52 Garlic and Sympathy

The next morning, I called Vicky right after breakfast, agonizing when she didn’t answer until the third ring. After all, she hadn’t exactly responded trustingly to my suggestion that we were going to be a couple again. And she’d said that she’d been “in the middle of something.” What if she had had a date last night? What if she was, even now, in some other guy’s bed?

“Hi, Marsh,” she greeted me, evidently recognizing my number.

“Hi, Vix… Um… I just wondered if you’d like to hang out for a bit.”

“Is something wrong?” she asked. “You sound a bit nervous.”

“No!” I said hurriedly. “It’s really none of my business if you were out with somebody last night.”

“I was, actually,” she said, sounding a bit puzzled. “Christine, Mandy, and I went to a movie. Why?”

“Nothing,” I admitted, feeling a bit foolish. “Anyway, do you want to come over?”

“Will you be sewing?” she asked.

“Well, I have a few simple repairs that people dropped on me this week, but I was planning on doing them tonight after rehearsal. Spending time with you is much more important.”

She laughed. “No, I mean that I would love to watch. I’m trying to get my mind around the idea of you sitting at a sewing machine. When I think of ‘Marsh Steen’ that’s just not the image that comes to mind!”

“Yeah,” I laughed. “I’m getting good at it, anyway. It’s another way for me to be creative. I’m thinking of sticking with it after I change back.”

“After you… right. So, when should I come over?”

“Anytime. I’ll probably be practicing the guitar for most of the morning, and you probably don’t want to be here for that. I’m really bad, Vix.”

“That’s… going to take some getting used to.”

“I’m just hoping that it doesn’t carry over to after I change back.”

Yeah… right. I mean, that would be really horrible. So… I have some things to do and then I’ll be over. What’s your room address?”

“208 Laramie.”

“OK, see you in a bit.”

Automatically, I looked around my room as soon as I hung up, figuring out how I could make my room presentable enough for a girl to come over. That’s when I noticed for the first time: my room was spotless! I’d never been able to keep it clean; despite my best efforts, underwear and socks seemed just naturally to gravitate to the floor beside my bed and all around my laundry bag. But not now. I had somehow kept my room tidy without even thinking about it. I checked under the bed and behind the desk and sewing machine and even inside the wardrobe. Nothing. Not a single thing on the floor that didn’t belong there. What had happened? To be sure, the clothes I was wearing now were different, most especially the underwear – and underwear had always been the biggest problem. Maybe there was just something about girl’s underwear that didn’t feel right tossing on the floor? Even if it was my own?

I hooked up the guitar and went back to practicing the chord changes. It was definitely getting easier; I could do them properly about half the time now. I imagine that this must be what physical therapy after an accident feels like for a jock – knowing that you used to be able to do something with ease, and having your body betray you, and yet trying again and again. I remember when I first tried to learn chord changes, about eight years ago – it was exciting, back then, thinking about what it would be like when I learned. Just being able to make the right sounds come out of the guitar had been a thrilling accomplishment. Now, it was more of a need – a hunger. It was a way to restore me to my rightful self, even just one part of me.

With the beginnings of calluses on my fingers, I was able to practice for about twenty minutes before it became too painful, and I could feel the improvement. A few more days of this and I’d have these chords down. Then I could add a few more to my repertoire, probably the C, A, and F. There were a number of songs that I could play with just those six basic chords, and managing whole songs would be a major milestone.

I shook out the pain in my left hand. I wouldn’t feel comfortable sewing until it subsided, and I didn’t want to get involved in anything that required a time commitment or concentration with Vicky on her way over. In my old room, I would have gone for a science fiction book, but Marsha didn’t have any; her light reading had been trashy romance novels, which I had so far avoided. It was possible that I would eventually become desperate enough to read one of them, but I wasn’t there yet – quite.

I heard the knock on the outer door and hurried to open it, getting there just in time to see Lee Ann opening it for Vicky. I surprised to see her in a dress; she had always been more of a jeans and T-shirt kind of girl.

“Vicky,” I said, introducing them “this is my roommate, Lee Ann Taylor. Lee Ann, this is my friend, Vicky Gordon.”

“Nice to meet you, Vicky,” Lee Ann said politely. “Marsh mentioned you.”

“Um, Likewise,” Vicky replied. But when Lee excused herself and headed back to her bedroom, the gaze with which Vicky followed her was pure poison.

I ushered Vicky into my own room and closed the door before asking about it.

“Well, how do you expect me to feel about her, Marsh? She’s the one who broke us up.”

“What? That’s not the way I remember it,” I countered. “I mean, I started flirting with her after we broke up.”

She rolled her eyes. “You are so naïve, Marsh. We were having problems, and I think we could have worked things out, but Miss Kissy-lips out there starting batting her eyes at you, and that’s when you told me that you thought we had fallen out of love with each other, and we might just as well break up while we still liked each other.”

At my shocked expression, she looked directly at me and added, “You might have fallen out of love, but I hadn’t. But I loved you enough to let you go, because I thought you would be happier that way.”

“Vicky… I don’t know what to say. I must have seemed a selfish…”

“…jerk? Yes, you were.”

I cringed at the judgment; how could I have been so stupid?

“And I was an idiot for letting you go,” she continued. “At least we could have had a few more weeks together before…” She broke off and started crying. I reached for her and she shook her head. “No, I’m sorry. I thought I was over this. I thought you were gone, somehow. Just never existed any more for some reason, like some say happened to the whole experiment. And then you called and said you knew where Marshall was and I thought we could try again, and then you showed up like this…”

“We can, Vixy. We can,” I promised her. “In January we’ll start all over again. And I won’t leave this time. I promise.”

“January?!” she stared at me through her tears. “What does January have to do with anything? What’s supposed to happen in January?”

“I…” I hesitated. “Well… my plan was to ask to be changed back in January. I mean, once I find those guys.”

“But… why January? Why wouldn’t you…?” Then her expression suddenly changed to one of understanding and impatience. “Marsh, tell me this isn’t another garlic boast.”

“’Garlic boast’?” I repeated.

“Don’t pretend you don’t remember. I mean the time your roommates were making fun of you because you were avoiding garlic, and Geoff sneaked some into your dinner one night–”

“We never proved that it was Geoff,” I pointed out.

“It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you claimed that you didn’t mind, and boasted that you would eat garlic with every dinner for the next three weeks, remember? Just to show that you didn’t really mind?”

“I made it for three weeks, didn’t I?” I insisted, looking away from her.

“Yes, and who was still expected to kiss you, garlic breath and all? Who was expected still to embrace you, with garlic coming out of your every pore?”

“I’m sorry, Vicky. I just had to prove–”

“… that you were really in control, right?”

I nodded.

“Even though everybody knew perfectly well that you hated it? And is that what happened here? Whom did you boast to this time, Marsh? What on earth would prompt you to agree to stay this way if you actually had a chance to change back?”

“They took my guitar, Vix,” I explained, “on top of everything else. Joey got it and sold it.”

“Your guitar? What does your guitar have to do with this?!”

“It’s gone. And I was really upset about that, so…”

“It wouldn’t be gone if you changed back, Marshall!” she thundered at me. “I don’t really believe that there’s a way back, but are you seriously telling me that if we found one tomorrow, that you would wait until January to use it?!”

“But, the play, Vix…,” I explained, cringing again in the face of her anger. “If I change back earlier, I’ll be doing the role of Paravicini, and I haven’t rehearsed it at all. I don’t even know the lines, and we’re supposed to be off-book for the whole show today, and…”

Oh boy. The look in her eyes was not good.

I tried to explain; explain to her what I had pretty much not admitted to myself. “I have to think this way, Vix. If… As long as January hasn’t come, well, I’m still a girl because I promised that I wouldn’t change back before then. I promised Tina. She doesn’t want me to change back at all, and I promised that I would wait.

“But without that promise… that means that every day I’m still a girl, it’s because I have no choice… I don’t think I can face that.”

Her voice turned soft and calming, and she took my hands in hers, looked down at me from her greater height, and looked at me with sympathetic eyes. “But it isn’t your choice, is it Marsh? We’re stuck. They’re gone.”

“I can’t accept that, Vicky,” I insisted. “I just can’t. Because it would mean that I’m going to be like this the rest of my life. And that just can’t be. This… this isn’t me. Not the real me. I can’t face that, Vix. I can’t face the real me being gone forever.”

Somehow, we had wound up in each other’s arms, were holding on to each other as though our lives depended on it.

“I can’t face that, either, Marsh,” she said. “I’ve never had a boyfriend who made me feel as good as you did. Who made me think I was beautiful–“

“You are, Vixy. Any guy who can’t see that is blind.”

“Thank you, Marsh. Nobody ever managed to say all the right things to me, the way you did, was there for me the way you were…”

“… except for leaving you, when you wanted me to stay, apparently.”

She nodded, her head pressed against mine. “Except for that.”

We stood there, clutching one another, trying to hold on to what we’d once had somehow, for way too few minutes before she finally pushed me away, wiped her eyes, and said with a forced smile. “So. I understand that there’s some sewing to be done here, today.”


  1. von says:

    >>“We never proved that it was Geoff,” I pointed out.

    I think ‘I said” would work better here.

    comments about ‘apparently’ still valid, as well as awkward beginning.

    Still one of your better chapters. Keep writing.

  2. scotts13 says:

    Good stuff. Now we know that the self-delusion is at least partially willful, and we have a bit of an Aesop building. Loved the sudden realization re: the disposition of used underwear, and the potential reading material choice – Assimilation that fast can’t be all estrogen; there must be Borg nanoprobes involved somehow. Or perhaps, as I believe someone else hypothesized, Marsha is just feeling more like herself.

  3. scotts13 says:

    Also, how far away is Lee Ann’s bedroom, and how soundproof is the wall? Any dorm room I’ve ever seen, not very to either, and if paying attention she would have heard every word. Oops!

  4. von says:

    Oooh, Borg nano-probes. I wonder how they will react with the aliens with long orange tentacles.

    I think the assimilation is due to the fact that the only “Marshall” thing is mind based… not even brain based. He only exists as a series of memories… all of the habits and bodily functions belong purely to Marsha.

    As for the reading material, there are libraries. What will be interesting to me is if the new Marsh will still find Sci-fi interesting.

    And I think Sci-fi is a bad choice, since he seems so utterly clueless about sci-fi issues, and it doesn’t really fit with his girl hungry sleep around successfuly character.

  5. von says:

    >>figuring out how I could make my room presentable enough for a girl to come over.

    This is awkward. I assume you mean something like, ‘eager to make my room presentable for hosting a girl’ or somesuch.

  6. Harri says:

    “And she’d said that she’d been “in the middle of something.” What if she had had a date last night? What if she was, even now, in some other guy’s bed?”

    When did that conversation happen? I can’t see a previous conversation with Vicky that says she was in the middle of something – you haven’t even said “I called Vicky last night”.

  7. von says:

    >>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!”

    there tis.

  8. Harri says:

    Ah. Ok.

  9. Michael says:

    “I have some things to go” = to do

  10. April says:

    I really thought at this point that the romance novels were going to be some sort of Chekhov’s Gun later on in the story. I was quite surprised when they didn’t surface during the sequences where she is trying to figure out what titillates her. I mean, sure, they’re fun to read for the stories, but plenty of them are read for the way they get your figurative (and literal) juices flowing.

  11. Russ says:

    That didn’t even occur to me, April. It’s something to consider for the rewrite, if it happens.

  12. April says:

    That’s a lot of story to retcon, at this point. :\

    Another thing to consider is that many (many!) women — myself included — feel some amount of shame when it comes to reading romance novels, yuri/yaoi/shoujo, and the like. It’s especially so for your bodice-ripping, glossy-cover type romance novels. It’s kind of like the female equivalent of the porn stash hidden under your mattress, I suppose.

    Whether Marsh would feel (or Marsha did feel) these kinds of feelings, I don’t know. But when Marsh doesn’t stop and get all introspective, it seems that Marsha’s feelings start to poke through, so it’s certainly possible that she could feel these emotions at some point.

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