I hurriedly jammed the book into my purse so that he wouldn’t see that it wasn’t science fiction.


“You know… I think I need some fresh air,” I suggested. I was definitely having some trouble breathing. I could see why Marsha had dated him; I was attracted to him, despite my memories of the old Dirk.

“OK, we’ll take a walk. Um, if we’re going outside, you’re probably not going to want ice cream. Why don’t I get us some hot chocolate, instead?”

As I waited, something else occurred to me. Dirk and Marsha had dated for two years. It had not hit me until now what that implied. Dirk seemed extremely comfortable talking to me, probably because he thought I was the girl he had known so well and so long. There was none of the first date nervousness that I had felt from Jeremy. Plus, Marsha had been seriously interested in Dirk, and whatever part of her remained in me seemed to be feeling the pull, and I didn’t like it.

I thanked Dirk when he handed me my drink, and walked alongside of him. Hormones. It had to be hormones. I had been in denial, and now I was finding myself attracted to whatever guys Marsha would have liked. She’d definitely liked Phil and Dirk, and Tina had picked out Jeremy, not for me, but for her. It was bad enough that I was in her life, why couldn’t I at least have my own preference for what boys I liked?

“That came out pretty weird, didn’t it? I mean… what would you say if I actually had meant to ask you if you’d done an experiment like that?”

“I’d tell you that you were talking to somebody in the wrong department. If anybody ever comes up with a serious time travel experiment it would be some in physics, not chemistry. Or…” he added, nodding at me, “biology.”

“Yeah,” I answered, still a bit shaky. “And probably wouldn’t be an undergrad, either.”

“Yeah… take your time,” Dirk encouraged me. “You really do look a bit out of it.”

“Uh huh. Thanks.”

We walked a bit in silence before he decided to try restarting the conversation. “So… what have you been up to? Aside from dating this new guy, just when I’m trying to get back together with you…?”

“Well, you know, theater stuff. I had the lead in a school production of Mousetrap.”


“And, um… I did a small role in Come Blow Your Horn last spring, or did I tell you about that one?”

He nodded. “You were rehearsing for that when we… well, I don’t know how many more times I can apologize, but I will, if it will help.”

“Forget it,” I said magnanimously. He held the outside door open for me, and then followed me outside. “So, what have you been up to?” I asked.

It turned out that he was at Penn, planning to major in chemistry, and that he was into fencing, although not good enough for the team. I had never known this about him, had never really cared to know. I wondered if these had all been true in the previous timeline as well. If not, the change seemed to have done him a fair bit of good. And… I had to admit, he did seem to be a pretty nice guy. Chad’s assessment had been accurate. If I ever got things back the way they had been, I promised myself, I would make a point of looking Dirk up. It appeared that I was the one who would really need to apologize.

He didn’t push me to reminisce about what had been, so I didn’t have to explain away gaps in my knowledge, nor did he press me on the reason for my idiotic-sounding question. Obviously, he hadn’t been listening to the radio show that had joked about the experiment.

He wound up walking me to my car, and was surprisingly decent about the whole situation. But he’d left me with an interesting mystery. Vicky was probably in the best position to help me think about it, so I called her on the way home.

She seemed a bit surprised to hear from me, and a bit nervous. “You’re… not calling me for dating advice or something like that, are you?”

I laughed. “No, actually I had some news for you. Eric called. He says he thinks he’s found the lab.” I explained about the grad student and the misdelivered package.

“Marsh, that’s fantastic! And here I was thinking you’d given up!”

“Well, I can’t take the credit. This is Eric’s doing, but it looks as though we actually have something to work on when we get back to school.”

“You have just made my day, Marsh. We’re going to get this taken care of, I just know it!”

“And I have some other news for you, Vixy,” I added. “Take a look at this picture I’m sending you.” I’d taken the picture of Dirk before saying good-bye. He’d been surprised that I wanted it, and had taken one of me in return.

“Oooh, he’s really…” she started, then cut herself of, suspicious. “Wait a minute. Who is this?”

“Marsha’s ex-boyfriend, actually. He wanted to talk to me about ‘getting back together.’”

I could hear the tension in her voice. “And you told him…?”

“I told him I wasn’t interested.”

She let out a breath. “Whew! I guess if you could say no to a guy like this, maybe you’re not as interested in boys as I was afraid you might be.”

I thought it better not to explain why I’d said no. Why spoil her break? “That’s not the point, Vicky. Do you remember when you stayed here last summer, and we went out with a group of my friends?”


“Do you remember a guy named Dirk Simon?”

“Um, wait… nerdy guy, showed up out of nowhere when we were at the Mall? I seem to remember you being particular annoyed about that.”

“Right. That’s him.”

“What?” she gasped. “Marsh, there’s no way I’d forget meeting a guy who looked like this. I mean I was crazy about you, but I’d still have noticed.”

“That’s him now,” I explained.

It only took her a moment to get it. “You mean he was changed. He doesn’t go to Piques, does he?”

“No, and he has no recollection of doing an experiment anything like ours.”

“Then how… somebody else doing the same experiment, only without keeping his memory?”

“Maybe,” I conceded. I hadn’t actually thought of that possibility. “Or somehow the same people who changed us got him, too. I mean, with my cousin, I thought I could concoct an explanation. Maybe me being a boy rather than a girl made my aunt and uncle decide for some reason to have another child; it’s a stretch, but at least I can imagine a way for it to happen. But this? Dirk’s the same age as or older than all the victims we know about, and his parents didn’t even live in town when he was born.”

“This sounds like a problem,” she said, slowly. “If they could have changed people who didn’t even volunteer…”

“Exactly. Can you try looking really closely at all the people you know at home and see if anybody else was changed? The more information we can get, the better.”

She promised to look around and we hung up. She also promised to ‘reconsider something’ but wouldn’t explain what it was, only that I would understand next year.

Understand, huh? That was something that I was having a lot of trouble doing right now. I felt like one of those split-personality folks. When I talked about tracking down Professor Davis and company, I felt like my old male self, but… when I got home and headed back to my bedroom, and saw the outfit I had picked out for tonight’s movie date, the girl in me came out again, and I started really looking forward to seeing Jeremy. That was something I was really not ready to share with Vicky, even though I had warned her about it before exams.

The movie was fantastic, and I cannot honestly say how much of it was the movie and how much was spending three hours with Jeremy’s arm around me. He took me out for coffee afterwards, just so we could talk – and have an excuse to spend more time together.

“So,” he said, setting a mocha latte in front of me. “Phyllis says that you were excessively modest when you told me that your sister was the singer in the family.”

How had he remembered that? Of course, I had been talking about my old self, and before I had learned of Marsha’s singing prowess. “Well, she is doing more singing than I am these days. I’m not even in a choir at school,” I told him.

He nodded. “And… will I have a chance to hear you sing this semester?”

His eagerness both pleased and embarrassed me. “I’m going to audition for Sweeney Todd,” I told him, “but I’m probably just going to be in the chorus.”

In his place, I would probably have suggested something like a private recital, next. I waited in vain for him to say it. He even opened his mouth as though he was on the verge on asking, but closed it without saying anything, to my disappointment.

“I don’t know what else to tell you,” I finally said. “I told you I was pre-med, right?” He nodded. “And you know about my acting, and… I do some sewing, too. You know, to help pay for college.”

“That’s unusual, isn’t it? I mean, not a lot of girls do it… um, do they?” He seemed so nervous! I found it kind of cute that he was having trouble talking to me.

“I don’t think a lot of girls do,” I responded, “but I know at least one other on campus. There are probably more. It’s a pretty useful skill to know, but I probably couldn’t make too much if everybody… did it.” I tried to make those last words suggestive and to my delight, he actually blushed slightly in response.

After a moment, I asked, “What about you? I know that you’re an electrical engineer, and Tina says you’re into geology?”

He nodded. “It’s my minor. It started as a hobby; I mean, every little boy likes rocks, right?” He grinned, and I melted. I had to find a way to get him to smile at me like that a lot more. “When I was younger, I got into rock polishing as a hobby. Did you know that there are some very attractive semi-precious stones found in this area?”

Talking about his hobby made him sound a lot more comfortable and confident – and charming. He told me that he’d tried to make jewelry for his mother and his sister from his polished rocks, and how his mother had pretended to be pleased. At some point, I stopped paying careful attention to his words and just enjoyed looking at him and hearing him talk. I think he mentioned a part-time job off campus, although I didn’t catch what he was doing.

He took me home and this time he didn’t hesitate in kissing me good night, and it was a lot better than our first time, but still not what I thought it could be. It didn’t really matter, though. I was feeling decidedly starry-eyed.

103 The Cold Truth

“Stop it, Tina!” I yelped, coming out of the bathroom wrapped in a towel. “I’m not dressed! Do you want me to tell Grandma what you’re doing with the Flip cam she gave you?” I was getting really annoyed, now, since it was the fourth time in two days that she’d snuck up on me like that and just started shooting.

“I’m just collecting something for Jeremy,” she teased, sticking out her tongue at me and pulling away the camera when I reached for it. “I’m sure he’s missing you by now.” But at least she turned it off before our struggles caused me to lose the towel.

I was already in a bit of a sour mood. I hadn’t seen Jeremy in several days, and I was missing him terribly. With very little in the way of scheduled obligations, I had expected to spend a lot of time with him, but his family had scheduled a trip for the week, and all we’d been able to do so far was email back and forth. I’d used my own new Flip cam to record myself for him, but it wasn’t at all the same as actually being together. He was going to be back in time for the New Year’s Eve party, but that was still a couple of days away. It didn’t help my mood that Mom and Dad had suggested that, “given my mental state,” the separation would be good for me.

What was particularly aggravating was discovering that they had been right. My brain had seemed to switch off when I was with Jeremy, and having several days in a row away from him was letting me think. I’d pretty much ignored everything except my relationship with Jeremy, and I needed to fix that. I need to pay attention to other things, and one of those things was repairing my relationship with Chad, as soon as I could.

That was easier said than done, though. I called, and after chatting with me, his mother simply said, “I’m sorry, Jennifer. Chad says he doesn’t want to talk to you, but won’t tell me why. What happened?”

Of course, I had no answer, and when I went to his house and managed to get him to open the door, he slammed it in my face. “Why won’t you talk to me?” I shouted through the closed door, but he didn’t answer.

I checked with Dinah, though, and she confirmed that he was going to be at the party, so decided that I wasn’t going to let him avoid me there. The key was, I didn’t understand exactly what I had done that annoyed him so much.

Part of it was obvious. He’d given me that speech about keeping a buddy up-to-date on things when he helping you, and I hadn’t. I needed to apologize for that, certainly. But was there something else? I mean, he was clearly livid, and his reaction seemed way out of proportion to my offense.

Tina wasn’t any help, either. Her recommendation was that I simply give him time to cool down. “Who knows how boys think, anyway?” was her comment, and when I pointed out that I should know, she blithely suggested that since I was a girl now, I’d probably forgotten, and if not, I should.

I know I should have come back with something clever, only her comment had left me gasping. It wasn’t until she left that it occurred to me to say, “Well, I think it’s pretty useful to know, don’t you?” Only as a comeback, it sounded pretty flat, even to me.

Of course, that wasn’t the only relationship I’d messed up. “I’m starting to think that I shouldn’t have said anything to you and Dad about the experiment,” I told Mom later while sitting in her sewing room.

“Oh?” she said, not looking up from her work.

“Well, I mean I think you’ve pretty much treated me the same, but Dad… well, he hasn’t called me ‘Princess’ since then, and he keeps looking like he wants to say something to me and then changes his mind. He looked really disappointed that I didn’t want to watch the game on TV with him. I’m really worried that he doesn’t know how to talk to me any more.”

Mom stopped her machine. “That’s just it, Honey, he doesn’t. He’s never regretted not having had a son, but now you’ve told him that he should have had one, that his little girl is supposed to be a boy and that he isn’t to do anything about it. He’s stuck between trying to learn to be a father to a boy and trying to hold on to you as his princess. He doesn’t want to insult you by treating you the wrong way and he realizes that he has no idea what your relationship with him should be, now. Things that used to fit into neat little boxes no longer do.”

“What about you? You’re not treating me any differently.”

“Well,” she said, putting her hand on my arm. “I’m not really sure what to think. The whole idea is just so strange to me. So I’m just going along the way I have, assuming that you’ll tell me if you want me to change anything.”

I nodded, and waited for her to go on, but she just looked at me, expectantly.

“I guess it would be easier for me if you didn’t,” I said. “I mean… as long as I’m a girl, what’s the point of pretending that I’m not? I… well, it was really weird at first, but I think on the whole, I’d rather you and Dad just sort of… ignored what I said.”

“That’s not so easy…” She answered, shaking her head. “You told us that you were really a boy – and then you put on a dress and went out on a date. It’s definitely not what your father would have expected of a son, and now he’s wondering if he did something… in your old, um, life? I mean, you’ve mostly been acting like the girl we remember, and that just seems wrong. If you’re a boy, you shouldn’t be dating boys, you shouldn’t be wearing dresses, you should be watching games with your father… but you’re not.

“It would be so easy to dismiss the whole thing,” she continued, “and assume that it’s just part of the prank we thought it was over Thanksgiving, but even that isn’t making a lot of sense. So I’m trying to ignore it, since you don’t seem to want us to do anything about it, and your father is badly confused, and a bit hurt. He won’t let on, but I know him.”

Mom did understand, of course, when I explained that it was actually less embarrassing for me to act as though I had been Marsha all along. She understood about playing roles, but that didn’t make things easier for Dad.

I didn’t have any answers. I’d told my parents the truth, and I had to live with it unless I could change back. Changing back would solve everything, and if I couldn’t, I’d just have to hope that things would work out. As for Chad, I kept thinking about what I could do, but hadn’t reached a solution by the evening of the party. And then, I tried to forget about my problems for a while and just focus on seeing Jeremy again, and dressing up for him, and being with him. I hadn’t gotten the hang of all the primping that girls were supposed to do before dates; fortunately, Tina was more than willing to help me. She also expected me to help her when she got ready to go out with her own boyfriend, but at least understood when I got confused.

And then it was time, and Jeremy showed up, and my heart pushed itself ahead of my brain again. I’m pretty sure he told me about his week and I must have said something intelligible in response, but I was doing a lot more feeling than thinking. It wasn’t until we were almost to the house that I remembered to apologize for making him go early.

“No problem,” he assured me. “If they’re your friends and they expect you to help set up, you need to be there. I brought a book.” And he showed me a copy of Gödel, Escher, Bach that he had in the car with him.

“You– you’re not planning on reading that at the party, are you?” I asked, surprised. At the same time I was a bit intrigued, since he had mentioned the book when we first met and I had meant to look it up.

“I just figured I’d bring it in and read it if there wasn’t anybody to talk to.”

I winced. It was so inappropriate, and yet at the same time I found it adorable. But I do know something about parties, so I said, “The other girls’ boyfriends will be there. Please leave the book in the car.”

I walked into the party on his arm – and without the book – as though I was used to such things. We weren’t the first to arrive, and I was relieved to see Timmy sitting in the living room. He and Jeremy had met at the restaurant, so I left the two of them to talk and followed Dinah and Maddy into the kitchen.

It didn’t really take us all that long to set up. Dinah already had the soda and we’d each brought homemade snacks in addition to store-bought pretzels and chips. I’d used Mom’s recipe for stuffed mushrooms, since Tina had said that Marsha had made it for a party, once. I had to take my turn to put it into the oven, though, as Dinah had pizza wedges already baking. Working with Marsha’s friends was really easy and natural, and I couldn’t help wondering if it was because they knew Marsha so well. I didn’t want to believe that it was another case where Marsha’s memories might be leaking through.

It wasn’t until almost eleven that Chad and Kathy showed up. Jeremy had whispered that he needed to use the bathroom and I was trying to remember where it was when Chad and Kathy came in the front door. Given how elusive he had been, I decided that I needed to confront him right then and there.

“Kathy,” I said, after doing the necessary introductions, “I need to talk to Chad. Can you show Jeremy where the bathroom is?”

“You need to talk to Chad?” she echoed, looking puzzled. I suppose that wasn’t usual for Marsha, but I didn’t have time to role-play right then. I nodded, and she led Jeremy off, leaving Chad and me alone.

“I’m not talking to you right now, Marsh,” Chad said, trying to walk past me to get rid of his coat, but I stood in his way.

“You weren’t talking to me all week,” I said. “Now we need to talk. It’s important, Chad.”

He crossed his arms. “Important. Really? Just how important is it, Marsha? Seems to me, anything important you had to say, you should have said a little while ago.”

I looked around, but nobody else seemed to be in the front hall. “I’m really sorry, Chad. I know I messed up. Now can we please talk? Someplace where we won’t be overheard?”

He glared at me for a moment. “You really want to talk? OK.” And he opened the front door and pulled me outside.

“Chad are you crazy?” I yelped, wrapping my arms around my chest. “It’s freezing out here!”

“Not for me it isn’t,” he retorted, putting his coat back on. “This way you’ll talk really fast and I can get back to the party.”

I stared at him, shivering. “What did I do?” I wailed. “I mean, I know I should have told you about… about things, but aren’t you sort of overreacting?”

“Overreacting?” he retorted. “You lied to me, Marsh. You got me to talk to you the way I’d never talk to a girl. Ever. You really had me going, there. You and Tina must have had a real laugh at simple-minded Chad. Did you get your kicks, hearing me use bad words when talking to you?

“And then I guess the joke got old, and you found a new guy to date. Or were you seeing him all along? No wonder you were willing to call your old boyfriend a jerk!” And he started back towards the house.

“I didn’t lie to you, Chad!” I cried, grabbing on to his arm. “I never lied. And I don’t think you’re simple at all. I mean it, Chad. I mean it.” He glared again and I let go.

“I didn’t lie to you,” I repeated. “I… was just embarrassed about… well, about liking boys after I’d told you how I wasn’t attracted to anybody and we talked man-to-man about girl-watching. You have no idea what it was like for me, Chad!” He didn’t say anything, so I persisted. “I probably should have known. I mean, it’s normal for girls to like boys, and… well, right now, I’m a girl. I probably should have been more surprised if I wasn’t attracted to boys. Chad, can we please talk someplace warm? I’m freezing my ba– I mean, I’m really, really cold. I don’t have nearly the muscle mass I’m used to. You can stand the cold a lot better than I can.”

He frowned at me for a moment, but seemed slightly less hostile. Then he shook his head and took off his coat. “Here,” he said, handing it to me. “Put this on.”

“But…” I started.

“As you say, I can stand the cold better than you can, and I’m the one who made you come out without a coat, so put it on.”

“Does this mean that you believe me?” I said, wrapping it around me. It was too big for me, of course, so I overlapped the front and held it closed with my arms.

“Let’s just say that I’m open. I want to know how you could go from agonizing about not liking girls to getting yourself all gussied up to date a boy.”

“Because I didn’t want to believe it, Chad! I mean, you know what it’s like. The whole of liking boys was… well… not something I was comfortable with. I guess I had convinced myself that since I didn’t want to like boys, I didn’t. So I just refused to recognize it. I think I must have decided I was being nervous instead of being attracted, or something. But… Jeremy was different. It was too obvious that I liked him. So… now I know. It’s still weird, but… yeah. Just being near Jeremy does something to me.”

“And why aren’t you attracted to Dirk, then? You were pretty crazy about him for a long time.”

“Oh. Well… actually it was Marsha who was crazy about him, not me, but…” I took a deep breath. I wasn’t sure he was going to believe this. “He’s changed, Chad. The Dirk I remember was a lot nerdier looking. He was shorter and skinnier, and, well, now that I’ve seen the Dirk you know, I understand why she liked him.”

“What do you mean, changed?”

“I mean that it looks like it’s not just people who did the experiment who got changed, Chad. It’s like my cousin never being born. I think the experiment got out of hand. Things are happening, and I don’t know where it’s going to stop.”

104 Too Much Advice

“Wait, wait,” he said. “I’m not saying that I buy this whole experiment thing, you know.”

“My parents do,” I told him. “I played the guitar for them, and that’s something Marsha definitely couldn’t do.”

He looked surprised. “Seriously? You can actually play?”

I nodded, a bit smug. “I told you I could. You can even come over tomorrow and I’ll show you.” I didn’t think it necessary to explain that I wasn’t really all that good, now.

“Huh. So you actually do…” he shook his head, and narrowed his eyes at me. “Then explain to me… hmm… so you’re not really a girl, but you’re getting used to this being-a-girl thing, right? No more play-acting? You figure you’re stuck so you might as well start dating boys?”

I squirmed a bit. “I told you, it was a real surprise to me, but, yeah… dating boys seems perfectly reasonable for now.”

“’For now’?” he echoed.

“Well, I might not actually be stuck, after all. I think we found the lab.”

“You found the…?!” He gaped at me. “And you went out with this guy, knowing that?”

“No. I didn’t know before our first date,” I said, defensively. Then I had to look away. “But… I knew before the second… and tonight…”

“And you’re just leading this guy on now, huh?”

“No! I’m not! I… Chad I don’t know that I can change back. All we seem to know is where the lab is. But it seems to be locked up and abandoned. It might just be a dead end. I still might spend the rest of my life this way.”

“Is that a fear? Or a hope?” Chad’s voice was sharp. “What are you going to do when this guy finds out that his supposed ‘girlfriend’ is a fraud?”

“How am I a fraud?! I’m a girl, Chad!” I saw him compress his lips and flare his nostrils, so I stopped again. “I’m physically female in every way, Chad. I have the body, the periods, the hormones… I find boys attractive and not girls. The only thing left of the male me is my memories. I can’t … It’s not easy, Chad.” I stopped yet again because I could hear myself whining. “Besides, we’re just dating. It’s no big deal. And if I do manage to change back, he’ll never have met the female me, anyway.”

“Maybe, but you will. What’s that going to be like? And what if you can’t change back and he starts getting serious about you and you aren’t ready for it? Did you think this through at all?”

“I… I don’t think that’s likely. I mean… I don’t know how to flirt the way girls do, or primp or anything. Jeremy is really nice, but I don’t see him getting serious about me. Not really. This is just sort of having fun together for us.” I could feel my face getting hot, remembering how much I was crushing on him, and for how long. But that was me, not him. “Um, look, your lips are turning blue, Chad. We should really go inside.”

“Good idea,” he nodded. “But this isn’t over, Marsh. You expect us to be close buddies, right? Then I expect regular reports on what’s going on. Like every week, whether you think it’s significant or not.”

“I promise,” I said. “But can you arrange for me not to have to go through your Mom, every time? Actually, why don’t you call me? Say… Sunday nights around 11:00? That way I won’t forget, either.”

“Deal,” he said, extending his hand, which I shook. “OK, let’s go in.”

There were only a few people left in the living room when we came back in. “Where is everybody?” I asked Kathy as Chad went finally to put away his coat.

“Well, everybody got tired of the party games,” she said, “so they’re mostly in the kitchen and the TV room. What were you guys talking about out there for so long?”

“Oh, some things that are going on at school,” I shrugged, trying to be extra casual. I pretty much only knew Kathy as Chad’s girlfriend, and I wasn’t willing to let her in on my secret. “Chad was helping me, and I sort of forgot to keep him up-to-date on things.”

“I wondered about that. I hadn’t seen him that annoyed with you since the beach thing.”

“Yeah,” I grinned, wondering what ‘the beach thing’ might have been. “Anyway, do you know where my date is?”

She shrugged. “Not my day to watch him.”

I peeked into the TV room, but it was pretty dark, the only light coming from the wide-screen TV on the wall. It was tuned to one of those ‘getting ready for the ball to drop’ shows, but it didn’t look as though anybody was actually paying attention. The girls were sitting on their boyfriends’ laps and taking advantage of the partial privacy afforded by the darkness to get in some quiet cuddling. I’d done that before, of course, but never as the girl, and I was suddenly curious. Now, if I could just find Jeremy…

He was in the kitchen, talking with Cherise, who was looking a bit too interested in what he had to say. “There you are,” I said, planting a very possessive kiss on his lips in front of her. “Come on.” And I led him back out into the hallway and into the TV room.

Actors often have to make their way onto or off of a darkened stage without stumbling, and Mr. Condrin had taught us a little trick. If you close your eyes for a few seconds, they get used to the dark fairly quickly. As a result, I was able to lead Jeremy to an empty spot I had seen on one of couches while he was still trying to see what everybody else was doing. As soon as he was seated, I plopped myself onto his lap – and almost as quickly found myself on the floor, with Jeremy striding out of the room.

It took me a few seconds to recover, as the nearby couples stared at me, but I picked myself up and ran after him. I found him alone in the front hallway, the tension in his arms and back echoed by the look of shock on his face.

“What happened?” I cried.

“I… um… I…” he choked. “I guess… I might have… Look, Marsh, maybe… maybe this is wrong. I mean… I’m just… not comfortable with public displays of affection. I mean… I just really didn’t expect… O boy. I really… look, maybe I sort of… I think I expected you to be more… you know… um, conservative in your…”

He stopped and tried again. “I’m saying this all wrong. Maybe we’re just not right for each other. I think maybe…”

“Not right?” I wailed. “Because I sat on your lap?”

“Um… no, it wasn’t that, it’s just that… well, I could see that everybody else was… maybe your crowd is just…”

“You’re wrong,” I insisted. “I’ve never done anything like that before. I just… I just wanted to see what it was like. I didn’t imagine that you…”

He stared at me. “You’ve never sat on a guy’s lap?”

I shook my head. Marsha had probably sat on Dirk’s lap lots of times, but that was her, not me. “I didn’t think it would be such a big deal for you, or I never– ”

“Um…” he stammered, his face turning red. “Do you… do you have a handkerchief or something?”

“A handkerchief?”

“Yeah, I think I need to wipe this egg off my face. Oh boy. I’m sorry… I don’t know what I was doing. Look, can we start again and just pretend I didn’t open my mouth and say all that stuff?”

“But you’re not comfortable with me sitting on your lap.”

“In public,” he corrected me. “I mean, if you really need to, I guess…”

“But you’d rather not.”

He nodded, ruefully. “I guess I’m kind of a prude.” He cringed a little, as he asked hopefully, “Is that OK?”

“It’s OK,” I agreed. “I just didn’t know. It was, actually kind of daring for me to do that in the first place, but if makes you uncomfortable, I won’t.” Well, I laughed to myself, this is going to be a very interesting, and possibly very chaste relationship – and that’s probably OK. At least I didn’t have to worry about him trying to make me do things I wasn’t ready for.

Well, maybe not all that chaste, I discovered later. Jeremy kissed me very satisfactorily at midnight – he was clearly getting much more comfortable with that. And when he left the party, he found a nice quiet street and I did sit on his lap in the back seat and cuddled with him. Oh, there’s no question but that it felt a lot different from when I was the boy. I don’t know that I’d say better, or worse, just different. I definitely had no complaints, there. My mind might not quite have caught up to my body in its desires, at least beyond curiosity, but I was emotionally exhausted by the time he pulled up in front of my house.

Then he surprised me. “Marsh, I hope this is OK… I felt bad that I didn’t get a chance to give you a present, so I made this for you.” He handed me a tissue paper wrapped something, and what I had unwrapped it, I found a beautiful little M-shaped pin, decorated with gorgeous stones. “See, these are all local. I told you about those, remember? I got out my rock tumbler and found a bunch of the smaller ones, ‘cause I knew they’d fit really nicely. I mean, I don’t want you to think I spent a lot of money on your or anything.”

“No, just a lot of time,” I breathed. “What about the base? It looks like silver.”

“Oh,” he shrugged. Just some old metal from something broken. I sort of worked it into that shape, and soldered pieces together and filed things down. You know. It’s not as if it’s anything really special, or anything.”

But it clearly was. I couldn’t imagine where he’d found the time. He must have worked on it over his family vacation.

“Jeremy,” I told him, “this is really beautiful. You’re an artist. I… I don’t know what to say.”

“Well, I just really wanted to give you something, and…”

“Thank you,” I said, kissing him passionately. “Nobody’s ever… I mean… thank you.” But at the same time, I couldn’t help hearing Chad’s voice in my head. What if he starts getting serious about you and you aren’t ready for it? What if, indeed?

105 All in the Family

I found Dad alone in his study the next day, watching the Bowl games. This time, he hadn’t even tried to ask me to join him, but I waited for a commercial and then sat on the arm of his chair and said, “Hi!”

Sadly, he flinched. He’d been doing that for most of the week since I’d told him my secret. “Marsh! Um… you didn’t… I mean, did you want to watch the game with me?”

“Would you like me to, Dad?” I asked, watching him carefully. Over the past few months, it had become normal for me to call him, “Daddy,” but that was one of those things that really seemed to bother him now, so I’d stopped.

“Um, well… you’ve never… I mean, of course, Pr – I mean, Marsh.” The pain in his voice tore at my heart. “I don’t know what to think, anymore… Marsh. I feel as though a giant hole has been torn in my heart and I can’t even do anything about it. You’re suddenly a stranger to me, and, well…”

“That’s why I came in, Dad. I think we need to talk.”

He took a deep breath and nodded. “Of course, M– Marsh. We really do.”

“Would you like to wait until half time?”

“No.” Suddenly decisive, he picked up the remote and switched off the TV. “This is much more important than which college is going to be able to boast about having the best record.” He stood and gestured to the armchair in which he had been sitting. “Sit down, M– Sit down.” And pulled over his desk chair to face me as I sat down.

“I suppose I’ve been avoiding you,” he continued, “and I’m sorry. You’ve been dealing with this for, what, three months now?” I nodded. “Then it’s about time I started to deal with it as well. I don’t want to ‘take over’ again. You tell me what you want to tell me. And… tell me what you want me to call you.”

Mom and I had talked about this a lot. It might have been easiest for Dad to pretend he didn’t know about me and go on calling me his ‘princess,’ and I’d gotten really comfortable with that. I’d decided that it was silly for me to worry about my masculinity being threatened, under the circumstances, and to tell the truth, I’d really grown to like the closeness Marsha had had with him. But I didn’t see any way to go back to that.

“You can just call me, ‘Marsh,’ Dad. It was my nickname as Marshall as well. Um… what would you like to know?”

He chuckled. “Neither one of us wants to go first, I see. OK, tell me what you… what Marshall was like. What kinds of things did you enjoy? Um… how were you… socially?”

“I had a lot of girlfriends, if that’s what you wanted to know, Dad.” He protested that it wasn’t what he was asking, but I saw him relax. “Um… and I was intimate with a number of them.”

“I see.”

“I guess that’s something very different between me and Marsha.”

“Um… yeah.”

“I was a bit taller then you, and not really athletic. But girls really seem to like a guy who plays the guitar, and I play – or rather played – very well. A lot better than I showed you the other day.”

“I see.”

“And I really can’t complain about you as a Dad – you’ve always been the greatest Dad a guy could ask for,” I told him.

“Well, I wasn’t trying to–”

“I just want you to remember something. I am a girl, now. I might not be the girl you remember, but I’m still… well, I’m not your son, now. I wish I was, but I’m not. I’m… I’m your daughter. It’s taken me a lot of time to come to terms with it, and I’m not saying that I like it, but that’s the way things are right now.”

“I see that. I’m sorry, Marsh. It’s just been a real surprise for me. And… I’ve been remembering that the last time I took you to the train, you asked me if I missed having a son. I’m afraid that I didn’t realize then why you were asking.”

“It’s OK, Dad. You gave the answer that Marsha would have wanted to hear. And… I couldn’t really expect you to miss me, when you never knew me.”

He nodded again.

“But now… I don’t know if I can change back, but as long as I’m a girl, I’ll be acting like one.”

“So it’s an act?”

I squirmed a bit. “I didn’t mean it that way. I mean, I really do feel the things a girl in my position would feel, and that includes liking boys. It doesn’t mean anything about what I was like as a boy.”

“Ah, I see. I guess you might think your Dad’s being a bit overly emotional. It’s just a bit difficult to keep treating you as ‘my little girl’ given…”

“Yeah, I see. I just want you to know, that I’m OK with it. It’s actually easier for me. If you see what I mean. And I didn’t mean that I don’t need your help. I know that there are lots of things you can do for me that I can’t do for myself, including dealing with some aspects of this situation.”

“You seem to have managed pretty well,” he acknowledged. “You’re clearly a big girl now – I mean, a… well, you’re very mature.”

I laughed. “’Big girl’ is fine, Dad.”

He stood and pulled me into an embrace. “You know,” he said. “Children do change as they grow up, but this isn’t quite what I was expecting!”

We both laughed at that. With his arms around me and his chin nuzzling the top of my head, I felt a real urge to snuggle against him and call him, ‘Daddy’ again, but I resisted, because he really seemed uncomfortable with it.

“So, would you like to talk over the plan of action now, or when I take you to the train station?” he asked after a moment.

“Um, Dad…” I said. “Actually, I’m going to drive up with Jeremy.”

He held me at arms length and stared at me in surprise. “You’re…?” He shook his head. “OK, I need to get used to this. I should just think of you as Marsha and forget what you told me? Do a bit of doublethink?”

I look up at him, a bit red-faced. “I guess so… sometimes that’s what I do. I feel like I’m ‘Marsh’ when I interact with my friends and… boys, and ‘Marshall’ when I’m working on the problem of changing back. So, seriously… if you wanted to pretend that I was Marsha and treat me the way you did until last Saturday, that would be OK. I mean it, Dad. Daddy.”

He flinched again, only not so much.

“Let me think about that, Marsh. Um…” He sat down and gestured me back to my seat. “Let me talk to Marshall for a few minutes, then.”

I grinned. “Ok, here’s where we stand. I told you my friend heard where the lab probably is. When we all get back to school, we’re going to go and see if we can get in.”

“And then? What do you expect to find? People? Equipment?”

I sat back. “I really hadn’t thought that far ahead,” I admitted. “I just figured we’d find out and go from there. I guess… we’re probably not going to find any people, but maybe we’ll find something that they forgot which will lead us to them.”

“OK, anything you can find… if you can figure out where they’re hiding, I might be able to do something. With all of the secrecy, the ‘reputation of the college’ excuse doesn’t make sense to me. It’s possible, of course, but I’m betting that there’s some kind of lawsuit being threatened.”


He sounded comfortable now, back in his own element. “There could be a lawsuit from one of the victims’ relative forcing them to keep it all quiet, or possibly one threatening damages. If it were the latter, I’d expect somebody to try a class-action lawsuit and advertise a lot. Since I haven’t heard of any such thing, that seems less likely. So I’m going to assume that somebody outside of the college wants this all hushed up for some reason.”

“I don’t follow you,” I admitted. “How does that help?”

“Well, if I’m right, and we can get some evidence, we may be able to make the whole thing moot – and get the school to help us out here. But in the mean time, we can expect them to conceal and deny and make it as hard as possible to figure things out. And they might be able to put some pressure on people they think know more than they should. But if they were trying to get you to out your friends, that suggests that the guy who did the experiment isn’t cooperating, and they don’t know who the victims are.”

“And Dean Patterson…?” I asked.

“He knows that you’re part of this group. What he isn’t sure of, I think, is whether you actually know that the experiment is real. I certainly didn’t know when I spoke with him, after all. Sorry about calling him, by the way. I did what I thought made the most sense at the time.”

I nodded. “I know. If I had told you earlier… I’ve told Chad about this, too. Can he be in on the conversation?”

Dad raised his eyebrows. “Really? OK. Chad seems pretty level-headed.”

I told him about my agreement with Chad, and he said that he would discuss it with Chad, and maybe agree to call me together. That way we could all talk at once. Dad asked again if I wanted to watch the game with him, and I accepted. I think he was still trying to figure out whether to treat me as a boy or a girl, because at one point he started to explain the game to me and then caught himself and apologized. This was clearly going to be complicated.

And then, the one person that I had thought was supposed to be easy to relate to – my sister – suddenly turned on me. I’d asked her for her opinion on the dress I was going to be wearing back to school.

“Since when are you worried about what dress you’re wearing, Marsh?” she’d snapped.

My eyes bulged. “Haven’t I been asking your advice all along – well, the last two times I went out with Jeremy?” I countered. “We’ll be driving back together, and I thought it would make sense to look appropriate for the trip. This isn’t a date, but he’ll see me, and I don’t know how to dress for something like that. Is there a problem?”

“Just wear the green and blue,” she said, starting to close her door on me, but I stuck my foot in the way.

“Is there a problem here, Teen?”

“Why should there be a problem? Mom and Dad know everything, so we don’t have to keep secrets from them, right?”

“So what’s the issue?”

“There is no issue. Do you mind? I think I’m going to get a snack,” she said, and suddenly pushed past me.

She ran down the stairs and I almost stumbled, trying to keep up with her. She got to the kitchen ahead of me, and was already talking with Mom about something else and not looking at me. But whatever game she was playing, Mom didn’t seem to be in on it.

“Hi, Marsh,” Mom said. “Tina and I were about to make some cookies. Did you want to join us? You can bring some back to school with you.”

“Oh,” Tina said. “You know what, Mom? I just remembered that I have a report to write.” And she started to push past me again.

I guess she must have been a bit too obvious, because Mom snapped. “Tina!” and then when she didn’t stopped, called “Come back here!”

Tina didn’t stop, and Mom and I exchanged looks of surprise.

“Marsh, you get out the ingredients,” Mom said. “I’m going to go talk to your sister.”

95 Working it Out

Exam period was, well, exam period. I studied, I reviewed, I took tests. Geoff and I worked together on Orgo, along with a few others, firing questions back and forth at each other. It seemed to pay off; at least, I felt very confident after each of my exams.

I did manage to squeeze in a makeup lesson from Nikki. She had noticed that I didn’t know what I was doing, but had chosen not to point it out. She said that she hadn’t wanted to add to what I was going through.

Lee Ann kept dropping hints about Geoff, suggesting that I might be missing a great opportunity. It was easier not to fight her; in any event, I wasn’t going to do anything about it until January, so it didn’t really matter, just then – or so I thought.

She knew my exam schedule, of course, and knew when I was heading for the train, and must have called Geoff to tip him off, because just as I started struggling with my suitcase – and Ben’s guitar, which I had decided not to leave in the dorm over break – he showed up at our door and offered to carry the suitcase for me. Of course, I accepted.

“I really appreciate this, Geoff,” I said, as we started down the steps. Carrying just the guitar in its case was much easier than struggling with both it and the suitcase.

“My pleasure,” he grinned at me. “You have any special plans for break?”

“Not really,” I admitted. “I guess I’m just boring.”

“I don’t find you boring.”

“Thank you,” I said, embarrassed. I really wasn’t used to having somebody hitting on me like this. It wasn’t completely unpleasant, but I would have preferred him just to go back to treating me as a friend. I couldn’t help remembering those girls he had had in his bed without actually dating. Was this how he had come on to them?

“Would it be OK if I called you over break?” he asked.

“Uh…” What was I supposed to say? “I think… you might… um… I guess so…?”

He laughed. “I’m really making you nervous, aren’t I?”

“Mm hmm,” I squeaked.

“Would you rather I didn’t call?”


“OK, I get it. I’m coming on too strong. Tell you what. Why don’t I give you my number, and if you feel like talking, you can call me. I think my parents have a little ski trip planned, but you’ll probably be able to reach me in the evenings.”

“I… I can do that,” I said, and we stopped for a moment so that he could punch his number into my cell phone.

“Do you ski?” he asked, once we started walking again.

“I’ve… never tried,” I told him.

“I could ask my parents to invite you…”

“N-no. Thank you, Geoff, but… I’m just going to spend time with my family.”

“Oh well,” he grinned.

Despite the cold, I was starting to sweat; he was really putting pressure on me. My promise to Tina had been to accept a date invitation, not something like this. How could he even expect it, given that we hadn’t even kissed? I couldn’t figure out his approach. I’d generally asked for a date straight out, figuring that if a girl said no, I would just move on to another. He seemed to be asking things that he could be sure I’d say no to, but which wouldn’t close the door to something else. Maybe the idea was that he would wear me down, so that a mere date wouldn’t seem a big deal by comparison, and if I did say yes, that would work for him, too?

“I told you I was boring,” I said, trying to put him off without seeming to.

He laughed again. It was a nice laugh; not as nice as Jeremy’s, maybe, but still nice. If I’d been attracted to him, if I didn’t have those memories of being his male friend, I was sure that I would want to get closer. And if I didn’t keep thinking about a guy I couldn’t have.

Finally we reached the shuttle to the train, and Geoff loaded my suitcase into the back.

“Thank you, Geoff,” I said.

He stared into my eyes for a moment, which made me a bit uncomfortable, but didn’t try for a kiss. “Have a good vacation, Marsh,” he said. “See you next year.”

“Yeah, see you.”

I had time to think on the way home; I just didn’t like what I was thinking. I kept on shaking my head. Dating boys, huh? Over and over and over I thought about it, both afraid and intensely curious. What would it feel like? Would I actually get to like it? To want to natter on about boys the way my friends did? And I did, what would be left of the part of me that was still Marshall?

The thoughts wouldn’t leave me, and what was worse, made me very reluctant to talk to Chad, despite his insistence on calling him with any updates. After making a big deal of not really being a girl, how was I supposed to explain that I was seriously considering dating boys? I had an idea of what he would say, and I wasn’t ready to hear it just now. Tina had a few more days of school, and Mom was busy with her sewing, so I found myself with little to do during the day. I had gotten used to talking things out, though, and even in the evenings, the only one I could discuss some subjects with was Nikki.

“So how much does your mother know, at this point?” she asked, when we were chatting a couple of days after I got home.

“I’ve been talking with her pretty regularly,” I explained, “So she knows about Jeremy and Phil and Geoff. She’s a little too interested in Geoff, I think.”

“And you’re not?”

“Well, the whole situation is a bit weird for me.”

“Being attracted to boys, you mean?”

“That, plus the fact that I knew Geoff before. I’m used to him seeing me as a buddy, not as a girl he wants to be with – the way he treats me now is just really, really different.”

Nikki laughed, “I can imagine.”

“Plus, there’s this whole thing with Mom and Tina and what I can tell them. I’m still not ready to tell Mom about me, and Tina was so upset before about the chance that I might change back, that I haven’t told her anything about Eric and what he’s trying to find out. But that also means that I can’t talk to either one of them about Vicky.”

“And that bothers you?”

“Well, yeah. I’m getting really used to talking things out with both of them, and here’s something that’s bothering me a lot, and you’re the only one I can talk to about it.”

“What would happen if you told your mother?”

“After Thanksgiving? She’d think I was lying and get super upset with me. And even if she did believe me… I don’t want her to treat me any differently. If I’m stuck as a girl, it will be just easier if she thinks that’s the way I’ve always been. If I tell her I’m not the daughter she remembers, she might start thinking of me as a stranger, an intruder into her household that she doesn’t know, and I just couldn’t handle that.”

“And lying to your family is easier?”

I squirmed. “It’s not exactly lying, is it? I mean, in this timeline, I am a girl, and always was. The fact that I remember the original timeline doesn’t change that. Besides, I’m not actually saying anything that’s a lie…”

“You’re just not telling them the whole truth.”

“Yeah, and it’s getting less and less comfortable, doing that,” I admitted.

“I don’t know what I can suggest.”

“That’s why I try not to think about it.”

“OK, let’s talk about something else. You’ve said that you’re going to start dating boys next month, right?”

“If somebody asks me,” I pointed out.

“And do you really think Geoff isn’t going to? He’s already asked you to go skiing with him.”

“No, he offered to have his parents invite me; he didn’t actually ask me out himself.”

“I think you’re parsing words, Marsh. He’s made his interest very clear.”

“I suppose so.”

“So what’s the problem? He sounds like a known quantity, he understands the meaning of ‘no’ and he’s clearly interested. Sounds like a pretty good bet, to me.”

“Yeah, but I’m not attracted to him,” I objected.

“Marsh,” she said patiently. “We’re talking about a date, not a wedding. If you were almost about to kiss him, you are attracted at some level. So go out with him once. If you have fun, and he asks you again, go with him again. If not, you’ll have a chance to try another boy.”

“I guess… I’m just a bit nervous. I mean, I’ve gone on lots of dates as a boy with a girl. This will be the first time as a girl with a boy, and I’m not used to it.”

“Understandable. But you’re looking forward to it, aren’t you? On at least some level?”


“And can call me afterwards and tell me how it went, or you can call your sister or talk to your roommates. Sometimes talking it over afterwards is as much fun as the date.” She laughed. “If things don’t go well, the talk afterward can be the best part!”


“So what are your plans for this afternoon?” she asked.


“Shopping? I approve.”

“Yeah, I need to buy presents for my family. Thanks to you, I actually made enough that I have some left over, and so… I get to go shopping.”

“OK, have fun!”

After we hung up, I got Mom’s permission to borrow the car and drove over to the Mall. Dad was easy. He loved to read, and a careful examination of his bookshelf turned up three books by the author Malcolm Gladwell. A web search showed that a fourth book had recently been published, so I dropped into the bookstore and picked it up for him.

Tina had been talking about me taking her clothing shopping; I’m not sure whether I was just transportation or she was thinking of shopping trips she’d taken with Marsha, but a gift certificate to a Mall boutique, along with a promise of my time, seemed suitable.

Mom was tougher. I wasn’t sure exactly what she would like, so I sort of just wandered the Mall for a bit, hoping for inspiration. What I found was something else entirely.

Ever since she had cheated on me in high school, Maddy and I had done this sort of hesitation-dance every time we saw each other. We’d both stop, back up, and turn and head off in a different direction. So when I saw her in the Mall, my reaction was automatic: I backed up and started down a different aisle.

A few steps later, though, I realized that something was wrong. I was remembering the wrong timeline; in this one we’d never dated. So why had she backed away, too?

I turned around and walked quickly after her. “Maddy?” I called.

She stopped and looked at me, very cautiously. “Yes?”

“How are you?”

She gave me a long look before answering. “Are you expecting an apology?”

My eyes bulged. Apology? “Um, if you think that would be appropriate,” I temporized.

“You were just as much at fault as we were, you know.”

Now I just had to know what was going on. “Would you like to talk about it? We could get some ice cream.”

She stared at me, a bit suspicious. “Are you seeing somebody?”

What does that have to do with anything? “Um, no, not right now.”


She led the way to the Häagen Dazs, where the two of us used to eat all the time. It seemed so normal to see her order her usual Rum Raisin cone, and I had to remind myself not to offer to pay for it. I ordered a Mint Chip cone and joined her at a small table.

“Maddy,” I said, sitting down, “I’m sorry. I used poor judgment.” That was general purpose enough, I figured. Whatever Marsha did, I had no problems apologizing for it.

“’Used poor judgment’?” she sneered. “That’s one way of putting it. How about, ‘overreacted,’ or ‘got your priorities wrong’? OK, I’ll admit, we didn’t exactly cover ourselves with glory, but I think we were at least trying to do the right thing. You haven’t spoken to us in four months. And you think you can just apologize now and it’ll all be OK?”

I cringed. What exactly did you do, Marsha?, I wondered. For half a second I thought about just walking away. Maddy and whomever she was including in ‘we’ had been Marsha’s friends, and I didn’t know them very well. Maybe I was better off just leaving the friendship broken and just making my own friends at home? But that would be wrong. Marsha had committed some offense, and as the current inhabitant of her life, I had an obligation to try to fix things.

I looked down, miserably. “Maddy, tell me what to do, then. I’m… not the same person I was, back then. I want to fix this.”

“And you’re really not seeing anybody? This isn’t a ‘Oh, I have a boyfriend now so I’m happy’ thing?”

“I promise you, I’m not seeing anybody. I’ve sort of been occupied with other things.” If she only knew… “But I should have called.” And Chad and Tina had told me Marsha’s friends’ names, and I could have called on my own. It sounds as though it would have been really uncomfortable, but her friends deserved better.

She gave me another long look. “Then I’m sorry, too. It was a dirty trick. If it’s any consolation, the guy turned out to be a jerk, and he dumped Cherise a couple of months ago.”

This had been about a boy?! “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Yeah. So in a way, we sort of saved you, right?”

“Sounds like it.” I couldn’t help smiling. Had they not done whatever they did, I might have woken up over break and had to deal with a boyfriend.

“And I think you really should have been giving Dirk another chance, anyway. He’s grown a lot since you guys broke up, and you two were so great together in high school.”

My stomach did a flip. Dirk? I had mostly forgotten about him. Marsha had liked him enough to date him for two years, but the idea of going out with him revolted me. I murmured something non-committal.

“But if you’re not seeing anybody, this could be good timing. I know he’s single, too. I’ll have to check with the others, but we’re having a New Year’s Eve party at Dina’s house, and if they’re OK with it, you could come and bring him, if you like.”

I tried to respond, but I couldn’t manage anything more than a squeak. It didn’t stop her, though.

“You know, maybe I’ll just pass on the word to his friends that you’re back and not seeing anybody. This could work out really well. I am so glad we ran into each other, Marsh!” And, having finished her cone, she gave me a quick hug and ran off, leaving me with my mouth hanging open.

Suddenly, Geoff was looking very attractive. I tried to put Dirk out of my mind while shopping and while wrapping presents when I got home, so I didn’t mention him to Tina when she got back from school, and after a brief conversation, she an off to do homework at the kitchen table.

About an hour before dinner, I heard Tina in the hallway, apparently talking on the phone. “Yeah, she’s in her room. Just a second,” and she knocked on my door. When I opened it, she held out the portable phone and, grinning impishly, said, “It’s a boy calling.”

96 Called to Mind

I hesitated, my hand halfway to the phone. Dirk, I thought, It must be Dirk. How did I get myself into this? But then I remembered that Chad had said that the Dirk he knew in this timeline was a nice guy, and Nikki had reminded me that it was just a date. Taking a breath and letting it out, I took the phone and answered, “Hello, this is Marsh.”

“Um, hi, Marsh,” said a familiar, but uncertain-sounding voice. “It’s Jeremy Barker.”

“What?!” I gasped, looking at Tina in surprise.

“Jeremy Barker,” he repeated. “We met at the music school and again at Piques? It was… um… a surprise, running into you there,” he continued. “But I guess if I had been thinking, I might have realized that you could be there.” He laughed nervously. “I mean, we obviously had midterm break at the same time, right? Um… well, you know it’s kind of surprising, seeing somebody at school that you only met near home, right?”

What was going on, here? He seemed really uncomfortable about something. Tina clearly thought that he was going to ask me out, but he was just rambling.

But he kept on. “And I really wasn’t sure it was even–”

Suddenly he yelped. “Hey, cut it out! I’m going to ask her! Um, so, uh, Marsh, would you like to go to see a movie with me Friday night?”

The first part was obviously not addressed to me, and as I looked at Tina’s eager expression, everything clicked into place. His sister and Tina were both in the choir, and knew each other. Tina had probably asked Jeremy’s sister to get him to ask me out, and she was essentially pressuring him to cheat on Janine. I had no idea what hold she had on him, but I knew that little sisters had a way of finding out things their brothers would prefer they didn’t. That was why he sounded so nervous. I was being asked on a “pity date.”

“Friday night?” I echoed, my heart sinking, and saw Tina nod urgently. “Sure.” As disappointing as the idea of a pity date was, I wasn’t too proud to accept. It was just a date, after all, and a movie date at that. Janine had nothing to worry about. Besides, this meant that I could turn Dirk down when he called if I wanted to, since my promise had only included the first time I was asked.

“Ok, great,” he said. “Um, is Avatar OK? I haven’t seen it yet.”

“Neither have I,” I told him. “That’ll be fine.”

“Ok. I’ll pick you up at about seven o’clock, OK?”


“Ok, bye.” And I could almost feel his relief as he hung up.

“Do you remember him, Marsh?” Tina asked eagerly. “Phyllis – that’s his sister – says that she saw you two talking when you took me to choir practice. I think you’ll like him; he’s really nice. And he goes to Piques!”

She obviously didn’t know about Janine, and I saw no reason to disillusion her. “I remember him,” I acknowledged. “He is nice.”

“So this will be your first date as a girl. Where’s he taking you?”

“To see Avatar on Friday.”

“Oooh, nice! That’s a long movie, and the two of you will be in the dark together. Lots of possibilities there!”

I’d obviously never shared my philosophy of dating with my sister; or rather, Marsha hadn’t, and I wasn’t going to do anything to burst her bubble. So I just smiled and said, “I’m looking forward to it.”

“I need to get back to my homework, Marsh, but we need to plan this out after dinner. I have some ideas of just the right outfit for you to wear to knock him dead!”

After she left, I tried to analyze what I was feeling. Sure, it wasn’t a real date; we wouldn’t be getting to know each other better to see if we could move into a relationship. But at the same time, I would be spending the evening with Jeremy, and he’d at least have to talk to me in the car. And maybe, I thought, starting to like the idea, if I played my cards right, I could get a goodnight kiss out of it. Now that would be something. But was I really ready to kiss a boy for real? Even this boy? Just the thought was turning me on a bit.

The more I thought about it, the more I started thinking of reasons to look forward to the date. I had been nervous about a boy trying to be too intimate with me, too soon, but with Jeremy having a serious girlfriend, that shouldn’t be a problem. I did want to see the movie, and now I could; plus, I’d find just being near Jeremy exciting, and I wouldn’t have any more expectations that he could dash. On the whole, it would be a safe and enjoyable first date. My ‘take a lemon’ promise would be fulfilled, and then… well, I could worry about what happens next, later.

Tina was really excited about this; more than I was, in fact, and she’d obviously told Mom and Dad, because one of the first things Dad said when we sat down to dinner that night was, “So, I hear you have a date this weekend, Princess.”

I nodded. “We’re going to see a movie.”

“And how do you know this boy?”

I looked at Tina. “We met over midterm break, when I took Tina to choir practice. I don’t really know him all that well; I think Tina does, though.”

That was all the encouragement she needed. “Jeremy is Phyllis Barker’s brother,” she gushed, which elicited a nod from Mom. “He’s into music theory and engineering and geology and he’s really a nice guy, and I think he and Marsh will be great together.”

“That sounds promising,” Mom said, and I had to agree. Why did Tina have to play him up so much? It already hurt that he wasn’t available.

“Well, I’d like to meet him when he comes to pick you up,” Dad said, and that just made me feel even worse. The whole thing was a sham; I knew it and Jeremy knew it, and now Dad would… what? I’d experienced the ‘meeting the Dad’ thing with I think one girl I dated. It hadn’t been comfortable at all, but I’d put up with it because I really wanted to take the girl out. It wasn’t fair for Jeremy to have to go through this for a pity date.

“I’m sure he’ll be happy to meet you, Daddy,” I said, being polite. Maybe it would be best if I called Jeremy back and let him off the hook. Getting out of an unwanted date with Dirk didn’t justify making Jeremy uncomfortable.

What I didn’t understand was, why hadn’t Phyllis just been honest with Tina? I thought of what had happened to Geoff, and how Chandra had insisted on him chasing after Lee Ann, despite her boyfriend. Maybe Phyllis just didn’t like Janine? And she was trying to break them up? Calling it off was definitely sounding like the right thing to do.

After dinner, Tina and I cleared the table and then she almost dragged me to my bedroom. “Phyllis says that Jeremy’s favorite color is green, and you’ve got this green dress that will perfect!” she said, opening my closet door. “Here, hold it up.”

“You know, Teen,” I said, complying, “I’m starting to have second thoughts about–”

“No!” she said sternly. You promised. The first boy who asked you on a date, and Jeremy asked…”

“With Phyllis’s and your prodding,” I suggested.

“Boys don’t always know what’s good for them,” she said, dismissively. “Yeah, that’s going to work. We’ll have to do something with your hair, though. When was the last time you had it cut?”


“Well, call for an appointment. Hmm, maybe I should go with you. I’ll call, just to make sure I can make it. And let’s see what kind of stockings will work,” she added, searching through my dresser drawers.”

“What am I, a Barbie doll?” I muttered. I was a bit relieved when my cell phone rang.

I put the dress on my bed and looked at my phone, not recognizing the number. “Hello?” I said, answering it.

A confident male voice answered. “Hey, Melanie, how are you?”

“Sorry, you’ve got the wrong number,” I said, snapping the phone closed.

“I hate it when that happens,” Tina agreed, pulling out two pairs of stockings. “Let’s see how these look.”

The phone rang again, and it was the same number. “Look, pal,” I said, “there’s nobody named Melanie here. You’ve got the wrong number,” and I hung up once again.

When I turned back to Tina, though, she was staring at me, open-mouthed. “That… that was Dirk,” she stammered.

“Dirk?” I asked, surprised.

“That’s his pet name for you. You know, Marsh, marshmallow, Mel, Melanie…?”

“Marshmallow?” I echoed, incredulous, and looked at myself in the full-length mirror as the phone rang again. That’s not fair. I’m not that fat. I answered the phone again, a bit annoyed. “Hello!”

“Marsh, what the Hell?” he asked, and this time I did sort of recognize his voice.

“I… didn’t realize it was you,” I said, feeling extremely awkward. I had been thinking of the Dirk that I knew, but it had just hit me that this guy was somebody who had had a close relationship with Marsha, maybe closer than just about anybody else.

“Who else calls you Melanie?” he demanded.

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking.”

“Are you still mad at me?”

“Should I be?” I asked, bouncing the conversation back to him.

“I apologized, didn’t I? Look, I’ll say it again. I was a jerk. I’m sorry. I… I wasn’t thinking enough about what you wanted. I want to give ‘us’ another chance, and I promise not to pressure you again, OK?”

This was way beyond my comfort point, and I was at a loss. I looked at Tina for help, but she just looked confused. “Let me think about it, OK?” I finally said.

“OK, fine. But in the meantime, you remember that restaurant on Old Mill Road? The Country Inn?”

“Um, yeah…” I’d taken dates there a few times.

“They’ve started having swing dancing there on every other Friday night. Would you like to go?”

“I’m sorry, Dirk, I have plans for this Friday,” I answered, relieved to have an excuse.

“Plans? Oh come on, Mel, don’t be that way.”

“I’m not ‘being’ any way,” I said. “I have a date. I’m going to a movie with somebody.”

“Maddy said you weren’t seeing anybody.”

“I’m… he just asked me a few hours ago.”

“Marsha!” he complained, “Come on! What do you want me to do, get on my hands and knees and beg?”

“I’m serious,” I assured him. “I met this boy over midterm break and he just called and asked me out.”

“Oh,” he said, sounding surprised. “OK, I see. Um… so how do you want to do this?”

“Do what?”

He sighed, and I grinned a bit to myself. It was a bit mean, but in some way it was kind of fun to annoy him like this.

“I guess we need to talk a bit. Saturday afternoon around 3? We can meet for ice cream and just catch up.”

Again, I looked at Tina, but of course she didn’t know what was going on.

“Ice cream sounds OK,” I said, hoping I wasn’t making a mistake.

“Great! I’ll see you there. Bye”

He hung up, and I stared at the phone. “Where?”

“Where what?” Tina asked.

“I just agreed to meet Dirk for ice cream on Saturday to talk, but he didn’t tell me where,” I explained. “Did Dirk and Marsha have a usual place where they got ice cream?”

“That place at the mall, but why are you seeing Dirk? You’ve got a date with Jeremy!”

“Well he asked me, you know, just to talk. It’s not an actual date or anything.”

“And what are you going to talk about?” she demanded. “How are you going to make him believe that you’re Marsha? You didn’t even know his pet name for her. He’s going to know something’s wrong. Forget about him, OK? Go out with Jeremy first. If things don’t work out, I’ll find you somebody else. But unless you’re planning on telling Dirk everything, I don’t see how you’re going to do this.”

“And if I do tell him, he’ll think I’m crazy, or just still angry at him or something.” That made any possibility of a real date with Dirk impossible, and actually made me a feel a lot better. “So I just need to find some way to tell Dirk that I’m not interested without him thinking that I’m just playing hard to get. Got any ideas?”

“Stand him up?”


“You should have told him you were busy.”

“Well, I didn’t. I could call him back, I guess. Or I could just talk to him and be reasonably honest. I’ll say that our relationship is history and I’m not interested in starting up again.”

“If you’re sure…?”

“I think it’s the best thing to do,” I said firmly.

“OK, then let’s get back to your date. I think these shoes…”

I sighed and just let her have her way. She’d put so much effort into setting this up, that I might as well let her enjoy herself. The question was, could I?

97 Boy Trouble

The next morning, as Mom and I were cleaning up after breakfast, she asked, “So are you bored enough, yet?”


“Well, I didn’t want to bother you when you just got back from school, but if you’d like to sit with me while I’m working, I’d love to talk with you.”

“Oh! Sure,” I said. “I was going to do some chord practice, but I can spend time with you instead.”

So we finished in the kitchen and moved to the bedroom Mom had turned into a sewing room. It was, of course, a lot larger than my work area or even Nikki’s, with four clothing racks, a three-way mirror for her client, and an iron and ironing board in addition to her sewing machine. I took a spare chair as she pulled a garment off the rack and started work.

“What’s going on with this date?” she asked. “You don’t sound very excited. Do you not like the boy?”

“I like him very much,” I admitted. “Don’t tell Tina, but he’s the boy I told you I had a crush on.”

“The one who has a girlfriend? Oh…” She looked at me out of the corner of her eyes. “Then why did he ask you out?”

“Well, it seems to have been his sister and Tina’s idea. I’m guessing that Phyllis doesn’t like his girlfriend very much.”

“Oh, Honey, that’s terrible.”

“And Daddy wants to meet him, and I thought about canceling, but Tina was so proud of herself for setting this up.”

“What a mess,” she said. “Here, why don’t you move the buttons on this blouse. They’re marked.” As I started hunting for the right color thread, she continued, “Well, he’s obviously not averse to the date.”

“His sister was standing next to him when he called, and I think she hit him when he didn’t ask me quickly enough.”

As I started cutting off the buttons, she shook her head. “How do you feel about all of this?”

“I feel horrible, of course. I don’t like the way he’s being treated, and he’s probably going to have this really negative association towards me now. On the other hand,” I said, as I started sewing the buttons at their new location. “I’m probably going to enjoy being with him, only he’ll be feeling guilty, and I’m going to feel guilty about that. I’d just cancel the whole thing, only I don’t know what’s going on between him and his sister, and Tina will be really mad at me, so just going on the date seems to be least bad thing to do.” I looked up and saw her staring at my hands. “Is something wrong?”

“No, I’ve just never seen you start your threads like that before.”

I looked at my hands, and then remembered. Nikki had said that she hadn’t noticed the way Marsha did it, so she had taught me her own way. Apparently, it wasn’t the way Mom had taught her daughters.

“Oh, this is the way my friend does it, and I just picked it up, I guess.”

“Oh! Well let me see that again.” She watched as I started the thread for the third button. “Hmm. Do you find that easier than my way?”

“Uh… I don’t know. I just got used to it.”

“Hmm… I can deal with your father. What time is Jeremy picking you up?”

“Seven o’clock.”

“I’ll make sure he’s not there; that will at least save you the embarrassment of having him questioning this boy. But otherwise, you’re pretty much on your own.” She stopped the machine, took the skirt out of my hands and inspected it. “Good job as always, Honey.” Then she hugged me. “I’m so sorry about the way this date worked out. Just be kind to the boy, and don’t push him to do something that will get him into trouble with his girlfriend.” I thought guiltily about my hopes for a goodnight kiss. “I’ll try to keep your sister from interfering in your love life in the future.”

She sat back down at the machine and started working again. “Do you have any prospects back at school?” Apparently Tina hadn’t mentioned Dirk, at least.

“Not really,” I told her. “There is a boy who seems to really like me, and is probably going to ask me out, but I’m not all that attracted to him.”

“But you’ll go out with him once, at least. You never know how things will work out.”

“I suppose. And Lee Ann is intent on fixing me up with somebody; she knows this boy, so I suppose that means only after he has his chance.”

She nodded, and we chatted about school in general, and Tina’s play, and my schedule for next semester. It’s probably a good thing she only had the one sewing machine. The only things she asked me to do were handwork: buttons, and ripping seams, and the like, all of which I felt competent at. I had gotten pretty good with the sewing machine, but watching her now showed me how much I didn’t know, and I wasn’t sure how good Marsha was supposed to be. At some point, I was probably going to have to have an explanation of why my skills had slipped, but as long as I had the hope that this wasn’t permanent, I wasn’t ready to deal with the issue.

I went back to my room after a couple of hours and worked on my chord progressions. I felt that I was getting reasonably competent there, although I still wasn’t ready to play in public. Developing the muscle memory and skills takes a long time, and I had years of practice to catch up on, but at least it felt good to see some progress.

My phone rang a bit after lunch, and the display told me that it was from Dinah.

“Hello?” I said, a bit uncertain.

“I hear you spoke with Maddy,” said a soprano voice.

“Um, yes, I did. Hi, Dinah. Um… I’m sorry for not talking with you all this time.”

“Yeah, well, I’m sorry for lying to George about you.”

George was presumably the boy that Maddy had mentioned. I didn’t know him at all, and certainly wasn’t interested in him, so why did I feel angry when she said that? I forced myself to be calm and simply said, “Don’t worry about it. It’s in the past.”

“But it still hurts?”

“No, not really.”

I heard her sigh. “Geez, Marsh, you’ve gotten boring in your old age.” Uhhh… an in joke, probably.

“Anyway,” she continued. “You’re coming to the New Year’s Eve party, right?”

“Uh… sure.” A lot of my old crowd would be there, and I was probably going to have to deal with them eventually, anyway. Besides, just staying home would have been boring.

“And will you be coming with Dirk?”

“I… don’t know,” I said, hesitantly. “We’re going to talk on Saturday. I’m inclined to doubt it, though.”

“Really? You know a lot of us are rooting for you two to get back together.”

“I appreciate that,” I said. “We’ll see.” It hadn’t occurred to me just how much of a challenge this break could be. Maybe there was a better way for me to handle it than just pretending I was Marsha?

“So what have you been up to, lately?”

“Well, I played Mollie in a production of The Mousetrap.”

“Uh huh…”

“And my classes are going well…”

“C’mon, Marsh. I mean, what have you been doing? OK, Maddy says you’re not actually seeing anybody, but if you’re not into getting back together with Dirk, there must be somebody else you have your eye on. Spill!”

Spill? Was I supposed to admit to a crush? Or talk about my thoughts on dating when I got back to school? “Um… well… there’s a boy that I like but he’s taken, does that count?”

“Taken? Marsh, you know better than that. What are you doing to yourself?”

Aside from talking about things I don’t want to discuss with a girl I don’t know very well? I really wasn’t sure how this was supposed to work. “I didn’t know about her when I met him, is all. There’s a boy at school who likes me, though, but I’m not so sure how I feel about him.”

“So why don’t you want to get back with Dirk?”

“I’m just not sure we belong together. Besides, I think I’d rather be with somebody at school. My roommate has an off-campus boyfriend and she hardly ever sees him.”

“Yeah, that’s not so good.”

Talking about my love life or potential love life when I really didn’t know what I was doing was awkward. Dinah sure seemed to be nosy, considering that she hadn’t even spoken with Marsha probably since the summer. Then I had a brainwave.

“What about you? What’s happening with your love life?”

“Oh, well, wait until I tell you,” she started, and told me. And told me. I didn’t have to say anything more about myself, just react.

When she finally ran down, she asked, “so can you come over on Sunday to help plan this thing? If you’re back into the group, I’d really like you to make those things you made last year. Everybody loved them.”

“Oh… “ What things? “Let me see if I can find the recipe again.” Maybe Tina will know.

“OK, great! Sunday about one, then. See you, Marsh!”

Tina’s last day of school for the year was Friday, the afternoon of my date, and she had scheduled me to get my hair “done.” This turned out to be way more complex than the haircuts I had been used to, and I really wasn’t sure what was going on, only Tina and the lady doing my hair kept chattering on, while I just closed my eyes and pretended I was somewhere else. Why exactly this made me feel out of place in ways that other female-only venues hadn’t, I wasn’t sure, but I was certainly not an active participant in whatever was being done to me, nor did I particularly want to be.

When we got home, I pulled into the driveway and pushed the garage door opener. While we were waiting for the door to open, I heard a sharp rap on my window and looked up to see Chad. In the light from the garage, I could see a very surprised expression on his face. I rolled down my window.

“Hi, Chad,” I said, as casually as I could.

“How long have you been home?” he demanded.

“Can I put the car in the garage, first?” I asked. “It’s kind of cold out here.”

Chad waited until I had stopped the car and then followed us into the garage, looking confused and – maybe it was only my imagination – a bit annoyed.

“Did you just get back from school today?” he asked, as Tina and I got out of the car.

“No,” I answered, “we just got back from the…” and then I sort of mumbled, “… beauty parlor.”

“From the what?”

“The beauty parlor, Chad,” Tina put in. “Marsh has a big date tonight.”

“Um, Tina,” I said, “could you let Chad and talk for a moment?”

The two of us watched as Tina went into the house and then Chad turned to me, clearly stunned. “You…. have a… what?”

“Um… a date?” I said, embarrassed.

“With a guy?” I nodded. “And you got your hair done for this date… with a guy.”

“Um… yeah.”

“So… all this, ‘oh I’m really a boy, Chad’ thing was just a joke? See if you can tease old Chad? I’ll bet you and Tina had a big laugh over that.”

“No,” I protested. “It’s not like that. I am really a guy… or was, anyway.”

“Really,” he said, his eyebrows raised. “You didn’t tell me the part about you being gay.”

“I’m not! I… look, this was a real surprise to me.”

“Was it? Your sister said, ‘let’s get in the car, Marsh,’ and then she wrestled you into the beauty parlor?”

“No… I mean… look, it’s getting real cold out here. Do you want to go inside to talk?”

“When you’re expecting your sweetie to come over? I don’t think that would go over very well.”

“This is important, Chad!”

“Is it? I notice you didn’t feel it important enough to tell me anything about it. Remember what I said about keeping a guy informed when he’s working on a problem with you? Oh, sorry. That’s a guy thing. Nothing to do with you.”

“Chad, that’s not fair!” I called after him as he walked out of the garage, but he didn’t turn around. I ran out of the garage after him. He completely ignored me until he reached his front door, when he suddenly turned around with the door open and froze me with a scornful glance – and then went inside and shut the door.

It was like a slap in the face. I was just doing what made sense, wasn’t I? Why hadn’t he let me explain?

“Marsh?” I turned and saw my sister calling from the opening to the garage. “You need to start getting ready.”

“Ready for what?” I asked, looking back at Chad’s door. “Oh, right. My date.”

“Marsh, what’s wrong?”

“Why am I doing this, Teen?” I asked as I followed her back into the garage. “How did things go so far? Beauty parlor? What am I doing, going to beauty parlors?”

“So you’ll look beautiful for Jeremy, Marsh. It’s a date, and Jeremy’s a really nice guy. You want him to like you, don’t you?”

“What am I doing dating boys in the first place? We have to cancel.”

“What?! Of course you’re not going to cancel. Jeremy is a nice boy and you’re going to great together.” She wasn’t listening to me, any more than Chad had.

I reached for the door to the house, but it opened suddenly, with Mom on the other side. “You look beautiful, Marsh. And don’t worry about your father. I sent him on an errand that will keep him busy until after you and your date leave.”

“Marsh, are you listening to me?” Tina hissed, following me into the house. “You can’t cancel. You promised. Remember?”

“Cancel?” asked Mom, “What are you talking about?”

“Marsh is talking about canceling her date!”

“Marsha, you can’t do that. It would be rude. You’ve accepted and he’ll be here in an hour-and-a-half and I got your father out of the house for you. Everything’s been set up. Now go shower and get dressed.”

I looked back and forth between my mother and my sister. “It… I shouldn’t be doing this. It’s all wrong.”

“This is not the time, Baby. Get in the shower and I’ll come in and talk with you while you get ready.”

“I thought I was going to–” Tina objected, but Mom cut her off.

“On the whole, Tina, I think I’d better be the one tonight. Get going, Marsha.”

Feeling that I was completely losing control of things, I tore off my clothes and stomped into the shower. The hot water usually relaxed me, but not today. Stupid girly body, I thought. Stupid Chad. Did he think I really had a choice? I was doing what I had to do.

I stayed in the shower long enough for my fingers to get all pruney. Then I toweled my hair mostly dry and wrapped a towel around myself before stomping back to my bedroom.

Stomping is a good thing to do when you’re mad. I imagined I was stomping on Chad’s face as I went. This is not my fault, I told him. I stomped on Tina’s. Why did I let you talk me into this? I stomped on Jeremy. What are you doing, cheating on your girlfriend – and with me? I stomped on Janine. Why do you have to be his girlfriend?

When I got to my room, Mom was already there, laying out the clothes Tina had picked out for me. “Oh, Marsh, you got your hair wet – and it was just styled!” She sighed. “Sit down, and let me dry it for you.”

I couldn’t figure out a way to making sitting down a stomp, but I sat, grumbling.

“Now tell me what’s ‘all wrong’ and why you were thinking of canceling the date,” Mom invited, raising her voice over the sound of the hair blower.

“I just…” Wait. I can’t tell her that. “I had a fight with Chad.”

“With Chad?” she echoed, sounding confused. “Why are you fighting with Chad?’

“Um…” Now that was a question I didn’t know how to answer. If there was any time to explain about the experiment, if I were even ready to tell her, this was not the time. “He was helping me with something… and I didn’t tell him I was home, and he really got angry at me.”

“And what does that have to do with this date?”

“Um… well… nothing, actually.”

“Then why mention it? What is the problem?” She was brushing my hair now, trying to put it back the way it had been when I got home, with limited success.

“I… I’m just feeling that this is all wrong, Mom.”

“What’s wrong, Sweetie, is promising a boy that you’ll go out with him and then canceling. The time to decide that you shouldn’t have accepted the date was when he asked you. Now, unless you have an accident or are seriously sick, it would be wrong to back out.”

“Terrific,” I muttered. It didn’t help my mood to know that she was right. Tina had really screwed things up for me. Why had I made that stupid, stupid promise?

“OK, I think that’s about as much as I can do with your hair, for now. Get your makeup on and get dressed.”

“Why?” I groused.

“Why what?”

“Why do I need to wear makeup? He won’t be.” Mom stared at me, and I stared right back.

“Well, you…” She looked at me intently. “You know what? If you really don’t want to wear make up, don’t.”

“Huh?” I hadn’t expected her to give up so easily.

“This is a boy you said you really like, and I’d have thought you’d want to look your best, but it’s up to you.”

“OK… fine, then. I won’t. I hate makeup.”

“OK.” Why wasn’t I getting a reaction? Marsha would have worn makeup, wouldn’t she?

“That’ll save you time, too. So just get dressed now, and come downstairs. I’m sure Tina wants to see how you look,” Mom said, and walked out, quietly.

I stared after her, and then looked at myself in the mirror. I don’t need makeup, I assured myself. I’m not Marsha. I put on my underwear and then came back and looked again. Ooh, I look a bit pale… No, I’m not wearing makeup tonight. Besides, we’ll be in the movie theater and it’ll be dark.

I pulled on the stockings and my dress and then looked again in the mirror. I don’t know… The next thing I knew I was forcing myself to put down the concealer. OK, get away from the mirror, Marsh.

I put on my shoes and checked my face again. This is a pity date, I reminded myself. No need to look nice. Just to make the point, I took a section of my hair and twisted it until it stuck out like a horn. There. Take that, Tina.

When I came downstairs, Tina opened her mouth as though she was going to say something, but looked at Mom and seemed to change her mind. Mom must have prepared her for what I was going to do, although she couldn’t have anticipated my little hairstyle change.

“You look… nice,” she managed to say, and I could almost have laughed. Then the doorbell rang.

98 Promises to Keep

When the doorbell rang, Mom, Tina, and I looked at each other and then Tina shouted, “I’ll get it!” and ran for the door. I couldn’t move. It had just hit me that Jeremy was here. Jeremy! And I had made myself look ridiculous.

“What do I do, Mom?” I asked, desperately.

“Isn’t this what you wanted, Marsh? You said it wasn’t an important date because he has a girlfriend, right?”

“Well… yeah, but…” I looked around, but we don’t have any mirrors in living room. I quickly rubbed at the hair horn I had created, hoping at least to make it less noticeable.

“Let me, Hon,” Mom said, taking my hand away. She moistened her own hands with spit and did something to the mess I’d made of my hair, but stopped when we heard Tina coming back – with him.

“Jeremy, this is our mother,” Tina said as they walked in from the hallway, “and you remember Marsh.”

“Jeremy!” Mom said, moving to greet him, and give me maybe a few extra seconds to pull myself together. “So nice to meet you.” My heart was now pounding insanely, whether because Jeremy was here in my house, or because I was horribly embarrassed or nervous or something.

“Um… pleased to meet you, Mrs. Steen,” Jeremy said, taking the hand she had extended to him. “uh… hi, Marsh. You look… really nice.” So he was a liar; maybe I could use that to start not liking him so much.

“Hi,” I said in a voice that sounded more like a croak than anything Marsha’s voice should have produced. I did not put out my hand; it would have trembled way too visibly.

“Ready to go?” he asked. At my nod, he led the way to the front door, the three us following him. It took him two tries to get it open. I didn’t blame him for being nervous; I knew how awkward this whole thing was for him. Having Mom and Tina watching so closely couldn’t have made it easy. I was so glad that Dad wasn’t there to make it even worse.

When we reached his car, a green Honda Civic in fairly good condition, he held open the passenger side door for me, handed me the seat belt when I sat down, and then closed the door when I had buckled. I had, of course, done the same with my own dates, but it really drove home for me just how different this was. He was in charge of the car and paying for the date; I wasn’t in control at all. It was a bit uncomfortable, but then, this whole date was uncomfortable. Why had I let Tina talk me into this?

I noticed after a few minutes that he wasn’t talking, and my heart went out to him; whatever pressure his sister had brought to bear on him, he didn’t deserve my making it worse by letting the ride be totally silent. So I turned to him and asked, “So how was the second night of House Parties for you?” I’d seem him enjoying himself, so that would at least have positive associations for him.

“Oh!” he said, sounding a bit surprised. “It was great. Janine loves to dance, and she’s really good at it.

And so are you, I thought, remembering. Then I felt a bit guilty. Had it really been kind to remind him of the girl he was cheating on?

“How long have you two known each other?” I asked next. Maybe it was better for him to focus on her tonight. Or maybe I was just angry in general; I hoped I wasn’t deliberately taking it on him.

I needn’t have worried. It seemed a very comfortable subject for him, unfortunately.

“Oh, we met at the beginning of freshman year,” he said. “I knew right away I wanted to ask her out, but somehow I just didn’t have the nerve. She’d told me that she was going to be studying in the library, so I went over, you know, hoping to ‘accidentally’ run into her, but I couldn’t find her. I didn’t figure out until later that there was more than one library on campus.”

So he’d been a bit inept with girls, his freshman year. They’d still had three-and-half years to get to know each other. I listened with half an ear as he kept on going, talking about the two of them. Inwardly, though, I was raging at Chad. Why couldn’t he have had some sympathy for my position? Look at me, here I was, sitting with my crush, who was taken; back at school was a guy who wanted me, but whom I could only see as a friend. I’d never had these problems as a guy.

“It seemed that every time we did go out, though, she was always just getting over a breakup with somebody else,” Jeremy was saying. I noticed his nervousness seemed to be gone. Apparently, this was a very comfortable subject for him. Terrific. “So I guess I was a really safe ‘rebound’ date.”

I tuned him out again. It’s not as if I’m giving up, Chad, I imagined myself telling him. This body has its own wants. It’s just simple biology, and I can’t fight it. It’s not my fault.

“… but we were great friends,” Jeremy was saying, “and agreed to be each other’s emergency dates; you know, if there was something we really wanted to go to, but we didn’t have a date. And meanwhile, we started fixing each other up…”

I nodded to myself. I knew the story – it was like the movie, When Harry met Sally. And eventually, they had finally figured out that they were so comfortable together, that everything else just worked. Do you think I would have chosen this, Chad? I continued. I don’t know just about any of the things about dating that a girl my age is supposed to know. When I was a guy it was so much easier. I knew all of the moves; I usually knew when a girl was interested. Of course I still want to change back. But I have to be ready if I can’t.

Then I heard a word that pulled my full attention back to Jeremy. “Excuse me?” I asked. “Did you say fiancée?”

“Mmmhmm. Carl was a year ahead of us, and I met him in a geology course I took for my minor. I figured he and Janine would be great together and I was right. They’re getting married right after she graduates.”

“Wait… wait,” I said, struggling to change mental gears. “If she’s… if she… fiancé… why was she with you?”

“Oh, his company picked that weekend to send him to a conference; would you believe it? And he couldn’t get out of it. Apparently, ‘I want to go to a school dance with my fiancée’ doesn’t count as a good excuse. So he came up the weekend before to see her, but that meant she didn’t have a date for House Parties, and as I said, she really likes to dance. Well, I didn’t have a date either, so, we went together.”

“You… didn’t have a date?” I echoed.

“No, and let me tell you, Janine really let me have it after I walked her home that night when I told her about running into you.” He laughed as he described what happened. “She said, ‘Jeremy you idiot! You’ve been mooning over this girl for two mon–’”

Suddenly, his eyes went wide and his face turned bright red. As I stared, with my jaw on the floor, he clamped his mouth shut as if he had only just realized what he was saying, and to whom.

My mind was in a whirl. What?! He’s been mooning over me? Everything I had assumed about his behavior was wrong. He hadn’t been nervous because he was cheating on Janine; he was nervous because he was asking out a girl he really liked, and he probably still wasn’t very adept at talking to them. To us. Whatever.

And to make matters worse, from his perspective, he had just admitted to this girl he really liked, to me, how he felt. On the first date! He probably thought he’d just blown it.

He wasn’t talking; he looked as though he didn’t expect ever to be able to talk, even to look at me, ever again. That meant that, as the person with probably a lot more dating experience and expertise, I had to do something about it. But what? I couldn’t just say something like, “but I like you too!” He probably wouldn’t believe it, and would think I was just being kind. I needed to tell him something believable, and probably a bit embarrassing.

It took me a moment to come up with something that I thought might work. “Jeremy,” I said, “did you see the on-campus production of The Mousetrap?”

“Um, no,” he said. It sounded like a change of subject, so I had been pretty sure he could be comfortable with it, but he still wasn’t looking at me. “I thought about going, but I didn’t want to go alone and Janine was busy and I didn’t have a da–” He cut himself off again, evidently finding that subject too awkward. No matter, I wasn’t done.

“I had the lead,” I told him.

That got him to look at me, and he looked stricken now, rather than embarrassed. “Oh, Marsh, I’m so sorry. I wish I’d known.”

“I played a newlywed,” I continued. “There was scene where I had to kiss the boy playing my ‘husband’ and I couldn’t do it properly, and the directory said to pretend I was kissing a boy a really liked, and…” Now I choked off. I hadn’t realized how hard this was going to be to say to him. Carefully watching his face, I forced myself to finish. “So I pretended I was kissing you.”

I saw his eyes flicker in surprise. “Y-you…?” he stammered.

I nodded. “Mmhmm.”



He sat back. “I don’t believe this.”

You don’t? I was beside myself over the idea that you were dating Janine.”

Janine? You thought I was dating Janine?”

“Uh huh. I saw you two dancing at Blair and I got really upset and had to leave.”

“You were at Blair? I wish I’d seen you. We could have…”

“Yeah…” I would much rather have been dancing with him than Geoff. Janine had clearly been enjoying herself. When might I have a chance to…?

“Is something wrong?” he asked.

“No, I just wish we could go dancing. You looked really good at it.”

“Oh,” he laughed. “I’m not that good. What you saw was mostly Janine, I think. Besides, there’s nowhere around here to go dancing, is there?”

“Um, well, actually… a friend told me that the Country Inn on Old Mill Road has dancing every other Friday night, including tonight.”

“Every other Friday? Then we could go… in two weeks, which is after school starts again… Oh.”

“Yeah…” I said, disappointed.

“So, if we wanted to go it would have to be tonight? Do you want to do that instead of the movie?” he asked.


“OK. Fine. Just tell me how to get there.”

At my direction, we turned around, and I started getting really excited about the whole evening, but I start wondering about how we wound up like this. Why did it take him all this time to call me? So I asked him, “If you’ve… liked me all this time, why didn’t you ever call me? Or were you hoping to ‘just accidentally run into me’?”

He looked embarrassed. “Well, I was actually going to ask you out the day we first met, and I asked Phyllis for your phone number, but she and Tina had just had this fight, and she wouldn’t tell me.”

“I remember the fight,” I said. Wow. Had he asked me out that day I would have said no, and I wouldn’t be here now, on a date with somebody that I liked a lot and who liked me. I remember desperately wishing I could be male again; just now, it was really hard to remember why. In fact, it was hard to think clearly about anything but Jeremy right now. My heart seemed to be competing with the engine for loudness and intensity, and I was feeling ever more conscious of my appearance. A guy usually expects a girl to look her best on a date, and I had practically done the opposite. Would he be offended?

“And then it just didn’t occur to me to ask her after I got back to the school,” he continued, “since I thought there was no way I’d have a chance to see you until winter break. I freaked when I saw you on campus; I figured I’d missed my chance and you were there with some other guy. And afterwards I tried to look you up, but you don’t seem to be in the school directory.”

“I am, actually. My first name is Jennifer.” This used to happen all the time when I was a guy, too, since I had been listed as Dwight M. Steen. My friends had known how to reach me, of course. It had sort of a filtering effect, so I hadn’t bothered asking the school to change my listing; obviously, neither had Marsha, and for the first time, I regretted it. I would have much happier if Jeremy had called me before exams started. But it had all worked out, anyway. It was really lucky that we both happened to be there that day… “Wait a minute,” I said, struck by a sudden suspicion. “Why were you there at the music school in the first place? Did Phyllis ask you to drive her?”

“Yes. Why?”

“That’s what I thought; Tina asked me, too. We were set up! They intended us to meet!”

He grinned at me, and I melted. Why did it matter what they had intended? All that mattered just now was that we were together and my first date as a girl was looking very promising.