120 Handling Change

I thanked Vicky when we got to my door. “This is a first, isn’t it?” I commented morosely. “I’m pretty sure you’ve never walked me home before. A fitting burial for my erstwhile manhood.”

“Marsh, I don’t know what else to say,” she said, hugging me. “I’ll keep trying to think of something. I don’t think I’m very good at comforting, but… well, do you want me to come in and talk some more?”

I shook my head. “I think I just need time to myself for now. Thank you, though.” I hugged her back and then let myself in.

But ‘time to myself’ was not in the cards just then. Lee Ann popped her head out of her room and spotted me. “Marsh? What’s wrong?”

“I… just got some disappointing news,” I temporized. Then I remembered that she knew my secret – or at least part of it – and explained further. “We thought we had a lead on how to find the guys who did this to me – to us – and we did, only all the leads dried up.”


“Well, I’d really wanted to talk to them; find out how it all happened and if there was some way for me to change back.”

She rolled her eyes. “Because you think you’re too… small?” she scoffed, indicating her chest. “Marsh, you look great and you’ve got great friends, and from I hear, a great boyfriend, too.” By now she had come out of her bedroom and had grasped my hands. “I understand that this has been a great shock to you, but you’ve adjusted so well, and from what you’ve told us, you’re probably a happier girl now than before. Do you want to talk about it?”

My first thought was that if I were to tell her the whole truth, she’d have to be on my side – if she knew just how big the change had been, she’d never tell me to accept it. My second thought was that she’d be so horrified that she’d make me move out and would never speak to me again. I clamped my mouth shut and shook my head.

“I just need to be alone,” I told her, gently pulling my hands free. I started walking to my room, then stopped and turned around. She hadn’t moved. “Thank you,” I murmured before going inside.

I automatically started to reach for the guitar, but remembered that I could no longer play it properly. Badly played blues would just be annoying, rather than comforting, and the guitar itself was just a reminder of what I’d lost. With a sigh of resignation, I grabbed the next job on my garment rack and sat down at the sewing machine. At least that was something I could do while brooding, and it was more productive than smashing things in frustration.

I’d been sewing for maybe twenty minutes when I was startled by a knock at my door. Although I wasn’t really in the mood for further conversation, I stopped the machine and got up to answer it. To my surprise, Jeremy was standing there when I opened it.

“Wh- what are you doing here?” I gasped.

“Are you OK?” he asked, at almost the same time. I goggled at him, unable to form words. “Your roommate was worried about you,” he continued. “She said I should come over and try to make you feel better.”

“Uh…” was all I managed. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate him coming over; only right now, when I was mourning my lost masculinity, it seemed awkward to be playing girlfriend. OK, that really wasn’t fair. I wasn’t playing at anything. I really was his girlfriend; it just wasn’t something I wanted to think about right now.  And then he put his arms around me and I humiliated myself by bursting into tears.

He said, “Oh boy,” and starting rubbing my back while I sobbed against his shoulder. “Do you… want to talk about it?”

I shook my head, still pressed against him. How could I discuss this with him, of all people? Telling my parents had turned out alright, and I’d been unable to avoid letting my roommates know part of the truth, but letting Jeremy know would be a disaster. Maybe I did need to talk things out, but not with him. Not about this.

He offered me his sleeve to wipe my eyes when I finally stopped bawling. “Feeling better?” he asked.

“Not really,” I said, “but thanks. I guess I needed to cry on somebody’s shoulder. I’m such a mess.”

“No, you look fine. I mean you’re beautiful. Um, do you want to talk? About something else, maybe? To take your mind off of… whatever it is you don’t want to talk about? You know, so you feel I’m here for you? That’s what makes girls feel better, right? Talking?”

I shrugged, and then he kissed me. “So should we talk? Or cuddle? Or… do you want me to leave?”

I smiled. “I don’t want you to leave. I guess we can talk about something. I don’t feel much like cuddling, but I don’t think I want to be alone, after all.”

He led me over to my bed and we sat next to each other. “So, what should we talk about?” he asked. “Um, sports? Do you like sports?”

I snickered. “Jer, you don’t even like sports.”

“How about what happens after school?” he suggested.

“You mean, like now?” I asked, amused. He was definitely making it harder for me to feel sorry for myself.

“Well… actually, I meant sort of after we graduate. Like, I told you I’m going to business school, right?” I nodded. “And I got decent scores on my GMATs, and I expect to get into a decent school, and then I figure with an engineering degree and an MBA I should be able to score a job that pays really well, even in today’s economy.”

“It’s really great that you know what you want for your future,” I said.

“And you?”

“You know I’m hoping to go to medical school.”

“Right, and then… internship and residency?”

I nodded. At least this was something that hadn’t changed in my life – it was an area of stability, and was all the more important as a result. “And maybe a fellowship, depending on what area of medicine I want to go into. I haven’t really decided yet.”

“So… that’s what… ten years after you get out of Piques before you’re done with training and really in the ‘real world’?”

“There’s an awful lot to learn, so yeah,” I said. “I mean, you’re playing with people’s lives.”

He looked a bit puzzled about something. “And are you… do you think you’re going to have children?”

Such a simple question, and six months ago it would have been so easy to answer. After all, getting married and having kids was something most people did when they grew up, right? I’d always expected that I’d find a wife sometime in my twenties and we’d have two children, just like my parents did. But until he raised the subject, it hadn’t occurred to me that now, I’d be the one bearing any children I had. And even ignoring the whole squickiness of the idea, that meant somehow working around my medical training and possibly having some restrictions in residencies… I’d have to find out about that. Agghh… it was so much easier when I was a guy!

The next thing I knew he had sprung away from me as though I were radioactive and was staring at me with horror in his eyes. Surely, I couldn’t have said that last thought out loud, could I? The blood drained from my face. I couldn’t blow my secret like that. I couldn’t lose him through such stupidity. I forced myself to laugh. “I was joking. I mean you should see your face. What I meant to say was that it would be so much easier if I was a guy.”

He stared at me warily and for a bit longer than I would have liked. Then he shook his head, but it looked as though he wasn’t completely sure. “I… no, you couldn’t be…”

“Of course not,” I said with confidence I didn’t really feel.

“I guess… for a moment I thought you were saying that you were trans.”

Again I forced a laugh. “Jeremy, you know I’m not just wearing girl clothes. You’ve seen me naked. You know I’m a girl under this outfit.”

He blinked. “Not transvestite, Marsh. Transsexual. You know, somebody who is born one sex and changes to the other?”

I winced, feeling stupid. “Oh. Right. Well, still, I don’t see how you could have thought that, even for a second. I mean, I don’t look like a boy at all, do I? I don’t know what they’re teaching you in those engineering classes,” I laughed, “but boys and girls are kind of different physically, haven’t you noticed? I mean, guys are tall and muscled, and, and girls are mostly short and curvy; it’s not just what you have between your legs. You can’t turn somebody who looks like you into somebody who looks like me.” Not without getting caught in an out-of-control time travel experiment, anyway.

“You can make a pretty good approximation, Marsh.”

He sounded so certain of himself. “Why would you think that was even possible?” I asked, incredulous.

“It’s kind of common knowledge, actually. But I actually know somebody.”

I stared again. “Somebody who… changed sex?”

“Mmhmm.” He sat next to me again. “Freshman year, my first lab course, I had this guy as a lab partner. He wasn’t what you might call the most masculine guy you ever met. I don’t mean he was gay or anything, he definitely liked girls, but there was something… different about him. The kind of thing that probably got him teased a lot in high school.

“Well, we got along pretty well, and even hung out sometimes outside of class, so I looked for him again as a partner the next semester. Only, he was gone. He hadn’t said anything, but he’d clearly dropped out of school, and none of our few mutual friends knew what had happened to the guy.”

Jeremy stood up and started pacing nervously. “Well, last year, second semester, I was helping out with the freshman lab, and this girl asked for my help, and she knew my name. Now, you know I’m not the most adept guy when it comes to girls…”

“I’m not complaining,” I whispered, but he ignored me.

“… but it really bothered me that a girl – any girl – would know me and I’d have forgotten her. At the end of the lab, she said, ‘You don’t know who am I, do you?’ and I had to admit that I didn’t, expecting her to tell me when we’d met, but she didn’t.

“I think it was like the third week of the lab when she asked me as we were walking out if I remembered the guy I mentioned to you earlier – my old lab partner – and then I realized why she’d looked familiar and I asked if she was his sister. And she just shook her head and said, ‘no, I was him.’”

“And you believed her?” I asked.

“I just stood there in shock for a moment. I mean I’d heard of sex changes but I’d never actually met anyone who had done it. But I ran after her and she agreed to meet me at the Grill and explain.”

“And she actually was a girl?”

“Well, I never saw her undressed, but yeah, she definitely looked female to me. Not that I’m an expert or anything, but I’ve been looking at girls for a long time, and I didn’t even suspect until she mentioned it to me.

“So we met and it turned out she knew way too much about me and my freshman lab to be a complete stranger. She said she’d had a lot of hesitation about telling me, but we’d been good friends in the past, so… apparently she’d had plastic surgery to make her face look feminine, and was taking hormones, which had changed her body, too…”

“That much?” I asked, not really wanting to believe him. “I thought it was just, you know, down there.”

“I don’t know about down there, but she looked pretty convincingly female to me. I didn’t ask to confirm, in case you were wondering.”

“I wasn’t. But…” I stammered, “But what about body hair, and… lots of things?”

“She said she’d had to go through a lot. Like zapping hairs all over her body, and having her Adam’s Apple removed.” My hand moved involuntarily to my throat. “She made it sound really expensive. And there’s a long recovery time, too, which is why she’d missed two years of school.”

“I… I never realized all that,” I said, a bit shaken. “It sounds horribly painful. I guess I’d never really thought about it that much. I can’t imagine wanting it so badly – and after all that, she doesn’t wind up completely female, either, right? I mean, even if she looks the part.” I can’t say that I’d ever much considered the option for myself, for that reason. I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t have been happy with the result, even if I’d been willing to undergo all the surgery.

“She told me it was pretty much either that or suicide.” He looked at me closely. “Are you OK? Did I just upset you?”

“No, I just… I’m just a bit dumbfounded…” I wondered if that was why everything had fallen through. Had I just not wanted it enough to take even a semblance of manhood at great cost and great pain? I’d been hoping for an easy solution – I’d wanted just to wake up one day as a guy again, with my old body and… I shook my head. The sex change solution had never appealed to me; to look male on the outside but be female on the inside wasn’t good enough.

“Oh boy. I just messed up, didn’t I?” Jeremy said, putting his hands on my shoulders. “I came over to make you feel better and now I’ve made you feel worse.”

“You didn’t,” I reassured him, putting my hand over his and kissing him on the cheek. “You’ve just sort of surprised me, is all. I think the term too much information might apply. Thank you so much for coming over, but I think I need to be alone to rest now.”

“OK… are you going to be over for the study group on Thursday?”

“I will,” I promised him, and walked him out. I had a lot of thinking to do.

119 Getting So Close

I could barely wait for Chad and my father to call that evening, and when my phone finally rang after dinner, I gushed, “Wait until you hear this!” and told them what we had seen.

“That’s incredible!” Dad said when I was done. “So the school already knew about the Strangers?”

“Sure looks that way,” I agreed. “I don’t understand why Dean Peterson was pumping me for information on them.”

“Maybe the school does, but he wasn’t in on the secret?” Chad suggested.

“Could be,” I said. “Anyway, They’ve probably cleared the lab by now, so I don’t think your court order’s going to do us any good, Dad.”

Dad chuckled. “Oh, right – well, the judge practically laughed in my face when I told him about it, so it’s probably just as well. But it does mean that you can’t get that address, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah,” I admitted, “but we might not need it if we can get the information from Luke. Vicky, Eric and I have been talking about whether we should challenge him alone, or with just his roommate present, or in front of the Strangers. I’m worried that Ian must have been in on the deception all along, but Vicky says no.”

“Could be a bit messy if you have a crowd, I’d think,” Chad pointed out. “What if some of them agree with you and some don’t? Keeping the audience small might be safer. And consider: you’re the outsider, here. They’re likely to be loyal to Luke and Ian.”

“How are you planning the confrontation itself?” Dad asked. Well, that was something I’d hoped to get ideas about from this call, so we talked it out for a while before coming up with a plan. It seemed reasonable to trust Vicky’s sense of Ian and Luke, since she knew them so much better than I. We agreed that bringing Eric could be problematic, fearing that introducing a newcomer into the mix might make the guys more defensive. That didn’t that he couldn’t be useful, of course.

I called Vicky immediately afterwards and she liked the idea, so she called Eric, who called Allie, swearing her to secrecy and getting her best guess of when Luke and Ian were likely both to be in their room with no company. Then we were ready.

It was hard to tell whether it was Vicky or I who was more nervous as we approached Luke and Ian’s dorm room Tuesday evening; my heart was pounding, and she was chattering as though afraid of the silence.

“You’re sure you don’t want to bring anybody else?” she asked, as though we hadn’t hashed over the point a dozen times. “Maybe we need a guy there for backup? You know, in case we start a fight between Ian and Luke?” I just shook my head. She wasn’t really looking for an answer I hadn’t given her multiple times before.

“And what about Jeremy? Why did you say he was upset when you said you couldn’t study with him tonight?”

She’d found a new question, so I sighed and answered, “He wasn’t exactly upset,” I told her. “He was disappointed, since study nights have been almost like dates for us, and I have rehearsal on both Monday and Wednesday this week. We don’t usually go that long without seeing each other.”

“So how are you planning on making it up to him?” she asked, and I stopped walking and stared, seeming to hear a conspiratorial tone in her voice.

“You know if this works out he’ll probably never see me again, right? He’ll never know we’d met, and he’ll probably have fallen for some other girl. So why are you asking me about ‘making it up to him’?”

“And you’re OK with that? I just want to be sure, Marsh.” She looked away and started wringing her hands. “I just want to be sure that if this works and… and we’re together again that you don’t find yourself wishing you were still with him instead of me.”

“Vicky, what’s wrong?” I asked, taking her shoulders and forcing her to turn to face me. “Are you having so much trouble believing that I really want to be with you? How many times do I have to reassure you? I’m crazy about you, Vixy. OK, yes, I like Jeremy a lot. Maybe, maybe I’m even in love with him a little, but it can’t work out. And I’m sure he knows that… he hasn’t dated a lot of girls and he’s way too sensible to get serious about me this quickly, and…” I shook my head to clear it. I didn’t want to think about what I was planning on giving up. “Anyway, it’s not going to matter because I intend to be your boyfriend again. OK?”

She nodded, and suddenly she had her arms around me, awkwardly trying to slip her arms under mine as she always had when I was the tall one.  A couple of guys passed us, but barely looked at us. I guess a couple of girls hugging is no big deal.  Still, I waited for them to pass before stepping back. “OK, let’s do this.”

Ian answered our knock almost immediately, gasped and dragged us inside. “Are you two insane?” he hissed. “You know you’re not supposed to be here! What if you were followed?”

“It’s no good, Ian,” Vicky said, as he closed the door. “The game’s up. The administration knows about the Strangers, don’t they?”

“What did you guys do?” he asked hoarsely. I don’t believe he could have faked the horror that showed in his eyes. At that moment I became convinced that Vicky was right, and he hadn’t known about Luke’s betrayal. Well, that was about to change.

“We didn’t do anything, Ian,” I said, walking up to him and prodding him in the abdomen. “It’s your roommate. He’s been playing both sides from the beginning. Call him.”

“What are you talking about?” he retorted. “Luke’s been straight with all of us. He’s been protecting the group – and now you’ve brought the authorities down on us and you’re blaming him? No way.”

“Call him,” I repeated.

He looked at me arrogantly and then shouted. “Hey Dude, get out here.”

One of the bedroom doors opened and Luke poked his head out and saw us. “What are you guys doing here?” he asked, sounding shocked. “You know you’re not supposed to be here!”

“And you’re not supposed to be telling the deans where to find us!” countered Vicky.

I’ll give him credit – he blinked, but was otherwise apparently unfazed. He laughed at us. “Girls, I can promise you I have never spoken with any deans about the Strangers – or anybody else from the school administration. Did you not notice how hard Ian and I have worked to keep them from finding you guys? I don’t know where you’re getting your information, but it’s just wrong.”

He was so sure of himself, I might have doubted what I’d heard – only, I’d made it a point to transfer a portion of the video to a sound file, which I had on my mp3 player. “Does this voice sound familiar?” I asked.

I pressed ‘play,’ and the professor’s voice came out of the speakers. “Come here, Brian I think we’ve got a problem. Look. Somebody’s been trying to get into the lab.”

I’d been watching Luke to see his reaction, but he barely twitched at the voice. I thought I saw his eyes flicker, but that was all. Ian, on the other hand, gasped. “Is that… is that Professor Davis? You actually met him?”

“We didn’t meet him,” I said, still watching Luke, “but we did get him on tape.”

“That’s… amazing,” he said. “So you actually found the lab? And tried to pick the lock?”

“Who said anything about picking the lock, Luke?” I asked quickly. “You seem to know all about it!”

“What? No – but if Professor Davis said somebody was trying to get in, I just assumed…”

Did somebody try to pick the lock?” Ian asked.

“Yup,” Vicky answered him, “and they left scratches on the lock and the door.” Ian was now looking carefully at his roommate.

I pushed ‘play’ again, letting everyone hear Brian’s comment, “But the only students who might even have wanted to should be group 2, and we know from Strangers in the Mirror meetings that they’ve given up.”

“What?” Ian exclaimed. “They do know about us?”

“Dude,” Luke tried to reassure him, “Marsha spilled the beans, remember? She told Dean Peterson. Remember how we set this big thing up so she wouldn’t come here anymore? This isn’t news.”

“I wasn’t here, then,” I pointed out. “And I never told them that people had given up looking.”

“So you say,” Luke retorted. “You’re still the only one we know told the people in charge about us. No point in trying to pin it on Ian and me. We never spoke with the administration about the group. Never.”

“Uh huh,” I said, and pressed ‘play’ again.

This time I watched Ian as the sound of Professor Davis’s last comment played. “We need to know if something happened. Contact Luke and see if he can shed any light on this.”

Ian did not disappoint. At the proof of his roommate’s perfidy, his head snapped around. “You bastard!” he hissed. And then he launched himself at Luke.

Automatically, I tried to stop him, but I don’t have the mass or strength I’d been used to and he barely noticed me. He pinned his roommate against the wall, screaming at him in language that no longer felt comfortable to me, while Luke yelled for help. Afraid Ian was actually going to injure our culprit,, Vicky and I finally managed to stop him by wrapping ourselves around each of Ian’s arms and allowing him to try to lift us off the ground.

Luke kept his back pressed to the wall and watched Ian warily, as both guys were panting heavily. “You’d better tell us everything,” Vicky warned him, “or we’ll let him go.”

Ian emphasized the point by snapping, “Liar!” but didn’t try to shake us off.

“I didn’t lie, Ian,” Luke said softly. “I never spoke to the administration about any of this.”

Ian spat in his face.

“I’m pretty sure they don’t know anything. But… I have been in touch with Brian and Rolf – that’s Professor Davis. And believe me, they want this kept from the administration as much as we do.”

I felt the tension in Ian’s arm diminish, and cautiously let go. Vicky did the same. Ian made no move to resume his attack, but only whispered, “Why? Why did you do it, Luke?”

“You’ve got them all wrong,” Luke insisted, looking at all three of us. “They’re good guys. Only the administration panicked and made them leave campus and tried to pretend they never existed.”

We waited, and he went on, “Rolf is a visiting prof from out West, and he wasn’t teaching classes. He and Brian and I think another grad student came here to do some more research; I don’t know the details. Only they needed to know exactly what the results were and the administration told them they couldn’t talk to any of the students under threat of losing their funding, or whatever they were supplying.”

“So where are they now?” I asked.

Luke shook his head. “I have no idea. I’ve only communicated with them by email since they got booted. Unlike most of you guys, I did go back for an interview, and since they knew my roommate had also volunteered, they contacted me and suggested setting up the Strangers in the Mirror, both to keep everybody together and to let me send them information. So I’ve sort of been telling them what you guys have said about your own experiences.”

“But why?” Ian repeated. “Why did you do this to us?”

“I didn’t do anything. Look, if they’re going to be able to undo what happened, they need to understand it, right? So I was doing this for all of us. But I had to keep it quiet, ‘cause if the word got out they might have to close up shop and then where would we be?”

By now we had drifted to the couches so that we could speak more comfortably. I could see that Ian had calmed down a lot. His last question had been much more of a query than an accusation.

“So they’ve said that they’re going to change us back?” Vicky asked.

“Well, not in so many words,” Luke admitted. “But why wouldn’t they? I mean, once they have enough data? I have to believe that this was all a mistake. They would never have been allowed to do this experiment and mess up our lives on purpose, would they?”

“Maybe that’s why they had to leave that place out west,” Ian pointed out. “Did they pay you? Or just trick you? I’ve never known you to be so naïve, Dude.”

“Look, this is all very interesting,” I said, “but what’s really important to me now is getting in touch with them. Can you give me their email address? Or at least have them contact me?”

Luke looked really uncomfortable. “I can’t actually do that.”

Ian snapped at him. “Luke, you need to decide whose side you’re on. Some of us are really hurting here, and Marsha’s acting like she’s one of the worst. Hand over the information!”

“No, I mean I really can’t,” Luke repeated. “I don’t have a way to reach them. See, they really don’t want to be found, so they contact me using one of the disposable email addresses. You know, the ones people use when they have to register for websites and don’t want to give out their info? They’re good for like a few hours or a day, and I have to answer within the time limit. If I need more time to get them the answers they want, they just send me another message a couple of days later.”

He pointed to the wall, and I saw the object that had been taken from the lab the previous week. “They dropped that off and emailed me to see if anybody noticed it and how they reacted and then of course they had to email me again after the meeting to get the answers.”

“Fine,” I said. “Then send them a message the next time they contact you. Tell them I really want to talk with them and I promise to keep their secrets, but it’s kind of urgent.”

He shook his head. “No can do. I don’t think they’re ever going to contact me again. They sounded really freaked out – apparently somebody had actually found the lab, and tried to pick the lock…”

I felt all the blood drain from my face. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“They asked me if I’d heard anything from the Strangers about it and I hadn’t, so they figured it was somebody we didn’t know about and said they were breaking off communications. I’m really sorry, Marsha. I didn’t even think about it being you.”

Vicky came over to sit next to me and put her hand on my arm. We looked at each other without speaking. No words seemed necessary.

“If they do ever contact me again, I promise to let them know that you want to talk, Marsha. That’s all I can do.”

It wasn’t much. In fact, it really wasn’t anything, if he was right about Professor Davis panicking. And it was all my fault! If I hadn’t tried to get somebody to break in…

But Vicky was whispering to me, “I think we should go, Marsh.” I tried to stand, but my legs were rubbery and she had to help me up. “Thanks for the information, Luke. We won’t tell anybody – and do let us know if you can get them a message.”

She adjusted my coat, wrapped my arm around shoulder, and supported my weight as I stumbled into the hallway. I couldn’t move on my own. I was in shock, and I just let my legs fall under me as Vicky half-dragged my upper body. Neither of us spoke until we were out of the building, where the cold on my face brought me partially back into focus. “Are you alright?” she finally asked.

“That’s it? Just like that? It’s over?” I managed, my eyes staring at nothing. “How can that be? We found the lab, Vicky! We found somebody who had actually been speaking with those guys all along, and we still don’t know how to reach them. How is that even possible?”

“Just bad luck, Marsh. Bad, horrible, stupid, stinky luck. You know, I don’t think I can even cry now. I’m beyond tears.”

“Did we miss something? My brain is shutting down.”

“Well, we do have that address,” she continued. “Some of it, anyway. Maybe we can–”

“I don’t see it, Vix. I just don’t see it. There’s not enough there. How are we ever going to figure out where they are from the little bit of an address we got? I wish I’d never thought to ask Stan to pick a lock. I wish I’d never heard of picking locks. I wish… I don’t know. Maybe if we go back. Maybe there’s something Luke hasn’t told us.”

“Then why would he now?” she pointed out. “Marsh, you know how much I want this… I just don’t think there’s anything else there. I don’t want you hurt, banging your head against a locked door.”

“You’re saying I need to accept this. To move on. How do I do that? How do you?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “Maybe we’ll able to think after a good night’s sleep. I’m out of ideas.”

“Yeah, me too, Vix. Me too.”

118 A Need to Talk

I was still talking with Nikki when Jeremy called.

“Excuse me, Nikki,” I said. “I told him to call me around now. Hi,” I said, answering the phone.

“Hi,” he said, sounding almost resigned. “Are you OK?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m talking with my girlfriend.”

“Oh. Should I call back later?”

“Uh… no, I don’t think so.” Nikki gestured to ask if she should leave and I shrugged. I had no idea how long with conversation was going to go.

“I see… Marsh, I’m really sorry,” he said.

“It’s OK,” I told him. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“How can you say that? I mean, you were really upset this morning!”

“Yeah, but that’s… it’s not you, Jer, it’s me. Are you going to be up for a while? Maybe I should come over. I think we need to talk.”

I could swear I heard him whimper. “I’ll be up,” he said, quietly.

“OK, then, I’ll be over in a bit,” I told him. “See you in a few.”

Nikki watched me hang up the phone before commenting, “So much for that relationship, huh?”

“What do you mean?” I asked, baffled.

“Aren’t you going over to break up with him?”

“No, why…?” I played back the conversation in my head. “Uh oh.”

She nodded. “Uh huh. ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ followed by ‘we need to talk.’ Classic break-up phrases. He’s probably bracing himself for this conversation.”

I stood up. “Should I call him back?” I looked at her and answered my own question. “No, I might make things worse. I need to get over there, now.”

“So you don’t want to break up with him?”

“No!” I couldn’t even imagine wanting not to be with Jeremy.

“Then you need to realize what you’re doing to him. You freaked out after spending the night with him, for reasons that you can’t tell him, right?”

“Uh…” I really don’t like somebody making me feel guilty, especially when they’re right.

“But you have to make him really believe that it is your problem, and not that you’re just trying to avoid hurting his feelings.” She stood up and came over to me. “Let me ask you something,” she said. “How do you feel about Jeremy?”

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

“Is this a serious relationship? Something you hope will lead to something more?”

“What…?” I gasped. “Nikki, you know I’m hoping to change back. And we’ve found the lab… and we sort of think we might have some clues.”

“So this is just for fun? You have no feelings beyond the physical for this boy?”

I hesitated. “Well… I mean, I don’t know that I can change back. What if I can’t?”

“So it’s OK to hurt him, just in case your plans don’t work out?”

“What? No! I’d never want to hurt him! I mean… he’s… I mean… I really need to get going, Nikki. Jeremy’s probably going crazy, worrying what I’m going to say.” I started gathering up my things and pulled on my coat. Nikki watched me without saying a word.

Her silence was deafening, and I had to stop what I was going and explain. “I’m not trying to hurt him, Nikki. I think I know enough about relationships that I can keep this one from getting too serious. We’re just two people who are enjoying being together. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?” She just kept looking at me, so I tried again. “All right, I guess it did hurt him when I reacted the way I did this morning. I’m working on that, and I’m going to apologize. I don’t know if I can promise that it won’t ever happen again, but at least he’ll know that it’s my problem. Isn’t that as much as I can do?”

“I just want you to be sure, Marsh. In the past, you’ve said it doesn’t matter since it will all go away when you change back. I just want you to be sure that you can’t rely on that excuse to justify hurting him in the meantime. Even if it all gets erased, the pain will still have happened.”

I nodded, guiltily. “I do understand, Nikki, and I’m really going to be careful. OK, ‘Mom’? May I go if I promise to be a good girl?”

I took her laughter as agreement and headed out into the night, thinking hard. Jeremy was one of the major positives in my life right now, and I really did have to make sure not to mess things up. Nikki had been right – I had to make sure there was no doubt in his mind that he hadn’t done anything wrong.

I knocked on his door and he opened it, looking fully as though he was bracing himself for a death sentence. I winced. I’d really messed up. I put my hands on his chest and rested my head against him. “Just in case you wondering,” I said softly, “I’m not breaking up with you.”

I felt him release a breath I hadn’t realized he was holding. “I was wondering,” he admitted.

“May I come in?” I asked, as he held me lightly, with his hands on my shoulders.

We sat side-by-side on his bed, both of my hands in his. “I’m really sorry,” I said. “I guess I sort of did freak out. I… just had some very strange thoughts.”

“What kind of thoughts?”

I hesitated. I really hadn’t thought this far in advance. “Embarrassing ones,” I said, looking down at our hands. “I’d really rather not talk about them.”

“O…K…” he said, slowly. “You’re sure I didn’t do anything? I thought I might have been rushing you again.”

“You weren’t, I promise. It’s me. I have this… problem, and sometimes I freak out over things because… well, because…” I looked into his patient eyes, and continued, miserably. “I’m working on it. It’s so unfair of me to have let you think you did something. I should have stayed this morning. I should have waited until I’d calmed down and could explain.”

“Well, I guess if you were really upset, that might have been hard,” he acknowledged. “So what do we do now?”

I shrugged. “Just keep going and hope? You’re too great a guy for any girl not to want to be with you.”

“I don’t think there’s too many girls who feel that way,” he laughed. “But I only need one, right?”

We looked at each other; I wasn’t really sure what to say next, and he looked as though he wasn’t either. Then, just as it was starting to feel awkward, he started laughing, and so did I. That was one of the great things about him – he could laugh and make me laugh, even in awkward situations. I gave him a sort of flirtatious look then, and he responded by pulling me into his lap and kissing me hard.

“Friends?” he asked, and I nodded and kissed him again. “Let’s go kind of slowly, then,” he suggested. “Maybe it’s better to wish we were doing more than having you upset that we’re doing too much.”

I giggled – I was getting pretty good at that – and said, “We have a saying in the theater – always leaving them wanting more. I guess that’s good advice for relationships, too.”

So we cuddled a bit more and then he walked me home. I made sure to get a serious good night kiss, though – just to hold me over until the next time.

I met Vicky the next afternoon and told her what had happened. “No sex?” she asked, surprised.

“That’s what he said.”

“Huh. That’s kind of nice, actually.”

I looked at her in surprise. “Nice? I thought you liked sex. I mean, you never gave me the impression that I was forcing you.”

“You didn’t. I mean, you weren’t,” she reassured me. “And it’s useful with Kevin. Keeps him from having all the power in our relationship. Only… I don’t know if I ever told you how I lost my virginity.”

“You didn’t tell me a lot about your previous relationships,” I pointed out. “It’s only since… well, since I looked like this that you even told me about guys abusing you.”

“Yeah… I guess I was afraid… anyway, my first time was with George, sophomore year in high school. He was in college, which probably wasn’t such a great idea for me, I guess. Anyway, we kind of got wasted, and we were cuddling, and… he sort of just did me. Didn’t ask, no warm-up, nothing. I was pretty much already undressed, so I suppose I should have expected something, but… I really wish I’d waited. That any guy would turn down a girl for sex because he cared about her that much… I guess I’m jealous, a bit.”

“And really mellow, Vix. I’m used to you raging over everything lately.”

“I know, right? Only… since I’ve been trying to live up to your unrealistic opinion of me, it’s hard to get up such a mad. I’m really starting to doubt almost everything. I don’t know if I believe you can change back, if I’m really getting anything out of this relationship with Kevin… aside from bruises, I mean. See?” She rolled up her right sleeve and showed me a massive black and blue mark. “He can be so sweet sometimes – I mean, not like your Jeremy, but in his own way – but sometimes I guess I provoke him. I have to walk a fine line between being too easy and pushing him too hard. Sometimes it’s kind of exciting, sort of the way I guess guys must get a thrill out of riding a bull, but sometimes you fall off.”

“Why?” I asked. “Excuse me, Vixy, but that doesn’t sound exciting, and certainly not loving. Why do you stay? You deserve better.”

“Yeah, you keep saying that, but I don’t really believe it. Not when this happens over and over. That’s why I knew you were going to leave me. If it hadn’t been Lee Ann, it would have been another girl.”

“I don’t accept that. I… I just had a lapse. If this hadn’t happened, I know I would have come back to you, if you’d let me.”

“That’s sweet of you to say so.”

“Vicky, listen to me. You do deserve better. You know my dating history. Do you really think I would have dated a loser?” She opened her mouth as though she was going to comment, and then closed it again. I pressed my point. “I don’t know why you think you should be dating jerks, but the fact that you were my girl means that you’re lowering yourself. You can do better; you just need to accept that about yourself and don’t settle for any guy who doesn’t respect you. OK?”

She bit her lip before answering. “You make it sound so easy.”

“I know it’s not easy,” I admitted. “But you’re worth it. Believe that of yourself. I’ll… um… I’ll help you,” I added, my voice trailing off. Then I said quickly, “I mean, as long as I can’t do it myself, I can at least make sure you’re with a decent guy – it makes me look bad, you following me up with a jerk, like you didn’t appreciate me or something…”

“I did appreciate you, Marsh… Marshall… I really did. I do. I just… I guess I’m afraid, that’s all. At least I know where I stand with Kevin.”

“And you don’t like it. Let me help you find somebody better,” I suggested. “Only, I think you’d have to break up with Kevin, first,” I noted, remembering Geoff’s reaction.

She seemed to consider that. “Tell you what, I’ll let you help me find a new guy and I’ll help you find one, too.”

“Me?” I asked, surprised. “I’m not looking for anybody new.”

“No sex, remember?” she pointed out. “And you said you had needs. Well, Jeremy obviously isn’t going to be satisfying them, so it’s time to cut your losses and find somebody else.”

“Uh…” I stammered. “But I like being with Jeremy.”

“You are in love with him, then.”

“N-No! I just… I just really like being with him, that’s all. Look, this is silly. You know me – the six months you and I were together was a record for me. How could I even think of a serious relationship?”

She sighed, so I don’t think I had made my point well, but at least she let the matter drop. Maybe I really did need to put a lot more thought into this. And only later did I realize that she had sidestepped the question of breaking up with Kevin.

At least my relationship with Jeremy didn’t seem to have suffered; we went to a movie that weekend and finished up back in my bedroom with no problems, although he didn’t stay the night. It did give me a chance to learn more about him, though. I was particular surprised when, as we walked back to my room after the movie, he suddenly stopped, dropped to one knee under one of the lights from a dorm and picked something up from the ground.

“Look at this, Marsh,” he said, holding up his find. So I looked, and saw… a small dull pebble. “I think this might be jasper. You can actually find these all over the world; the ground freezing and thawing probably brought it to the surface, here. I’d have to cut it to see if I could use it in something. Hmm… maybe a bracelet? Would you like a bracelet? I could probably get a few decent-sized stones out of this.”

Fortunately, it was dark enough that he couldn’t tell that my smile was forced. “You’re really too generous,” I told him, thinking that such repeated gifts might suggest a relationship more serious than I was counting on.

“Don’t be silly,” he said, standing up. “I told you; I love making these, and half the fun is seeing them worn. You’re my girlfriend, so I’m allowed to give you presents, right?”

What was I supposed to say? I looked at my wrists. I did have a few cheap bracelets that Marsha had collected. I suppose another couldn’t hurt. So I just said, “Thank you.”

After he kissed me good night and left, though, I started wondering if I might be missing something. I tried to think if I might actually wind up hurting him somehow. If we were still dating up until the time I changed back, he wouldn’t be hurt, would he? It wasn’t a question of hurting him and then trying to erase it – one minute we’d be dating and the next he’d never even have heard of ‘Marsha Steen.’ That should be alright, shouldn’t it?

It would be so much easier if I just knew for sure how to reach Professor Davis! Well, if the pattern held, there was every chance that I would wake up Sunday morning with another message from Eric and Martin, telling me that we had another shot of the lab, and might be able to gain some more information leading to the change-back. Much as I really liked being with Jeremy, I was beginning to worry that the longer that was delayed, the more chances there were of my doing something to him that I would regret.

Indeed there was such a message the next morning, and by ten o’clock, the four of us – Martin, Eric, Vicky and I – were gathered in my room again as I searched for the moment when those who had tripped the recording exited the lab, presumably with another crate.

“It occurs to me,” I said, “that if we could put the camera on the hallway ceiling, we’d get a good view of the address on the crate.”

“I didn’t think of that,” Eric said. “I figured you’d want another look inside, but lets plan to do that the next time.”

And then I found the moment and sat back to watch. As before, “the grad student” and “the professor” emerged, holding a crate, and as before, they didn’t make it easy for us to read the writing on it, although it seemed that it was probably the same as the last time from what we could see.

“You know,” we heard the grad student joke as the two of them put the crate down below the view of the camera, “I hadn’t expect to have to specialize in furniture moving as a condition for my doctorate.”

“Don’t worry,” the other reassured him, “the ejector” (at least that’s what it sounded like – it might have been ‘projector’ or something similar) “is the heaviest thing we had left. The rest of the equipment should be much easier.”

“C’mon,” Vicky muttered, “tell us something important.”

The professor closed the door and then suddenly bent over to look at something. Then he pulled out a small flashlight and shone it at the door and Martin whispered, “Oh crap.”

“Come here, Brian,” the professor said, sounding urgent. “I think we’ve got a problem. Look,” he added as “Brian” joined him, “somebody’s been trying to get into the lab.”

“But who could it be?”

“That’s what puzzles me,” we heard the professor say, “It can’t be anyone in the department – they’ve got a copy of the key. If the administration wanted to get in, they’d just get the key from the department. So it pretty much has to be a student.”

“But the only students who might even have wanted to should be group 2,” Brian objected. “And we know from Strangers in the Mirror meetings that they’ve given up.”

At that comment, Vicky and Eric started speaking at once, but I shushed them urgently, just in time to hear Brian say, “…for after all.” I ran to my computer and backed up the movie to hear what we’d missed. What we heard then was, “… given up. It sounds as though we might have missed somebody and there must have been a group 4, after all.”

We looked at each other, baffled, but nobody spoke.

The professor stood up from the lock. “We can’t take a chance. If the wrong people get into this lab, we’re finished. We need to clear it out tonight.”

His student nodded. “It’s going to be tricky, getting all those crates into the truck. I’ll call Simon to help. We’ll just have to hope that nobody notices.”

The two of them started down the hall with their burden, but just before they went out of range, the professor added, “We need to know if something happened. Contact Luke and see if he can shed any light on this.”

If their previous comments had surprised us, that little bombshell shocked us all into silence for a moment before everybody seemed to start talking at once and I had to shout to be heard. “Hold it!” I said. “One at a time! We need to figure this out.”

“But first, we need to hear what Martin knows,” Eric suggested. He looked at our own grad student. “What’s going on?”

Martin sighed. “Remember your friend who wanted to pick the lock? I let him in this week, because he said he’d learned of some new techniques that might work. As he was doing it, though, he slipped and left a scratch on the lock and the door. I was hoping that they wouldn’t notice. And no, he didn’t get the door open.”

“And now they’re going to the empty the lab and we’ve just lost an important set of clues!” Vicky noted, unnecessarily. “And what was that about the Strangers?”

“Sounds as though we’ve been betrayed,” I said. “Luke’s been playing along with the administration all along.”

“Could it be some other Luke?” Eric asked. “Allie seemed pretty sure she could trust the guy.”

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “But it’s not all that common a name, and given that they clearly know about the Strangers, I doubt it.”

“So now what?” Vicky asked.

“Do you think your camera might have caught any more?” Martin asked.

I wasn’t sure, so I scrubbed forward on the movie and, sure enough, the two of them, accompanied by a third man who was presumably ‘Simon’ showed up again, just going back into the lab with a bunch of rope and a handcart. The video ran out before they came out again.

“I think we’re going to have to confront Luke,” I said. “But I want to run some ideas past my father first. Things are getting complicated, fast.”

117 A Step Too Far

So I had a lot of advice now from girlfriends about the advisability of trying for a sex life. There was just one obstacle – Jeremy seemed to be really tentative when it came to intimacy. I was sure he’d like if he gave himself a chance, and I was more than willing to give him time; Lee Ann suggested four months. On the other hand, if I could change back sooner, I’d hate to miss the opportunity to see what it was like for a girl, so I really did need to understand what I was dealing with – and it seemed to me that the one person who would have the key to Jeremy was his friend Janine.

Finding her was pretty easy – she was listed as one of his friends on Facebook – so I sent her a message, asking if we could meet Tuesday afternoon, or at any rate some time before the study session. The next morning I had both a positive answer and a friend request, and as agreed, made it over to her dorm room after lunch.

“I’m so glad you contacted me, Marsh,” she said, opening the door. “I’ve wanted to talk to you for ever so long; I’m so glad you and Jeremy got together. I’ve been really worried about him.”

“Worried?” I laughed, as I followed her into her room. “He’s a big boy; he can take care of himself.”

“In most things, sure. In relationships…?” She sighed. “I just wish I’d known who you were, that night in the bathroom.”

“It all worked out,” I assured her.

“So,” she said, offering me the only chair and sitting on her bed, “Jeremy has told me a little about you. I know you’re a sophomore and that you’re in Sweeney Todd, and that’s about it. Oh, and that he really likes you. A lot. But I’m guessing that’s not a real surprise.” We both laughed, and she went on. “That’s just about all. I don’t even know if you’ve picked a major, or what you do besides acting and studying.”

So I told her about myself and my major and my sewing, and if it seemed that I was talking more about Marsha than myself, well, of late it was getting harder to tell where she ended and I began. It was a bit awkward, though, when she suddenly snapped her fingers and said, “Wait! Your name is Marsha and you do alterations?”

“Yes…” I answered, figuring she must have seen some of the ads I had around campus.

“This is so funny! It has to be you!” and when I looked curiously at her, she said, “Last year, I was admiring this outfit a girl in one of my classes was wearing and she said that a student named Marsha had made it for her out of an old dress that used to be her mother’s. That was you, wasn’t it?”

“Um… yeah,” I managed. Was she talking about Celeste, or had Marsha done the same thing for another girl?

“I just wanted to tell you, the design was brilliant.” She smiled. “I’m surprised you don’t want to be a fashion designer or something like that.”

“Uh… thank you?” I answered, trying not to be embarrassed at having been praised for something Marsha had done. “I… just always wanted to be a doctor, is all.”

“Marsh, I didn’t mean to embarrass you,” she said, putting her hand on my arm. “It’s just so nice to see you as somebody really unique!”

You have no idea, I thought.

“So, anyway, you said you had questions about Jeremy? I really want things to work out for you guys – I mean, this is the first time I’ve seen him really interested in a girl since… well, forever.”

So I told her about the New Year’s Eve party where he’d freaked out about my sitting on his lap, and she nodded, not looking at all surprised. She looked as though she was about to say something, but when I paused, she said, “Go on – it sounds as though there’s more.” And of course there was. I told her about his nervousness while trying to take off my bra, and she looked pained. “It’s been three years,” she murmured. “I’d hoped he was over that.”

“Over that?” I echoed.

She nodded. “Did you know that he and I had dated a few times?”

“Yes, he mentioned that, but he said it wasn’t anything serious.”

“Oh, it definitely wasn’t. But I did try to sit on his lap at a party once, and well… he pretty much reacted the same way.”

We looked at each other. “This sounds like a real problem,” I noted. “But he has no problems with… um, cuddling in private. So what’s the problem, here?”

“I wondered the same thing,” she answered, “but I didn’t get the whole story until last year.”

“The whole story?”

“Did he ever mention Meredith to you?” she asked, and I shook my head. She took a deep breath. “I’m sure he wouldn’t mind my telling you, and I think you really need to know. Meredith was his girlfriend in high school.”


“She was a year behind him and they dated for about three years before he came to Piques. From what Jeremy told me, I gathered that she was really inhibited – I mean, a lot of girls do say no to sex with their boyfriends, but she went way beyond that. I’m pretty sure she never even let him take her shirt off, but he really liked her, and well…

“So she came up to visit him at Piques freshman year, and you know how aggressive some of the girls are. Jeremy says it was mostly just girls on his hallway being friendly, but I think some of them were leaning on him a bit more than necessary, touching his shoulders and arms… you know.” I nodded.

“Well, apparently Meredith really didn’t like it, and fought a bit with him, but he said he calmed her down. That was her first campus visit. Do I need to point out that she slept in the room of one of the girls on his hall, and not in his room?

“Anyway, she came back to Piques a few weeks later, and I don’t think she had anything to drink or something, but they went to a party, and suddenly she was all over him. I mean, sitting on his lap wasn’t new, but then she turned around to face him and wrapped her legs around him…”

“At a party?!”

“I know, right? Even his friends thought she was going too far. He was really embarrassed. He wouldn’t tell me everything she did, but I guess it was pretty bad – and way out of character. I think she just decided that if she didn’t want some other girl stealing him, that she had to do more than they did.”

“OK,” I said, “I see how that would put him off a bit, but… just one time? I’m surprised they didn’t just talk it out and resolve things, afterwards.”

“Well, as I said, it was way out of character for her, and he was so used to her acting a particular way, and he was comfortable with it. But that wasn’t the end of it.

“He took her back to his room, you know, to make out they way they usually did, and she got all seductive and did a bit of a strip-tease for him, down to her underwear, and then invited him to take off her bra. Well, he was already a bit uncomfortable with this sudden change, but he is a guy, and he obliged, or tried to. He says he was really nervous, and I’m sure he was exaggerating, but to hear him tell it, he was working on her bra strap for like forty-five minutes, and she started getting really mad.

“She accused him of not really trying, of being sexually satiated by all the girls at school, at deliberately teasing her… after a while, she just pushed him away, undid the bra herself, flashed him, stuck out her tongue and sashayed into the hallway and back to the room where she was sleeping.”

“… topless? On a co-ed hall?”

“And probably in just her panties, yeah. And then she wouldn’t talk to him when he followed her, and the next day she dumped him, and said some more really unpleasant things. Well, I didn’t know about it at the time, but I asked him to go to a party the very next week, because I was upset about breaking up with my boyfriend, and I sat on his lap… and I guess that probably wasn’t a great idea under the circumstances.”

“I see. So you mean, he’s traumatized from one girl on one date?”

“Plus me stupidly reinforcing it the very next week, yeah. Remember he got used to a very celibate kind of relationship, and he’s shy in general, so he hasn’t always been eager to try very hard with new girls. I mean, seriously, you’re the first girl he’s been with for more than a few dates since Meredith. And… I think there may have been another disaster date somewhere along the way, that is, another girl pushing him faster than he was ready to go.”

“So you’re saying I need to be patient with him.”

“Yeah, he’s a very traditional kind of guy. Let him take the lead. It’s not as if you have to throw yourself at him, after all; you already know he likes you.”

I nodded again, thinking hard.

When I got to the study session the next evening, Jeremy was nowhere in sight. I put my books down on one of the tables, figuring that he was would join me later, and pulled out my logic homework. It was definitely getting easier than it had been, but it was much more of an effort than it had been when I was Marshall. I was starting to grow philosophical about it, though. Marsha had had her own strengths, and that’s what I was living with, now.

I looked up in response to a tap on the shoulder. It was Janine. “He’s on his way,” she whispered. “Now remember – be patient.”

“I’ll try,” I promised. She went back to her own work and pulled out my logic homework, but didn’t actually start it. Janine had just handed me the answers to some mysteries about Jeremy, and I needed to think about what it meant.

I was still pondering that when Jeremy rushed in, a bit out of breath. “Sorry I’m late, Marsh,” he murmured, dropping his books next to me. He dashed over to Janine and handed her something, and I heard him say something like, “I hope this was what you meant.”

Then he came back and sat next to me. “Sorry again. I told Janine that I would pick up something for her and it wasn’t ready when I got there. How’s the logic homework look today?”

We studied together for a couple of hours before we both decided we were done. As we got up, I caught Janine’s eye and silently mouthed, “thank you.”

As usual, we headed back to his room to drop off his books before he walked me home, only this time I noticed him starting to look a bit nervous. “Are you still worried about what happened on Friday?” I asked him. “Did you want to talk about it?”

“It’s not worried so much as embarrassed,” he said, looking a bit chagrined. “It shouldn’t have been so hard. I just didn’t know what I was doing.”

“I’m not judging you,” I reassured him.

“I guess you’re used to guys who aren’t so… inexperienced.”

We had reached his door, and I stopped and put my hands on my hips. “If you’re asking about my own experience, Jeremy, there was one boyfriend in high school and that’s it.” I lowered my voice, even though there was nobody around us. “And I didn’t sleep with him; I know you were wondering. So stop feeling sorry for yourself; there’s lots of people who are pretty innocent at physical relationships.” Well, I was physically a virgin, anyway, and I wasn’t really experienced as a girl.

He nodded. “You’re right, you’re right. I just have this idea that guys are supposed to know things… so I did a bit of research,” he continued, and as I looked sharply at him, he looked away, but not before I noticed him starting to blush.

“Research…?” I asked, staring. “You don’t mean… how to take off a girl’s bra?” For a second I imagined Janine helping him with this research and I saw red.

“Um… yeah, I looked it up on the web.”

I had to bite my lip. “On the web…? Jeremy, that is so…” I started to say nerdy, but changed it to, “… so adorable.”

He shrugged. “I just thought…”

“… that you might want to practice…?”

“If that’s OK…”

Well, Janine had said to follow his lead… Once in his room, I lifted my arms for a kiss, and only then did it occur to me that I hadn’t exactly prepared for this. Unlike on our date, I was wearing a dress rather than a blouse and skirt, which meant that I was liable to wind up a bit more undressed that I had intended. Oh well, I thought, as he started kissing me and stroking my back, I’m sure it won’t be a problem.

When I woke the next morning, I was bit disoriented at not finding myself in my own bed. What’s more, the décor of the room seemed to be distinctly masculine, and I wondered why I was in a boy’s room. Then I saw Jeremy watching me and jumped in surprise. I would probably have fallen out of bed if I hadn’t been on the side against the wall; as it was, I banged my head.

“Are you OK?” he asked, concerned.

“Y-yeah… I’m fine…” I stammered, trying desperately to calm myself. “Um… I think I need to get going. What time is it?”

He peered at the clock on his desk. “It’s only a quarter to seven. Why don’t you stay and have breakfast with me?” I shook my head, and he asked, “What’s wrong? Did I… hurt you?”

“No, I’m fine,” I answered hurriedly. I took a breath. Calm, calm, I chided myself. “I just need to get going.” I tried not to look at him as he got out of bed to get out of my way, but I forced myself to kiss him on the cheek. Just a peck; it was the most I felt I could manage.

“Well, then, I’ll get dressed, too, and walk you home,” he declared.

“Jeremy… I think you should stay here. Look, I have rehearsal tonight, but I’ll be done by about ten. Call me? I need some time to think.”


“And… could you turn around while I get dressed?”

I watched him face the door and stripped off the T-shirt he had leant me to sleep in and quickly put on my dress and coat, not even worrying about my underwear, which I stuffed into my bookbag. “Goodbye,” I said, resting a hand on his back. He turned and kissed me, and I didn’t struggle, but as soon as he released me, I was out the door. “Thanks,” I called as I left.

Stupid, stupid, I thought as I walked through the wintry morning. Without tights, my legs and bottom were freezing, but I barely noticed. You can’t let this go on, I chastised myself. By the time I reached my room I was feeling pretty low. I knew my roommates would be up, so I wasn’t surprised to see Terry in her pajamas staring when I unlocked and opened the door.

“Lee Ann,” she called, “Marsh just walked in!”

“She what?” Lee Ann called from her bedroom. Then she came out and looked at me, and said in a worried tone of voice. “Oh Marsh, you didn’t.”

I shook my head. “No, I didn’t.”

“You didn’t?” asked Terry, surprised.

“No, I…” I dropped my books and my coat on the floor. “I’m OK, I just…”

“Yes…?” Terry prompted. So I explained about Jeremy and his research. “He was kissing me and he unzipped my dress…. Then he kept on kissing me and stroking my face and he undid my bra with one hand. That must have been some web site.”


“Well, considering that him seeing my breasts was a first for both of us… um… I wasn’t really ready for what it felt like when he put his mouth on me… and I sort of…”

“We know about that,” Lee Ann said. “Maybe I should have warned you.”

“Anyway, the next thing I knew, I was completely naked, and his shirt was off, and I was reaching for his belt…”

“Marsh… you know you haven’t been on the Pill long enough for it to be safe.”

“I know, but I wasn’t really thinking clearly. I was just… too busy feeling, and it felt great and I wanted… anyway, he pushed my hands away and I said it was OK, and he said it wasn’t and that Janine… that’s his friend. Did I tell you about Janine?”

“No…” Terry said, “what did…?”

“Well, she got engaged this summer to a boy Jeremy introduced her to, only she’d slept with a guy her sophomore year so she wasn’t a virgin and it bothered her.”

“Why…?” Terry asked.

“Well, to hear Jeremy tell it, she decided that it would have been special if she and Carl – that’s her fiancé – could have been each other’s first, only she didn’t wait and then she was sorry when she met him – that she hadn’t waited, I mean.”

“What does any of this have to do with–?”

“I see where she’s going, Terry,” Lee Ann said, stopping Terry with a hand on her elbow. “So Jeremy didn’t want to take your virginity, you mean?”

“Uh huh,” I nodded. “He said that you only get one chance, and that I would probably wish one day, you know, when I was a lot older, that I had waited, and he didn’t want to take that chance away from me.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Terry snapped. “So are you saying that the only way you’re going to be able to have sex with him is if you cheat on him first?”

“I think it’s kind of sweet, actually,” Lee Ann said. “I mean, Stephen and I have never been intimate with anyone but each other, and it’s really kind of special. It shows that there’s one part of ourselves that we’ve never shared with anybody else.”

“Yeah,” I continued, “and anyway, he said he didn’t want to deprive me… and then he said, ‘I couldn’t do that to the girl I love.’” I just let the words hang there.

“He said he loved you?” Lee Ann asked quietly.

“He said it just the way I told you. I don’t know if he even realized what he’d said. “I mean, I like him a lot, but I don’t know that I’m ready to say love.”

“But you spent the night after he said that,” she pointed out.

“It didn’t register until he’d fallen asleep. And I was already dressed for bed and his arms were around me, and I was tired and it was really cold outside….”

“You know, you really got lucky, Marsh,” Lee Ann said.

“I know.”

“Except for the whole ‘no sex’ thing,” Terry muttered.

“Yeah. Anyway, thanks for talking it out, guys. I need to wash up; I don’t know if I’m going to make it to breakfast.”

Of course, I still had stuff I wanted to talk about – things I didn’t want to share with my roommates. Fortunately, Nikki wasn’t too busy when I had a break at rehearsals that night, so I told her the whole story, with one additional detail.

“You thought you were a guy again?” she asked, after I was done.

“Well, I was really disoriented when I woke up and for a moment I thought I’d changed back and I was back in my suite with my old roommates – and then I saw him in bed with me and I kind of freaked.”

“But you covered it up.”

“Yeah, I think he figured I was upset about spending the night with him, and now I have to reassure him that I wasn’t.”

“You guys are really out of sync here, Marsh. He’s thinking he loves you, and you’re not even sure what sex you are.”


“So what now?”

What now indeed?

116 Not Yet the Moment

As soon as I hung up, I called Chad’s house. “Hi, Mrs. Barnes,” I said hurriedly. “It’s Marsha Steen. Could you ask Chad to call me when he gets home?” I figured I could get away without a long discussion. I was wrong.

“Jennifer!” she said. “We haven’t spoken in so long! I’ll definitely have him call you. How are you? How’s the new school year?”

I bit my tongue and answered, telling her about Sweeney Todd and my classes. Then I felt a bit guilty and told her just the tiniest bit about Jeremy. And then she said, “He’s here” and handed over the phone.

“Marsh?” Chad said, surprised. “Is something wrong?”

“No, I just remembered that I was supposed to tell you some things that I didn’t really want my Dad to hear.”


“Well, you said I had to tell you everything, even if I didn’t think it was relevant, right? So…” I took a deep breath. “Jeremy and I are dating.”

“I knew that…”

“I mean… you know, really dating.”

“Wait a minute. You mean… like sex?”

“Well, not yet,” I admitted, “but he took off my shirt the last time we were together, and–”

“Whoa. Whoa! Whoa!” Chad yelped. “You know what? Let’s qualify that. I do not need to know those kinds of details. Geez, Marsh, you should know better than that! Did you really used to tell me about how far you’d gone with girls?”


“I don’t want to hear this.”

I bit my lip. “You did say everything. You sure you don’t want to know?” I teased. “It was kind of hot…”

“How about… just tell me how you’re feeling about him and guys in general – that you’re acting and responding more as Marsh and less as… Marshall… is important. But I really don’t need more than that. Um… how did that happen? His taking off your shirt?”

“Well, we had stopped off in his room…” I started.

“Wait!” he exclaimed, cutting me off. “Not the details! I mean… well… it’s kind of relevant how you felt, right? That’s a reasonable question. But… I mean…”

“… you’re uncomfortable with a girl telling you about her sex life.”


“Although,” I pointed out, “given your passion for porn, you’re probably also dying to know.”

“Marsh, you’re making this har– uh, more difficult than it needs to be. Can I take it that you didn’t object?”

“You could say that,” I giggled.

“OK, look… um… this is going way wrong for me. All I want to know – all that matters here is, are you, um, looking to… wait, you said that you didn’t think he was going to get serious about you.”

I really did try to speak in a more sober tone, and I could tell what I was doing to Chad, but his reactions were so funny. “I didn’t say he was getting serious, Chad. We were just, well, making out. Come on, it’s normal for healthy adolescents–”

“Normal? Normal? How is anything about you, normal? Just a couple of months ago, Marsh, you were whining about not finding girls attractive, and now you think it’s normal to be making out with a boy?”

That did shut me down. “I’m sorry, Chad, you’re right. The thing is, I am a girl just now, and I’m reacting to things the way a girl would. I’m almost comfortable with it, and… well… who knows?”

“What do you mean, ‘almost comfortable’?”

“Wait, didn’t I tell you about that? Um… I was cuddling with him one time and I suddenly freaked out, imagining doing it as my real self. I never told him why, but this last time I worked really hard not to let it bother me.”

“And you succeeded?”

“Um, yeah. That’s when I sort of teased him to take off my shirt.”

“Because you wanted to see how comfortable you felt with… this whole idea?”

“I… guess so. I mean… well, I am attracted to him, too.”

“Yeah, but if you’re having these kinds of freak-outs, that would be a problem if you can’t change back, wouldn’t it?”

I sighed. “Probably. I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that. After all, we have found the lab, so there should be a way back, right?”

“I hope so. Anything else?”

“Not that I can think of. Thanks, Chad. Have a good night.”

The next morning, as my roommates and I were about to head to breakfast, I noticed them look at one another, nod, and then look at me.

“So what’s going on with the two boys, Marsh?” Lee Ann asked, almost too casually.

“Not to mention your friend, Vicky.” Terry added.

“Oh… well, I told you, we were working on a video,” I said, surprised that they were asking.

“And how did that come out?” Terry asked, meaningfully.

I looked at her for a moment. She seemed to suspect something. I wasn’t sure what I had said or done. “It didn’t,” I said after a moment. “It’s turns out that we couldn’t use the video.”

“Uh huh. This would be a video of the experiment?” she said.

I stared. “Um… what are you talking about?” I asked looking back and forth at the two of them.

“Miss Big-Ears here overheard you and your friends talking about an experiment, Marsh,” Lee Ann said.

“My ears are not big,” muttered Terry.

“Maybe not until you spent all that time with them pressed to Marsh’s door.” She looked at me again. “You’re still going on about that time travel experiment, aren’t you Marsh? You haven’t mentioned it at meals recently but you’re serious about it, right?”

I stared some more, trying to think of what I could tell them; they didn’t seem hostile, and they were my friends, so… “Yeah, we found the lab, and we’re trying to figure out what’s going on.”

“You mean it is real?” Terry gasped. “There really is an experiment? Not just a joke?”

“Well, I know people who volunteered and were… changed, yeah. Including me,” I added ruefully.

“That’s kind of hard to believe, Marsh,” Lee Ann said. “I mean, if people were really changed, how could they keep it a secret?”

“What happened to you?” Terry asked, obviously ignoring Lee Ann’s doubts.

I hesitated for a second; telling my family had been OK, but I was living with these girls and I was pretty sure that they’d be uncomfortable thinking of a boy looking at them in their underwear from behind my eyes. So I temporized. “Well, I am a bit smaller, now…”

“Oh my gosh,” Terry gasped. “That girl who lost…” she indicated her bust, “… that was you wasn’t it?”


“Seriously, don’t worry,” she said, putting her hands on my shoulders. “You look great. It’s probably easier for you now, isn’t it?”

Maybe I can find a way to tell them another time, I thought. “It’s definitely different.”

“Are you serious, Marsh?” Lee Ann asked, staring. “You were actually changed? I mean, physically changed?”


“And nobody remembers the old you?”

I shook my head. “Well, actually, Vicky does – since she was changed, too. And… well, I don’t know that she and I ever met in this timeline.” I turned to Terry. “That’s why you don’t remember her. We were close for a long time, but…” I stopped, not sure what I could say that wouldn’t reveal more than any of us would be comfortable with.

“So it’s not just physical changes, then?” Lee Ann asked, quietly. “Is that why… wait! Did this happen over midterm break last semester?”


“So that’s why you seemed so unsure of yourself – I mean, more than usual, even for you. That must have been really tough. Why didn’t you just tell us? We’re your friends, Marsh. We’ve known each other for a long time – I mean, you’ve known Terry since you got to Piques, practically. Don’t you think we would have understood?”

I hesitated again, and before I could say anything, Terry jumped in. “Or did you know us?” she asked.

After a moment, I shook my head. “I had different roommates, before, and they don’t remember me… the only ones who remember me are you guys, and the rest of our friends. Even my family doesn’t remember the old me.” To my surprise, I seemed to be crying, and I found myself sitting on the couch with my roommates on either side of me.

Terry put her arms around me. “Marsh, I hope by now at least that you know you can trust us?”

I nodded, but I was roiling inside. It’s not a question of trust, I told myself. It wouldn’t be fair to them to tell them the whole truth. I tried to relax. Besides, I’m reacting more like a girl now anyway.

“So what else is different for you, now?” Lee Ann asked.

My heart clenched. The truth would be so much easier, but how could I possibly tell them? “Well… Jeremy is actually the first boy I’ve really gone out with,” I ventured. It was the truth, after all.

“Wait!” Terry exclaimed. “What about Dirk? You didn’t date Dirk in high school?”

“No… I mean… no, I didn’t.”

“Were you self-conscious about your chest? Was that the problem?” Lee Ann asked. “I know I used to be. The boys just keep staring at you, and won’t look you in the eyes.”

“I can’t believe you ever had a problem,” I said, my head popping up. Lee Ann seemed to be so incredibly at ease with boys.

“Well, this was in middle school,” she admitted, “but I definitely remember the discomfort.”

“Oh yeah,” Terry laughed, “not to mention being taller than all the boys in my class. I swear, half of them managed to be boob-high on me for most of seventh grade.”

I have absolutely no idea why I laughed along with her; was that really funny? But I did laugh, and so did Lee Ann, and suddenly we were standing up again and Lee Ann was adjusting her clothing, and saying, “We really should get to breakfast. And Marsh? Be sure to come to us, next time, OK? This is why you have friends.”

“I’ll remember,” I promised.

And if I thought the matter was settled, Lee Ann disabused me as we walked to breakfast, pulling me aside to whisper. “I know there’s still something you’re not telling us, Marsh – like why bigger breasts would have changed who your friends are. But we’ve got time. I’ll get it out of you eventually.”

I was really afraid she might be right.

Jeremy called just after lunch to see if I was coming to the study session. “I can’t,” I told him. “I have my first rehearsal for Sweeney Todd tonight. But I’ll be over tomorrow, OK?”

“OK…” he said.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, noting the tone in his voice. “I’ll be over tomorrow.”

“I just… I was really embarrassed about what happened.”

“It’s really fine, B– it’s fine” I said, catching myself and flushing with embarassment. I’d almost called him, “Babe.” Pet names were for couples who were starting to be serious; we were just two people enjoying being together, that’s all. “If you want, we can talk about it.”

“Um… yeah, maybe tomorrow, then, OK?”

I agreed, a bit surprised at his hesitation; we said our goodbyes and hung up – and only then did it occur to me that I had wanted to talk things out and naturally, he hadn’t. The shoe was definitely on the other foot, and it wasn’t the greatest fit.

The first rehearsal for Sweeney Todd was similar to the first one for Mousetrap, with introductions all around, only this time I knew the people I was supposed to know, and I knew what shows Marsha had done, so things were a lot smoother. We didn’t actually do a read through, this time, since there is so much singing in the show. Instead, Alvin handed us schedules of when we were working with the musical director or him, and dismissed those of us who weren’t scheduled for that evening.

Nikki came over as I was picking up my score and script. “I’m done as well,” she said. “We haven’t spoken much, lately. Would you like to get some hot chocolate?”

I looked up, a bit surprised. We hadn’t been talking as much, I realized. A lot of the conversations we’d had before break had been about my discomfort with the life I’d been forced into, and now that I was becoming more comfortable, I’d been neglecting her. So the two of us grabbed our coats and headed to the Grill.

“Congratulations again,” she said as we walked. “How do you feel about the role?”

“Well, it’s my first lead in a musical, so I’m a bit nervous…”

“Alvin knows that; but you showed that you could do the role in Mousetrap, so he was confident that you’ll come through on this one. Even if you don’t remember Marsha’s life, you do seem to have her abilities.”

“And none of my own, I know.” We walked on a bit more before I asked, “What was the name of the boy playing Anthony?”

“Oh, Todd Phelps,” she said, sounding a bit amused. “He is a cutie, isn’t he?”

“I know, and we have a bunch of… romantic type scenes together. Does it make me bad that I’m sort of looking forward to them?”

She laughed. “No, but it certainly makes you different than who you were a few months ago.”

“Yeah… I keep thinking that it would almost be like cheating on Jeremy, but it’s just acting, right? I mean, it doesn’t mean anything?

“And his girlfriend is in the chorus, so if anything, he may be a bit nervous about doing those scenes.”

We shared a laugh at that, and walked into the Grill and ordered our drinks.

“I think I should warn you about something, Marsh,” she said as we sat down with our hot chocolates. “You’re clearly adapting well, and you’re even comfortable with your sexuality as a girl, which is great. But… I don’t think you’ve learned the cautions that girls do – and if you’re going to be lusting after boys, that’s something you need to know. If you let Todd know that you’re attracted to him, you could have a real problem, both with Jeremy and Todd’s girlfriend. And now that I think of it, maybe you need to be careful with Jeremy, too.”

“Jeremy wouldn’t do anything to hurt me,” I protested. “He’s not like that.”

“Oh Marsh, you’re so naïve sometimes. Were you ‘like that’ as a guy?”

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

“Well, you’ve said that you dated a lot of girls, and slept with a number of them, right? Were they eager to have sex with you?”

“What? What do you think I am… was? I never forced myself on any girl, and I never slept with a girl until we’d been dating for a while. Well… except for Vicky, but she was a special case. And every time, my girlfriend was more than willing.”

“Uh huh. Or maybe you just assumed that they wanted to have sex with you, and didn’t pay as close attention as you should have to signs that they didn’t.”

I flinched back, hurt. “That’s… a heck of an accusation, Nikki.”

“I’m not trying to put you on the spot, Marsh. I’m just trying to point out that a lot of guys – especially the ones who do sleep with a lot of girls – are likely to believe what they want to believe about girls’ willingness. And on the other side, girls sometimes do things they wish they hadn’t if they’ve been cuddling with a boy they really like. I’m telling you that you need to be careful, that’s all.

“For a start, you need to pay attention to birth control. Some guys will take responsibility for it, but you can’t count on it. And if you forget, you can really mess up your life.”

“I know that, Nikki,” I said, a bit defensively. “Lee Ann gave me the speech about waiting; and… I’ve started taking the Pill, you know, just in case. I’m not stupid.”

“I’m not saying you’re stupid, Marsh – but boys are not as aware of these kinds of things as girls are. And a lot of girls manage to get pregnant by accident even so. You need to know in your bones what you’re doing. And that’s assuming you’re even seriously ready for sex. I’ve seen guys have sex and it’s like it doesn’t even matter so much, but most girls are really affected by it. Lee Ann is right. Waiting is the best idea right now; but you’ve been acting as though your hormones are driving you and you need to watch that.”

I nodded, and she seemed satisfied, so we moved to other subjects. With less than six months to go before graduation, the two of them were planning for life after school. Alvin had gotten an interview with a regional theater and she was very excited about his chances. She had no idea what she was going to do, as yet.

We talked and talked until it was kind of late, and we got up to leave. And it turned out she wasn’t quite done. “One more thing, Marsh,” she said. “If you decide eventually that you are ready, and you really want to have sex with your boyfriend, fine. But be sure it’s what you want, and not because he wants to and you’ve gotten lost in the moment. It’s very easy to forget. That’s all I’m saying.”

115 Taking a Close Look

“The camera thing worked?” I gasped. “We have pictures of the lab?”

“Well,” Eric replied cautiously, “The trigger went off, and I presume that means that the camera caught whatever there was to see. At any rate, it seems to have filled up its memory. I didn’t want to play around with it, though. I figure you know more about the camera than I do.”

“I don’t believe this!” I enthused. “We’re actually going to see the lab! Can you bring the camera over to my room? I’ll call Vicky, and you can invite Martin.”

“See in you a few minutes.”

Vicky was so excited I could swear she flew all the way to my dorm. “Did you get it?!” she exclaimed when I let her in.

“Get what?” Terry asked, as she came back from the bathroom, causing Vicky almost to swallow her tongue.

“Some friends are making a video with my Flip Cam,” I explained, having thought ahead this time for an explanation.

“Oh, cool! Let me see it when you’re done,” she said, vanishing into her bedroom. Oh well. I can always tell her it didn’t turn out, I guess.

“Eric’s on his way over with the camera,” I told Vicky. “Then I’ll import it so we can watch it all together.”

“How can you be so calm about this?” she almost shouted, following me into my room.

“I’m just trying not to get my hopes up too high, is all,” I said. “But I’m not calm. Look.” I held out my hand. “I’m shaking. I so much want this to give us all the answers. I want to see a big sign that tells us where to find Professor Davis. I want to see a journal that says that they’re all set to change back anybody who wants to be changed back.” I shook my head. “Don’t mind me, I’m just rambling.”

A knock on the outer door sent me running to open it before my roommates did. Martin and Eric were there when I opened it and I almost snatched my camera out of Eric’s hand when he offered it to me. “Come on in, guys!” I said. “Vicky’s already here.”

I turned to lead the way and spotted Lee Ann looking curiously at my guests. “Oh, Hi, Lee Ann,” I said, trying to sound nonchalant. “This is Martin and Eric. They’re working on something with me.”

“Oh. Hi,” she said, sounding a bit dubious. I guess having a couple of strange men visit early in the morning wasn’t typical for Marsha. “Are you not going to be eating with us, then?”

“Yeah, go on without me. I’ll grab something when we’re done.”

Back in my room, I wasted no time in hooking the camera up to my computer. And then we had to wait. “This is going to take a while to import, guys,” I said. “So… how is everybody?”

“I’m going to strangle you, you know,” Vicky said, with her eyes wide. “How long is it going to take?”

I laughed. “About two minutes, according to the manual. I’m just trying to ease the tension a bit.”

“Well, it’s not working!”

The guys just watched us, looking a bit amused, and before long the import was done and I moved the monitor so that they could see it from the bed. “Everybody ready?” I asked, and when they nodded, I pressed ‘play’ and quickly joined them on the bed.

We saw a man standing with his back to the camera open the door; unfortunately, his body blocked our view of the room. Then he moved aside to let another man enter and removed the key from the lock. As the second man entered the room, we caught our first glimpse of the interior over his shoulders.

“That’s the lab, alright,” I whispered, not wanting to drown out anything that we might hear from the video.

“But where is everything?” Vicky whispered back. “Didn’t there used to be something against that wall?”

Before I could answer, the first man followed the second into the room. And closed the door behind him.

For a moment, nobody spoke. Then Vicky found her voice. “That’s it?! All the build up for that?”

“They have to have come out eventually,” Eric noted.

I dashed to the computer and started fiddling with the time slider. “Right. As long as they came out before the memory was full…” For most of the timeline, the image was unchanged – just that same closed door. But then, at around forty minutes in, I saw the picture jump. “I’ve got it!” I exclaimed, and slowed down my search. I moved the slider to just before the earliest point where I’d seen something and hit play.

For half a minute, nothing happened – I’d obviously started too early. Then suddenly the door opened and the first man came out and secured it – only this time, we could see his face.

“I know him!” Vicki gasped. “That’s the grad student who signed me up for the experiment in the first place.”

“Yeah,” I nodded in agreement. Behind him, we could see the second man, who was clearly older, standing behind a crate that was about three foot high, and behind him we could see the lab again.

“Is it my imagination–”, Martin started to say, but Eric shushed him.

“They’re talking!” he whispered.

And indeed the camera had picked up voices. “… why you brought this,” the older man said, lifting something that was sitting on top of the crate.

The grad student’s back was to us, so it was harder to make out what he was saying, but it sounded like, “… noticed it while I was unhooking the… -zer and wond- … group B might recognize it.”

“It’s risky,” said the other, “how would you introduce it?”

The student’s answer was lost as the two of them carried the crate with the object on it out of the room and down the hall, shutting the door behind them.

“Isn’t some of the equipment gone from before?” Martin asked, once the two were no longer audible.

“I think so,” I said. “We can always go back and check. Do you think that’s professor Davis?”

“Could be,” Eric said. “I think I’ve seen him around the department, only not for a while. The other guy, too,” Martin nodded.

“So what was that about ‘group B’?” I asked. “Does that mean that they did different experiments on different people?”

“Could be,” Eric repeated. “I wonder what that thing was that they wanted to show…”

“You recognized it, didn’t you, Marsh?” Vicky asked. “It was hanging over the table when we lay down on it.”

I shook my head. “I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen it before. Do you suppose that means that you and I actually did different experiments?”

She and I stared at each other. Maybe that was why I had changed sex and she hadn’t? But if so, which of us was ‘group B’ and why hadn’t we met anybody else who’d had the response that I had?

“But how are they talking to their test subjects?” Eric wondered. “None of the Strangers are cooperating. Do you suppose that some people didn’t join because they were still helping out? I think we’ve got more questions than answers, at this point.” He turned to Martin. “Did you recognize any of the equipment?”

“Well,” started Martin, “I thought I saw some counters, like you might use to detect subatomic particles. I didn’t recognize most of the stuff, though. I have no idea what I’d even expect to see in a time travel lab. It’s kind of uncharted territory, you know? Not sure why the particle detectors would be there, though. There was clearly some custom-made equipment, too. At least a lot of things looked breadboarded rather than mass-produced. But some things… there are some places that make one-off equipment, and I thought I saw an enclosure that could have been from one of them. I don’t remember the name, but I can check in my lab if we have something similar. That’s about all I can think of.”

“And I think there was printing on the crate,” Eric said. “Can we go back and look?” I backed up the video to the point when the crate was passing the camera. “Yeah, it looks like three words at the top. I think the middle one might be ‘MILLS.’”

“Or ‘HILLS,’” I suggested, looking closely and moving the video back and forth, looking for better angles. The word after it looks like it starts, ‘ENG,’” I think.

“It’s annoying,” Eric went on. “Their bodies are covering a lot of it, but I think there’s another ‘N’ later in the third word – or maybe an ‘H’.”

“The first word might end with ‘N’,” Martin observed. “Maybe… Malvern Hills, England?”

“England?” Vicky wailed.

“Hold on,” I said. “Why England?”

“Just a wild guess,” Martin said. “I’m just trying to figure out what the words could mean. I just happen to know that there’s a Malvern Hills in England.”

“I don’t think we have nearly enough information,” I said. “The last word could be ‘engine’ or something like that. Anybody know enough to make an internet search based on this?”

All I saw were blank looks. About all we were sure of was that Davis and his student were sneaking stuff out slowly, so I gave Eric the camera again, hoping that we would catch them the following weekend as well. Otherwise, we seemed to be out of ideas.

“Thanks for coming over, guys,” I said, standing up. “I think we’ve taken an important first step.” I walked the boys out, but Vicky stayed.

“Shouldn’t we talk about this some more?” she asked.

“Well, I’d like to,” I told her, “but I need to get ready for my call back audition.”

“Are you out of your mind? How can you put a show before…?” she looked around. My roommates weren’t visible, but she hurried me back into my bedroom and closed the door. “How can you put this before regaining your true self?”

“I’m not,” I protested. “But this problem isn’t going to get solved this morning, and the callbacks are on a specific schedule. I’ll call you afterwards and we can talk all you like.”

The callbacks actually turned out to be pretty straightforward. Marsha’s voice was clearly at least as good any that of any of the other girls, and my acting was better, and they announced then and there that I had the role. Jo got the Beggar Woman, so we’d be working together again. I joked about calling her, ‘Mom’ and she jokingly admonished me about eating my vegetables and being careful about boys.

But the obviously disappointed faces of the girls I’d beaten haunted me. They’d worked so hard to get themselves into a position to compete for the role, and I’d just woken up with this voice and hadn’t had to work for it at all. It didn’t seem fair. Not that I was going to give up the role, of course, but I did wish that there could have been some sort of consolation prize for them other than the chorus.

The conversation with Vicky basically went nowhere. Neither of us had any brilliant ideas on how to follow things through. We agreed that Martin’s suggestion about England was really unlikely, but I think both of us were a bit concerned that it fit what we knew about the writing on the crate.

My weekly call with my father and Chad that night was a lot more productive.

“England?” Chad scoffed when I told them what we’d learned. “You see that’s impossible, don’t you?”

“Well, it seemed unlikely,” I said, not quite understanding his confidence.

“Impossible,” he repeated. “Look, first of all, it sounds as though they are still interviewing test subjects, who pretty much have to be local – and yeah, they could do that over the internet, but… you also said that they’re taking stuff out bit by bit, right? So, assuming that they’re moving to another lab, it only makes sense that it has to be close by, no more than a few hours or so. There’s just no way that these guys are flying across the Atlantic Ocean every week to grab one crate and pack it up.”

“Couldn’t they be staying locally and just shipping it overseas?”

“Not with the secrecy you claim. I can’t imagine that they’re going to let this equipment sit away from them for months. They have to have been doing this for months, right?”

“Um, hold on,” I said, finally remembering to compare the state of the lab before and after they were in the room. “I’d say that this time they probably took out maybe a tenth to a twentieth of what was in there. It’s kind of hard to be sure from what I can see. And it looks like they’ve cleared about half the room by now, as far as I can see. So, yeah, it would make sense that they’ve been doing this for a while.

“So if you’re going to search for ‘something Mills Engines’ or ‘Engineering’…”

“It’s still too large an area, Chad,” I pointed out. “We don’t even have the first letter.”

“And that’s another thing,” he continued. “Why bother even labeling the crate of their carrying it themselves. They have to shipping it somewhere, right? But you didn’t see an address. So what’s up with that?”

“The address could have been in smaller print,” Dad suggested. “Or maybe the name is a fake, just in case somebody asks why they’re carrying a crate around. Or maybe different crates are going to different places and they have to keep track.

“Marsh, the problem is, you have no idea what the name means, and you don’t even have it in the first place. I don’t want to step on your toes, Honey, but may I make a suggestion?”

“Of course, Dad,” I said, fighting for some reason now not to call him, ‘Daddy.’

“Send me the images you have, showing the door – it has a number, I think you said – and the lab and the secrecy. That’s not normal. Let me get a court order to open that door, as well as the records of who’s using it. I think we have enough information now, don’t you?”

“I… guess so,” I admitted.

“Can you really get something like that, Mr. Steen?” Chad asked.

“I don’t know for sure. They could be questions of standing. But I might be able to bluff the school into providing some information, especially if I can get the backing of the other parents. You can get that for me, right, Marsh? The names of a bunch of parents who would be willing to throw their weight behind this?”

“I… think so… I’ll have to ask Eric, since we’re not supposed to contact the Strangers directly. But yeah, that sounds reasonable. What do you think, Chad?”

“I don’t know about bluffing, but then again, I don’t play poker. Only I have nothing better to offer. Maybe… see if the Better Business Bureau has a list of businesses names and search against them? But you’d need to contact a lot of agencies, I guess.”

“Maybe somebody in the Strangers is a comp-sci genius and can do it. OK, Dad, I’ll get you some names, and you can start doing what you need to do, OK?”

I didn’t want to get my hopes up, and I was starting to enjoy the life I was living for now, but it really did seem that there was a good chance that it would only be temporary. That had to be a good thing, right?

114 Call to Action

Jeremy called to confirm that we were going to go dancing, just so that I’d know what to wear. I took my time getting ready; I went over my makeup carefully, selected a frilly pink blouse and to top the whole thing off, I found a YouTube video that explained how to tie a bow in your hair. As I surveyed the result in the mirror I found myself getting really confident that I was not going to experience Sudden Male Identity Syndrome on this date!

I do not understand why people always seem to be surprised to see me. I was at Danby a short while later, waiting while Jeremy hung up our coats, when I heard Vicky gasp, “Marsh?!”

I turned, definitely not surprised to see her with Kevin. “Hi, guys,” I said, “how are you?”

“Waiting for – oh, there he is,” I said, reaching for Jeremy’s hand when he caught up with me. “Jeremy, this is my friend Vicky and her boyfriend, Kevin.” I even managed not to let my opinion of Kevin show in my voice, which took some doing.

While Vicky stared at Jeremy, then back at me, and then at our clasped hands, Jeremy extended his free hand to Kevin and said politely, “Nice to meet you.”

Kevin responded with his usual Neanderthal grunt.

Then suddenly nobody was speaking and we all seemed to be just staring at each other, so I asked Vicky, “do you guys have a table?”

She hesitated, as though she was looking for a reason to deny it, but looked at Kevin and back at me before nodding. “Why don’t you guys join us?”

Kevin led the way, while Jeremy and I followed. Then I noticed Vicky was not with her date, but was walking close to me and giving me significant looks until I stopped and whispered to Jeremy, “Why don’t you go on ahead? I think Vicky wants to talk to me.”

He’d gone about twenty feet ahead of us before Vicky hissed in my ear, “What are you doing?”

I blinked. “What do you mean? I’m here to dance with my boyfriend, same as you.”

She rolled her eyes at me. “No, I’m here to dance with my boyfriend; you’re just confused.” I gave her an annoyed look, but before I could say anything, she added, “Look at you, Marshall. You’ve really gone overboard now. A hair ribbon? What are you supposed to be?”

“What’s the problem, Vicky?” I asked, a bit confused. “I’m just on a date and I got dressed up.”

“You’ve given up, haven’t you?”

“What? No!” I insisted. “It’s just… I’m trying to live the life I’m stuck in as best I can, that’s all.”

“And the hair ribbon?” she demanded.

“Oh,” I blushed. “That. Well…” I looked around. Nobody seemed to be paying any particular attention to us, but I still wanted a bit more privacy, so I started walking toward an empty corner, knowing that she would follow me. I lowered my voice as well. “The last time we tried to… cuddle, I had this sudden vision of myself as a boy and freaked out.”

“Hmm,” she sniffed. “Maybe somebody’s trying to tell you something.”

“Vixy,” I almost whined, “we’ve been over this. I’m a girl, now, and I’m attracted to boys. If I do change back, I’ll never have dated Jeremy or any other guy, so what’s the problem? We’ll be together again, and none of this will have happened.”

“Except that I’ll remember.”

“And I’ll remember you dating Kevin. It’s the same thing. We’re going around in circles, Vix.”

“It’s not the same thing at all, Marshall,” she snapped. “You’ll remember me as the girl you knew, dating another guy because you weren’t available, dating another guy just as you knew I had done before I met you. But I’m going to have to remember you as a girl, mincing around in your little pink blouse and a skirt with that stupid ribbon in your hair. How attractive do you think that’s going to make you when you change back, Marshall?”

I flinched. “I… hadn’t thought about that,” I admitted. “But, Vicky, I don’t see what choice I really have. Wouldn’t it be stupid to put my life on hold forever, just in case? Is it fair to expect me to be alone, when you’ve said that not being alone is why you put up with a guy who beats you?”

“He doesn’t beat–” she retorted, hotly. “I mean… he doesn’t hit me all that often, and…” she shook her head. “Don’t change the subject!”

“I’m not,” I insisted. “I’m just doing what I think makes the most sense. As long as I’m a girl, why not be the girl I am?”

“Because you’re not a girl, not really. You’re a guy, Marsh. You’re just fooling yourself.”

“And round in circles we go again. Is this what you’re telling me, Vix? That I need to be miserable and lonely to make you feel better?”

“I… don’t think that’s a good way of putting it.”

“You don’t? Why not?” I challenged her.

“Well… I mean…”

“I can’t believe you want me to be miserable.”

“I don’t!” she exclaimed. “I just…”

“Just what?”

“Can we just get back to the guys?”

“The guys?” I echoed. “So I’m not a guy, right?”


“This isn’t easy for me, Vix. I don’t really know what I’m doing. You could help me. Teach me about being a girl on a date with a boy, in a relationship with a boy. Teach me how to… you know… just so I can be happy. You do want me to be happy, right? I want you to be happy…”

She stared at me for a moment. “I think… you might think I’m a better person than I am.”

“No,” I corrected her. “I know you’re a better person than you think you are. I know you’re a generous, loving girl. That’s why we were together for so long.”


“I’m really struggling here, Vicky. I want the same thing any girl wants, and I’m not looking to hurt anybody. Yes, it’s weird – and I have this extra problem that I keep seeing myself as a guy and getting grossed out at cuddling with him. But… all the pain that you say you have about not wanting to be alone? I’ve got that too. All the heart-thumping oh he’s so cute thing that you get when you think of your boyfriend? I’ve got that, too.”

She muttered something that I thought might have been, “I wish I did…” but I couldn’t be sure.

“So I’m asking you to overlook me acting feminine, even going overboard a bit; I think I need to. But… maybe you can coach me through this and help me work on my relationship with Jeremy? I promise if I change back I’ll work really hard on making you forget I was ever anything but the manliest boyfriend you could want.”

“I don’t know if I can, Marsh…”


She sighed. “Let me think about it, OK? It’s a lot to process.”

I nodded. “Thanks. Um… ready to catch up with our dates?”

She shook her head, “’Our dates’ – Oh boy… you’re really going to rub my face in this tonight, aren’t you?”

I chuckled. “I’ve been living with this reality for some time – it’s about time you started really getting used to the new me and really starting to accept me for who I am now.”

“I guess…”

Jeremy and Kevin seemed to be getting along when we found them, and by ‘getting along’ I mean that they weren’t glaring at each other. They weren’t talking very much, either. Jeremy rolled his eyes a bit when I explained that Vicky and I had just needed time for girl talk, and he jumped up when I said I was ready to dance.

As we walked to the floor, he leaned over and whispered, “You know that guy is really kind of creepy? He asked me what you were like in bed. I guess that’s his way of making conversation.”

I shuddered. “Poor Vicky. So…” I smirked, “what did you tell him?”

“Well, I just said that it was none of his business, and I had no complaints.”

I grinned. “Good for you.”

“And I really didn’t like the way he just pulled her onto his lap and smooched her when you two showed up. I mean, there’s a time and a place for that sort of thing.”

“I know, right?” I said. “She really needs somebody better. I’m trying to help her see that.” He raised his eyebrows at that, but didn’t say anything.

Dancing with Jeremy was wonderful, as always, although there were too few slow dances for my taste. I took advantage of what few opportunities there to press my body against his and feel his strong arms around me. I’m sure Vicky would have been revolted to realize to what I extent I was throwing myself into this new existence; we could be having some very interesting discussions, if she could just be a bit open-minded.

It wasn’t really possible to talk much on the dance floor, but the next time we took a break, I leaned over to Jeremy as we walked and batted my eyes at him in what I hoped was a suggestive manner. “So you really have no complaints?”


“Well, I know a lot of girls here seem to give it up to their boyfriends after just a few dates, and you’ve barely gotten to second base after several weeks.”

He looked surprised and then thoughtful. “I guess we haven’t talked about that, and I suppose we need to, since… you know.”

“Um, no…?”

“Well, let’s talk when we leave, then, OK?”

Now he had me really curious. My own experience was pretty limited to what I personally had done, and what few discussions I’d had with some of my buddies; I don’t remember any of them saying that they had talked about it like this with their girlfriends ahead of time. You just sort of let it happen, or pushed for it to happen. Jeremy seemed to have a different take on things.

We didn’t actually much more time with Vicky and Kevin; we saw them dancing, of course, and I can’t be sure that they were avoiding us, but somehow they were never at the table when we were. We did see Geoff with Lee Ann and Greg with Terry and wound up sitting with them for a while. Geoff was very polite to Jeremy, but I thought I caught him shooting my boyfriend a quick jealous look once or twice. I hoped it was just my imagination.

When we left as the dance was winding down, I waited until we’d gotten away from the crowd before asking, “So what was it you wanted to talk about?”

“Well,” he answered, “I don’t want you to feel that I’m upset with our lack of… you know, physical intimacy. I don’t want to rush you into anything you’re not comfortable with.”

“You didn’t,” I assured him. “I really wasn’t upset at you touching me. It was something else completely.”

“Really?” he asked, a bit skeptically.

“I promise.”

He seemed to think about that for a moment. “In that case, would you be comfortable coming back to my room for a bit? I have something I want to show you.”

My heart leapt. Was he actually being aggressive? This sounded very promising.

We got to his room, and he kissed me quite satisfactorily. I sort of leaned against him, and he backed up and sat on his bed, and I climbed onto his lap and deliberately rubbed noses with him. So far, so good – the images that had plagued me the last time we’d done that stayed away, and we kissed some more. His hands were stroking my back, but I had one more hurdle I needed to clear, just so that he would know I hadn’t been uncomfortable. I took his right hand and placed it on my breast.

He stopped kissing me for a moment and just let his hand rest as he looked at my face. I nodded and he started kissing me again, this time stroking my breast and I just leaned into him, trying to let him know that I was more than OK with it. I tried to think about how girls I’d cuddled with had done that, but then immediately shied away from such thoughts. I did not want to think about my experiences as Marshall – not now.

And then suddenly he stopped, and said, “I almost forgot,” and gently slid me off his lap and stood up. “Let me just get this,” he said as he walked away from me towards his dresser. With his back still toward me, he said, “You remember that book I told you about when we first met? Gödel, Escher, Bach? I wasn’t sure if you’d ever gotten a chance to look it up…”

My jaw dropped. Now? He had to be kidding. Then he turned around and laughed. “You should see your face! Actually, this is what I wanted to show you.” He held up a pendant on a silver chain. “I hope you don’t mind; I had some free time and I made this for you.” He brought it over so that I could see it. The pendant was actually just a pretty green rock inside a spiral of thin silver wire. “See? This is serpentinite. The shape was really interesting and I thought it would make a nice necklace for you.” And he slipped it over my head.

For a moment I couldn’t speak. “Wh-what’s the occasion? Why are you giving me a present like this?”

“It’s not expensive,” he assured me. “I found the stone and polished it. I told you, I do this for fun; but there’s no point in making a piece of jewelry if nobody’s going to wear it. Usually, I’ve given them to my Mom or my sister, but… well, I wanted you to have this one.”

“It’s beautiful,” I said, lifting it to my eyes. Then I decided to get a bit daring. “Of course, it would really look better hanging between my breasts, not in front of my shirt.”

“Well, yeah,” he answered, “but you don’t wear shirts that…” he held his hand horizontally in front of his chest, indicating the top of a shirt that would have shown off my cleavage.

“I didn’t say it was for anyone to see,” I said, again hoping to sound seductive. “Anyone but you, that is.”

He blinked as though confused for a second, and then whispered, “Oh…” He hesitated a moment and seemed to be gathering his courage before adding. “Would you… like some help trying that?”

“Please,” I whispered back, and held my arms away from my body, my heart pounding.

He took the pendant over my head and placed it on the desk next to him. Then slowly, gently, he slid his hands around me and unbuttoned my blouse. As I held my breath, he eased it off of me and gazed for the first time at the bare tops of my breasts. He seemed transfixed at the sight, and didn’t lift his eyes back to look at mine for almost half a minute. Then he put the pendant back on me and carefully arranged it to fall between my breasts.

It actually rested inside my bra. “I think the chain’s too long,” he said, starting to reach for it.

I took a deep breath, feeling excessively daring, and said, “the chain’s fine. Something’s just hiding the pendant. If you want to see it…”

His eyes widened and he started in surprise. “Marsh, I don’t need you to prove anything to me.”

“I think I might be trying to prove something to myself, actually.”

“I don’t want you to do something you’re not comfortable with.”

“Well, I won’t know if I don’t try, right?”

I don’t think any guy would be able to pass up a chance to take off his girlfriend’s bra, and Jeremy was no exception. He kissed me again, hard, and slid his hands to my bra strap. I close my eyes. I felt him move the clasp and held my breath, but his fingers slipped and it snapped against my back. He tried again, but when he pushed, the strap just bent instead of opening.

I opened my eyes when he broke away from the kiss and I saw beads of sweat on his face. I felt him reach for the clasp once more, but his fingers slipped and he seemed to slump. He was breathing more heavily, but he didn’t seem passionate now, just frustrated.

Forcing myself not to think of my own experiences in this, I said, “It’s a bit tricky; would you like me to unhook it for you?”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I guess I hadn’t expected to be doing this tonight; I was worried about pushing you too far, and suddenly it feels as if I’m moving to fast. Look. I want to be able to do this, but… maybe we should wait for another time.”

What just happened? I wondered. How could he stop now? Was he not really attracted to me?

“It’s OK,” I said, trying to cover my disappointment. I tried to make it a joke. “I don’t want to make you do something you’re not comfortable with.”

He winced, and I bit my tongue. “I don’t think that came out right.”

“It’s OK, Marsh,” he said.

“Do you want me to put my shirt back on?”

“Uh well, you know, I have an early class. Um… why dont I walk you home?” he said, in a tone that suggested that the sooner he got away from me and back to his safe engineering work, the better.

I had to bite my tongue. Apparently, this was going to be a lot more work than I had anticipated.

Vicky called the next morning way too early, considering what time Jeremy had walked me home and suggested that go out that evening to see a movie and talk. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what you said, Marsh, and I’m not happy.”

“Vicky,” I said, “I’m sorry, but–”

“We’ll talk tonight, OK?” she interrupted. “And I think this time I’ll pick you up. It’s time to move outside of my comfort zone.” Then she hung up before I could ask what she meant.

I went back to sleep and then spent much of the day practicing for the Sweeney Todd callback, doing my homework, and working on some sewing projects, all the while wondering what Vicky was going to say. But she avoided the subject when she came by for me in the evening, and all through the movie. It was only afterwards, when we went to the Grill for a late dessert, that she got to the point.

“I’ve done a lot of thinking,” she repeated, “and I don’t like it.”

“What don’t you like, Vicky?” I asked, trying to be as patient as I could.

“It’s as though you’ve forced me to look in the mirror, Marsh, and it’s not a pretty sight.”

I waited. I could tell that now was not a good time to open my mouth.

“You say you think I’m a good person. You called me ‘generous and loving,’ but that’s not how I feel. The way you’re acting now… I don’t know if it is the stress, or you’re just trying to play a crappy hand with a smile, or…” she looked at me, and I saw tears in her eyes. “The fact is, for all my bitching, this is ten times worse for you – a hundred times worse – and you’re handling it so much better than I am, and I’ve been treating you horribly.

“I’m not a nice person, Marsh. I don’t know why you think I am; I wish I were. I want to be a nice person, but I don’t know how. It’s like all of my instincts are wrong. Maybe you’re right. Maybe there is a ‘generous and loving’ girl inside me, and you’re the only one who can see her. I want your help, Marsh. I want your help to try to be that nice girl; to let her come out. I just don’t know how.

“So, all I can think of is to try to do what you asked – to ‘coach’ you in… in being a girl with a boy. That’s something I know, I think. At least, you never complained. I can’t promise that I won’t get jealous, or try to… well, I’ll try not to give you bad advice. I mean it, Marsh. I think I need this. I need something to shake me out of my pattern.”

For a moment, I couldn’t think of anything to say. Then I said, quietly, “Vicky, I really appreciate that. I need you, Vicky. I think we need each other. This is going to be very different, but I think if we help each other…”

“That’s what I’m going to try to do,” she said, wiping her eyes. “So… tell me… um… where do you stand with Jeremy? How far have the two of you gone? And note, please, I’m only asking because I’m helping you know, right?”

So I told her about the night before – well, I told her about the important things. Not the joking – I thought that was a private thing between us. Not the pendant. That was hidden away between my breasts, as I had said it would be – where only Jeremy was going to be able to see it. But I told her about him taking off my shirt and failing to take off my bra.

For the first time that evening, I saw Vicky crack a smile; in fact, she seemed to be trying not to laugh. “He had trouble taking off your bra, Marsh? That’s so… so high school. No. Middle school, even! You’ve really picked a winner, there. Had he even looked at a girl before?”

“Be nice, Vicky,” I pleaded. “He’s a bit innocent, but… as a girl, so am I, sort of, kind of. He’s very sweet and… I’m comfortable with him.”

“You don’t want advice on dealing with his innocence, do you?”

“Well, maybe not just yet. Lee Ann said to take my time, and with Jeremy, I think that’s going to be the answer. I’m just going to be patient.”

“OK,” she said, putting on what sounded like a professional air. “So why were you so eager to bed this guy?”

“Aside from the usual, you mean? You know how much I like sex, Vicky. I figure I’ll like it as a girl, too, but somehow, it doesn’t feel exactly the same – looking forward to it, I mean. Plus, as I said, I’ve had times when I started seeing myself as a male again; as male when I’m with Jeremy, and believe me, that’s serious freak-out time.”

“I can imagine.”


“But you’re serious about this? You’re actually sexually attracted to him?”

I nodded.

“OK…” she said, shaking her head. “I’ll try to help you. Um… how am I doing so far? I’m really trying not to be selfish here, and it isn’t easy.”

“I think you’re doing just fine,” I said. “Um, maybe you would have an idea about something… he had a bit of trouble trying to take off my bra, and then he sort of just gave up. I even offered to undo the clasp for him, but he wouldn’t let me. I mean, we kissed a bunch more afterwards, but he had the chance to see me topless and backed off. Do you have any idea what that was about?”

She looked pained for just a moment. “Wow, this is really not going to be easy… OK. Excuse me while I recover from imagining you wanting a boy to take off your bra. Um… I can’t say this ever happened to me, but one of my girlfriends…”

She took a breath. You probably can’t relate to this, Marsh, but not every guy has the confidence you… did. If he hasn’t had a lot of girlfriends, he might really have been more worried about not making a fool of himself undressing you than he was about seeing your… um, boobs.”

“Which means…?”

“Just that he’s nervous. And I really apologize if I’m a bit relieved. I need time to adjust to the whole idea of you wanting to be sexually active as a girl and if your boyfriend is tentative, that just works in my favor.”

I couldn’t help tease her… just a bit… by asking for reassurance that he was attracted to me. But she put up with it very well. I think I like this new Vicky.

The next morning, my phone rang again, at about the same time, only this time, I was already awake, trying to get myself mentally ready for callbacks that afternoon. I picked up the phone, expecting it to be Vicky again, or maybe Jeremy, but it wasn’t. It was Eric. “Marsh,” he said, “We got a nibble. Somebody triggered your camera. Somebody’s been in the lab.”

113 Trying Things Out

Tina had left me a message on Facebook, wishing me luck in the Sweeney Todd auditions. Everybody seemed to expect a lot of me. Alvin seemed really eager for me to try out, which made no sense if he shared my expectation that I would just win my usual place in the chorus. Maybe I did have a chance at a main role; at least it was something to focus on instead of my relationship issues.

It seemed a long shot, but I had been doing some thinking. There were only three female roles, and Mrs. Lovett just seemed completely unrealistic for me. Johanna’s songs were too high, which was too bad, since I was sure I could act the role just fine. That left the Beggar Woman. She was a soprano, but not as high as Johanna, and the acting would be a lot closer to the role that I had originally been assigned in Mousetrap, before the change. If Alvin was thinking of me for her, I would be thrilled. Even if I didn’t actually get the role, being seriously considered would be an accomplishment.

Of course, I couldn’t kid myself. It was only because I was in Marsha’s body that I possessed a voice capable of doing the role. I wasn’t nearly as good a singer as Marsha had been, but I thought I was passable, and my own knowledge of music theory would be sure to help. It was a good thought to take to sleep.

When I arrived at auditions early the next evening, Nikki was sitting at a desk outside the auditorium. She looked up from a stack of papers and waved me over.

“Glad you could make it, Marsh,” she said, handing me a piece of paper. “After you fill out the audition form, you can go wait in the Green Room.”

“A lot of people here?” I asked, taking the paper and a clipboard from her and pencil from a pile on the desk.

“Not yet. You’re only the fifth one so far, but we’re expecting a lot.”

I looked over the form quickly and saw a problem.

“Nikki,” I said in a low voice in case somebody came in unexpectedly, “They want me to put down experience. Would it really be honest to put down Marsha’s roles?”

She chuckled. “That’s mostly just to get a sense of you. Alvin knows you’re not the same girl who did those other shows, but he also knows your work in Mousetrap, so just put down what you would if you were really her.”

I nodded and filled out the form as best I could. By the time I was done, three more people had come in; only one of them even looked familiar. And when I went downstairs, the only one I knew was Cheryl, who greeted me and said that they would start calling us in to sing in a few minutes.

It wasn’t until the third person had gone out to sing that somebody I knew showed up – Jo, who had been in Mousetrap with me. I greeted her almost out of relief.

“Good to see you, Jo,” I said, hugging her.

“Yeah, I guess most of Alvin’s regulars won’t be here; I don’t think he’s done a musical for two years. Are you trying out for Johanna?”

“I can’t reach her notes, or I would,” I answered. “I’m hoping for the Beggar Woman. What about you?”

“Same,” she laughed.

And then Cheryl tapped me on the shoulder and it was my turn to sing. They don’t really make you comfortable at these things. I stepped out onto the lighted stage, and squinted into the darkness as an unfamiliar voice asked me what I was singing.

“The Simple Joys of Maidenhood,” I answered – it was safely in my range, plus had a slight taste of bloodthirstiness that I thought would help them think of me in the Beggar Woman role.

I felt that I performed it well, but I got absolutely no feedback – just a polite, “Thank you. Cheryl has some scenes for you to look over.”

Jo looked expectantly when I got back to the Green Room, but all I could do was shrug. I had a chance to read later for both the Beggar Woman and Johanna – again, I have no idea what they felt about how I had done. After everybody had had a chance – Jo actually read for the Beggar Woman and Mrs. Lovett – Alvin came downstairs and thanked and dismissed us, telling us that we would receive casting notices via email.

“Some of you will receive roles or chorus parts immediately. We may have to do callbacks for some of the roles; anybody who is called back for a role will definitely be offered a place in the chorus if they’re not otherwise cast. Once again, thank you for coming out to audition and I hope to see most of you at our first rehearsal in a week.”

Naturally, I checked my email the first thing in the morning. They had cast a few roles, but had announced callbacks for most of them – and, to my disappointment, I was not on the list for the Beggar Woman. I did find my name on the callback list for Johanna, which did me little good; no doubt a range check would be the first order of business at callbacks, and I would walk off with a polite thank you once they realized I couldn’t hit all of the notes required.

I tried to be philosophical about it; whatever zing Marsha had that had landed her those leads was obviously not working for me, and the chorus of Sweeney Todd was a pretty good chorus to be in. Still, I had hoped for more. Jo, I noted, had been called back for the Beggar Woman, so I could at least root for her.

It was still bothering me after my last class that afternoon, and I didn’t want to mess up my date by being depressed, so I called Mom to vent, but she surprised me.

“What do you mean, you can’t hit the notes?”

“Mom,” I explained. “The role goes up to a high B flat.”

“And you sing up to a C. What’s the problem?”

I choked. “C?! Mom, my top note is an F, almost an octave too low. I can’t come close to a C!” Then I realized something. “Mom, are you forgetting that I’m not Marsha?” After months of secrecy, I sometimes had to remind myself that Mom and Dad knew.

“I’m not forgetting anything, Honey. I see no reason that you shouldn’t be able to sing the same notes that she could.”

“Well, great, but I obviously can’t,” I pointed out. “I’ve tried. Mom, I never had voice lessons. I sing – I mean, I used to sing – with my guitar, and it was always mostly the guitar that people listened to, not me. I mean, maybe Marsha could sing those notes, but I haven’t learned how, and there’s no way for me to learn how before Sunday callbacks.”

“There was also no way for you to learn to sew, but you did, didn’t you?” Mom countered. “And I can tell you now that your skill with a needle is just as good as hers ever was; you’re just limited in what techniques you know. So why shouldn’t you be able to sing as well as she did?”

“But…” I sighed. “Mom, I’ve tried. If it were just skill, wouldn’t I be able to do it now? I know that I can probably sing as well as she did – certainly I could never have made notes like these, even in my old range. But it’s like you said with sewing techniques. I just don’t know how to do the higher notes.”

“Okay,” Mom said, doing her patient thing. “Let me hear you, Sing a scale for me from about the middle of your range to up as high as you can go.”

Well that was easy enough, and just to be sure, after I had finished singing into the phone, I found my highest note on the guitar. “There, Mom, see? I can sing the F, but not any higher. Now how exactly am I supposed to learn all the way up to B flat in two days, if that’s even possible? Doesn’t it make sense that the combination of me and Marsh just wound up in my having a lower range?”

But she just said, “I didn’t hear a break.”

“Excuse me?”

“Well, I don’t know how men’s voices work, but women have a definite break between chest voice and head voice. All you sang was chest voice.”

“What… what does that mean?”

“Well, for one thing, it means that you can hit those high notes. You just need to sing in head voice.”

“I have no idea what head voice is,” I said, confused. “Is this something you learn when you take voice lessons?”

“Well,” she replied, “It’s mostly something you learn by being a girl and singing a lot.” She explained about the difference between chest voice and head voice and how they feel, but when I tried, all I got was the same strained feel when I had tried to sing higher all along.

“Okay,” she said. “Let’s try something else.” And she did. She came up with one way after another for me to try, none of which worked. And then, suddenly, something clicked and I sang a note I’d never thought to hear coming from my throat.

I stopped in shock. “Did you hear that, Mom?” I asked.

“I sure did, and you just sang in head voice, Marsh. I’m guessing that was at least an A.”

I checked the guitar. “B flat, actually, Mom… I just sang a B flat! I can’t believe it. I just sang a B flat! And it didn’t hurt at all. It was easy!” I tried to recapture my thoughts when I had done it, the way I’d sung it, and sure enough, I did it again. Then I sang a bit lower and did a brief scale, up and past that impossible, incredible note. “I can do it, Mom! I can really sing this high!”

“I told you so…”

“Yes, but it was easy! I can sing this – I can actually sing the role! And… I know Alvin likes to use people he’s worked with before, so I should have a real edge there, and…”

Suddenly I sat down, hard. “It was… easy, Mom,” I told her. “Too easy. You’re not supposed to be able to suddenly sing like this.”

“Well, obviously, it wasn’t quite that easy for Marsha – you’re just the beneficiary.”

“That’s not what I mean,” I insisted, shaking my head, “It just seems unfair. It’s as though I’m being taunted.”

“How is this different from the sewing? That came pretty easy, too, didn’t it?”

“It’s not the same,” I said. “I never cared about sewing. But… and please don’t tell Tina this, Mom, but while I was always proud of her for being such a great singer, I was also, well, jealous. I never got more than bit roles in musicals – you know, maybe a singing line here or there, but never more than that. And Tina got a lead her first year in high school!

“And then Tina told me about Marsha, who not only got a lead her freshman year, but all four years! That’s the girl who was born instead of me, and she was successful beyond anything I could imagine in being cast. So… yeah, I was really jealous. Envious… whatever.

“And… it’s not just that, and I know this is stupid, but… Jeremy. Tina planned to introduce him to Marsha. Not me… Marsha. She was supposed to be his girlfriend, not me. And I’m a bit jealous of her for that, too. Really stupid, huh?”

“How can it be stupid?” Mom said, soothingly. “It’s how you feel. You didn’t do anything stupid because of it, did you?”

“I guess not, but… I just have this feeling, and all of a sudden I can sing like Marsha, and without really doing much. I feel guilty, somehow. I’m going to go to callbacks and maybe / probably get the role over girls who really worked to get their voices to this level, and it just doesn’t seem fair somehow.”

“So you’re going to pass up the chance, then?”

“No!” I exclaimed. “I want to do it; I just feel a bit guilty about having the ability handed to me like this.”

“Marsh… do you feel guilty about being beautiful? About being smart? About everything good about yourself?”

“I’m not–” I started to say almost by reflex, but stopped.

“Honey, everybody has good qualities, some innate, some learned, and not everybody is the same. You are what you are and there is no reason to apologize for it or feel guilty.”

“I don’t think you’re quite getting–”

“Now, who you are is a bit… unusual… I know this uncomfortable for you, but if having Marsha’s singing voice is a good thing, accept it. There are enough things you don’t like in what’s been done to you, that you shouldn’t feel at all guilty about taking the good things. Look at it this way: if Marsha were still Marsha, she wouldn’t have any reason to feel guilty about winning the role or having this voice. As far as the other girls are concerned, it really doesn’t matter whether you are ‘Marsh’ or ‘Marsha,’ does it?”

“I guess not,” I admitted. “Only… it sort of feels as if I’m being bribed with this, you know, to just accept what’s happened and not think about changing back.”

“And is it enough to make you decide not to try to change back?”

“No! I mean, it’s really nice, and… there are a lot of things that are really nice,” Like Jeremy, I thought with my heart clenched. “But I want to be myself again. I want to be who I’m supposed to be.”

“Well, I can’t help you with that, Honey,” she said, reasonably. “But I can love you for who you are now.”

I nodded. “Thanks, Mom. I love you.”

“I love you, too, honey.” And she hung up.

I sat back and tried to process what had just happened. The obvious thing was finding out that I could sing higher, which meant that I could actually have a chance at a major role in a musical, but… Mom had said something that seemed to touch at the core of my existence. It didn’t seem to help me make any decisions, but it felt kind of good, at the same time. I had to laugh at myself. I had been so worried about what my parents would do if they ever found out, and yet Mom was super accepting, and Dad… well, he did try to take over, but backed off really quickly when I objected.

I guess, if I had to go through all of this, at least I had the right parents to do it with. And that was worth so much more even than having the right singing voice.

112 Working Through It

As I walked to Jeremy’s dorm, I called Nikki and explained my problem. “It’s just really messed up,” I said. “I’m crazy about him and I want to be physical with him, but then things happen and I start seeing myself as male again, and I freak out.”

“I can imagine,” Nikki laughed. “That’s not the kind of problem most girls have.”

“I know, right?” I said. “So what am I supposed to do about it? I just know he’s going to expect to walk me home and come inside and cuddle, and I’d really like to, but the whole idea grosses me out.”

“That’s really rough,” she sympathized. “You’re going to have to be honest with him upfront, so he doesn’t expect it.”

“Yeah, that part I’ve figured out. But how do I get past it? I don’t want to be an ice maiden or anything like that. I need to stop seeing myself as male, at least when we’re together.”

“Any ideas on how to do that?”

“Well,” I noted, “I don’t have any troubles when I’m naked…”

She chuckled. “Are you really ready for that with him?”

“No, it but it would certainly be effective.”

“Oh, yeah, that it would. Oh, Alvin wants me to remind you of Sweeney Todd auditions for tomorrow.”

I laughed. “I’ll be there, but I hope he isn’t expecting too much.”

“You know Alvin; he expects everything!”

“Yeah, I know. Well, I’ll do my best.”

“Take care,” she said, “and good luck, both tonight and tomorrow!”

I found the study group without any problems, and several of the students nodded at me in recognition as I made my way to the table where he was sitting. I wasn’t quite sure how I should be behaving towards him now; my resurgent male identity wasn’t preventing me from finding him really hot, but the combination was horribly uncomfortable. I forced myself to give him a chaste kiss – or tried to – but he flinched away.

“Is something wrong?” I whispered.

“No, just… not in front of everybody, if you don’t mind,” he whispered back.

I nodded, a bit embarrassed at having forgotten. “Would you be able to help me with my Logic homework again?” I asked, switching to a safer subject.

“Of course,” he answered, “What’s the problem?”

“We learned about ‘implies’ in the lecture today,” I answered, reaching for my notes, “and most of it makes sense, but he said this one statement was true and I can’t figure out how.” I’d found the page and read from it. “’If I am a frog, then there is life on Mars.’ Now how could that possibly be true? The two have no connection!”

He laughed, and I got chills. I really did like that laugh. “Nor do they have to; it’s not ‘if I were a frog there would be life,’ and so on. It’s not cause and effect.”

He was very patient in explaining what I had missed, and when he was done, it really did start to make sense. He said that I had been over-thinking it, and showed me a simple way to understand it. I tried working out the problems on the homework sheet, and when Jeremy checked my answers, he only saw one place where I’d made a mistake. Maybe Marsha’s brain could handle this, after all. I was pretty sure it had been easier before, but it no longer seemed beyond me; at least not as I long as I had Jeremy to explain it to me.

“You know, you’re good at this,” I said. “Have you ever thought about teaching?”

He shrugged. “I do like to teach, but I can’t see standing in front of a class and lecturing. This one-on-one stuff is a lot more fun; especially when I have a student who’s so quick and… and beautiful.” He stuttered a bit as he complimented me, and hurriedly looked away and back at his own studies. I found myself reddening, even as I stammered out thanks. Thinking back, I couldn’t remember him ever complimenting me like that; at least not on my looks. To my surprise, I really liked it. I mean, I’d never been all that vain about my appearance, before; now I was mostly just doing what seemed appropriate for Marsha. But it really felt good, having him call me ‘beautiful.’

And what about you feeling like you’re a guy stuck in a girl’s body? I asked myself. I did: I really did, and yet I found myself preening a bit. It was nice to have him tell me things like that. He’d gone back to his own studies and I wished he hadn’t; I’d have liked to hear him say more. And at the same time, I wasn’t really ready for it.

Focus, I told myself. You’re here to do homework, not flirt. But what I really wanted just now was to get back to my room and be alone to sort out what was going on in my skull.

It seemed an eternity before he leaned over and whispered, “I think I’m done for the night; how about you?” I nodded in relief, gathered my books and papers, and stood up. Quietly, we slipped out of the room to avoid disturbing anybody. “Let me just drop this stuff in my room,” he said, “and then I’ll walk you home.”

“Uh… you don’t have to do that,” I said, awkwardly.

He stopped and stared. “Is there something wrong?” he asked.

I looked around, not wanting to be overheard. “I… I’m just not in the mood to cuddle tonight.” And I had to be upfront about it. I really didn’t want to be touched while the two me’s inside my head were fighting things out.

“Marsh,” he said quietly. “I’m not walking you home because I’m expecting to cuddle with you, although that would be great; I’m walking you home because you’re my girlfriend, and guys are supposed to walk their girlfriends home. I want to make sure nothing happens to you – you know, just in case – plus it gives me that much more time to be with you.” Then he raised his eyebrows at me for a moment, and starting walking again towards his room. It took me a second to react before I hurried after him.

We didn’t actually talk very much on the way back to my place, although I was thinking furiously. Did I do that, too? Walk my girlfriends home without ulterior motives? Or did I always expect some kind of good night kiss or cuddle at the end? I couldn’t quite remember. I only knew that I really respected Jeremy for it, and I was feeling really inadequate as a guy by comparison. Suddenly I realized what I was doing. I am walking with my boyfriend, I reminded myself. Why am I thinking about myself as a guy?

I felt his hand touch mine and looked down. It took me by surprise last night, I told myself. I’m ready for it now. Taking a breath, I forced myself to hold his hand. I forced myself to remain calm. I’m an actor; I can do this. It’s just like when I had to kiss Jared. We walked on together in silence.

It wasn’t working. I was supposed to be Jeremy’s girlfriend, not a fellow actor. This was life, not a play. I didn’t want to have to pretend. I didn’t want to feel male when I was with Jeremy. It wasn’t fair to him, or to me. I had to find a way always to feel female when I was with him, no matter what.

He must have noticed something, because he asked, “Marsh, what is it?”

“I’m just… just… I don’t know,” I said.

“Am I making you uncomfortable?” he asked, sounding really concerned.

“No, you’re not,” I answered, looking up at him. “You’re not, really. I’m just working through some issues.”

“What kind of issues?” he pressed.

“Um…” How was I supposed to answer that? “Nothing important.”

“Really? It seems to be bothering you a lot.”

I shook my head. “Can I just say that I don’t feel ready to talk about it?”

“Oh. OK. Um, are you coming over again tomorrow?”

“Um, no. I have an audition. For Sweeny Todd.”

“Really? So I’ll get to actually see you on stage this time. What role are you trying for?”

“Just chorus,” I laughed. Marsha probably could have done better; I had to hope Alvin would understand.

“Well, good luck anyway. What about Friday? Can I take you to a movie or something?”

“I’d like that,” I told him as we reached my dorm. “And thanks for walking me home.” Looking around to make sure nobody was watching, I closed my eyes, stood on my tiptoes and kissed him quickly on the lips. As kisses went, it was pretty sad, but it was a kiss – a goodnight kiss.

“Good night,” I whispered and quickly threw myself through the door into the first floor hallway before he could react. Fortunately, nobody was there to see my gasp in relief. This has to stop, I told myself. I need to do whatever it takes; I need to be unambiguously female when I’m with Jeremy. If I had sex with him, that would do it. I knew from experience that sex fundamentally changes a relationship, and I needed to change this one – or at least my part in it.

By the time I got to my room, I had made my decision. Neither of my roommates were in the living room, so I knocked on Lee Ann’s door, knowing that at least she wouldn’t be entertaining a guy.

“I need some advice,” I said when she opened the door. “Do you have a few minutes?”

“Sure, come on in,” she replied, backing out of my way. “What’s up?”

I hesitated. “Actually, I was hoping to get Terry’s thought’s too. Do you know if she’s free? I didn’t want to knock if Greg was there.”

“I’m pretty sure he’s not,” Lee Ann said, pushing past me to knock on Terry’s door.

“Yeah?” asked Terry, as she poked her face out of her room.


“Hey, Terr,” Lee Ann said. “Got a moment? Marsh wanted some advice.”


“Um… Jeremy,” I said. The two of them looked at me. “I want to lose my virginity.”

“Whoa!” Terry said, turning and tossing something that thudded onto her bed before coming out of her room, “Good for you, Marsh!”

“Really?” Lee Ann asked skeptically at almost the same moment. “Are you sure?”

“Um, yeah,” I responded, surprised. Since it was all three of us, I moved to sit on the chair in the living room, while the other two took the couch. “Why?”

“What’s the problem, Lee Ann?” Terry asked

“Well, how long have been seeing him?” Lee Ann asked.

“About… three weeks,” I answered. “Why?”

Lee Ann leaned forward. “You were seeing your last boyfriend for two years, if I remember correctly, and you weren’t ready for sex with him. Why is three weeks suddenly enough for this guy?”

Because I’m not the girl who wouldn’t sleep with Dirk, I thought. Because I like sex, and I want to experience it in my new body. But that wasn’t how I was actually reacting. I found myself stammering nervously and wringing my hands. “I… I just really…”

“Back off, Lee Ann,” Terry said. “Marsh says she’s ready. Isn’t that enough?”

“Marsh, I’m not saying you shouldn’t. I just think you need to be really sure. I’ve been with Stephen for three years, but we didn’t start sleeping together until we’d been dating for about six months. Boys… well, some of them aren’t really into commitment, and especially for your first time. I don’t think you’ll be too happy if he breaks up with you like the week after.”

“He wouldn’t do that!” I said, hotly. “He’s not like that.”

“How much do you know about him?” she asked, patiently. “You know, your friends haven’t had a chance to check him out, yet. How close are you to… sex? How far have you gone with him?”

“Well, we’ve cuddled in bed a bit, and that’s about all,” I admitted. I knew what she meant; as Marshall, I’d been no stranger to all kinds of intimacies, and Jeremy and I had basically done nothing, by comparison. I was just trying to think how to explain it away as irrelevant.

“No undressing? Has he touched you under your clothes at all? Below the waist at all?” I had to shake my head, and try to ignore Terry staring at me.

“At the rate you’re going, Marsh,” Terry noted, “you’re not going to have to worry about actual sex for months, if not years.”

“Well, that’s sort of my problem. I don’t want to wait years. I want to, you know, hurry things up a bit.”

“That’s going to depend on the two of you, Marsh,” Lee Ann said. “It really doesn’t sound as though the two of you are ready for it, and I think you’re really going to be happier if you wait.” I opened my mouth to protest, and she continued before I could say anything. “But if you’re seriously thinking about this, you at least need to deal with the birth control issue. Tomorrow afternoon, one of us is going to take you to the women’s clinic and see about getting you started on the Pill, and you’re going to need to get some condoms as well. But those are just in case. Don’t rush this, OK?”

I nodded, a bit disappointed. Maybe she was right; maybe we weren’t ready; I really did have a lot more experience than Marsha had, but I suspected Jeremy didn’t. But what alternative was there?

I was trying to decide if there was anything more I should say, when Terry asked, “You had another ‘study date’ today, right? How did it go?”

I shrugged. “Well, I was feeling really uncomfortable, and didn’t really wanted to be touched. You know?” They both nodded, although obviously their reasons were different from mine. “And I told him he didn’t have to walk me home, but he said he would anyway, just because he… well, you know… he wanted to make sure I was safe.” I got chills – good ones – just thinking about it.

My roommates clearly agreed. “That is so sweet,” Lee Ann commented.

“Yeah, he sounds…” Terry said and then shook her head. It looked to me as though she might be trying hard not to laugh. “I’m sorry, Marsh, but I’m picturing the two of you together – and I can’t help thinking how cute a couple you must make.”

“Cute” was definitely not what I was feeling at the moment. “Frustrated” seemed a lot closer. This was going to require a bit more thought and planning.

Author’s note: I know these are coming out very slowly of late. I am working through a bit of carpal tunnel in my right arm and it is making typing very painful and slow.

111 Not So Close to You

My abortive cuddling with Jeremy was such a letdown that I couldn’t sleep. I called Nikki in hopes of talking things out, but she didn’t answer; I figure that either she was sleeping, or occupied in something similar to what I had just failed at. I couldn’t think of anybody else I could talk to about this and who would be willing to accept a phone call at eleven-thirty, so I was on my own.

The problem, I decided, was that I was still thinking of myself as male too easily. I stood and looked at myself in the mirror. That is definitely not a boy, Marsh, I scolded myself. You’re a girl. Maybe one day you’ll be a boy again, but right now you’re not.

Once before I had had this argument with myself, and at Tina’s advice had undressed completely. So I did that now. Any more questions? I asked my reflection. Any doubts at all? It was so easy to remember, at least as long as I was looking at my naked body. The idea that I could visualize myself as male while naked just seemed ludicrous. Maybe what I needed to do was to be naked whenever I was with Jeremy. Yeah, right.

And it’s not as though this was the only problem that had come to the fore this evening. It still bothered me that I couldn’t remember having learned the… what was it called again – exclusive disjunction. With Jeremy’s explanation, I could see that it had to be a basic idea, so I should have learned it. Why didn’t I remember? It was one thing to tell myself that I could teach myself to get the logic course material, but that didn’t explain the gap in my memory. How could I have gone through half a semester and not have at least this cemented in my brain?

I pulled out my lecture notes – there was no text for the course – and tried to see if anything else sounded unfamiliar. Nothing did, which should have reassured me, except that I couldn’t tell if they were familiar from last semester or from the lecture; I couldn’t even remember whether they had seemed new when the professor was speaking. I guess some of the concepts, like ‘and’ and ‘or’ were so intuitive. It was just this particular one that wasn’t – at least to me.

I did finally manage to fall asleep after deciding that I was going to just try harder; I had obviously been overconfident in the lecture and probably hadn’t paid attention. I would worry about why I didn’t remember later. For now, I needed to learn – or relearn the material. As for Jeremy, I decided to try some visualizations; just think of myself as a girl cuddling with him, rubbing noses, and everything I could imagine I might have done with a girl that I might do with him. If that wasn’t enough, maybe I could at least be ready for the wrong self-image and not react to it the next time.

When I left my room the next morning, my roommates were already up. “Did… Jeremy spend the night?” Terry asked, peering past me.

I stopped short. “Um, no,” I answered, “he left about ten minutes after you guys went to bed.”

“Ten minutes? Why?”

“Um…” I said, “he just had to leave, that’s all.”

“Did you guys have a fight or something?” Lee Ann asked, sounding concerned.

“No, he just… had to leave.”

“Too bad,” Terry commented, looking disappointed. “I was hoping to congratulate you on your entry into womanhood. Better luck next time.”

I blinked in surprise, and Lee Ann explained, “she means, losing your virginity.”

I did understand that, actually, but now I felt myself reddening, for some reason. I’d certainly been no stranger to sex as a guy; why was I embarrassed now? “I… no, we…” I stammered. “I mean… no, we didn’t…” I fled to the bathroom. I hadn’t actually thought that far ahead, yet. But I didn’t see why I should object to the idea, in principle, anyway. The reality might take a bit more time to get used to.

I thought about it some more as I washed up and got ready for the day. It made sense, didn’t? I mean, Jeremy and I were really attracted to each other, and I had always liked sex in my old life. I seemed to have some hang ups about it, but I could work those out. If I were going to stay like this, I’d certainly not want to be celibate my whole life, and if could change back… well, it would be a real shame to miss the opportunity to experience sex from the other side. So there was no reason to be uncomfortable with the subject. I just had to keep telling myself that.

I entered my first lecture a bit nervous. I had tried to pressure Geoff and he had sort of snapped at me; would he still be angry? But he greeted me when I sat down next to him with his usual, “Good morning, Marsha!” Then he leaned over and said in a low tone, “Any luck fixing up your pathetic girlfriend?”

“She’s not pathetic!” I hissed back. “If I were a guy I’d go out with her in a second!”

“If you could pry her away from her current guy.”

“She’d leave him in a second if she could go out with me – if I were male, I mean,” I said.

He sighed. “Marsh, I’m sorry. I know you hate the guy she’s with; but in my experience, a lot of girls go out with unsuitable guys and won’t accept advice that they shouldn’t. Now, I’ve met Stephen and I think Chandra was wrong about him; for all I know, you’re wrong about Vicky’s boyfriend, too.”

“I’m not,” I muttered.

“For that matter, I don’t know anything about this new guy you’re seeing other than that you like him. What if your friends have an issue with him?”

“An issue with Jeremy? Why?”

He chuckled. “You probably wouldn’t notice if there was something wrong with him, but if there ever is – if he ever hurts you – let me know and I’ll take care of him.”

“It’s not going to happen,” I said, smiling and shaking my head, “but thanks.” Seeing this side of Geoff made me all the more certain that he would be good for Vicky; the question was how to make it happen.

For now, though, my top priority was to focus on the Logic lecture, which I had right after Spanish. The professor was explaining about one thing implying another, which seemed pretty straightforward. I had no trouble following the terminology he was using of antecedent and consequent, but then he gave some examples of true statements and my eyes crossed. Some of them sounded completely illogical, and the idea of illogical statements in a logic class could have made me giggle if I weren’t so close to panicking. What if I couldn’t get this class?

The thing that kept me somewhat calm was the trust that I could always go to Jeremy to get it explained, which would give us a chance to spend time together, which might lead to him walking me home… I shook my head to clear it, and checked the board to see what I might have missed. The professor had written a couple more equations down, which I dutifully copied without understanding them. I didn’t feel any less intelligent now that I had before my change, so I should be capable of figuring this out, at least with help. I’d just have to work harder, that was all. That needed to be enough.

I suppose I looked pretty down at lunch, because Phil noticed. “Is something wrong, Marsh?”

“No…” I said, shaking my head. “I’m just a bit down about this Logic class. It’s harder than I expected.”

“Logic?” he echoed. “You shouldn’t be having trouble with Logic. It’s pretty easy.”

I shot him a bitter look. “Thanks for making me feel good, Phil,” I muttered.

“Phil,” Jay commented, “she’s been having trouble with logic for months. Remember the ‘time travel’ story she fell for?”

“Give it a rest, Jay,” Phil shot back, coming to my defense. “She hasn’t mentioned that for like, months.”

“Yeah, but I’ll bet she still believes it,” Jay countered. “Don’t you, Marsh?”

“I thought it was an interesting idea,” I said quietly. And soon, I promised myself, I’ll have proof – and boy am I going to rub it in his face.

“Look, Marsh,” Phil said, “forget about that. You should be able to get this Logic stuff. If you can’t, it’s probably just not being explained properly.”

I leapt on that explanation. Maybe he was right. I didn’t remember this professor from my old life; maybe he just wasn’t a very good teacher.

“So all you need is somebody to explain it better,” Phil continued. “I’m free most evenings, if you want some help.”

“Oh… thanks so much, Phil,” I said, sincerely, “but my boyfriend is already helping me.”

Phil looked shocked. “Boyfriend?” he echoed.

I could have kicked myself. I’d told the girls about Jeremy. Could I really have forgotten to mention it when Phil was here?

“That’s right, Phil,” Susie said, looking him in the eye. “She has a boyfriend.”

Phil smiled, but I thought it looked forced. “Oh! Well… that’s… that’s great.” I sure didn’t feel great. I guess I’d thought that he had lost interest in me. I’d thought that he and Susie were a couple, now. Maybe they only were in Susie’s mind.

“I’m sorry,” I mouthed silently when Susie looked away, and I meant it. Phil had always been good to me, and if things had worked out differently, he and Marsha should have been a couple. Or, for that matter, if I had been able to recognize and accept my attraction for boys from the start, he and I would probably be together now. Not that I had any regrets for myself, but I was starting to believe that he deserved better than Susie. Which gave me an idea…

I put that thought on hold. I’d messed up with Geoff; I was going to have to think of the right way to work this out with Phil. There had to be a way to make it work.

I hadn’t come up with an idea by the time lunch was over, but I had made a decision. I needed to talk with Chad and my father about what I’d learned so far, so I decided to email them to set up a call for the three of us. First, though, I called Jeremy.

“Sure, Marsh, you can just come over whenever you’re ready,” he answered, when I asked if I could get some help again tonight.

“Great,” I said, “I’ll see you then. And Jeremy… I’m really sorry about last night.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” he told me, “I messed up.”

“No, you didn’t,” I insisted. “And if you’ll give me another chance, I’ll prove it to you.”

He laughed, which made me feel really good, “If you insist…”

“See you tonight,” I said, and blew him a kiss through the phone before hanging up.

Dad called me at seven o’clock, as agreed.

“I have Chad here, Marsh,” he said, “what’s going on?”

“Well, we didn’t get into the lab,” I told them, and explained about the lock and the video camera.

“So you’ve set up a spy camera,” Chad laughed. “Any luck so far?”

“Not yet, but it’s been less than two days,” I pointed out.

“OK, so… anything else?” Dad asked.

“Yeah, something really big,” I said. Now that I was bringing it up, I was a bit hesitant. Actually saying it made it real. “I seem to be… losing my memories, and I don’t think it’s simply forgetfulness. I’ve remembered something that I’m pretty sure happened in Marsha’s life, and I don’t remember a class I took as Marshall at all.”

I explained about the Logic course, and about Celeste. They were both silent for a moment when I finished. “So what do you think?” I prompted them. “Any ideas on why I don’t remember this stuff?”

Chad was the one who spoke, but he seemed hesitant. “Marsh, do you know for certain that you knew it when you first… changed?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, that it might be that you’re forgetting things, but maybe… maybe you never knew them – in this reality, I mean.”

My stomach seemed to have discovered a new acrobatic routine. It seemed to be seeing the implications of Chad’s suggestion, even as I tried hard not to. Taking a breath, though, I asked, “what are you saying?”

“Well, I’m not saying this for sure, but… maybe you’re forgetting things, but… maybe any memory losses happened when they did the experiment. You said that they somehow preserved your memories across the change, right?”


“Well, what if whatever they did wasn’t perfect? What if they made mistakes while copying your memories? Or just only copied some of them? Can you think of anything specific that you knew afterwards that you don’t know now?”

I had to admit that I couldn’t.

“OK,” he continued, “let’s try something. Do you remember losing your virginity?”

“Chad!” I yelped, even as Dad cleared his throat. “My Dad’s on the line!”

“Um…” Dad said, “If you were trying to hammer home the idea that you’re not the daughter I remember – and I do mean hammer – I suppose this is a way of doing it.”

“Sorry about this Dad,” I said, “but of course I do, Chad. It’s not the kind of thing you forget.”

“Who was it with?” Chad pressed.

“Um… Cindy Cauthon.”

Chad gasped. “The ice lady?!”

“Hey, that was never a fair name for her, and… well, I can personally attest that it’s simply not true.”

“I think I’m really not comfortable with this conversation,” Dad put in.

“We’re done with the subject, Dad,” I promised him. “So what did we just prove, Chad?”

“I don’t know, maybe nothing,” he admitted. “I was trying to see if I could find something you’ve definitely forgotten. I think it makes a difference.”

“Yeah, I do, too. I just don’t know how to tell, unless I start trying to write down everything I remember. And Nikki says that would be a waste of time, probably. I’m not even sure where I was going with this whole thing, anyway.”

“Maybe you don’t need to worry about it, Marsh,” Dad said. “People do forget things, and you’ve been through an incredible trauma. And if you have forgotten, what can you do about it, anyway? What we need to focus on is getting more information – even it’s just a bit, I might be able to use it to apply pressure in the right places. Then we could find out more and possibly see what can be done for you.”

“I’m trying, Dad, I really am. But I think first we need to see inside that lab. Until then, all we have is rumors. But I wanted to let you guys know what I’ve found out so far and see if you had any ideas.” Ideas that I could live with, anyway. Chad’s suggestion didn’t bear thinking about.

Suddenly I wished I hadn’t told Jeremy that I was coming over, or else that I hadn’t spoken with Chad beforehand, because now I was focusing to an uncomfortable degree on being male, and I really didn’t want to see myself that way when I was with Jeremy. It looked as though I had another impromptu performance coming up.