106 Talking It Out

Mom came back just as I started mixing the flour and baking soda. “Go talk to your sister,” she said.

“She’s not talking to me, Mom,” I pointed out. “I thought you were going to find out what was wrong.”

“Go talk to her,” she repeated. “Or better yet, go listen to her. She’ll talk if you let her, but don’t push.” When I hesitated, she added, “Go now.” So I went.

I knocked on Tina’s door. “Teen? May I come in?”

All I heard in return was a grunt through the door, which I took to mean, “yes,” so I pushed it open to find Tina sitting at her desk with her back to me. She didn’t say anything, so I sat on her bed and waited. And waited.

Finally, she muttered, “It’s like I’m losing my sister all over again.”

“Wh-what?” I managed.

“I thought it was all set,” she said, bitterly. “I thought we’d worked it all out. You couldn’t change back, and it looked like you were OK with that. It was a secret that you and I shared – well, shared with Chad, and maybe one or two of your friends. You were really comfortable as a girl, you had a great boyfriend… as far as Mom and Dad were concerned, you were Marsha. And now this.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, cautiously.

“Well, now Mom and Dad know, and it’s not a secret anymore, and Daddy’s starting to treat you differently. You’re acting differently. And… now apparently there’s this lab thing, after all.”

“Tina…” I started, but she cut me off.

“So I guess one night I’ll just go to sleep and not wake up, is that how it will work?” She wasn’t crying – quite. But she definitely seemed to be on the verge.

“Teen, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t what we’ll find when we get into the lab; if we get into the lab.”

“But you’re still planning on changing back, aren’t you? I mean you did say you were only promising me as far as Christmas, and we’re past that now, so I shouldn’t complain, right?”

I got up and tried to put my arms around her, but she pushed me away. “I thought you were happy!” she cried. “I did everything I could do! Why don’t you want to stay this way? Why do you have to change everything?”

“Teen,” I said, unsure where to put my hands now that she wasn’t accepting a hug, “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I just don’t know.”

“So you might stay this way?” she asked in a little girl voice.

“I…” I started. Then I looked into my sister’s hopeful, trusting eyes. What was the best thing to tell her? Saying I would stay a girl would make her happy, and it might be true – but saying that was what I intended would be a lie. “It’s… not impossible,” I finally told her.

“OK,” she said.

“OK?” I asked.

“OK,” she insisted. I knew what she wanted to believe, and I don’t think either of us wanted to pursue the matter too closely just now. It mean, though, that we sort of agreeing to lie to each other, or at least play make-believe. Or something. It seemed a pretty rotten way to leave things, though. I just didn’t have any better answers. At least she let me hug her at the end.

Then she asked, “Is everything going to be different, now? Are you still going to call me regularly?”

“Of course, Teen,” I answered, a bit surprised. “After all, we are–” then I hesitated before continuing, “we are sisters,” at least for now, “and sisters should talk regularly.”

Tina acted as though that was the end of it. When Jeremy came to pick me up, she greeted him as though nothing was wrong. Mom went along with things, too, but Dad… well… after greeting Jeremy and loading my bags into the car for me, Dad told Jeremy, “Take care of my little…” then he stopped himself, looked at me and then back at Jeremy. “I– I mean, drive carefully.” He looked as though he wanted to kiss me on the forehead, hesitated, and then leaned over and kissed me on the cheek, while I put my arms around him and kissed him back.

I didn’t think Jeremy would notice, but a few minutes after we left, he looked over at me and asked, “Is something going on between you and your Dad?”

I shrugged. Fortunately, I had thought about this earlier. “He’s dealing with the idea that I’m no longer his ‘little girl’ is all.”

“Hmm,” he responded. “Phyllis broke my Dad of that idea a few years ago. I guess it was time, for him. It’s really silly that he would still think of you as a little girl, under the circumstances, right?”

And really, how could I disagree?

Jeremy walked me to my dorm room carrying both of our suitcases. I could swear there are two people inside my head, because I found his ability to do that incredibly sexy, even while aware that I could have done the same thing just a few months and one reality change ago.

The hallway wasn’t as busy this time as it had been after midterm break; the only ones I saw were Lisa and Sheila, who stopped talking and stared at us. It embarrassed me to the point that I couldn’t bring myself to introduce Jeremy to them. He looked at me curiously, but I just swept passed them and led him to my door.

When we went in, my roommates were already there in the living room talking with a redheaded girl and they stopped and stared, too. I couldn’t just ignore them, of course, but all I managed was, “Hi, guys. This is Jeremy,” as I fled for the safety of my bedroom before they could react. Jeremy followed and I closed the door after us.

“Is something wrong?” he asked with a wry smile.

“No, I’m just… well, I guess everybody was surprised to see me with a boy. That’s all. Um… I know you’re not going to kiss me in front of the girls.” With the door safely closed, I threw my arms around his neck and give him a long kiss, which he returned, eagerly.

After a moment, he gently pulled himself away. “I really do need to get back to my room,” he said. Disappointed, I opened my bedroom door, and we walked hand-in-hand back past my staring roommates back to the front door.

“Thank you,” I said, really wishing I could kiss him again.

He glanced at the girls, and I hoped he was thinking the same thing. “Um, my pleasure.” He licked his lips, but only turned to them and said, “Nice meeting you” before turning back to me. “Bye, Marsh.” He said, opened the door, and left. I closed the door behind him and turned to face the interrogation.

“What? Who was that?” Terry demanded.

“’Jeremy’?” asked Lee Ann at the same time. “Did you say his name was Jeremy? The one you were crying about a few weeks ago?”

The redhead just looked confused. I glanced at her while I tried to collect my thoughts, and then with a jolt I realized that she looked very familiar. I forced a laugh. “We sort of… well, it was all a big misunderstanding.”

Of course, that just brought more questions. “What kind of misunderstanding?” “What happened to his girlfriend?” “How did you figure it out?”

My head was spinning, and amidst it all, I was increasingly sure I’d seen the redhead before. She might well have stuck in my mind; her hazel eyes hinted at knowledge of some secret, and her smiling lips suggested that it was an amusing one. I could easily have glimpsed her somewhere on campus.

She spoke up before I could answer any of the questions. “I don’t want to get into your private affairs, Marsh. “I was just hoping for a quick fitting. Your roommates said you wouldn’t mind.” She held a navy jumper up against herself. “This turned out so well, and Mom found two more of her old dresses for me, and I was hoping you could do the same thing to them.

“Wait!” Lee Ann exclaimed. “Celeste, that was before we knew she had something we wanted to know about.” She turned to me. “Marsh, you can’t just leave us hanging!”

“I’ll be really fast,” I promised, glad to be able to put off the explanation for another few minutes. “Come on, Celeste!” I led her into my room, trying to calm myself.

But I couldn’t. I’d recognized the jumper, as well. It wasn’t exactly a jumper, at least not the way I had learned to think of them. It was sort of a mini-dress/jumper, and I could imagine how cute Celeste must have looked in it. That had to be why I’d noticed her.

With the door closed, she quickly stripped off her outer garments and donned the first of the dresses. It was obvious why her mother had been willing to surrender them; they were decades out of style. Still, there was something intriguing about their structure, and seeing what Marsha had done for the first one gave me some ideas on how I could update the other two. Some pretty radical surgery would be needed, but I had Marsha’s dexterity, didn’t I? If I got stuck, I could always ask Nikki for help.

“I was so afraid you’d have forgotten me, what with my taking the semester off,” she said as I pinned the second dress on her.”

“How could I forget you?” I temporized. She took the semester off? That’s significant, somehow, I thought.

“Thanks,” she said. “It’ll be the same price as for the first one, right?”

“Um, sure,” I said. Marsha’s bookkeeping had been impeccable, and I’d followed her pattern. That meant that I might be able to find this girl’s information – there couldn’t be that many girls here with the same first name, and this kind of work would be unusual. Still… “But I’ll have to see if I have last year’s records. Why don’t you give me your number again, just in case?”

I walked my customer out past my impatient roommates and said goodbye before returning to face them. “So what did you want to know?” I asked, sitting down on the space on the couch recently vacated by Celeste. Actually, it was kind of exciting to be sharing my news with the girls.

“What happened with his old girlfriend?!” Terry almost shrieked.

“She’s just a friend,” I laughed. “I’d worked myself up for nothing. Not only wasn’t she his girlfriend, she’d been trying to fix him up, and if she’d known who I was when we met in the bathroom, she would have jumped at the chance to push us together.”

And then suddenly something struck me. Jumped reminded me of jumper, and that reminded me of Celeste and the dress Marsha had made for her. I was sure I’d seen her wearing it, but where?

“She sounds almost too nice,” Lee Ann suggested. “Are you sure this guy isn’t just leading you on?”

“I’m sure,” I said confidently, trying to put the question of Celeste aside. “Well, I wasn’t, before my sister forced me to go out with him.”

“She forced you?” Lee Ann asked, jumping on my words.

“Well,” I explained, “it turns out that she and his sister are friends, and they thought we would be good together. It wasn’t just a coincidence, our meeting. And then I sort of promised her that I’d say yes to the next guy who asked me out, and the two of them got Jeremy to call and I had to accept even though I figured he didn’t want to, but we went out and realized what was happening.”

My mouth seemed to be just running off on its own now, because my subconscious wouldn’t let me drop the Celeste issue. There was something wrong with my memory, but I couldn’t figure out what.

“So where did you go on this date?” Terry wanted to know.

“Wait!” Lee Ann said. “Didn’t Geoff ask you out?”

“Um, technically, no. He sort of got close to asking, but never actually asked.” Fortunately. “We actually went dancing, Terry. Swing dancing! And he’s really good at it.”

Dancing, I realized. I had a clear picture of Celeste dancing in that jumper/mini-dress thing. So why did it feel wrong?

“And afterwards?” Terry insisted.

Afterwards? I don’t remember seeing Celeste after the dance… Wait, I’m getting confused. “Oh! Um, well, we went dancing at a restaurant and ran into a bunch of my friends.  And they liked him and were happy for me.”

“And afterwards?” Terry repeated.

“Oh.” I turned red as I realized what she was actually asking. “Um, we kissed.” I saw Terry roll her eyes. “It was very nice… and it got better on our second date,” I added hurriedly. “And, on our third date we made out in the back seat of his car.” I remembered what that had been like, my first as a girl actually cuddling with a guy. I had no complaints, even if it had been a bit tame by my old standards.

And then it hit me what was wrong with my memory of Celeste. She hadn’t been here last semester, so I had to have seen her freshman year, when I was still Marshall. But how could I, as Marshall, remember her wearing something that Marsha had sewn? That was impossible!

“So you’ve been out a few times, then?” Lee Ann observed. “What’s he like?” And looking at Terry, she added, “and I don’t mean just physically.”

“Oh!” I said, now seriously distracted by the impossibility of my memory. “Um, well, he’s an engineer, and he’s extremely logical, but kind of shy… and he’s artistic. He made me this pin. And he was really sweet about giving it to me…”

Terry was rolling her eyes again. “Omigosh, he sounds like he’s still in middle school. He made you jewelry? Didn’t get past kissing until the third date?”

“He sounds very nice, Marsh,” Lee Ann said, glaring at Terry. “And just your speed. Some of us have things other than sex on our minds.”

Yeah, and what is on my mind at the moment is impossible memories. What was worrying me was that there actually was an explanation – I just didn’t like it.

“I’m sure he’s interested in me… that way,” I protested. “It’s just… we’re taking it slowly. I… don’t think he’s actually dated a lot. But he’s a fast learner! I’m not complaining. Um… in acting, we say, ‘always leave them wanting more.’ And he does. That’s better than me being bored with him, isn’t it? Or him with me?”

“Marsh, you don’t need to defend yourself – or him. Terry and I are very happy for you. You’re glowing, girl! I think he really is good for you. Right, Terry?”

Terry smiled. “Yeah, I didn’t mean to run him down, Marsh. I’m glad you found somebody.”

They did pry for more details, which I tried to supply, even as I tried to deal with the implications of my memory of Celeste. It couldn’t be mine; it had to be Marsha’s memory, which I really really didn’t want to believe. Maybe… maybe in the old time line, Celeste had gone to Nikki for the work instead? And Nikki had just happened to do it exactly the way Marsha did in this time line? Then I could have seen Celeste in it while I was Marshall. It was a real stretch, and I was having a hard time convincing myself that it was possible.

Firmly, I resolved not to think of it, while distracting myself with the details of how I was going to proceed with Celeste’s alterations. I’d come up with what I thought was a reasonable plan when my phone rang.

“Eric!” I answered, seeing his name on the display. “When are we going to see the lab?” That was a much safer thing to focus on just now.

“Well, Martin won’t be getting in until late, so we figured we’d meet tomorrow evening, around midnight at my dorm room and then head over to the Physics building.  It should be pretty empty by then, since it’s the start of the semester. I assume you and Vicky will both be coming?”

“Yes. Does Martin have a key?”

“No,” Eric said. “He said he was going to see if there’s any way to get one, but for now, all we may be able to do is see where the lab is – or was. One of us is going to need to learn how to pick locks, probably.”

“Actually, I think I know somebody who can help. You don’t mind if I bring somebody else in, do you?”

“If it’ll get us in sooner, no problem. That’ll be five of us, which is probably still manageable.”

“OK, great.” I said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

So that was one step closer to figuring this whole thing out – and now I needed to get it figured out even more urgently. The alternative explanation – that Nikki or somebody else had done the same alterations as Marsha had – made no sense; clearly, I now had a memory in my head that wasn’t mine, and didn’t belong there. And if Marsha’s memories were suddenly in my head… what if they started replacing my own? I’d lost my body in favor of hers, my skills, my history – all that was left of me was my memories. If I lost those…

“Actually, I think I know somebody who can help. You don’t mind if I bring somebody else in, do you?”
“If it’ll get us in sooner, no problem. That’ll be five of us, which is probably still manageable.”
“OK, great.” I said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
So that was one step closer to figuring this whole thing out – and now I needed to get it figured out even more urgently. The alternative explanation &emdash; that Nikki or somebody else had done the same alterations as Marsha had &emdash; made no sense; clearly, I now had a memory in my head that wasn’t mine, and didn’t belong there. And if Marsha’s memories were suddenly in my head… what if they started replacing my own?


  1. von says:

    hmmmm. intersting.

  2. scotts13 says:

    You know, there’s something about Tina that’s been bothering me for a long time; and this chapter brings it up again. Let me see if I can express it intelligibly: Maybe it’s an accurate portrayal of the acceptance of the young, but she seems to have “bought” Marsh’s situation too completely. Not in the sense that she might not have believed her; more that she acts as though she had actually seen different Marshes. Rationally, Marsh is the sister she’s always been, she’s just been acting funny and telling an odd tale. Yet Tina uses phrases like “change back” as though she expects to be aware of a physical transformation. I’d have expected her to say something more along the lines of “Why do you want to be a boy?” It’s a subtle thing, but to me it’s not quite right. Anyone else see that?

    In other news, “’OK,’ she said.” inescapably reminds me of Sigourney Weaver as Planet Express Ship: “Oh, I would dearly love to believe that were true. So I do!”

    And Marsh? You just keep telling yourself Celeste sticks in your mind because of a tailoring job. Yeah, THAT’S the ticket…

  3. von says:


    I, on the other hand, am still amazed that no one pities poor Marsha… having her existence wiped out, or transformed, or whatever. That’s what I miss in Tina (and Mom, and Dad, and Marshall, for that matter).

    (this comment is from the real von, and not the imitation)

  4. von says:

    >>“Eric!” I answered, seeing his name on the display. “When are we going to see the lab?” That was a much safer thing to focus on just now.

    Ummmm… no. The last thing he was thinking about was Celeste’s alterations… how is that ‘unsafe’?

  5. scotts13 says:

    >> Ummmm… no. The last thing he was thinking about was Celeste’s alterations… how is that ‘unsafe’?

    As opposed to thinking about how he happens to have Marsha’s memories.

    (GRIN) It may be that Marsh could, by simply sitting down and THINKING, and examining his own memories in detail, might break the mental logjam and figure out who he really is (and not like it). Fortunately, from what we’ve seen he’s safe from such thought-related disasters.

  6. von says:

    Or try a series of thot experiments… Can I remember this? Can I remember that?

    but, as you say…

  7. Andjety says:

    Based upon the descriptions of what is and what is not affected by the time disturbance, the brain physically would be like the body and be Marsha’s and the brain contains memory storage. Since the machine was ‘revealed’ to copy memories, then I my guess is that a good way to describe the situation on an individual perspective is there is no Marshall, there is only Marsha who has been given amnesia and Marshall’s memories.

    Also no school can perform such a cover up the national government would need to be involved as they want both the technology and to keep such potentially dangerous technology out of the hands of their enemies, which means a government agent could come in later to deal with various ‘irregularities’.

  8. von says:

    sounds like Andjety needs to read my book 🙂

  9. Jeff says:

    Well this stinks, I reached the end and have to wait for normal updates 🙁

  10. Andjety says:

    Your book von?

  11. von says:

    Scrabbled (http://www.vonsbooks.com/home/science-ficton/scrabble). It started as a take-off of Russ’s book. However after a dozen chapters or so I got interested in the book for its own sake, and finished it off, along with some of the next book. It still needs lots of editing, especially since I shifted gears in the middle of the book… so the ending doesn’t quite match the beginning.

    In re you comment my book involves the federal government being very involved in trying to figure out what happened, and arrest/isolate the people involved.

  12. Jeff says:

    Von, are you working with Russ on that? Its practically the same story. I don’t know who started it, but they are basically the same thing so far.

  13. Russ says:

    Jeff, he liked my story, but wanted to try taking it another way, so he wrote his own version. In his first take, he actually used my characters’ names, but another commenter suggested that he make up his own.

  14. Jeff says:

    Oh that’s cool. I thought maybe you two were just tossing ideas for a book back and forth or were using each other as a reference or something.

    It’s fun to read his now that I have read up to 106 on yours. It gives it a new feel, like a really good cover of a song.

  15. von says:

    Not sure how far ‘so far’ is, but as ‘Marsh’ get’s married in, like, the twelth chapter or so, they seem a bit different to me 🙂

    Some important, and intentional, differences:
    1) The government takes an active role in opposition
    2) ‘Jeremy’ is the villan of the piece
    3) The parents are told right away, and take an active role
    4) “Marsh’ gets found out by his roomates

    And many other differences that go on from there.

  16. Wei-Hwa Huang says:

    “Nikki” is misspelled as “Nicki” at least once…

  17. Russ says:

    Thanks – fixed.

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