45 A Discordant Note

Before I could deal with the reporter, I had to keep an appointment I had made with Nikki. I got to her room a few minutes ahead of schedule, and knocked on her door. She lived in one of the older dorms in the middle of campus, Johnston Hall, which had been build with lots of stone on its exterior; fancy column shapes against the wall, and even a couple of what I presume were supposed to be gargoyles, although they were shaped like horse heads.

Her door was one of four rooms on the third floor of a section of the dorm reachable by its own stairway, and she answered almost immediately when I knocked. Apparently, it was a single dorm room, but had a small anteroom separate from her bedroom. She had her sewing machine and clothing rack there, along with a couple of wooden chairs, but what drew my attention was an electric guitar sitting on a stand.

It was a fairly new Fender Stratocaster, painted red with a sunburst pattern, and I could feel my fingers itching for it. “I didn’t know you played the guitar,” I commented, almost as soon as she had let me in.

She gave me a pained look. “I don’t. It’s actually Ben’s, but in the life he remembers, he never learned to play, and now says he can’t bear to see it. Actually, he told me to get rid of it, but I used to love to listen to him, so I’ve just kept it in hopes that he’ll change his mind.”

“That’s kind of a nice guitar, Nikki. It’s got to be worth about a thousand dollars. You definitely don’t want just to ‘get rid of it.’” I hesitated, just because it seemed a bit presumptive to ask of someone who wasn’t actually the owner. “I… actually used to play in my old life, but I don’t own a guitar. Would you mind if… if I tried this one?”

“You play the guitar? Please, go right ahead.”

I’d tried to avoid thinking about my own guitar, now lost to me, and I hadn’t played in weeks. It was yet another sure connection to my old life, my real life, and I’d missed it. Now I could prove to myself, and to Chad, and to Tina, that I was real. I could prove it by playing that guitar in a way that Marsha never would have been able to.

I think I was even more nervous and eager as I reached for Ben’s guitar than I had been the night Cindy and I had lost our virginity to each other. The guitar felt a bit strange in my arms, mostly because I was smaller, now, so it felt larger. I plugged it into the amp and sat down with it in one of the chairs. My fingertips hurt a bit as I checked the pitches, since I didn’t have calluses on my fingers.

“It’s in good tune,” I noted. “Your brother must have taken good care of it.”

“Yes, he was never great at playing, but he was very conscientious about maintaining it. He really loved it, and it just breaks my heart to see him set it aside.”

“Well,” I said, confidently. “Let’s just see if I can’t do justice to this instrument.” It all felt so familiar, and so comfortable. It had been so long, and I wanted to savor the experience. Experimentally, I plucked a few strings, drinking in the feel of the vibrations so close to my ear. I took a breath, and launched into the rhythm line from the Beatles’ All My Loving.

Or at least, I tried to. Something seemed to be wrong with my left hand. I was strumming with my bare thumb, as I hadn’t seen a pick, and the chords were way off, and some of the strings weren’t fully depressed, and the whole song sounded nothing like what I had intended. I stopped in shock. What in the world was going on?

I looked carefully at my left hand. By paying attention to it, I could get it to finger the chords correctly, but the minute I looked away, they went bad again, and it was only with painstaking concentration that I could make the chords happen – and I couldn’t change them fast enough to play in tempo. It was almost as though I were a complete beginner again. I knew the theory – I just couldn’t execute.

And it wasn’t just the lack of calluses, which were causing me pain in my fingers, or even the size of my hands. I couldn’t play. I knew what playing meant, but I couldn’t make it happen. I was used to thinking, “G7 C Cmaj9” and knowing that my left hand would automatically do the proper fingering. But it wasn’t happening.

It was only my long years of discipline that kept me from throwing the guitar away from me in frustration. Instead, I shakily put it back onto its stand. But then, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t do anything. All along, I had known that I was an expert guitarist. It was the core of my being. It was what made me, me. It was a major part of what me Marshall, not Marsha. And it was gone. It just wasn’t there.

I couldn’t breathe. I just stood there, with the hands that didn’t know chords, in the body that was way too short and the wrong sex and wearing a stupid dress and forbidden to curse and just totally…

Dimly, I could tell that somebody was speaking. Somebody was holding me, saying words I couldn’t understand, giving me an anchor. Somebody was keeping me safe, trying to bring me back from wherever I had gone. Somebody was… Nikki. I knew her. It was Nikki. My friend, Nikki. No, wait, she was Marsha’s friend, not mine. No! She was my friend. Marsha wasn’t here, so Nikki had to be my friend. I was the one who needed her. Not Marsha. Never Marsha. I’m Marshall. I’m…

As the haze began to lift, I noticed that I wasn’t actually standing, but kneeling, and Nikki was kneeling next to me, her arms around me. My face seemed to be wet, suggesting that somebody had been crying, but it hadn’t been me. It couldn’t have been me, since guys don’t cry, and I’m a guy. OK, it was a little bit hard for people to see that right now, and I did remember crying before, but that when I was pretending to be Marsha, but this body I was wearing was only temporary. Inside, I’m a guy. I’m Marshall.

“Are you OK, Marsh?”

Finally, I could understand the question. Answering was a bit difficult, since somebody still seemed to be using my mouth to cry, so I just nodded and clung tightly to my anchor.

“I wasn’t sure what happened. You seemed to be having trouble with the guitar and then you just started screaming something. You said something about a marshal wearing a dress and cursing. I couldn’t follow you, but you were in hysterics about it.

“Oh my… goodness. I mentioned ‘Marshall’?” I was able to force words out. I rested my head on her shoulder. “Nikki, I think I finally understand what your brother is going through. I thought I could handle all of this – I knew what was important. I knew my core, and thought I still had it. Now I’m not so sure. I… I just made a fool of myself, didn’t I?”

“No, you didn’t, Marsh.” She helped me to my feet, had to pull me up, since I just didn’t have the strength to move. “I know that this whole time warp thing has been hard for you, and I think you’ve been holding up very well. Apparently, you just ran into something you hadn’t been ready for. Do you want to tell me about it?”

And I did. I had to retain something of my self. So I told her what I had told Tina about my guitar, and what exactly I had been doing instead of sewing. I told her how the guitar had gone to a cousin, although I didn’t explain why. I sort of suggested that in my old life I had had a greater aptitude for music than I did now, although I think she probably saw that as an evasion.

Nikki looked at me very sympathetically. “Marsh… would you mind if I asked you something?”

“You can ask me anything, Nikki. You’ve been a terrific friend to me.”

“Well, I don’t want you to get upset, but…” she took a deep breath. “You told me that when you woke up that day, you thought you were dreaming, right?”

I nodded.

“… which means that the change was something really obvious, probably something you didn’t even need to look in the mirror to see. And you said that in your old life you were interested in girls, and your mother never taught you to sew… and you told Alvin that what happened to you was very personal…”

I tensed. I had revealed many things about myself, each seemingly harmless. I didn’t like the way she was putting them together now.

“And you just mentioned a marshal, and it occurs to me that ‘Marshall’ is a boy’s name…” She looked me square in the eyes. “Marsh, were you by any chance a boy in your old life?”

“I… Nikki…”

“It’s OK, Marsh. It really is. But it’s true, isn’t it?”

Reluctantly, I nodded. She’d actually figured it out. I hadn’t thought that anybody could, but she had, and I was afraid.

“Oh you poor thing,” she said, hugging me again. “That’s so much worse than what happened to Ben. I don’t know how you’re managing to keep yourself going.”

“You… you don’t mind? You’re not grossed out?”

“Marsh, you’re my friend. Why would I mind?”

“But… you’ve been so open with me, and…” horrified, I remembered her undressing in front of me, trustingly, “and I’ve seen you in your underwear…”

She laughed. “We’re theater people, Marsh. We see each other in underwear all the time. Besides, you’re a girl, now. Why should I care if you were a boy in another life?”

“I didn’t want anyone to know. I don’t want people to think of me as a freak.”

“Nobody’s going to think of you as a freak, Marsh. This will be our secret. Does anybody else know?”

“Just my sister and my neighbor. I haven’t even told my Mom and Dad.”

“And I won’t tell anyone, either,” She hesitated. “But maybe your parents need to know.”

“I’ve been struggling with that,” I admitted. “I’m just afraid of how they’ll react. They’re comfortable with me, this way, and I sort of boasted to Tina that nobody would know the difference.”

“That sounds like a very boy thing to do.”

“Well, I am a boy.” In response to her raised eyebrows, I added, “I mean, underneath.”

“Well, I think you’re coping very well.”

“I still keep thinking that it’s temporary, and I’ll be able to change back.”

“If that’s what you want, I hope you can.” Then she looked at me and added, softly, “I’d miss you, though.”

And while I was processing that, she surprised me with a suggestion. “The guitar playing seems to have been very important to you, Marsh. Why don’t you borrow Ben’s guitar and teach yourself to play all over again?”

“What do you mean?”

“Marsh, if you know how to play, but your hands just aren’t used to it, isn’t all you need a lot of practice? It’s just the opposite of your sewing. You seem to have the practical experience with sewing – your hands just seem to know what to do, but your head doesn’t. You’ve picked up stitches in a day that many girls take weeks to learn. With the guitar, it’s exactly the opposite. You know the theory. You know how the instrument is supposed to sound. So now you just need to practice, to train your hands to do what needs to be done.”

“Nikki, that is so incredibly generous of you!” I almost started crying again. “But I’m not so sure I can accept. It’s Ben’s guitar–”

“…which he has no interest in,” she pointed out.

“But shouldn’t we try to teach him?”

“Marsh, he isn’t interested. If you didn’t have a queue of work and a need to earn money, would you have taken up sewing? What if you had found out you couldn’t play the guitar immediately, instead of after weeks in your new life? How would you have felt about working to pick up some other skill that your new self was expected to have?”

I saw her point.

“Besides,” she added, “what if at some point, he does decide that he wants to learn? I can’t teach him. But if you get some practice, maybe you could.”

“You do realize that you are offering me something I want terribly?”

“Good. At least somebody will get some use of it, instead of having it just sit around in my sewing room. And maybe… maybe one day you’ll be able to help Ben.”

“Nikki, I accept. I’ll do it. I’ll… I’m going to need help carrying everything. And is there a case for the guitar to protect it? I don’t want anything to happen to it.”

Somehow, the sewing lesson didn’t seem all that important just now.


  1. Xi the Forgotten one says:

    Well This is my first time commenting so I’ll just plug in what I’ve always wanted to say. You have a very realistic grasp of how this experience would be and I honestly love reading this stroy for that fact.

    But, more to the reason of why I decided just now to post… I have been seeing this chapter a long time coming and I’m not talking about just the part where Nikki figured Marsh out. I mean when you introduced the idea that his hands seemed to remember sewing, it made me think about just how well he would take his hands no longer being able to use a guitar. I’ve got to say, from just the frantic reaction you have put into Marsh, you have nailed how it would feel to lose the thing in life that you believed you did best. Bravo, very well done.

    I must say I am enjoying reading this, because although I can guess at what might happen next, the way it occurs throws me for a loop. Everything is now seeming to come together to make quite the nice picture, but now I ponder as to whether the rest of my theories about the direction you are taking are at least remotely accurate. Thanks again for being interesting in the very least. ^.^


  2. Cyndane says:

    Well, I know I’ve been looking forward to this chapter now for a while. I’m also happy with how it turned out. I would have preferred Marshall still be able to play the guitar, but I had the feeling that Marsha wouldn’t be able to given the sewing shenanigans. I’m also glad to know that Marsha will learn to play the guitar, but I don’t know how she’ll find the time to do just that. And regardless, it’ll be a while before Marsha is up to Marshall’s prowess with it. Still, it serves as a link between Marsha and Marshall.

    On a different subject, I don’t think I would have taken the news nearly as well as Nikki did, but I suppose she does have the advantage in coping with such news given her brother’s freakout and Marshall’s freakout just before getting the news. But to play Devil’s Advocate for a moment, she could be acting. She could have picked up a bit of acting talent hanging around with all the performers. I doubt this, but it’s a possibility that she’s just telling Marsha what she wants to hear.

    And to add onto Xi’s statement, I am amused by how well you can make a completely unrealistic situation seem realistic. I mean, I don’t know if this is how people would react to such a thing, but convincing the reader that such an unrealistic thing could occur, and that this is how the fallout would happen, is an impressive job.

  3. Harri says:


    I love this chapter. Shaken to the core.

  4. DS says:

    This is the chapter I’ve been waiting for. Expertly done! The inner-thoughts dream sequence giving way to the reality where she’s completely melting down was great.

    The only thing, and this is more to do with the blog format than anything…it wrapped up too fast! This realization could have easily been 3 of these blog-sized chapters, but it just kind of ends happily with a guitar… Oh well…

    Anyway, 45 chapters in, meltdown achieved! 🙂

  5. Don says:

    Hope you don’t mind me pointing out the spelling and grammar errors, but think I found another one. In a paragraph about a quarter of the way from the end, this phrase: “isn’t all you need a lot of practice?” would seem to read better as: “isn’t all you need is a lot of practice?”.

    Definitely enjoying the story, and am actually on my second read-through – guess I’m noticing the errors more this time around.

    Ever visit out tvtropes.org? “Heroic BSOD” – check! 😉

  6. Don says:

    Arg! What this site needs is a previewer…

  7. Russ says:

    I do have a previewer, but even he doesn’t always see all of my typos – and sometimes I post before he’s had a chance to see the final version. I do appreciate you catching these, although in this case, I like the version there now.

    And yes, I have been trapped on tvtropes.org several times 🙂

  8. Don says:

    Actually I meant a previewer for the comments, so I can catch _my_ screwups 😉

    tvtropes.org: heh, figured as much – lost most of a weekend to it not long ago

  9. April says:

    Just my sister and my neighbor. I haven’t even told my Mom and Dad. <– needs quotation marks

  10. Onessor says:

    This has to be my favourite chapter to date, the sudden mental crisis that Marshall endures and the clever detective work by Nicki is absolutely amazing.

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