107 Perpetual Anticipation is Hard for the Heart

The second semester of Organic Chemistry was in the same lecture hall at the same time, and when I took my usual seat, Geoff was already there. He took my news better than I had expected.

“Jeremy?” he asked, his face falling. Then he shook his head and smiled. “Well… that’s just great. I mean it, Marsha. I remember how unhappy you were at the dance. I’m glad that things worked out for you.”

“Thank you, Geoff. I’m sorry that–”

“Not a problem,” he forestalled me. “I’m learning my lesson, and I’ll just look elsewhere.”

If only all of my relationships could be so easy! Vicky, at least, seemed to be in a good mood. I called her after Spanish class to tell her about the midnight meeting and suggest that she come over to my dorm a bit early so we could walk to Eric’s room together. She not only agreed, but also suggested meeting in the early afternoon after classes, just to catch up without time pressures.

When she sat down next to me at the Grill, she was positively gushing. “I just can’t believe we’re this close!”

“Well, all we know is – probably – the location of the lab,” I pointed out. “We have no idea what we’ll find inside.”

“I know,” she agreed, “but even that is so much closer than any of the Strangers had gotten. And even more important,” she said, placing her hand on my arm, “is that you’re working to make it happen.” She shook her head. “I should have known you wouldn’t want to stay like this, that you could never be comfortable like this. I’m really sorry, Marsh.”

“Don’t mention it,” I told her quietly, wondering how I was going to explain Jeremy now.

“I have to,” she insisted. “I really gave you a hard time last year. But after you called me and told me about the lab, I realized how wrong I’d been. I mean, really. I should have known better.”

Suddenly, I wished I weren’t wearing the pin Jeremy had made for me. I must have tried to cover it up surreptitiously, because she suddenly did notice it.

“Is that new?” she asked, pointing to it. When I nodded, she persisted. “That’s kind of unique. Where did you get it?”

“It was a present,” I answered, vaguely. I should have known it wouldn’t put her off.

“… From?”

I hesitated before answering. “Jeremy.”

“Jeremy?” she repeated, confused. “I don’t remember…” Then her face went white. “Wait. Jeremy? That’s not… are you dating a boy, Marsh?”

I started to look away, but changed my mind and looked her in the eye. “Yes, I am. As you said last month, I have needs – and they weren’t being met.”

She stared back at me for a moment before sneering, “That’s disgusting. I cannot believe that you’re sleeping with a boy.”

“I’m not! At least… we’ve only had three dates so far.”

“You and I slept together on our second date,” she reminded me, acerbically.

I squirmed. “Well, Jeremy isn’t as forward as I was – and I’m not as forward as you were.”

“So how far did you go?” she demanded.

This was definitely getting out of comfortable ground for me, but I didn’t know how to forestall her. “Well… I sat on his lap and we kissed.”

This time, her stare seemed to go on for ages. “That’s it?” Embarrassed, I nodded. “And that’s what you call, ‘getting your needs met’?” She exclaimed. I cringed in response. “You’re in love with this boy, aren’t you?” she asked. “Or at least you think you are.” She shook her head. “Oh, Marsh, I see what’s going on. It’s the hormones. You’re not used to them and this… it’s really not your fault. But we need to get you back to your real self fast, or who knows what will happen?”

Before I could reply, her phone rang. “Hey, babe!” she said. “No, I’m with my girlfriend… well I figured a few minutes would be OK… no, of course not… I suppose… OK…” I saw her wince and add in a more subdued tone, “I’ll meet you there in ten minutes.”

“Kevin?” I asked.

She nodded. “I need to go. I was supposed to see him right after my classes were over, but I didn’t think it would be a problem to talk with you first.” She laughed, but it sounded forced. “Sometimes he’s just so needy!”

If she hadn’t run out so quickly, I would have… what? She wanted to believe that I couldn’t really be attracted to boys, that I was just being buffeted my hormonal responses, but was it really more true for me than anybody else?  I didn’t think so. I wasn’t really sure what I would have said; besides, if it made her happy to think that my feelings for Jeremy weren’t real, it was probably better to let her believe that for now. It would only be better for our relationship if I changed back, after all.

I shrugged and finished my soda, then called Jeremy as I left. The way my heart pounded when I talked to him – even though we weren’t together or discussing anything important – felt just as real as the feelings I’d had for Vicky. That was something else I wasn’t about to share.

By eleven-thirty that evening, I had finished all of my homework and made good progress on my sewing jobs, so I went into the living room with a book to wait for Vicky. Lee Ann looked up in surprise when I sat down on the couch.

“Well this is new. Did you want a turn?” she asked, indicating the Wii attached to the TV?

“No,” I told her. “I’m actually going out in a bit with Vicky, and I’m just waiting for her.”

“Vicky? Oh.” She put down the controller. “What’s her problem, anyway? I can’t think of anything I might have done to her, but she sure doesn’t seem to like me much.”

I almost choked. For some reason, I had assumed Lee Ann wouldn’t notice, and Vicky’s problem had nothing to do with this time line, anyway. “She… blames you for being too friendly with a boy she liked,” was the best I could come up with.

Lee Ann furrowed her brow. “You’ve got to be kidding,” she said. “This is over me being friendly with a boy?”

“Well… it was really the boy’s fault for neglecting her. But she blames you.”

She sighed. “Well, no offense, but that’s really dumb.”

She returned to her game, and I started getting into my book – or, I should say, one of Marsha’s romance novels. I’d underestimated them; they were a lot more enjoyable than I had realized. Of course, they were a bit silly, but sometimes silly could be fun, too. In any event, it wasn’t a big deal to put it down and answer the door when Vicky knocked.

“Ready to go, Marsh?” she asked.

“It’s a bit early, yet,” I told her. “Come sit down for a few minutes. I don’t want to get to Eric’s place too soon.”

She came in and took off her coat but then stopped when she saw Lee Ann, and looked tentatively toward me.

“Sit,” I insisted, sliding over and patting the couch between me and my roommate, who had put down her game controller again.

“I’m not going to bite, you know,” Lee Ann promised.

Vicky sat very tentatively, and suddenly I noticed that she was holding her head in a very odd position, tilted so that so almost seemed to be looking at Lee Ann’s feet, but with her neck very stiff.

“Is something wrong?” I asked.

“No,” Vicky answered, sounding a bit strained. “Um… I need to use the bathroom!” and she jumped right back up and ran there.

“What happened to her?” Lee Ann asked, looking concerned.

“What do you mean?” I responded, a bit confused.

“Her eye, Marsh. Her left eye. The one she was trying to hide? Take a close look when she comes back.”

So I watched carefully when Vicky came back from the bathroom, still holding her face oddly, and now I could tell that she was indeed turning so that her left eye was away from me. “Why don’t we just go now?” she suggested, looking away from Lee Ann. “I’m sure Eric won’t mind.”

Well, making peace between my friend and my roommate was obviously going to wait. Besides, now I had a minor mystery to explore. What was going on with Vicky? I grabbed my coat and followed her out the door, saying good bye to Lee Ann. Vicky, I noticed, made it a point to walk to my left down the hallway, making it hard for me to see the eye in question.

I had a suspicion about what she was hiding, and waited until we were on a path, about to pass an overhead light before asking, “What’s wrong, Vicky?”

Surprised, she stopped and started to face me, but snapped her face forward again. “What makes you think something’s wrong?”

I reach up with my right hand and turned her chin toward me. “Because you’re hiding something,” I said. When she tried to pull away, I grabbed the top of her head with my other hand. She freed herself after a few seconds, but I saw what I had expected.

“You’ve got a lot of extra makeup on your left eye, Vix. You have a black eye, don’t you?”

She froze. “I… well, I told you how clumsy I’ve been lately… I sort of fell and hit my eye on a doorknob.”

I put my hands on my hips. “Don’t give me that. I’ve read about that excuse, Vix. Kevin hit you, didn’t he?” She opened her mouth and closed it, and then something clicked. Those times last month when she’d claimed to have injured herself – Kevin had been with her then as well. “And it’s not the first time, either, is it?”

“He… he didn’t mean to,” she protested.

“Didn’t mean to?” I echoed, incredulous.

“I just make him mad, sometimes,” she whined, wringing her hands. “And he can’t help himself. But he always says he’s sorry, after.”

“Vicky, are you out of your mind? He’s abusing you!”

“No… he’s just…”

“Did I ever hit you? Did any of your other boyfriends ever hit you?”

“Not you, no…”

“Well, then…”

“But my other boyfriends…”

“Wait. What?! You never told me that!”

Her shoulders fell. “I was afraid… You were always so nice to me. I was afraid if I said something… you’d start hitting me, too. But you never did.” In the overhead light, I saw her eyes start to tear up. “It’s my fault that he hits me. That all of them hit me. You should have, too.”

I put my arms around her. “Vicky, it’s not your fault. He’s a creep. And any guy who ever hit you was a creep, too.” I moved so I could look into her eyes. “You have to leave him, Vix. You deserve better.”

“I can’t,” she whimpered. “I don’t want to be alone.”

“There are plenty of guys–”

“No, there aren’t,” she insisted. “There’s like four guys for every six girls here, and half of those guys are taken, and half of what’s left are jerks – much worse than Kevin – and then it’s like the four girls are all competing for the one guy… and how did you wind up with him?!”

“Uh–” I stammered.

“So I settle,” she concluded, bitterly. “It’s better than being alone. I had a nice guy, once. One guy in my whole life who was kind and never hurt me… and then she flirted with you and you lost interest. It figures. And now look at you.” She sighed, heavily. “That’s why you have to change back, Marsh. I need you. Jeremy can always find another girl; there’s plenty. But I need you.”

I didn’t really know what to say. Over the past few months, I’d come to see some real problems with myself as a boyfriend, and it had been hard to understand why Vicky had been so positive. We’d never really talked about the guys she’d dated before me. I was outraged on her behalf. She deserved better!

“Vicky,” I said. “If this works… if we really do track down the people in charge of this experiment…” I didn’t think there was any need to say anything more. I hadn’t told her about my memories, but if what I thought was happening… I didn’t really have a choice. I suddenly felt really guilty about enjoying my time as a girl, my time with Jeremy. It was all a lie, really. Jeremy deserved better. Vicky deserved better.

“Well, anyway,” I finished, awkwardly, easing myself out of the embrace. “Let’s go and see what there is to see.”

Eric opened the door when we knocked and introduced us to Stan, who had gotten there before us. Stan was tall and slender, with a wispy beard and a ski jacket that looked as if it had been in his family for at least three generations. Vicky shot me a glance that I interpreted as classing him among the boys simply not dateable; whatever sense girls had that warranted such a judgment, I had clearly not picked up as yet.

I didn’t want him to notice, so as we left Eric’s room, I asked, “Is this going to be hard, do you think? I mean picking the lock?

He laughed. “The school has so many locks, they go cheap. I don’t think they spend more than about $10 on any of them, and they’re all one of three types. Now, technically, most of us don’t actually pick locks most of the time. We bump them.”

“Bump?” Eric echoed.

“Yeah – now you’re a physics major, so you’ll probably find this kind of interesting. You know how locks work, with two sets of pins?”

I don’t,” put in Vicky.

So he explained some of the basics of locks – or at least the type most of us use. I can’t say that I followed it all, but the point seemed to be that if you could just hit the pins in a certain way, they would clear the region between the cylinder and the body of the lock and allow it to turn.

“To do this,” he concluded, just before we reached the physics building, “you use a specially made bump key, which allows you to impart a force to the pins all at once. I have one for each of the types the buildings authority uses. It shouldn’t take me more than about five minutes to get through the door.”

Eric got us through the front door of the physics building by using his key. “Martin will be meeting us inside,” he said, holding it open for us. “Oh, there he is.” He introduced us. “Martin Chang, this is Marsha Steen, Vicky Gordon, and Stan Warrick.”

We exchanged hellos and Martin led us up the stairs and down a couple of hallways. Now that we had a guide, I was able to convince myself that the path seemed familiar; of course, my weeks of roaming the halls of this building could well have tampered with my recollection. No matter. After more than two months, we were finally going to see the lab!


  1. von says:

    Ummm…. OK

    I am disappointed over the the thing with Vikki… had hoped it would move the mainline along, and make her more sympathetic. Kind of liked the detail with the key. Wondering who these new guys are.

    Sad for Geoff.

  2. v0n says:

    Sorry for the double post, but I also didn’t like how Vicki explained the whole abuse thing. It didn’t seem sincere and was glossed over pretty quickly compared to some of the other situations where detail is extensive. This is a big moment for her, and it’s a shame it was so plainly told.

    Also, she is dumb. There is no shame in not being with somebody, and it’s better to be a free bird than a beaten slave. Anyone would know that. It explains why she’s so clingy to Marshall, but this just shows she’s either dumb or crazy.

  3. von says:

    Actually, I usually say ‘edited to add’ instead of ‘sorry for the double post’.

    They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I suppose I should be thankful for the imitator.

    It is a bit odd how easily Vicki tells about the abuse. As I didn’t really think the whole abuse thing fit well in the story I didn’t focus on it. However his second point misses, I think, a good deal of the point. People who are prone to abuse are, often, people who have a particular need for a relationship, any relationship, no matter how bad. That is part of the overall pattern; and much of what makes them vulnerable to the abuse in the first place.

    The real Von

    (I’m getting tempted to post as Sc0tt 🙂 )

  4. scotts13 says:

    Marsh is clearly gripping the idiot ball in wearing the pin. She knew where she was going, knew who she was seeing, and certainly should have known she’d be asked about it. Pretty easy to anticipate the reaction, too. That’s OK, we’re used to that – element? – of her personality. The question is, is the following conversation more ineptitude, or a nastiness we haven’t seen before?

    Throwing back the “needs aren’t being met” line is pretty mean; “I’m not as forward as you were” twists the knife. Continuing on with a detailed description of how far they went swings back to stupid. Either they haven’t invented the white lie in the Lemon universe, or she really doesn’t care about Vicky’s feelings at all.

    “something else I wasn’t about to share…” Else? She’d already blabbed everything, and in the most hurtful way she could. Grrr.

    Vicky’s later revelation disturbs me. It does explain her slightly too-desperate attachment to Marsh, but the way it’s introduced in this chapter feel hastily tacked on. She’s know Marsh a long time, and if she so easily spills the secret now, why didn’t it happen before? I’ve know domestic abuse victims personally, and they hold onto their cover stories like grim death – in the face of logic, evidence, police reports, anything. Getting an admission like this would normally require a huge breakthrough.

    Further, I have just a little trouble believing a modern college-age woman would allow herself to fall into a pattern like that. I doubt I’ve gone 24 hours (in the last couple of decades) without hearing a public service message about domestic abuse.

    And von, I know you were kidding, but leave my screen name alone! I’ve been using it for almost 25 years, and I thought I’d finally seen the last of the copycats…

  5. von says:

    >>Further, I have just a little trouble believing a modern college-age woman would allow herself to fall into a pattern like that.

    Well Scott, or Sc0tt, or whoever you are 😉 I’m afraid I have to differ here. I work in an emergency room and it is amazing what a ‘modern college woman’ falls into. Our society is so bankrupt in so many ways that I don’t think this is even particularly noteworthy.

    However many of your other points are well taken. My biggest dissapointment, tho, is that this sub-story really doesn’t seem to mesh well with the main story. For one thing, it kind of seriousifies it… and TAL was working best for me as a light, soap operaish story… since it stopped being sci-fi. Abused women don’t work themselves well into light soap opera. And as far as whatever is supposed to be the main tension… well… it further muddies the waters.

    Is this supposed to increase Marsh’s desire to transform ‘back’? Certainly his relationship with Vicki, assuming he resumes it, will never be what it was. It will now have a lot of huge negative baggage. Vicki has just proved herself a very, very unlikely candidate for a good long term (ie marriage) relationship. And certainly any kind of short term relationship (ie just sex) would be a mere taking advantage, no? So what is really left? A short term, celibate, counseling until I drop you relationship?

  6. von says:

    >>she asked, indicating the Wii attached to the TV?

    kill the second question mark.

  7. scotts13 says:

    Von, you’re probably right… on reflection, those public service announcements we keep hearing must be there for a reason. I’d LIKE to believe that kind of oppression was limited to prior decades, or to uneducated women who grew up in prior decades. And based on the college-age women I know these days, it might be – but still.

    You’re also right about a somber note to a light story. I’m assuming this revelation about Vicky is going to be a major plot point; but if it turns out to be just set-dressing, then ugh.

  8. von says:

    >>I’d LIKE to believe that kind of oppression was limited to prior decades, or to uneducated women who grew up in prior decades.

    Yeah, like our modern society would *like* to believe that fourteen year old girls getting pregnant is limited to the FLDS and historical novels.

    Relationship ‘abuse’ is inherent in the very existence of relationships. Every good thing, merely by existing, must by that very fact be capable of ‘abuse’. It is only modern nonsensical philosophy which assumes otherwise.

  9. Jeff says:

    Scotts13 – My sister was in an abusive relationship. Her boyfriend kidnapped her and my (at the time) 2 month old niece, and crashed their car doing over 100. I almost lost both my sister and her daughter to a car accident. he had been hitting her, screaming at her, and telling her how worthless she was. Even after he went to jail the threats from family of his and friends kept coming. It was a nightmare that plagues us to this day.

    My sister is living proof that abuse still happens to this day. Its a but far of a stretch for you to boldly state that NO GIRLS in college get abused like this. It happens. It is not easy to undue the damage dealt by these scum bags. They come out broken, and alone. They do feel like they are worthless, and the abuser makes them believe it. Its all about control.

    Personally I believe this writing as it was. Vikki was in NO WAY ready to spill the entire story, and only admitted what she did because she was caught. She downplayed it (just like my sister did) and avoided the topic. She might not have fully opened up, she might have. The fact that she is so desperate to get Male Marsh back is because she feels that he is the only man who won’t hit her, because she still believes that she deserves what she got.

    However it was meant, it came out meaning much the same. If you push too hard on these people they will just reject you or shut down completely. Still plenty of room to cover that topic in my opinion.

  10. scotts13 says:

    >>Scotts13 – My sister was in an abusive relationship. Her boyfriend kidnapped her and my (at the >>time) 2 month old niece, and crashed their car doing over 100. I almost lost both my sister and her >>daughter to a car accident. he had been hitting her, screaming at her, and telling her how >>worthless she was. Even after he went to jail the threats from family of his and friends kept >>coming. It was a nightmare that plagues us to this day.

    Not to be argumentative, but that’s a bit of a different situation – violent criminal, kidnapping, etc. The fictional situation in the story – a young woman who apparently allows herself to be beaten by a series of boyfriends – is a bit harder to swallow. Not unbelievable; there are a fair number of disturbed individuals out there. I’m just surprised she could appear to function normally in a modern college environment (or at least she did, until now.) Still, point made; I’ll await developments in the story.

  11. BMeph says:

    scotts13: “I’d LIKE to believe that kind of oppression was limited to prior decades, or to uneducated women who grew up in prior decades.” – since it’s been documented as early as the 1960’s that the more ->schooling <- a person has, the more pliable the mind, your beliefs seem more like wishful thinking, in my ignorable opinion.

    von: "our modern society would *like* to believe that fourteen year old girls getting pregnant is limited to the FLDS and historical novels." – I think "our society" is best characterized as one of my favorite philosopher/preachers, RC Sproul, does: "neo-barbarism".

  12. TJ says:

    I was shocked by vickie reviel, and at the same time, I been wondering if the was the case thinking back. I think it was a great job putting it in, even if it makes marsh’s choice harder.

  13. Richard says:

    I see Vicky’s death coming, which unfortunately tends to happen to too many women in abusive relationships. That will probably spur Marsh to change back but, there’s the possibility that Marsh had been trying to get with Lee Ann in that timeline and Vicky was killed anyway.

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