Plus-One With A Vengeance : 10 / 29

Plus-One With A Vengeance : 10 / 29

[ An Altered Fates Story ]
by Iolanthe Portmanteaux

 


"You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore."
— Andre Gide


 

"Why?" Melissa cried. She sounded like a child whose favorite toy had been taken from her. "Why would you ever change her back? She's beautiful! She's perfect!"

I sighed involuntarily.

"If you change her back," Melissa insisted, "How will Max see her? How will he meet her? How will they fall in love?" She may have realized that she'd said more than she meant to, because she froze for a moment, her shoulders hunched, her eyes wide. Even so, she continued in a faint undertone: "How will they get married and have grand-babies?"

"Grand-babies?" I repeated, shocked. Melissa didn't blush. She just shrugged.

Viv opened her mouth to answer, but Melissa cut her short. "Isn't this—" she gestured to me, sweeping motions to take in my whole body "—isn't this the exact point? Max needs a date! Here is his date!"

"Take a breath, Melissa," Vivianne told her. "There are more than two months until the wedding. There's plenty of time for everything you said." Her mouth twisted into a side-smile. "Except for the grand-babies, of course."

"Can I even have babies?" I asked, rather stupidly.

"Of course you can! Why wouldn't you?" Viv asked me. I shrugged. "This is what I've been trying to tell you. You're not just putting on a costume or playing a part. You become someone else."

Melissa shook her head, insisting, "As Darcy, she's perfect."

Vivianne, charmed by Melissa's enthusiasm, moved to her side and hugged her. Then she pointed out, "We can't call her Darcy. Darcy is the little girl. Kitty would have to wonder if Max showed up with a grown Darcy a few weeks after meeting Darcy as a little girl."

"That's right!" I breathed, seeing it.

"This is Lorelei," Viv explained.

"Why?" I demanded.

"We'll discuss the name later," she told me. "For now, you are Lorelei."

"Do I have a last name?"

Viv, looking a little peeved, admitted, "Yes, it's Gight. I was saving that for later."

I frowned. "That's my mother's maiden name."

"I know. You're supposed to be Elliot's cousin, aren't you?"

As Vivianne talked, Melissa fussed over me, sweeping imaginary dust from my shoulders, picking up my hand to examine my skin, playing with my hair... "Lorelei," she repeated. "What a lovely name." Then, exasperated, she turned to Viv and demanded, "Why must you turn her back? What's the point?"

"The point is that — before I work this change on Elliot — I want a truly informed consent."

"Consent?" Melissa repeated. Turning to me, intense, focused, she asked, "You consent, don't you?"

"Well, yes, but—" I began, then stopped, seeing the distress my less-than-wholehearted agreement was causing Melissa. Her face contracted in worry.

"You really have a lot invested in this, don't you?" Viv asked her.

"Am I being silly?" Melissa asked. "I don't think so. Ever since they were little, I've been wishing for exactly this — knowing all the time that it was impossible." She shook her head. "But now it's NOT impossible! Look at her!" She looked from Viv to me and back again. "I'm a mother. I'm Max's mother." She pressed her palms together, as if praying. "I can see that— that Lorelei is perfect for him. Perfect. You might not see it, but I do."

Viv gave Melissa an indulgent, but not unkind smile. "My concern is that Elliot might agree to remain Lorelei in the heat of a moment, or in the pleasure of a new experience. Second thoughts are inevitable, and it's my feeling that it's better for Elliot to return to being Elliot and consider what's being asked of him."

Melissa turned her eyes on me. I told her, "I think that's a good idea."

Melissa's shoulders dropped, and she let herself fall into an armchair. "Fine," she muttered. "I just hope you make the right decision."

 


 

The three of us had a light dinner together. Melissa kept returning to the idea of taking me to buy more clothes. "You don't have anything to sleep in, do you!" she challenged. To which Viv responded, "I have a pair of shorts and a t-shirt she could wear."

"Hmmph!" scoffed Melissa. "Well, at the very least, I hope that when you decide to be Lorelei, you'll let me help you shop for clothes!"

"I'll be glad to," I confessed. "I'm sure I need a lot of help."

At one point, Viv told us, "In the beginning I thought this was going to be a very simple thing: Max needed a date, Elliot was willing if only he were a girl, and hey presto!" She broke off a tiny bit of bread and chewed it. "Instead, in spite of his desperation, he might have a problem accepting a transformed Elliot."

"He'll get over it," Melissa assured us. She put her hand on mine. "And, darling, if things get... weird or uncomfortable at Max's, you can always come stay with me."

 


 

I woke with the sun on Monday. My head was clear. I didn't have any of the disoriented feeling like the day before. I knew who I was: Lorelei. Lorelei Gight, to be precise, Elliot's cousin. I laughed to myself. Then I wiggled around in the bed for a bit so I could feel the smooth sheets against the soft skin of my legs, and experience the sensation of Viv's comfy gray shorts and matching t-shirt. They were cotton, but a much smoother, silkier cotton that I'd ever experienced before.

I knew that my dress hung in the closet, close at hand, but I didn't see the point of getting dressed. After all, in less than an hour my entire body was due to change, so what was the point of dressing?

Padding barefoot down the stairs, I ran into Mr Errison, Vivianne's husband, as he walked through the front hall. He looked a bit older than Viv, had eyeglasses and white hair, and was wearing a pale blue shirt with a dark red tie. Until that moment, I hadn't given him a thought. I wasn't sure he even existed.

"Well, hello!" he exclaimed, "What a pleasant surprise! I assume you're joining us for breakfast?" His glance swiftly passed over my entire body, lingering only for a moment on my bare legs.

Vivianne peeked out from a doorway and waved me to her. "I could go put my dress on," I offered in a whisper.

"Naw," she whispered back with a wicked grin, "Let the old reprobate have a little thrill. It's good for his heart."

Breakfast was laid at a small table. There were only three places, so I had no choice but to sit between them. I should say that Mr Errison was a perfect gentleman, but I also felt pretty sure that he didn't usually smile this much at breakfast.

Afterward, we went to Vivianne's fitting room. I put on the kimono and the medallion, and she touched it with my shirt. I mean Elliot's shirt. Soon I was back to the old me, clothes and all.

"How do you feel?" Viv asked.

"Prosaic," I replied.

"Awww," she cooed with an encouraging smile. "That feeling will fade. Don't worry. Come, let me give you a hug."

She held me a long time. I felt like I needed it.

Then she told me, "Whenever — if ever — you're ready to turn back into Lorelei, give me a call, and we'll make it happen. Okay?"

"Yes, thanks."

"Even if nothing pans out as far as the wedding or with Max, you're always welcome to come see me--"

I thought she was done, so I said, "Thank you" as she continued, "--if you decide you want to live your life as Lorelei."

"Oh!"

"Give it a good think," she said. "Remember, you're unlikely to ever feel 100% sure, so when you're sure enough, call me."

"I will," I said. "Thanks for an amazing weekend."

She favored me with a sunny smile and showed me to the door.

 


 

Viv's driver dropped me off at Max's house. Max was in the driveway, hauling the trash bins out to the curb. His eye caught the teddy bear in my hand and stayed there for a few seconds.

In a neutral voice, with a neutral face, he asked me, "Did you have a good time?"

"Yes, I did," I told him. "Uh— are you going to be home for dinner tonight?"

"Yeah." He was almost expressionless; a poker face.

"Okay, good," I said.

"Gotta get to work," he told me, and turned toward the garage.

"Yeah," I acknowledged, and added, "Hey — one thing. I told your Aunt Viv that she made a mistake: she should have turned you into a little boy."

Max stopped and considered it a moment. I don't know why I said it in that moment, but when Max looked me in the face and smiled, I was glad that I did.

I stood in the driveway, holding my little bear, until Max drove away. Then for some reason I walked into the garage and up the stairs, to my old domicile. After a quick look inside the bathroom, it only took a glance to take in the rest of it. Now, after a space of months, I could see the place more objectively. The bathroom was pretty nice. If you were inside with the door closed, you might not feel you were in a garage, although your nose would tell you that you were.

And that was the main sensory impression: anyone could see that a lot of work had been done, but it still smelled of cars and oil and whatever musty fust goes with being inside a garage. It was sad. So why did I come here? Was I trying to make myself feel sad? Or was I sad already and looking for a way to pull it out of me?

In the refrigerator, there was a can of Old Milwaukee beer, room temperature. It made me laugh. I couldn't remember ever buying it, and who would ever give it to me?

I picked it up and brought it into the house. I'd heard that beer made a good shampoo; here was a chance to give it a try. Not right now, but later. Sure.

It was only quarter to nine in the morning. Too early to do almost anything. I called the property management office, but they didn't have any work that needed doing. So I carried my beer and my bear down to the mother-in-law suite. The beer I set in my shower, and the bear I placed on my bed.

"You need a name," I told him, and immediately it came to me: I called him Camembear. "I'm sure it's not original," I told the bear apologetically, "but neither is Elliot, when it comes right down to it."

"Or Lorelei," I added a moment later.

I played with my bear for a few minutes, talking with him, giving him a voice to talk to me. Then I asked myself, If I become a girl, can I play with dolls? I think I'd like to. Of course, not when Max could see! Still, something about it was appealing. Coloring books? I might give that a quick try. What other things do girls do? Field hockey? Soccer? Badminton? Archery? None of them seemed feasible at my age. There was tennis, and there was jogging, or even running races. I'd have to deal with my breasts bouncing all over. I'd need a sports bra. Melissa could help with that.

Of course, there was the entire world of clothes and cosmetics. And hair! I'd have to get used to doing my hair every morning. And depilation. What fun that would be. And periods! Well, other women survive them.

And babies? Strangely, that thought didn't frighten me, although if I knew more about it, it probably would have.

As I thought about all these things and others, it became clear to me that I fully intended to do it: I was going to become Lorelei. That name, though: I'd have to find something better, and I'd have to find it before the next time I talked to Vivianne.

But still, to have some credibility with her, I ought to wait a couple of days — also to give myself time to see the scheme from different sides, in different moods. At the moment, I felt as though I was coming down from a high: Lorelei was the high, and now Elliot was the low: drab and dull by comparison. Lorelei was alive; Lorelei was life. Elliot was simply existence.

I lay on my bed and looked through the pictures on my phone. I had the one of Darcy with Kitty, and six of Lorelei, alone: three in the bathing suit and two in the dress. I flipped through the seven pictures, zooming in and out, studying them. I kept asking myself, watching myself to see how those pictures made me feel, but I as far as I could see, they didn't make me feel anything in particular. I liked the pictures. I liked them a lot. Lorelei was nice to look at. She looked open, approachable, friendly, kind... all of the attributes I associate to Kitty. She was very Kitty-like, although the face was more or less mine and the body was hotter than Kitty's. She was slender, like Gal Gadot. Not thin, slender. Although, of course, broader than Gadot, with more meat on the bones. Her body was more like Sophie Tucker's.

After rolling back and forth through those few photos, I choose my favorite Lorelei photo, and in an unguarded moment, I sent it to my Dad. Don't ask me why. It was an impulse that I kicked myself for afterward, but I did it.

I thought about Max. I tried to divine his emotional state. Unfortunately, thinking about it didn't get me anywhere. Max was a fairly sanguine type, though: positive, forward-looking, generally happy and helpful. Even when he was in that deep funk at the start of the year — after Amber abandoned him — he didn't stay down for long. Whatever trauma he experienced at the hands of his Aunt Viv, I felt confident he'd get over it.

In fact, he sounded normal, like his old self, when he called at about one. "Hey, how's it going? Listen, would you mind if Kitty and Claus came over for dinner tomorrow?"

"No, of course not! I like them a lot."

"Good, yeah, me too. Do you mind making something nice? You know, like that salmon in pouches?"

"Salmon in parchment."

"Yeah! That. And what goes with that?"

"I could make a mushroom rice pilaf or roasted baby potatoes..."

"Pilaf!"

"And, um, I could pan-fry some asparagus if I find some at the store."

"Sounds good."

"And salad. Can we ask them to bring dessert?"

"Yes, I'll do that. Great, thanks!"

"My pleasure," I told him.

After that phone call, I thought, I'm his wife in everything but sex. It was a strange thought to think, and it would have been meaningless and weird, if it weren't for the Medallion of Zulo.

So, Kitty and Claus tomorrow. Tonight, me and Max. I figured comfort food was the way to go, and settled on meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and sauteed green beans. I did a quick run to the store for the few ingredients I was missing. Inevitably, I ran into Kitty.

"Don't you ever work?" I teased.

"I could say the same to you!" she retorted.

"Touché," I replied.

"Oh, hey," she said. "Claus just told me we're coming for dinner tomorrow at Chez Max. I hear they have an amazing new chef."

"Amazing is going a bit far," I told her. "I think I'm sandlot level."

"Sandlot? What's that mean?"

"Oh, I mean, sandlot like in baseball. It means pretty good for an amateur."

"Okay — well, I'm looking forward to it." She waved and turned to go.

"So — wait — if Claus told you, then... did Claus call Max, or Max call Claus?"

"Claus called Max, but not about dinner. He wanted to ask Max some silly thing about Nessa's wedding, about American Marriage Customs, as he puts it. He gets oddly formal sometimes. Then, while they were talking, Max invited him over. Why? It's not a problem, is it?"

"No, actually — the opposite! It'll be nice to have company. I'm glad you guys are coming. It'll give me a chance to get to know Claus a little."

"Come on — you've known him since high school."

"Not really! You have known him since high school."

"Okay, fair enough. Anyway, it'll be fun. And you'll like Claus; he's a great guy."

 


 

When Max got home from work, he was very enthusiastic when he heard the menu. "I've got a nice Shiraz from the Rhone Valley that will pair perfectly!" he said.

"If you say so."

Of course, he was right. "Pairing wines is like matching colors," I observed.

"If you say so," he quipped.

I'd forgotten about dessert, but Max waved that problem away. "I've got some nice cigars I picked up today," he boasted. "We should probably smoke them out back, though, not in the house."

I declined the cigar, but did accept a snifter of Flor de Caña, a Nicaraguan rum, that he claimed was "another perfect pairing."

Max leaned back in his chair, his legs crossed in a wide figure-four, as he blew smoke rings up into the trees.

I tried to relax, but it was difficult. I sat up straight in my chair, looking for a way to broach the topic of my transformation. Luckily, Max did it for me.

"So...," he began, firing one tiny smoke ring through the center of a larger, slower-moving ring. "Did you spend the entire weekend as a little girl?"

"No, on Sunday night she turned me into a full-grown woman, a little younger than us — than me."

He nodded. "And did you like that?"

"Yeah, I liked it a lot, actually."

"Did you want to stay that way?"

"Um, maybe. I mean, I didn't know it was a possibility until three days ago, and I didn't experience the reality of it until yesterday. So it's a little hard to think how it would be for days or weeks on end."

"That's a whole lot of words," he observed. "I'm not clear on what you're trying to say."

"Viv wants me to spend some time as Elliot and think about what I want to do."

"What do you want to do? You must know already, right?"

"I want to do it," I confided nervously. "I just have to take a few days to make sure I don't change my mind."

Max didn't say anything in response. He just reclined there, looking up at the sky. He wasn't puffing on the cigar any more and he wasn't sipping his rum.

"What do you think about it, Max?"

He turned his head to look at me. "I don't know, Elliot. It sounds simple, but it's not. I mean, think about all the things that could go wrong."

"Like what?"

"What if you turn into a girl, and I don't like you?"

That stopped me for a moment. But I said, "I don't think that would happen. What else?"

"Suppose I *do* like you, and we have sex together and we like it. Then what?"

"I don't know — we enjoy it? I don't see that as a problem."

"The problem comes when you turn back to being Elliot. What do we do then? I'm not going to have sex with a man. And while we're on the subject, how do I know that I'll be able to get past the fact that you ARE a man, even if you have boobs and a butt and all the rest?"

He took a perfunctory pull on the cigar, then the rum. Then he said, "Or what about you? What if YOU can't get over the fact that you'd be having sex with a man?"

"Maybe we don't need to have sex," I pointed out. "This is really about the wedding, right?"

"Yes, but we'd need to be believable as a couple. We'd have to be affectionate. Neither of us can recoil at the other's touch. I mean, right now I wouldn't be able to squeeze up next to you on a couch and put my arm around you. Could you?"

"Not at the moment," I admitted. "But the only way we can know for real is to try."

"Yeah," Max said, and shook his head. "I don't know if I'm up for trying."

Another puff, another sip, and then he straightened up, feet on the ground, and looked me in the face.

"There's one really big consideration. Have you thought about this? What if this ruins our friendship? This switcheroo could bring us to a point where we wouldn't be unable to look each other in the face."

"I've thought about that," I told him, "but again, we wouldn't know until we try."

"And what about this: I don't understand why changing into a girl didn't freak you out from the get-go, but maybe for you it'll happen later. It could be like a time bomb inside you. One day you might just flip out. It could mess you up forever."

"Yeah, I don't see that happening."

Max sighed. "You're going to do this, I can tell." He shook his head. "The thing is, I don't want you to get hurt! You're my friend, Elliot. My best friend. I don't want to lose you for the sake of some stupid one-upmanship game with Amber. I can go to the wedding alone. I'm a big boy."

His cigar had gone out. It took three tries to relight it. He puffed a few puffs. He held it out to me, offering a puff. I shook my head. He cleared his throat.

"One more thing: it bothers me that you're so willing to do this for me. If you wanted to be a girl for your own reasons, that would be one thing. But what is it really about? Finding a date for Max, so he won't be alone at Nessa's wedding? Come on, Elliot! You'd be paying an enormous price for such a small payoff."

"It doesn't seem that way to me."

Max sighed again, and told me, "Maybe you ought to hold off making the change until you DO see it that way."

I shrugged and took a healthy sip of rum.

"Look, man," Max said. "No matter what, we have to be sure we stay best friends forever, right?"

I clinked my snifter against his, and echoed his words, "Best friends forever!"

He swore. "Oh, shit — that's what teenage girls say, isn't it. We need a different toast."

I laughed.



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