Once we entered the sanctuary, the foreboding feelings only worsened.
It didn’t help that we were accosted by what looked like Frankensim’s mistress, hanging on the wall.
And once we found the spellcaster, my blood boiled. “I can’t believe it.”
“What, Dr. D?” Charlene asked.
“It’s HIM!” I yelled, pointing. “The genie!”
I marched over to him and ordered, “Take this curse off of us now.”
The man glided to his feet and surveyed us up and down. “Are you speaking to…me?”
“Yes, are you kidding? Take this curse off us now, fucking asshole, or I’ll wipe that smirk off your face.”
The genie arched his eyebrow and said, “Oh yes…you’re the impudent rats from Selvadorada. I see you have not changed. Pity.”
Charlene piped up, “No, we haven’t changed. We’ve been like this for weeks. You tricked us. You said you’d give us a blessing but you didn’t. You lied.”
He waved his fingers. “No, my dear, I never lie…I did indeed give you a blessing. But is it my fault you have not accepted this gift yet? I told you it would be up to you.”
I glared. “Stop talking in riddles. Tell us how to change back.”
“If you want us to do something, please, show us the way!” Charlene pleaded.
“I’ve told you all you need to know. It is out of my hands. Once a blessing is set in motion, it cannot be taken back.” He made a grand gesture. “After all…you asked for it.”
With a wave of his hand, a ball of fire ignited. “And now…it is time…
“for you to leave my sanctuary and never return.”
Before I could move, a shot jolted through me painfully.
And next thing I knew, I was standing in front of Elsebeth where she’d first said goodbye to us only moments earlier.
“Uh oh…don’t tell me he saw through the disguise,” Elsebeth said.
Charlene hung her head. “He…uh…was the one who’d cursed us.”
“Oh dear. No wonder no one could help you. If the great Simllama put the curse on you, there’s nothing you can do. I’m sorry.”
Then she added, “But look on the bright side. There’s a full moon tonight. That means free drinks at the Glowing Spindle. Tell the bartender Elsebeth sent you. Okay?”
She gave us detailed directions on how to get to the pub then said goodbye. Although the people here were a little strange, that was, at least, hospitable. Charlene looked like she was about to cry. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“How can you even ask that, Dr. D? We’re stuck and it’s all my fault. You’re going to be me for the rest of your life and I’m…”
I didn’t want to hear it. I cut her off, “Come on, Charlene. Free drinks are free drinks. We might as well get something good out of this bizarre place.”
Elsebeth sent us to a portal that took us right to the bar. Oasis Springs needed one of these. It would definitely cut down on pollution and the stripping of the ozone layer.
As Charlene ordered our flaming fizzes, our situation hit me full force. My mind sifted through all the details of what we were up against. Charlene didn’t have family so that would be easy. We wouldn’t have to explain things to her side. But what about mine? My mother would see right through Charlene’s behavior and know she wasn’t me. And what of my job? Every thought of what lie ahead made my stomach tighten in knots.
“Earth to Dr. D…now I’m gonna ask you what’s wrong. There’s a full drink in front of you and you haven’t guzzled it. What’s wrong with this picture?”
“I’m…not in the mood to guzzle.”
“Hey…you said yourself you wanted to forget about today and tomorrow and just live it up tonight. I think that’s a great idea.”
She lifted her drink and said, “Bottoms up!”
Sighing, I dutifully “guzzled” my drink, welcoming the warmth sloshing down my throat. It tingled, no doubt due to some sort of magical properties. Nothing would ever surprise me after this journey.
Charlene wouldn’t let us stop at one flaming fizz, so we had to down four. And that was fine by me. The alcohol effects were a welcome relief to the reality of our situations. I decided not to worry and go with it.
“It” happened to be dancing in laser lights with an almost inebriated Charlene.
I’ll never forget that one night when I found her dancing her heart out at that dive bar. She was so pretty and full of life. So different from me in her body.
And now, here she was in front of me in my body. She hadn’t changed. She was still that pretty girl, full of life and fun to be with. And if she wasn’t making me rage with anger, she put laughter in my heart so much that I found I didn’t take things so seriously all the time. Something I desperately needed to do.
She pulled on my hand and shouted over the loud music, “Come on, Dr. D! Dance!”
And I did. I danced for a solid hour, laughing my ass off and sweating like I’d run a marathon.
All of the dancing made us hot and thirsty. I asked the bartender to give us their best beer and he handed me two bottles of Golden Glitches with a wink. I shrugged and led Charlene out to a picnic table on the pub’s grounds.
As we settled onto the cold stone bench, Charlene sighed. “Who would have thought my life goal to become an archaeologist would force me to become something else.”
I cocked my head. “What do you mean?”
“Think about it, Dr. D…I can’t be a PhD certified braniac archaeologist with only a bachelor’s degree. And I can’t get another degree when you already have one. I’m stuck. And I’ll have to resign from your position. I’m sorry but living a lie just sucks. Maybe I’ll become a gay fashion model. At least you have the body for it.”
I stared, not believing what I was hearing. “Charlene, you’re not going to become anything but whatever you want to be. I’ll help you. Remember, I haven’t left your side. We’ll work on this together until you get that PhD. I’ll tutor you. There are graduate programs you can take online.”
I stuck my finger at her. “Remember. I’m still your professor. You’re not getting off that easy.”
She laughed. “Okay, Dr. D, if you say so. I’ll try my best not to screw it up this time. Here’s to a better future as each other.”
And we clinked our bottles.
The beer descended fast and tasted refreshing.
Amazingly, Charlene gulped hers down at record speed.
When she’d finished, she said, “Dr. D, can you get us a few more? These things disappear super fast.”
She didn’t drink more than half a bottle when she passed out. Her snores reverberated through the air and I shook my head.
What was I going to do with her?
She looked so innocent and beautiful sleeping there on the picnic table.
And damn it, I’d put her through rigorous workout sessions and she’d bulked up.
Which hurt my back as I had to get us to Glimmerbrook for the night.
Finally, I couldn’t carry her anymore and I slipped her on a couch at a park. She seemed to sleep easily there.
But I was anything but easy. I’d secured rooms at the Glimmerbrook Lodge and it was almost 3:00 in the morning. “Charlene, wake up! We need to go.”
She threw her hand over her eyes and said, “Wha? Huh? Just a few more minutes, Dr. D. You don’t have to be a hardass 24-7.”
She was so exasperating. I’d had enough. She was an adult. She could find her way back. “Fine. Stay here for all I care.”
She raised up and rubbed her eyes. ‘Okay okay! I’m up. God, you’re such a pain.”
I wanted to leave her there. I almost did, but something told me to stop. I didn’t know what it was…just a thought or a knowledge.
What if I’d hurt her feelings? I didn’t mean to. She just frustrated me all the time. I was being an asshole. Didn’t she call me that about a thousand times before this happened to us? I didn’t want to be an asshole.
I went back and wrapped my arm around her to make sure she was okay. “Listen, I’ll help you just…we have to make it to Glimmerbrook in 30 minutes.”
Charlene held my gaze for a beat too long. “Dr. D, I…”
And then before I knew it, she pulled me over the couch and kissed me.
But I didn’t fight it. I succumbed to the softness of her lips. The smell of her skin.
The beautiful person she was.