Full of caffeine and worries, Brian couldn’t concentrate on his work, so he went outside for a run. It was already just after six in the morning, but since it was Sunday the streets were deserted. Still, he decided, it was not a good idea to longer on the streets too long after sunrise. There was always the chance of getting caught.
Every once in a while, a police car or delivery truck would roll by, and he would have to stop and pretend that he was stretching or taking his pulse. He had tried to run at a slower pace to make it look he was a just a normal person out for a jog, but the motion had been awkward to keep up and had hurt his muscles. He had always found himself speeding up again. Eventually, he had just had to accept that he moved three times faster than anyone else.
After twenty minutes, he had already run half a marathon and was starting to get winded, and being only a few blocks from home, he decided to call it a day. As he turned a corner the morning sunlight struck him in the face and momentarily blinded him. He felt strange, as if he was trying to run but he was hip deep in syrup. The distraction made him realize too late that he was on a collision course with a young woman, and he struck her with full force. Both of them went flying and landed hard on the sidewalk. Brian had a few scrapes and a sore shoulder, but he wasn’t worried about himself. He knew he would heal in time. But even with his lean frame, hitting someone else at that speed would be like being run over by a couple of linebackers. The last time he had clipped someone, he had broken the man’s arm. Brian could only hope he hadn’t killed her.
She had bounced off a parked car leaving a huge dent in the side, and now she was writhing on the ground like she was having some kind if seizure. Brian hoped she wasn’t dying. It would be hard to explain what had happened and that he wasn’t involved somehow. He looked around, but he didn’t see anyone else. Maybe if he just left now, no one would have to know he was ever here. No, he thought. He wasn’t the kind of man to just leave someone who needed help.
He had not brought his phone with him and there was nothing open around for blocks in any direction, so he would have to run to get help. He just wanted to make sure she was stable first. As he approached, woman stopped shaking and lay still. Then with a sudden gasp that startled Brian, she sat up and looked straight at him.
Brain spoke slowly and clearly separating each word so they didn’t run together into an incomprehensible blur. “Are…you…hurt? Do…you…need…help?”
She looked up at him with a confused expression on her face. “Why are you talking like that?” Mocking him, she said, “Did…you…hit…your…head?”
For a moment, Brian didn’t understand, but then he put it together. The sudden drag he felt, her apparent lack of injury, and the fact she didn’t hear him sped up could only mean that, for the first time in years, he was running at a normal speed. He smiled involuntarily at the thought of it. Finally, his long nightmare was over, and he could live like a human being again.
“What are you smiling at?” she asked. “Help me up, will you?”
Snapping back to his senses, he offered her a hand and got her on her feet. She instantly winced as she put pressure on her right ankle. It didn’t seem to be broken, but she wasn’t going to get very far in that condition.
“We need to put some ice on that ankle to keep the swelling down. I live just a minute…I mean, a few minutes away from here. Do you think you can hobble that far?”
“I’ll be all right,” she answered. “I just need to rest for a while.”
“This isn’t exactly the best part of town to be standing around in,” he said, “especially if you can’t run. I’m just trying to help.”
“Honestly, I’m fine,” she said. She tried to walk away but shrieked and collapsed into his arms after the first step. “On second thought, maybe some ice wouldn’t be a bad idea. I’m Chris, by the way.”
They made their way slowly to Brian’s apartment block, and she sat on the stoop while he went upstairs to wrap some ice in a towel. As he went up in the elevator, he could feel his heart stating to race and his skin flushing with heat. His momentary reprise from his accelerated state had ended and he was his old self again. He was all at once saddened to lose his sense of normalcy, but encouraged that his condition wasn’t permanent. Once he got rid of this woman, he needed some time to think.
On his way back down he felt a sudden chill, but passed it off as being from the ball of ice in his hand. But as he felt his heart slow again he realized that his condition had vanished again. He walked off the elevator slowly, worried that he might suddenly speed up again and go crashing into a wall. When that didn’t happen, he made his way outside and handed the compress to Chris.
“Thanks,” she said. “It’s better already, see?” She waggled her foot around a little before putting the ice back on.
A large purple bruise had formed, but otherwise she seemed unhurt. He noticed that her shoes were too big and she wasn’t wearing any socks. For the first time, Brian took a good look at her. She was dressed in sweatpants and a baggy t-shirt that looked as if she had taken them from someone else’s closet. Chris had all the marks of someone living on the street, yet she seemed clean and didn’t have any obvious mental problems. Maybe she’s just new to the street, he thought. That would explain why she was hanging around outside so early on a Sunday morning. In any case, it was best not to get involved in her problems. “I’m sorry I ran into you like that,” he said. “I’m glad you’re all right.”
“Shit happens,” she said. “Don’t worry about it.”
“You can keep the towel.” He went back inside and got in the elevator. As he rode up, he felt a rush of heat on his skin and his heart sped up once more. It occurred to him all at once – every time he was around Chris, he ran at normal speed.
He jabbed at the elevator buttons, anxious to get out and back downstairs as fast as possible. When the doors opened, he didn’t wait, but instead ran down the stairs. Between the second and third floors, he felt the chill again and slowed so he didn’t tumble down the steps and kill himself. He got out to the front doors, but she wasn’t there, so he ran out to the sidewalk. There he saw her making her way slowly down the sidewalk, leaning heavily on the fence for support.
Brian ran after her, and after what seemed like an eternity, he closed the short distance between them. “Hey Chris, I was wondering…” He paused, trying to think of something to say to keep her from walking out of his life forever. “Do you think I could buy you breakfast? It seems like the least I could do after running into you.”
She stopped to consider his offer before she smiled and answered, “Sure, why not? I’m starving.”
Even after selling nearly everything that she owned, Chris hadn’t been able to put together more than two months rent. When that ran out, she had nothing left to fall back on. But she couldn’t hold down a job without revealing her terrible secret – every morning she transformed into a completely different person.
It had been difficult to accept at first, but now she was beginning to take it for granted. Physically, it had become less painful as well. The first change had been agonizing, and she had almost gone to the hospital. She guessed her curse was like a muscle; it became stronger the more it was used.
Not that any of that mattered. She couldn’t go on changing every day and expect to live any semblance of a normal life, and with no money coming in, she wouldn’t last long. She had even tried to rob a bank, but that had blown up in her face. She had only wound up worse off than when she had started. It was clear to her that there was only one course of action left for her. She would have to kill herself.
Not that it would be a simple matter. She had tried hanging herself once before only to wake up the next morning completely renewed, although in a different body. No, if she was going to end it, she had to make sure there was nothing left to come back.
Guns and knives were out of the question. At first, drowning seemed like a good idea, but if a broken neck couldn’t stop her, what chance would a lungful of water have. She would have tried making another bomb, but her first attempt had been a such a failure that she didn’t want to risk it again. After much debate, she settled on pills. Or, if that didn’t work, she would throw herself under a bus.
She stayed at her apartment until she was certain they were going to kick her out. When the eviction notice came, she knew it was time to go. Chris was a rather short but large man today, so almost none of her clothes fit. She got dressed in a comfortable pair of sweatpants and a t–shirt. The only things she would take with her would be all the painkillers she could scrounge, a fifth of whiskey to wash them down, and her wristwatch so she would know when it was time. She would just leave the rest of her meagre possessions here. The landlord could give them to charity or throw them away. She didn’t care anymore.
No one gave her a second look as she walked out on her old life. It was as if she was just some stranger who was visiting a friend or a man delivering a pizza, and not the woman who had been their neighbour for years. She felt a kind of peace settle over her as she stepped outside for the last time. At least there was no one left behind who would miss her.
Even though she was out of time, she wanted to go out of this world the same way he had come into it. She decided to wait until tomorrow or the next day when she turned back into a woman. That meant she still had about twelve hours to kill, but since she didn’t have any money, all she could do was wander around the streets until morning.
It was starting to get light out and she had a strong desire to be alone. She didn’t want strangers gawking at her while she changed, and she certainly didn’t want some hero trying to save her. She started to wander downtown until she found a small green space on a quiet block and sat down on a bench to wait.
At a quarter after six, the alarm on her watch sounded giving her a few minutes warning, so she took another shot from the whiskey bottle to work up the nerve. When the change came it was the easiest yet. She was glad to see she was a woman today. At least she wouldn’t have to wait another day. She started to down the pills, five or six at a time, until they were gone. Taking the last couple of swigs from the bottle, she tossed it away before she leaned back, closed her eyes, and listened to the birds chirping in the swaying trees around her. One minute passed, and then another. She could feel her body starting to relax as the drugs dissolved in her stomach and were absorbed.
And then came a sudden wave of nausea, stronger than anything she had ever felt in her life. She fell on her hands and knees as her entire body heaved involuntarily, spilling her toxic breakfast out on to the grass. It was over as quickly as it had begun, and she felt completely normal again. Only now she had no more pills or booze.
Damn, she thought. I guess it’s the bus then.
Chris decided there was no point in waiting. There weren’t any buses around this part of town on a Sunday morning, so she decided to walk over to a busier street. She just wanted it to be over. The sun peeked out from be hind the buildings and she turned to look at what would be her last sunrise.
All of a sudden something hit her and sent her flying into a car parked at the side of the road. She could feel her ribs and arm cracking with the force of the blow, and her ankle snapped as she was knocked of her feet. As she landed on the sidewalk, she bumped her head, and she blacked out. When she woke again she was disoriented. From the pain she felt, she thought she was going through the change again and quickly sat up to see a strange man coming towards her. After a few seconds to gather herself, she figured that whatever made her change was still active in her and hadn’t settled down for the day. Her curse was actually stitching her back together. It seemed to give up halfway through the process, however. While she could breathe and her bones had stitched together, she was still sore all over.
When he spoke, he was slow and deliberate, like he was talking to a foreigner or a small child. She instantly disliked this man.
“Are…you…hurt?” he asked. “Do…you…need…help?”
“Why are you talking like that?” she answered. “Did…you…hit…your…head?”
She was making fun of him, but he smiled back at her like an idiot.
“What are you smiling at?” she asked. “Help me up, will you?”
He offered her a hand, but when she stood up she could still feel a wrenching pain in her ankle. A cruel irony for someone who just minutes before had swallowed a whole bottle of painkillers. She wondered whether there would ever be an end to her torment.
“We need to put some ice on that ankle to keep the swelling down,” he babbled. “I live just a minute…I mean, a few minutes away from here. Do you think you can hobble that far?”
“I’ll be all right. I just need to rest for a while.”
“This isn’t exactly the best part of town to be standing around in,” he said, “especially if you can’t run. I’m just trying to help.”
“Honestly, I’m fine,” she said, trying to put weight on her ankle. Pain washed over her and she fell over, but the man caught her before she could hit the ground. Score one point for gallantry, she thought, but he’s still a moron. “On second thought, maybe some ice wouldn’t be a bad idea. I’m Chris, by the way.”
“Brian,” he said.
As promised the apartment block was only a few minutes away. She waited for him as he went upstairs for the ice. The ankle was still sore, and it had a large purple bruise, but that was already starting to fade. Otherwise she felt fine. She was about to sneak off when he came back out the door. That was quick, she thought.
She took the ice, mostly to avoid a confrontation and applied it to her leg. “Thanks,” she said. “It’s better already, see?”
“I’m sorry I ran into you like that,” he said. “I’m glad you’re all right.”
“Shit happens,” she said. “Don’t worry about it.”
“You can keep the towel,” he said before awkwardly disappearing back inside. When she was sure he was gone she tossed the ice and towel away and made her way down the street, using the fence to help prop her up.
The past hour had been enlightening for her. She knew that doing away with herself was not going to be as easy as it seemed. That was just as well, for her impulse for self-destruction had passed and she didn’t want to die anymore. But she didn’t want to live homeless and eating out of garbage cans either. There had to be a way out of this dilemma. She just wasn’t seeing it.
She heard someone running and turned to see Brian chasing after her. “Hey Chris, I was wondering…do you think I could buy you breakfast? It seems like the least I could do after running into you.”
Chris thought about it, and she realized that she hadn’t had a good meal in weeks. Maybe the answer is to live your life one day at a time, she thought, and take what it gives you.
“Sure, why not?” she answered. “I’m starving.”
Well, this is awkward, thought Brian.
It had been years since he’d sat down for a meal with someone, and he was trying to resurrect his dormant conversational skills. For the most part, they had sat in silence as Chris had devoured a second helping of eggs, bacon, and pancakes. It had obviously been a while since she’d had a decent breakfast, and he was curious to know why. How had an obviously intelligent and attractive woman fallen on such hard times, and more importantly, how was she making him slow down?
“So…you’re not from around here are you?” he asked. “I mean, I haven’t seen you before. Where are you from?”
Chris continued to chew as she stared at idly stared at him. After she had swallowed, she said, “I’m from the west end of town, or at least I used to be.”
“I don’t want to sound rude,” he said, “but how did you wind up on the streets?”
“No job, no money. No money, no rent. It’s as simple as that.” She stirred a forkful of pancake around in the syrup, trying to soak up every drop. “End of story. Boohoo. Poor me. Cue the violins”
“I get the feeling there’s more to it than that,” he said.
“That’s an understatement,” she said. “Isn’t there always more to any story.”
“But you’re not going to tell me,” he said. “It’s all right. I understand. You don’t want to spill your guts to someone you just met.”
“No, it’s not that,” she said. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“Don’t you have a job or something to go to?” she asked. “Or do you wander the streets looking for hard luck cases to take to breakfast?”
“I’m self-employed,” he answered. “I can afford to take a day off if I want.”
“This isn’t a Pretty Woman thing, is it? Because that movie has a terrible message for impressionable young girls. And if you call me a whore, I’m gonna punch you in the sack.”
“No, and stop changing the subject,” he said. “What happened to you?”
“It’s complicated,” she said.
Brian waited, but apparently that was all she had to say on the matter. He didn’t want to push her too hard and drive her away. He watched as she stuffed the last of her breakfast into her mouth and got up to leave.
“Well, thanks for the meal,” she said, “but I’ve got to be going.”
“Wait, I…” Brian grasped for something to say. “I want to help you.”
Chris turned back to look at him. “Why should you care? You don’t even know me.”
“It’s hard to explain,” he said. “It’s just a feeling, I guess.”
“Yeah, a feeling in your pants,” she said. She leaned over and mashed her breasts together inches from Brian’s face. “Is that what you want? You want to get with this? Because this is all an illusion. Here today and gone tomorrow.”
“No, it’s not like that,” he said.
“So you don’t think I’m attractive?” she taunted.
“No. I mean, yes.” Flustered, Brian’s face turned a deep shade of red. “Is it so hard to believe that someone just wants to help you?”
“Nobody does anything for free,” she said. “So, I gotta wonder – what’s your angle?”
“It’s…complicated,” he answered.
She shrugged and walked away, “Have a nice life,” she called back over her shoulder.
Brian hurriedly paid the bill and chased her out into the street. When she saw him jogging up behind her she called out, “What’s the matter? You can’t find women the old-fashioned way?”
“Look, if everyone is just out for themselves, then you’d be a fool not to take advantage of me.”
She thought about it for a moment. “I guess you have a point. What do you suggest?”
“Why don’t we get you some new clothes to start?” he suggested.
“Oh, so now you’re criticizing my fashion sense.”
“Not at all, but I’ve never met a woman who didn’t want to who didn’t want to go shopping for clothes,” he said.
“That’s sexist,” she said, “but I’ll overlook it this time, because you’re going to buy me a new outfit.”
“It’s the least I can do.”
She had forgotten how comfortable a bed with clean sheets could feel. The touch of the fine cotton against her skin was such a refreshing change from the old sleeping bag and thrift store yoga mat she had slept on for the past month. Chris stretched out and turned over on her side, letting herself sink deep into the soft mattress.
Next to her Brian lay sleeping, his chest rising and falling in a slow regular rhythm. He had been so kind to her, even when she hadn’t deserved it. Earlier that day, he had bought her new clothes and shoes. He had tried to get her to throw away the old shoes and sweatpants, but she had steadfastly refused. She had cited sentimental reasons, and Brian finally given up. In truth, she knew that she would need them again.
At first, she had thought that she could get a free meal, and then later a change of clothes from Brian. If the poor sucker wanted to throw his money away, she thought, then she wasn’t going to complain. But as the day wore on and she got to know him better, she started to like him. He could be skittish and awkward, but he was also genuine and thoughtful. She discovered that, more than anything, she just wanted someone to talk to.
Chris wasn’t sure when it happened, but her despair had vanished, and she no longer wanted to kill herself. She was no closer to finding a solution to her problem, but now it felt more like a difficult problem and not an impossible one. It wasn’t much of an improvement, but it was enough. To her surprise, she was actually enjoying herself with Brian, and even started to laugh when he would say something funny. He seemed odd and out-of-place like she was. The poor fool would never know how he had saved her life.
The afternoon promised to be a hot one so they ducked inside a movie theatre to watch the matinée. Afterward they went out for dinner and then wandered through the park making small talk. It amused her how he was always following her wherever she went, like he was a lost puppy dog. She would suddenly run ahead only to have him come running after her, like he couldn’t bear to be apart.
Eventually the twilight had given way to darkness, and the evening came to an end. Despite all the things that had happened to her in the past few months, it was still one of the best dates she had ever been on. They were sitting on a bench when Brian hesitantly brought up the idea of having her sleep on his couch until she could get back on her feet. She had suggested the bedroom. When he had said that he didn’t mind sleeping on the couch if she wanted the bed, she had slid down the bench, grabbed the sides of his head, and kissed him hard on the lips.
It was exactly what she had needed. She had been alone for too long, and had forgotten how much she missed the simple connection that came from talking to another person. He was as gentle and understanding in the bedroom as he had been all day, and she had tried to be the wild and exciting woman that she thought he needed. She had to admit Brian had lucked into a particularly attractive version of her. Too bad for him these pouty lips and full breasts would be gone in a few hours, never to be seen again. And Chris would be gone even sooner than that. She had already decided to sneak out and had placed her sweatpants, t-shirt and old shoes on the chair by the bed. She just wanted to lie in this bed with him for five more minutes.
Chris woke to the familiar pain of the change and brace herself for the inevitable. She clenched her teeth and gripped the sheets tightly in her hands. It was only then that she remembered where she was and that she wasn’t alone. She shot a quick glance at Brian, but he was snoring lightly, blissfully unaware of what was happening in the bed next to him. Too late to do anything but curse herself for falling asleep, she lay there until the pain had receded.
She looked down at her body and was disappointed to see she was a man again today. That made it all the more important that she get out of the apartment as fast as she could. She grabbed the pile of her clothes and slunk off to the bathroom, locking the door behind her. Chris found her watch quietly beeping its alarm from inside the pile. She switched it off so it didn’t wake Brian and put it on. Next, she slipped on her sweatpants and t-shirt, but she left her shoes off lest she make too much noise.
There was no time to use the shower, but she decided the least she could do was wash her hands and face before she left. As she stepped in front of the mirror, she was stopped cold by what she saw. It was not only a man’s face she saw there, it was Brian’s face!
The doorknob rattled and turned. “Are you going to be long?” asked Brian from the other side of the door.
She started to answer bit immediately cut herself off when she heard the deep tone of her voice. Trying to cover her mistake, she took a sip from a nearby bottle of mouthwash, and gargled loudly. After spitting, she ran the water just for the noise. Chris panicked as she looked for another way out. She went to the window but the apartment was too high up to leave that way. She would only wind up breaking her legs.
“Is everything all right in there?”
“Um-hmm,” she hummed in her best falsetto.
“I just need a minute,” he said. “I really have to go.” The doorknob turned as Brian tried the door again.
She was trapped, and there was only one way out.
Brian stretched out on the bed like a well-fed cat waking up from a nap. He couldn’t remember the last time he had slept so soundly. As he looked at the clock by his bed, his eyes shot wide open. Seven hours! He had a sudden anxiety attack about the time wasted sleeping before he remembered Chris and his return to a normal speed of living. He heard a quiet rustle from the bathroom and relaxed. The bed was empty beside him, but he knew she was still close. After all, if she had left, he would have sped up again.
It had been hard enough thinking of things to keep her from leaving yesterday. He had bought her clothes to begin with, and then they had seen a movie. Finally the had ended the evening with a walk in the park. It had been the greatest day of his life.
It had taken some getting used to. He was accustomed to everything moving so much more slowly. Simple acts liking crossing the street required his complete concentration to keep from getting nailed by some speeding motorist. Even the crowds in the stores had stopped being slow-moving mannequins and had become real people, bustling about and living their own lives.
The last time he had been in a theatre, he had left after twenty minutes. He couldn’t stand the slow pace of the action on the screen. But now, he was enjoying himself, even the movie wasn’t particularly good. Chris seemed to enjoy it though, so he guessed it was worth it.
His favourite part had been the evening walk in the park, however. Just the simple act of being able to move around at the same pace as everyone else reminded him of how much his condition separated him from the rest of humanity. He had been an outsider moving through the world, but now he felt like a part of it. This was how people were meant to live. He couldn’t stop grinning.
As it got later, he started to worry that she might disappear. He didn’t want her to go, at least not until he found out how she was affecting him. If she disappeared back into the city streets, he might lose his chance at a normal life altogether. He’d never been particularly good with women, even before he’d changed, and at breakfast, she had already suggested that he only wanted her for sex. That made the task of getting her to come home with him that much harder. If only he could tell her the truth, he thought, it would make it so much easier, but she would never believe him.
Much to his relief, it had been Chris who had made the first move. The few encounters he’d had over had been brief affairs by necessity of his condition. He’d never found anyone to whom he could confide the truth, and faking it for more than a few hours was too exhausting. With Chris, everything was different. If he could convince her to stay, he could start living like a human being again.
The pressure in his bladder was starting to get the better of him, so Brian got out of bed to see what was taking her so long. He tried the bathroom door, but it was locked. He called through the door, “Are you going to be long?”
He heard the sound of gargling inside and then running water. After waiting another minute, he thought he heard the window open and close. “Is everything all right in there?” he asked.
“Umm-mmm,” came the muffled response.
The running water in the sink reminded him how much he needed to pee. “I just need a minute,” he said. “I really have to go.” He tried the door again, but it was still locked. Brian waited for a minute or two, but there was no change. He was starting to get worried. Except for the few brief hours they had spent together, he knew nothing about this woman. She might be doing drugs or hurting herself. He needed to get in there now. “If you don’t answer me, I’m coming in there.” His demand was met only with silence.
Brian went back to his closet and grabbed a wire coat hanger. Bending back the hook he jabbed it into the doorknob to release the lock. The door swung open, but he did not find Chris inside. Instead, there was a strange man sitting on the floor with his back to the wall. His knees were curled up tight to his chest, and his hands covered his face. He wasn’t sure, but he thought the man was crying.
“What the hell…?” Brian charged into the room and grabbed the man’s arms to pull them away, but when he saw the man’s face, he was stopped cold. It was like looking in a mirror, but not quite. His hair was parted on the wrong side and it didn’t move when he did. Stunned, he let go of the man’s arms and stood up. “As far as I know, I don’t have a twin brother. You better start explaining yourself.”
The man did not answer, but instead curled up into a ball with his head resting on his knees and his arms wrapped around his head as of the ceiling was about to come down on top of him.
“Who are you,” Brian demanded, “and what are you doing here? Where’s Chris?”
“I’m Chris,” the man whimpered.
“I’m Chris,” he repeated, more forcefully. The man looked up at Brian, but the look of sadness on his face was replaced by one of surprise. “What happened to you?” he asked.
“What do you mean?” asked Brian. He turned to look at the mirror on the medicine cabinet. It was still his face, but it was one he remembered from ten years ago, before his increased speed had carved the lines of a middle-aged man on him. Now he had another mystery to deal with.
Oh no, she thought, it’s contagious. What have I done?
This was how it had started with her. At first there were small changes, and then it had gradually spread to her whole body. She watched as he poked his own face to see if it was real. Maybe it wasn’t too late to stop it. Maybe if she left now, it wouldn’t happen to him, but he was blocking the door.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I was going to leave before this happened, but I fell asleep. Please just let me go.”
“No,” he said. “You’re not going anywhere until I get some answers. First off, where’s Chris? What have you done with her?”
“I told you. I am Chris.”
Brian shook his head and frowned.
“Do you want me to tell you how we met? What I had at breakfast? The movie we saw? The things you whispered in my ear in bed? What will it take to convince you?”
His expression changed from one of desperation to confusion. “The clothes you’re wearing. The things you know. It’s not possible, but it must be true.” He walked away leaving her alone in the bathroom.
That was not the reaction I had expected, she thought. It should have been a lot harder to convince him.
Chris grabbed a wad of toilet paper to wipe away the tears before she followed him. She found him sitting on his couch, lost in thought. “I’m really sorry,” she said. “I don’t know why this is happening. It just started a couple of months ago for no reason.” She plopped herself down at the other end of the couch as Brian continued to stare off into space. “I don’t have any control over it. It just happens once a day, every morning. That’s why you found me out on the street. You can’t survive in this culture when you lose your identity. Even simple things like earning a living become impossible.”
“But why do you look like me,” he asked.
“I honestly don’t know,” she answered. “It’s the first time I’ve ever changed into someone I know. Up until now, it’s always been random people. Maybe it’s because every time before this I was alone. I just don’t know.”
“So are you even a woman?” asked Brian. “How does this work?”
“I tell you that strange and unexplained things are happening to me and your default is homophobia?” she said. “Nice.”
“I didn’t mean it that way,” he said. “Just answer the question, will you?”
“Until this started happening,” she said, “I was a woman and never wanted to be anything else. Your male ego can sleep soundly knowing you didn’t get it on with a guy last night. If you want to worry about something, consider that it’s started happening to you too.”
“What do you mean?”
“When the changes started happening to me, it was just small differences at first. Like how you look ten years younger. I’m so sorry. I had no idea it could affect other people.”
“What, this?” he asked, pointing to his face. “No, I don’t think that’s what happened.”
“I know it’s my fault,” she said, “and I’ll never forgive myself, but you have to take me seriously. This…whatever this is, it’s completely ruined my life!”
“I don’t doubt that it’s been difficult for you,” he said, “but I haven’t been entirely honest with you either. You see, I have an affliction of my own. I was growing old too fast. I’m only thirty years old. This is the face I should have.”
“How is that possible? ” she asked. “You’re saying I actually helped you?”
“As strange as it seems, yes. Ever since I was fifteen, I’ve been moving at two to three times as fast as everyone else. And it’s not just aging, but also walking, talking, eating…everything. That was, until you came along.”
“For fifteen years?” she asked. “Wow, I thought a couple of months was bad. So that’s why you came after me and spent all that money. You were trying to figure out what was different about me.” She let out a little laugh. “Well, now you know.”
“I think being around you for that long gave my body enough time to heal the damage,” he said, “but if you leave, it’ll start over again. You’ve given me back a decade of my life at the very least.”
“And you helped me too,” she said. “In more ways than you’ll ever know.”
“I know it’s kind of sudden,” he said, “but if you need a place to crash while we figure this out, you’re welcome to stay here. I mean, no strings attached. I’ll sleep on the couch or whatever.”
“Thanks,” she said. “So…when you say you did everything faster, did you mean ‘everything’?”
“Shut up!” he barked and then smiled wryly. “I didn’t hear you complaining last night. And it would only be fast from their point of view, not mine.”
“That’s terrible!” she said. “I guess it didn’t make for too many second dates.”
“At least I’m not the one who thought superpowers were a sexually transmitted infection.”
“How do two people like us find each other among the billions of people on the planet?”
“I don’t know,” he answered. “I’ve never believed in fate, or karma, or any of that crap. I think that when shit happens, you hang a name on it afterward so it doesn’t seem so scary. If it was meant to be, then you don’t have to blame yourself if you haven’t found the right person. It’s all up to some unknowable force out there in the universe.”
“I guess we’re stuck with each other,” she said and smiled. “I bet you always wondered what it would be like to kiss yourself.”
“How about just a hug,” he said. “This is going to take some getting used to.”