Summary:Lauren juggles playing Portia’s boyfriend with being her sister, and another visit to Hera Lake makes Lauren wonder how hopeless her situation is.
The Way About Her
And despite the fact that Lauren’s life felt as if it should be on hold until she got her real body back- and saved Terry from the fate of forever being a frog- it wasn’t. Portia and Lauren’s parents got her letter and promptly forgot about how worried they were, getting angry at her instead. Lauren couldn’t blame them. If she had really run off with no word to anyone so that she could find herself, it would have been supremely stupid and selfish. Somewhat ironically, finding herself was kind of what She was having to do- well, it was more like finding Terry’s self– finding out who he is and what he does so that she could fake her way through his life well enough that his mother would stop worrying and Portia would stop looking at her funny for continuing to be nice to her even though the crisis of Lauren’s disappearance had blown over.
Lauren had thought that she had been doing a pretty good job of not making Portia suspect anything while Lauren hedged and stalled while waiting for the day that Terry was scheduled to get on a plane to the other side of the country to start college. She thought she had been doing a pretty good job. Apparently she was wrong.
“Okay, that’s it! I can’t take this anymore, so just do it already!” Portia shouted at Lauren right after she had offered to go shopping with Portia so she could use Terry’s ridiculously muscle-bound arms to carry packages for Portia.
“Umm-” Lauren said, stunned, because Portia never spoke to Terry like that- Lauren she had used to scream like a banshee at, but Terry? Never. Also she had no clue what she had done wrong.
“Well, go ahead, say it,” Portia dared her and then she stood there, not saying anything, her hands on her hips, her eyes fierce with something that was likely anger, but might be fear, as well. And she stood there. And she stood there.
And Lauren ran out of patience and took a stab in the dark, “I like your new uh- outfit?” she offered, hoping that even if that wasn’t what Portia was waiting for, the fact that it was a complement to her fashion sense, might soften the blow to come.
“My outfit! My outfit! You unbelievable pig of a coward! My outfit? You- you- I don’t know what you are, but it’s bad! Really bad! And cowardly,” she accused, with much finger pointing and angry squinting of her eyes and puffing of her breath as she got more and more irate.
“Portia, I’m sorry. I don’t know what you’re-”
“You don’t know! Terry, you really think I buy that? You think I don’t know what you’re doing with all this being considerate and sweet and keeping your big old meat hooks to yourself?” Portia had allowed the pointing to go one step further and was now poking Terry’s big old chest hard enough that, if she had been in her old body, Lauren would expect bruises to appear the next day.
“Look, I’m sorry. I was just trying to make the last few days nice, you know. The whole thing with Lauren had us both freaked out and now that we know that she’s okay, I figured that-”
“That it was safe to break up with me!” Portia finished Lauren’s sentence for her- well, actually that wasn’t Lauren’s sentence- Lauren’s sentence had a much happier ending that included them keeping in close touch during the semester and spending their breaks together, but obviously that wasn’t what Portia was expecting. “But, now that it’s safe to do it, you being such a yellow coward can’t do it, can you? Admit it, you’re afraid to break up with me!”
“Hey, no! I’m not afraid to break up with you,” Lauren started to protest being judged for something she had had no intention of doing, but then all the fire had gone out of Portia and she had crumpled, folding herself as she sat on her bed.
“You’re breaking up with me?” she squeaked. “I can’t believe you’re breaking up with me.” She let her head drop and began sobbing into her hands.
Wow! Lauren was in something deep because, even though it would probably be easier if she didn’t have to keep pretending with Portia, Portia was pretty much Lauren’s only link to her real life, so she couldn’t imagine letting that- letting Portia go. She had to salvage Portia and Terry’s relationship or Lauren was kind of certain that that would be it. She would lose it permanently. It’s not like she felt like she was hanging on to her sanity by more than a thread as it was.
Lauren sat next to her sister on the bed. Portia made an extra loud sobbing noise and cringed away. Undaunted, Lauren shifted closer and started rubbing small, slow circles on Portia’s back between her shoulder blades. “And what if I’m more afraid of losing you than I am of breaking up with you?”
Portia snapped her head up and glared at Lauren. “Don’t!” she warned. “Don’t you dare break up with me and tell me that it’s all for the best, you selfish-”
“I’m not breaking up with you,” Lauren said. It took all her willpower not to shout it, not to use Terry’s great big hands to grab Portia and shake some sense into her, but somehow Lauren managed to sound calm.
“What do you mean you’re not breaking up with me?” Portia asked, confused.
“I mean that I’m not breaking up with you,” she repeated.
“But you said-”
“I said that I wasn’t afraid to break up with you- and I’m not- because I’m not planning to break up with you. I’m planning to stay together with you,” Lauren said gently. She risked putting an arm across Portia’s shoulders. “I know it won’t be easy because of the distance, but I think we can take it.”
“You do?” Portia let herself lean into Terry’s big broad shoulder just a little bit.
“Yeah, Portia, I do. Besides, it’s easier now with the internet and texting and all,” Lauren reasoned.
“And you love texting- how you don’t have to spell things the right way,” Portia agreed. “Oh God, I’m sorry, Ter. I was just expecting- I thought for sure that I was the only one who felt this so strongly,” Portia gushed and she leaned close, giggling into Terry’s short neck.
And right then, Lauren realized that she had gone out of the frying pan into the fire. “Yeah- uh. It’s all right- uh, apology accepted,” she mumbled. And tried to figure out how to stop Portia kissing her neck and pulling at the neckline of her T-shirt- to get to more skin- without spooking her. After a minute, Lauren just slid Terry’s large hands over Portia’s slender ones and pulled them away. “We should maybe go do that shopping,” she suggested. “We both need to start packing tomorrow, you know.”
Portia considered her for a moment before saying, “Can we go out to the good Chinese restaurant when we’re done? Have those fantastic spring rolls?”
Lauren sighed with relief. “Sure thing, sweetheart. Anywhere you want.”
Lauren managed to fake a headache later on that night just as they were finishing dinner, so there was thankfully no more awkward nuzzling. Lauren managed to get away with just a chaste kiss goodnight when she walked Portia to her door. After Portia had gone inside, Lauren stood on the walk looking up at the house she couldn’t live in anymore and wondering how long it would be until they moved her stuff. She would have worried that Portia was borrowing her clothes, save for the fact that Portia wouldn’t be caught dead in any of Lauren’s outfits.
Lauren was still pretty damned angry all the time, which- okay- it had only been a few days in real time, but in Lauren’s head, she’d been living this bizarre body-switch for way longer. And, the possibility that she could find Terry in her frog transmuted body without help seemed long gone. In the back of her mind, she knew that that meant she might never get to be herself again, that Terry was who she was going to be for the rest of her life, but she couldn’t let herself think about it that way. It was just an impossible thought- her conscious mind wouldn’t go there.
In order to keep on pretending that she still had a hope of getting her old body back, Lauren woke early (sleeping in Terry’s bed- or maybe in Terry’s body- was hard to do anyway). She packed quickly, texted a message to Portia: C U L8R 4 DNNR? Because there was no way Lauren was getting out of having a goodbye dinner with Terry’s girlfriend, even if she would have to figure out how to get out of the kiss or more goodbye that Portia was expecting. Then, Lauren drove Terry’s SUV up to Hera Lake to spend the day looking for a frog to try and turn him into a princess- or something like that.
She didn’t find him, of course. But, in the middle of her not finding him, as she settled in to rest on the ground inside the strange must-be-magic circle where she had become he (she had kind of hoped that Terry would be drawn back to the circle or to her for some reason), Lauren heard giggling. Snickering. Downright tee-heeing. It was coming from the underbrush all around the circle. She could tell this not just because of the sound, but because she could see the bushes shake as who or whatever it was that was laughing moved around. They were all around her.
“She thinks she can find him,” one high-pitched voice chanted tauntingly.
“Such a stupid girl. She’ll never find him by herself,” another one agreed.
“Never, never,” a third one repeated.
Lauren strained to try and make out the forms that were hidden by the rustling leaves, but the mottled shadows of the forest didn’t make it easy, and neither did the fact that she didn’t really know what she was looking for. She guessed that they might be more pixies, but they had to be far smaller than Tris, the first pixie she had met, to be hidden in the low brush.
“So sad that she does not have the way about her,” one of them went on.
“Yes, if she had the way about her, he would come hopping right into her lap and she could snatch him up just as easy as picking daisies,” another continued. Lauren couldn’t tell one from another or even how many there might be.
“Pretty, pretty daisies.”
One of the voices, this one lower and much more sinister said, “Maybe she would like it- to have the way about her- maybe she would serve for it.”
“Uh- I can here you, you know,” Lauren piped up because, well maybe they were taunting her or maybe they weren’t used to people so much, so they didn’t realize.
And then they really were all around her- bright and fizzy lights of all colors that squiggled and popped all around her head with a soft hum or a sharp buzz. One landed on her nose making her overbalance backwards in her attempt to focus on it. The back of her head hit something hard- like a rock and the lights all scattered, disappearing from her field of view- except for three.
“Funny how clumsy they are in their gigantic bodies,” the purple-ish light squeaked, winking as it spoke.
“That’s why it is so hard for any of them to have the way about them- so much to make up for,” said the dark green one- it was the one that had the deeper voice. “Even the few of them that have had never could fly- earthbound by their own massive girth.”
“Massive girth,” the silvery one repeated giggling.
“Hey!” Lauren objected, rubbing the back of Terry’s lunky old head, the short cropped hairs still feeling strange against her fingers. “Even in this body, I’m not massive.” She defended Terry’s body, even as it was the current bane of her existence. Maybe it was some kind of loyalty to the human race in general that compelled her to.
“No, she is too large. There is no point,” snapped the dark green twinkling again and they scattered out of Lauren’s view as well.
She sat up, but there was no sign of them anymore. She checked the time on Terry’s watch and realized that if she wasn’t going to be late for dinner with Portia, she had to start driving back, so she dusted herself off and hiked over to Terry’s SUV.