Our next-door neighbor, Chad Barnes, looked up and waved as I drove into our driveway. Chad and I had been classmates and best friends for years; we didn’t share a lot of hobbies, but he usually helped out with set construction for school plays. It wasn’t that he particularly cared for theater – he just loved to build things. When he was twelve, his old IKEA bed fell apart and his parents bought him a better one, and Chad scavenged the loose wood and built a nice bench. His parents have had it on their front porch for years. It wasn’t totally surprising, then, that when most of us went off to college, Chad had stayed home and found himself an apprenticeship with the local carpenters’ union. We shared a wry sense of humor and a love for science fiction, and I didn’t know anyone better than he was at seeing the simple core of what was superficially a complex problem.
I parked the car in the garage and walked into the house, Tina right behind me. I hadn’t gone very far before she stopped me. “What are you doing now, Marsh?”
I turned in surprise.
“You’re walking on your tiptoes, as though you are trying to sneak up on somebody, or afraid the floor won’t hold your weight,” she explained. “Is this part of your oh-I’m-really-a-boy shtick?”
Oops. Evidently, my brilliant deduction about the way to walk in heels wasn’t all that brilliant after all. “I’m not… I mean… I guess I don’t really know how to walk in these things.” At her look, I added, “could you just humor me on this, Teen? Pretend that I’ve forgotten, and you can teach me, OK?” Taking her sigh as acquiescence, I doffed my shoes and walked barefoot toward my bedroom.
“Welcome back, girls,” Mom called without looking up from her cleaning as we passed the kitchen. “Girls,” huh? That was going to take some getting used to.
We didn’t actually make it to my bedroom, because right then, the doorbell rang. It was Chad. “Hey, welcome home, Marsh,” he said. “Got a minute?”
“You bet,” I responded, genuinely glad to have a chance to talk with him. “Boy do I have something to tell you!”
“Marsh,” Tina interrupted. “You’re not going to tell him about… this, are you?”
“Of course I am,” I said. “I mean, he is my best friend, after all.”
“I am?” he said in surprise, even as Tina echoed, “He is?”
Oops again. “Oh… You’re just Marshall’s best friend, aren’t you? Not Marsha’s?”
I could see his eyes beginning to defocus. “Who’s ‘Marshall’?”
“Are you in a hurry?” I asked him. “Something very strange has happened to me, and I’d really like your thoughts. Tina, can you try to find the article they were talking about on the radio? Look for a section in ‘News of the Weird’ in the past few days that talks about Piques.”
I started leading him up the stairs, but Tina interrupted again. “Where are you going now? You’re not taking him to your bedroom, I hope?”
Evidently, that was out of character for Marsha as well. I sighed. I didn’t really want Mom overhearing us – I hadn’t decided what to tell my parents yet – so I had been looking for some measure of privacy. At Tina’s suggestion, Chad and I went into the study, which was far enough from the kitchen that Mom wouldn’t be likely to hear us, and not directly on the path to the bedrooms upstairs, so she probably wouldn’t pass by the doorway.
“What would you say,” I began, “if I were to tell you that I was a boy when I went to sleep last night?”
“I’d ask you where I could get some of whatever it was you were smoking,” he answered with a grin.
“Not smoking anything,” I told him. Then I explained the whole time travel and DNA change theory I’d worked out. I told him about what I’d found convincing – the fact that I had actually signed up for such an experiment, and that other students had reported being changed as well.
He listened patiently, just as I’d expected him too, but was clearly not convinced. “That’s a pretty wild story, Marsh. But I’ve known you all my life as the girl next door. How am I supposed to start believing that you’re really a boy I don’t know at all?”
His use of the term “girl next door” gave me a bit of a jolt. If this had actually been a dream, I just know that my imagination would have decided that we were dating – it was just too obvious a cliché. I shivered in disgust at the thought.
“Maybe I can tell you some things that Marsha wouldn’t have known, but Marshall would have. Would that convince you?”
“I don’t know. What you’re suggesting is pretty far out there. You’d have to come with something really impressive to make me willing to believe in time travel and genetics experiments rather than just assuming you were pulling my leg.”
He was right, of course. That’s why Tina hadn’t believed me, and probably why the story had ended up in “News of the Weird” in the first place. But it would really help me if I had somebody I could talk to about it, so I tried. “How about this? Sophomore year in high school, you, Timmy Jeffries, and I crawled around under the bleachers at a couple of pep rallies so we could look up the girls’ skirts. Sound familiar? Any reason I would know about it if I hadn’t been there?”
He was certainly surprised. “I can’t believe you know about that! Why would Timmy have told you?” Then he grinned, “But of course, the way I remember it, is that it was just me and Timmy… and you were one of the girls we peeped on!”
“You bastard!” I squealed before I could think, and I clutched my skirts protectively as though he was trying to look up them right then.
That made him laugh. “All’s fair in love and war… and peeping, Marsh! I’d have excluded you out friendship, but you’re one of the girls who can always be relied on to wear a skirt or a dress. Lots of the others only wear skirts sometimes if at all, but with you, it was always a sure thing.”
My own reaction surprised me. Why would I have been sensitive to having a boy look at my underwear? And it certainly wasn’t helping my case. “I think if you checked with Timmy, you’d find that he didn’t tell me.”
“Maybe not, but I’m sure he told somebody. It was just too good a story to keep to ourselves. For that matter, I probably told some of the guys. There’s plenty of ways you could have heard about it, four years later.”
Chad laughed again. “Marsh, if you want to play with the big boys, I’m not going to go easy on you. You want to bring up some incident four years ago to prove that youve changed overnight into a boy…”
“OK,” I admitted. “That wasn’t very convincing. What about the men’s locker room at the Y? I can describe that pretty well.”
“No good,” he replied. “Too many guys dating too many girls know it. You pick almost anything and the word has probably reached the female community.”
“OK, then you pick something,” I said in exasperation. “Something that would convince you. Something that only one of your male friends would be likely to know.”
“Hmm…” He thought for a bit. “Um, Tina, I don’t know if you want to hear about this…”
“If Marsh can take it, so can I. Just because we don’t use bad language doesnt mean we don’t know about things.”
“OK, you asked for it. Marsh, you said that I was ‘Marshall’s best friend.’ Any best friend of mine would know where I keep my porn stash – and,” he stopped me when I was about to answer. “I moved it late this summer, so any old news you have would be out of date.”
“Nothing easier,” I said confidently. “You got a new model of the Death Star in July, and used it to hide a panel you cut in the back of your closet.”
That wiped the smug smile off of his face. He was clearly impressed, if not convinced. “How in the world…? Wait, Timmy would definitely not have told you, neither would Jerry, and I know that Dirk hasn’t even been in my bedroom since then.”
“Dirk the Jerk?” I said, surprised. “What does he have to do with any of this?”
His jaw dropped. I didn’t know how, but that question surprised him a lot more than anything else I had said. I heard a gasp behind me and turned to see Tina standing at the doorway, holding a piece of the newspaper. She’d evidently found the article, and was looking absolutely floored. I took the article from her unresisting hands and checked. It was definitely the one they had been discussing on the radio.
Chad spoke first, but very slowly. “You look like Marsha, but you sure don’t sound like her.”
“Why? What did I say? What does that moron have to do with anything we’re talking about?”
‘Marsh, you dated him for two years,” Tina said quietly.
“I what??” Why in the world would I – I mean, Marsha – want to date a loser like…?” But I could see Chad nodding. Apparently, Marsha had dated Dirk Simon. And for two years! “I mean, why did it take her two years to wise up?”
Chad coughed, a bit embarrassed. “Actually, it was Dirk who broke up with you, Marsh. You really don’t remember any of this? He broke up with you because you wouldn’t sleep with him. You cried on my shoulder for half the night over it.”
I looked at my sister again, who was nodding, a horrified look now coming to her face. “You were serious, weren’t you,” she said, trembling, “You really don’t remember being my sister. And you don’t want to be, do you?” And suddenly she turned and ran for the stairs.