A high school student finds a grimoire that shows how to make magical disguises.
It's Jack's friends, calling from the Eastman High parking lot, where they've gathered to carpool out to the Warehouse. "Where are you?" the voices (mostly female) overlap.
Will makes a face at you, but hands the phone over. "Hey, who is this?" you demand.
You're answered with shouts, laughs, and the grunts of a struggle. One voice finally sounds above the others "Mine! Piss off!" It's followed by more shouts, then a lot of panting. Finally: "Jack! Where are you? When are you coming out?"
"Um. Something came up," you say. You stare at Will, who stares back from under lowered brows. "I don't feel real good. I've got a migraine coming on, I can feel it."
"I'm not lying. I don't feel like a lot of loud music tonight. My head hurts."
"So what about tomorrow?"
"Well, talk to me tomorrow, and I'll tell you how I'm doing."
Will's mouth pulls down into a frown.
More shouting, and Leah laughs. "Laura says you picked up a date! Did you pick up a date?"
You pinch the bridge of your nose. "No. Unless the movie I was watching on my phone counts."
"Is it porn?"
"Send me a link. I wanna see what's so much better than a party at the Warehouse with your buds!"
You sigh again. "Sure. I'll talk to you tomorrow. Aren't you getting ready to head out? I hear car horns."
"Good-bye, Leah. Have fun and we'll go out tomorrow." Before you know what you're doing, you air kiss into the phone and close the line.
"Jesus," Will says.
"Don't start with me, man," you say as you toss the phone back to him. "How would you have handled it?"
He runs his hand through his hair. "Same way, probably. That's what makes it—"
The phone rings again. You and he look at each other, and with a grimace he hands it to you. It's Leah again.
"Jack, what are you sulking for?" she asks.
"I'm not sulking! What have I got to sulk about?"
"It's not about Parker and Kristina, is it?"
Your fingers tighten around the phone. "No! Why would I—?"
I'm not angry, you find yourself telling yourself, at the way my best friend and his new girlfriend (another old friend) bailed on the Warehouse tonight, to spend time with each other instead. No, if I'm angry, it's at Leah thinking that I'd be upset about Parker and Kristina.
And I'm not angry about that, either, you tell yourself. It's Jack's issue, not mine!
(Unless you really are Jack Li and not Will Prescott, a question that you are not a hundred percent ready to concede has been settled yet.)
"Leah, I love you too. But would you stop trying to manage my shit for me? I've been handling my own shit for—"
"Jack, I'm not—"
"Promise me you'll let me handle my own shit."
"If you promise that you love me!" she snarks back.
"Ye-es," you sigh. "Oodles and oodles. Now, get out the Warehouse before I have to get any more aspirin."
Lean giggles and wishes you a good night. You hand the phone back to Will. He turns it off, and turns off the other phone, too.
"So I guess it's a slumber party for us, now," you observe, ignoring the glower that Will is giving you. You glance around. Besides the laptop and the game console with its dedicated monitor, there's a flat-screen TV with a DVR. Jack's dad is an architect, and though they expect much from him, they give him much, too.
Will drops onto the bed, and you drop onto it beside him.
"So tell me about yourself," he says. "I mean, if I'm going to have to"—he makes a face—"cover for you tomorrow."
"We'll go find Chelsea tomorrow," you tell him. "Even if we have to go through her boyfriend to get to her. You wanna mineral water?"
He gives you a look. "As long as you're offering."
Mrs. Li stops you as you pass through the living room. She wants to know more about Will Prescott, and you have spend a couple of minutes improvising something. It helps that Jack knows a kid named Eric Murphy who is a near lookalike for him/you (though you have no prior memory of ever seeing Eric around) and you weave a new personality for your guest based on him.
So, the "Will Prescott" you describe to Mrs. Li is wild, impetuous, spoiled, and prone to fly off the handle with his too-indulgent mother, and sometimes has to crash with friends while he cools off. This soothes most of Jack's mom's anxiety, for she was worried that you had brought home a runaway, or (even worse) a friend whose family needs a visit from Child Protective Services. "No," you assure her, "Will just gets super-pissed off with his mom, and we take turns every couple of weeks giving him a place to crash when he's too mad to talk to her."
Your "friend" has turned on the game console when you get back with two mineral waters, and has loaded up a shooter. You play against each other without talking, and find that you're almost evenly matched, probably because you've never played this game before, so you are pitting Jack's own memories and reflexes against him.
He takes a sip of the water and makes a face. "I think maybe I've picked up some of your tastes. This doesn't taste nearly as good to me as it used to."
You take a sip from your own bottle. "Yeah," you agree. "I think I like it better than I used to would have."
He doesn't reply, maybe because he's following the same train of thought as you.
What other "tastes" will have changed for you and for him?
The talk, as you play, switches back to your bio, and you tell him about your family and family dynamics. "You can get through it if I can," you tell him. "Keep your head down, do what you're told, don't do more than what they ask you for. That should get you through the weekend, at least."
"What about your friends?"
You bite you lip.
"You can ignore them until Monday," you tell him. "And if you really want," you add, "just come hang out with ... me and all the other guys. Guys you know." The offer gives you heart palpitations, for in possessing Jack's memories, you also get a good look at what he and his friends have been saying about you.
You wonder if that's another reason he's in such a pissy, frightened mood.
He's embarrassed by knowing that you now know what they've been saying about you.
* * * * *
You pull a sleeping bag down from the hall closet, but you insist on Will taking the bed while you take the floor. (It seems the least you can do to make the real Jack comfortable in his own room, even if he's not in his own body.) But not long after lights out, you're disturbed by a horrific sawing noise from the bed.
So it turns out I snore, you think. Or maybe Jack snores, and now my body snores too. After ten minutes of sounds that could soothe only the nerves of an experienced lumberjack, you steal from the bedroom to the living room, where you wrap yourself up on the sofa. You are soon asleep.
Even without your phone alarm, you wake at Jack's usual time: a quarter to six. For several minutes you lay on the couch, staring at the ceiling and recollecting where you are and how you got here. A quick glance down the front of the sleeping bag, at your well-defined and hairless chest, confirms that you are still looking like Jack Li. You then spend a couple of minutes trying to decide whether to keep to Jack's regular schedule. You decide that you will start it, at least.
That means showering (in the hall bathroom), where you get a little more acquainted with your new body than you are really comfortable with. Jack is covered in smooth, lean muscles, for he's a bit of a fitness fanatic, and with two sopping handfuls of body wash you get a good feel for his legs, arms, torso, neck and face. (And a passing feel for his junk and his ass.) You blow-dry your hair afterward, and touch it up with a little volume spray so that it holds the lush pompadour that Jack favors. You wash and scrub your face with cleansers, slick down your eyebrows, and with a straight-edge razor slice away the few hairs that come in on your chin and upper lip. Then you moisturize.
It's nearly six-thirty when you creep into the bedroom with only a towel around you. Will is face-down, suffocating himself in the pillow, to judge by the muffled buzzing. You hesitate, then scrawl out a note that you leave by his pillow, urging him to come find you at "the usual places at the usual times" when he wakes. It takes you aback a little to see that, without trying, you have effortlessly imitated Jack's own semi-elegant script.
From the closet you pluck a fresh t-shirt, boxers, exercise shorts, and socks, which you dress in. You're tucking another set of fresh clothes into the workout bag when you hear Will wallowing in the bed. You look up to find he's raised himself and is peering at you nearsightedly.
"I was going to keep your workout schedule," you tell him. "Unless you don't want me to."
He blinks at you, then grunts. "'S'fine," he says, then falls back into the pillow and mumbles something else. "What was that?" you ask.
"I said, how 'bout you take Parker'n them upta Don's Donuts when you're done? I can meet you up there, if'll have me." He yawns. "My friend Keith works there Sa'urday mornings."
You don't immediately react, but mull what he just said.
Keith Tilley is your friend, not Jack's. And you didn't tell him about Keith working at Don's.
Next: "An Exercise of Character"