A high school student finds a grimoire that shows how to make magical disguises.
You still owe your mother thirty minutes of reading, but your mind isn't on the preparations for the Battle of Lepanto. It's on how to meet up with "Will" without Joey's mother knowing that's who you're meeting with. You entertain various complicated schemes—including another McDonalds run—before settling on the simplest and most obvious course.
To Jenny, you text your regrets at not being able to hang out. To Will, you text instructions to pick you up on a street corner two blocks away. And you tell Mrs. Tartaglione that you're going over to Jenny's house to hang out until dinner time. She nods absent-mindedly. "I'll text you when it's time to come home," she says.
You have twenty minutes or so to kill before Will can show up at the rendezvous spot, and you spend it in the bathroom. Using the toilet has been a little easier today, what with Joey's familiarity with her own body, but it's still a little weird. Much weirder—so weird that you force the thought away as soon as you think it—is imagining Joey dealing with your genitalia, and not just when she has to piss. You get at least a dozen erections a day at school from looking at the girls in your class. Did she get any? How did she react? Or, being a girl herself, did she just ignore the Andrea Varnsworths, the Yumi Saitos, the Mia DeWitts ... ?
You change from a blouse into a black t-shirt and one of Joey's flannel shirts before heading out, and you give yourself a look over in the mirror before you go. She is cute, with an elfin face that tapers from a broad forehead down to a small, narrow chin, and her ears lack only a slight point to give her a decisively elf/Vulcan look. But are her features elvish? Or are they androgynous? With a sigh you conceded that they could go either way—that maybe she looks vaguely elvish because she's got a boyish look. Her hair is cut short, so that it curls up just over the nape of her neck, and she combs it to the side with a part. She has to, because it's not sleek and silky like a girl's, but thick and coarse, like a boy's. And she has no chest to speak of.
You sigh and break eye contact with yourself before you can depress yourself further. Not having hung out with a lot of boys, Joey doesn't miss their company so much. But she does wonder how she's going to handle herself when she goes to college. It frightens her. It frightens her to hang out with you, it occurs to you. At least, it feels like fright when you trawl her memories for those times you've hung out. The beating heart, the twitchy skin, the wretched clumsiness while grappling for the right words, and the awful feeling that you're about to say exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time. But there's an excitement as well. Like trying to ride a wild pony, you think.
* * * * *
Your alter ego is running late, and you've plenty of time to pace the grass and swing yourself lazily around the stop sign as you wait for him to show up. You're on the point of texting to ask if something has gone wrong, when your familiar truck comes roaring around a corner and lurches to a stop opposite you. You run up and hop into the cab. The driver leers back at you.
"Hey," he says. "Whadja tell my mom?"
"The usual, that I was going over to Jenny's. So how did—?"
"Whadja tell Jenny?"
"That I was staying in at home. What hap—?"
"Perfect. Where do you wanna go hang out?"
You give him a long, steady look, until he guns the engine meaningfully. "How did you do at school today?" you ask.
He laughs. Is it your imagination or is there a nervous edge to it? "Oh, it was the normal," he says. "Mostly."
Your heart sinks. "What?"
"Whaddayou mean, what?"
"What did you do?" you demand.
With a laugh, he puts the truck in motion. "You wanna pick up a bag of fries or something someplace? Split them?"
"No, I want you to tell me how you fucked up my life at school!"
"I didn't fuck your life up, man! It was all normal!" He snickers again, and again, almost under his breath, he adds, "Mostly. Let's go by Carls Jr. It's close."
"So tell me about it!"
"Tell me about your day," he ripostes.
"It was normal! I did your schoolwork! You got— I got you a ninety-three on today's math quiz!"
"That's pretty good," he says. "But I got you better on your math quiz!"
You pale. "We had a quiz in math today?"
"Yeah, but you did fine. I did fine for you!" he adds boastfully. "Better than you could've done!"
Your eyes narrow. "Is that how come my day was only 'mostly' normal?"
"Well," he concedes, "today was the day we buried the time capsule in Mr. Walberg's class. That's not so normal, right? Oh, and you have to write a paper on what you put into it. And by the way, what's the flippin' idea—? Excuse me, but what kind of goddamned fucked-up idea was it you had for putting in a busted hair dryer?" He laughs. "I ain't writin' that piece of shit paper for you, Will!"
You glare at him, but you only say, "Well, if that's all that wasn't normal—?"
"I lunch with Jenny and them."
"Oh?" Your hackles go up again.
"Yeah. I teased her and James, gave 'em shit about— You know, she's never told me about him!"
You cast your mind back. "Yeah, I guess she never has mentioned him to—"
"So that was fun. I got her pissed off at me. At you. But she's pissed off at you anyway. I mean, she really is, and not in that 'Oh, I'm mad at you but not really' way like she has. You know?" He casts a crinkly grin at you.
"So you had to go and make it worse."
"No, you made it worse by doing that thing to Cindy. But I get now why you did." He accelerates through a yellow light, even as it turns red. "You know, we could go by your place and pick up that mask, and you could put it on, and we could—"
"We could what?" You swing around at him.
"Oh, you know." He hangs a sharp left into the parking lot of the Carl's Jr., and pulls to a hard stop in a parking space.
Your jaw drops. She is playing your fantasy—her in Cindy's mask, you in your own face—right back at you!
"Or," you stammer, "we could pick up the mask, and you could put it on and I could take off yours—"
"But wouldn't it be more fun the other way?"
"You mean you want to—?"
"Or maybe we don't need the mask. Maybe we can just—"
He leans in on you, and covers your mouth with his.
There's a tongue inside it.
* * * * *
The kiss probably doesn't last long, but it feels like it lasts forever. You can hardly bring yourself to look at him after he's pulled away.
But even as you grope for a reply or a response, he reaches over and starts scratching gently at the inside of your knee with a single fingernail. His eyes are downcast, but there's just the faintest trace of a smile on his lips.
What is he thinking? you pant to yourself. What does she think that I'm thinking? Am I supposed to react as her? Or react as myself? React as myself to her as me? Or as myself to— Who exactly?
And while you're all jammed up this inside inside, he just keeps patiently scratching away at your knee.
"Well," you finally say in a quavering voice. "That wasn't normal either. For me or for you!"
He lifts his eyes, finally, to look at you. There's a very rabbity expression on his face—shy, but also sly and mischievous—as he smiles at you. "We could make it normal," he says.
Your mouth falls open. He shifts in his seat, and his eyes fall again.
"Look, uh, Will," he says. "I know it's none of my business. And this isn't, like, something we've both done before. I mean, you and, uh, Lisa— I know that's something you don't want to get into!" he hurriedly adds. "I'm just saying, we are hanging out together lots anyway. And I guess this was just my way of saying I'd like if we— Um—"
"Do you have a crush on me, Joey?" you demand.
His eyes roll in their sockets, and he takes a breath so deep that he levitates.
"Do you think I do?" he asks in a squeak. "I mean, you, um— You know—"
"Do you think I have a crush on you?"
He freezes. "Don't you?" he asks through frozen lips.
Do I have a crush on Joey? you ask yourself. You don't think you do.
But you didn't think that she had a crush on you.
In these new and surprising circumstances, you cast your mind back to the feelings Joey has had around you, and— Well, now that you know what to look for, you'd have to concede that they are actually like the feelings you get when you have a crush on someone.
So maybe she's just confused. She thinks that the feeling she has for you are also the feelings you've had for her. Because she, like you, are all mixed up with someone else in their head.
That's going to make things tricky. Especially right now.
On the other hand, though ... Okay, she's been a handful to deal with, but you have ... enjoyed ... her company. For the most part.
"I guess we should switch back and talk about it," Will says in a low voice.
But should you? It suddenly occurs to you that talking to each other as each other might be a better way of exploring your feelings.
That's all for now.