Merope, Maybe : 17 / 19

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Merope, Maybe : 17 / 19

[ Melanie Brown’s Switcher Universe ]
by Iolanthe Portmanteaux

 


"You're dressed to kill, and guess who's dying?"
— Brian Ferry, Dance Away


 

Ross pulled up next to me, rolled down the window, and asked, "Would you like a ride somewhere... Anson?"

My first thought was: It's only Thursday morning.

Thursday morning! Not even a week since I encountered the Switcher! Almost a week... nearly a week. And in that almost-a-week, so many emotions, so many new experiences. So much that was new, so much to get used to... a whole new person to be.

But honestly, as interesting and amazing as my experiences have been, it was beginning to get a little tiresome. Could I just go through ONE DAY without experiencing something new? Without having to sift through an avalanche of conflicting, confusing feelings? Without having to figure out how to respond, what to do and what to say?

So, Thursday... Sure, Thursday! Why should today be any different? Today, like every other day this week, I was astonished. Unprepared. Beset by a cascade, a kaleidoscope of feelings and emotions — no, I was beset by cascading kaleidoscopes of feelings, emotions, reactions, imprecations, reservations...

What I wanted to do was to simply and politely tell Ross, Could you just fuck the hell off right now? Could we sort this out a week from now? A month from now? A year from now? How about NEVER? Would that work for you? Whatever on earth this is, could you cut me a little slack? Just for today, my dear old ex-next-door-neighbor?

Yeah — unfortunately, though, quite unfortunately — even though today was the only the sixth day of the rest of my life, for Ross it was only Thursday: the day after yesterday, the day before tomorrow. Just another day. And as Jesus put it, "Sufficient unto the day are the problems thereof."

For Ross, I was one of the "problems thereof" and today was sufficient for dealing with me and the horse I rode in on.

Anyway, as the fellow told me at the processing center, being switched wasn't a get out of jail free card. I didn't have an I've Been Switched! certificate to wave in Ross' face.

But most of all, the thing that decided my next move was a feeling. There, amidst all the feelings I felt as I stood there in the street, gaping like an idiot, the feeling that stood out the most was the feeling that I'd been caught.

Caught, yes. Maybe I'd been caught doing something wrong. Maybe. Arguably? At least it wasn't something I could be arrested for. Wayne was an adult. His level of maturity was another question, but as far as age, in the eyes of the law, Wayne had both feet firmly planted in his majority. He was an adult, whether he behaved like one or no.

And yet, Ross caught me. He caught me out, literally: I was out there, out on the street.

And sure, I felt guilty. Or maybe not guilty, exactly. Maybe I just felt stupid, and guilty was the next closest feeling.

So when Ross said, "Don't just stand there. Get in the car!" I opened the passenger door and climbed in.

I didn't want to seem rude.

After sneaking into the man's house at night and — in his eyes, maybe — after grabbing his son by the hormones, and having my way with him... I didn't want to seem ill-mannered.

So I got in the car.

"I thought you'd be grateful," Ross told me. "I'm sparing you your walk of shame."

"At least part of it," I muttered.

He ignored what I said — or maybe he just didn't hear. He asked me where I was going, and when I told him Teteree, he commented, "Fancy!" and steered the car in that direction.

And then... I waited for the next question. I expected Ross to ask me Why Teteree? or how I'd landed there, or who was I staying with? A friend, maybe a male friend? But he didn't seem to want to know any of that.

Instead, while I sat there expectant, he turned for a moment to look at me, and I felt the most curious thing: It was as though I could see an app, a filter, activate in his mind's eye. It was a filter that subtracted all my clothes and let Ross see me utterly naked.

I was sure that's what developed in his head. It wasn't as though he made any effort to undress me in his imagination, though; it was purely, totally automatic. And I felt it. I wanted to cover myself, but it would have done no good. He had a perfectly accurate 3D map of my naked body, uploaded into his memory while he stood in the doorway of Wayne's bedroom, watching me scurry around searching for my telephone.

Looking to change the subject — or to find a subject — I asked him, "How did you know who I am?"

He laughed. "I am your neighbor, you know." He smiled, turning his eyes back to the road ahead. "Or I was. I saw you walking the other day with Mukti."

"By the way—" he interrupted himself— "Do you mind if I call him Mukti?"

"No, it's fine. It'll be less confusing."

"And you're going by... Merope now?"

"Yes, I'm Merope," I replied.

"Merope. Yes... well... you were wearing those short shorts..." he grinned and gave me a look. "I had to find out the name that went along with those legs—" he shot me another clothes-removing look— "So I called Anson — or I thought I was calling Anson — and I asked him the age-old question: Who was that lady I saw you with? and he replied, That was no lady — that was Anson Charpont!" He followed his narration with a throaty chuckle.

"Huh," I grunted, and shifted in my seat, uselessly tugging the hem of my dress down toward my knees.

"I had my doubts, of course, but Pamela spoke with Cleo later... in any case, to say I was surprised is an understatement. I thought I couldn't be MORE surprised until I saw you this morning... hunting for your phone in your birthday suit."

He flashed me another smile. "Or should I say your second birthday suit?" He paused and drew a deep breath. "In any case, you were naked. Very naked. You couldn't have been more naked." I could see from the expression on his face that the scene was replaying in his mind's eye.

"Yeah," I muttered. "Sorry."

"Oh, don't be sorry! Please don't be sorry. You've really made my day. Or my week? Or month?"

"Um," I replied, feeling uncomfortable. Where was Ross going with this? Was he hoping to follow his son into my secret garden? Or what?

"So," on a sudden inspiration I tossed out a tangent: "Does Pamela know?"

"Oh, of course she does." He grinned to himself. "Do you know what's funny? She knows... she knew... Mukti. She actually took yoga classes from him when he taught at her health club. She said he's one of the best teachers, and she's looking forward to when he starts teaching again."

"And you—" Ross went on. "What are you going to do?"

"I'm going back to my old job," I told him. "Programming. In fact, today's my first day back."

"Hmmph," he said. "That isn't what I meant, though. I meant, are you going to be sleeping around? Preying on susceptible young men? Or just men in general?"

My mouth went dry. For a moment I didn't know what to say. Words didn't come. But then I found myself with exactly the right reply:

"Ross, would you let me out here? Right up here? Thanks." Right here, as it happens, was nowhere in particular. Just a suburban corner. "I can call an Uber."

My request caught him up short. He realized that he'd gone too far.

"Wait, no," he temporized. "Hold on: I'm sorry. I didn't mean— it's just that..." He paused to find a good starting point.

"Okay, look: I apologize. I didn't— I wasn't— I mean, I guess this whole thing has been confusing for you. Your whole life has gone topsy-turvy, hasn't it."

"Well, yeah."

"And then, to end up female on top of all of the rest of it... that's got to add confusion on top of confusion, doesn't it."

"Ah..." I almost felt like explaining... I almost caught myself talking about hormones, pheromones, about how I was never wild when I was Anson... but his phrase confusion on top of confusion struck me the wrong way, so I kept my explanations to myself.

Ross didn't notice. He was too busy NOT stopping; he continued to drive, as though I hadn't asked to be let out.

"Actually, I was curious about something. I didn't feel that I could ask Cleo or Mukti, but if you don't mind my asking you: your house, your car, your bank account... all your assets... what happens to them?"

"Mukti is Anson now," I replied. "They all belong to him."

"Hmmph." After a pause: "And does that mean that Mukti is *married* to Cleo? If not in fact, at least... legally?"

I gave him an irritated look, that he missed entirely. "By in fact, do you mean, have they had sex?"

We stopped for a red light. Ross took advantage of the moment to give me a lofty, supercilious look. "I wouldn't be too quick to throw stones in that particular arena, if I were you."

"I'm not throwing stones," I retorted. "I'm just asking what you meant." He opened his mouth to answer, but I cut him off. "Legally they are married. Mukti is Anson Charpont, for all intents and purposes. Whatever that means between him and Cleo is none of my business."

"That's very... open minded of you, I'm sure," Ross commented.

We drove in silence for a bit. I studied Ross' face, trying to understand what he wanted. I mean, not what he wanted from me, but what he wanted from the situation, from the conversation. Was he upset? Was he amused? Was he curious? I couldn't read him.

Finally, to break the silence, I offered, "About last night—"

Ross cut me off. "Let's make one thing clear: I don't want to talk about my son."

HIs son? "Okay," I ventured. "But if it's any consolation, I feel like an idiot."

He gave me a few seconds of incredulous stare, his eyebrows raised. "I don't need consolation," he replied. "I mean, you're the adult in that equation. What I need, what I hope, is that you'll behave like one."

I didn't know what to make of that.

I tried to put myself in Ross' shoes, but couldn't make the psychological adjustment. I, too had a son: Herman. But Herman had never snuck anyone into our house, young or old, male or female. Or, at least, if he had, Cleo and I were never aware of it...

Ross sighed. "So, what are your plans for today?"

"It's my first day of work at my old job," I replied. "I told you."

"Oh, right. Forgot."

"What about you?"

"I work remotely now, and my first meeting isn't until ten. So I have some latitude."

We were getting closer to Teteree. "What will you tell Pamela, if she asks you where you've been?" I ventured.

"I'll tell her the truth," he said.

"Even about seeing me naked?"

He shrugged. "Sure."

"Is she ever jealous?"

"I've never given her reason to be."

Despite his answers, I couldn't help but wonder whether he was going to proposition me, or make a move.

And did "making a move" imply doing something physical? If so, what would he do? I've never "made a move," so I didn't know what was involved.

And if he did, how would I react?

"We're coming up on Teteree," Ross observed. "Now what?"

"Um, you can let me out here, at the light." I said. "It's close enough to walk, and I can spare you all the one-way streets and funny turns."

"I appreciate that," he said, although I wasn't sure he did.

He stopped to let me out. I opened the door, but I had to ask: "Ross, did you hear that window last night—?"

He rolled his eyes and said, "Get out of here," in what I think he hoped was a tone both jocular and dismissive.

After he drove off, I finally got it. I finally figured out his emotional setting. Ross was angry. Angry and jealous.

And... I was cured in that moment of my infatuation with Wayne. In fact, I never set foot in that house again.

 


 

What followed (from that point until after lunch) was essentially a normal day. NOW, I felt as though today was the first day of the rest of my life. I would like it be, if I could take it as a template. The weather was picture-perfect: blue sky, clean, crisp air, the faintest whisper of a breeze, and a temperature of 74 degrees.

As I walked to Femke's apartment, every single man I passed said Good morning to me. Not "hello"; not anything salacious, or thirsty, or lustful. Just a civil morning greeting. I felt respected, appreciated.

It seemed so life-affirming.

Femke wasn't home, so I dawdled a bit in the bathroom, getting ready. Thankfully I'd already chosen my outfit: the black flared pants with a sleeveless cream-colored top. And the black flats that I meant to wear last night. I liked the overall effect: attractive, but not provocative. Professional, but not cold.

Again, my neck and wrists seemed bare. I was going to have to accessorize soon.

Earrings, too.

Then, after another short walk to my car, I drove to work in a calm, almost leisurely mood. I felt good.

In the office, my presence created a bit of a stir at first, but I spent most of the morning in a room with a woman from the company that does our benefits. I was filling out paperwork — literal pieces of paper — signing up for benefits, putting my direct-deposit into place, and so on.

I took over my old desk, which (to my surprise) needed an complete cleaning. It wasn't so much dirty as dusty, and my computer monitor was absolutely covered with fingerprints. I'm assuming they were my own. Did I really touch the screen that much?

After spending an hour going through Anson's emails, and taking over his client contacts (as though I were a new employee). As I did so, I put together a list of systems I'd need access to. Most of Anson's accounts were (quite rightly) locked when he/I left the company, and I needed new accounts in my own name with the same levels of permissions that I formerly enjoyed.

I stood and took the list to Dave, whose desk was opposite my own. "Hey, Dave. I need some accounts created. I've got a list here..."

To make a long story short, Dave — like all the other coders — was about to start his lunch. I'd forgotten: we coders had all, long ago, gotten into the habit of eating lunch at our desks. It was economical, and often we had to work through lunch. Today, for my part, I'd brought nothing, and Dave, for his part, was just about to begin eating.

Still, he took my list, smoothed it out next to his keyboard, and told me, "First thing... after lunch."

I went outside, to a nearby sandwich shop, and sat down to a generously-sized Cobb salad.

That's as far as I got with my "normal" day: maybe five or so hours, from the moment I stepped out of Ross' car, to the moment my cell phone rang.

I dug the phone out of my backpack and looked at it. An unknown number. I picked it up and said "Hello?"

"Uh, hello," a strong male voice responded. He sounded a trifle uncertain, but only a trifle. "Is this, uh, Merope Goddard?"

"Speaking," I replied. "Who is this?"

"I'm the— I'm— Oh, dammit to hell! I'm Merope Goddard."

 


 

"Oh! Wow! Okay," I replied, after I caught my breath. "How are you doing?"

As old Merope spoke, in her clear male voice, I could hear another person there, with her: a young female voice, in the background, muttering to old Merope. She clearly had no idea that I could hear her.

"No chit-chat!" she hissed. "Stick to business! Don't stay on the phone too long!"

Old Merope took a breath, and tried to sound airy and dismissive: "I'm just peachy. But it doesn't matter. I think you have some things that belong to me. I'd like to have them back."

"Um, yeah, sure," I replied. "I'll be happy to give you your things. But first... can you tell me something so I know you're really Merope? Something only Merope would know? Like... what color is your car?"

"Yellow. I have a yellow Toyota Corolla." She sounded a little puzzled. "Do you have it now?"

I heard the young woman go pffft! impatiently. She whispered, "You don't need that car! You don't need it!"

"Tell me one more thing. Something only Merope would know."

The girl hissed: "Ask her about the pen. Does she have the pen?"

Aloud, old Merope: "Do you have my pen?"

"Your beautiful $600 pen? Yes, I've got it."

In the background, a whisper: "Tell her to bring the pen. And everything else."

"I heard," I told him. "I'll bring the pen. I've also got your Monopoly pieces and your money."

Old Merope, surprised: "My money?"

At the same moment, the voice in background: "Fuck that Monopoly crap! And fuck her Monopoly money! We don't *need* her fucking money! We're not a charity case! Ask her about the IP!"

IP? Later on, I figured she meant Intellectual Property.

Old Merope: "Do you have the, um, prototypes and the USB drive?"

Me: "Prototypes? You mean the cylinders?"

The girl scoffed. Old Merope answered: "Yes, the... cylinders."

"I have your USB drive, but the Switcher took the cylinders."

The young girl swore, briefly but strongly. Honestly, I was a little shocked — both by her language and by the violence in her expression. I heard her hit something three times, hard, with her fist... probably a table. Then, sotto voce: "Okay, okay. We need the USB. The USB is enough. Tell her."

"What about the love letter?" I threw that in, the way you drop a stone down a well: to see how deep it is. "Do you want me to bring that as well?"

"The love letter?" Old Merope was struck, surprised.

The girl: "Did she read that? Did she read that? The bitch!"

Old Merope, scrambling a little, to close the conversation: "Okay. Listen. Can we meet? Let's meet tonight at -- do you know-- do you know Braeke's Height? Am I saying that right? Braeke's Height? At seven o'clock tonight. And bring all the stuff."

I considered for a quick moment. "Okay. I'll be there. With all your stuff. But listen, can I ask you a few things?"

The girl in the background make a weird zzzt! zzzt! zzzt! noise — probably to tell old Merope to cut the conversation short.

"I've got to go. I can't stay on the phone too long. But... tonight. We can talk tonight. Braeke's Height, seven o'clock. Will you be there?"

"Yes."

"Just you, okay? Only you."

"I'm bringing a friend," I declared.

"No. No friend."

"You're bringing a friend; I'm bringing a friend. If I can't bring a friend, then I'm not coming."

A few seconds of stunned silence was followed by some whispered discussion. Then: "Okay. One friend. No cops. Don't forget: bring the USB."

Click.

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Comments

Love it!

The interaction with Ross was a cross between hilarious and terrifying. Poor Anson, how could he possibly know how to deal with that situation?

Finally! The original Merope has turned up. I can’t wait to see how that meeting goes!

Great stuff, thanks for bringing this to us.

now what?

the "real" Merope shows up? what do they want?

DogSig.png

First of all

SammyC's picture

that's my favorite Roxy Music album, Manifesto!

I feel a climax coming...to the story, that is. Will it blow our minds what body the original Merope landed in? Can't wait to read the exciting conclusion, Io.

Hugs,

Sammy

"Exciting conclusion" -- I wish!

Iolanthe Portmanteaux's picture

Usually, or quite often, when I tell stories or anecdotes in real life, the response is: "And then what happens?"

I answer: "Nothing. That's the end."

"Oh."

I think that exciting conclusions is not in my wheelhouse. It's more that I run out of story. There isn't any more to tell.

I hope that's not disappointing. I mean, they do end somewhere. Maybe you can guess where.

hugs,

- iolanthe

I wish.

Emma Anne Tate's picture

I talk to myself. Not “rarely” or even just “occasionally.” All. The. Time. Why can’t I sound as witty as Anson/Merope? “Beset by a cascade, a kaleidoscope of feelings and emotions — no, I was beset by cascading kaleidoscopes of feelings, emotions, reactions, imprecations, reservations . . . .” If I have to listen to my inner voice all the time — and I do — why can’t it sound like that? It would be far more entertaining, and much less irritating.

Another great chapter. Ross is a douche, and as Anson our hero never saw it. But the original Merope — if indeed it is she — sounds shady as hell. Even if (new) Merope brings her friend the cop, I hope she agreed to meet someplace that is very public and extremely well-lit.

Thanks, Iolanthe!

Emma

Merope has an advantage: her self-talk gets rewrites

Iolanthe Portmanteaux's picture

My self-talk is nowhere near as interesting or articulate as Merope's. Sometimes for entire days these lines repeat in my brain, endlessly, to the tune of "Sleigh Ride":

We'll play the anvil chorus with Roget's Thesaurus for free...

or to the tune of "Holly Jolly Christmas":

Oh ho! The mistletoe, rolling down the street. / Say hello to friends you know / You're never going to meet

and it's all I can do to not sing or say it aloud.

My characters have a lifetime guarantee on rewrites.

hugs,

- iolanthe

Great chapter!

Great chapter!
The apple didn't fall far the tree next door, did it?
Now the alarm bels are going off. Fortunately, Merope seems to be hearing them too. I wonder if the former Merope and his partner (who sounds like she might be the boss) will be surprised when a cop shows up (at least I hope Merope isn't thinking of Muhkti).

Well...

...at least, now Anson/Merope knows how the name should be pronounced.

Eric

The plot thickens

Let's see now - "old" Merope obviously knows about and wants to get those cylinders, etc.. However, Switcher/Merope knew they were valuable too. So, did the Switcher target "old" Merope knowing what she was carrying? As someone else mentioned it's clear "old" Merope was a sketchy sort even beyond the credit card fraud but smart (or lucky) enough to avoid trouble with the law. Delicious stuff!

Yes. old Merope and her bf Boyce were definitely targeted

Iolanthe Portmanteaux's picture

Yes, on all counts. The Switcher came to town to step in the middle of some industrial espionage. Yes, the old Merope has some rather adaptive morals...

thanks for your comment!

- iolanthe

Don't listen!

I just read the rewrite with the final sentence - "no cops". I hope she ignores that.