98 Promises to Keep

When the doorbell rang, Mom, Tina, and I looked at each other and then Tina shouted, “I’ll get it!” and ran for the door. I couldn’t move. It had just hit me that Jeremy was here. Jeremy! And I had made myself look ridiculous.

“What do I do, Mom?” I asked, desperately.

“Isn’t this what you wanted, Marsh? You said it wasn’t an important date because he has a girlfriend, right?”

“Well… yeah, but…” I looked around, but we don’t have any mirrors in living room. I quickly rubbed at the hair horn I had created, hoping at least to make it less noticeable.

“Let me, Hon,” Mom said, taking my hand away. She moistened her own hands with spit and did something to the mess I’d made of my hair, but stopped when we heard Tina coming back – with him.

“Jeremy, this is our mother,” Tina said as they walked in from the hallway, “and you remember Marsh.”

“Jeremy!” Mom said, moving to greet him, and give me maybe a few extra seconds to pull myself together. “So nice to meet you.” My heart was now pounding insanely, whether because Jeremy was here in my house, or because I was horribly embarrassed or nervous or something.

“Um… pleased to meet you, Mrs. Steen,” Jeremy said, taking the hand she had extended to him. “uh… hi, Marsh. You look… really nice.” So he was a liar; maybe I could use that to start not liking him so much.

“Hi,” I said in a voice that sounded more like a croak than anything Marsha’s voice should have produced. I did not put out my hand; it would have trembled way too visibly.

“Ready to go?” he asked. At my nod, he led the way to the front door, the three us following him. It took him two tries to get it open. I didn’t blame him for being nervous; I knew how awkward this whole thing was for him. Having Mom and Tina watching so closely couldn’t have made it easy. I was so glad that Dad wasn’t there to make it even worse.

When we reached his car, a green Honda Civic in fairly good condition, he held open the passenger side door for me, handed me the seat belt when I sat down, and then closed the door when I had buckled. I had, of course, done the same with my own dates, but it really drove home for me just how different this was. He was in charge of the car and paying for the date; I wasn’t in control at all. It was a bit uncomfortable, but then, this whole date was uncomfortable. Why had I let Tina talk me into this?

I noticed after a few minutes that he wasn’t talking, and my heart went out to him; whatever pressure his sister had brought to bear on him, he didn’t deserve my making it worse by letting the ride be totally silent. So I turned to him and asked, “So how was the second night of House Parties for you?” I’d seem him enjoying himself, so that would at least have positive associations for him.

“Oh!” he said, sounding a bit surprised. “It was great. Janine loves to dance, and she’s really good at it.

And so are you, I thought, remembering. Then I felt a bit guilty. Had it really been kind to remind him of the girl he was cheating on?

“How long have you two known each other?” I asked next. Maybe it was better for him to focus on her tonight. Or maybe I was just angry in general; I hoped I wasn’t deliberately taking it on him.

I needn’t have worried. It seemed a very comfortable subject for him, unfortunately.

“Oh, we met at the beginning of freshman year,” he said. “I knew right away I wanted to ask her out, but somehow I just didn’t have the nerve. She’d told me that she was going to be studying in the library, so I went over, you know, hoping to ‘accidentally’ run into her, but I couldn’t find her. I didn’t figure out until later that there was more than one library on campus.”

So he’d been a bit inept with girls, his freshman year. They’d still had three-and-half years to get to know each other. I listened with half an ear as he kept on going, talking about the two of them. Inwardly, though, I was raging at Chad. Why couldn’t he have had some sympathy for my position? Look at me, here I was, sitting with my crush, who was taken; back at school was a guy who wanted me, but whom I could only see as a friend. I’d never had these problems as a guy.

“It seemed that every time we did go out, though, she was always just getting over a breakup with somebody else,” Jeremy was saying. I noticed his nervousness seemed to be gone. Apparently, this was a very comfortable subject for him. Terrific. “So I guess I was a really safe ‘rebound’ date.”

I tuned him out again. It’s not as if I’m giving up, Chad, I imagined myself telling him. This body has its own wants. It’s just simple biology, and I can’t fight it. It’s not my fault.

“… but we were great friends,” Jeremy was saying, “and agreed to be each other’s emergency dates; you know, if there was something we really wanted to go to, but we didn’t have a date. And meanwhile, we started fixing each other up…”

I nodded to myself. I knew the story – it was like the movie, When Harry met Sally. And eventually, they had finally figured out that they were so comfortable together, that everything else just worked. Do you think I would have chosen this, Chad? I continued. I don’t know just about any of the things about dating that a girl my age is supposed to know. When I was a guy it was so much easier. I knew all of the moves; I usually knew when a girl was interested. Of course I still want to change back. But I have to be ready if I can’t.

Then I heard a word that pulled my full attention back to Jeremy. “Excuse me?” I asked. “Did you say fiancée?”

“Mmmhmm. Carl was a year ahead of us, and I met him in a geology course I took for my minor. I figured he and Janine would be great together and I was right. They’re getting married right after she graduates.”

“Wait… wait,” I said, struggling to change mental gears. “If she’s… if she… fiancé… why was she with you?”

“Oh, his company picked that weekend to send him to a conference; would you believe it? And he couldn’t get out of it. Apparently, ‘I want to go to a school dance with my fiancée’ doesn’t count as a good excuse. So he came up the weekend before to see her, but that meant she didn’t have a date for House Parties, and as I said, she really likes to dance. Well, I didn’t have a date either, so, we went together.”

“You… didn’t have a date?” I echoed.

“No, and let me tell you, Janine really let me have it after I walked her home that night when I told her about running into you.” He laughed as he described what happened. “She said, ‘Jeremy you idiot! You’ve been mooning over this girl for two mon–’”

Suddenly, his eyes went wide and his face turned bright red. As I stared, with my jaw on the floor, he clamped his mouth shut as if he had only just realized what he was saying, and to whom.

My mind was in a whirl. What?! He’s been mooning over me? Everything I had assumed about his behavior was wrong. He hadn’t been nervous because he was cheating on Janine; he was nervous because he was asking out a girl he really liked, and he probably still wasn’t very adept at talking to them. To us. Whatever.

And to make matters worse, from his perspective, he had just admitted to this girl he really liked, to me, how he felt. On the first date! He probably thought he’d just blown it.

He wasn’t talking; he looked as though he didn’t expect ever to be able to talk, even to look at me, ever again. That meant that, as the person with probably a lot more dating experience and expertise, I had to do something about it. But what? I couldn’t just say something like, “but I like you too!” He probably wouldn’t believe it, and would think I was just being kind. I needed to tell him something believable, and probably a bit embarrassing.

It took me a moment to come up with something that I thought might work. “Jeremy,” I said, “did you see the on-campus production of The Mousetrap?”

“Um, no,” he said. It sounded like a change of subject, so I had been pretty sure he could be comfortable with it, but he still wasn’t looking at me. “I thought about going, but I didn’t want to go alone and Janine was busy and I didn’t have a da–” He cut himself off again, evidently finding that subject too awkward. No matter, I wasn’t done.

“I had the lead,” I told him.

That got him to look at me, and he looked stricken now, rather than embarrassed. “Oh, Marsh, I’m so sorry. I wish I’d known.”

“I played a newlywed,” I continued. “There was scene where I had to kiss the boy playing my ‘husband’ and I couldn’t do it properly, and the directory said to pretend I was kissing a boy a really liked, and…” Now I choked off. I hadn’t realized how hard this was going to be to say to him. Carefully watching his face, I forced myself to finish. “So I pretended I was kissing you.”

I saw his eyes flicker in surprise. “Y-you…?” he stammered.

I nodded. “Mmhmm.”



He sat back. “I don’t believe this.”

You don’t? I was beside myself over the idea that you were dating Janine.”

Janine? You thought I was dating Janine?”

“Uh huh. I saw you two dancing at Blair and I got really upset and had to leave.”

“You were at Blair? I wish I’d seen you. We could have…”

“Yeah…” I would much rather have been dancing with him than Geoff. Janine had clearly been enjoying herself. When might I have a chance to…?

“Is something wrong?” he asked.

“No, I just wish we could go dancing. You looked really good at it.”

“Oh,” he laughed. “I’m not that good. What you saw was mostly Janine, I think. Besides, there’s nowhere around here to go dancing, is there?”

“Um, well, actually… a friend told me that the Country Inn on Old Mill Road has dancing every other Friday night, including tonight.”

“Every other Friday? Then we could go… in two weeks, which is after school starts again… Oh.”

“Yeah…” I said, disappointed.

“So, if we wanted to go it would have to be tonight? Do you want to do that instead of the movie?” he asked.


“OK. Fine. Just tell me how to get there.”

At my direction, we turned around, and I started getting really excited about the whole evening, but I start wondering about how we wound up like this. Why did it take him all this time to call me? So I asked him, “If you’ve… liked me all this time, why didn’t you ever call me? Or were you hoping to ‘just accidentally run into me’?”

He looked embarrassed. “Well, I was actually going to ask you out the day we first met, and I asked Phyllis for your phone number, but she and Tina had just had this fight, and she wouldn’t tell me.”

“I remember the fight,” I said. Wow. Had he asked me out that day I would have said no, and I wouldn’t be here now, on a date with somebody that I liked a lot and who liked me. I remember desperately wishing I could be male again; just now, it was really hard to remember why. In fact, it was hard to think clearly about anything but Jeremy right now. My heart seemed to be competing with the engine for loudness and intensity, and I was feeling ever more conscious of my appearance. A guy usually expects a girl to look her best on a date, and I had practically done the opposite. Would he be offended?

“And then it just didn’t occur to me to ask her after I got back to the school,” he continued, “since I thought there was no way I’d have a chance to see you until winter break. I freaked when I saw you on campus; I figured I’d missed my chance and you were there with some other guy. And afterwards I tried to look you up, but you don’t seem to be in the school directory.”

“I am, actually. My first name is Jennifer.” This used to happen all the time when I was a guy, too, since I had been listed as Dwight M. Steen. My friends had known how to reach me, of course. It had sort of a filtering effect, so I hadn’t bothered asking the school to change my listing; obviously, neither had Marsha, and for the first time, I regretted it. I would have much happier if Jeremy had called me before exams started. But it had all worked out, anyway. It was really lucky that we both happened to be there that day… “Wait a minute,” I said, struck by a sudden suspicion. “Why were you there at the music school in the first place? Did Phyllis ask you to drive her?”

“Yes. Why?”

“That’s what I thought; Tina asked me, too. We were set up! They intended us to meet!”

He grinned at me, and I melted. Why did it matter what they had intended? All that mattered just now was that we were together and my first date as a girl was looking very promising.


  1. Michael says:

    A very good turn of events for Marsha, but I fear we have witnessed the death of Marshall.

    The horn held down by spit reminds me of a scene from “There’s Something About Mary”.

  2. von says:

    And, to a large extent, the tensions in the book. If Marshall is dead, then long live Marsha. Except, where is Marsha and what is she doing? Probably making out with Vicki. Unless something comes up, it is all over except for the ‘and we lived happily ever after’.

  3. von says:

    >>“So I pretended I was kissing you.”

    I saw his eyes flicker in surprise. “Y-you…?” he stammered.

    This should be “Me..?” he stammered. No?

    And who is this Marsh guy, anyway? First time we’ve seen him.

  4. Russ says:

    >> A very good turn of events for Marsha, but I fear we have witnessed the death of Marshall.

    ‘e’s just pinin’ for the fiords.

    >>>> I saw his eyes flicker in surprise. “Y-you…?” he stammered.

    >> This should be “Me..?” he stammered. No?

    No, it probably should be, “You p-pre…?”

  5. von says:

    >>No, it probably should be, “You p-pre…?”

    That’s OK too. Tell Russ and he can fix it. He isn’t answering my emails 🙂

  6. von says:

    >>‘e’s just pinin’ for the fiords.

    had to look that one up.

  7. scotts13 says:

    >> I’d seem him enjoying himself, so that…
    Perhaps “seen”?

    >> I hoped I wasn’t deliberately taking it on him.
    I believe the phrase is “taking it OUT on…”

    >> ‘e’s just pinin’ for the fjords.

    We shall see, and I hope quickly, because this chapter nearly put me in diabetic shock. It brings to mind a great little bit of animation by Arthur de Pins called “Geraldine” – concerns a young man who wakes up female; goes through the usual travails and over time eventually fully adapts to the female role. So much so, it’s rather inconvenient to suddenly change back on her wedding day…

  8. scotts13 says:

    By the way:

    >> “This body has its own wants. It’s just simple biology, and I can’t fight it. It’s not my fault.”

    I’m going to assume this is thrown in there to show how far out of control Marsh is, and is not his actual attitude when he’s in his right mind. If it’s how Marshall USUALLY feels, I don’t think I want to know him any more.

  9. scotts13 says:

    The author certainly has me thinking, though perhaps not in a good way:

    – Marsha certainly has her motor running; with the pounding heart, trembling, and talk of wants and biology.
    – Jeremy has admittedly been mooning over her. And, well, he’s a guy.
    – They’re on their way to an activity which at very least involves physical contact, and has variously been described as anything from a mating ritual to ersatz sex.

    At the same time, Russ has for the first time (I believe) gone to the trouble to describe the exact make an model of a character’s car – and it’s one with a notably small back seat. Hilarity ensues!

  10. von says:

    >>The author certainly has me thinking

    This isn’t ‘thinking’, it is more fundamental than that 🙂

  11. Biri says:

    Well, Dirk’s fan club is officially disbanded on account of sweetness in this chapter. So much fluff, yay!

  12. von says:

    >>Well, Dirk’s fan club is officially disbanded on account of sweetness in this chapter. So much fluff, yay!

    Well, he is not out for the count yet, by my reckoning. Why would Russ raise all these potential tensions with Dirk, Geoff, and Jeremy if he didn’t intend to do anything with them. Oh. Wait 😉

  13. von says:

    >>At the same time, Russ has for the first time (I believe) gone to the trouble to describe the exact make an model of a character’s car

    Which I took as a hint of ‘guy’ ness.

  14. von says:

    >>> And afterwards I tried to look you up, but you don’t seem to be in the school directory.”

    “I am, actually. My first name is Jennifer.”

    OK, I can’t buy this. Is ‘Steen’ really that common a name that one would not be able to guess that maybe ‘Marsh’ was a nickname for Jennifer?

  15. von says:

    >>Steen is an uncommon first name for men but a very common last name for both men and women (#2433 out of 88799). (1990 U.S. Census)

    OK, maybe I was wrong… altho I still think it doesn’t work. But does anyone else get the extreme illogic of the above quote?

  16. Biri says:

    >>> But does anyone else get the extreme illogic of the above quote?

    Not really. Seems to me the only way to go about finding her would have been to knock on every door where a Steen (or Someone M. Steen) was listed. It really depends on the number of students on the campus, though (and I don’t know about American universities, but here there’s a good number of students living elsewhere, who probably wouldn’t be listed).

  17. von says:

    >>>>>> But does anyone else get the extreme illogic of the above quote?

    Not really.

    I meant the quote from the Baby name place. Where it says “a very common last name for both men and women”

  18. DS says:

    Von: Definitely agree, funny phrasing…but what do you expect of the census?!

    As for the love quadrilateral, I’m kind of leaning towards the Geraldine story line. I don’t think the sci-fi is done with this series, and I kind of think (read: hope) that Russ has been playing us all for fools for quite a while (including his responses). Marsh has become complacent, docile, and fully accepting of her situation. You could easily go with the “And they all lived happily ever after” .

    The only thing is… fiction authors are fundamentally sadistic.

    Or I could be wrong. Either way, Marsh is going to get screwed.

  19. von says:

    >>Either way, Marsh is going to get %%%%.


  20. YoMama says:

    “Russ:”e’s just pinin’ for the fiords.”

    ahaha, monty python reference, at least, thats how i took it, perhaps it wasn’t.

  21. Biri says:

    Pinin’ for the fjords?! What kind of talk is that?

  22. von says:

    A customer enters a pet shop.

    Mr. Praline: ‘Ello, I wish to register a complaint.

    (The owner does not respond.)

    Mr. Praline: ‘Ello, Miss?

    Owner: What do you mean “miss”?

    Mr. Praline: I’m sorry, I have a cold. I wish to make a complaint!

    Owner: We’re closin’ for lunch.

    Mr. Praline: Never mind that, my lad. I wish to complain about this parrot what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique.

    Owner: Oh yes, the, uh, the Norwegian Blue…What’s,uh…What’s wrong with it?

    Mr. Praline: I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it, my lad. ‘E’s dead, that’s what’s wrong with it!

    Owner: No, no, ‘e’s uh,…he’s resting.

    Mr. Praline: Look, matey, I know a dead parrot when I see one, and I’m looking at one right now.

    Owner: No no he’s not dead, he’s, he’s restin’! Remarkable bird, the Norwegian Blue, idn’it, ay? Beautiful plumage!

    Mr. Praline: The plumage don’t enter into it. It’s stone dead.

    Owner: Nononono, no, no! ‘E’s resting!

    Mr. Praline: All right then, if he’s restin’, I’ll wake him up! (shouting at the cage) ‘Ello, Mister Polly Parrot! I’ve got a lovely fresh cuttle fish for you if you

    (owner hits the cage)

    Owner: There, he moved!

    Mr. Praline: No, he didn’t, that was you hitting the cage!

    Owner: I never!!

    Mr. Praline: Yes, you did!

    Owner: I never, never did anything…

    Mr. Praline: (yelling and hitting the cage repeatedly) ‘ELLO POLLY!!!!! Testing! Testing! Testing! Testing! This is your nine o’clock alarm call!

    (Takes parrot out of the cage and thumps its head on the counter. Throws it up in the air and watches it plummet to the floor.)

    Mr. Praline: Now that’s what I call a dead parrot.

    Owner: No, no…..No, ‘e’s stunned!

    Mr. Praline: STUNNED?!?

    Owner: Yeah! You stunned him, just as he was wakin’ up! Norwegian Blues stun easily, major.

    Mr. Praline: Um…now look…now look, mate, I’ve definitely ‘ad enough of this. That parrot is definitely deceased, and when I purchased it not ‘alf an hour
    ago, you assured me that its total lack of movement was due to it bein’ tired and shagged out following a prolonged squawk.

    Owner: Well, he’s…he’s, ah…probably pining for the fjords.

    Mr. Praline: PININ’ for the FJORDS?!?!?!? What kind of talk is that?, look, why did he fall flat on his back the moment I got ‘im home?


  23. DS says:

    Von fail 🙁

    Biri: Pinin’ for the fjords?! What kind of talk is that?
    Last line of skit: PININ’ for the FJORDS?!?!?!? What kind of talk is that?


  24. von says:


  25. TJ says:

    This chapter as well as some of the last ones take me for a surprise. I think this is one of the first gender bender stories I found that has the person in question so confused about everything, including who they are/were. Normally they stick to there same thing after the change, but Marsh had been doing a lot to meld into his role as Marsha. It confusing, scary, funny and exciting all at the same time. It a very differnt look, and i am looking forward to reading more, though less forward of catching up, atm i write this, there seem to be 124 chapters.

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