16 Back on Track

Finally, the week was over and I had to return to school.

“Daddy” drove me to the train, and we might have had another potentially uncomfortable half-hour together; however, this time I actually did have something to ask him about. Something about our earlier conversation, as well as the general way he had treated me all week had bothered me, and it had taken some time for me to figure it out: he was happy to be with me.

Now that sounds really stupid, which is why it took me so long to work things out. In the past, he had told me how much he enjoyed having a son to do things with; we had done lots of stuff that he simply never did with Tina. I knew that he had also taken her out from time to time, and although I didn’t know the details, those times were never nearly long enough for them to have been watching or playing games, and they’d never come back home with stuff from the hardware store or anything similar. Now, thanks to the time travel business, he no longer had a son to do these things with, but it didn’t seem to bother him.

Part of me knew that I was being irrational. He no longer knew that he had previously had a son, so maybe he was just used to it; but I somehow expected him to be less happy as a result, or at least wished he were. So I asked him.

“D-daddy,” I started, still not quite getting the name right, “Does it ever bother you that you have only daughters?”

“What a question, Princess!” he answered, smiling. “Why would it bother me to have two of the most wonderful daughters in the world?”

“I mean… don’t men usually want a son? You know, to carry on the name, and do guy things with? Weren’t you disappointed? Why didn’t you try again for a boy?”

“Marsh, I wouldn’t trade my girls for a dozen sons. I have no complaints, and your mother and I were quite satisfied with the two of you. What brought this on?”

It wasn’t exactly the answer I’d been looking for, but I couldn’t think of a good explanation. I could hardly fault him for missing the real me, after all. It just kind of hurt a bit that I could disappear from his life and not leave a gap, even though in this timeline I’d never been there at all. “I… I don’t know. I was just thinking about things.”

“Thinking of things is always good.” And he smiled indulgently at me again. “When you have children, you never know what you’re going to get, but your mother and I feel quite fortunate.”


“Besides, I figure between you and your sister, I’m likely to wind up with at least one grandson, eventually. I have no complaints.”

And I guess my only complaint was that I couldn’t get a rise out of him on this. Foolish, I know, but I think I had good cause; it’s not everybody who gets changed into somebody else, only to discover that nobody seems to care.

He dropped me off at the station and kissed me goodbye – again on the forehead. Then he lifted my suitcase onto the train for me. Now full of clean laundry, it felt a lot heavier than it had when I was Marshall; fortunately it had wheels, so I just dragged it behind me on the train. With a train ride of nearly an hour, I had a bit of time to think.

The ride also gave me a chance to drop out of character, partly, since none of the other passengers seemed to know me. Part of my coping strategy was to do this as much as I could; many sophomores had individual bedrooms in suites, so I would probably be safe there at least. I would just have to remember to get into character before coming out of my bedroom, and for that, I planned to rely on a trick Mr. Condrin had mentioned. The idea was that if you could carry a regular hand prop onstage, you could make an association between it and your character; picking it up would trigger you to fall back into character. In my case, I could use Marsha’s purse; I had worked on carrying it everywhere, as it was something that was so obviously Marsha and not Marshall.

The past week, although extremely disconcerting, had at least the virtue that I had had two close allies whom I had known very well, and who knew my secret. I had no intention of revealing the truth to Marsha’s friends, most of whom I probably didn’t know at all. Aside from phone contact with Tina and Chad, then, I was sort of on my own.

The first order of business, of course, was to meet her roommates. Girls seem to share a lot more about themselves than guys do, and Marsha had been living with these girls for a few months already; she had also probably known them for a while last year before they decided to room together. Tina had assured me that they would be friendly and understanding, but would also know Marsha well enough to spot egregious personality changes. So there were plusses and minuses, there.

Marsha also would have had a larger circle of friends, and I was going to need to learn their names pretty quickly. The three of us had discussed some strategies for finding out things without seeming to be ignorant. At the very least, the next couple of months were going to be interesting, but I saw no reason that I couldn’t manage.

There was a shuttle from the train to campus waiting when the train pulled in, and one of the returning male students carried my bag off the train and into the van. I wasn’t sure whether to be grateful or humiliated. I had just always taken my ability to lift heavy things for granted. Girls obviously had to find other ways to cope with such things.

The campus was pretty much unchanged. Not that I had really expected the time-regressed DNA-alteration of students to have an effect, but you never knew. I saw about the same mix of familiar and unfamiliar faces, and a few nodded at me, or said hello. Having the same nickname kept things from feeling stranger than they could have. About the most uncomfortable incident was bumping into my “ex-“roommate, Rajiv. My initial reaction was to greet him, and I only caught myself after I had opened my mouth – there was no reason to think that Marsha would have known him. Nor did he know me, but the sight of a pretty girl noticing him was enough to pique his interest.

“I’m sorry,” I stammered. “For a moment there, I thought I knew you.”

“Well, that’s easily fixed if you don’t,” he smiled at me – and I wasn’t completely sure that it wasn’t more of a leer. “I’m Rajiv Shah.” And he held out his hand, which made me have to take it so as not to be rude.

“Marsha Steen,” I responded, pleased to have remembered “my” name, despite being flustered. “And thanks, “ I interrupted his attempt to say anything more. “I’ve got to go.” And, heart pounding, I tried to walk past him, which would have worked a lot better if my suitcase hadn’t chosen that moment to tip over.

“Why don’t I carry your suitcase and walk you to your dorm?” he offered.

“Um, thanks, I appreciate the offer,” I managed. “But… I… I have to meet somebody, and…”

“Hey, it’s OK!” he laughed at me. “I was just trying to be helpful, not stalk you!”

“Oh, sorry,” I said, reddening. And I knew I had overreacted, even as I managed to right my recalcitrant luggage and get it moving again. Rajiv is a decent sort. I wouldn’t have roomed with a jerk. It’s just… he was actually the first boy, other than Chad, that I had spoken with since my… alteration. It could have been worse. I’d heard that some guys don’t easily take ‘no’ for an answer. At least I didn’t have to deal with that, this time. I was going to have to come up with a better response. Getting all flustered probably made me look… well, I wasn’t sure what, but it didn’t seem like a good idea.

Laramie Hall seemed much further from South Campus than I had remembered. Maybe it was just the pain of lugging the suitcase around. But Marsha had managed, so I should be able to, as well. Finally, I stood outside. This was going to be my first real test – talking with my roommates, girls who presumably knew me very well. Oh well. I took a deep breath. Showtime.

There was an elevator in the dorm, so I didn’t have to lug my suitcase up the steps. When I stepped out onto the second floor, I saw close to a dozen girls, standing in the hallway, chatting. As I threaded my way through them, searching for number 218, many of them greeted me as either “Marsh” or “Marsha.” If I had been a bit less nervous, I might have tried to draw some conclusions from the way they addressed me as to how close they were as friends. A couple of the girls looked familiar, but the only one whose name I knew at all was Lee Ann’s friend, Chandra-something-or-other.

There were a couple of girls standing next to the door to room 208 when I got there, one with her back to me, in a white top and a cute short blue skirt that framed her rear perfectly. I automatically started to admire her backside, but remembered in time and  started to fumble in Marsha’s purse for the room key. Before I could find it, she suddenly turned around and said, “Let me get that for you, Marsh,” and opened the door with her own key. It was Lee Ann Taylor.


  1. dark_fanboy says:

    I like how her father puts on a good face, I’m sure that he really isn’t disappointed by having daughters like some men are. I’m currently awaiting the birth of my first child and even though everyone around me, wife included, is hoping for a son I honestly just want my child to be healthy and happy. The end of the chapter was also good, I almost expected to see Lee Ann at this point considering a lot of the coincidental happenings thus far. Murphy and his law of averages, never fun.

  2. Maiden Anne says:

    >>Finally, the week was over and I had to return to school.

    Already? What happened to Chad? What happened to Mom and Dad? Did they just drop the issue? How did Marsha manage to convince them that that was the only issue? How did Marsha cover her non-communicativeness?

  3. von says:

    >>Now full of clean laundry, it felt a lot heavier than it had when I was Marshall; fortunately it had wheels,

    Two ideas here: Marsha is smaller, and so the suitcase is bigger. And the suitcase has more in it? I dont’ think you meant the second, but that is the way it seems to scan.

    Perhaps, ‘the only difference in the suitcase itself was that the laundry I had brought home was now clean, but it sure felt a lot heavier now that I was forty pounds lighter…”

  4. Don says:

    Found a continuity flaw – back in Chap. 8, Marsh’s room number was 208, not 218 as it is here. I thought that ‘218’ sounded off…

  5. Russ says:

    Thanks, Don. I’ve fixed it.

  6. von says:

    Wow. Now that’s someone who reads for details 🙂

  7. Don says:

    Heh, probably a side effect of 20 years of writing software. A single misplaced or missing character can completely change the meaning of a chunk of code, so you get used to paying attention to details.

  8. Don says:

    Missed a 218 -> 208 change in the second-to-last paragraph


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