Sydney's first reply to your text comes twenty minutes later: Ok! followed by a string of smiling and thumbs-up emojis.
Her second reply comes a little after noon, when you are at basement tapping out a new memory strip. (You will need two more, at least, to make a second switch.) Cindy is coming out to my house at three, she says, for a "conference abt cheerleading do u want to be here or just give me stuff to do it and come find u later?
Of course I want to be there when you make the switch, you think with no little irritation.
Then you think, Hmm. It would be kind of neat—really sexy—if "Cindy" came to find me later. Like, if we just "ran into" each other. You shiver pleasurably all over. Oh, wow.
Still, it would be best if you were on hand to help Sydney. You reply that you will be out at 2:30 to help set things up. That will also give you time to finish prepping a second pair of masks for whatever comes afterward.
* * * * *
"Honestly, I think I can handle it, Will," Sydney sighs. She sounds a little cross. "You don't need to hover over me."
Okay, probably you are hovering, just a little. Over her protests you keep going over and over how to get the mask onto Cindy ("I got a mask onto Blake the other night," she protests, "when you weren't around") and how to seal it up ("It's just like painting a miniature, isn't it?") and about the need to switch clothes. ("Well, dur!") But you're almost squirming out of your skin with anticipation, and maybe it's because you want to live the experience first as a fantasy that you keep going over and over it with her.
You're up in Sydney's "quarter" of her house, and it's the first time you've ever been to her place. She lives on the northwest side of town, where the subdivisions fade into rolling countryside with woodland stands. This is where the rich folk live, your dad always mutters out of the side of his mouth when driving out this way, and it's country where the McMansions stand aloof from each other with pastures and grazing land to buffer their borders. Kelsey Blankenship lives off this way, you think, and who knows who else with money.
Well, Sydney lives off this way too, it turns out.
Hers is a rambling, asymmetrical house of white stone walls and gray shingled roofs, with a tower rearing up over the front door. The living room you passed through spreads out under a vaulting ceiling.
She led you up a narrow set of stairs to a short hallway with a pair of double doors at the end. These opened out into an ivory-colored bedroom whose tall, clear windows overlook the driveway. There was plenty of floor space left over even after filling it with the four-poster bed and the blonde oak desk—whisked clean of clutter—big enough that you could land a helicopter on; and the armoire and the vanity table with mirror and the two dressers. In fact, there was so much wide open space left over you could probably have squeezed your own bed and desk and chest of drawers in, and still had plenty of room to do cartwheels and somersaults.
Sydney seems as impatient as you for Cindy to get here, and maybe her impatience is why she keeps sighing heavily through her nose as you rehearse the switch to come with her. She finally shuts you up by asking if you want to be the one to switch with Cindy.
That catches you short. "Oh. Well. Um." You blush. "If you don't want—"
"I don't want it one way or the other, sweetie," she sighs. "I just figure you've got more of a thing for her than I do." She pulls you into a close embrace while wrapping her arms loosely about your waist. "You've known her longer than I have. I don't even know her at all."
"I don't know her either," you admit. "Not really."
"You know what I mean. You fantasize about her a lot, don't you?"
Oh, Jesus. You hate the way your mouth twists up into a sick grin.
"Which way to do you want to have enjoy her body?" Sydney asks. "From the inside or the outside?"
Sydney titters and releases you. "I'm just teasing. But I'm serious, too. It's up to you." She cocks her head as she studies the gear that you poured out of your bag onto her bed. "Don't you have to glue this thing into the mask?" she asks as she picks up the memory strip between her forefinger and thumb.
"Oh. Well, eventually. But— Well, I was thinking." Your forehead is still very hot with embarrassment, and your scalp seems to be steaming. "You know how you couldn't get my friend Caleb's memories when you tried on his mask?" Sydney nods. "That would be kind of bad, if you put on Cindy's mask but couldn't get the memories. So, I was thinking—"
It takes you awhile to stammer out your explanation, because you're not even sure yourself what you're thinking and why you think it. All you know is that you had no trouble getting Caleb's memories when you first tried on his memory strip, before you'd attached it to his mask, and there doesn't seem to be anything in the book to say that you have to glue a mask and memory strip together before trying to wear them both. So—
There's a flash of light outside Sydney's window, and you glance out to see a minivan pulling in next to your truck. That must be Cindy.
"So I figure if we put the memory strip on you first, by itself," you rapidly sum up, "and make sure you've got, you know, her memories, then we can put the mask on you, and there won't be any problems."
"Huh," Sydney says as she crosses over to glance out the window. "That sounds clever. Well, here she is," she adds. "You want to hide out in my bathroom?" She gestures at a door on the far side of the bedroom. "It might be awkward if she finds you here when she walks in."
Well, so what if she does? you want to retort, but Sydney is already striding out the bedroom door. You grimace and pace the floor. Then, because you do not actually want to cause any kind of scene, you do as she suggests, and duck into the bathroom.
* * * * *
It seems like a long time before you hear voices outside in the bedroom, and they talk for what seems like a very long time, but you can't make out the words through through the thick door, even with your ear pressed to it. Finally, though, silence falls over the room outside. You wait, though, until there's a soft knock at the door. "Will?" Sydney calls.
You wrench the door open, and Sydney jumps back. Even knowing how rude it seems, you burst past her and hurry over to the bed, where a long-legged figure hangs half on and half off.
Cindy Vredenburg is a tall, slim girl, whose height and slenderness are accented by her the flat sheets of glistening platinum-blonde hair that hangs to her elbows. That hair is only a little disordered now as it splays out beneath her head and shoulders. Her sky-blue eyes are open and staring vacantly at the ceiling, and her jaw hangs open. It's a cool day, and she is dressed in a polyester windbreaker, a t-shirt, and distressed jeans. But her pink shoes are bright and new looking.
That's going to be my girlfriend. The thought is hard and bright and lustrous. Cindy Vredenburg—this vulnerable, unconscious waif—never had a moment to even look at you, let alone talk to you, and in just a few short minutes she is going to be your girlfriend. Because your girlfriend is going to be her.
You tear your eyes from Cindy's face long enough to blink wetly and gratefully at Sydney.
Maybe she has misinterpreted you, though. A wry smile twists her lips. "I'll ask you again, Will," she says. "Who do you want to be the one wearing her face?"
The question still jars you. "Are you serious?"
She shrugs. "It's up to you."
You turn back to Cindy and chew your lip. You'd have to admit it's rather tempting.
"She's got a boyfriend," you tell Sydney.
"So? You could be him and I could be her. Or— I dunno. You could be her and break up with him. You got a problem with him?" Her eyebrows go up. "Would you like to hurt him?"
It's like she can see into your soul, or something. Yes, you would like to hurt Seth Javits. He's an asshole and swaggering bully, especially to—
Something in you freezes.
Seth is a bully who has had taken more than one shot at you. But mostly he concentrates his assholery at Keith, who is no longer any friend of yours. Or at Carson Ioeger and James Lamont, who have also shaken you off.
Being Cindy would be delicious. But being Seth ... Then you'd get to enjoy everything about Cindy that Seth has ever gotten to enjoy, and there'd be some extra dividends in the vengeance you could visit upon your former friends.
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