50 Who’s That Girl?

I couldn’t believe it. Vicky? My old girlfriend Vicky was a victim as well? Had we volunteered together, talked about it? I didn’t remember. But if anyone would remember the old me, Vicky certainly would.

I thanked Ian and Luke and promised to help out in any way I could, then I hurried back to my room. I wanted to be in a comfortable, quiet place to call Vicky. Then I dialed the number I remembered, silently praying that it hadn’t changed. I couldn’t believe just how eager I felt. I had nothing but good memories of Vicky, now. I still couldn’t believe that I had been so foolish as to break up with her, and the minute I changed back to Marshall, I was going to let her know. Seeing her this way would be… oh, forget it, seeing her any way was going to be terrific.

Too late, I realized that I had not planned out what I was going to say. I didn’t want simply to say something like, “Hi, remember me, your old boyfriend? Guess what? I’m a girl now!” so I decided to play the mystery route. She’d always enjoyed puzzles and surprises, and boy did I have a surprise for her!

She answered on the fourth ring, her voice being about the greatest sound I had heard in a long time.

“Vicky Gordon?” I asked, as though I didn’t really know.

“Yes, this is she.”

“I wanted to talk to you about… Marshall Steen.”

“What? Marshall Steen??” she exclaimed. “Wait? You know him? You know where he is? Who is this?”

“Could we please meet at the Grill in about… ten minutes?”

“Wait! Can’t you first answer-”

“I’ll be wearing…” I had to look down to see what I had actually put on that morning. “… a green dress with a white collar. I’ll meet you near the western entrance.”

“Oh… a mystery woman, huh? OK, mystery woman. You’re the first person I’ve spoken with in weeks who even knows Marshall’s name, so I’ll meet you there. I’ll be wearing jeans and a purple school sweater. You’ll know me because I’ll be the one not carrying a flower.”

Smiling to myself at her familiar sarcasm, I headed eagerly to the Grill. I didn’t see her, so I bought myself a cup of tea and sat at a small table near the entrance and waited. She came in a few minutes later, spotted me, and came over. The change in her was very minor. She was still clearly the girl I had dated, but her her formerly button-nose was now slightly larger, and her eyebrows were a bit more delicate. Her auburn hair seemed a couple of shades darker, and her chin was slightly sharper. Only somebody who had studied that face as intently as I had for half a year would probably have been able to tell.

“OK, Mystery Woman,” she said as she sat down. “How is that you know Marshall when as far as everybody else is concerned, he never came to Piques at all? I called his dorm room and his roommates say they’d never heard of him.” She studied my face for a bit. “Are you his new girlfriend? Last I saw, he was sniffing after Lee Ann Taylor. Or are you maybe a relative? Hmm… you look like a relative. A cousin, maybe?”

I smiled. With my acting background, I couldn’t resist the dramatic reveal. “Not exactly, Vixy,” I replied, using my pet name for her.

She sputtered nicely in surprise. “Vi-? Wait – how…? Where…?” Then she got it. “Marshall?! Oh my God! Marshall? Is that you? Oh my God! What did they do to you?”

“Actually,” I replied, “my parents named me, ‘Marsha’ in this timeline.”

“Oh my God!” She started to scream, but cut it off as nearby heads turned to stare. “How can you be so calm?” she hissed. “You’re a girl!”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed. Good thing, too, huh? I’d look pretty stupid wearing this dress if I weren’t.”

“But… how… I don’t…”

“Relax, Vixy,” I said, grinning at her. “This is just temporary.”

“What– what do you mean, ‘temporary’? How is this ‘temporary’?”

“I promised my sister I wouldn’t do anything about it for a while, but right after New Year’s, I’m going to tell them to change me back.”

She sat back at that, giving me a very intent look. “How are you planning on doing that, Marsh? Do you know where they are?”

“Well, I remember that they were in the physics building somewhere. I haven’t found them yet, but it’s just a matter of time.”

My answer made her sag visibly. “Oh, Marshall. My poor Marshall. They’re not there, Marsh. We’ve looked and looked. They’re not there.”

That’s what Ian and Luke had said, but I had dismissed that as part of their paranoid fantasies. “Of course they’re there. Where else would they be?”

“You haven’t really looked, have you? There is a Professor Davis in the physics department, but it’s not the one who did the experiment. That one’s office is empty. His lab has been reassigned to somebody else. He’s listed in the old hardcopy course catalog, but we can’t prove it’s not the one who’s there. There’s not even a mention of the other guy anywhere in the Physics building directory or the department web site. The administration disappeared him, Marsh.”

“Hold on. What are you talking about? Who’s Professor Davis?”

“Oh, Marsh…” she sighed. “About a week after we split, I woke up with this new face… and a couple of days later I saw a flyer on one of the kiosks. If I hadn’t known about that experiment and hadn’t had this experience I wouldn’t even have noticed it, probably. There’s this group, Marsh. We call ourselves, ‘Strangers in the Mirror’ and about twenty of us showed up for a meeting about a week or so before break and compared notes.

“We went to the administration, and when they stonewalled us, we went searching around the Physics building. About half of us remembered the professor’s name, and some of us remembered where his office was, or his lab… when we couldn’t find him, we went to the Messenger, for all the good it did us. Everybody thought it was a hoax. I think Cracraft believed us, but he got lots of grief for that article, so he stopped talking to us.

“We’re stuck, Marsh. There is no going back for us – for any of us. Some students are handling it better than others. For me, the change was mostly minor. My life is pretty much the same as it was, even though I barely recognize my own face in the mirror any more.”

“You’re still beautiful, Vixy,” I told her, sincerely.

“Thank you, Marsh. You don’t know how much that means to me. When I realized that I was stuck, I took stock of where I was and where I wanted to be. That’s when I realized that breaking up with you was such a mistake. So I tried to call you to tell you, but your cell number connected to somebody else, your roommates denied knowing you…”

“I’m actually rooming with Lee Ann, now,” I said. “How’s that for irony?”

She smiled in appreciation. “I’ll bet that was a shock for you!”

“Yeah, and you know what? Apparently she wasn’t going to break up with her old boyfriend, after all. What a jerk I was. I never should have let you get away.”

“Yeah,” she agreed. Then she looked uncomfortable, wouldn’t look me in the eye. “Marsh? Um… I can’t help still feeling for you, but… you understand that I’m really not attracted to other girls?”

“It’s OK, Vixy. Apparently, neither am I, now. And that’s why I can’t stay this way. I’m… I no longer seem to be attracted to girls. I’m totally asexual. That’s fine for the next couple of months, but after that? No way! He’s got to be still around. You made a mistake in his name, or he’s just moved to a different office, or… something. I’m not staying this way for the rest of my life. That’s not an option, Vixy. It’s just not an option!”

“I understand, Marsh. I… maybe you’re right. Maybe we missed something, but…” she seemed really reluctant to point it out, “… but I don’t think so. We were really thorough.”

I had just gotten over a crisis with my guitar playing. I was not going to repeat that now. “There’s no real option, Vix. I’m going to find them, and they’re going to change me back. I’m your guy and you’re my girl and that’s the way it’s got to be.”

“Oh, Marsh, I really hope you’re right. I want that, too. I really do. For now…”

“For now,” I informed her, “We’re friends. We’re very close friends. We still care about each other, don’t we? We still… love each other, even though there’s no physical attraction? We’re not so shallow as to need that, right? Besides, I need you. You’re the only one who remembers the old me.”

“Seriously, Vixy. You don’t know what it’s been like. Everything is different, almost. I told Tina and I told Chad, and they mostly believe me, although Chad wasn’t sure that I hadn’t imagined the whole thing. He’s the one who told me to talk to Cracraft, and that’s how I knew you would remember me. My guitar is gone, Vix. My cousin got it, and ‘Marsha’ never learned to play. My hands… look at my hands, Vix. These aren’t guitarist’s hands – they’re seamstress hands.”

“They’re what?”

“Seamstress hands. I have Mom’s old sewing machine, and I’m making money doing clothing repairs and alterations. Well, not alterations, yet, I’m still learning how to do that, but I’m picking things up really quickly.”

She stared at me, and then laughed. “I just cannot picture you with a sewing machine, Marsh. Please tell me you’re joking.”

“I’m not joking, Vix. I’m a seamstress; or, an aspiring one, anyway. I can’t play the guitar to save my life, and I need an income. So I sew.”

“Oh my God. This is… different.”

“You have no idea, Vix.”

“And… why the dress? Most girls on campus wear jeans or…”

“You know how my Mom and sister dress, Vix. Apparently, so does ‘Marsha’ – me. I don’t even own jeans. We’re kind of old-fashioned, that way.”

“Yeah. But… I’d have thought you’d be trying to act as unfeminine as possible.”

I laughed. “That had been my intention. But I sort of boasted to Tina that I could act the role of Marsha so well that nobody would notice that there was something wrong. This is how Marsha dresses, so…” I shrugged.

Vicky gave me an understanding smile. “Still the focus on acting. I guess that’s a useful approach to all of this.”

“Oh, and by the way,” I added. “I’m acting in Alvin Tomlinson’s Mousetrap.”

“You were cast in a Tomlinson play? That’s great, Marsh! I know how much you wanted… Wait. You were cast as a girl?”

“Well… um, yeah.”

“OK, this is too much. What are you playing?”

I had to laugh. “I’m the female lead.”

“No! Oh that is just too funny. I wouldn’t miss that for the world. Oh, man. It really is good to talk with you again, Marsh. You have no idea how much I’ve missed…” She started to tear up as she continued. “Oh God. I just can’t bear that you’re… do you know how much I’ve been dreaming about you holding me in your arms again, and…”

“I know, Vix. I know. It’s going to happen again. Trust me. I refuse to accept this as permanent. Somehow, somewhere, I have to find those guys. But at least I can talk to you again and we both remember us.”

“That simple, huh?”

“No,” I admitted. “I know it’s not that simple. But It’s going to happen. There’s no alternative. None.”

She gave me a look that wasn’t quite as trusting and worshipful as I could have hoped. “So, how do we do this? We’re not going to… date, or anything like that, are we?”

I laughed. “I guess not, especially given that we’re not actually attracted to each other. But friends can spend time together. I’m pretty busy, with the play and dealing with this whole sewing thing, but I can always find time for you, Vixy.”

“And I’ll find time for you, too, Marsh. I was sort of in the middle of something when you called, but when you mentioned ‘Marshall,’…” She stood up. “So… we’ll be in touch, OK?” Then she gasped as I stood up as well. At 5’6”, she had been five inches shorter than I was. Now she was three inches taller. “You’re so… um… petite!”

“I’m short, you mean. I’m 5’3” – I’ve lost eight inches, Vix.”

She started to look sympathetic, then suddenly snorted with laughter.

“What?” I demanded.

Her eyes were squeezed tight, as she was apparently trying not to laugh, although apparently not very hard. Finally she leaned over and whispered in my ear, “You never had eight inches, Marshall!”

I gaped in outrage for a moment. How could she joke about that? Then I saw the humor as well, and we laughed together before sharing a good-bye hug. It was just so nice to have her back in my life again.


  1. scotts13 says:

    One of the hardest bits of disbelief to suspend has always been Marsh’s lack of anxiety over how/when/if he was going to get his little problem “fixed.” This installment sees that waver a bit (yay!), but eventually denial is back in full force. Grim determination to get things “fixed” does not require almost smug confidence they can be.

    Speaking of disbelief, I also have a bit of trouble with how quickly we go from “old girlfriend” (who he apparently hasn’t spoken to in some time) to “I’m your guy and you’re my girl and that’s the way it’s got to be.”

    Still, the best installment to date.

  2. von says:

    Yes, quite.

    What I have a problem with in this chapter is how incredibly quickly we go from: I am this person who thinks everything to death before letting someone else solve my problem, and oh, by the way, there is no way I am letting anyone else know I am a boy turned into a girl to…

    I am going to tell this person I used to sleep with that I used to be a boy without even thinking about it for one sentence anywhere in the chapter.

    But I quite agree, that this chapter (with the one before it IMO) are the best in the book.

  3. Crystal says:

    I also feel weird when Marsh said “This is just temporary” with so much confidence, sounding as if she’s got something up her sleeves, while the fact is she found nothing in the Physics Building, and someone just told her the experiment guys are all gone (although she believes Ian and Luke are paranoid).

    Besides, Marsh and Vicky’s interactions in this reunion seem a bit too casual……. hm, I mean, this is the first time they found someone remembers the “old them”, proving that they are not paranoid or being hypnotized.

  4. scotts13 says:

    I can only assume the characters involved never read science fiction (or perhaps I read too much). There are any number of careful treatments about how “changing the past to affect the present” might work (and BTW, the premise of “the Strangers in the Mirror” remembering their former lives violates all of them.) But does it never occur to Marsh, et. al. that the experimenters might have erased their own existence? I’d find that a lot more likely, and believable, than a wide-ranging and successful coverup.

  5. Russ says:

    Chad actually suggested that back in Chapter 34, Scott:

    “OK, good point,” he conceded. “But it doesn’t answer the original question. How do you know the experimenters are still there? Maybe their manipulation made them vanish.”

    “Wait. How would it do that?”

    “Well, I’m just speculating, but doesn’t it seem that if they were around, the article would have mentioned them, or the administration would have acknowledged them? What if… I’m just playing with ideas here, but… well, let’s say that they changed one of the students from birth, maybe gave them a genetic defect, and as a result, their parents wound up giving money to some medical fund instead of to Piques. What if that money was what funded the research in the first place? I mean, shouldn’t you check?”

    For obvious reasons, Marsh refuses to accept that or any other evidence that there is no way back.

  6. von says:

    Actually the ‘obvious reasons’ are not so obvious. Marsh seems a little stuck in the first stage of grief, while at the same time doing some jumping right to some of the later stages:

    1. SHOCK & DENIAL-
    You will probably react to learning of the loss with numbed disbelief. You may deny the reality of the loss at some level, in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This may last for weeks.

    2. PAIN & GUILT-
    As the shock wears off, it is replaced with the suffering of unbelievable pain. Although excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with alcohol or drugs.

    You may have guilty feelings or remorse over things you did or didn’t do with your loved one. Life feels chaotic and scary during this phase.

    Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out and lay unwarranted blame for the death on someone else. Please try to control this, as permanent damage to your relationships may result. This is a time for the release of bottled up emotion.

    You may rail against fate, questioning “Why me?” You may also try to bargain in vain with the powers that be for a way out of your despair (“I will never drink again if you just bring him back”)

    Just when your friends may think you should be getting on with your life, a long period of sad reflection will likely overtake you. This is a normal stage of grief, so do not be “talked out of it” by well-meaning outsiders. Encouragement from others is not helpful to you during this stage of grieving.

    During this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you did with your lost one, and focus on memories of the past. You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair.

    7 Stages of Grief…

    As you start to adjust to life without your dear one, your life becomes a little calmer and more organized. Your physical symptoms lessen, and your “depression” begins to lift slightly.

    As you become more functional, your mind starts working again, and you will find yourself seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by life without your loved one. You will start to work on practical and financial problems and reconstructing yourself and your life without him or her.

    During this, the last of the seven stages in this grief model, you learn to accept and deal with the reality of your situation. Acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness. Given the pain and turmoil you have experienced, you can never return to the carefree, untroubled YOU that existed before this tragedy. But you will find a way forward.

  7. von says:

    I agree Scott, and have been preaching that for chapters and chapters. But Russ has some ideas he is playing out and keeps asking me to ‘be patient’.

  8. scotts13 says:

    “Chad actually suggested that back in Chapter 34, Scott.”

    Ah, forgot that. Much as Marsh seems to have.

  9. Russ says:

    Marsh hasn’t forgotten – it’s the excuse for the search of the Physics building. S/he is simply seriously in denial.

  10. von says:

    Oh, and I still don’t think the whole “She screamed’ thing works at the grill. He should have asked her to some private spot, or led her away from the grill

  11. von says:

    >>“Yup – since that’s what I am now, yup.”

    This seems a bit too definitive.

  12. Russ says:

    OK, I agree with those last two comments and have adjusted a bit.

  13. von says:

    Huh. If you ‘have’ adjusted it, I don’t see it. Or didn’t you mean my comments.

  14. Russ says:


    Edited and forgot to save. Good thing wordpress autosaves changes. Should be OK now.

  15. von says:


    You fixed half of it, I suppose. I was thinking of the more private setting as an initiative of Marsh’s. He knew he was going to be springing something rather dramatic on her, and I would have thought that he would want a more private setting.

    I thought the screaming was the right reaction. Would you want to have her scream, cut it off, and look around nervously? I don’t understand it the way you have written it.

  16. von says:

    >>do you know how much I’ve been dreaming about you holding me in your arms again, and…”

    “I know, Vix. Believe me, this is no picnic for me, either; that’s why I refuse to accept it as permanent.

    These two don’t track for me. She is talking relationship stuff, and he talks about ‘no picnic’.

    BTW, feel free to delete my comments once you have answered, fixed, whatever. Don’t want to get accused of spamming again.

  17. Russ says:

    I didn’t think that there was a way for Marsh to get her somewhere private, since she didn’t know who the caller was, and decided that I would rather her feel constrained by the locale not to scream. As to the second point, Marsh is still reacting largely guy-like, assuming that she is going to talk about how hard it was for her and he has to anticipate that.

  18. von says:

    Huh. How about just, ‘come on over here for a minute’. I wasn’t thinking private private… just out on the lawn or something as opposed to in the grill.

    I’m a guy, but *I’m* not that stupid. “Oh, Von, I so want you to hold me in your arms.”

    “Yeah, I am finding the whole time travel thing annoying too.”

    Nope, I’m not that dumb. Altho maybe you need to ask my wife.

  19. von says:

    >>I would rather her feel constrained by the locale not to scream.

    Then show that… have her start to scream and choke it down.

    But better still is to move the conv.

  20. Russ says:

    Can’t move it easily; so the choke it down it has to be. And I accept that you’re right about the other. The new treatment feels much better.

  21. von says:

    >>We’ve looked. They’re not there.”

    Personally I would have added a ‘looked’ here… as in, ‘we’ve looked and looked’.

    >>Can’t move it easily;


    I rec’d a really great review today. Guy had a million corrections/objections etc., but he said I have a great imagination 🙂

  22. April says:

    “Oh my God!” She started to scream but cut it off as nearby heads turned to stare. “How can you be so calm?” she hissed. “You’re a girl!” <– missing a comma, after "scream"

    “For now,” I informed her, “We’re friends. We’re very close friends. We still care about each other, don’t we? We still… love each other, even though there’s no physical attraction? We’re not so shallow as to need that, right? Besides, I need you. You’re the only one who remembers the old me. <– missing end quotation

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