John and Silke
John gave her an offhand wave and got into the Eclipse sitting in the driveway. At least some things hadn’t changed. Apart from the purse on the passenger seat, of course. He didn’t hit a single red light, and was at Kevin’s no more than five minutes later. At the front door, he hit the buzzer for Kevin’s apartment, and the door unlocked. He hadn’t remembered it being quite this heavy before. Two flights of stairs later, he was standing in front of his friend’s door, wondering what could possibly come next. Knock, knock.
Kevin opened the door, and smiled down at him. He was now practically a foot taller. This, John thought, was not good. It was just too weird. As Kevin led him into the living room, he realised he had tears in his eyes.
“Yeah, I don’t know. I’m just not feeling myself today.”
“Um, I don’t know to ask you this, “ Kevin hedged, “but did something…happen… last night?”
“Yeah, you could say that.”
“Does the name John mean anything to you?”
“What does it mean to you?”
“This sounds fucking nuts, I know. But I have this weird memory of that having been your name at some time or something.”
“Holy shit, you know!”
“I don’t know much. All I know is that something happened last night, and now, all of a sudden, I have all these memories of a guy named John that you were in some other life or something.”
“Glad I’m not the only one with those memories.”
Kevin put his hand on John’s shoulder, to comfort him. He was taking this hard.
“Can I ask you something, Kevin?”
“Of course. Whatever you want.”
“From what I can tell, it’s not just me that’s different. I’m not living in the same place. I don’t even know what my relationship to Ariana is anymore, apart from the fact that we apparently live together. But, you know how you and I were, right?”
“John and I, you mean?”
“Yeah, you and John.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Well, could you tell me what is it between us now? Is that different, too?”
“I’ll try,” Kevin put his head in his hands, thinking.
“We’re not, like, a couple or some shit are we?”
“No, not that,” replied Kevin, trying not to seem hurt by Silke’s relieved expression. He didn’t know how much to tell her, but decided that, in circumstances like these, she really needed to know everything. “We’re…friends. Good friends. That’s not different. You tell me pretty much everything, and you’re who I always end up calling when I need someone to talk to. From what I can tell, it’s a lot like I remember John and I being, but…somehow different.”
“That’s at least something. What’s the story with Ariana? I mean, shit, I fell asleep on the couch next to her last night, and then I wake up this morning in some room I’ve never seen before.”
“Best friends, basically. There’s a lot that I don’t get told there, but you’ve been inseparable since the beginning of college from what you’ve told me. You decided to go halves on that house a few months ago. When the two of you are together, I can’t even follow the conversation. You just seem to talk about every damn thing that comes to mind,” he laughed.
“Which reminds me um, am I, by any chance, straight?”
“Yeah, though it’s been a while since your last relationship. You broke up with your boyfriend of one year about 5 months ago.”
“Who ended it?”
“You did. Finally, you listened to me. I’d been saying he was an asshole for six months….sorry.”
“It’s OK. I don’t even remember it, so you can say ‘I told you so’ all you want.”
“Well, I did.” They laughed. It almost felt like old times.
“Jacobs, this is too fucking weird. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I have no experience being a girl.”
“OK, that was weird.”
“You calling me ‘Jacobs.’”
“I always call you Jacobs. It’s your name.”
“I know John always called me Jacobs, but, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, you’re not John. You’ve never called me Jacobs as long as I’ve known you.” He looked over to see Silke trying to stifle sobs. Maybe he’d been a little tactless. He couldn’t imagine what it would be like to go through this. He moved over to the couch, where she was sitting, and put his arm around her.
Silke was startled by the gesture. Certainly, she’d never experienced this with Kevin. She hated crying in front of him, but this was just too much. Luckily, he didn’t seem to mind. She had to admit that she liked the feeling of his arm around her shoulder. This was certainly another side of Kevin.
“Could I have a glass of water?”
As Kevin ran off to pour her a glass, she called to him: “Anything else I should know?”
“Well,” he called out from the kitchen, “you’re in law school, just like John, taking the same classes John was. We have most of our classes together.” While Kevin talked, Silke started going through her purse to see what she could piece together. Her driving license showed the same birthdate, and, apart from the picture, the name SILKE MUELLER, and a big F next to SEX, it was basically the same. With it in the wallet were several wallet-sized snapshots. Silke and Ariana grinning insanely in one of those automatic photo booths, Silke and Kevin hanging out someplace, her mother and father. Beneath the wallet, she found two brushes, a box of Altoids, her mobile phone, various cosmetics that she dreaded learning to use, some sort of spray bottle, a date book, and, just to make the horror complete, tampons.
“In fact,” Kevin said, as he brought the glass of water out to the living room, “I have you to thank that I passed Contracts last year.”
Silke’s tears had more or less dried, and she gradually became conscious that her jaw had dropped. She… John had barely passed Contracts himself, and had been close to a breakdown at exam time. The professor, a fat bastard called Hayes, had made a special project out of making him feel completely incompetent. Some of the wounds were still fresh. At one point, during a lecture, he had explained the Third Party Beneficiary rule thusly: “Third party beneficiary standing is only available to third parties intended or expected to benefit from the contract. Let’s take Mueller here he couldn’t claim third party beneficiary standing as against the publisher of his textbooks, as it is obviously only a sheer coincidence that he might ever actually read one of them.” Even John’s detractors, and there were a few, didn’t think highly of the remark.
Silke took a sip from the water glass, “Who all are my friends?”
“Well, Ariana and me, obviously. I’d say you’re closest to us. You and Ariana also have a bunch of friends, but I never remember their names. You tend to be on good terms with everybody. Somehow you’ve managed to put yourself above all this irrelevant competitive bullshit the rest of us are always wading through.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you aren’t cliqueish like a lot of people here. You’ve always been the sort that reaches out and helps pretty much everyone who needs it. I’ve always liked that about you.” She didn’t know why, but she found herself gradually inching closer to Kevin on the couch. As hard as it was for her to admit, it somehow felt nice having his arm around her shoulders, so warm and comforting and secure. The other half of her sounded an alarm what the fuck are you doing, this isn’t you! She was absolutely ambivalent about this change in Kevin. It felt lovely to have even one person she could actually talk to about all of this, someone who cared and listened, and lent his warmth at a moment when she was feeling absolutely chilled to the bone with shock. But that almost made her feel worse. Made her feel more acutely the loss of what she’d had with Kevin. ‘What I had with Kevin,’ Christ, I’m even starting to sound like a girl in my own head. Where was the sarcastic back and forth? The swearing at each other for larks? Where was anything in this relationship that she knew?
“This is fucked up,” she said, after a long gulp of water. “Do you have a smoke?” Kevin’s quizzical look was too much, “yes? Do you?”
“Uh…sure.” Kevin went over to where his backpack was hanging and produced a pack of Winstons. “They’re not lights, though.”
“The fuck am I going to do with lights,” she snorted as she pulled one out of the pack. Kevin lit her cigarette.
“Thanks. Look Jac…, er, Kevin. I’m sorry. This is just too much to be dealing with. You’re being so sw…nice, and I really appreciate it, I do, but everything’s so different, even you. I’m not blaming you. Really, I’m not. But you’re just not the Kevin I remember.”
“You’re not exactly what I’m accustomed to, either,” Kevin remarked wryly.
Silke couldn’t help smiling, “That’s more like it.” She moved to slap him on the back, but found herself resting her hand on his upper arm instead.
“That helps, but it’s still fucked up. You don’t even look the same to me. You’re, like, this…guy and shit.”
“Last time I looked.”
“It doesn’t feel the same, being around you.”
“The altitude in itself must be a bit dizzying.”
“Yeah, that, and everything else you’ve got that I had just last night. And the way you act toward me. You’re being so sw…ni…fuck it, sweet. You’re being sweet. I can’t believe I just said that. Please proceed to shoot me now.”
“Silke, you’re my friend. I don’t know what the hell this is, and it doesn’t sound like you do either. Fucking glad it wasn’t me, at any rate. But you’re stuck with it, and I’d be quite an asshole to just say ‘good luck with that.’ I’ll do whatever I can to help.”
“You could pump Ariana for some information. Come back to Aria…home with me. If you say the right things, maybe she won’t think I’m suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s.”
Kevin and Silke got into their respective cars, and made their way back to Ariana and Silke’s place. As she was driving, she pulled her mobile out of her purse and called Ariana.
“Silke? Are you OK?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. I hope I didn’t worry you.”
“You sound better than this morning. How’s Kevin?”
“He’s good. We had a few things to discuss. He’ll be coming back with me in a couple of minutes.”
“I’ll see you both then.”
Just as Silke was getting out of her car, Kevin pulled into the parking place next to her. They walked silently to the front door; Kevin softly patted her left shoulder as if to say, “It’s going to be all right.” She unlocked the door, and Ariana came to greet them both with hugs.
“Hi Kevin! How are you doing?”
“I wanted to thank you again for yesterday. I hope you’re not too exhausted from carrying all that furniture.”
So, there was still furniture shopping yesterday. Good to know.
“Oh yeah, thanks for that, Kevin,” Silke added hastily.
“So, did you enjoy the evening after I left?” Kevin asked, winking at Silke.
“Oh yeah. We just had a bit of a girls’ night in. You know, drinks, movies, pizza.”
“What did you see?”
“Movies I’m sure would bore you to death.”
“That’s kind of a broad category. Any ones in particular?”
“Pride and Prejudice and one that I forget the name of. Silke, you remember it?”
“Oh, that’s right, you barely made it through the opening credits before you dozed off. You wouldn’t believe how hard Silke is to wake once she’s fallen asleep on the couch,” she grinned at Kevin, “I had to melt two whole ice cubes on the back of her neck.”
“I’m impressed,” laughed Kevin, “I don’t think I could manage that.”
“So, how’s school?” Kevin asked, trying to think what all it would be useful for Silke to know.
“The same as usual. I’m bored out of my mind. Did the people who wrote the opinion in Hadley v. Baxendale actually expect anyone to read it?”
Had she just said Hadley v. Baxendale? How would she have ended up reading Hadley? That was one of the most famously boring cases in all of contract law. But that didn’t make sense.
“The broken mill shaft heard round the world,” quipped Silke, nervously. “That’s law school for you.”
“You’re telling me,” laughed Ariana. So she was in law school now? How the hell did that happen? What about creepy gnomes and tin drums and hundred-letter words like Vergangenheitsbewältigung? Just because I’m a girl she’s in law school now?
“Don’t worry,” Kevin added, “It gets worse with time.”
The three of them continued talking well past dinner, and the results of that conversation left Silke even more confused than she was to begin with. She was especially ambivalent about this shift in her relationship with Ariana. It was great to know that they were so close, and she got the feeling that Ariana would make an excellent housemate, but it was painful on a very deep level that they were no longer and apparently had never been what she remembered. Even though she still seemed to feel no attraction to Ariana or was that just the shock? she couldn't avoid feeling some heartbreak at the loss. There was still too much to even begin to sort it all out, and she needed some time to process. She needed to talk to Kevin some more. Alone.
"Kevin," Silke said, directing a pointed glance in his direction, "why don't we go back to your place so I can help you with that administrative law question you asked about earlier?" Not great, but it was the best she could come up with.
"Yeah, that's a good idea. Do you mind, Ariana?"
"No, that's fine. I ought to get some reading done myself. When do you think you'll be done?"
"Not all that long," Silke chimed in. "Maybe a couple of hours."
Ariana hugged Silke and Kevin good-bye, and the two went out to their cars. Silke followed Kevin to his.
"How about we go to Kelly's?" Silke asked Kelly's was the pub that John and Kevin had gone to most Friday nights.
"OK. I'll meet you there."
They both got in their cars and drove off. Twenty minutes later, they met outside the front entrance to Kelly's Pub. Before Silke could reach the handle, Kevin had already opened the door, and gestured for her to go in first. Weird as it felt, Silke went along with it. They found an empty booth opposite the bar where they'd have a little privacy, and sat down.
"So, I just need to get all this straight in my head," she began.
"I can imagine."
"OK. First question: all the stuff you remember about John, you only got those memories last night, right?"
"Yeah. I can't really explain it. I just, sort of, sat up in the middle of the night, and suddenly remembered this whole I don't know alternate biography."
"So, John never existed is it that?"
"Not in this life, anyway. I've only known Silke. Ariana's only known Silke. Your parents and everyone else have only known Silke."
"Except you. You remember John."
"Yeah, but not really. The memories I have of John are like something I once read. Nothing tangible to them."
"OK. Bear with me here. So, based on what we know, I'm in some alternate reality or something, then? Where I was born a girl, and where John Mueller has never existed."
"Seems that way."
"But other stuff has changed, too. I mean, I don't know if you know this or not, but, as of yesterday, Ariana was finishing her PhD in Post-War German Lit. Now she's in law school like us. Why would that change, of all things?"
"Hell if I know. You know the hypotheticals they're always throwing at us in class? 'Let's say A forgets to put his headlights on and runs over B with his car, killing him. What offence, if any, has A committed?' Right? And then, if you say 'Negligent or vehicular homicide,' the next thing they say is 'Now, what if the headlights were on, but the streetlights were burnt out?' or 'What if the headlights were on, but the dome light was causing a glare? Same result?'"
"In other words, what does changing this one little piss-ass variable do to the big picture?"
"Yeah, that's what I think. I mean, you're not John. From what I can tell, you might be kind of like him in some ways, but you're not…"
"But I AM him, dammit." Silke had had just about enough of that shit. The sudden appearance of the waitress at long last interrupted the train of thought. Kevin spoke first.
"Hey. Can I get a Sam Adams, and a Sam Adams Light for her."
"Actually," Silke cut in, "I'll have just a plain Sam Adams, too." She smiled pointedly at the waitress, who gave her a knowing look Silke had never really seen before.
"Two bottles of Sam. I'll be back with those in a minute. Anything else?"
"I think that's all," Silke replied, directing her pointed smile now at Kevin.
"Where were we," Silke asked after the waitress had left.
"Well, what I was saying was that it's like the hypos they're always giving us in class. One little thing changes a lot of other things. You, in your life, have done things, met people, said things, had people tell you things, gone places, whatever, that John didn't, or couldn't have."
"I see what you mean. And something I did that John didn't, that must be what caused Ariana to go to law school rather than doing her doctorate in German Lit."
"Something like that. Must be. Do you have any idea how this happened?"
"Not the slightest. I just woke up, and there it wasn't."
The beers finally arrived, as if by magic. The waitress was gone before they even noticed her.
"Damn, I've needed this all day," Silke said, taking her first gulp from the bottle.
"You might want to take it easy," Kevin suggested.
"You might want to concentrate on drinking your own damn beer," she smirked.
Kevin's jaw dropped. "I know that's how John and I always talked to each other. But I can't get used to it coming from you. That's just not how we talk."
"I'm terribly sorry for the inconvenience. I'm sure it must be terrible for you, having something in your life no longer be what you're used to." She somehow managed to fight back the tears as she said it. The venom in Silke's voice was almost enough to give Kevin hives.
"OK, you're right. That was a shitty thing to say."
"Pretty much. Cut me some slack here."
"You're right. I don't imagine I'd be feeling particularly wonderful if something like this happened to me."
"Look, I know that this is how you've always known things. But I've lost my fucking life here. Just randomly, for no apparent reason. My life is over."
"You haven't lost your life. You've still got it."
"It's not my life," she said, through clenched teeth.
"Maybe not. But you've got it anyway. Now, I don't know John so well, but one thing I know about you, Silke, is that you don't let shit get you down. You find a way."
"What other choice do I have?" Silke's glass was now half-empty.
"Relax. Like you said, you don't know what caused this, so you can't do anything to reverse it either. So just try to chill out and relax, and see if you can find some way to make yourself halfway comfortable."
"You're right." Silke was beginning to feel the effects of the glass of Sam Adam's she'd almost completely consumed in less than ten minutes. Much to her chagrin, she started giggling for no apparent reason.
"You all right?"
"Just fine," she assured him between giggles. "I'm ready for another Sam!" she called out to the waitress, wherever she might be.
"Hey, I finally found a practical use for something I learned in undergrad," Kevin remarked. He'd thus far found precious little use for his biochem major.
"What's that, then?"
"Ever heard of aldehyde dehydrogenase?"
"Nope," she giggled, as the waitress dropped off the second bottle of Sam Adams.
"Well, it's a chemical in the stomach that breaks down alcohol. The more you produce, the less effect alcohol has on you."
"Well, as I remember it, the more testosterone someone has, the more aldehyde dehydrogenase they produce."
"Well, you definitely don't have as much testosterone as you're used to…"
"You mean to suggest I can't hold my liquor?"
"We'll see. It should be interesting. You might want to be careful in any case." Silke was already hard at work on Beer #2.
"Nothing I can't handle."
"Your brain is positively swimming in oestrogen now. Wonder what that will do."
"Nothing, I hope."
"Could help you adjust…"
"Do you think I want to adjust to this?"
"Give it time. Maybe it's not that bad."
They drank their beers in silence. Silke finished first, and gestured to the waitress.
"I'm gettin' the fuck outta here," she slurred to Kevin, who pulled a ten and a five out of his wallet and laid them on the table. She picked up her purse, and started making her way to the door.
"Hey, Silke," he called to her after they were in the parking lot. "I really don't think you should be driving."
"Fuck that." Silke had lost just about enough control for today, and she wasn't going to give up more voluntarily, thank you very much. This whole thing was pissing her off. She had almost reached her car when Kevin caught up with her, standing between her and the Eclipse.
"Are you crazy? You can't drive like this. You're shitfaced. Just give me the keys and we'll take my car."
"Get the fuck out of my way, Kevin." Somehow that lost some of its bite in a soprano voice.
"Just calm down and give me the keys." Silke tried to reach past him for the door handle to unlock the door. Kevin wrapped his hand around her wrist. She tried to pull away, but she couldn’t. John had won every drunken arm-wrestling match he and Kevin had ever had, but Silke's arms were nowhere near strong enough to resist Kevin's grip. Somehow, that did it. She stopped fighting and looked up at Kevin, tears in her eyes. She'd lost a lot of things over the past day, but realising that she could be easily overpowered by Kevin or whoever else gave her pause.
Kevin let her go, and put his arm on her shoulder as they walked to his car. She'd long since stopped trying to hide it; she was sobbing uncontrollably. Marinating in oestrogen, huh? I suppose that would explain it. He opened the passenger-side door for her, and turned the key in the ignition.
"Are you OK?" He asked her, after a minute.
"As OK as I can be. I'm sorry, Kevin. That was stupid."
"Yeah, that was pretty retarded."
"Thank you." For a second, she actually felt like kissing him.
Ultimately, she just settled her hand on his arm, yet another thing about Kevin she was now seeing from quite a different perspective. Maybe it was the beer, but Kevin was pretty fucking cute. Something about those strong arms and the way he was so resolute when he stopped me getting into my car just now, and this isn’t fucking happening I am not seriously thinking about how cute my best friend is it is now time to start thinking about other things, and At the trial before Crompton. J., at the last Gloucester Assizes, it appeared that the plaintiffs carried on an extensive business as millers at Gloucester, come on, distraction! But there was no use. Even the monumental boredom of Hadley was no match for what Silke was feeling right now. She stared at Kevin out of the corner of her eye as they drove in silence back to her house.
To make matters worse, she and Kevin hugged as she stepped out of the car.
“Thanks, Kevin, really. I’m sorry about tonight.”
Kevin smiled. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll get your car tomorrow.”
Copyright 2006-2007, Élise R. Hendrick, All rights reserved.