130 The Best Policy

At Sweeney Todd rehearsals, we had now starting practicing scenes, and I actually got to do the romantic scenes with “Anthony.” It wasn’t as fun as I had anticipated, mostly because I was now really starting to feel guilty about Jeremy. What business did I have enjoying flirting with and kissing another boy, when I was already hurting my own boyfriend?

Nikki read my mood, as she always seemed to, and invited me to talk quietly when I came off stage. I quickly outlined the status of our search and my faux pas in telling Jeremy that I had a secret.

“So you want to change back because you’re embarrassed to be honest with your boyfriend?” she asked, accusingly.

“No!” I retorted, then looked around to see if I had been too loud. A couple of girls sitting a few rows away turned and stared for a moment, but otherwise people seemed to have ignore my outburst. Remembering to keep my voice down, I explained, “I told you – I can’t stay this way. I’m a fake, and he deserves better. Besides, with my dating history, I’m hardly a good bet for a long-term relationship.”

“Your dating history, huh?”

“As in, the fact that I’ve never been able to keep a relationship going for more than six months.”

“And you won’t have that problem as a boy?”

That brought me up short. Of course it would be a problem for me as a boy – in fact, that was what had been on my mind when I’d assumed I was dreaming, all those months ago. My being a girl had never been the cause of that problem. “Now I feel stupid,” I admitted. “I guess that would be a problem with dating Vicky as well.”

“So that’s not a reason to change back,” she noted.

“But I need to figure it out, either way, right?” I looked at her with added interest. “You guys have been together for a while. How?”

She waved off the question. “I don’t know – it just works, I guess. We’re in love. We’re comfortable with each other.”

“I thought I was in love with all my girlfriends. I know I’m in love with Jeremy. Why would it work now, if it didn’t before? Lots of couples have problems – what makes some people lucky? Just happening never to have had problems?”

“I don’t know what to tell you, Marsh,” she shrugged. “Alvin and I haven’t had problems.”

“And Vicky and I didn’t have any problems, either. I think I must just have lost interest; she didn’t. I was just an idiot.”

She nodded. “I’m going to have to get back to taking notes,” she said. “Maybe you need to find somebody who’s actually had problems and still managed to stay together.”

“Yeah, if only,” I muttered, as I when back to review my script.

It wasn’t until the end of rehearsal that I realized what I had overlooked. My own mother! Dad had left and she’d gotten him back somehow. Excitedly, I told Nikki. “I can’t believe I’ve never asked her about relationship advice! You know,” I added bitterly, “if I were a real girl, she’d probably have been the first person I’d asked.”

“Maybe… but yeah, a girl really needs to talk to her mother a lot.”

“Tonight,” I declared. “If there is a secret, Mom will know it. It’s just the kind of thing she would know.”

That night was my regular call with Chad and my father, and I wasted no time bringing them up to date.

“What happened to the ‘mad scientist’ idea?” Chad asked. “You seem to be assuming that the people who changed you are nice guys.”

“That’s what Luke said,” I reminded him, “and when we saw them on the video, they looked nervous, not devious.”

“Honey,” Dad said, “You can’t expect villains to cackle and twirl their mustaches or stroke cats like movie villains. The fact is, these guys hurt a bunch of people and didn’t do anything to help them afterwards. Even if it was all an accident, and even if they’re being put under duress by the school, they had an obligation to let people know what was going on and to try to make things better. At the very least, they’ve been incredibly irresponsible even if there was no malice involved.”

“But if the school had them over a barrel…” I objected.

“Even so. Nowadays it is incredibly easy to communicate anonymously; in fact, they were already doing it with Luke. They could have collected email addresses from the Strangers and used them to apologize and explain. They could have rejected the school’s pressure and declared that it was their obligation to help. Your friend is right about the burden of proof; I certainly wouldn’t want to try to convince a jury that you used to be a boy or that a science experiment had made a girl flat-chested. I’d be laughed out of court. The scientists might not realize that, but the Piques administration certainly should have.”

“So why is the school making them hide?” Chad asked. “I mean, assuming that they are.”

“Seems to me,” Dad suggested, “that it could be a bureaucratic overreaction to something out of the ordinary. Somebody panicked and set the whole ‘pretend this never happened’ thing into operation and now they can’t undo it without getting into all kinds of trouble, or at least so they think. That’s the way bureaucracies work – their biggest fear is being caught in an embarrassing mistake, so they double down and deny, deny, deny. If they were to turn around and admit that the experiment had happened and that they’d covered it up, that probably would open them up to lawsuits. Juries would figure that where there’s smoke, there’s fire and that the school must have done something wrong. They might take the description of what actually happened as part of the cover up.”

“So we have to offer Davis money?” I asked, trying hard not to whine. “Will that even work?

Dad sighed, and sounded a bit hesitant when he spoke next. “I suspect it would take a lot more than I could get a hold of. What are we talking about? $1 million? $2 million? If I had that kind of money, I might have sent you to a more expensive school.”

“Why not ask the parents of the Strangers to chip in?”

“Marsh,” Chad started, and his voice sounded unusually gentle. “You’re not thinking this through. You’re especially eager to catch these guys because you want to change back, right?”


“But you’re the only one, I suspect. Didn’t you say the others were more depressed than angry? And resigned? You’ve said that you want them to try the same thing over again on you, figuring you’ve got a 50-50 chance of winding up as a boy again, right?”


“Marsh, what are you talking about?” Dad interjected. “Are you saying that you’d take a chance if they couldn’t promise to put things back the way they were?”

Chad and I fell over each other explaining about my willingness to take a chance at being male again, even if I couldn’t actually change back. Dad sounded skeptical, but willing to listen more before making a big deal of it.

“But that doesn’t apply to everybody else,” Chad continued “Most of the changes, from what you’ve said, sounded pretty minor. Even the girl whose chest is smaller would have to be leery of taking a chance at winding up as a boy, don’t you think? So the only ones who would really be eager enough to find money would be anyone else who changed sex and hasn’t admitted it.”

“That still might be half of them,” I pointed out.

“Only if they’re willing to admit it now, and willing to take a chance on things going even worse.”

“I don’t even think you should take a chance like that, Marsh,” Dad said. “If they could change you back, that would be one thing, but just asking to be changed sounds like a really stupid risk.”

I didn’t argue. I had my reasons for wanting to try, but I wasn’t going to explain it to Dad and Chad just now. The only other idea we came up with was of offering the missing experimenters legal help in fighting the college. Dad was optimistic that they’d go for it; Chad and I had our doubts.

Finally, we seemed to be running out of ideas, and I had to stop Dad from hanging up. “Could you put Mom on?” I asked. “I need to talk with her.”

She was on the phone in less than a minute. “What is it, Baby?” she asked.

“Um…” I suddenly froze up. It might be perfectly usual for girls to talk to their mothers about relationships, but I’d never really done it – at least not on this kind of level. Sure, I’d called her after my date on Friday and told her what had happened, so she knew I was in love with Jeremy. This felt different, somehow.

She didn’t say anything. No prompting, no questions, just gave me time to collect myself. After a few false starts, I blurted out, “Mom, how do you make a relationship last?”

“Hmm?” was all she said, so I tried again.

“I know Marsha dated Dirk for two years, but I told you I’d never had a relationship last that long, and I thought you might be able to help me figure out how to do it.”

“With Jeremy, you mean?”

“Well…” Why was I blushing? That was the obvious context, after all. “I don’t know if that’s possible, for the other reasons I’ve told you about, but if it were, then yeah, and… if I do change back, then with Vicky or somebody else. I must be doing something wrong, and I want to fix it, and I thought you might know how… because of Dad, I mean?”

“Because of your father?”

“You know, like when he walked out on us and you guys got back together? If it were me, I’d never have been able to keep a relationship going after something like that. How did you do it?”

“Well… it’s not exactly true that he ‘walked out on us.’ We were… having problems… and it just seemed better to separate for a while. I never intended it to be permanent, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t either, but it was a really rough time for all of us.”

I opened my mouth to ask for more details, but snapped it shut, remembering the way she’d said, having problems. Obviously, it was one of those things that she wasn’t willing to share. Instead, I asked, “But how did you do it? And how have you stayed together and in love all this time when so many marriages are ending in divorce? What’s the secret?”

“There’s no secret…” she started, and I cut her off.

“Mom! That’s what everybody keeps telling me, but if there’s no secret, how have you’ve been able to do it and others like me couldn’t? What am I missing?”

“It’s mostly commitment, I guess. You just decide that the relationship is going to work out and you do what it takes to make that happen. You close the exits. Most relationships fall apart because people aren’t really committed to each other – they’re happy to stay as long as it’s fun, but leave when it starts to feel like an effort. But you have to make the effort out of love.”

“It can’t be that simple, Mom. I mean, I fell out of love with… with the last person I was dating.” For some reason, even though we both knew about my past, it felt really awkward just then to be talking about having been in love with another girl. We had established this great mother-daughter moment and I didn’t want to mess it up.

“Well, as for that” she replied thoughtfully, “you need to make love to your partner.”

My jaw dropped. I tried to think back. Had Vicky and I stopped sleeping together before our relationship fell apart? I was pretty sure not. “Are you saying that the secret of keeping a relationship together is sex?”

“No, dear,” she laughed. “I know everybody uses ‘make love’ to mean sex, but that’s not how you create love. I make love to your father when he comes home exhausted and I have a cup of tea and his favorite pastry waiting for him. He makes love to me when he sneaks down in the middle of the night and cleans the kitchen when I was too tired or busy to do it myself.

“You make love to your partner by thinking of what will make them happy, and acting on it. You go out of your way to be considerate to them.”

“I see,” I nodded. “You keep doing things for them so that they’ll love you.”

“No, Honey,” she said. “You do those things so you will love them.”


“When you go out of your way for somebody else, it reinforces your love for them; at least it does if you can see that they’re pleased. That’s why Moms love their children so much – we’re constantly going out of our way to do things for them.”

I thought about that. It seemed backwards to me, but if it worked… I tried to think about how much I’d gone out of my way in my past relationships, and had a hard time remembering consciously having done so. Oh sure, I’d take them out a bunch and tried to be romantic with them. Did that count?

“OK, thanks, Mom,” I said aloud. “Do you think that’s why Jeremy said he loved me? Because he keeps making things for me?”

“It probably doesn’t hurt. He thinks about you while he makes them, and anticipates you being pleased by his efforts, and then when he actually gives them to you, you’re happy, I presume?”

I nodded. “Yes, they’re very nice, and it’s really wonderful how… hmmm.”

“Do you need help thinking of things that you can do for him?”

“Let me think about… “ and then I did think, and winced. “Mom? Does this include not keeping secrets? When you know they might hurt somebody?”

“As in?”

“Well, I’ve been really afraid to tell Jeremy about… me. I’m afraid that it’ll hurt him if I tell him, and he won’t want to be with me.”

“And so you hope you won’t ever have to tell him?”

“Well, if I change back, it won’t matter, right?”

“And if you don’t? If telling him is going to hurt him, won’t it hurt even more if you put it off and put it off?”

And that was indeed the problem. I knew it could just get worse and worse for both of us the longer I delayed. “But I don’t want to lose him,” I whined.

Mom didn’t say anything.

The silence ate at me until I admitted, “but I’m going to lose him anyway, aren’t I? I’ve already realized that. Even if I wind up not changing back, this issue is going to be between us.”

“If telling him means that you’ll lose him, then yes, you will.”

“I will,” I muttered, remembering when he’d jumped away from me that one time.

“Then he isn’t the right one for you,” she said softly. “And if not, the sooner you find out, the better for both of you.”

My heart clenched. I knew she was right, but I didn’t want to do it. I was really enjoying being with Jeremy. “I’m not ready, Mom. I’m just not ready.” And once again, she didn’t say anything; nothing that would get me off the hook. Instead, after a moment with neither of us speaking, she changed the subject, and we spent the rest of the conversation talking about nothing very important.

But the issue remained.

129 Getting a Clue

After she left, I returned to my sewing until almost dinnertime. The rhythmic throb of the needle was soothing, and completing one job after another gave me a great feeling of accomplishment.

Jeremy hadn’t actually asked me out for the evening, and for all I knew, he had plans, but I called him anyway before we headed to the dining room. He sounded surprised. “Wow, decided to tell me already?”

I was so focused on what I had called him for that it actually took me a couple of seconds to realize what he was talking about. “Actually,” I said, a bit embarrassed, “I just hoped we could get together again tonight. I mean, if you’re not busy,” I added hurriedly. “When we first met, you mentioned something about music and math, and I just wondered if you could sort of explain further…”

“Oh! Um, I could grab a few CDs and come over a bit later, if you like.”

“I’d like… maybe seven or so?”

“See you then,” he said, and hung up. It was with a smile on my face that I headed out for dinner.

When he showed up after dinner, my roommates and I were in the living room waiting; I’d told them he was coming over. He was a bit nonplussed at seeing them there, and I knew better than to try for a kiss. I’ll have to work on that with him, I thought as I led him to my bedroom after some very brief greetings and giggles from Lee Ann and Terry. It was only after I’d closed the door behind us that I remembered that I wasn’t likely to have any time to “work on him” over anything.

“So, um, you wanted to hear about music theory?” he asked as I sat on my bed and looked at him expectantly.

“I just like hearing you explain things,” I told him, batting my eyes in hopes of making him laugh. “Seriously, I wanted to see you and… I do like hearing you explain stuff.”

“OK, um… I’m really used to lecturing in a bedroom, but… may I play some music in your computer?” I nodded and he put in one of the CDs he had brought and then came and sat next to me. I immediately cuddled up next to him, of course.

“Now, you know that music is very mathematical, of course.”

“I nodded, and listened attentively as he explained about rhythm, which I knew perfectly well as both a singer and guitarist, and then proceeded to talk about the mathematical basis for pitch and intervals and harmonies, much of which I didn’t know – at least not to the extent that he did. At some point, though, I sort of lost myself in the sound of his voice, as well as his physical presence. How was it possible that I had once doubted that girls found boys physically attractive?

I really hated that I knew our relationship was doomed, and that made me feel all the more guilty at taking pleasure from it. I wanted to prolong it as much as possible, but if I didn’t manage to change back, I was going to wind up hurting him when I couldn’t keep it going. Why did Brian what’s-his-name have to make himself hard to find?

“So you see why we don’t use Lydian mode and Phyrigian mode, and so on?,” he asked.

I pulled myself from my reverie. “Um… because we don’t like the sound?” I guessed.

He rolled his eyes. “You zoned out a while ago, didn’t you? He looked at me, staring at him adoringly. “Um, are you still interested in this? I have the feeling that you sort of zoned out a while ago.”

I giggled. “I never get bored at hearing you talk, you know. But if you’re tired of talking…” I reached up and kissed him, and then we were done with talking for a while.

He left a bit after midnight, and this time there was no problem getting a long, lingering kiss good night at the door. My roommates had either not come home yet or were already in their rooms, but the way we were feeling, I think he would have kissed me anyway.

As I closed the door after him, my heart was still pounding. Given his sense of honor, I’d regretfully given up on trying to seduce him, but the cuddling had been really nice, and I was not going to be short of pleasant thoughts tonight. The morning would be soon enough for doubts and frustrations.

As soon as I got up the next morning, I checked Facebook, and was elated to see a new comment, addressed to the guy who had claimed that there was no Brian in the physics department: “Mebbe she means Brian Harlin; he was here last yr.”

“Brian Harlin”! That had to be him. I was closing in!

“Quickly I typed my own response: “Yes, I think so! How can I reach him?” Then I had to force myself to relax. Who knew how long it would take before I got another answer? But in the meantime, I had something I could search for.

Facebook showed eight accounts in the name of “Brian Harlin.” Trying different spellings for his first and last name brought the total to more than forty. Still, that was serious progress. Some of them were easy to eliminate because they had profile pictures that were almost certainly the account owners, but did not resemble the guy in the video. Others had no pictures, or drawings, or dogs, or girls – presumably girlfriends, and that’s where I got stuck.

I had narrowed my search for not quite a dozen possibles; the next step was to check their friends – if I found one with multiple students who listed Rocky Lake as their school, I’d know I’d found him. Well, I had no such luck. Many of them had hidden their friends lists from strangers, or at least filtered them. As a last resort, I might try sending friend requests to each account, but that just brought me back to the same question of how to get him to respond.

I hung my head in frustration. It’s like we could get ever so close, so temptingly close, and just hadn’t been able to make the final connection. At this point, I was more than willing to see Martin and Eric succeed even without me.

Well, wishing doesn’t it make it so.

“I sent Allie copies of the pictures from the video,” Eric said when we met in my room after brunch, “and she passed them out to about two dozen Strangers. Nobody has spotted the guy yet, but that’s OK – it’s only been a couple of days. I found an old copy of the local phonebook, but it was printed over the summer; even if Davis had a landline, he might have missed the cut off.”

“And if all he had was a cell phone, he wouldn’t have been listed anyway,” Martin pointed out.

“Right,” Eric continued. “As far as we know, it was only a few months between the time he got here and the time he went into hiding, so he might not have left much of an impact.”

“Except on his victims,” I muttered.

“I’m going to try calling some apartment buildings to see if they have a lease for him listed,” Martin said. “I have no idea if they’ll tell me, though. There might be some privacy issues.”

“Well, when you look, you can also ask about Brian Harlin,” I told them triumphantly. “I found out his last name.”

“Hey! ’Atta girl!” Eric exclaimed, offering me a fist bump.

“Yeah,” I smiled, “so I got some information, but I haven’t been able to find him on Facebook yet. I asked the people who knew him for information on how to contact him; I haven’t checked if they got back to me yet.”

“Let me just do that now,” Vicky said, moving quickly to my computer. I hadn’t logged off the Jennifer Marsha account, so she was able to bring it up without logging in. “You have two replies!”

We all turned to listen while she read the messages. “The first one says, ‘I think I remember him now.’”

“Oh very helpful,” Eric sneered.

“But listen to this!” Vicky went on, ignoring him. “’I just spoke with him and he doesn’t remember you, Jennifer. Where did you meet him?’”

That triggered a bit of an uproar among our little group. “You found him!” one of the boys said, even as the other shouted, “Ask for his number!” I could do nothing but gape.

“‘At. A. Dance. Last. Year’” Vicky said aloud as she started typing.

“You can’t say that, Vix,” I protested. “I never met him.”

“Do you want to find him or not?” she retorted. She added, “‘Have. Him. Message. Me’” and hit return to send it before I could stop her. “Oh don’t worry. He probably met lots of girls at dances. Maybe he’ll be curious and friend you and you’ll be able to talk with him. If he’s in hiding, I’ll bet he’s really lonely now.”

I was about to argue, but held my tongue, remembering that Eric and Martin didn’t know the whole story. Considering what I was letting people believe, maybe Vicky’s untruth was comparatively tame, so I just shrugged my acquiescence.

“At any rate, I think we need to get back to our last problem,” I said, changing the subject. “How do we get Davis… or Harlin… to respond when we do contact them?”

“And how are they hiding?” Vicky added.

“Actually,” Eric put in, “I’ve been thinking about that a bit. What if their facilities and apartments are in the school’s name? There wouldn’t be anything for us to find; Piques could have plenty of offices off-campus for one reason or another, and maybe they maintain a bunch of apartments for short-term visitors. The only thing that would be in Davis’s name – or the grad student’s–”

“Brian Harlin,” I reminded him.

“Or Harlin’s – might be personal stuff like their phones, and those are probably the ones they brought with them.”

“Then how are we supposed to find them?” Vicky demanded.

“I guess we’re going to have to use the contact info we have and try to entice a response,” Eric observed. “So we need to think about why they’re hiding.”

And for that we needed Martin’s expertise. As a physics grad student himself, he would have the most insight into what might motivate a professor and grad student to play at being secret agents or protected witnesses or whatever they were doing. And yet, it still bothered me that I couldn’t figure it out myself. “I suppose we should also think about what the college’s role is in all this. Did they force Davis to hide? Help him hide? Maybe even not know why he’s hiding?”

“I thought we’d decided that already,” Vicky said, sounding puzzled. “Luke said that they were hiding from the administration.”

“OK, but why?” I persisted. “Why would they feel a need to hide?”

She stared at me. “After what they did to you? I mean, to all of us? They were smart to hide, the bastards!”

I winced. “You realize, that’s not going to make it easy for us to draw them out, if they’re afraid of us. Besides, why would they be afraid of the administration?”

She gave me a look that I interpreted as meaning something like, whose side are you on? and then Martin jumped in hurriedly. I guess he was afraid the two of us were about to engage in a catfight or something.

“It doesn’t make sense to me that they would be hiding from the administration,” he said. “What would they be living on?”

Vicky and I turned to look at him, and he continued. “Science labs run on grants, and both professors and their grad students are paid from the grant money, but the college administers the money – at least they do here. If they were hiding, they wouldn’t have any money. Piques could easily stop paying into their accounts and they’d be in trouble. Count on it – the college knows perfectly well how to reach them.”

“Then why did Luke say they were being secretive?” Vicky wondered.

“Well, Piques could be using the money to keep them from being available, you know, to protect themselves from lawsuits over harm to students.”

“I for one have no desire to sue anybody,” I said. “I just want my old life back.”

“But what if they can’t help you?” Martin pointed out. “Maybe they’re hiding because they can’t put things back the way they were, and Piques knows that. You’d sue then, wouldn’t you?”

“On what basis?” Eric interjected. “How would you even prove something like that? I believe something has happened because Allie believes it, and I know her well enough to see that she’s legit bothered by all this. But don’t you have to convince a jury of strangers if you want to sue somebody? I just don’t see how that’s a real threat.”

We argued back and forth, not really reaching a consensus, but it did seem that money might be a lever. If one of us only knew a friendly millionaire who could promise to fund the research if they would just come out of hiding! It was probably a silly idea – we still couldn’t rule out the possibility that they were just hiding from the publicity, and were still able to manipulate us; according to this idea, championed by Vicky, the reason they had stopped talking to Luke was fear that the Strangers were getting too close, despite what he was telling them. In any event, it was something to run past Dad.

128 Making Resolutions

Author’s Note: First, a big thank you to April King, who got my blog running again when an interrupted installation brought it down. Second, here we go to the ending. I’ve actually written 12,000 words so far and I’m not quite done yet, but I should be by the time these next few chapters have shown up. We’re going to finish with a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule, just as I had originally promised.

Terry had spent the night with Greg, so it was only two of us in the room the next morning. After we got back from breakfast, Lee Ann commented, “You know, I’ve been wondering about something. If your old life was different, why are you able to do all the things that our Marsh can do? You know, acting, and sewing, and taking her subjects. Were those the same for you, too?”

Neither of us had any plans for the day, so we were just hanging out in our living room. Well, I did have something I wanted to get to – the search for Brian – but it didn’t look as if it was going to be quick, so there was no real rush. Besides, it was way too early to call Maddy.

“Believe me, I spent a lot of time worrying about that,” I laughed. “A lot of my old life was pretty similar – acting and a lot of the same classes – and I got help. You should have seen me when Terry asked me to take in her gown – I had no idea that I was even supposed to know how to sew, and had to pretend to know what I was talking about!”

She looked at me curiously. “Your mother didn’t teach you to sew?”

This time I was ready with an explanation. “My grandpa left me his guitar, and I spent most of my free time learning to play it. I’m sure Mom would have taught me if I’d asked, but I wasn’t really interested. It’s funny, though. I can sew now, but I’m not so great with the guitar. However those guys did it, I have my own memories, but this body’s reflexes.”

“Huh. You know, I realize that you didn’t really know us, but I can’t help wishing that somehow you’d realized sooner that you could have trusted us. Maybe we could have helped.” We smiled and nodded at one another, pleased that I was now able to be so trusting. I firmly ignored the area in which I still didn’t dare trust them – it wouldn’t be relevant soon anyway, once I threw away this life and all the relationships I’d made in it. However much it hurts, it’s for the best. I had to believe that.

“Actually,” I said, ignoring the yammering doubts, “maybe you can help me know. I’m trying to locate the grad student who was involved in the experiments, and I thought I could use Facebook.” I outlined my plan to search through the names of students at Rocky Lake, and also to have somebody totally unassociated with Piques to try to contact him.

“Why not just make a new account?” she asked. “Lots of people have multiple accounts, and if you’re afraid they might recognize your name, just register with your first and middle names. Some of my girlfriends do that, so they don’t give away too much information. They probably don’t even know your first name, so ‘Jennifer Marsha’ wouldn’t be familiar to them at all.”

“Lee Ann, that’s a great idea!” I enthused. “It’ll be so much easier than having somebody else do it – and I can post messages on their university’s page, too, asking if anybody knows him.”

She laughed. “They’ll probably think you guys met at a party and he promised to call and never did!”

“If he has a girlfriend, he could get in some real trouble,” I grinned back.

“I know, right? Serve him right, the jerk, for not calling you!” We both laughed. “You know,” she said, “it sounds as though you’re starting to come out of your shell. I think Jeremy’s been really good for you. Hold on to him, Marsh. When you find the right guy, it’s just magic.”

Magic, right. My smile was suddenly plastered-on. I hoped she didn’t notice. “Well, then, I’ll just go create that account, right? Thanks for your help!”

“Is something wrong? You guys didn’t have a fight or anything?”

“No! No, no, nothing like that. It’s just… well, I better take care of this.” I walked quickly to my bedroom without looking back. What am I doing? I asked myself. This is the right thing; I know it is. It’s really my only option, and it’s best for Jeremy. I just wish it didn’t keep it hurting.

Creating the account was quick, and then I found the “Rocky Lake University” page and liked it. That let me post a simple message:

I am trying to find a boy at Rocky Lake named Brian; I know he’s a grad student in physics and his advisor’s last name is Davis. Can anybody help me?

Let them assume whatever they wanted. To cover my bets, I tried finding a list of Rocky Lake students, but that wasn’t as easy as I had assumed – at least I couldn’t figure out to get it from Facebook. I tried a web search, but while several major universities made it easy to find their grad students online, Rocky Lake wasn’t among them. OK, I’d have to wait to see if my post brought any results.

In the meantime, what should I do about Lee Ann? She’d recognized that I was upset about something related to Jeremy, and after our little talk about trust, I didn’t see an obvious way to put her off. Was there a way I could be honest with her about my feelings without telling her something that would creep her out?

When I left my room, she was sitting in the living room, playing a game I didn’t recognize. I started to walk past her as though I had always intended to head to the bathroom, but she paused the game and asked, “Did you want to talk about it?”

How did girls do that? I wasn’t even looking at her as I walked past. Why hadn’t I been granted these mind-reading powers? I could imagine several times they could have come in handy. I turned back and sat back down on the couch next to her. “Might as well,” I said, resigned.


“So I told him last night that we had to stop seeing each other.” It felt even worse now that it had last night.

“Oh no! Why…?”

I opened my mouth but nothing came out. I spread my hands to show that I was having trouble putting it into words, and all the while my heart was falling to shards; but it wasn’t until she actually put her arms around me and hugged me that I began to cry. “He even told me he loved me,” I sobbed. “I can’t do it.”

She just hugged me and rocked me back and forth for a while before speaking. “And how do you feel about him?” she asked.

“I… I love him, too,” I sniffled. “And I told him so. That’s why it’s so hard.”

“You know, Marsh, I realize that you don’t have a lot of experience dating boys, but usually when say that you love each other, that’s supposed to be a happy moment.”

“I know,” I whimpered.

“OK… so what is it you can’t do?”

“I can’t… Lee Ann, I… I don’t know how to… you know…”

“… have sex?” she asked, sounding surprised.

“No! Love. Relationships. I don’t know how to do that; it’ll just fall apart. How did you manage to stay with Stephen all this time? What’s the secret?”

She laughed and released me after a quick squeeze. “I sometimes think Stephen’s and my secret is that we don’t see each other very much. That’s probably not very helpful. The only time we get to be around each other a lot is summer vacation and breaks.”

“Isn’t that frustrating?” I asked, forgetting even to worry that she and Marsha had probably had this very conversation in the past. Then I remembered to worry, and then I remembered that she knew I wouldn’t remember if they had. Having my roommates know about the experiment made things so much easier!

“Well,” she answered, smiling, “We’ve talked about him transferring here, or me transferring there, but mostly we don’t want to change what’s working. In the future, well… I don’t want to get too far ahead of things. What we have works for us, at least for now.”


“Yeah, I guess that didn’t really help you,” she admitted. “I can’t say I know what works and what doesn’t. But you don’t run away from a relationship that’s making you happy. So how did you guys leave it?”

“We’re still together; I’m just really afraid I’m going to hurt him, disappoint him.”

“And breaking up with him now won’t?” she asked, incredulous. “Marsh, it’s taken you so long to get to this point, and you really lucked out. Have a little patience!”

I nodded in agreement; the advice was sound – or would be if I were actually the girl she thought I was. “Thank you,” I said, meaning the talk more than the advice. “So… you have plans today? I don’t really feeling like doing any studying right now.” And I wanted to stay out of my room for a little while to keep myself from obsessively checking facebook every few minutes.

“You see how busy I am,” she said wryly, pointing at the game controller she’d just dropped, so she saved her game, found one the two of us could play, worked hard and doing absolutely nothing important until lunch.

After lunch, I did check facebook and found nothing. I knew it could take days for me to get the answer I wanted, so I tried putting it out of my head and doing something relatively mindless – sewing. Of course, that just left me free to think about my discussion with Lee Ann.

I knew that I didn’t really have any future with Jeremy – even if I got over the whole I’m really a guy thing, I had more than enough experience with relationships to know that I couldn’t sustain one – but now I was regretting it even more. What if this latest effort to reverse my change didn’t work? Was there a way for me to deal with the relationship problem? Lee Ann hadn’t had any great ideas for me, and I just didn’t see an answer.

It was after I’d finished my third simple repair job that it occurred to me how easily I was taking this for granted. Just a few months ago, I couldn’t sew at all, and now I could do a lot without really even thinking about it. How did that work, anyway? It was one more question I had for Davis when I found him.

I had just started a basic alteration for a girl who was in denial about her weight problems when I heard a knock on our outer door. I paused to listen, to see if Lee Ann would get it, but when it was repeated about twenty seconds later I sighed, put down my work, and went to answer the door.

“Hi, Marsh,” Vicky said, when I had opened the door. “You busy. I thought we could start doing those searches we talked about.”

“Actually,” I said, ushering her in, “Lee Ann gave me an idea that I think will be easier and might work better.” I explained about the “Jennifer Marsha” account.

“You told Lee Ann?” she whispered, shocked, as we entered my bedroom.

“Only that I had been changed. She and Terry think I’m the girl who lost inches,” I answered, indicating my bust.

She giggled a bit at that. “Technically, you did lose inches there, didn’t you? I mean, you used to have like a 40” chest, right?”

I grinned back. “I don’t think I was quite that big, but yeah.”

“So what’s this great idea she gave you?”

I explained and showed her my new Facebook account. There was one reply. “Forget him, Jennifer, he’s not worth it,” which amused Vicky no end.

“I don’t think Lee Ann’s suggestion is working out too well,” she laughed.

“Give it time,” I said, a bit annoyed and embarrassed. “My other ideas haven’t panned out, either. The page only lists a few people, and none of them are named Brian.”

“Really? Let me try something.” She sat at my computer and clicked to the Rocky Lake University page. “Huh. There’s no ‘see all’ link.”

“That’s what I mean. We’d need to find a student directory.”

“Well, let’s see.” She opened a new browser tab and tried some searches. “Rocky Lake Student directory” turned up nothing. “Rocky Lake Physics Department” gave us a listing of professors, but not students. “Rolf Davis” was there, of course, but the only contact information looked like a campus extension.

“OK,” she admitted. “This doesn’t look like it’s going to be easy.” She clicked back to Facebook. “Hey, you got another reply.”

This one said, “@Jennifer: no grad students in physics this yr are named brian.”

Vicky and I stared at each other. “Are you sure he was from Rocky Lake?” she asked.

“He said ‘this year.’ Maybe he doesn’t know about last year? We’re assuming that they’ve been away all year.”

“Maybe…” she agreed, “this really isn’t easy, is it?”

“Give it time. We only need a reply from one person who knows him.”

“I suppose so… I’m just trying to figure out why, if they are the ‘good guys’ that Luke thinks they are, they’re hiding.”

“Probably afraid of a group of furious teenagers tearing them limb from limb.”

“C’mon, you saw the Strangers; they’re more beaten down than furious, and Luke has to have told them so. Why couldn’t they just meet with us? If they wanted data, we could give them lots of it.”

“Luke seemed to believe that it was the administration, but what hold do they have on them? Money? Jobs? If Davis is a prof at Rocky Lake, I don’t understand why they couldn’t just go back there.”

“I’ll bet Martin would know,” Vicky suggested. “Do you want to call him?”

“I… why don’t we plan to get together tomorrow morning? That’s mostly been our pattern anyway.”

“Is there a problem?”

It was hard to explain my reluctance. It just didn’t feel right running to Martin so quickly. “I guess I want to give this idea a bit more time, first. I’ll explain it to both Martin and Eric when we get together tomorrow.”

She sighed in exasperation. “Fine. I’ll call them and set up another meeting here for tomorrow morning. So now what?’

I shrugged. “I don’t have any more ideas right now – I’m supposed to talk with that reporter on Monday… I suppose we just have to be patient.”

“OK, fine… I haven’t gotten far with my assignment, either. So… you want to do something tonight?” She must have seen me hesitate, because she erupted, “Oh c’mon, Marsh! Now what?”

“I… was just hoping to spend more time with Jeremy…”

“You’re unbelievable, you know that? Here we are, trying to get you back to being a boy again, and you want to play girl with this guy? Look, I broke up with Kevin – don’t you think it’s time you dumped Jeremy?”

“Are we going to have this fight every time, Vicky?” I said, standing up. “My relationship with Jeremy is going to end soon enough, one way or another; do you really begrudge me this time?”

“I just want to be sure you’re not holding back, Marsh. We’ve been trying to find Davis for months. Are you going to back away now?”

“No! What have we been doing all this time? Vicky, I’m the one who told everybody about what Dad found. I’m the one who came up with the idea of looking for Brian whatshisname. This is important to me. Only…” I sat back on the bed next to her and took her hands. “I just want what little time I have left to spend with him.” We stared at each other for a moment. “Besides, you know perfectly well that you could always out me to him, if you really thought I was going overboard.”

She looked away. “I wouldn’t do that to you, Marsh. I wouldn’t want something like that between us afterward.”

“Then trust me, OK? I really need to get this resolved and I intend to see it through.”

After a moment, she nodded. “OK, I’ll set up the meeting and let you know.”

127 Skating on Thin Ice

“Now that I’ve destroyed the mood,” I told Jeremy, sadly, “I suppose you should just take me home.”

“I don’t want to, but if you insist, I will. Can I persuade you to stay?” And he batted his eyes at me until I laughed, and then he kissed me. When he pulled away, I was grinning. “There!” he said, “all fixed.”

What could I say? I was going to lose him all too soon, in all likelihood, so each moment together was precious. I let him lead me back onto the ice and we skated for another half hour, and this time he managed to keep me from falling at all. Then we took a break and said, “I think we should stop.”

“Why?” I asked. “I’m having fun. Aren’t you?”

“Absolutely. But if you haven’t done this before, or at least not in a long time, your legs are going to be sore tomorrow. I just don’t want you to overdo it.”

I couldn’t disagree with that, so we got into his car to drive back to campus. “Can I ask you something?” he asked as we pulled away from the rink.

“Of course,” I answered, just a bit wary.

“Why do you go by the name ‘Marsh’? It’s not a very feminine-sounding name. Why not go by ‘Marsha’ or even ‘Jennifer’?”

I had to think about that. As a boy, I’d decided in elementary school that ‘Dwight” sounded kind of dorky, and ‘Marshall’ had sounded really tough and military. I’d never asked anybody what Marsha’s motivations had been; but that was hardly something I was ready to explain to Jeremy just now.

“It’s just shorter, like the way I call my sister, ‘Teen’ half the time. I don’t really mind if you want to call me, ‘Marsha.’ But ‘Jennifer’ is such a common name – so many girls are called that.”

He nodded; it was a plausible explanation, and for all I knew it was the right one.

“And why do you want to be a doctor?” he asked next. “You seem to have a real passion for theater and for sewing, but I don’t hear you talk about medicine that way.”

I tilted my head at him. “Why all the questions?”

“I’m just trying to figure out things I’ve been curious about. There are still plenty of things I don’t know about you.” He smiled very tenderly at me and my heart fluttered. “After all, you’re the most fascinating subject I know.”

My face turned red as I tried to suppress a grin. “Flatterer… not that I’m complaining, mind you. Where did you learn to talk like that?” I’d had the impression of him as really nervous and inept around girls.

He sounded a bit abashed. “You’re not actually my first girlfriend, you know. I made some mistakes with… um, a girl I used to date, and I’m trying hard not to make the same ones with you. Plus, well, Janine’s sort of coaching me. She says you’re the best that’s happened to me since I got to Piques, and, well, I definitely agree. So… I want to know everything there is to know about you.”

I wanted to sink through my seat. I was definitely not the one he should be saying things like this to. Now what, Marsh? I asked myself. How do I tell him I’m a fraud? How am I supposed to tell him the truth? I forced myself to smile.

“So, the doctor question?” he asked again.

“Oh. Well… I was named for my great-uncle Marshall, and he was a doctor, and I just always figured that’s what I would do, too. Plus, I couldn’t really make a living in theater or sewing, you know. And you–” I had to bite my tongue, as I’d almost said, you need to make a living to support a wife and kids. Aloud, I improvised. “You need to make a living doing something that interests you, and biology does interest me. So why not medicine?”

He nodded. “OK, I guess that makes sense.”

We drove in silence for a bit and then, as we started getting close to Piques, he suddenly said, “Now about this secret of yours…”

I jumped guiltily. I am such a blabbermouth, these days. I should have found some other way to approach this.

“I just want to know if it’s serious,” he persisted. “Is this some health thing? Do I have to worry… about losing you?”

“No, no,” I shook my head. “I’m perfectly healthy.”

“And you’re not already married or seeing somebody else or something like that?”

I laughed. “No, nothing like that. It’s just…” I really need to think before answering him, this time. “I’m really sorry, B–Babe. I– I guess I’m sort of insecure about things. I didn’t…” I paused and took a breath. “Let me give this some thought. I need to figure things out for myself, first.”

He parked the car and got out. I was about to follow, when I saw him walking quickly around the hood, so I stayed put and let him open my door for me. “Thank you,” I said as he gave me his hand to help me out.

“You’re getting me really worried, you know,” he told me as we starting walking.

“I know. I’m sorry. I’m going to try to make it better. I just can’t say anything more right now.”

He opened his mouth as though he was going to say something and closed it again, presumably thinking better of it. Then he said, “I meant it when I said I loved you.”

“And… and I did, too.”

“I don’t want you to think you need to hide things from me. I’m not going to judge you. You–”

I held up my hand to stop him. “Please. I have to think about this a bit. Don’t press me right now, OK?”

He flinched back, which made me feel even guiltier, but he backed off. But then he gave me only a very brief kiss at my door and wouldn’t come in, which probably served me right. Still, as patient as he was trying to be, there had to be limits. It just wasn’t reasonable to expect him to handle this.

I didn’t see any reasonable solution without hurting him that didn’t involve undoing this whole mess, and that meant finally tracking down Professor Davis. That was what I should really be doing now. It wasn’t even ten o’clock yet, and my roommates had gone out, so I was alone and free to work on it. The problem was, now I was almost too upset to do anything productive, so I called Vicky.

I didn’t get an answer, which didn’t surprise me. Vicky wouldn’t be sitting in her room, all alone. She’d be out partying with somebody, maybe Geoff. The thought made me just a bit jealous. Was there some way I could have told Jeremy, so he would have stayed? The more I thought about it, though, the more impossible it seemed.

I tried Nikki, but as expected, she was out, too. I chose not to leave a message; I just wanted somebody to talk to now.

Automatically, I looked at Ben’s guitar, but I knew it wouldn’t help. I’d impressed Mom and Dad by playing a few songs, but I knew how much work they’d taken. It felt good to be able to play them, but it wasn’t relaxing. No, my best stress killer nowadays was sewing; only I couldn’t do that as automatically as I’d been able to play my guitar. Each piece required something just a bit different; enough that I had to focus consciously. Still, it would get my mind off my Jeremy problem until I could talk it out.

I’d only been sewing for about ten minutes before Vicky called me back. “What’s up, Marsh?” I could hear music in the background.”

“I just need to talk,” I said “Are you really busy?”

“I’m out with some friends. Can it wait?”

“I don’t know… I think I really messed up tonight.”


“I told Jeremy that I had a secret and we needed to break up, but I wouldn’t tell him why.”

“Marsh, it’s OK. You’re really better off without him – this whole thing has been really confusing for you; I understand that. You’ve been letting your hormones take over. You’ll be able to think much more clearly when you’re not hanging around some guy.” She laughed. “I’m not saying I’m an expert on healthy relationships, but I do know what it feels like when you’re with a boy you like. This was a good move, Marsh.”

“Um…” I realized I hadn’t been clear. “We… didn’t actually break up. He said we should stay together until he graduates, at least.”

She scoffed. “And you went along? Why would he even think you’d be interested, after you gave him the brush off?”

“Well… maybe because I’d just told him that I loved him?”

She didn’t answer for what seemed an eternity. I was just about to speak to see if we’d been disconnected when she said tightly, “Marsh, are you in your room?”


“Don’t do anything. I’ll be right over.” And she hung up.

I looked at the phone with chagrin. I hadn’t intended to disrupt her evening, at least not consciously. I shrugged and went back to my sewing machine, leaving my door open so that I’d be sure to hear Vicky knock.

I had time to finish a simple zipper replacement and start working on a torn seam before she got to my room. When I opened the door, she stared at me in apparent disbelief, backed me into my bedroom in silence, and closed the door behind us before asking, “Are you out of your mind?”

“I don’t know,” I answered quietly, sitting on the bed.

“What in the world would possess you to tell a boy that you loved him?”

“He said it first,” I explained. “Anyway, it’s true. I told you earlier, Vicky. I love him. He’s… well, I only wish I could have been as good a boyfriend to you as he is. He’s really wonderful and… I don’t want him to get hurt by any of this. That’s why I tried to break up with him – he deserves a real girl, one who can be what he expects and deserves. I can’t, and I know it.” I didn’t add, I wish I could. That would only hurt Vicky needlessly.

“Well, isn’t that just dandy?” she commented, icily.

“That’s why I need to change back,” I went on, ignoring her. “It’s the only way to make sure I don’t hurt him.”

She stared at me for a moment and then sat next to me. “I’d kind of hoped that you wanted to change back so you could be with me,” she said, sounding a bit subdued.

“I do,” I insisted, taking her hands. “I want to make both of you happy… somehow.”

“Oh, Marsh… you really make things complicated, don’t you?”

“My whole existence is complicated, Vixy!”

“So we just need to get going on that action list, right?” She stood up. “Where’s your copy? Maybe we can look ahead a bit. Have you done your first action?”

I put a hand on her arm to stop her. “I sent an email to the same reporter I spoke to a while ago, yeah, but…” she turned at my hesitation. “I just really resent the guys taking over this whole thing. I want to believe that there’s something they’ve overlooked. I want you and me to be the ones to solve this.”

She laughed, but it sounded a bit forced. “Boys versus girls? And you’re one of the girls? OK… Yeah. So where’s the sheet?”

I crossed to my desk and picked it up. “Here it is.” I sat back on the bed and she sat next to me so that we could both read the sheet.

“I think they did a pretty thorough job,” she said. “Nothing’s jumping out a me.”

“Wait a minute…” I said, studying the list. Then I laughed. “The grad student! Brian something or other – they completely ignored him!”

“But we don’t know anything about him,” she objected. “How do we find him?”

“There has to be a way.” I declared. “I want there to be a way, and right now, that needs to be enough.”

“What are you going to do?” she asked, skeptically. “Look him up on Facebook?”

I considered that for a moment.

“I was joking, Marsh – you sort of need his whole name, you know, and we’ve already checked Davis – if he ever had an account, he’s canceled it.”

“Yeah, but I’m hoping maybe a student would be more likely to have a Facebook account and less likely to think he needs to hide it. He’s got to have come from Rocky Lake with Davis, right? So we can look for students from there named Brian.”

“Do you have any idea how many students you’ll have to go through? And what if he’s not there? And how would you know which was the right Brian?”

“Well, maybe I can call the Rocky Lake physics department? I can say that I was looking for him– “

“And they’ll just give you the same Piques contact information. Or else they’ll take your name and ask him to call, and he’ll say, ‘Oh Marsha Steen? She was one of our subjects – better not call her…’”

“He won’t know my name, will he? He’ll be looking for Marshall Steen.”

“You think he doesn’t know you’re a girl, now?”

“OK, wait… I know. I’ll get one of my girlfriends from home to call. Like Maddy – he wouldn’t know she knows me or has any connection to Piques at all. And they’ll just think she met him at a dance or something.”

“But…” she started to object. Then she blinked and looked at me and said, “You know, that might work. Of course, he might still say that he doesn’t know her and refuse to call back.”

“OK, good point. Maybe we can use Facebook another way? You know, send messages to a bunch of Rocky Lake students and ask them if they know a physics grad student named Brian whose advisor is Rolf Davis?”

“Sounds time consuming, but I guess it couldn’t hurt.”

“Come on, Vixy, get excited about this, OK? It’s something concrete we can do. If we find a physics major, they’re bound to know him. Even if somebody messages us back and says, ‘Oh, you mean Brian Smith?’ we’ll at least have his name. And we know what he looks like.”

“You’re right, Marsh, you’re right. Tell you what. Make a list of all the students you can find and we’ll split them up. You sure you don’t want to involve Martin and Eric in this?”

“No, I don’t want to feel that being a girl means I’m any less capable than I was as a boy. Do you? I think it would serve them right for taking over the way they did if we could just call them up in a few days and say, ‘Oh boys, look what we found!’”

126 Searching Questions

Eric was the first to react. “May I see that?” he asked, holding out his hand for the paper. I gave it to him and he held it so that Martin could see as well. “These are all Piques contacts, aren’t they? The email clearly is, and the phone exchange is the one all of the landlines here use. Have you called?”

“Not yet,” I admitted. “I wanted to figure out…” I trailed off as he pulled out his cell and called.

He listened and nodded for a moment and then hung up. “It’s an answering machine. The voice sounds like the one from the videos we shot.”

“That’s what I expected,” I said. “As I was saying, I’m assuming that if we left a message, Davis would get it. The question is, how do we make him answer?”

“Or maybe there’s something else we should be doing,” Vicky suggested. “With a first name, can’t we just check the phone listings? Piques can’t control everything.”

“Better yet,” Martin pointed out, “let’s find a paper phone book. As far as we know, Davis had no reason to hide at the start of the year. Even if his number is unlisted now, it might have been published when he first got here.”

The three of them went at it enthusiastically, almost ignoring me. I heard them suggest passing out images from the video to the Strangers, in hopes that somebody might spot him on campus – just in case the administration had simply moved him to a different building. They talked about trying to find him on Facebook; they even discussed trying to find friends or colleagues at Rocky Lake who might know him. All of them sounded like intriguing ideas, any of which might work. Why, then, was I getting a bad feeling about the whole thing?

If Vicky noticed my lack of participation, the boys certainly didn’t. They were so hot in pursuit of an interesting problem that the reticence of one petite girl in the corner barely registered. They talked about faking messages from friends and relatives, from search committees, from newspapers, and even from the Piques administration, showing that at least they’d heard my words, even if I myself seemed to be inconsequential.

Within half an hour they had used Vicky’s computer to type up a plan of action, printed four copies, and handed them out. Then they shook Vicky’s and my hands and rushed out enthusiastically, leaving my head spinning.

“I’m excited about this!” she said. “Are you…” then she did notice my expression. “What’s wrong?”

“You didn’t notice how they basically ignored me?” I managed to choke out. “I’m the one who brought the new information. I’m the one who basically organized this group. I’m the one who was most affected by this experiment, and –”

“And right now, you’re a girl. Guys do this all the time; I guess you’ve never noticed. You’ve been having so much fun with your oh, gee, it’s so much fun to wear dresses and have a boyfriend who takes care of me thing that you’ve pretty much ignored real life. One boy at a time – the right boy – is a lot of fun. But you try working with a group of them and they might not even hear you.

“But don’t worry,” she continued. “We’re going to save you despite yourself. You’ll be much happier, Marsh, when you’re back to your own body, and can get back to what you’re used to.” I opened my mouth to reply, but she cut me off again. “Don’t thank me, Marsh. I’m just doing what a good girlfriend should. I’m watching out for my guy.”

“Don’t – don’t I get a choice, here?” I asked, sounding a bit whinier than I would have liked.

“You won’t have a choice if we don’t find Davis!” she retorted in exasperation. “Is that what you’re asking for? That we call off the search?”

“No. No, of course not. I just don’t want to be forced into anything, that’s all.”

She sat on the bed next to me and put her arm around my shoulder. “Marsh, this isn’t just about you. Maybe you could be happy either way, but… well, I want my boyfriend back, and your father wants his son back, and… well, if you change back, your cousin Tyler will have been born, and…”

I could hear her struggling for more reasons, and with a sigh I supplied some. “If I were a boy, Tina would get a lead in the high school musical, and some girls I don’t know would end up with the roles I’ve gotten, and another one would get Jeremy…” I rested my head on her shoulder, very conscious of our role-reversal. “You think I’m being selfish, don’t you? A lot of people could be happier the other way.”

“And I think you will be, too, actually. Didn’t you say it bothered you, being in the wrong body? Feeling like a phony?”

I nodded, reluctantly. Why had I told her? Now she was using it against me. I needed to think; there should be some way for all of this to make sense, some way for it to come out the way I wanted it to. With a sigh, I picked up the plan and looked for my name. “Looks as though my first job is to go look up the archives at The Messenger and see if they have any press releases about Prof Davis coming to Piques. I suppose I can write to that reporter and see if he’ll help me again. And… you’re going to try to find a paper phonebook. Eric and Martin took the more promising possibilities for themselves. Terrific.”

“Don’t let it get you down, Marsh,” she encouraged me. “It doesn’t really matter who finds the answer, as long as we find it, right?” Then she walked me out.

Troubled, I walked back to my dorm a bit more slowly than usual. Dad’s call had made me question things I thought I had just resolved, and Vicky had pushed me even further – I was pretty certain I didn’t want to change back, but I wasn’t sure I could justify not taking the chance, if given it. I might have to just start thinking of this time as a chance to explore and to cherish, but not to keep.

Jeremy’s ringtone sounded from my phone just as I thought that, and I jumped guiltily, remembering how I’d snapped at him. “Hi-Jeremy-I’m-sorry” I said hurriedly, and waited for his reaction.

It sounded as though I had really caught him by surprise, as he sort of choked a bit before laughing, “You mean I shouldn’t apologize?”

He’s always been so sweet to me, I thought. Maybe it would be better if I moved aside and let him fall for a real girl – maybe even that girl I’d seen in the bathroom this morning. Not just yet, though, I promised myself. What, me, jealous? Maybe more than a bit.

“Marsh?” he asked again, when I didn’t answer right away.

“Oh!” I said, embarrassed. “No, you shouldn’t–”

“I just wondered if I could see you tonight.”

“Yes!” I said, eagerly. After all, if I was going to be forced to give him up, the more time I could spend with him in the meantime, the better.

“Great. Um, I don’t real feel like dancing or a movie; how about ice skating?”

“Ice skating?” I echoed, a bit surprised. “I didn’t know you ice skated. I mean, yes, I’d love to.”

“I’m not great, but I can mostly get around without falling I think it’ll be fun.”

I’d always thought of skating as a perfect date, actually. “I agree,” I said. “Come get me around… 7:30?”

“See you then,” he agreed before hanging up.

My step was definitely lighter as I made my way back to my room, and I’d nearly gotten there before I realized that I’d been humming, I’m in Love With a Wonderful Guy. Hmm.

When I told me roommates our plans, Lee Ann looked thoughtful. “You know, long skirts aren’t really practical for ice skating. Let’s see what I have that could work.”

When she took out a pair of stretch pants, I was hesitant.

She saw my expression and forestalled me. “I know you’re worried about modesty, Marsh, but I think it won’t be a problem. As I remember, you said that the problem with pants was that it accentuates the crotch area, right? And you don’t wear short skirts because you don’t think you should be showing off your legs, and because you think boys will be hoping for a glimpse of your underwear?”

I nodded. I’d never heard it explained that way, but it made sense to me.

“Well, we can fix that. These pants will cover your legs, and,” she then took out a miniskirt, “if you wear this skirt over it, it hides your crotch area but doesn’t inhibit your movement.” It also gave me an excuse to wear a short skirt, which I hadn’t dared do since Jeremy spotted me in the one I’d just bought.

I was a bit nervous when Jeremy came to pick me up, and I was hardly surprised when his eyes bulged on seeing me. I knew what the male imagination could do, even if I was technically dressed modestly. “Is it OK?” I asked, turning so he could get the full effect.

“Um…,” he choked out. “You… look great.” Terry snickered from the door to her room, and I glared at her.

Looking back at Jeremy, I asked, as innocently as I could, “so it’s OK for me to wear short skirts, now?” and watched him turn an interesting shade of red. It was going to be a fun evening.

As we walked to his car, he seemed to feel the need to defend himself. “I didn’t mean that you weren’t allowed to wear short skirts,” he said, “I just really appreciate that you’re usually so modest. You’re not, you know, practically falling out of your clothes in public and besides, what you’re wearing isn’t really immodest or anything and it really is more practical, and…”

“It’s OK,” I cut him off, giggling. “I’m just enjoying your reaction. It’s flattering to see you noticing my body.”

“I never not notice you! I mean, I think you’re beautiful, and I really like looking at you and–” This time I stopped him by putting my arms around his neck and giving him a long kiss. Then we just gazed into each other’s eyes in silence for a few moments before kissing again, briefly. If not for his ‘no sex before marriage’ principal, I suspect we might not have made it to the rink.

It turned out that my experience with roller skating hadn’t quite prepared me for ice skating; fortunately, he was a pretty decent skater, and he did keep me from losing my balance a few times. But he wasn’t all that familiar with skating with a partner and at one point I tripped and wound up pulling him down on top of me. He managed to break my fall so it didn’t hurt, and we just lay on the ice for a minute or two, laughing, while the other skaters went around us.

“Why don’t we take a break?” he asked, as he helped me up. “You find us someplace to sit, and I’ll go get us some hot chocolate.”

I smiled and nodded and headed for some benches on the side of the rink. In fact, I think my smile was almost hurting at this point; I had been smiling constantly for some time. I’m really enjoying myself, I realized. I don’t want this feeling to end. I can’t believe we haven’t been together for much more than a month.

Jeremy obviously noticed my expression when he came back and handed me my drink. “I didn’t realize you liked skating so much,” he said, sitting next to me, “you’re a lot happier than you were this morning.”

I rested my head against his shoulder. “It’s not the skating,” I said, laughing, “it’s you.”

We sipped our hot chocolate. It warmed my insides, but I was already feeling pretty warm, cuddled against him. It’s not fair, I thought. Why does this have to be borrowed time?

“You seem lost in thought,” he observed. “Anything you care to share?”

I giggled and shook my head.

“Well I have a thought to share,” he said, carefully taking my half-filled cup from me and putting both of them on the bench next to him. I looked at him curiously, and he put his hands around my shoulders, drew me close and kissed me, a slow, lingering kiss. Then with our faces just an inch apart, he said, “I love you, Marsh.”

“I love you, too, Jeremy,” I responded, and kissed him back. And then I realized what I was doing. I had no right to be falling in love right now. Even if he didn’t remember anything, my changing back would be a breakup. What if he did have some memory of it? What if I started pulling away as things came to a head with the search?

“What’s wrong?” he asked, clearly reading my sudden hesitation.

I pushed myself away and stood up, facing him. At the very least, I need to wait until we track down Davis, I told myself. All kinds of things could happen, and it’s not fair to him; not fair at all. “I… I can’t do this,” I said aloud. Jeremy, I… there’s something I have to work out before… it’s not fair to you. I have no business dating anybody until this is resolved.”

“What?!” he exclaimed, coming up behind me and putting his hands on my shoulders. “Until what’s resolved?”

“It’s just important,” I said, starting to cry. How I wanted to just lean back against him and pretend it was nothing. “I… I have a terrible secret, Jeremy. I…” Wait, I can’t tell him the truth, not now! He’d feel horribly betrayed and embarrassed if I told him he’d just confessed love to another guy. “I can’t tell you. I just can’t. I never should have let things go this far.”

“Whatever it is, Hun, we can talk it out.”

“No!” I exclaimed, facing him. Then I realized that I was causing a scene in public. “We need to go,” I whispered. “I’ve made a horrible mess of things. We need to break up. This isn’t fair to you. I need to set you free so you can be with another girl. Somebody who doesn’t have these problems.”

“I’m not interested in another girl,” he whispered back. “How long is this secret going to take you to resolve?”

I sniffed and tried to wipe my tears with my glove. “I don’t know… days, weeks, months, maybe? Years? I don’t know.”

He took off his own glove and used a napkin he’d gotten with the hot chocolate to dab tenderly at my tears. “I’ll tell you what, then,” he whispered. “We love each other, right? We’ve just said so.” I nodded. “Then we’ll stay together, for now. I’m willing to risk any heartache; I don’t want to lose you. If this isn’t resolved by the time I graduate, and you still think we have to break up, we’ll break up then, and we’ll probably never see each other again. OK?”

I should have stood firm. I thought of warning him that he could be risking being alone for Spring House Parties, that he could get badly hurt, but I was too weak. I wanted to hold on to him as long as I could, so I agreed and clung to him with all my might.

But one thing was now absolutely clear to me. One way or another, I had to resolve this. Finding Professor Davis was now my number one priority.

125 Loose Ends Unravelling

When I was about ten, it really annoyed me that I couldn’t see over the tops of the front seats when we went for a drive, so I did what I thought was the most obvious thing: I removed the parts of the seat that made them higher than I thought they needed to be and tossed them in the trunk. Mom and Dad didn’t agree with my solution. Dad said that the tops were called headrests and that without them people got whiplash, which is what happens when your head is going along in one direction and suddenly starts going in a different direction because of an unexpected stop. I’d never actually experienced it, but I had a feeling I knew what it was like, just about now.

How could Dad have suddenly found Professor Davis? And why now, just as I’d pretty much decided that I was ready to have him vanish from my life completely? When I’d finalized decided that I wanted to just find a way to live this life that I was in, why suddenly tell me that there might be a way out of it?

I don’t know what was showing on my face, but it can’t have been good, because Jeremy put his hand on my shoulder and asked in a concerned voice, “What is it? Marsh, what’s happened?”

Guiltily, I hid the front of my phone against my shoulder and gasped, “just a bit of a surprise, that’s all.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked.

I squeezed my eyes shut in exasperation and worked really hard to make my voice calm. Placing a finger on his lips, I told him, “Jeremy… I’m crazy about you, but you’re trying too hard. This is something I need to deal with on my own.” Then he flinched back, looking every bit like a little boy whose mother had scolded him for putting jam on the cat, so I rested my head on his chest and let him put his arms around me, as if he needed reassurance that I wasn’t too angry with him.

“Is breakfast still OK?” he asked.

“I think… I think need to take a rain check, if you don’t mind?”

I felt his chest tense, but after a moment, he relaxed, stroked my hair and said, “OK. Another time, then.”

I nodded, and he walked me back to his room so I could grab my things. Our good-bye kiss outside the door to his dorm lingered, as though both of us were afraid that “another time, then” was just a lie that we had silently agreed to believe.

As soon as I was out of site of his dorm, I pulled out my phone and called Dad. “Hey, Marsh,” he answered. “I’m just running out the door. I’ll call you when I get to the office. What’s a good time for you?”

“Uh… my first class isn’t until 9:00, but can you at least–”

“Great! I’ll call you before then,” he said, hanging up before I could even ask how he had done it.” And I knew perfectly well that there was no point in calling him back and insisting that he tell me now; he never used his cellphone while driving, unless it was a real emergency. His daughter’s curiosity wouldn’t count.

I continued walking to my room, and suddenly stopped with a jolt. “His daughter,” I had thought. Was that the first time I’d ever actually thought of myself that way? Not as his son, transformed into a girl by mad scientists, but as his daughter? I really wasn’t sure what to make of it, but boy did it sound strange.

My roommates had already left for breakfast when I got to the dorm, so I dropped off my books and hurried to the dining hall, making my excuses for being late. Nobody said anything, although I was pretty sure that if I had been wearing the same clothing today that I had yesterday, somebody would have noticed. Silently, I thanked Jeremy for his foresight and Terry for her discretion.

I did have the feeling that Jay was staring at me for some reason, but whenever I glanced over, his eyes were focused on the pancakes he was eating, so I might have been just imagining things.

The conversation as the group of us walked back to the dorm was pretty safe as well; clearly, either only my roommates knew where I’d spent the night, or nobody cared – and the idea that none of the other girls would care where virginal Marsha Steen had spent the night didn’t make a lot of sense. But the studied non-interest vanished once the three of us were back in our room.

“I’m kind of impressed with your boyfriend,” Lee Ann said, closing the door behind us. “I’m just not sure what to think of you, right now.”

“Nothing happened,” I explained, possibly a bit more defensively than absolutely necessary. “And why would it matter if it had? I followed your advice. I’ve been on the Pill for a few weeks; what’s the big deal?”

“The big deal, Marsh,” Terry explained, “is that you told us that you remember nothing of… well, knowing the two of us before midterm break.”

“I don’t!” I insisted. “Well, I sort of knew Lee Ann in my old life, but–”

“But you somehow knew how Terry had reacted last Founder’s Day,” Lee Ann stated.

“What?!” I exclaimed. “Of course I don’t rememb–” then suddenly, I did remember. I remembered breakfast the previous day, and talking about Terry’s enthusiasm upon learning the news. My jaw dropped. “How could I possibly…?” I whispered, dropping onto the couch at the realization. I shook my head to clear it. “My memory of Founder’s Day last year was waking up because Chris Ba–” I coughed as I realized I’d been about to say my male freshman year roommate’s name. “–Booch,” I corrected myself. “My roommate was shaking me awake to tell me I could sleep in.”

“Chris Booch?” echoed Lee Ann. “I don’t think I know her.” Thank goodness for androgynous first names!

I shrugged, trying calm myself. I had suspected something like this could be happening – this was just proof. “Terry running down the halls isn’t my memory, guys… I seem to be having her memories leaking into mine. The old Marsha Steen’s memories, I mean.”

Lee Ann sounded really skeptical. “Really?”

“I promise you,” I said. “You said yourselves that I was acting oddly. I don’t have a lot of her memories, but I do have this one. And I think Celeste – that girl who wanted me to alter those old dresses – was another.” I didn’t mention the Girl Scout meeting, but now it seemed likely that that was a Marsha memory as well.

“Sounds pretty convenient.”

“Maybe – as long as I’m not forgetting my own memories in their place. That’s my fear; I don’t want to forget being me.” And what was I going to do if I lost their trust?

The two of them looked at each other, and then Lee Ann said, “I want to believe you, Marsh. I think at some point, you’re going to need to tell us a lot more of this old life of yours.” And convince us that it’s real, she didn’t say, but I knew she had to be thinking it.

If you did change back, a small voice in my head suggested, you wouldn’t ever have to tell. It wasn’t so tempting, anymore, though – all it did was make me feel even worse. At any rate, they stopped pressing me, and we all headed to our rooms to get ready for class, although how I was supposed to focus on Organic Chemistry at the moment was beyond me.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard the ringtone I had assigned to Dad’s office phone, and answered it eagerly. “I’m all ears, Dad,” I said.

He chuckled. “Sometimes it helps to have somebody not quite as close to the matter. I have an email address, a phone number, and a mailing address.”

“That’s amazing!” I exclaimed. “How?”

“Well, I called your friend Luke, and he said he had no more information than he’d told you beyond the nature of his interview with the experimenters, and he insisted that they were ‘good guys,’ but he did tell me something you hadn’t mentioned.”


“Professor Davis’s first name – Rolf. It turns out not to be all that common a combination of names, and when I found a Professor Rolf Davis in the Physics department at Rocky Lake University in Oregon, I was pretty sure I had the right guy.”

I felt like banging my head on my desk. Now that I thought about it, Luke had been on a first name basis with the people who had done this to us. Why hadn’t Vicky or I thought of that?

“So I had my secretary call the physics department,” Dad went on, “and they told her that he was on an extended leave, doing research… at Piques College! And they gave her his contact information there. Check your email; I’ve sent it to you.”

“So Piques tried a cover-up and forgot to tell his old university,” I realized.

“Exactly! Now, I’m sure some of these won’t be very useful – the address seems to be in your Physics Building – but they’d have arranged to forward his correspondence, don’t you think?”

Of course, that didn’t mean that he would actually answer, but… “Dad, thank you so very much,” I gushed. “This is a great breakthrough, and we never could have done it without you.”

“You’re very welcome, Princess,” he said. “Good luck.”

As he hung up, I smiled to myself. So he did still think of me that way, even if he thought he shouldn’t. The question now was, what to do next?

I started by calling Vicky while walking to class, telling her that we had new information, and asking her to arrange a meeting with Martin and Eric. I knew that her Friday schedule wasn’t as full as mine, so she’d have the time. “And how did things go with Kevin?” I asked.

“Depressingly easily,” she told me. “I broke up with him over the phone, and he just laughed in a superior way and said, ‘your loss – I’ll have another girl in my bed by Sunday. I guess you’re gonna be sleeping alone for a long time.’ I just hope you’re right about this, Marsh.”

When saw Geoff that morning in Orgo, I told him that she had actually done it, and he nodded. I think he might have seemed a bit interested this time. But after the lecture was over, I stopped to think. Shouldn’t knowing that we now actually had a way to get in touch with Professor Davis have made me hesitant in fixing the two of them up? What if I did have to change back, now? Surely I’d want her not to be dating another guy?

I got to Vicky’s room for our meeting that afternoon, and found myself the first one there. Her roommates were out, but we still went into her bedroom for privacy. “So what’s this new information?” she asked after I had taken off my coat.

I grinned. “Come on, Vix. You know me. I want to do this in the most dramatic fashion, in front of everybody.”

“I know,” she responded. “That’s why I told the boys to come fifteen minutes later than I told you. Come on, Marsh. They’re helping us – you and I are the main interested parties, here.”


“Don’t ‘Vicky’ me. I have a right. I want to know what this is all about, and maybe – just maybe – I want to talk you into not quite telling them everything.”

“Why wouldn’t I tell them everything?”

“I don’t know, do I, since you haven’t told me what this secret is!

I shook my head. I couldn’t just sit here for a quarter of an hour and not discuss it. I could lose graciously. “OK. Here it is, then. Dad did a bit of research for me and came up with a phone number, and an office address, and an email address for Professor Rolf Davis!”


“Incredible, huh?”

“So what happened when you called him?” she asked breathlessly.

“Well, I haven’t, yet.”

“Why not?!” she shrieked.

“Whoa, Vicky, slow down. I haven’t called because I haven’t figured out what to say. I thought I should get ideas from everybody, first.”

“Really? Are you sure that’s the reason?”

“What do you mean?” I asked, hearing something a bit dangerous in her tone.

“Well, Geoff called me this afternoon and asked me if I wanted to hang out with him. He said you’d put him up to it.”

“Well, I just figured–”

“So now I’m wondering why you would do that, if you knew about this phone number stuff.” Her gaze suddenly seemed to pierce through me. “It’s as though you’ve already made your choice. Do you want to stay a girl, Marshall? Are you picking Jeremy over me?”

I tried to laugh off her suggestion. “Vicky, you know what I want.”

“Do I?” Her voice started pitching up again. “A few months ago, you were desperate to change back. You hated being a girl. You said you were hoping to get back together with me.”


“And now you’re actually fixing me up with another guy?! I mean, how is that supposed to make me feel, Marsh? I’m used to the idea of thinking of other girls as my rivals, potentially. I’ve seen guys who I thought were mine, suddenly flirting with somebody else who might be a bit prettier, or cuter, or whatever. But how am I supposed to deal with the idea that you’re interested in another man instead of me?”

I found myself backing up, reacting to her just the way I would have if I were still male – used to the idea that fighting was done by physical dominance and hindered by the internalized rule that you didn’t do that with girls. But then I caught myself and realized something. I’m not a boy. I shook my head to clear it. There was no reason for me to react this way.

I stopped backing up, put my hands on my hips and stared up at her. “You just need to accept it, Vicky. I have no idea what’s going to happen. There’s no particular reason to say that I’ll change back, or that I even want to any more.”

That stopped her. She blinked at me. “What? What did you say?”

“Do you want to be a boy, Vicky?”

“What? No, of course not! I mean, I like boys, but I wouldn’t want to be one.”

“So why should I want to be one?”

“What? But… I mean, you are a boy…”

“Oh, Vicky,” I said, taking her hands in mine. “Look at me. Do I really look like a boy? I… for all I know, I do need to change back, but it’s not because I want to. It’s taken me all this time to realize that I’m comfortable this way – I remember being a boy, and I remember liking being a boy, only… it’s getting harder and harder to remember why. If I choose to change back now, it’ll be because no matter what I feel like, I’ll always have this horrible secret that I’m afraid to tell, or because it feels dishonest to be a girl. Or because… well, there are some problems, but mostly because I don’t know what else Davis and company might be able to do – and if we can talk to them, maybe we can find out or stop them or something. But I’m not a boy stuck in a girl’s body – my brain and body and even a lot of my habits now, are just as female as you.

“I… mentioned you to Geoff because… even if we’re not attracted to each other, I still love you and want you to be happy. I think you’d be a lot happier with somebody like Geoff than with a creep like Kevin. And if I do change back… well, I guess I have to take the chance that you might prefer him to me by then. It feels as though there’s two parts to me. Marshall loves you, Vicky. That we’ve been able to be as close as we have these past few months proves to me that it’s more than just lust. It’s love. But at the same time, that part of me that’s Marsha… loves Jeremy. And I really hope you can accept that.”

She sat down on the bed, hard, her face a mixture of confusion, jealousy, and shock. She was staring, not at the floor, nor at me. “I don’t know how you do this, Marsh,” she said, her voice squeaking in the middle. “Just when I think I have things figured out, you hand me something I can’t quite grasp. I don’t see how I’m supposed to accept this. It’s like you keep forcing me to try to be a better and more understanding person – do you have any idea how uncomfortable that is for me?”

“But you can do it.”

“I don’t know that!” She looked up at me and I saw the tears streaming down her face. “I just want to go back to the way we were. It was so much easier. Even being afraid I was going to lose you, I knew who I was. You let me be who I was. Why are you making me grow and change? I thought boys just accepted their partners and wanted them never to change. It’s girls who are always trying to change their part…” She broke off and I saw her expression change to surprise. “Oh my gosh…”

I reached for her to comfort her, and in the worst timing of the afternoon, we heard a knock at the door. “I’ll get it,” I said. “You fix your makeup, or whatever you’re supposed to say.” I managed a smile of chagrin. “I’m still not really good at this.”

I opened the door to find Martin and Eric and waved them in.

“I was going to apologize for being early,” Martin said, “only I see you still beat us here. What’s the news?”

“Come into Vicky’s bedroom, and I’ll explain,” I said.

“Am I missing something?” I heard Eric whisper humorously to Martin. “I mean, we do seem to keep getting invited into the girls’ bedrooms…” I was pleased to see Martin elbow him into silence.

When we got back to Vicky, she was sitting on the bed, placidly, with no sign of tearing on her cheeks. I really wish I knew how she’d done that; I could see it coming in handy. “OK, guys,” I announced. “The news itself is simple. The hard part is: what do we do about it?” I left a dramatic pause before pulling a sheet of paper from my purse. “I have here Professor Davis’s mailing address, e-mail address, and phone number.”

I waited for the boys to react before continuing. “Now we actually still have a problem. As I think we’ve mentioned, Luke says he doesn’t want to speak with students, and maybe not with anybody about the experiment, so just getting a message to him isn’t enough. We have to get him to respond.

“Any ideas?”

124 Showered With Trouble

I stared at the dress in shock. How could it possibly be here? Had something else changed? Had I changed? I reached for my purse to pull out my compact and noticed something else, or rather two something else’s. My phone, which I had left inside the purse, was now sitting on the floor next to it, and so was my cosmetic case, which I always leave in my bedroom.

The room lurching, I quickly sat on the bed, trying not to faint. I took several slow breaths, trying to calm my pounding heart and then reached again for my purse and the compact inside it. There had to be a logical explanation for all of this. In the dim light, it was hard to be absolutely certain, but my reflection certainly looked like me , or rather the female me – Marsha. Could they have somehow changed my reality without changing my appearance? Or possibly I just couldn’t tell? Some of the changes that had affected others in the Strangers had been very subtle.

OK, time to think. Why would I be wearing my nightgown? Why would my dress be here when I hadn’t worn it yesterday? Was it possible that I had just lost a day, having come back here the next day, only better prepared to spend the night? I grabbed my phone to check the date. No dice, it was Thursday, just as I expected it to be. If there’d been a change in my reality though, was it possible that I had moved in with Jeremy? Or had arranged to spend nights on a regular basis? It seemed out of character for him, but it was something I could check. Surely he would have given me one of the drawers in his dresser.

I looked at him again. Covered with the blanket, he was now stretched out on the floor. That didn’t make sense – if I were sleeping here regularly, surely he would have been in the bed with me? Still, I crept as quietly as I could to the dresser and slowly eased open the top drawer.

It was full of his underwear and socks, so I tried the next, and the next. Each held only his clothing and none of mine. When I pulled open the second-to-bottom drawer, I heard him ask, sleepily, “Are you looking for something?”

I jumped in surprise and turned around, closing the drawer with the back of my legs. If things had changed out from under me, obviously he wouldn’t notice, and I wouldn’t want him to notice. I needed to change the subject, distract him, until I have this figured out. “I… I think I was a bit tired last night,” I said. “I don’t remember hanging my dress on your closet door.”

“You didn’t,” he said, shaking his head and standing up. “I did.” My eyes bulged. Had we been living together long enough for him to know my habit of putting out my clothes the night before? “You seemed really uncomfortable when you left here the last time, and Janine told me that it’s embarrassing for girls when they have to walk home the next day in the same clothes they wore the night before – she called it the ‘walk of shame’ – so I called your roommate and arranged to get you a change of clothes.”

“You… called my roommate?” I gaped at him. “How did you…?” My brain was frazzled.

“Terry Baldwin, right? I found her number in your phone. I remembered you had introduced one of your roommates as ‘Terry’ and she was the only one in there. I told her what I wanted and she had everything ready for me when I got there.”

“And my nightgown?”

“She said you’d be more comfortable that way than in a t-shirt, and also that you would want your makeup.” That was possible. Terry certainly could have said all that.

“And… you put it on me?” I asked. He’d be sure I was too inhibited to allow that, surely?

“No,” he said, looking a bit embarrassed. “When I came back, you sat up, so I gave it to you. Before I could turn around, you took off the shirt and… well, next I saw you were under the covers. Obviously, you put on the nightgown and lay down again; I’m not sure you actually even woke up.”

Huh. That would explain why it had been pushed up to my waist. I must have put it on sitting up and then gone back to sleep. I was being stupid. Of course that’s what happened! Always look for the simplest explanation! I almost laughed with relief. How could I have imagined they would change time on me again?

“Anyway, now you can use my bathrobe and go take a shower and change into fresh clothes, if you want?” he concluded. Then he gave me a concerned look. “Is everything OK? Did I do something wrong?”

“No! No,” I answered, trying to regain my composure. “You were great. Thank you! I really appreciate it. I think I will go take that shower now!”

He handed me his robe, a towel, and brand new containers of body wash and shampoo and said, “I’m going to take a shower too, so I’ll leave the door unlocked for you.”

“Wait!” I said. “Don’t you need this stuff?”

“The campus store was still open after you fell asleep, so I just picked them up for you last night.” He looked so… open and innocent, not having any idea what kinds of things I’d been imagining just minutes ago. I couldn’t help staring open-mouthed just a moment more before standing on my tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek.

At his direction, I walked down the hallway to the left towards the women’s bathroom, thinking furiously as I went. This isn’t working. I’m jumping at shadows. It has to be as he said, a perfectly innocent, although incredibly sweet gesture. He went out of his way to please me, and I freaked because he just happened to bring back the dress from the start of this whole thing.

The problem, I realized, is that those guys are still out there, somewhere. Maybe they can’t do anything more to me. Maybe I can go on and live this new life without thinking about them. But what if I can’t? After all, they changed Dirk, didn’t they, and he almost certainly never met them.

But what can I do? Luke was our best chance at finding them and even he doesn’t have any way to reach them now. It’s hopeless, isn’t it? And isn’t that for the best? Why do I need to worry that maybe something could happen? I don’t worry about lightning strikes, right? You can’t worry about everything happening. You have to just go along, even if you’re stuck in the wrong body, in the wrong life.

In the bathroom, I walked right past a vaguely familiar girl at the sink, my eyes focused only on the nearest empty shower stall. Ignoring everybody around me, I stripped and stepped into the shower, hanging the towel and bathrobe on the hook. As I reached to turn on the water, a voice from the direction of the sinks said, “Oh! Aren’t you Jeremy’s girlfriend? I forget your name.”

Surprised at having my thoughts interrupted, I froze. “Um, hi,” I said, “Yes, I’m Marsha.”

“I guess you guys are getting along pretty well, huh?”

Did I hear a note of envy in her voice? I forced myself to laugh. “Oh, you mean my being here this morning? I was exhausted last night when I came to the study session and Jeremy insisted on putting me to bed!”

“And on joining you there?” she asked again. This time I was sure. She was definitely envious.

“He slept on the floor,” I answered, putting my head under the water and trying to make it sound all matter-of-fact.


That gave me something else to think about. I knew how unbalanced the sex ratio was on campus. Surely, if I were still Marshall, Jeremy would have found another girl. Maybe even this girl. What if she were the one he was supposed to be with? What if I were in effect stealing some other girl’s man?

I can’t think that way, I told myself, I didn’t ask for this life, and I don’t even know if I can keep it. It’s not my fault. Complain to them if you don’t have a boyfriend, I thought at the nameless girl. I’m just making the best of what I was given.

For a moment, I heard nothing but the water, and took the opportunity to rub shampoo into my hair.

“So it’s not a serious relationship, then?” the girl persisted. Why couldn’t she just leave?

“Actually, it is,” I informed her. These are the cards I was dealt, after all. I didn’t ask for this, but I’m not giving him up so easily, Tramp.


I heard the bathroom door open and close. If I was lucky, she was gone.

But I wasn’t really alone. It was still with me, the feeling, even as I soaped and rinsed my body. The feeling that I was a fake, that I didn’t belong, that I was still vulnerable, that somehow they might keep changing things and thereby make my life a living Hell. And the thing was, now I knew. I knew that I wanted to stay this way, to be Jeremy’s girlfriend, and who knew what the future would bring? Maybe I didn’t deserve him, maybe I was a fake; that didn’t mean I couldn’t try to enjoy myself, did it?

I heard the bathroom door open again as I wrung my hair dry and wrapped it in the towel. Then I pulled the bathrobe around myself and stepped out of the shower carefully, trying to avoid tripping over the long ends. Two girls had come in, chattering to each other, and headed for the empty shower stalls.

“Excuse me,” I said. “I spent the night in my boyfriend’s room and I don’t have my hair-dryer. Could one of your lend me one?”

The two of them looked at each other and then one pulled a black hairdryer from her pile of supplies. “You’re Jeremy’s girl, right? Marsh? Just leave it on the sink.

I nodded my thanks, and took the dryer to one of the sinks, placing my shampoo and body wash in the pockets of the robe as I did. As I dried my hair, I thought some more. I need to be a better girlfriend. There’s really no excuse for me not to have thanked him a lot more profusely. He really went out of his way for me. I considered what had actually happened. Professor Davis and his shenanigans are behind me, aren’t they? All the changes I remember – Dirk, Tyler, there’s no reason they couldn’t have happened all at the same time. Just because those guys were still poking around the physics building doesn’t mean they were still mucking with time, after all. I have to be able to believe that.

I started feeling better. If I can’t even find them, and I obviously can’t, there’s nothing I can do, right? It’s time to forget that this isn’t the original reality. What matters now is Jeremy and me, that’s what’s really important.

Feeling much better, I put the hairdryer on the sink, picked up my towel, and headed back to Jeremy’s room. To my surprise, he was already back and dressed. I didn’t think I had taken all that much time; how had he gotten done so quickly? “Jeremy,” I said a bit hesitantly, “I… I don’t think I thanked you adequately. You really went above and beyond for me last night. Thank you so much for taking such good care of me.” And I put my arms around his neck and gave him a long, lingering kiss.

He chuckled when we stopped, his arms still around me. “Hey, that’s my job, isn’t it?” He looked into my eyes for a moment. “You look fantastic.”

Shyly, I pulled away. “I don’t even have my makeup on.” Adjusting his robe, I sat on his bed and took out my cosmetic case. “Um. You really don’t need to see this, do you?” I asked, facing away from him.

He laughed, but I really didn’t want him to see me put on my concealer; it would just draw attention to the imperfections that he wasn’t supposed to know about – I really only wanted him to see the final result. “OK,” he grinned. “You want me to step outside the room while you get ready?”

“Please.” Then I remembered something else. “Oh, by the way, remember you asked me about doctors having children? I kind of did a bit of research, and women do sometimes have babies while in medical school or during their residencies. You just have to find a program that lets you take time off.” I was really glad he couldn’t see my face. It was feeling awfully hot just then, but he had asked, and he deserved an answer, and I had needed to know as well.

I probably set a record in getting my makeup on; at least, I was a lot faster now than I had been the first time Tina had shown me how. I threw on the fresh underwear and the dress, marveling at the improbability of Terry having picked out this dress for me, just when it might give me a heart attack to see it.

After one last check in the mirror to make sure I was presentable, I opened his door and found him talking with one of the boys from the study group. “Hey, good morning, Marsh!” he greeted me. Turning to Jeremy, he added, “see you at breakfast!”

Jeremy looked at me after his friend left and smiled. “You’re so gorgeous,” he said. “You’re joining us for breakfast, I hope?”

There was no reason for me to refuse – sure, people would assume that we’d been intimate, but we hadn’t been. In any case, I had been more than willing to be; yet I felt an odd reluctance at being so public with evidence of our relationship. Still, there was no way I could refuse him at this point, so I nodded.

“Great,” he said, taking me hand. “This way.” We’d just reached the steps downstairs when my phone beeped with the signal that I’d received a text message. Glancing at my phone, I noticed it was from Dad, which surprised me. Usually he waited for me to call him. Let me just check my message, Babe?” I said.

A couple button presses later, Dad’s message was displayed on my screen:

Found contact info for Prof Davis. Call me.

123 Perchance to Dream

When I hung up with Mom, I felt better, even though I hadn’t actually resolved anything. I don’t really get it; it must have something to do with the way girls think. I’m a girl now, but I still don’t understand them.

Mom had told me to think of myself as somebody with a unique perspective, and said that I might have to look very hard to find somebody who could appreciate that; telling the truth about myself might well be a way to figure out when I had. That didn’t make me ready to tell Jeremy, of course, but it did make me feel worse about not doing so.

Between rehearsal, my talk with Nikki, and my phone call with Mom, I’d lost a lot of study time, and now I was going to pay for it. I still had notes to recopy, a bit of online research to do, and a bit of backlog on my clothing rack. Unfortunately, one of the perils of online research is that there are so many possible distractions, and in the end I didn’t fall asleep until almost three, having barely made a dent in my backlog.

Even if I’d been tempted to ignore my alarm and sleep through breakfast, my roommates never gave me the chance. “Marsh… time to get up,” Terry sang, knocking on my door. That meant that the other girls had already showered, and if I didn’t get up now, I wouldn’t have time to throw on even basic makeup. I wondered if I could get away with no makeup at all, just this once. Probably not. I’d look terrible and I’d draw unwanted attention to myself. With a sigh, I pried open my eyelids and climbed out of bed. At least I could drink coffee with breakfast.

I didn’t think my tiredness was all that obvious, at least once I’d touched up a bit under my eyes, but Jay noticed immediately. “Wow, you look horrible, Marsh,” he commented.

“I love you, too, Jay,” I shot back, testily.

“Seriously,” he said. “You shouldn’t be pulling an all-nighter this early in the term. You don’t have an exam today, do you?”

I took a deep breath, hissing through my teeth. Given the way he’d been on my case since midterm break, I didn’t think he had any right to be asking me things like this. “I had something I needed to study, OK?” I snapped.

He leaned back and put up his hands as if to show he wasn’t being aggressive. “I just wanted to say that I know about the pressure pre-meds have, and maybe if you need to do something like an all-nighter to catch up on study, you should wait for Founder’s Day, OK? We ought to be getting plenty of snow soon enough.”

“Jay!” a couple of people hissed, pointing at Susie, and Jay flinched, looking chagrined, while Susie and I looked at each other in surprise.

“Susie’s a transfer student this year,” Terry whispered in my ear, explaining Jay’s gaffe. Marsha would have known that, of course.

“Well, you’ve blown it, Jay,” Lisa told him sardonically. “If we don’t tell her, she’ll just google it, so you might as well explain now.”

“I’m sorry, Susie,” Jay said our still-mystified friend. “It’s a Piques tradition that on a day in January, usually after the first decent snowfall, the administration cancels all classes. It’s big fun day with everybody running out and playing in the snow like kids, and it’s supposed to be a surprise for freshmen, so we don’t talk about it in advance. I forgot that you weren’t here last year.”

“Right,” Lisa added, glaring at him, “and some people just stay in and study or catch up on projects or whatever. It’s really a lot of fun, but the surprise is the best part.”

“You should have seen Terry last year when they posted the announcement on the web site,” I laughed. “She ran through the hall, banging on everybody’s door, yelling ‘Woo hoo! No classes!’”

A bunch of the others laughed as well, and Susie shrugged. “Well, it’ll still be a surprise when it happens, right? I can’t wait!”

I didn’t feel quite so tired by the end of breakfast, and had no problems getting ready for class. I noticed Lee Ann looking at me curiously as I left for Organic Chemistry, but she didn’t say anything, so I didn’t worry about it. If it were important, she’d tell me.

At least Geoff was cheerful as always, greeting me with his usual, “Good morning, Marsha!”

“How are you this morning, Geoff?”

“Not bad, not bad. Beat my roommates in the Tsukuba endurance race last night. By three hours in, I was already five laps ahead.”

“’Three hours in?” I echoed incredulously. “Are you saying that you played one video game for three hours straight and all you did was drive around and around the same track?”

“Four hours, actually. Had to stop for new tires about every fifty minutes, but I won.”

“Uh… huh. I think you need a girlfriend.”

He chuckled. “Bored with what’s-his-name already?”

“No,” I said, embarrassed at him coming on to me again, even if it was just teasing, “I mean for my friend Vicky.” At his impatient look, I quickly added, “She’s breaking up with her boyfriend. She told me so.”

“She’s still a bit of a nutcase,” he said, shaking his head.

“She’s a very nice girl, Geoff. She’s… just having a bit of a hard time. This guy was really wrong for her, and she needs a decent guy.”

“And I’m the sacrificial lamb, huh? Why are you so eager to fix this girl up, anyway?”

“She’s a friend; a close friend,” I explained. “I care about her a lot.”

He stared at me for a moment. “I don’t know, Marsh…”

“Think about it,” I insisted. “You don’t seem to be trying to commit to anybody, so I’m not asking for that. But give it some thought. I think you two would be good together.”

He shrugged. “Maybe. I’ll think about it.” I don’t know if he was just trying to shut me up, but at least it was a start.

By dinnertime, I was starting to get tired; actually I was practically nodding in my soup, or would have been if I had had any soup. “Marsh, are you OK?” Terry asked as we walked back to our room.

“Well, I was OK after lunch, and then I wanted to copy over my notes, and I had some reading to do… and I need to review my lines and a couple of songs, and then I still have a bunch of sewing I need to get done, and–”

“And you’re planning on doing all of this when exactly?”

“As soon as I get back from my study session with Jeremy.”

“If I were you, I’d skip the study session,” Lee Ann put in. “You need to make up for the sleep you didn’t get.”

“But I promised him,” I said.

“He’ll understand.”

“Maybe I’ll just go for a bit. We sort of left a conversation unfinished. Besides, the walk in the cold woke me up again,” I insisted. “See?” I dashed inside to grab my books and papers and headed out again before they could think of a good excuse to keep me there.

I was actually the first person in the lounge as a result, so I pulled out my script and started going over it quietly. I was doing much better in my logic class, and I didn’t really need Jeremy’s help, but it was nice having him review it with me.

I kept losing focus – I’d look over a line, look away and recite it from memory, and then I’d catch my head starting to droop. Shaking my head to wake myself up was only helping so much.

And then I felt a hand on my shoulder and I looked up into Jeremy’s eyes. “Hey, you don’t look good,” he said.

“I love you too,” I mumbled.

He sat down next to me. “Are you sleep-deprived?”

“Can’t sleep,” I said, desperately trying to keep my head up. “I have songs to sew and a whole rack of papers.”

He pulled me to my feet. “OK. Time to go, Babe. Night’s over. I’m putting you to bed.”

With an effort, I forced my eyes to open. “I’m awake,” I said, yawning.

“Yeah, let’s go.”

I let him put my coat on me and pick up my books and papers, and followed him out into the hallway. A moment later, I said, “This isn’t the way to my dorm.”

“No,” he agreed. “If I bring you home, you’re just going to try to do some more work. I’m putting you in my bed and I’m going to make sure you go to sleep.”

“If I’m in your bed tonight, I don’t think I’m going to do much sleeping,” I giggled.

“In my bed alone. I’m going to sleep on the floor.” He opened the door and ushered me in. While my mouth hung agape at the idea, he pulled a T-shirt from his dresser and handed it to me. “Get changed.” Then he turned his back, blocking the door, as if he thought I might try to make a break for it.

I was really too tired to resist anyway, and I wouldn’t have complained if he’d undressed me himself, but I pulled off my shirt and skirt and tossed them on the end of the bed, lacking the energy even to fold them. Then I remembered, and forced myself to take off my makeup as best I could with a face wipe and a mirror from my purse. I unfastened my bra and then pulled his t-shirt over my head. It hung most of the way down my thighs, and I took off my underwear under it.  “I’m done,” I announced.

“And sleepy?” he asked, turning around to look at me. I nodded. I couldn’t believe he was really going to do this. “Good. Into bed with you.”

Obediently, I climbed under the covers. “Don’t you want the blanket or something?” I asked.

“I’ll be fine,” he reassured me. “Roll over.” So I did, and then I felt strong fingers kneading my shoulders. I tensed briefly, and then relaxed as the soothing pressure moved from down my back and my sides. Off I drifted, until…

I was in a classroom, and the professor was droning on about something that sounded like anatomy, but what he was speaking wasn’t quite English, and I had to strain to tell what he was talking about. The strain traveled down my neck and into my chest and hit my huge belly and got stuck there and it was really painful and then a man said, “Time to go, Babe.”

I was lying in bed holding a baby and just as I was about to cuddle him against my chest, the professor came in and took him from me and handed me a clipboard. “You have 30 minutes,” he said. “Go.” And I flipped to the first page, but it was in Spanish and I didn’t know most of the words, and then I flipped to the next, and the next, and…

I was freezing, which wasn’t surprising, since I’d apparently kicked my covers off. I looked down, half expecting my belly to be bulging, but all I noticed was that my nightgown had ridden up almost to my waist. I pushed it down all the way to just above my ankles, pulled the sheet and blanket up to my chin and fell back asleep.

When I woke up, the first rays of dawn were just beginning to peek through the window. I stared at the walls for a moment in confusion before I remembered where I was. Then I sat up and looked for Jeremy. He was sleeping on the floor next to the bed, curled into a ball. His coat, which he must have used as a cover, was draped partially over his legs, and his head looked quite uncomfortable on the floor.

I got up, pulled the blanket off of his bed and covered him, and then very gently wedged his pillow under his head. I was pleased that I’d managed to do that without waking him. Then I looked down. I was wearing my nightgown. Hadn’t I fallen asleep in his shirt?

The clock radio on his desk read 6:58; if I hurried, I could get back to my room without being seen. I just needed to get dressed, write a note and slip out quietly. I looked around for my clothes, and there, hanging on his closet door, was a dress… the same dress I had seen the first morning I’d awoken as a girl.

122 Good Call

It was after ten when I got back to my room, and I was a bit hesitant about calling home so close to Mom and Dad’s usual bedtime. After agonizing for a few minutes, I decided to try, figuring that if they sounded tired or grumpy I could try the next night. To my surprise, it was Dad who answered.

“Hi, Marsh,” he said. “Would you like me to fetch your mother?”

“Please,” I answered. “But could you hold on a moment? I need to tell you both something, first.”

“I’ve… I’ve got some bad news. It looks like changing back isn’t going to happen,” I told them when she picked up another line. I then explained yet again about the confrontation with Luke. “The only clue we have left of any kind seems to be that address fragment, but not enough of it for there to be a reasonable chance that we could find them.”

“Oh, Baby, you must feel devastated,” Mom said, sympathetically.

“I don’t know what to say, Marsh,” Dad added. “I hate to think that there’s nothing we can do. Would you be able to give me this guy’s number so I can see if there might be something you’ve missed?”

“I can do that, Dad,” I conceded. “But at this point, I’m just trying to do what I can to accept… to accept that I’m always going to be a girl, now. It’s really hard. I’m not saying I hate it or anything, but it’s really confusing. When this first happened, I had no doubts; I wanted to be male again. Now? I just don’t know. I thought that maybe talking it out with Mom would help.”

“Of course, Pr– uh, sorry, Marsh,” Dad said quietly. “Just remember that I’m here for you. There is nothing I wouldn’t do if you needed me to.”

“I know… and thanks. Oh, and Dad? Could you tell Chad about this? I don’t think I can face him just now. I know he got on my case about giving up the last time and… I just don’t have the strength. I love you, Dad.”

“Sure, I can do that,” he responded. “And I love you too.”

I heard him hang up and I felt horribly guilty about pushing him away. “How’s Dad doing, Mom?” I asked. “He seems really down.”

“Well, this has been incredibly difficult for him,” she said. “He feels as though he’s lost his little girl, his princess, and at the same time that he’s missed out on having a son that he hadn’t even really thought he’d wanted. Your father has never wished that one of you was a boy, and now that you’ve told him you were supposed to be, and he doesn’t even remember you that way… well…”

“I guess I hadn’t really thought about that,” I admitted. “Now I wonder if it would’ve been better if I’d just kept this whole thing a secret.”

“No, Baby. If you’re going through something, of course we want to know so we can help you. But it’s just hard for your Dad. You heard him. He’s not even sure he knows what to call you any more.”

“Mom, it was his idea not to call me ‘Princess’ any more. I was getting used to it. And I was even managing to call him ‘Daddy’ until he started looking uncomfortable about it.” I stopped and took a breath. “But that’s not what I called about. I’m really confused and I wanted to talk it out. I’m not sure how to do this; I don’t have enough experience at this kind of thing. Do you think it might help to talk about, you know, the plusses and minuses? You know, to see if it resolves things in my mind?”

“Sure, you can try that,” she said. “I admit, I’m a bit curious. What did you like about being a boy, and what do you like now about being a girl?”

“OK, well, and this isn’t in any particular order; there are so many things, picking the most important ones is really tough. Um, I liked being tall. I used to be taller than Daddy – than Dad, I mean. I wasn’t the tallest guy around; I had friends who were even taller, but I was taller than most people. You get used to that. I liked being able to reach things and being able to pick up heavy things, and, um… well, I liked liking girls, and dating girls, and…” I hesitated. “How honest should I be, Mom?”

“This is for you, Honey, remember? If you think it’s helpful to mention it, go ahead – I’m not going to be shocked. I’ve been married for more than two decades and I’ve had two daughters, and I just cannot believe that you’ll have done anything, even as a boy, that would really gross me out. You are my child, after all.”

“OK, well…” and I still hesitated, but… “Well, I liked having sex with girls, and… well, there were a fair number of them. Boy that sounds like an incredible double standard, doesn’t it? Tina called me out on it months ago when I got queasy about the idea of her having sex with her boyfriend–”

Mom coughed. “And when did this happen?” she asked, her voice pitching a bit higher.

“The conversation? Over midterm break… Oh, I didn’t mean to imply… no, Tina never… we were just talking about… things.”

“Never mind,” Mom said. “I’ll have a talk with your sister.”

I winced. I was pretty sure Tina didn’t have any important secrets from Mom, and that she would have told me if anything much more than kissing had happened, but it wasn’t my place to make Mom worry.

“Anyway,” I hurried back on topic, “I liked the way I used to joke around with other guys – talking with Chad now just doesn’t feel the same, even though he’s really trying to be my ‘buddy.’ It just doesn’t work. I liked being really good with my guitar and playing in front of crowds and knowing they were enjoying the music, and, well, I was comfortable; I knew I was who I was supposed to be. I didn’t have any important secrets that I had to hide from the people I cared about; secrets that might hurt them, like this one did with Dad.” I paused. “I think that’s most of the important things.”

“And what’s nice about being a girl?”

“Oh, well…” I actually blushed a bit. “I like how I feel when I’m with Jeremy, I… this is going to sound really dumb, but I like how he’s so much taller than I am and I can sort of snuggle under his arm…

“I like the way I can fix things and create things with my sewing machine and I can look at some girl wearing them and think, I did that. I like the way I can sing now; I love being able to do leads in plays and musicals. I like the way I can just talk and talk with other girls and it doesn’t even have to be about anything in particular. And I kind of like the way I look; I have sort of a unique style, you know? There aren’t too many girls on campus who dress the way I do, with long skirts and all. I can be girly and not look as if my body is all I have to attract somebody.” I found myself blushing even more.

“So you really have enjoyed both sides,” Mom observed. “That’s pretty amazing. It’s not a chance too many people get.”

“I know,” I admitted, “and in some ways, I guess it’s kind of nice. But it just feels wrong for me to be a girl, and I don’t know how to get over that. It feels like I’m lying every time people assume things about me that I know just aren’t true. Being a boy again seems incredibly foreign, but I think it’s wrong for me not to change back.”

“But if you don’t have a choice any more…”

“It doesn’t change the wrongness, Mom. I have this horrible secret I can never tell Jeremy, and it might matter.” I explained about the conversation he and I had, and what Vicky had said it might mean. “And I don’t know how I can go on in a serious relationship with him not knowing the truth about me.”

“And you really can’t tell him…?”

“Mom,” I wailed. “I’ll lose him. I sort of accidentally did tell him, only I convinced him that I’d just misspoken or that it was a joke; only you should have seen the way he looked at me. It’s not a question of being afraid how he’d react, I know. And I can’t really blame him, either. If one of the girls I’d dated had told me something like that, well, I’d never be able to look at her the same way again. I wouldn’t have dropped her immediately, but I’m sure I’d have started backing out of that relationship.”

Mom didn’t answer immediately, and I figured she must have been thinking the same thing I was; this would be a problem with any guy I ever dated. But what could I do?

121 Taking Out the Male

“And I’m starting to wonder,” I told Vicky in her room the next day, “if I need to step back and just try living this way for a month or so without agonizing about changing back.” I’d already described the conversation with Jeremy and the additional research I’d done online about transgender folk, and how of course I didn’t see surgery as a solution.

All in all, I’d been talking pretty much nonstop for about fifteen minutes, and Vicky hadn’t said a word in response. She just kept staring at me with what appeared to be horror.

“And what I’m realizing,” I continued, “is that I don’t feel male inside at all. I have most of my old habits, but my reactions… well, if I were physically male again and found myself still crushing on Jeremy, I’d be pretty upset.”

I stopped, expecting her to comment, but she just kept staring. “Vicky?” I waved my hand before her eyes. “Are you even listening to me?”

“He talked to you about having children?!” she finally asked.

I blinked in surprise. “Well, yeah, that’s how we got onto the subject. I mean, he really took me by surprise. I hadn’t–”

“Children? Seriously?”

“Uh, yeah… you know, really short people, look like their parents…”

“And he’s the one who brought up the subject? Not you?”

“Why would I talk about children? Vicky, why are you freaking out? It was just a conv–”

“Exactly what did he say?!”

She was starting to freak me out at this point. “How am I supposed to remember his exact words? Um… he pointed out that I’ll be busy with school and training for a long time and that – and this is really hypothetical, mind you – if I wanted to have children–”

“Marsh! Boys our age don’t generally talk about children!”

“But he did,” I insisted. “It was a practical–”

“They don’t talk about children,” she interrupted me again, “unless they’re thinking that the girl they’re with might make a good wife.”

That stopped me cold. “What? Wife? But he couldn’t! I mean…”

“I’m not saying he’s going to propose to you tomorrow, but I think you’re naïve if you think he doesn’t see that as a possibility. Are you sure he’s never told you he loved you?”

“But… He… propose?” I stammered. “Uh… not in so many words.” Of course, then I had to explain how he’d referred to me as “the girl I love” when explaining his hesitation to take my virginity. “Are you OK?” I asked, seeing the pained expression on her face when I was done. I was already off-balance. What else did she think I might have missed?

“I’m really trying not to make this about me,” she said, her voice sounding strained. “I’m really working hard on accepting that we’re probably never going to be together again. I’d even decided that I’ve been using Kevin as a crutch and really need to break up with him – and now this. Marsh, what are you doing?”

“Hey, this wasn’t my idea!” I protested. “We’ve only been going out for maybe two months. How was I supposed to know he was going to start getting serious?”

“You’ve obviously done something that makes him think it might be a good idea. Is this… is this something you might actually consider?”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Vicky, that’s just not reasonable. I mean, sure I like him… OK, I like him a lot–”

“Maybe even love him?”

“I… I don’t know…” I stammered, wringing my hands awkwardly. “Even if I do feel female inside, that doesn’t mean I really think of myself that way. I know I’m supposed to be a guy. Why do you think I keep freaking out when I’m with him? Besides, even if I get over that, I don’t exactly have a great track record with relationships. The six months you and I were together is still my record.”

“You’re not answering the question, Marsh. Do you love him? Could you imagine yourself married to him?”

“How am I supposed to feel? I… OK, maybe I do love him. And… well… I can’t even let myself think about the rest. I can’t think about it.” And why is my stupid heart pounding so much at the thought? “It’s impossible. I have to change back… somehow.”

“Easier said than done. So what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted again, failing to keep the whine out of my voice. “I guess I have to tell him something. I just don’t know what? How exactly do I admit that I’m a fraud? That I’m not the girl he thinks I am?” I couldn’t look her in the eye; I knew how she wanted to see me, and it wasn’t how I was seeing myself. “I never should have dated him. I shouldn’t have told Tina I was crushing on anybody. I should have just sucked it up and pretended I didn’t feel anything.”

When I ventured a look at Vicky, she was staring at me with her mouth open. “I don’t even know what I’m supposed to say to that. Am I supposed to argue that you’re really a girl now and you should be dating boys? Is that what you’re expecting from me? You’ve just made me feel like I’d be a jerk not to say something like that, but… how nice a person do you think I can be?”

Chagrined, I shook my head. “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to pressure you. I was looking to wallow in self-pity, but you’re not the right person – not now, at least. Well, I’m not seeing Jeremy until tomorrow, so that gives me time to figure things out, right?”

She looked pained. “Good luck with that,” she answered. Then she reached over and patted my hand. “I guess I really am going to have to get over this. Plus, I have a boyfriend to dump… good luck.”

“Yeah, you, too.” I hugged her goodbye, and left.

Nikki was at rehearsals that evening and I went over to her when I’d finished. “How did it go, tonight?” she asked.

I plopped into the chair next to her. “Rehearsal was fine. We did some of the  Anthony/Joanna scenes – which meant that we did a fair amount of singing and… well, kissing.”

“Oh? And did you enjoy it as much as you’d hoped?”

“I wasn’t really in the mood. I have a problem. Do you have some time to talk?”

“Sure – I just need to get Todd’s sizes and then I’m basically done for today.”

“Why don’t I wait here,” I suggested. “This isn’t something he should overhear.”

She came back in a few minutes and we grabbed our coats and headed for her room. “So what’s wrong?” she asked, once we were outside and away from any potential eavesdroppers.

“It’s Jeremy,” I explained. “Vicky thinks he’s starting to really get serious about our relationship.” I gave her a quick synopsis of my conversations with Jeremy and Vicky, and then had to explain about the confrontation with Luke and the disaster that had been.

“Wow,” she commented. “Sounds as though you’ve really been busy. So what exactly is the problem?”

“Well, don’t you think Jeremy is being a bit premature?”

“Maybe, but maybe he’s just being thorough. It sounds as though he’s decided that he’d like to get married sooner rather than later, and he’s planned things out so that would be possible. He’s chosen a very practical pair of degrees so that he can support a wife, and he thinks you might be the girl he’ll want.”

“But… but that’s crazy!”

“Why is it crazy? Do you not expect to marry one day?”

“But… I hadn’t planned on getting married as a girl?”

She didn’t answer; just kept on walking. I’d stopped and now had to hurry to catch up. “Nikki, don’t you see? I was really expecting to be able to change back. This is all happening too fast!”

She looked at me curiously, but still didn’t answer. And then we reached her dorm, and there were other students around, so I couldn’t press the point until we were safely inside her room. And even then, she held up a hand to stop me while she turned on her hot pot so we could have tea.

Then she turned back to me and asked quietly, “and exactly what do you expect to be when you get married?”

“I… OK, I guess I don’t really have a choice any more, do I?”

“And if you did, would you really still want to change back?”

My jaw dropped. “How can you ask that? Haven’t I been talking about changing back for months?”

“Yes, you have. But when you first changed, you were freaking out about the very idea of a boy touching you. You had serious trouble kissing Jared, even though it was a simple chaste peck on the lips. Do you want black or herbal tea?”

“Um… black, I guess. I still have a bunch of homework tonight–”

“But you’ve changed,” she went on, pulling out the teabags and cups. “You’ve got a boyfriend, spent the night with him, and not long ago you told me you were even looking forward to kissing scenes with another boy. You’re very comfortable as a girl now, aren’t you?”

“Well, I suppose…”

“So what’s the problem?”

“I… but don’t you see…?” She handed me my cup and I followed her to the couch. “Nikki… OK, yes, I’m comfortable as a girl. I’m just not comfortable being a girl. Not for keeps.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s not how it’s supposed to be! I’m supposed to be a guy!”

“Says who?”

I needed time to think about that one. It was obvious, wasn’t it? So why couldn’t I put it into words? “OK, I think this is what I mean. I’ve spent almost nineteen years learning that I was a boy. That I was going to be a man, and that meant things – things that are different from what it would be like to grow up to be a woman. Boys and girls are different, and not just physically – we have different dreams, different expectations… I’ve seen my sister and her friends playing dolls and dress-up and imagining their weddings… I never did any of that. My best friend and I communicated through jokes and stuff we were doing, not talking about feelings.”

“And yet you’ve talked about your feelings just fine with me, and with Vicky and your roommates, right?”

“Don’t get me wrong, Nikki. I enjoy being a girl. If somebody just, I don’t know, hit me on the head or something and made me forget I was supposed to be a guy, I know I’d be happy this way. I think part of the problem is that those bastards forced this on me. They stole who I was! Just because I kind of like the new me, too, doesn’t mean it’s OK that they did it or that I can accept it. It’s like…” I reached for a comparison. “Well, it’s like saying to a girl who was raped that she if she had an orgasm she has nothing to complain about.”

She winced. “OK, I think I get the point, but that’s really offensive. I’d look for a different way to phrase that if you ever have to explain it to somebody else. You feel cheated, right? That the world owes you whatever advantages you had in being a boy?”

I shook my head. “I’m still not explaining it right. It’s not advantages, per se, but identity. I’m a fake. Everybody thinks I’m a girl, but I’m not.” I tapped on my chest, “Inside here, I know I’m male. I’m just playing a role as best I can, and now Jeremy might want me to be… to be a wife and I… I can’t do it. How could I go through life pretending I’m what he wants me to be, what he deserves to have the girl he marries be, and know it’s all a big lie?”

Suddenly I felt her taking the cup from my hand and putting her arms around me. “Oh, Honey, you must feel horrible. But one thing you’re not is a fake. You’re just in a very confusing position – a very, very, very confusing position. But you’re managing. You’re managing very well, considering.”

I nodded against her shoulder. “I just don’t want to hurt him.” I said, miserably.

“And is that what this is about?”

“Well, he was really hurt by his last girlfriend. He’d built her up as this perfect virginal whatever and then when she came up to visit him at college she publicly embarrassed him by acting all… loose, and…” Guiltily, I remembered that I’d sort of done the same thing, although at least we’d been alone. “I’m just afraid that he might have built me up in his mind as somebody to live with and he’ll be hurt when I can’t.”

She held me away from her and looked me in the eye. “Marsh, let’s back up a bit. I get what you’re saying, but maybe you’re being a little bit, well, you’re getting way ahead of things. All he’s done so far is show that he thinks of you as a serious girlfriend, not just somebody to have fun with, and that for him, serious means maybe marriage one day.

“But you’ve only dated for a couple of months, I don’t think you even answered his question, and you haven’t met each other’s parents. A proposal, if it even comes, is almost certainly months, if not years away. So for right now, why don’t you stop worrying about marriage? You need to be thinking about who you are, and when you figure that out, then maybe you can think about whether you might be ready to join your life with somebody else’s. Does that make sense to you?”

“Yeah, but he also wants not to have sex before marriage,” I pointed out. “Doesn’t that suggest that he is thinking about marriage sooner rather than later?”

Nikki opened her mouth as if she was going to say something and then changed her mind, before telling me, “OK, you know what? You don’t know. You won’t know until he asks, if he does, but let’s just say that I am skeptical.”

“So you think I don’t need to think about breaking up with him, just in case?”

“I think,” she said, smiling and shaking her head, “that you’re being a drama queen. I don’t know whether actors are more prone to it than other people, but I’ve worked with a bunch of actors in Alvin’s shows who’ve, let’s say, found more angst in situations that I think was absolutely necessary.

“You say you feel like a fake, Marsh. Why don’t you focus on that, first? How you can change that feeling? Maybe we can brainstorm a bit.”

That seemed like something reasonable to do, but something was still bothering me. “Let me think about it a bit, Nikki?” I felt as though I were pleading with her. Maybe I didn’t want to lose that feeling? Maybe it would feel as though I would be betraying my old self? “It seems like there’s all kinds of things tied up in this. I mean, you’re right, I should do it, but I don’t think I’m ready. Not just yet. OK?”

It wasn’t until I was most of the way home from Nikki’s room that I realized the problem. This was a very scary step, trying to put my old life, what I still thought of as my real life, behind me. To give up on ever being Marshall again and accept myself, really accept myself as a girl. I needed a very safe environment even to consider that, and as helpful as Nikki was, she wasn’t quite safe enough.

No, it was clear to me that this was something I was going to need help on from Mom.