81 Integral to the Relationship

With the weekend drawing to a close, I knew I had to hit the books. I did have work assigned over the weekend, after all. To my surprise, when I went into the study for some privacy, Joey was already there, working at the desk. He looked up as I came in.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said, “I didn’t think anybody was in here.”

He shrugged. “I’m just doing some schoolwork before break is over.”

“Oh. Yeah. Me, too. I just thought this would be a good place to–”

“The table’s free,” he pointed out. “You’re not going to be making a lot of noise, are you?”

“No, I… I just have a lab report and some reading to do.”

He shrugged again. “Suit yourself.”

The table that he had mentioned was just a coffee table, and I was bit doubtful, but I sat on the floor in front of it and tried to get comfortable. I only really needed it for the lab report, anyway – I could do the reading sitting in one of the chairs. After some experimentation, I found that kneeling Japanese-style was my best bet, and started working on my Organic Chemistry lab report.

We worked in silence for almost fifteen minutes before he hesitantly cleared his throat. “Uh, Marsh?”

I had to turn to look at him.

“As a pre-med… did you have to take Calc?”

“Yeah, I took it last year… why?”

“I just wondered… are you any good at integration by parts?”

I stared. Was he… actually asking for my help? I’m not bad at math – you can’t be, if you’re a science major, even for Biology – but Joey asking…? That was weird.  I got up and looked over his shoulder.

“I remember the basics,” I told him. “You sort of have to experiment a bit, and I haven’t used it in a while.”

“Well, can you try? I’m kind of stuck on this problem.”

I had to put my head close to his to look at his textbook; given my size, though, I didn’t even have to bend down much. I should be used to this by now, I scolded myself. At least with him sitting, I don’t feel quite so tiny. “What did you try?” I asked.

We got into a discussion of how to attack the problem, and the ideas behind the technique, and between us, we did manage to come up with the same answer that was in the back of the book. What I found odd was how uncomfortable he seemed. He hesitated every time he asked me a question, shied a bit when I told him he had made a mistake, and flinched every time my hand went near his.

“Is something wrong?” I asked, as we started on a second problem.

“What do you mean?”

He doesn’t even know he’s doing it, I realized. Whats going on here? Several possibilities suggested themselves, as I thought about his relationship to the rest of us. Before, he had had a younger brother to talk with, and when we’d gotten together, he had still chosen to be mostly on his own, although he had sometimes come in to talk to Tyler and me about cars. Tyler had probably listened more than I had, but I had never noticed Joey as being all that uncomfortable around me.

Of course, now he was the only boy among us. Was that the problem? Tara, Tina, and I had spent a fair bit of time together this weekend, talking, and the only time Joey had been a part of our discussions was right after the movie. Maybe he just needed to talk more.

“So, how’s school?” I asked him.

The look he gave me was completely mystified. “Um… Ok, I guess.”

My initial reaction was to be annoyed. What kind of an answer was that? Then I realized something that made me snicker. I had just spoken with a boy using a train of thought that had made perfect sense to me – and had totally confused him. I’m turning girl faster and faster. I clenched my teeth; I could not afford to freak out over it, though; not in front of Joey, and especially not after the last couple of days.

His eyes narrowed. “How is that even funny?”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I was thinking about something else. I’m… just trying to be social, here.”


“So… what’s new with you?”

He looked at me sort of cross-eyed. “Um… I’m trying to do some calculus homework?”

I bit my lip. I suppose I might have answered the same way if a relative had tried to make conversation while helping me with math, so I could hardly blame him. I don’t know how helpful I was actually being; I was really rusty at calculus, now. Not only wasn’t I even taking math now, thanks to Marsha’s schedule choice, we weren’t using more than very basic derivatives in my science classes.

Still, Joey’s reaction to me was puzzling. After all, he’d known me – or rather, Marsha – all of his life. So what was his problem?

“Um… so… is something new going on with you?” he asked, sounding as though he was forcing himself.

“Well, my play is opening on Friday…”

“Uh huh.”

“And…” I knew that there was more going on in my life than that, but I certainly wasn’t going to share most of it with him. “Um… I’m starting to learn to play the guitar…”

He flinched as though I had struck him. “Geez, Marsh, will you lay off about the guitar, already? It was almost three years ago, OK? Gramps left it to me and I had every right to sell it! You girls will make out just fine from Gran’s jewelry and silver and who knows what else, so cut it out, will you?”

I backed away, hard. I had been angry with him, to be sure, but I really hadn’t intended to berate him about it. Finding out about Tyler had sort of put that out of my mind, and I hadn’t mentioned it to him. But Marsha could have been on his case for years.

“Joey, I’m sorry,” I whispered. “I… I wasn’t thinking of Grandpa’s guitar just now, at least not consciously. I guess… it was more the connection with him… since guitar playing was so important to him.”

“Look, I tried, OK?” he continued, now on his feet and looming over me. “I really did try to learn to play it. Dad even hired somebody to teach me. I don’t think you have any idea how hard it is to play a guitar. I mean, he always made it look so effortless, but I’m not him. I tried and tried until my fingers ached. I’m just not musical like you and Tina.

“It was just taking up space, and reminding me. Reminding me of how I could never be what he wanted. I could never follow in his footsteps and tour with that guitar. So in the end, I sold it to the son of one of the guys who used to play with him; somebody who could play, and who could do the instrument justice. That’s a better use of his guitar, don’t you think? Being played by somebody good rather than hanging around my house like some stupid trophy?”

“I… I didn’t know. I just thought…”

“Of course you didn’t know! You never gave me a chance to explain! I sold it and then like two weeks later you suddenly called up and started screaming at me. You just kept going on about how it wasn’t mine to sell, that I should have held onto it until somebody in the family learned to play the guitar. You totally shot me down when I tried to say how bad I felt about the whole thing. If it was so damned important, why didn’t you learn? What’s the point of waiting several years after it’s too late and then taking lessons? I mean, that’s just really rubbing it in, Marsh!”

I stared at him in shock. Marsha had judged him without all the facts, and so had I. “You’re right,” I said, looking down at my hands. “You’re right. Maybe I was subconsciously still getting on your case. Maybe I…” I sighed. “No, I guess I was still angry. And… I guess I had no right to be.”

“You’ve got that right.”

“Yeah… anyway, I’m sorry. Um… did you still want help with calc?”

He stared at me for a few seconds; I guess he could tell that I really did feel bad about the whole situation, so he eventually nodded and sat back down. We finished the problem without talking about anything other than math.

He didn’t immediately move onto the next problem after that. Instead, he looked away from me for a second and said, “So. You’re learning to play the guitar, huh? Are you any good at it?”

I laughed. “Not really. I mean, I can play a few chords. I’m almost to the point of putting them together in a song.”

“That’s good. That’s good.”


“So you bought a guitar?”

“No, I’m borrowing one from a friend. A Fender Stratocaster.”

“Oh.” He turned to face me. “That’s not the same type as–”

“No. Grandpa’s was a Les Paul.”

He nodded. “And the… Stratocaster is less expensive?”

“Well, this one is. Grandpa’s was pretty special and rare. This type is still made and you can get one for about $1000.”

“That’s a lot.”


“So… you gonna buy one?”

“Eventually. I mean, I obviously can’t afford one right now.”

“Right, yeah. College is expensive.”

“Um, I should probably get back to my lab writeup,” I said, after a few uncomfortable seconds. “Unless you need more help?”

“No. I mean, thanks, but I think I’m OK, now.” He put out his hand to shake. “Thanks, Marsh.”

I automatically started to reach for his hand, but impulsively gave him a quick hug, instead. “You’re welcome, Joey.” I smiled at him. “I’m really glad we talked.”

He nodded. “Yeah. Me too, Marsh. Me too.”


  1. von says:

    Some quick comments:
    1) I don’t understand the awkwardness of the initial exchange.
    2) This chapter makes me really dislike Marsha
    3) I like the guy/girl exchange, but it would have been more powerful if it had happened more with the exchanges and less with the ‘looking totally baffled’s and the long paragraphs of Marsh’s personal introspection. As well, the exchanges didn’t actually seem that guy/girl.
    4) This sentence: “I looked at him carefully. He was really trying, I thought. And I was really the one in the wrong, here.” Leads to no positive result. If Marsh was in the wrong,then he should apologize. And he should apologize for Marsha’s appalling attitude and actions as well.

    >>I started to reach for his hand, but decided against him and gave him a quick hug, instead. After all, he was my cousin. “You’re welcome, Joey.” I smiled at him. “I’m really glad we talked.”

    ‘Decided against him’ eh? Very Freudian.

    And this would be more powerful if it said, “I pushed his hand aside and hugged him. “You’re welcome Joey…”

    >>He doesn’t even know he’s doing it, I realized. How could be possibly…?

    Assume you mean ‘how could he possibly…”

    And what is ‘it’? The preceding exchange was in response to Marsh’s idea that Joey was uncomfortable talking to him. So what is ‘it’? Marsh has the idea that Joey is uncomfortable. Joey is not doing any particular ‘thing’, at least nothing we have seen. Is Joey constantly looking away from Marsh? Is his voice cracking? Is he tapping his fingers nervously?

    Because the ‘uncomfortable’ has no focus, the ‘it’ is contextless. At best it comes across as ‘Joey doesn’t even know that he is doing things that make me think he is uncomfortable’. Now that is an awkward ‘it’.

    This would be more powerful with a context (especially one that the readers could take differently than Marsh! Like, if Marsh was standing in such a way that every time Joey looked up his nose was on the level of Marsh’s bust!) that let us know what ‘it’ was. And even more powerful without Marsh’s introspection and Joey’s ‘baffled’ etc.

    In addition, ‘What do you mean?’ is not a very obvious reply to ‘is something wrong?’ Better, “No” or “Just this math stuff”. And Marsh’s answer to ‘what do you mean?’ (a paragraph later) is “So, how’s school?” ???

    Oh, and I like the fact that you are working on the relationship with Joey. Tara would be better, IMO, but Joey is good.

    >>“How could you not know? I told you when I did it, remember?

    This (the ‘remember’, bit) is unnatural, a sop to our knowledge of Marsh, that Joey doesn’t have. It should (IMHO) read more like:

    “What do you mean you didn’t know! I told you! You yelled at me for days over it, and I explained a dozen times! This is totally unfair of you Marsha…” etc.

  2. scotts13 says:

    I’m slightly uncomfortable to find I agree with every one of Von’s comments. “He doesn’t even know he’s doing it” cost me some skull sweat trying to figure out what “it” was; I kept looking for some subtle hint of “inappropriate” behaviour. Other than that, the chapter fills space on the page nicely, and doesn’t cause any other traumas; assuming of course, that the market price of specific guitar models will be important to the plot later.

    Summary: “Marshal get yet another apparently needed reminder that Marsha’s relationship with people was different, and gains practice in apologizing for it.”

  3. Von says:

    >>I’m slightly uncomfortable to find I agree with every one of Von’s comments

    Yo! Nothing to how it makes me feel. Let me quick work on a comment you can disagree with! Altho it would be worse if Erin agreed with them.

    >>“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said when I noticed him. “I didn’t think anybody was in here.”

    You seriously do not need the ‘when I noticed him’ here. Seriously. And it slows the pace down.

  4. Von says:

    >>Summary: “Marshal get yet another apparently needed reminder that Marsha’s relationship with people was different, and gains practice in apologizing for it.”

    OK, to disagree with Scott 🙂

    Summary: “Marsh, a boy who has been transformed into a girl, and who is involved in massive and mulitiple deceptions with his parents, other relatives, and friends and roomates; and who is struggling with his sexual identity, role identity, and enormous holes in his basic personality; finds out that the girl whose body he is inhabiting was an incredible jerk toward her cousin Joey… while discovering vaguely that boys and girls converse differently and that he inhabits some bizarre, confused middle ground.
    Coming after a chapter in which the incredibly important issue of whether he could still successfully masturbate is determined, we now find out that it is not really so bad that a boy, who could not play a guitar, sold it to a boy who could, despite the fact that that boy’s grandfather (who is remarkably similar to Marsh’s own grandfather) would probably have been disappointed that that boy did not have the talent to play the guitar himself. In the meantime, off stage (unfortunately) some other boy, hopefully, is actually trying to figure out what happened to Marsh and many other people, stop it from happening to even more people, and fix it in Marsh and any others who want it fixed. Perhaps, one can always hope, he is also finding out who the nasty people were that did this, with a view to having them shot on the college steps at high noon. Or, better, they too could be experimented on. I understand that there are some very painful skin conditions with a genetic component.”

  5. Hoopla says:

    I find this quite an awkward chapter to read, I think Von/Scott have pointed out most of the reasons why already. I understand what you are doing with the chapter, but to me this is probably one of the hardest chapters to read, sorry.

  6. Von says:

    >>but I don’t remember anybody ever asking for my help before.

    Ummm… seriously? A pre-med student??? Bizarre. Ever???

    >>>I find this quite an awkward chapter to read, I think Von/Scott have pointed out most of the reasons why already.

    Whoa. Way too much agreement her for me 🙂

  7. Von says:

    >>I understand what you are doing with the chapter, but to me this is probably one of the hardest chapters to read, sorry.

    Ironically, for all of this agreement, I think this could be a good chapter with some fixing. A very good chapter. I enjoyed reading it.

  8. Russ says:

    Made a bunch of tweaks. Let’s see how it reads now.

  9. Von says:

    >>impulsively gave him a quick hug, instead. It just seemed the right thing to do.

    I so need to keep a copy of the first draft, so I can see where the changes are.

    I like this better, but the ‘it seemed the right thing to do’ is implied in ‘impulsively’. Keep the impluslivly, kill the ‘it seemed…” IMO.

  10. Von says:

    >>>What I found odd was how uncomfortable he seemed. He hesitated every time he asked me a question, shied a bit when I told him he had made a mistake, and flinched every time my hand went near his.

    Show, don’t tell. Show, don’t tell….

    OK, now you have me intrigued. Especially the hand thing. That is weirdly interesting.

    The ‘it’ still doesn’t work. It is better.

    Would it be possible to work these issues in *before* you mentioned he seemed uncomfortable? Or, better yet, instead? And then the ‘it’ could come after one of these and be very natural. Or even leave the it out…

    “… I reached out my hand to point to the problem, and when my hand touched his where he was holding the book, he flinched visibly, almost dropping the it.”

    “What’s wrong Joey?” I asked.

    “Nothing, nothing,” he stammered. “I just lost my grip. So you say I need to bifurcate the polynomial transection?”

    “Yes.” What was up with him? “Is school going OK?” I asked.

  11. Von says:

    >>>I forced myself to focus on the math problem.

    Ummm… why the force?

  12. Von says:

    >>>“Of course you didn’t know! You never gave me a chance to explain!

    Better, but very different. Eliminates the ‘oops, Marsha would have known.” But I like this much better.

  13. Hoopla says:

    I can’t pin point the changes, but it certainly reads much better now – perhaps it is also because it is the 4th time I’ve read it. I can enjoy this chapter now, when I re-read it again – which you can count on happening.

    Thanks Russ.

  14. scotts13 says:

    Well, the “uncomfortable” sequence reads better. And I’ll have to start saving revs, too, because now it seems Marsha’s past reaction to the guitar sale is MUCH worse than I remember (“screaming,” etc.). I can see the behaviour; I’ve seen much worse in inheritance situations, but what a bi*ch!

    BTW, “I’m turning girl even faster and faster” is an important phrase, even if you do gloss over it rather quickly. Therefore, it would be nice if it read better. Drop either one of the “fasters” or the “even.”

  15. Von says:

    >>Drop either one of the “fasters” or the “even.”

    Or, drop the whole thing and let the story speak for itself.

  16. Hoopla says:

    Thanks for the reminder Scott, the “I’m turning girl even faster and faster” phrase really leaps out to me that it should freak Marsh out quite a bit. The only way I see it as not a big deal for Marsh is that he is losing his male identity – something he seems to be fighting to keep, especially in the previous 4-5 chapters.

  17. Von says:

    >>the “I’m turning girl even faster and faster” phrase really leaps out to me that it should freak Marsh out quite a bit.

    Good point. For him to act more and more like a girl and not notice is possible. But if/when he notices, he should, as you say, ‘freak out’. I mean, just a couple of chapters ago he was all catatonic about saying, “Daddy”… which my boys can still say.

  18. von says:

    Yeah, I found an old copy and got to see the differences. Sure is easier 🙂

  19. Hoopla says:

    Thanks Russ, I do like the way you’ve covered the expected freakout in the updated text 🙂

  20. Trax says:

    I liked both versions of this chapter quite a bit, since it highlights more about how the family has changed.

    I’m not entirely sure that Marsh would have reason to freak out at all in this chapter. The thought about changing girl even faster was mocking the male-female dynamic more than further proof of mental changes. Like some guy may say “Of course I am happy, I’m not married!”, is more of a joke than a correlation. Unless just being reminded about it was the scare-factor.

    One error I noticed:
    Instead, he looked away __for a me__ a second and said,

  21. April says:

    “Yeah… anyway, I’m sorry. Um… did you still want help with calc? <– missing a quotation mark

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