I followed Mom into the kitchen. She handed me a peeler and some potatoes and we started. Apparently we were making stew tonight. Dad and I had always liked Mom’s stew. Thinking about him, I suddenly realized something – neither Mom nor Tina had mentioned him and I hadn’t seen him all day, not since I turned into Marsha. His car wasn’t in the driveway. Where was he?
I started to worry. When he came back after walking out on us, he’d never told Tina or me why. I once asked him, and he’d tousled my hair and said simply “A man should be around to raise his son, Marsh.” What if he had been serious? What if my being a girl meant that he hadn’t come back? Had my stupidity in signing up for that experiment denied Tina a father and Mom a husband? I couldn’t just ask – I didn’t want Mom to know about the change, and there was no way to excuse Marsha needing to ask. When I was done here I’d have to ask my sister. In the meantime….
“How did midterms go, Marsh?” Mom asked.
They’d gone fine for me, so that’s what I told her. Of course, I had no idea how well Marsha had done, but I figured we were pretty similar in terms of intelligence and study habits, so the answer was likely to be the same. At any rate, I didn’t have a better answer just now. But apparently that wasn’t Mom’s focus, anyway.
“Any progress with that boy you were interested in?”
What boy? Tina hadn’t mentioned anyone; she had just said that Marsha wasn’t seeing anybody.
“Um, no, Mom,” I said, taken off guard and panicking just a little. Then I added, “And, I’ve been thinking… I don’t really have time to date right now.”
Now I knew to watch out when I got back to school. Had Marsha been flirting with somebody? Dating a guy but not seriously? That could be a real problem.
She just smiled at me knowingly, and didn’t pursue the matter. It was her usual pattern – she was good at inviting us to tell her things, but not prying. And usually, I did want to tell her. But what could I say? I didn’t know very much about Marsha’s life, and almost anything specific I could say would have to reveal that I wasn’t Marsha, after all. Was I wrong to keep this change a secret? Suddenly, I wasn’t sure.
I must have spent more time than I had realized, agonizing over the question, because she prompted me, “Something on your mind, Marsh?”
“Oh, no, Mom. I mean, yes. I was thinking about the play. Mousetrap.”
“We start rehearsals right after break.”
“Yes, you told me. And Mollie is a great role.”
“I think so, too, Mom.”
Outwardly, I was calm, but my guts were roiling. Now I had even more things to worry about. What if Dad wasn’t around? What if Mom figured out the truth and thought I was lying to her? Was Marsha so much better at acting than I was? With a good director like Alvin, I should be able handle it, shouldn’t I? Mr. Condrin had always said that the most important relationship in the theater is between an actor and his director, and Alvin probably knew that. I’d just have to make sure to establish that kind of relationship with him.
We talked more about inconsequential stuff. I had to invent answers, trying not to be specific, since I had no idea about Marsha’s actual school life. Mom seemed to sense that something was wrong, so I tried to distract her by asking what was new with her. She seemed to appreciate it. I don’t think I’d ever done that before – asking my mother about her life, her sewing and so on. With Dad gone, Mom had started doing a lot of seamstress work. I remember resenting how much of a burden this had put on Tina and me, but obviously she’d needed to bring in money; when Dad came back, she’d continued it, and the spare bedroom was full of clothes needing alterations and repairs.
Things kept reminding me of Dad, and it was hard to remember not to mention him or hint about anything involving him, since I didn’t want to admit my ignorance. I kept hoping she would say what he was doing or say that she missed him or something so that I would know.
Then I found out. The door opened and there he was. I don’t think I’d ever run so fast in my life. I threw myself into his arms with an excited cry, “Dad!”
“Wow, what a greeting, Princess!” he exclaimed, obviously pleased. “I’m really sorry I missed you last night, but I had to get up early today. Everything good with you?”
What a question! I couldn’t really give an honest answer, but at least Dad not coming back was one thing I didn’t have to worry about. At least everything hadn’t been worse in this timeline.
Hugging Dad was… strange, since I only came up to his chin now. As Marshall, I had actually been a bit taller than he was, and he had tended to greet me by just grabbing my arm or patting my back. It was very odd to have him kiss me on the forehead after hugging me. That was the way he had greeted my little sister, only now I was even shorter than she was, so apparently, I got the forehead kisses, too.
Tina had heard him and came downstairs to get the same greeting – a kiss on the forehead. Then Dad excused himself to put his stuff in his study. I probably could have found out that he was home if I had gone there, but of course I didn’t think about it until I was talking with Mom in the kitchen.
Then I realized what he had said – he had called me “Princess”! What the hell? I grabbed Tina and asked her about it.
“Yes, Daddy’s always called you that, why?”
“It’s just that I’ve never heard him do that before. Dads don’t call their sons, ‘Princess.’”
“Oh,” she laughed, “I guess not.”
“And… um…” Given everything else that had happened, I was surprised that this bothered me, but, “Is he expecting me to call him, ‘Daddy’?”
“What else would you call him? Oh… I suppose you’re used to calling him something like, “Dad’?”
“Usually.” I sighed. “I suppose it’s part of the character. But can you please try to warn me about things like that?”
“How am I supposed to know what you don’t know?“
“I have no idea. Just… try to think about what a guy wouldn’t know. Please. This is going to be tough enough as it is. I don’t want too many surprises.”
“I’ll try, Marsh,” she promised me. “I’ll do the best I can.”
We practiced heel-walking some more after that, since it really wouldn’t be in character for Marsha to wear flats all the time. The short heels Tina had me start with proved to be not all that much of a challenge. Then she had me try walking down stairs with them.
Wow! That was quite a difference. First, it was scary as Hell, although I remembered to say “scary as anything” to Tina. If I slipped while walking on a floor, the worst that would happen was that I might turn an ankle, but it was pretty obvious, even without Tina’s warning, that slipping the stairs could hurt a lot worse. Holding on to the rail was a must.
What was really funny, though, was that my original idea – of walking without the heel touching the ground – worked here! The danger was actually that I might catch my heel on a step or slip forward, since the sole of the shoe was slanted and smooth. But as long as I was careful only to land with the ball of my foot, and make sure it was fully on the step, I was fine.
After that, we finally got to the read-through, and I got yet another shock. Tina was helping me, reading the role of Giles, Mollie’s husband, when we encountered the direction that he was to kiss her.
“Wait,” I said. “Kiss?”
“That’s what it says, Marsh. They’re married, so why the surprise?” She winked at me, which just rubbed it in harder.
“I’m not surprised, I’m just… a bit taken off guard. How am I supposed to kiss a guy?”
“What’s the big deal? I saw you kiss Dirk enough times.”
“In the first place, Teen, that’s really disgusting. Anyway, it was Marsha who kissed Dirk, not me. Um… remember who I really am. I kiss girls, not guys. Kissing guys is…”
“… really nice,” she finished. “Or at least I think it would be – I’ve only done it once, so far. With everything else you’re doing, aren’t you sort of being a bit ridiculous? I mean, you’re a girl, Marsh. Why shouldn’t you kiss a guy? Anyway, it’s not for real, and it’ll be Mollie kissing Giles, right?”
I had to admit the truth of that.
“So it’s just playing a role. Who knows? Maybe you’ll like it!”
“I certainly hope not,” I replied. And that was the last we spoke on that subject. It was just a play; it didn’t mean anything. It’s just that Mollie was going to be kissing this guy with my lips.