102 Looking Better All the Time

I remembered after lunch that I had made a promise to meet Dirk for ice cream, to “talk about our relationship.” After what had happened with Jeremy, though, it didn’t seem fair to him to go through with it, especially if he expected to pay for me. I therefore excused myself from the table to call him.

I found his number in the history on my phone. “Hey, Mel,” he said, answering on the second ring. “What’s up?”

“I just wanted to be honest with you,” I explained. “My date last night went really well, and I’m seeing him again tonight, so…”

“Oh.” I could hear the disappointment in his voice, and I could almost feel sorry for him. I don’t remember him having had a lot of dating success, and losing one of the few girls who had actually wanted to be with him must hurt.

“So I just wanted to be fair,” I concluded.

“You know, Mel,” he persisted. “I still value you as a friend. We’ve barely spoken since we broke up…”

“Since you dumped me,” I corrected him, remembering what Tina and Chad had said.

“Uh, yeah. I’m going to have to keep apologizing for that. Still, it’s been about nine months, and I’d still like to meet up, just to talk. Is that all right?”

I figured I could give him that, at least, so I said, “Sure. Just to talk? That’ll be fine. See you then.”

It wasn’t until we’d hung up that I remembered that with my lack of memory of Marsha’s life, I wasn’t going to be able to reminisce along with him. Maybe I could just say that I didn’t really want to talk about the past? Calling back at this point to change my mind didn’t seem fair, so I decided that I would just have to bluff my way through it.

I borrowed the car to head back to the Mall, arriving a bit early. Walking through the crowds without any urgent need to get anywhere, I realized one interesting benefit of my starting to get comfortable being attracted to boys – I could boy-watch! It wasn’t quite the same as my old pastime of girl-watching; for one thing, I didn’t know the rules. I definitely didn’t want to be caught looking and have some guy think I was flirting with him. Not only that, but I seemed to be more selective now. It used to be that I could find well over half of girls attractive, although of course I had focused on the most beautiful. With boys, though, it seemed as though no more than about one in ten was worth looking at, at all.

I got to the Häagen-Daz early, and didn’t see Dirk, so grabbed a small table to wait. There was only one boy there really worth looking at, and he was with a girl, and the way the two of them were looking at each other, I was pretty sure that it would not do to have her catch me looking. I shrugged and pulled out a book to read while I was waiting. It was one of Marsha’s romances, and I was prepared to hate it, but I found it surprisingly engrossing – so much so that I didn’t notice when a boy sat down opposite me.

“Hey, Melanie! How long have you been here?”

I looked up and gasped. “Dirk?!” He was gorgeous. That’s not Dirk! I thought, but who else would have called me, “Melanie”?

“Um, yeah. Is something wrong?” he asked.

“Um… no…” I choked out. “I’d just… forgotten how… I mean… you startled me.”

I couldn’t help staring. Looking closely, I could see a family resemblance, ruling out the likelihood that this was just a different boy with the same first name. They’d changed him, too! “Um… I… uh… d-did… did you sign up for a time travel experiment at school?”

“Did I what?!”

“J-just… I… never mind… I’m just a little bit…”

“Time travel? What? Did you say, ‘time travel’?”

“I’m just a little… you know what? Forget it. I was just reading, um…” I hurriedly jammed the book into my purse so that he wouldn’t see that it wasn’t science fiction.


“You know… I think I need some fresh air,” I suggested. I was definitely having some trouble breathing. I could see why Marsha had dated him; I was attracted to him, despite my memories of the old Dirk.

“OK, we’ll take a walk. Um, if we’re going outside, you’re probably not going to want ice cream. Why don’t I get us some hot chocolate, instead?”

As I waited, something else occurred to me. Dirk and Marsha had dated for two years. It had not hit me until now what that implied. Dirk seemed extremely comfortable talking to me, probably because he thought I was the girl he had known so well and so long. There was none of the first date nervousness that I had felt from Jeremy. Plus, Marsha had been seriously interested in Dirk, and whatever part of her remained in me seemed to be feeling the pull, and I didn’t like it.

I thanked Dirk when he handed me my drink, and walked alongside of him. Hormones. It had to be hormones. I had been in denial, and now I was finding myself attracted to whatever guys Marsha would have liked. She’d definitely liked Phil and Dirk, and Tina had picked out Jeremy, not for me, but for her. It was bad enough that I was in her life, why couldn’t I at least have my own preference for what boys I liked?

“That came out pretty weird, didn’t it? I mean… what would you say if I actually had meant to ask you if you’d done an experiment like that?”

“I’d tell you that you were talking to somebody in the wrong department. If anybody ever comes up with a serious time travel experiment it would be some in physics, not chemistry. Or…” he added, nodding at me, “biology.”

“Yeah,” I answered, still a bit shaky. “And probably wouldn’t be an undergrad, either.”

“Yeah… take your time,” Dirk encouraged me. “You really do look a bit out of it.”

“Uh huh. Thanks.”

We walked a bit in silence before he decided to try restarting the conversation. “So… what have you been up to? Aside from dating this new guy, just when I’m trying to get back together with you…?”

“Well, you know, theater stuff. I had the lead in a school production of Mousetrap.”


“And, um… I did a small role in Come Blow Your Horn last spring, or did I tell you about that one?”

He nodded. “You were rehearsing for that when we… well, I don’t know how many more times I can apologize, but I will, if it will help.”

“Forget it,” I said magnanimously. He held the outside door open for me, and then followed me outside. “So, what have you been up to?” I asked.

It turned out that he was at Penn, planning to major in chemistry, and that he was into fencing, although not good enough for the team. I had never known this about him, had never really cared to know. I wondered if these had all been true in the previous timeline as well. If not, the change seemed to have done him a fair bit of good. And… I had to admit, he did seem to be a pretty nice guy. Chad’s assessment had been accurate. If I ever got things back the way they had been, I promised myself, I would make a point of looking Dirk up. It appeared that I was the one who would really need to apologize.

He didn’t push me to reminisce about what had been, so I didn’t have to explain away gaps in my knowledge, nor did he press me on the reason for my idiotic-sounding question. Obviously, he hadn’t been listening to the radio show that had joked about the experiment.

He wound up walking me to my car, and was surprisingly decent about the whole situation. But he’d left me with an interesting mystery. Vicky was probably in the best position to help me think about it, so I called her on the way home.

She seemed a bit surprised to hear from me, and a bit nervous. “You’re… not calling me for dating advice or something like that, are you?”

I laughed. “No, actually I had some news for you. Eric called. He says he thinks he’s found the lab.” I explained about the grad student and the misdelivered package.

“Marsh, that’s fantastic! And here I was thinking you’d given up!”

“Well, I can’t take the credit. This is Eric’s doing, but it looks as though we actually have something to work on when we get back to school.”

“You have just made my day, Marsh. We’re going to get this taken care of, I just know it!”

“And I have some other news for you, Vixy,” I added. “Take a look at this picture I’m sending you.” I’d taken the picture of Dirk before saying good-bye. He’d been surprised that I wanted it, and had taken one of me in return.

“Oooh, he’s really…” she started, then cut herself of, suspicious. “Wait a minute. Who is this?”

“Marsha’s ex-boyfriend, actually. He wanted to talk to me about ‘getting back together.’”

I could hear the tension in her voice. “And you told him…?”

“I told him I wasn’t interested.”

She let out a breath. “Whew! I guess if you could say no to a guy like this, maybe you’re not as interested in boys as I was afraid you might be.”

I thought it better not to explain why I’d said no. Why spoil her break? “That’s not the point, Vicky. Do you remember when you stayed here last summer, and we went out with a group of my friends?”


“Do you remember a guy named Dirk Simon?”

“Um, wait… nerdy guy, showed up out of nowhere when we were at the Mall? I seem to remember you being particular annoyed about that.”

“Right. That’s him.”

“What?” she gasped. “Marsh, there’s no way I’d forget meeting a guy who looked like this. I mean I was crazy about you, but I’d still have noticed.”

“That’s him now,” I explained.

It only took her a moment to get it. “You mean he was changed. He doesn’t go to Piques, does he?”

“No, and he has no recollection of doing an experiment anything like ours.”

“Then how… somebody else doing the same experiment, only without keeping his memory?”

“Maybe,” I conceded. I hadn’t actually thought of that possibility. “Or somehow the same people who changed us got him, too. I mean, with my cousin, I thought I could concoct an explanation. Maybe me being a boy rather than a girl made my aunt and uncle decide for some reason to have another child; it’s a stretch, but at least I can imagine a way for it to happen. But this? Dirk’s the same age as or older than all the victims we know about, and his parents didn’t even live in town when he was born.”

“This sounds like a problem,” she said, slowly. “If they could have changed people who didn’t even volunteer…”

“Exactly. Can you try looking really closely at all the people you know at home and see if anybody else was changed? The more information we can get, the better.”

She promised to look around and we hung up. She also promised to ‘reconsider something’ but wouldn’t explain what it was, only that I would understand next year.

Understand, huh? That was something that I was having a lot of trouble doing right now. I felt like one of those split-personality folks. When I talked about tracking down Professor Davis and company, I felt like my old male self, but… when I got home and headed back to my bedroom, and saw the outfit I had picked out for tonight’s movie date, the girl in me came out again, and I started really looking forward to seeing Jeremy. That was something I was really not ready to share with Vicky, even though I had warned her about it before exams.

The movie was fantastic, and I cannot honestly say how much of it was the movie and how much was spending three hours with Jeremy’s arm around me. He took me out for coffee afterwards, just so we could talk – and have an excuse to spend more time together.

“So,” he said, setting a mocha latte in front of me. “Phyllis says that you were excessively modest when you told me that your sister was the singer in the family.”

How had he remembered that? Of course, I had been talking about my old self, and before I had learned of Marsha’s singing prowess. “Well, she is doing more singing than I am these days. I’m not even in a choir at school,” I told him.

He nodded. “And… will I have a chance to hear you sing this semester?”

His eagerness both pleased and embarrassed me. “I’m going to audition for Sweeney Todd,” I told him, “but I’m probably just going to be in the chorus.”

In his place, I would probably have suggested something like a private recital, next. I waited in vain for him to say it. He even opened his mouth as though he was on the verge on asking, but closed it without saying anything, to my disappointment.

“I don’t know what else to tell you,” I finally said. “I told you I was pre-med, right?” He nodded. “And you know about my acting, and… I do some sewing, too. You know, to help pay for college.”

“That’s unusual, isn’t it? I mean, not a lot of girls do it… um, do they?” He seemed so nervous! I found it kind of cute that he was having trouble talking to me.

“I don’t think a lot of girls do,” I responded, “but I know at least one other on campus. There are probably more. It’s a pretty useful skill to know, but I probably couldn’t make too much if everybody… did it.” I tried to make those last words suggestive and to my delight, he actually blushed slightly in response.

After a moment, I asked, “What about you? I know that you’re an electrical engineer, and Tina says you’re into geology?”

He nodded. “It’s my minor. It started as a hobby; I mean, every little boy likes rocks, right?” He grinned, and I melted. I had to find a way to get him to smile at me like that a lot more. “When I was younger, I got into rock polishing as a hobby. Did you know that there are some very attractive semi-precious stones found in this area?”

Talking about his hobby made him sound a lot more comfortable and confident – and charming. He told me that he’d tried to make jewelry for his mother and his sister from his polished rocks, and how his mother had pretended to be pleased. At some point, I stopped paying careful attention to his words and just enjoyed looking at him and hearing him talk. I think he mentioned a part-time job off campus, although I didn’t catch what he was doing.

He took me home and this time he didn’t hesitate in kissing me good night, and it was a lot better than our first time, but still not what I thought it could be. It didn’t really matter, though. I was feeling decidedly starry-eyed.


  1. von says:

    I like the new plot elements. Marsh is really schizophrenic here, seemingly not catching on to how the findng of the lab and the falling in love really clash (altho I have ideas for that!).

    Dirk’s changing reinforces my earlier points: Marsh (and her parents, etc.) need to see that this is not an isolated thing. Dad needs to talk to Vicki.

    >>It was one of Marsha’s romances, and I was prepared to hate it, but I found it surprisingly engrossing – so much so that I didn’t notice when a boy sat down opposite me.

    Gag. (Von runs off site for a second to throw up and wash his mouth out.)

    Jeremy is learning some about this being a boy on a date thing. Can’t wait to hear his real story.

    I like the plot elements… the writing less so. But the story moves along…

  2. scotts13 says:

    Now that Marsh has fully given in to the Pink Side of the Force, our victory is… I mean, uh, why is she still pre-med? I realize it helps the early flow of the story, but unless s/he’s always been as delusional as she is now, I can’t see it. Marsh is 180 degrees away from the type of personality to be interested – let alone successful – in medical school.

    I enjoy and appreciate there’s a lot going on here, and the plot is advancing; but if this chapter is the result, the author should slow down again. (Sorry) The second date is both more, and less than it should be. If you want to gloss over it (house parties!) that’s fine, but why the repetitive chit-chat about the play and singing? “I went on my date and it was even better than the first; so was the kiss. I’m in love!” Done.

    Oh, and for this episode of As the Stomach Churns: “It was bad enough that I was in her life, why couldn’t I at least have my own preference for what boys I liked?” I’m hoping that was an unsuccessful attempt to be ironically funny, rather than a deliberate attempt at the readers’ digestive systems. If it was supposed to a telling plot point, and/or an incipient gay joke, even worse.

  3. von says:

    Did anyone else notice that Dirk’s *voice* stayed the same??

    I agree pretty much across the board, Scott.

  4. scotts13 says:

    >> Did anyone else notice that Dirk’s *voice* stayed the same??

    Yeah… like a lot of things in fiction, it is because it’s necessary to be. Compared to professional writers, these expediencies are visible a bit more often in Russ’s work; that was not the most obvious one. (Hold in mind, Russ, that MY writing skills don’t hold a candle to yours).

    You can visualize the voice of John Brennan as Mort Goldman of “Family Guy” coming out of Fabio Lanzoni, if it amuses you.

  5. Don says:

    This is kinda like open-source story editing – first drafts are always a bit rough, but we’re here to help polish… 😉

  6. von says:

    yeah. I dunno about Russ, but I love comments on my stories.

  7. Chris says:

    Von, all I can say is keep it up. I’m enjoying the story immensely, I check back a couple of times a day for my fix. …and about your writing, I’ve seen far worse authors that are paid for their work. Nothing to beat yourself up over and I’m certain that as things progress, you’ll become happier with what you turn out.

  8. von says:

    >>and about your writing, I’ve seen far worse authors that are paid for their work. Nothing to beat yourself up over and I’m certain that as things progress, you’ll become happier with what you turn out.

    Well, thank you. Which of my books have you read? I love writing, and my kids love hearing me read my books, so we are all pretty happy with it… publishing is just icing on the cake.

  9. Arariel says:

    >>“I’d tell you that you were talking to somebody in the wrong department. If anybody ever comes up with a serious time travel experiment it would be some in physics, not chemistry. Or…” he added, nodding at me, “biology.”
    Or…” he added, nodding at me, “biology.”
    This is an extremely subtle hint, that I almost didn’t catch. It looks like things are going to get awkward.(I mean even more so)

  10. von says:

    >>it would be some in physics

    and a typo nobody caught, apparently. “someone”

  11. Arariel says:

    I had thought that Dirk said biology because he was trying to provoke a response that would tell him whether or not Marsh had been a boy or not. If he did undergo the same experiment it would make sense that he wouldn’t say anything that would give him away. His life is a lot better with the change. I guess I’m just looking into this a bit to much.

  12. April says:

    I could boy-watch! It wasn’t quite the same as my old pastime of girl watching <- Either dash it up, or don't. 😉

    Hägen Daz <- Häagen-Dazs

    mis-delivered <- I usually see this without a dash

    I told him, “but I’m probably just going to be in the chorus. <- missing quote

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