74 Center of Attention

The table conversation paused abruptly when I entered the dining room, and didn’t resume until a few moments after I had sat down. The family seemed deliberately to be trying to avoid mentioning what had just happened, but Tina gave me a worried look, to which I replied with a nod of acknowledgement. We’d have to talk after dinner before my likely grilling by Mom and Dad.

Or maybe not. As we finished cleaning up after dinner, Mom said, “Marsha, let’s talk in the study” and I knew I was in trouble. Tina knew it, too, but all we could do was to exchange glances. I sighed, dried the last of Grandma’s silver and put it away, and then headed for the study while Mom went to find Dad.

Alone, I examined the room. It had been Grandpa’s domain before he died, and the walls were still full of pictures of him on tour. The old Encyclopedia Brittanica from the early 1960s took up a sizeable portion of the bookshelf space. There were newer touches, of course. Pictures of Mom and Dad’s wedding, as well as Uncle Doug and Aunt Jackie’s, along with pictures of us kids. Most of these were unchanged.

The most obvious differences were the picture of Marsha’s graduation rather than mine, and where there used to be a picture of me with Grandpa’s guitar, there was now one of Marsha and Dirk, presumably taken at their senior Prom. I stared it; it was one thing to be told that Marsha had been dating him; it was something else to see her lean against him, his arm wrapped possessively around her waist. My waist, now. I shuddered at the thought.

“You miss him, don’t you, Honey?” Mom said, quietly.

I jumped. “Oh, I didn’t hear you come in, Mom.”

“You were so happy when the two of you were dating,” she continued. “It’s really too bad, the way things worked out.”

“Um… yeah,” I agreed, not sure what else to say. I mean, what if things had gone differently? What if I had awoken as Marsha to find that, like her roommates, she had a longtime boyfriend – Dirk – who expected her to sleep with him on a regular basis? I would absolutely have vomited.

“Anyway, your father is unavailable until the game is over. Do you want to sit and talk? I want to hear what’s been getting to you this semester. Last year didn’t seem as difficult.”

Sure, because last year I was in the right body. I didn’t say that aloud, though. At this point, I was in major damage-control mode. The truth would probably get me locked up – or at least pulled out of school. And if there was any chance to change back, it required me to be on campus.

“Well,” I started, “I think classes are going all right…” Then I remembered. I had told her that before, along with an update on the play. But girls usually went into more detail, didn’t they? Well, I could tell her about my lab partners, and about my papers, and–

“And I do want to hear all about them, Marsh. But right now, I want to focus on what isn’t going all right. You seemed fine on the way up. What set you off? What brought on this imaginary cousin? Why were you talking about learning how to sew?”

“Mom,” I said, miserably, “if I told you the truth you’d think I was crazy, and if I told you what you would believe, I might be lying.”

“This ‘science experiment’ again?” At my nod, she sighed. “Maybe we’ll wait until your father is free, then.”

“OK,” I said, before she could change her mind, “I’ll be with Tina and Tara until then,” and I ran out of the room.

I found the two of them still in the kitchen, talking with Grandma and Aunt Jackie. “Teen, can I talk to you?” I asked quietly, and she excused herself immediately.

Our bedroom seemed the best bet for privacy, so we headed there. “So…?” Tina prompted, as we sat together on the bed.

I exhaled and took a moment to prepare myself before admitting, “I… told Mom. About the experiment, I mean.”

The shock in my sister’s face was plain. “You did?”


Tina studied my face for a moment. “She didn’t believe you, did she?”

I shrugged. “Not exactly. I told her about Tyler, too.”

“Oh boy.”

“Yeah. She thinks I’ve lost it. That I’m cracking under the pressure of school.”

“Well, you have to admit, talking about a cousin nobody’s ever seen…”

“I know, I know, it’s just… I can’t believe he’s gone. That he never existed. I mean, I was really looking forward to seeing him. Tara’s great, and all, but Tyler is the one I used to connect with most.”

She put her hand on my arm and said sympathetically, “I didn’t realize that. I’m really sorry, Marsh. Do you… want to tell me about him?”

“I… guess.” But what was I supposed to say? Describing him was almost like trivializing him. “Well… he was really into the Beatles, and knew just about every one of their songs. I could play just a few measures and he could tell me the lyrics, who wrote it, and when. He was a wizard at video games. Once in a while we’d play something competitive and he always beat me.”

I paused to think. There was a lot more to him than this. “He wasn’t into cars too much,” I continued, “so a lot of what Joey talked to him about bored him. I mean, he did try, and he actually memorized a bunch of car trivia, since Joey liked it, but it if weren’t for Joey, he wouldn’t have gone near cars at all. I just…” I let myself trail off, shaking my head.

The next thing I knew, Tina’s arms were around me and I was crying again. “Marsh, I am so sorry. He sounds nice. I wish I’d known him– I mean, I wish I remembered him.”

“Yeah…” After a moment, I forced myself to stop and pushed her away. “Anyway, we have to figure out what I’m supposed to tell Mom and Dad. I don’t want to lie to them, but I don’t want them thinking I’m crazy and need to take time off or something.”

“Then you can’t talk about the experiment. Just tell them that you were upset about… um… Oh man.”

“Don’t tell them?”

“Well, you remember that Chad and I didn’t believe you, at first.”

“But you do, now,” I pointed out.

“Sure, but that was only after the way you reacted to Dirk. ‘Dirk the Jerk.’ Wow, that was so unlike you– I mean, Marsha. And that was on top of everything else, plus you had that article.”

“The article. Right.” It was at school, somewhere. I’d sort of lost track of it after I went to newspaper offices.

“And at this point, if you called Dirk a jerk, Mom and Dad would probably decide that you just resented him after all this time.”

I nodded. Tina was making a lot of sense. “And if I told them I used to be a boy…”

“I don’t even want to think of how they’d react. Probably pull you out of school right now.”

“You’re right, you’re right. So how do I explain why I was claiming to have another cousin? Mom saw me really upset.”

“I don’t know,” Tina said. “Um… I don’t suppose you could say it was some kind of act?”

I shook my head. “Mom wouldn’t buy that for a minute.”

“No, I guess not.”

“I’m just going to have to say that I was upset… I don’t have to give a reason, do I? I mean, girls do get upset over nothing, right?”

“Excuse me?” she glared. “I do not get upset over ‘nothing.’ Just because I can’t always explain why I’m upset, or don’t want to, doesn’t mean it’s ‘nothing.’”

I grinned. “See? You just did it.”

Tina sighed in exasperation. “Boy, you look and sound like a girl, but sometimes, Marsh…”

My grin got larger. “Sometimes, I can still act like a boy. OK,” I said, standing up. “I think that’s what I’m going to have to do. I’ll just tell them that I was upset, but I can’t explain why. Thanks, Teen.”

We went back down to the kitchen and rejoined the rest of the women, who were now sipping tea and chatting. I was really tempted to go join the guys watching football, but right now, with Mom having doubts about my sanity, going out of character for Marsha didn’t seem such a great idea.

“So, what’s going on, guys?” Tara asked, coming over to Tina and me. Indicating the older women with a nod of her head, she added, “I was afraid you were going to leave me with them all night. They’re planning tomorrow’s dinner – and Gran wants us to sit for family portraits in the morning. Bo-o-o-ring….”

Tina and I giggled. Tara was just as theatrical as either of us, and the expression on her face was perfect. Then she turned to Tina. “And speaking of boring, what are we going to do about your sister?”

“What?” I yelped. “What are you talking about?”

“All work and no play makes Jane a dull girl,” she retorted. “It’s time to come out of your shell, Marsh.”

“What shell?”

Tara shared a look with Tina that expressed doubts about my cluefulness before turning on me again. “Have you gone on any dates since summer?”

She meant Marsha, of course, and I didn’t know whether she had dated before midterms, so I snuck a glance at Tina, who shook her head very slightly.

“Uh, no…” I admitted, “but I have a very demanding course schedule, and I need to get good grades to get into medical school.”

“Yeah, more like spinster school,” she retorted mockingly. “Are you seriously locked in your room, working all weekend?”

“No… I sometimes go out with my roommates or a friend.”

“So you do have the time. You’re just afraid.”

Behind her, I could see Tina wincing apologetically.

Tara pressed on. “We can help you, Marsh. Which boys do you like?”

“Well, I…” I stammered, and then I realized what I was doing. I was falling into the same pattern with Tara as I had with Lee Ann, and I had since decided that I wasn’t going to play that game.

“No,” I said definitely. “It’s not a question of afraid. I’m… just not interested in dating right now.”

Tara was shocked. “Seriously? Why not?”

“I’m just not. I have some things I need to work out for myself… I mean, before I’ll be interested in going out with anyone.”

“Are you telling me that you’re not crushing on anyone? Not even a little?”

“Not even a little. I’m happy with who I am, and I don’t need anybody else to make me happy.” Somehow I managed to say that with a straight face, even when Tina dropped her jaw at me from behind Tara’s back.”

I was saved from having to support my statement because Dad poked his head into the kitchen right then. “OK, Mir, I’m ready.”

Mom looked up. “Game’s over?”

Dad sounded disgusted. “It might as well be. The Giants aren’t even close to being in this game.” Then he looked at me. “You ready, Princess?” I nodded, and the three of us filed into the study.


  1. scotts13 says:

    [Roseanne Roseannadanna voice] “Never mind” [/Roseanne Roseannadanna voice]

    It’ll be interesting to see if Marsh gets her smarts (or lack thereof) from her father or not.

    Also, do females REALLY spend every waking hour trying to fix each other up? It’s becoming the bane of Marsh’s existence; next chapter, random mothers will be approaching her on the street, proffering their son’s resumes.

  2. Hoopla says:

    I’m not sure how I feel about this chapter, it has good parts and some ‘I want to smack you’ parts as well – good writing for making me feel both of those.

  3. Von says:

    >>good parts and some ‘I want to smack you’ parts

    So, which do you see as which?

  4. Hoopla says:

    The ‘smack you’ parts are mostly to do with the dicussion on going back on telling Marsh’s parents about the experiment. I may be in a minority here, but I think Marsh needs therapy, especially if it isn’t possible to return to being Marshall. Yes, I know Marsh would get pulled from school and screw up the play (perhaps her parents would let her complete the play), but I think that is would be for the best.

  5. scotts13 says:

    With all due respect, Hoopla, how many therapists would be able to comprehend/accept her situation, let alone offer useful advice? Quick guess – none. In my experience – and I have a bit – their first project is figuring what box to put you in, so they know how to approach treatment. She doesn’t fit ANY boxes they know about. IMHO, any possible therapy offered Marsh will consist primarily of replacing her reality with their fantasy. (Discounting the possibility Marsh actually IS NOT in her right mind.)

  6. Von says:


    My respect for therapists is in the negative numbers, so I am with Scott.

    So what parts were you seeing as the ‘good’ parts of this chapter?

  7. Estarlio says:

    In my experience therapy is a rather pointless exercise from the perspective of fixing the deviancy, more to do with reassuring those who think it will help than anything else. Go in, talk to someone who’s generally thought less about the issue than you have – run through their script and leave. I don’t see how it would profit her to trade university, and all the investments she’s made in that financially, emotionally and in terms of opportunities sacrificed for the off-chance she’s one of the people who responds well to one of the styles of counselling that she might get.

  8. Hoopla says:

    I liked to parts about Grandpa’s study, it was good for Marsh to see a picture of the real Marsha happy to be with Dirk and the standing up to Tara.

    Sorry you don’t think much of Therapists, I’ve had no personal experience with any – although given my history that is a bit of a surprise. I think Marsh is heading for a major meltdown – I know I would be in the same situation. Our opinions obviously differ.

    Anyway, whatever happens I am going to continue enjoying the story.

  9. Estarlio says:

    Oh yeah, story. Probably oughta comment on that too =p

    Interesting how Marsh thinks of it as being in trouble with her parents – a punishment upcoming perhaps.

    Interrupting people, “Teen can I talk to you?” Grandma and Aunt Jackie know something’s afoot.

    “I’m just not. I have some things I need to work out for myself… I mean, before I’ll be interested in going out with anyone.”

    Things to work out, stilted speech – a vulnerability to push on. If not through Marsha then through her sister.

    Marsh needs to learn to go on the attack more often, she could sidestep a lot of issues by attacking elsewhere. There are some excellent books on lying and manipulating people out there; might be interesting to see her applying some of that knowledge if she decides to brush up her deception. Come to think of it she’s an actor, there are obvious crossovers between the realms of lying your face off and acting.

    Little talk upcoming, it seems very formalised – cut her off from support, stick her in a room. Parents haven’t had time to confer beforehand or decide on a course of action which will be an advantage.

  10. Von says:

    >>I liked to parts about Grandpa’s study, it was good for Marsh to see a picture of the real Marsha happy to be with Dirk and the standing up to Tara.

    I agree.

    >>Parents haven’t had time to confer beforehand or decide on a course of action which will be an advantage.

    Interesting how many people see the parents as the enemy.

  11. scotts13 says:

    >> Interesting how many people see the parents as the enemy.

    Not “the enemy” certainly, but their influence on Marsh’s situation is (IMHO) far more likely to be detrimental rather than the reverse. Marsh may be a legal adult, but is not financially self-supporting, as far as we know. If her parents decide she’s cracking up, there’s no school, no resources, likely very little freedom of action at all, without walking away from her entire life.

    It’s nice to fantasize her parents will believe her story implicitly, and throw themselves into helping her track down the experimenters – but the chance of that is vanishingly small. (Sorry, Von).

    No, Marsh has made a colossal mistake. If she were to let her parents in on the secret at all, it would have to be done very, very carefully – in private, with available documentation and witnesses at hand. Her only chance now is skillful backpedaling. Fortunately, Marsh’s great forethought, vast intelligence, and careful planning will surely be up to the task.

  12. Von says:

    >>but the chance of that is vanishingly small. (Sorry, Von).

    Oh, no need to apologize to me. The parents here are Russ’ conception, not mine. As you know I would have handled them very, very differently. (did I send you that chapter?)

    >>Fortunately, Marsh’s great forethought, vast intelligence, and careful planning will surely be up to the task.

    Do I detect a hint of sarcasm? It will be interesting to see if Marsh’s father shares Marsh and his mothers very ways of dealing with issues.

  13. April says:

    @scotts13: None of the women I know are that overwhelming interesting in fixing up their friends. Certainly not to the degree things are in the story. But that’s not college age and high school age women, I suppose.

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