Tuesday, December 23, 2003
I kissed Carter at the Christmas party and that's just like a footnote to this day.
I didn't see it coming. I left the house this morning, wearing a backpack because of the other stuff I had to bring for the party - presents to give Kate and Jen at lunch, another for "secret Santa" exchanging at the party (actually sort of a "random Santa", because we didn't know who it would go to), and a change of clothes.
The day started out normal enough - more relaxed than usual, what with all the people leaving after the party for vacations. Lots of joking going on, people walking up to me with misteltoe, trying to get me to sing. Very few phone calls or visitors to deal with. Everything was out of the ordinary, but in an expected way. I should have been paying more attention, damn it.
Then at lunch, I bring my backpack along, which gets some comments. Kate and Jen are really surprised when I give them their presents; they didn't have anything for me, but that's okay. They've got their own family and boyfriends and stuff; it's okay that they're more important to me than I am to them. It doesn't mean I'm slighted, just that they've got more going on.
They seem pretty happy. I got Kate the Trois Coleurs DVD box set, and some gourmet Bloody Mary mix for Jen. They apologize up and down for not getting me anything, especially after I tell them that they were so big for me, being there when the thing with Kurt crashed and burned and just being my friends when I found myself alone in a new job "in a new, um, city" and didn't know a thing about anything. I wasn't trying to make them feel guilty or anything, just trying to be nice. I mean, as much as what I said was heartfelt, there was altogether too much hugging.
I had to leave work early, since I was in charge of decorations and stuff at the bar where the Christmas party was being held. It'd be Judy's job, but, hey, it's her retirement party. No problem, though - I don't mind getting out of the office early. I kind of threw myself into the party-planning a little, because I do like Christmas. Without people to shop for, stuff for work (along with the eggnog in my fridge) is what I've got to work with. Hence the goofy outfit. Peppermint-stick blouse and stockings, a gold mini-skirt, red Santa hat, and, heck, even jingle-bell earrings (clip-on ones. Michelle's ears were pierced when I got them, but apparently five months of not using them causes the little holes to close up). Yeah, I look goofy and girly, but it's a party and I'm supposed to be in charge of spreading holiday cheer.
Setup goes well - the folks at the bar are pros - and people start arriving at five. A lot of people were meeting spouses or significant others, so it's a bigger crowd than the office. I'm introduced to so many people that it's a blur. Grrr. Soon, there's holiday music playing. Judy's the last to arrive. She's surprised as can be, and when they present her with the plane tickets for her vacation in March, she actually starts crying.
After that, we do the random-Santa thing. I get one of those "10-in-one Atari game" things that's shaped like a classic CX40. Erik seems to like his Best Buy gift card.
Then, the drinking starts. I dial my natural instincts way back, remembering my last holiday party. I'm sort of still on the clock, anyway, trying to help keep the place from getting too wrecked, or at least that's what I tell myself.
Carter was not drunk when we bumped into each other, and neither was I. We were just a little loose. Well, we were by the last time. We were sort of continuing to be awkward, for all the conventional reasons. Finally, though, he got up the nerve to ask me to dance, and I figured, hey, it's just dancing. It wasn't a slow dance, which would have been clichÃƒÂ©. In fact, it was the infinitely more dangerous dance where you have something to say but have to speak up to be heard. He started with "see, it's not so bad".
I countered with "what?"
He said "doing stuff socially. Together. Even if everyone else in the office knows about it."
I told him I wasn't worried about what other people think, but I just thought of him as a friend, a good guy. I also looked around to see who was close enough to hear us. Dimitri, Marcello, and their girlfriends. Well, shouldn't have said you don't care what other people think with the possibilty of other people hearing you.
And then, he just lays it out there. "I liked you when I first saw you. Didn't really realize it until after Tana went back home. I like everything about you - your smile, your nerdy tendencies, your smarts, and, yes, your body. You're the total package."
I just stood there. It was bizarre, being seen as a total package when I feel like a complete patchwork. "I... You've got to understand, I can't make any promises. I... I think I would really like taking this further, but..."
He took my hand. "It's okay. Nobody's perfect, and I don't know if I can expect this to last forever. Trust me, I have screwed up more relationships than you have. Tana only moved a thousand miles away, and I consider that progress."
To be honest, I'd never given a second of thought to the idea that Carter might be flawed. He'd been the kind of guy I'd always sort of been jealous of as a man. Good-looking, athletic, well-spoken, built his life with a lot less money and stability to start with than I'd had. And as a girl, well, he's still good-looking, well-spooken, and a great physical specimen. "You promise anything that goes wrong will be your fault."
He chuckled. "I can't promise anything, but with my track record..."
"Okay? That's it?"
"I'm like that. I dive into things way too fast."
"Well, in that case, let's go somewhere more private."
"Look, I know you've probably heard I'm easy, but I've got to help with the clean-up..."
"No, you don't. That's why you hold your holiday party in a bar rather than at the office. C'mon, let's go."
"OK... But I've got a bladder the size of a pea. Which means I should probably, well..."
He laughs. "Get going. I'll wait for you."
That's when it happens.
I'm sitting in a stall, letting the Bicardi and Coke drain out. I hear someone else come in, but think nothing of it. I think she has actually said it a second time before I realize she's talking to me.
"Who are you?"
"Who are you?"
"My name's Michelle Garber; I'm with the BioSoft party..."
"Look, I'm really not in the mood for games--"
"You are telling me that you're not in the mood for games? How do you think I feel?"
"I've got no idea what you're talking about."
"I'm Shelley Garber, damn it!"
There's something familiar about the voice; I've heard it before, but I can't be sure where. It's a girl's voice, no question, but it's only half-familiar. Now that I think about it, maybe it didn't have the rural accent or just spoke differently last time.
"That's... Well, I can't say that's impossible, but if it's true, I thought you were in my body, off in Seattle." I stand up and start to pull up my panties and hose.
"Stay in there."
"What... Come on, we've got a lot to talk about. This is a big break. I've been wondering what's going on for five months. Maybe if we pool our knowledge, we can figure out who did this to us."
"Oh, you've been wondering what's been going on for five months. I'm missing six!"
"You're... Wow. Look, we're both victims here, so why don't we step outside, go someplace private, and talk things out?"
"You say we're both victims. All I know is that you've got my body and you're getting all close to that guy, like you don't plan to give it back. And I figure right now the only advantage I have over you is that I know what you look like but you don't necessarily know the same about me."
"Okay, that's fair. That makes a lot of sense. Why don't you tell me what you know?"
"Fine. My real name's Martin Hartle..."
"You're a guy?"
"Yes, I'm a guy. Believe me, it's even crazier from this point of view. Anyway, I was supposed to leave town for a new job in Seattle on July 19th. Instead, I woke up in your apartment, in your body, with some crazy note saying that I should go out with my best friend. He'd been sort of flirting with, um, you that night and you shot him down. Remember that?"
She sounded a little off-balance, as if she'd never considered that I wasn't the big bad guy. "N-no. The last thing I remember was that I had just finished moving into my apartment, getting everything in place, and I was going down to the Esplenade to see the fireworks. I had a few drinks, got sort of tired, and went home and fell asleep. And that's it until tonight, when I find myself in this body and see you..."
The restroom door opened, and she just walked out as someone else walked in. The footsteps leading away sounded like high heels, and the ones coming toward the stalls sounded like flats. I fumbled with the stupid locking thing on the stall door, so by the time I was out there was no sign of her. I pushed my way out into the bar, but there were a lot of women wearing heels. I was looking around when I bumped into Carter.
"You ready to go?"
"Did you see the girl who just came out of the ladies' room? It's important!"
"She's... I have to talk with her. I... have something of hers."
"Just put it in the lost and found; if it's important, she'll come back after it."
Not exactly practical. "Look, Carter, I've got to find her!"
So we ran around the bar, asking anyone in heels if they were just in the bathroom. None of them sounded right.
"Look, the party's clearing out. Why don't you just go to the bar, give them whatever this girl left behind, and come home with me?"
"Go home with you." As appealling as that thought had just sounded... Well, unless that girl had been feeding me a line of crap, she was the rightful owner of this body. And sleeping around was fine so long as "Michelle" was in Seattle, blithely living my life, but if its real owner was running around even more confused and victimised than I was, how could I? "I can't Carter. I... this girl, she said some things, some things which applied to me, and I have to sort a few things out before I can even think about sex or relationships or anything." He looked so confused. "I'm really sorry; you're a great guy." He's tall, so I even had to stand on my toes in my heels to kiss him.
Then I went out in the street, yelling for "Shelley" like an idiot. No-one came.
It's taken me a couple hours to cool down enough to get this down. And now all I can think is, what am I supposed to do next?
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