76 Posing on Command

When I got there, the only ones in the kitchen were Grandma and Aunt Jackie.

“Oh!” I said, surprised. “Where’s–”

“The girls went upstairs, Marsha,” Grandma said. “They said they wanted to start getting the room ready.” As I turned to follow them, she asked, “Did everything work out with your parents?”

“Oh. Sure…” I replied. “I apologized and they just want to make sure I talk to Mom more, that’s all.”

“You should be doing that anyway, honey,” she added.

“Yes. You’re right, I should,” I said, inching my way to the door.

“Tell Tara I need her down here,” Aunt Jackie called after me,

“I will,” I shouted over my shoulder. With no further comments or advice coming, I ran up the stairs. I had dodged a bullet with my parents, and I was in no mood to let something slip to other adult relatives that might put me back into jeopardy.

When I got to our bedroom, my sister and cousin were making up the cot. That just reminded me that Tina and I were going to share. I really wasn’t looking forward to that. It was one thing to be pressed up close to a girl all night, but my sister? That was just… gross.

“How’s it going?” I greeted them as I entered and sat on my bed.

“What happened with Mom and Dad?” Tina asked urgently, as she looked up from tucking in her blanket.

I shrugged. “Not a problem. Daddy said that I just had to make sure to call Mom, like every other day. He and Mom decided that I was just freaking out because Jared wanted to have sex with me.”

Tara’s eyes bulged. “I thought you said you weren’t seeing anybody.”

“I’m not. We were just meeting for a soda to get acquainted.”

“He asked for sex on the first date?! Gross.”

“Yeah, well, it wasn’t a date. Just a get-together so we could be comfortable kissing each other.”

“Wait, wait, wait.” Tara looked totally confused. “You’re kissing a boy and he wants to have sex with you and you don’t count that? That’s more action than half my friends are getting.”

“Wait…” I said, finally realizing how it all sounded. “No, there’s nothing between us. We have to kiss in the play, that’s all. And we were kind of awkward, and we were trying to get comfortable with each other – as friends.”

She looked disappointed. “Oh. Then I’m back to ‘gross’ if you were just trying to get to be friends.”

“Yeah.” Then I remembered. “Oh, Aunt Jackie wants you downstairs.”

“Oh, for… I mean, it’s not like I get to spend with time you guys every week.” She sighed. “I’ll be right back – I hope.”

Tina waited until she was out of earshot. “So, what else didn’t you want her to hear?”

“Not much. I mean, I told them I used to be a boy, and Daddy decided that I must have some reason I wished I were. I didn’t see any point in correcting him.”

Who decided?”

“Daddy. Why?”

“It’s just… really strange to hear you calling him that, now,” she answered slowly.

“Why is it–?” I started, then realized what I had said and clapped my hand to my mouth.

“Yeah, you’ve been calling him, ‘Dad’ when it was just the two of us. I guess you must have decided that if you were staying this way–”

“No,” I said, just a bit surprised at myself. “I didn’t realize I was doing it. I guess it’s just that when Daddy – I mean, ‘Dad’ – put his arms around me when I got upset, I really kind of felt girly, and… Wow.”

“Because he held you?”

“Yeah, it felt, you know, really kind of comfortable and… he sort of stroked my hair, and…” I shivered a bit. “I hadn’t really intended to, you know, girl up so much.”

“Well, is it a real problem? After all, you’re a girl now for keeps, right? So why not?”

“Because it doesn’t feel like me. It feels like I’m surrendering to ‘Marsha.’”

“Like the way you’re sitting?”

I looked down. To my surprise, instead of hanging my legs over the side of the bed, I had them tucked under me. Hurriedly, I straightened out and let them hang in front of me. And then deliberately moved my knees a few inches apart, for good measure. Given the length of my skirt, it wasn’t actually immodest.

“I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, Marsh. Your feet don’t reach the ground and you’ve always been more comfortable – I mean, Marsha was always more comfortable – sitting the way you just were.”

“Yeah, well I don’t usually do that. Am I picking up any more of… her… habits?”

“How should I know?” Tina asked, impatiently. “I know Marsha very well, and I don’t really know your habits much at all. How am I supposed to know which ones you never did? Besides, why does it really matter?”

I bit my lip. “Maybe it doesn’t,” I admitted. Unless I do manage to change back and find myself acting girly still, I thought, but didn’t say aloud. “It just bothers me that I didn’t realize I was doing them. It’s almost as though Marsha is still in here, somewhere, and is trying to get her body back when I’m not paying attention.”

“Whoooo…” Tina said in a spooky tone and then laughed. “Like Invasion of the Zombie Catchers!”

Body Snatchers,” I corrected her, also laughing.

“What did I miss?” asked Tara, coming back into the room while we were laughing. Mom wanted to talk to me about what I was going to wear tomorrow. What are you guys wearing?”

“Mom bought us new matching dresses just for the pictures,” Tina told her, to my surprise. “They’re probably still in her room.”

“You guys are so lucky,” Tara exclaimed. “I wish I had a sister. Why couldn’t Joey have been a girl?” And then we wouldn’t explain why we laughed yet again.

Sleeping in the same bed as my sister was strange. I’d slept this close to girls before, but that was when I was a guy, and we were being intimate. It’s just not the same. We started sort of back to back, with me facing the wall and curling my arms in front of me. Sometime in the middle of the night, though, I woke up to find an arm wrapped around me, with Tina essentially spooning me. It took me several minutes to move her arm, because I didn’t want to wake her up and explain. Once I was free, I climbed out of the bed and watched her sprawl face down in the middle, and I spent the next half hour gently nudging her to her side so that I could get back into bed. By that time, I was so tired that I fell back into a dead sleep; I don’t think I would have noticed if she had bear-hugged me.

The next morning, all nine of us piled into two cars to go to the photo studio in the local mall, Tina and I now wearing matching pink dresses, and having spent over an hour fixing our makeup. Tina had to help me with mine, of course; while I had by now achieved a reasonable level of competence, I had nowhere near what proficiency she had gained after two years of practice. I had, however, developed awareness from watching my roommates that Tina’s skills were not quite up to what was expected of a girl my age. Between us, we did manage something reasonable.

Grandma had booked a fairly extensive shoot. We started with Tina, me, and our parents; then Tara and her family, Joey all alone as the only grandson, followed by the three of us granddaughters and then all of the grandchildren. The photographers posed us at least two different ways for each grouping. When Mom was called up to pose with her mother and brother, she sent me to retrieve Dad, who had walked away from us for a while, but would be needed for the final all-family shots.

I found him in the unused front studio, talking on his cell phone. As I reached him, I overheard him say, “… mirror… No, ‘Strangers in the Mirror,’” and froze. Who might he be talking to?

“You’re sure?” he continued after a pause, not having noticed me come in. Then, “I see… yes, that’s certainly possible… I’d appreciate that… OK, I’ll tell her… Yeah, thanks, Rick. ‘Bye.”

I backed out of the studio and waited until I heard him hang up the phone. Then I knocked on the open door. “Daddy? Mom sent me. We need you again.”

He turned. “Oh, hi, Princess. I was just about to come back.”

After we had finished the shoot, getting two poses with the full family, Dad suddenly announced. “I haven’t seen my older daughter for some time, because of school. Would the rest of you mind if I took her for ice cream while we’re waiting for the pictures to be ready?”

Of course, nobody else minded; I suspect that most of them were going to start gift shopping in the meantime, but I was a bit surprised. It was only 11:30; that seemed kind of early for ice cream. Obviously, Dad wanted to talk to me, and maybe I would find out what his phone call was about.

“This is kind of an odd lunch,” I commented, as we sat down, him with a cone and me with a sundae.

“Just keeping up our tradition, Princess,” he smiled. “Are you enjoying your break?”

“Aside from my little freak out yesterday, you mean?”

“Aside from that,” he agreed. He still seemed pretty casual, so I figured I couldn’t be in too much trouble.

“Well, it’s nice to have some time off,” I started. “And I’m enjoying the time with Tara and Tina.” The three of us had talked for almost two hours before falling asleep last night. Or more precisely, the two of them had talked, with me offering rare comments. Tara was apparently going through something of a boy-crazy stage, and wasn’t all that eager to talk about too many other subjects. Not having a boyfriend or even a crush had made anything I had to say much less interesting to her.

“That’s good,” Dad said, interrupting my short reverie. “Marsha,” he continued, sounding just a bit uncomfortable, “I spoke with Rick Peterson, an old classmate of mine who is in the Dean’s office up at Piques…”

So that’s whom he had been talking to. Maybe he hadn’t fooled himself last night as thoroughly as I had assumed.

“He told me that there was indeed no time-travel experiment on campus.” At my look, he hurriedly added, “Not that I really expected there to be, but I just wanted to see if there was anything like it. There wasn’t, of course.”

I nodded. The administration’s concealing of the experiment, assuming that was what had happened, was finally working in my favor.

“On the other hand, he did tell me about a very interesting article in the local paper…”

I inhaled sharply in surprise, and he raised his eyebrows. “I thought you might know something about it. Some Piques students making the same claims you had about a time travel experiment? He said that they had been trying to locate the students responsible for this… hoax. I take it you know who they are?”

I nodded slowly, tensing up just a bit.

“Were you involved in this article?”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “I… met them only afterwards.”

“Mm hmm. These students… would they be the ‘Strangers in the Mirror’?”

I nodded.

“And was yesterday’s ‘freak out’ related to this group and the contents of the article?”

I nodded again.

Dad sighed. “Marsha, I’m a bit disappointed in you. You really upset your mother. Did you think that this little hoax was funny?”

I shook my head.

“And did that… that boy really proposition you like that?”

“Yes, he did,” I said. “And I really did… overreact. I was really upset about that.” He raised his eyebrows in surprise. “But,” I admitted, “It had nothing to do with the Strangers in the Mirror thing.”

“Oh. OK.”

We sat silently eating our ice cream for a moment. I wasn’t quite sure where he was going with this.

Suddenly he grinned. “Princess, that is about the lamest hoax I have ever heard of! I’m glad you weren’t involved in thinking it up, but seriously. It wasn’t funny the first time they did it, and bringing it home to spring on your mother didn’t help. Tell me, did this group tell you what to say? Are they the ones who came up with the ‘missing cousin’ bit?”


“If you want to have a good hoax, I’d say that the first rule is that you not make your mother think you’re cracking up, OK?”

I nodded, thinking fast. He had found yet another way to misinterpret the facts, but who could blame him? I had already known that the ‘hoax’ angle was the one being put around by the Administration.

“And the next step is make sure it’s actually funny, at least in hindsight. I’ll tell you about a great hoax I heard about when your mother and I were at Piques. I don’t know where this happened, but apparently some college had a Civil War cannon mostly buried in the middle of a lawn. Those things are really heavy, but one morning the school woke up to find a hole there instead, with an enormous pile of dirt. The cannon was gone, but there was no sign of any heavy equipment that would have been needed to carry it away.”


“Any idea on how they might have done it?” he asked with a smile.

I thought about it for a while. “Um, could they have brought in large panels of something to protect the grass and driven a crane over them?”

“Good thought, but no. Panels like that would have left an impression. The grass around the hole was completely undisturbed.”

“Then I have no idea,” I admitted.

Dad chuckled. “Nor did anyone else, until they brought in the groundskeepers to put the dirt back into the hole. The cannon had never been moved. It was under the pile of dirt all along!”

We both laughed at that.

“You see?” he said, finishing up his cone. “That’s a great hoax. It got people very worried – a cannon like that is very valuable and probably irreplaceable – but ultimately, there was no harm done, except that a lot of people felt very foolish. Your time machine story, on the other hand, fails because all it does it make people think that the ones making the claim are crazy or lying.”

I nodded again. If he wanted to view this as a hoax, I didn’t see any way to prove him wrong, even if I wanted to. For all I knew, there might not be any evidence that the experiment had happened, other than the memories of a bunch of students. It all depended on what Eric found.

“So you owe your mother an apology,” he concluded. I opened my mouth to respond, but he cut me off. “Yes, I know you apologized last night, but I think your mother deserves the full explanation. I’ll tell her what I found out and then you can apologize again, this time. OK?”

I agreed, relieved. I had been afraid for a moment that he was going to make me tell Mom that it was a hoax, which would have put me in a really bad spot. If I did as he asked, I would be lying, and if I didn’t, he would think that I was lying. I was still sort of lying by omission, but that wasn’t as bad. At least that’s what I told myself.

“By the way, I do still expect you to follow the terms I set out for you. I want you calling your mother at least every other day. She worries about you, and wants to be sure that you tell her if you’re upset.”

I nodded.

“And I don’t want to hear another word about this, OK?”


“Good.” He leaned across the table and kissed me on the forehead. “Finish your ice cream and let’s get back to the family.”


  1. scotts13 says:

    I must say, there’s something about Marsh spreading her legs to prove she ISN’T a girl that tickles me.

    Daddy is a bit of an odd egg, isn’t he? Generally, by the time people get to his (and my) age, they settle into adjusting facts to fit their prejudices. Some few do the reverse. Daddy goes ahead and does the research, then simply accepts what he’s told – moreover, RUNS with it, giving Marsh advice and offering anecdotes. One can either assume the family cluelessness, or he has another agenda. Is there a reason he’d suspect the truth, not want Marsh to know he suspected, and want Marsh to maintain the masquerade? Seems his head needs either more, or less, tinfoil – the current amount is wrong.

    Also: One always tries to empathize with the characters in good fiction. The next scene will be a telling one for me, when Marsh apologizes to her mother again. Saying she’s sorry for upsetting her is one thing; she IS sorry for that. Saying she’s sorry for participating in the hoax is an outright lie. I don’t think I could do it. Can Marsh?

  2. scotts13 says:

    >> “Yeah, well, it wasn’t a date. Just a get-together so we could be comfortable kissing each other.”

    D’oh! I want to play high-stakes poker with Marsh. I have debts that could use paying off.

  3. scotts13 says:

    >> I had been afraid for a moment that he was going to make me tell Mom that it was a hoax.

    Russ, did you add that, or did I just miss it completely before?

  4. Russ says:

    >> Russ, did you add that, or did I just miss it completely before?

    You missed it – I haven’t made any changes at all.

  5. Hoopla says:

    Wow, Jump! Jump! Jump around!

    Enjoyed the chapter, thought it jumped around a lot though.

    Not sure I like Art that much, but at least he didn’t make Marsh reveal the Strangers – I think that little task will come later with this Rick fellow.

  6. Russ says:

    How is this jumping around a lot? It starts one evening, and then goes to the next morning. That’s hardly unusual.

  7. Trax says:

    Long time reader, first time poster! Hey all,

    First of all: Russ, I really love the story you’ve been crafting here. I’ve seen a lot of criticism towards some of your plot & writing, but I think overall the others who comment here all want this story to remain awesome. That alone indicates a story is good, at least in my mind.

    A while back, someone asked if Marsha’s dorm situation is normal. I’m not sure how common it is in other colleges, but in the one I just finished at, upperclassmen could apply for such an arrangement. There were 5 such buildings, all having suites with 4 to 6 people living in them, one or two people per room. Ours even allowed co-ed. I am a guy who had a single room along with 3 ladies in their own rooms. We’d share a living room, kitchen and bathroom.

    On the topic of this particular chapter, Marsh doesn’t realize yet how much her recent follies have endangered her. As far as a quick scan of the last chapters shows, she never told her dad about the strangers. So her mom must have passed on that tid-bit to him. Who knows who he called to check on them too. If it is someone connected to, or reporting to someone connected to the experiment’s cover up, Marsha has just been compromised. We know the Strangers have kept their list of participants under a tight grip. Now the administration has their lead.

  8. Hoopla says:

    Sorry Russ, it looks like a couple of my thoughts about different stories got mixed up and I didn’t review my post before I pressed Submit. Ignore the Jump part – my bad.

  9. Von says:

    >>I’m not sure how common it is in other colleges, but in the one I just finished at, upperclassmen could apply for such an arrangement. There were 5 such buildings, all having suites with 4 to 6 people living in them, one or two people per room. Ours even allowed co-ed. I am a guy who had a single room along with 3 ladies in their own rooms. We’d share a living room, kitchen and bathroom.

    So, possible but not common. I went to an old fashioned dorm, to kids per room, single sex floor.

    Was hoping for a new post.

  10. Russ says:

    My sophomore year, I was in a suite with 6 other guys; we had 5 single bedrooms and a double, plus a living room and a bathroom. That was not all that uncommon for sophomores. Most juniors and seniors had single dorm rooms. It depends on the college, apparently.

    The next chapter should be up either tonight or tomorrow.

  11. Von says:

    You guys all had it fancy, with your living rooms etc.

  12. Hoopla says:

    ** The next morning, all eight of us piled into two cars to go to the photo studio in the local mall, Tina and I now wearing matching pink dresses, and having spent over an hour fixing our makeup.

    Aren’t there 9 of them?

    Mir, Art, Marsh, Tina, Doug, Jackie, Tara, Joel and Grandma.

  13. Trax says:

    Whilst scanning the chapter to see if I could answer Hoopla’s question, I came across a different error:

    “What did miss?” asked Tara….. Tara missed an “I”, apparently. 🙂

  14. Russ says:

    Thanks to Hoopla and Trax for catching errors in the text. I have fixed them.

  15. Russ says:

    Second part of sleeping positions update.

  16. Von says:

    >>I really wasn’t going to be looking forward to that.

    I think you mean:

    I really wasn’t looking forward to that.

    And a little bit if why might be helpful.

  17. Hoopla says:

    I like the change, it really adds color to the section.

  18. Hoopla says:

    Is this 1 quotation mark to many?

    “Why is it–?” I started, then realized what I had said and clapped my hand to my mouth.***”***

  19. von says:

    >>It was one thing to be pressed up close to a girl all night, but my sister? That was just… gross.

    An interesting reasoning, and one at odds with some recent developments. Hmmmmm. I wonder how he would have felt as Marshall. I never had a sister, so can’t really relate. Well, I did but she didn’t live.

  20. Harri says:

    >>It was one thing to be pressed up close to a girl all night, but my sister? That was just… gross.

    Only if he makes it gross! If he doesn’t think that way then it isn’t a problem. Has he never had Tina fall asleep on his shoulder before or anything? Is it really that big a deal?

  21. von says:

    >>who could blame him?


  22. Richard says:

    You know I’ve started thinking about how a professor could disappear and why the administration is saying that it’s a hoax. With the evidence I have so far, there being a Professor Davis in the Physics department, the difficulty of making a professor disappear, the fact that the experiment seems to have been targeted to Freshmen and Sophomores, and the administration saying it was a hoax, I conclude that the administration didn’t even know about the experiment, and the “Professor Davis” who oversaw it isn’t actually a professor at that college.

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