127 Skating on Thin Ice

“Now that I’ve destroyed the mood,” I told Jeremy, sadly, “I suppose you should just take me home.”

“I don’t want to, but if you insist, I will. Can I persuade you to stay?” And he batted his eyes at me until I laughed, and then he kissed me. When he pulled away, I was grinning. “There!” he said, “all fixed.”

What could I say? I was going to lose him all too soon, in all likelihood, so each moment together was precious. I let him lead me back onto the ice and we skated for another half hour, and this time he managed to keep me from falling at all. Then we took a break and said, “I think we should stop.”

“Why?” I asked. “I’m having fun. Aren’t you?”

“Absolutely. But if you haven’t done this before, or at least not in a long time, your legs are going to be sore tomorrow. I just don’t want you to overdo it.”

I couldn’t disagree with that, so we got into his car to drive back to campus. “Can I ask you something?” he asked as we pulled away from the rink.

“Of course,” I answered, just a bit wary.

“Why do you go by the name ‘Marsh’? It’s not a very feminine-sounding name. Why not go by ‘Marsha’ or even ‘Jennifer’?”

I had to think about that. As a boy, I’d decided in elementary school that ‘Dwight” sounded kind of dorky, and ‘Marshall’ had sounded really tough and military. I’d never asked anybody what Marsha’s motivations had been; but that was hardly something I was ready to explain to Jeremy just now.

“It’s just shorter, like the way I call my sister, ‘Teen’ half the time. I don’t really mind if you want to call me, ‘Marsha.’ But ‘Jennifer’ is such a common name – so many girls are called that.”

He nodded; it was a plausible explanation, and for all I knew it was the right one.

“And why do you want to be a doctor?” he asked next. “You seem to have a real passion for theater and for sewing, but I don’t hear you talk about medicine that way.”

I tilted my head at him. “Why all the questions?”

“I’m just trying to figure out things I’ve been curious about. There are still plenty of things I don’t know about you.” He smiled very tenderly at me and my heart fluttered. “After all, you’re the most fascinating subject I know.”

My face turned red as I tried to suppress a grin. “Flatterer… not that I’m complaining, mind you. Where did you learn to talk like that?” I’d had the impression of him as really nervous and inept around girls.

He sounded a bit abashed. “You’re not actually my first girlfriend, you know. I made some mistakes with… um, a girl I used to date, and I’m trying hard not to make the same ones with you. Plus, well, Janine’s sort of coaching me. She says you’re the best that’s happened to me since I got to Piques, and, well, I definitely agree. So… I want to know everything there is to know about you.”

I wanted to sink through my seat. I was definitely not the one he should be saying things like this to. Now what, Marsh? I asked myself. How do I tell him I’m a fraud? How am I supposed to tell him the truth? I forced myself to smile.

“So, the doctor question?” he asked again.

“Oh. Well… I was named for my great-uncle Marshall, and he was a doctor, and I just always figured that’s what I would do, too. Plus, I couldn’t really make a living in theater or sewing, you know. And you–” I had to bite my tongue, as I’d almost said, you need to make a living to support a wife and kids. Aloud, I improvised. “You need to make a living doing something that interests you, and biology does interest me. So why not medicine?”

He nodded. “OK, I guess that makes sense.”

We drove in silence for a bit and then, as we started getting close to Piques, he suddenly said, “Now about this secret of yours…”

I jumped guiltily. I am such a blabbermouth, these days. I should have found some other way to approach this.

“I just want to know if it’s serious,” he persisted. “Is this some health thing? Do I have to worry… about losing you?”

“No, no,” I shook my head. “I’m perfectly healthy.”

“And you’re not already married or seeing somebody else or something like that?”

I laughed. “No, nothing like that. It’s just…” I really need to think before answering him, this time. “I’m really sorry, B–Babe. I– I guess I’m sort of insecure about things. I didn’t…” I paused and took a breath. “Let me give this some thought. I need to figure things out for myself, first.”

He parked the car and got out. I was about to follow, when I saw him walking quickly around the hood, so I stayed put and let him open my door for me. “Thank you,” I said as he gave me his hand to help me out.

“You’re getting me really worried, you know,” he told me as we starting walking.

“I know. I’m sorry. I’m going to try to make it better. I just can’t say anything more right now.”

He opened his mouth as though he was going to say something and closed it again, presumably thinking better of it. Then he said, “I meant it when I said I loved you.”

“And… and I did, too.”

“I don’t want you to think you need to hide things from me. I’m not going to judge you. You–”

I held up my hand to stop him. “Please. I have to think about this a bit. Don’t press me right now, OK?”

He flinched back, which made me feel even guiltier, but he backed off. But then he gave me only a very brief kiss at my door and wouldn’t come in, which probably served me right. Still, as patient as he was trying to be, there had to be limits. It just wasn’t reasonable to expect him to handle this.

I didn’t see any reasonable solution without hurting him that didn’t involve undoing this whole mess, and that meant finally tracking down Professor Davis. That was what I should really be doing now. It wasn’t even ten o’clock yet, and my roommates had gone out, so I was alone and free to work on it. The problem was, now I was almost too upset to do anything productive, so I called Vicky.

I didn’t get an answer, which didn’t surprise me. Vicky wouldn’t be sitting in her room, all alone. She’d be out partying with somebody, maybe Geoff. The thought made me just a bit jealous. Was there some way I could have told Jeremy, so he would have stayed? The more I thought about it, though, the more impossible it seemed.

I tried Nikki, but as expected, she was out, too. I chose not to leave a message; I just wanted somebody to talk to now.

Automatically, I looked at Ben’s guitar, but I knew it wouldn’t help. I’d impressed Mom and Dad by playing a few songs, but I knew how much work they’d taken. It felt good to be able to play them, but it wasn’t relaxing. No, my best stress killer nowadays was sewing; only I couldn’t do that as automatically as I’d been able to play my guitar. Each piece required something just a bit different; enough that I had to focus consciously. Still, it would get my mind off my Jeremy problem until I could talk it out.

I’d only been sewing for about ten minutes before Vicky called me back. “What’s up, Marsh?” I could hear music in the background.”

“I just need to talk,” I said “Are you really busy?”

“I’m out with some friends. Can it wait?”

“I don’t know… I think I really messed up tonight.”


“I told Jeremy that I had a secret and we needed to break up, but I wouldn’t tell him why.”

“Marsh, it’s OK. You’re really better off without him – this whole thing has been really confusing for you; I understand that. You’ve been letting your hormones take over. You’ll be able to think much more clearly when you’re not hanging around some guy.” She laughed. “I’m not saying I’m an expert on healthy relationships, but I do know what it feels like when you’re with a boy you like. This was a good move, Marsh.”

“Um…” I realized I hadn’t been clear. “We… didn’t actually break up. He said we should stay together until he graduates, at least.”

She scoffed. “And you went along? Why would he even think you’d be interested, after you gave him the brush off?”

“Well… maybe because I’d just told him that I loved him?”

She didn’t answer for what seemed an eternity. I was just about to speak to see if we’d been disconnected when she said tightly, “Marsh, are you in your room?”


“Don’t do anything. I’ll be right over.” And she hung up.

I looked at the phone with chagrin. I hadn’t intended to disrupt her evening, at least not consciously. I shrugged and went back to my sewing machine, leaving my door open so that I’d be sure to hear Vicky knock.

I had time to finish a simple zipper replacement and start working on a torn seam before she got to my room. When I opened the door, she stared at me in apparent disbelief, backed me into my bedroom in silence, and closed the door behind us before asking, “Are you out of your mind?”

“I don’t know,” I answered quietly, sitting on the bed.

“What in the world would possess you to tell a boy that you loved him?”

“He said it first,” I explained. “Anyway, it’s true. I told you earlier, Vicky. I love him. He’s… well, I only wish I could have been as good a boyfriend to you as he is. He’s really wonderful and… I don’t want him to get hurt by any of this. That’s why I tried to break up with him – he deserves a real girl, one who can be what he expects and deserves. I can’t, and I know it.” I didn’t add, I wish I could. That would only hurt Vicky needlessly.

“Well, isn’t that just dandy?” she commented, icily.

“That’s why I need to change back,” I went on, ignoring her. “It’s the only way to make sure I don’t hurt him.”

She stared at me for a moment and then sat next to me. “I’d kind of hoped that you wanted to change back so you could be with me,” she said, sounding a bit subdued.

“I do,” I insisted, taking her hands. “I want to make both of you happy… somehow.”

“Oh, Marsh… you really make things complicated, don’t you?”

“My whole existence is complicated, Vixy!”

“So we just need to get going on that action list, right?” She stood up. “Where’s your copy? Maybe we can look ahead a bit. Have you done your first action?”

I put a hand on her arm to stop her. “I sent an email to the same reporter I spoke to a while ago, yeah, but…” she turned at my hesitation. “I just really resent the guys taking over this whole thing. I want to believe that there’s something they’ve overlooked. I want you and me to be the ones to solve this.”

She laughed, but it sounded a bit forced. “Boys versus girls? And you’re one of the girls? OK… Yeah. So where’s the sheet?”

I crossed to my desk and picked it up. “Here it is.” I sat back on the bed and she sat next to me so that we could both read the sheet.

“I think they did a pretty thorough job,” she said. “Nothing’s jumping out a me.”

“Wait a minute…” I said, studying the list. Then I laughed. “The grad student! Brian something or other – they completely ignored him!”

“But we don’t know anything about him,” she objected. “How do we find him?”

“There has to be a way.” I declared. “I want there to be a way, and right now, that needs to be enough.”

“What are you going to do?” she asked, skeptically. “Look him up on Facebook?”

I considered that for a moment.

“I was joking, Marsh – you sort of need his whole name, you know, and we’ve already checked Davis – if he ever had an account, he’s canceled it.”

“Yeah, but I’m hoping maybe a student would be more likely to have a Facebook account and less likely to think he needs to hide it. He’s got to have come from Rocky Lake with Davis, right? So we can look for students from there named Brian.”

“Do you have any idea how many students you’ll have to go through? And what if he’s not there? And how would you know which was the right Brian?”

“Well, maybe I can call the Rocky Lake physics department? I can say that I was looking for him– “

“And they’ll just give you the same Piques contact information. Or else they’ll take your name and ask him to call, and he’ll say, ‘Oh Marsha Steen? She was one of our subjects – better not call her…’”

“He won’t know my name, will he? He’ll be looking for Marshall Steen.”

“You think he doesn’t know you’re a girl, now?”

“OK, wait… I know. I’ll get one of my girlfriends from home to call. Like Maddy – he wouldn’t know she knows me or has any connection to Piques at all. And they’ll just think she met him at a dance or something.”

“But…” she started to object. Then she blinked and looked at me and said, “You know, that might work. Of course, he might still say that he doesn’t know her and refuse to call back.”

“OK, good point. Maybe we can use Facebook another way? You know, send messages to a bunch of Rocky Lake students and ask them if they know a physics grad student named Brian whose advisor is Rolf Davis?”

“Sounds time consuming, but I guess it couldn’t hurt.”

“Come on, Vixy, get excited about this, OK? It’s something concrete we can do. If we find a physics major, they’re bound to know him. Even if somebody messages us back and says, ‘Oh, you mean Brian Smith?’ we’ll at least have his name. And we know what he looks like.”

“You’re right, Marsh, you’re right. Tell you what. Make a list of all the students you can find and we’ll split them up. You sure you don’t want to involve Martin and Eric in this?”

“No, I don’t want to feel that being a girl means I’m any less capable than I was as a boy. Do you? I think it would serve them right for taking over the way they did if we could just call them up in a few days and say, ‘Oh boys, look what we found!’”


  1. von says:

    >>It just wasn’t reasonable to expect him to handle this.

    I didn’t see any reasonable solution without hurting him

    This is far too reasonable.

  2. scotts13 says:

    >> I was almost too upset to do anything productive, so I called Vicky.

    ROFL! ‘Cause that’s GUARANTEED to be a waste of time, right?

    It’s interesting… I was walking through an antique show the other day, and saw a 20-ish girl dressed in authentic (and probably period) 60’s clothing – what a well brought up young woman would consider stylish, not “that hippie stuff.” My first thought was, “My God, it’s Marsh!” I’m wondering if this is the image Russ is actually trying to project – with the skirts, conservative attitude… and now the harping on being left out because “she’s just a girl.”

    Ladies, do girls still think that way? Do MEN still think that way? I see no evidence for it in the people I know, but that may just be the sample, or my perception. It seems more reasonable that Marsh was left out (if at all) because she’s not very bright, not because of her sex.

  3. April says:

    Sometimes those old dresses are pretty fun to wear, and they can be eye-catching. I can’t usually pull them off — a bit too girly for me — but I know a few women who can rock them pretty well. However, they’re pretty uncomfy unless they fit perfectly; thank gosh Dupont invented spandex.

    I’m not entirely sure what you’re asking, Scott, but I have had this sort of thing happen to me a few times. I’m pretty assertive though, and tend to not let such things go on for long, if it’s something that I care about. If not, I just shrug it off… it’s not as if I don’t do the same thing sometimes with my girlfriends. And besides, like most such things, you get used to them over time, and they stop bugging you so much.

  4. TJ says:

    Not a bad chapter, just nonthing really questioned or anwsered, o well.

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