130 The Best Policy

At Sweeney Todd rehearsals, we had now starting practicing scenes, and I actually got to do the romantic scenes with “Anthony.” It wasn’t as fun as I had anticipated, mostly because I was now really starting to feel guilty about Jeremy. What business did I have enjoying flirting with and kissing another boy, when I was already hurting my own boyfriend?

Nikki read my mood, as she always seemed to, and invited me to talk quietly when I came off stage. I quickly outlined the status of our search and my faux pas in telling Jeremy that I had a secret.

“So you want to change back because you’re embarrassed to be honest with your boyfriend?” she asked, accusingly.

“No!” I retorted, then looked around to see if I had been too loud. A couple of girls sitting a few rows away turned and stared for a moment, but otherwise people seemed to have ignore my outburst. Remembering to keep my voice down, I explained, “I told you – I can’t stay this way. I’m a fake, and he deserves better. Besides, with my dating history, I’m hardly a good bet for a long-term relationship.”

“Your dating history, huh?”

“As in, the fact that I’ve never been able to keep a relationship going for more than six months.”

“And you won’t have that problem as a boy?”

That brought me up short. Of course it would be a problem for me as a boy – in fact, that was what had been on my mind when I’d assumed I was dreaming, all those months ago. My being a girl had never been the cause of that problem. “Now I feel stupid,” I admitted. “I guess that would be a problem with dating Vicky as well.”

“So that’s not a reason to change back,” she noted.

“But I need to figure it out, either way, right?” I looked at her with added interest. “You guys have been together for a while. How?”

She waved off the question. “I don’t know – it just works, I guess. We’re in love. We’re comfortable with each other.”

“I thought I was in love with all my girlfriends. I know I’m in love with Jeremy. Why would it work now, if it didn’t before? Lots of couples have problems – what makes some people lucky? Just happening never to have had problems?”

“I don’t know what to tell you, Marsh,” she shrugged. “Alvin and I haven’t had problems.”

“And Vicky and I didn’t have any problems, either. I think I must just have lost interest; she didn’t. I was just an idiot.”

She nodded. “I’m going to have to get back to taking notes,” she said. “Maybe you need to find somebody who’s actually had problems and still managed to stay together.”

“Yeah, if only,” I muttered, as I when back to review my script.

It wasn’t until the end of rehearsal that I realized what I had overlooked. My own mother! Dad had left and she’d gotten him back somehow. Excitedly, I told Nikki. “I can’t believe I’ve never asked her about relationship advice! You know,” I added bitterly, “if I were a real girl, she’d probably have been the first person I’d asked.”

“Maybe… but yeah, a girl really needs to talk to her mother a lot.”

“Tonight,” I declared. “If there is a secret, Mom will know it. It’s just the kind of thing she would know.”

That night was my regular call with Chad and my father, and I wasted no time bringing them up to date.

“What happened to the ‘mad scientist’ idea?” Chad asked. “You seem to be assuming that the people who changed you are nice guys.”

“That’s what Luke said,” I reminded him, “and when we saw them on the video, they looked nervous, not devious.”

“Honey,” Dad said, “You can’t expect villains to cackle and twirl their mustaches or stroke cats like movie villains. The fact is, these guys hurt a bunch of people and didn’t do anything to help them afterwards. Even if it was all an accident, and even if they’re being put under duress by the school, they had an obligation to let people know what was going on and to try to make things better. At the very least, they’ve been incredibly irresponsible even if there was no malice involved.”

“But if the school had them over a barrel…” I objected.

“Even so. Nowadays it is incredibly easy to communicate anonymously; in fact, they were already doing it with Luke. They could have collected email addresses from the Strangers and used them to apologize and explain. They could have rejected the school’s pressure and declared that it was their obligation to help. Your friend is right about the burden of proof; I certainly wouldn’t want to try to convince a jury that you used to be a boy or that a science experiment had made a girl flat-chested. I’d be laughed out of court. The scientists might not realize that, but the Piques administration certainly should have.”

“So why is the school making them hide?” Chad asked. “I mean, assuming that they are.”

“Seems to me,” Dad suggested, “that it could be a bureaucratic overreaction to something out of the ordinary. Somebody panicked and set the whole ‘pretend this never happened’ thing into operation and now they can’t undo it without getting into all kinds of trouble, or at least so they think. That’s the way bureaucracies work – their biggest fear is being caught in an embarrassing mistake, so they double down and deny, deny, deny. If they were to turn around and admit that the experiment had happened and that they’d covered it up, that probably would open them up to lawsuits. Juries would figure that where there’s smoke, there’s fire and that the school must have done something wrong. They might take the description of what actually happened as part of the cover up.”

“So we have to offer Davis money?” I asked, trying hard not to whine. “Will that even work?

Dad sighed, and sounded a bit hesitant when he spoke next. “I suspect it would take a lot more than I could get a hold of. What are we talking about? $1 million? $2 million? If I had that kind of money, I might have sent you to a more expensive school.”

“Why not ask the parents of the Strangers to chip in?”

“Marsh,” Chad started, and his voice sounded unusually gentle. “You’re not thinking this through. You’re especially eager to catch these guys because you want to change back, right?”


“But you’re the only one, I suspect. Didn’t you say the others were more depressed than angry? And resigned? You’ve said that you want them to try the same thing over again on you, figuring you’ve got a 50-50 chance of winding up as a boy again, right?”


“Marsh, what are you talking about?” Dad interjected. “Are you saying that you’d take a chance if they couldn’t promise to put things back the way they were?”

Chad and I fell over each other explaining about my willingness to take a chance at being male again, even if I couldn’t actually change back. Dad sounded skeptical, but willing to listen more before making a big deal of it.

“But that doesn’t apply to everybody else,” Chad continued “Most of the changes, from what you’ve said, sounded pretty minor. Even the girl whose chest is smaller would have to be leery of taking a chance at winding up as a boy, don’t you think? So the only ones who would really be eager enough to find money would be anyone else who changed sex and hasn’t admitted it.”

“That still might be half of them,” I pointed out.

“Only if they’re willing to admit it now, and willing to take a chance on things going even worse.”

“I don’t even think you should take a chance like that, Marsh,” Dad said. “If they could change you back, that would be one thing, but just asking to be changed sounds like a really stupid risk.”

I didn’t argue. I had my reasons for wanting to try, but I wasn’t going to explain it to Dad and Chad just now. The only other idea we came up with was of offering the missing experimenters legal help in fighting the college. Dad was optimistic that they’d go for it; Chad and I had our doubts.

Finally, we seemed to be running out of ideas, and I had to stop Dad from hanging up. “Could you put Mom on?” I asked. “I need to talk with her.”

She was on the phone in less than a minute. “What is it, Baby?” she asked.

“Um…” I suddenly froze up. It might be perfectly usual for girls to talk to their mothers about relationships, but I’d never really done it – at least not on this kind of level. Sure, I’d called her after my date on Friday and told her what had happened, so she knew I was in love with Jeremy. This felt different, somehow.

She didn’t say anything. No prompting, no questions, just gave me time to collect myself. After a few false starts, I blurted out, “Mom, how do you make a relationship last?”

“Hmm?” was all she said, so I tried again.

“I know Marsha dated Dirk for two years, but I told you I’d never had a relationship last that long, and I thought you might be able to help me figure out how to do it.”

“With Jeremy, you mean?”

“Well…” Why was I blushing? That was the obvious context, after all. “I don’t know if that’s possible, for the other reasons I’ve told you about, but if it were, then yeah, and… if I do change back, then with Vicky or somebody else. I must be doing something wrong, and I want to fix it, and I thought you might know how… because of Dad, I mean?”

“Because of your father?”

“You know, like when he walked out on us and you guys got back together? If it were me, I’d never have been able to keep a relationship going after something like that. How did you do it?”

“Well… it’s not exactly true that he ‘walked out on us.’ We were… having problems… and it just seemed better to separate for a while. I never intended it to be permanent, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t either, but it was a really rough time for all of us.”

I opened my mouth to ask for more details, but snapped it shut, remembering the way she’d said, having problems. Obviously, it was one of those things that she wasn’t willing to share. Instead, I asked, “But how did you do it? And how have you stayed together and in love all this time when so many marriages are ending in divorce? What’s the secret?”

“There’s no secret…” she started, and I cut her off.

“Mom! That’s what everybody keeps telling me, but if there’s no secret, how have you’ve been able to do it and others like me couldn’t? What am I missing?”

“It’s mostly commitment, I guess. You just decide that the relationship is going to work out and you do what it takes to make that happen. You close the exits. Most relationships fall apart because people aren’t really committed to each other – they’re happy to stay as long as it’s fun, but leave when it starts to feel like an effort. But you have to make the effort out of love.”

“It can’t be that simple, Mom. I mean, I fell out of love with… with the last person I was dating.” For some reason, even though we both knew about my past, it felt really awkward just then to be talking about having been in love with another girl. We had established this great mother-daughter moment and I didn’t want to mess it up.

“Well, as for that” she replied thoughtfully, “you need to make love to your partner.”

My jaw dropped. I tried to think back. Had Vicky and I stopped sleeping together before our relationship fell apart? I was pretty sure not. “Are you saying that the secret of keeping a relationship together is sex?”

“No, dear,” she laughed. “I know everybody uses ‘make love’ to mean sex, but that’s not how you create love. I make love to your father when he comes home exhausted and I have a cup of tea and his favorite pastry waiting for him. He makes love to me when he sneaks down in the middle of the night and cleans the kitchen when I was too tired or busy to do it myself.

“You make love to your partner by thinking of what will make them happy, and acting on it. You go out of your way to be considerate to them.”

“I see,” I nodded. “You keep doing things for them so that they’ll love you.”

“No, Honey,” she said. “You do those things so you will love them.”


“When you go out of your way for somebody else, it reinforces your love for them; at least it does if you can see that they’re pleased. That’s why Moms love their children so much – we’re constantly going out of our way to do things for them.”

I thought about that. It seemed backwards to me, but if it worked… I tried to think about how much I’d gone out of my way in my past relationships, and had a hard time remembering consciously having done so. Oh sure, I’d take them out a bunch and tried to be romantic with them. Did that count?

“OK, thanks, Mom,” I said aloud. “Do you think that’s why Jeremy said he loved me? Because he keeps making things for me?”

“It probably doesn’t hurt. He thinks about you while he makes them, and anticipates you being pleased by his efforts, and then when he actually gives them to you, you’re happy, I presume?”

I nodded. “Yes, they’re very nice, and it’s really wonderful how… hmmm.”

“Do you need help thinking of things that you can do for him?”

“Let me think about… “ and then I did think, and winced. “Mom? Does this include not keeping secrets? When you know they might hurt somebody?”

“As in?”

“Well, I’ve been really afraid to tell Jeremy about… me. I’m afraid that it’ll hurt him if I tell him, and he won’t want to be with me.”

“And so you hope you won’t ever have to tell him?”

“Well, if I change back, it won’t matter, right?”

“And if you don’t? If telling him is going to hurt him, won’t it hurt even more if you put it off and put it off?”

And that was indeed the problem. I knew it could just get worse and worse for both of us the longer I delayed. “But I don’t want to lose him,” I whined.

Mom didn’t say anything.

The silence ate at me until I admitted, “but I’m going to lose him anyway, aren’t I? I’ve already realized that. Even if I wind up not changing back, this issue is going to be between us.”

“If telling him means that you’ll lose him, then yes, you will.”

“I will,” I muttered, remembering when he’d jumped away from me that one time.

“Then he isn’t the right one for you,” she said softly. “And if not, the sooner you find out, the better for both of you.”

My heart clenched. I knew she was right, but I didn’t want to do it. I was really enjoying being with Jeremy. “I’m not ready, Mom. I’m just not ready.” And once again, she didn’t say anything; nothing that would get me off the hook. Instead, after a moment with neither of us speaking, she changed the subject, and we spent the rest of the conversation talking about nothing very important.

But the issue remained.


  1. scotts13 says:

    Interesting. (Still reading, Russ) A small change in narrative style, as advertised. A somewhat larger change in Marsh’s behaviour; no perceptible “boy” in there at all. Also – Have I forgotten the characters previously discussing that the presented method of tampering with someone’s past must necessarily have a high random factor? I know I’VE pointed it out often enough, but… I’d thought the characters were still at “We’ll find the experimenters and see.”

    Hmm. At the rate Marsh is learning life lessons here, I’m now half-expecting her to wake up from a very long dream of being a girl.

  2. TJ says:

    “Yeah, if only,” I muttered, as I when back to review my script.

    When should be went.

  3. TJ says:

    Was at work, and did not respond good :).

    This was a good chapter. I enjoyed the back and force with how Nikki and Marsh’s Mom handle her problem. More or less forcing her to realize her own fault in the logic she assume to be right. Each chapter though, making me worried, cause i know it means closer to done. Keep up the good work Russ, I look forward to Monday :).

  4. Wei-Hwa Huang says:

    Shouldn’t “double down” be “hunker down”?

  5. scotts13 says:

    Could be either, I suppose. “Hunker down” in this context would mean to “cling stubbornly to a position” whereas “double down” means to increase your bet (or investment in your current status). That said, I’d have used “hunker.”

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