Chapter 6.43

Liam

I hated everything about Charlene’s apartment. The colors. The old smell. The chipped paint.

It was so broken down, cracked, and probably moldy.

An obvious health hazard.

But she kept it the best she could with fake flowers and a few decorations.

The worst part was her trash heap of a room. She was an absolute slob! I mean, how could people live like this?

I’d left it alone for long enough. I thought we’d be back to our own bodies by now. But it seemed the genie was still playing his sadistic game.

After tidying up, I still wasn’t satisfied. If I was going to make the best of things, I wasn’t living another minute in this dump.

There was only one thing left for me to do.

Myla’s mother was a real estate broker. It was time I changed addresses.

“Thank you for meeting with me, Mrs. Owens,” I said as I walked up to Myla’s mother. She’d helped me and Zack try to find a home before Dad offered to buy the house of my dreams. And since Myla was Charlene’s best friend, it wasn’t too weird for me to ask for help.

“Are you sure you can afford this address, Charlie?” Myla asked. “Places around here go for $2000 a month or more.”

“I certainly could find a cheaper apartment for you that would be much nicer than what you’re already in,” Mrs.Owens added.

I laughed nervously, trying to think up a good lie on how my income went from 0 to plenty in a matter of a week. “Well…uh…Dr. Day said he’d take me on as a TA next year, so with that and a windfall from a…um…r-rich uncle…you know…this will be fine.”

“Oooooo…” Mala sang. “You and Dr. Day! Zack told me about you two. You took me up on my advice! You’ve GOT to tell me all the details, girl, when you get a chance! You’ve been holding out!”

“Heh…you’ve got it all wrong, Myla. Dr. Day and I are platonic. Honest!”

“Are you ready to see the apartment then?” Myla’s mom interrupted.

I wanted to thank her for the diversion. Thanks to my brother’s wild imagination, everyone thought I was dating Charlene.

*****

The apartment was more than I’d expected for something so small and relatively cheap. If Charlene and I came though this experience without killing each other, I did want to make her a TA next year. She needed the extra income and I could use the help with my research.

Myla assisted me with using some of Charlene’s things in decorating. Once we were finished, I knew Charlene would approve.

And the view out of the bedroom window was amazing. It reminded me of the time I saw the view of Oasis Springs for the first time with Ginny.

I hadn’t even thought about Ginny since I’d experienced this curse. The familar pang wrung through me but all it did was make me numb.

Turning toward Myla, I said, “Hey, thanks for the help. Couldn’t have done it without you.”

“Anytime, bff. And I hope to God you show a certain professor this room. It has a romantic ambiance he’s sure to love. I know Zack’s a romantic. I bet his brother is, too!”

My face warmed. I couldn’t imagine even being with Charlene as ourselves let alone…Why did everyone have a one track mind about us? I guessed I couldn’t blame them. We were inexplicably attached because of this weird situation. To try to keep them off the scent was exhausting. I just smiled. No use in trying to explain why we were always together.

*****

When I met Charlene at the gym the next day, she squealed and covered her face. “What the HELL did you do to my hair?”

My stomach lurched. I thought she’d at least like it a little bit. I knew I shouldn’t have gone along with that hair dresser in coloring it. But maybe she hated the length.

“I…uh…asked the hair dresser to do a current style. But if it’s the length you’re worried about, I can assure you it’ll grow out. Are you that mad about it?”

Her face beamed. “Hell no, Dr. Day! It’s so pretty! I just didn’t ever have the funds to color my hair or go to a fancy salon. Omg! I’m so happy I could kiss you!”

I shot her a look. “Please don’t. I couldn’t take my face anywhere near yours.”

She snorted. “You’re so hilarious when you’re mad, Dr. D. Hey, listen, I don’t mean to change the subject but I’ve found something totally amazing! The genie showed me that note someone sent you about Ginny!”

My eyes narrowed. “What note?” Then I remembered. A student, Yarita Wiles, who had stalked me a few years ago, sent me the worst piece of trash about Ginny.

I got her to confess that she’d made the whole thing up and she apologized, saying she just wanted me to not be depressed and to move on.

All it did was make me miss Ginny more. After that, I had a strict policy of not getting close with my students.

I shook my head and practically spat, “One of my crazy students sent me that, Charlene. It’s a load of garbage.”

Disappointment colored her features. “Oh. I see.”

But then she waved her arms emphatically. “Explain this though, Dr. Day. It felt like the genie practically SHOWED me where the note was. Do you think that even though the girl made it up that somehow she was right? I mean…how can you explain that I knew something was in your drawer?”

I rolled my eyes. “Honestly, Charlene, that’s just a coincidence. I thought I’d thrown that stupid thing out a long time ago. But seriously listen to yourself. You expect me to believe that Ginny is living in Sulani with her mermaid husband and children? That’s insane.”

She cocked her head. “Yeah…it is kind of a stretch but…I don’t know…the feeling I got was so real. Like the genie put it in my mind that I was about to stumble on the key to us breaking the curse. But I guess you’re right. Just forget I said anything.”

I grabbed one of the arm machines, throwing all my frustrations out in training.

The weights clanked as we both did our sets. After a while, Charlene said, “Dr. D, I really think you need to start dating. Yarita was kind of right. You’ve got to move on. It’s the only way you’re going to be happy and us break the curse.” Charlene effortlessly pushed the weights up with my muscles.

God, I’d give anything for my body to be mine again. I groaned, “I’m…not…dating…while in this…

“Arrrgh…BODY!”

Next we ran a few miles on the treadmill. Although weights had been a problem, I was getting used to running. And as I plodded along, I thought about what Charlene had said. Maybe she was right. Maybe we both needed to start dating. I could always start with Zane…he wasn’t so bad for her. And if that made her happy, it would get me back soon and I could get on with my life.

“Charlene, what if I had you go out with Zane. He asked me out the other day. Would you like that?”

“Ew…no, Dr. D. Zane is soooo not me. He’s a total slob and lazy and like, all over the place.”

I raised my eyebrows. “You don’t like that?” They sounded like the perfect match!

“No, of course not. Now if you wanna set me up, how about your friend, Todd? He’s like crazy freaking hot.”

I stopped in my tracks. “Todd Monteira? No.”

“But why not?” she whined. “He’s a friend of yours and a scientist. I think we’d get along great.”

Todd Monteira was my best friend, but he was also a player. I wouldn’t trust him. But I didn’t want to tell Charlene that. “Dr. Monteira is on staff. And so he’s out of your reach.” This conversation was going nowhere.

More and more I felt like both of us were just grasping at unattainable straws.

What if I was doomed to be cursed with this body forever?

Chapter 6.42

Charlie

Whew! I was finally HOME! Well…finally at Dr. Day’s house. And I wasn’t stepping one of his big shoes back at school for the rest of the week. God, I hoped I was right about the genie wanting us to make the other’s life happy. Unfortunately with my huge blunder with Dr. Monteira, I knew I was stinking it up.

But I wasn’t going to think about that. From now on, call me Extra Careful. It was time to make nice healthy fish tacos for supper. Something Dr. Day would be proud of. Like I NEVER ate fish. Couldn’t afford it, mostly. And yeah, sure, fish wasn’t exactly vegan but it was close. Right? As close as I was ever going to get.

To be honest, I kinda liked being Dr. Day. I mean, I felt super guilty that I got to live in this extra gorgeous house, buying whatever the heck I pleased at the store, and getting respect at the university by someone like Todd Monteira.

And seriously, I kinda sorta didn’t want to go back to my own life. Like yeah it sucked being a guy sometimes.

Peeing standing up was straight up WEIRD.

I about DIED when I had to handle Dr. Day’s package. Like yeah…totally didn’t think I’d ever see THAT!

But after a few days, I got used to it. And I could get used to driving in his brand new Jeep Gladiator, too. Who wanted to go back to my beater? Not me.

“Liam…is that…tuna I smell?” Zack’s voice surprised me and I jumped.

Wow. Didn’t think Zack was a vegan, too. “Like yeah…um…decided I was going overboard with the whole vegan thing. Didn’t think fish would be a problem.”

He arched an eyebrow. “But you gave me a whole sermon about how the world is overfishing and you wouldn’t be a part of the depletion of an ecosystem.”

I chuckled, “Yeah…you know…sometimes I overthink things.”

“Mmmm…I like this new you, Liam,” Zack’s friend, Reed said. I’d gotten to know him a little yesterday. He was really cute and very gay and I got the idea he had the hots for Dr. Day.

Which now that I thought about it, made things SUPER convenient for me, too. I winked at him. “So glad you approve.”

Zack’s eyes grew two sizes as I served our meal. Uh oh…maybe I should dial down my personality. Wouldn’t want Zack calling 911 to get me committed or anything.

“I didn’t know you were such a gourmet chef, Liam,” Reed added.

But damn this was fun. I couldn’t help myself but flirt back. “You’ll find I’m full of surprises.”

“I can’t wait for you to unveil them all to me, dear,” Reed said with a sultry look. “May I have a taste?”

Zack

Ever since Liam came back from the jungles, he hadn’t acted like himself. I could only attribute the change to his new relationship with Charlie. He was so relaxed. Happy even. I felt badly for busting his balls about changing his stance on veganism. He’d talked me into the lifestyle, so it was a bit upsetting he’d throw all his morals out the window for a woman. But if it’d made him happy, I’d support him in whatever way I could. He had been so broken that I thought I’d never see his old spirit and love of life again.

I enjoyed how he was clowning with Reed, too–giving it back to him like I did. Something the old Liam would never do.

“You’ll find Liam is a brilliant chef, Reed, although I’ve never tasted his meat dishes.”

He took a crunchy bite. “Mmm…the smoky flavor mixed with the slaw slides over my tongue in the most titillating way, Liam. I’m getting goosebumps.”

I laughed. “God, Reed. Why does everything you say have to be X rated?”

“It’s a slam dunk then!” Liam said, sitting down next to Reed. Whoa. That was a first. Usually, Liam would say a few niceties then slide out, giving us some excuse about grading tests or doing research.

“Oh that was yummy,” Reed said, practically cooing at my brother. “What’s for dessert? If you don’t have anything, I’ve got a few ideas.”

My brother winked and said, smoothly, “I bet you do, big boy. Maybe I’ll have you whip something up for me sometime.”

“By all means, sweetheart, just say the word. And I might have a bit of whip cream to add to the dish.”

I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. My brother was totally flirting with Reed–my best friend who honestly made Liam uncomfortable with all of his romantic teasing. It was like Liam was a different person now. It confused the hell out of me, but maybe this was my brother’s new normal. Why did it send up red warning flags to my inner peace? Like my brother was on the verge of a mental meltdown?

Charlie

Omg, that Reed was a HOT TAMALE! We had so much fun flirting back and forth. All harmless. Not gonna lie, it satisfied a whole boatload of fujoshi fantasies I’d had back when I was in high school. But now, real life and my situation hit me like an ancestral totem pole. Dr. Day deserved better than me having fun in his body. I owed it to him to make his life better. But how?

Dr. Day had it all. Heck, I wanted to be him. But I knew he wasn’t happy. What he needed was a beautiful woman who could help bring sunshine and rainbows to his heart.

Someone like Ginny.

I wondered if there were any old emails or love notes or something that Ginny had left that would clue me in on the type of girls Dr. Day liked. I could ask him myself but I knew he’d tell me to go jump in that archway and never come back. No…I had to figure it out myself.

I’d no sooner clicked on his inbox when I heard a knock. “Come in,” I said.

It was Zack, staring at me like I was some specimen in a petri dish. “Liam, could we talk?”

“Sure, bro, what’s on your mind?”

“I just wanted to say that I really like the changes I see in you. Ever since our sister’s death, then Ginny’s disappearance, you haven’t been the same. And honestly, I wasn’t thrilled about Charlie, but if you’re happy, I want to tell you I one hundred percent am in your corner. Just tell me if you’re feeling badly about anything. Got it? I’m here for you.”

That shocked me. His sister had died, too? I remember seeing her cute face in an old photograph he’d had in his office. Wow. No wonder he never smiled. He never told me about her. But then why would he? I was just some dumb crazy student in his class that he didn’t like to teach anyway.

And awww…Zack was such a great brother! Of course, I knew that. He was an awesome boyfriend to Myla. So, I tried to sound as much like Dr. Day as possible to reassure him his big bro wasn’t going bonkers. “Thank you for that, Zack. It means a lot. But just for the record, I am not seeing Charlene. We are friends only.”

He smiled at me like he didn’t believe me. Rubbing my shoulder he said, “Okay. I understand. Have a good night, Liam.”

When he left, I got a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach. It was like that genie was trying to send smoke signals to me. What was it?

A crazy knowledge swept through me, telling me to look inside Liam’s dresser.

I didn’t want to snoop. Like what would be in there anyway?

I fought with myself until I couldn’t take it. I had to look. Peering into each drawer, I noticed all of his socks were neatly folded, color coordinated. And his underwear. Nothing different from before. But then I saw a green piece of paper peeking out from his undershirts.

When I looked it over, what I found made my mouth drop.

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Chapter 6.41

Liam

After Ancient Metals, I found Charlie at my desk with a satisfied smirk on her face. Well…MY face.

“What’s with you giving my class the whole week off? Do you realize I have a curriculum to complete?”

She waved her hand. “Come on, Dr. Day, I thought you’d compliment me on my quick thinking. Do you REALLY want me to teach your class all week long? You think I wouldn’t mess up something? Seriously, I’m surprised you didn’t come up with this idea for yourself.”

I countered, “But that’s a whole week of assignments and learning they won’t get. You could have at least asked me about it, Charlene. I don’t like you going ahead and making huge decisions like that without checking with me first. This is MY life you’re screwing around with.”

“I know! Don’t you think I didn’t figure that out? Dr. Day, I think I KNOW what the genie wants us to do!”

I arched an eyebrow at that. “Okay. I’m listening.”

“So like my life was in a serious downward spiral. Everything was shitty. I had an awful professor who hated me, no offense, no money, a crappy car that didn’t work half the time, I live in the worst of apartments, and if I don’t make my grades, I was going to lose my scholarship. You, on the other hand, have an awful life, too. You just don’t know it yet. You’re not happy. You lost your girlfriend…no…the love of your life. And you’ve got the worst case of stick up your ass I’ve ever seen! The genie wants us to make each others lives happy. So, that’s what I’m going to do from now on. Help you out, Dr. Day. I’ve already started with your wardrobe. You’re rocking this outfit, if I do say so myself!”

I narrowed my eyes. “I highly doubt that stupid genie cares about making us happy, Charlene, or about my wardrobe. He cursed us. And you giving my class a whole week off only makes me even more stressed out.”

“Okay, fine, Dr. Day, don’t believe me. But I’m still going to try to make your life better whether you like it or not.”

“Charlene, let me make myself perfectly clear–leave MY life alone. Got it? I don’t need your help. But what I am going to do with this time is study about that curse in our library. Hopefully, there will be some texts on it. I suggest you do the same.”

Charlene only laughed at me and leaned back in MY office chair like it was hers. Shaking my head, I stormed out of my office. There was no convincing her. I just had to do the research on my own and figure out what to do to break this terrible curse.

Hours passed as I read book after book about talisman, curses, voodoo, and genies.

But there were no legends about what had happened, nothing about switching souls. We were stuck. My eyes grew heavy as Charlene’s body was wiped out from the morning’s work out. I fell asleep.

*****

After I’d woken up, the more I thought about Charlene’s words, the more what she said made sense. My mind scrolled over what the genie had said. It was up to us if we were going to receive the blessing. If I made Charlene’s life more bearable, maybe that was just the thing to bring us back to our own bodies. It was worth a shot.

So I drove in her awful, smelly, ugly car to the shopping mall. That was one thing I could do for her. Buy her a new one, but first, her clothes were the worst hand me downs I’d ever seen. I hated all of them.

I thought about my father and how he’d dress up as Jenny when I was younger. If only I could ask him where to shop and what a woman would like to wear. Knowing him, he’d go to the fanciest place in town. Surely I could find better clothing for Charlene there.

God, I hated shopping. But I had to get it over with if I was going to break this damned curse.

I found a rack of nice clothes and went straight to work, trying on as many outfits as possible.

A nice salewoman helped me and after a few hours, I had enough new clothes to last weeks.

Next, I walked to a hair salon. Charlene wanted me to straighten her hair every morning, but I didn’t want to take the time. She had so much it was annoying. I missed my short hair, so I asked the hairdresser to give me something kids these days would like. Something stylish. I certainly knew nothing about women’s hairstyles.

The woman seemed to know what she was doing.

When she was done, I was thrilled. Charlene looked great with short hair. It really made her eyes pop. “Can you do my make up, too?” I asked the stylist.

After about an hour and $300 in cosmetics later, I couldn’t believe the transformation. “Take that, genie!”

I bet the curse would be broken in no time.

Charlie

I thought today was going pretty well. I mean, at least I didn’t have to worry about teaching Dr. Day’s class anymore. And so, if I didn’t have class, I couldn’t mess up anything. I was about to high tail it out of there when Dr. Day’s friend, Dr. Todd Montiera, stopped me before I could leave.

“Hey, Liam, we got a new artifact in, and I really need your help in assessing what it is. Could you meet me downstairs?”

I was about to make an excuse but his light grey eyes shot me right in the heart and I couldn’t help it. I said, “Sure…uh…I’ll be right down.”

“Dr. Winthrop thought you would know since your specialty is Selvadoradan pottery,” Dr. Montiera explained once we got to the lab room.

OMG, could the guy get any dreamier? I wanted to slip my hands through those luscious locks of his. Long hair was soooo sexy on a guy. But EEK! I had no clue what he wanted me to say, so I just did what I always did, I made something up. “Well, obviously it’s from the Coo-coo-ca-kaka period, dating to before the time of the Llama.”

His face was hard to read. Omg…I think I over did it.

“Coo-coo-ca-kaka? I’ve never heard of that period.”

“Um…like, yeah, i-it’s…um…not very well known. That’s why Dr. Winthrop had a hard time identifying it in the first place, right?”

His eyes narrowed. “Riiiight.”

“Eheheheh…” I half giggled, worried that the guy was onto me as a total fake.

“Liam, are you okay? Did…you hit your head when you were in the jungle?”

Oh, God! He WAS onto me!

I panicked and went on with my story. Making my voice all dorky and serious like Dr. Day’s, I said, “I’m just FINE, Todd, old boy old pal. What could possibly be wrong with me? Never felt better in my life. I’m still that stick in the mud, serious guy you’ve always known. Nothing has changed about me. Nope.”

“Really? Because Zack told me you haven’t been yourself since you came back from Selvadorada. He’s a little worried about you. Maybe you need some time off. You’ve obviously been working too hard.”

Oh God! I was screwing everything up. “Oh no…NO…I’m all good. You got nothing to worry about, dude! I just, you know, have been hanging with the students so maybe they’ve rubbed off on me a little bit. That’s all. No need to worry yourself and tell, like, my boss or anything. But hey, you know, I’ve got like this thing I have to go to so if you don’t mind, I’ll be running along. Good talking with you, though.”

“Yeah. Good talking with you.”

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Chapter 6.40

Liam

“So, you showed,” I said, truly surprised. Charlie always did whatever she wanted despite my reasoning or threats.

Glaring, she said, “Like I had a choice, Dr. Day.”

I crossed my arms. “It’ll be good for you. You might even like it. And what’s with the hair?” My body looked like it’d just tumbled out of bed. “And are you growing a beard? It looks terrible.”

“Your body is mine now. Remember? And I think you look hot like this.”

She added, “But you don’t give a flip about my body. You let my hair get all frizzy. Here. At least put it up and not sweat all over it.” She pulled my hair up into a braid of some sort. I had to admit, it felt much better.

“Okay, no more stalling,” I said. “Time to work.”

After only two minutes on the treadmill, I was sucking wind. My God, she was so out of shape.

“Wow, Dr. Day! This treadmill stuff is so much fun! I’d never believe I’m saying this, but I think I like working out.”

Just then I stumbled, trying not to throw up.

But I wasn’t going to give up. This body just needed a little time to adjust.

After ten minutes, I couldn’t take it anymore and hopped off. Wheezing, I breathed out, “Okay, you win. We don’t have to work out in the mornings every day.” My back was aching and I had the worst side stitch.

“Oh no, Dr. Day, you can’t give up now. I totally like this more disciplined regimen. And besides…do you really want me to let YOUR body go if you don’t work out with me?”

I shot her a side glance. “Fine. You drive a hard bargain. How about we meet in the middle? We’ll work out Monday, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Weekends off.”

She agreed. I shook my head. I wasn’t looking forward to work out days. Hopefully, it wouldn’t take me forever to not feel like coughing up a lung whenever I hit the treadmill.

Next, I gave her a few directions on when to arrive and what to say in class. I hoped she listened to me. I couldn’t tell because she was just smiling at me in a goofy way.

*****

When I settled into Charlene’s seat, the class was all here, waiting, but Charlene hadn’t shown up yet.

“Wow,” Susan said. “This is like a first, Charlie. Dr. Day is usually sitting at his desk, scowling at us. I wonder what’s up.”

I shrugged, trying to quell my anger at her tardiness. “Maybe he took a long hot shower. He does have a meticulous schedule.” I laughed a little, hoping nothing bad had happened to Charlene.

“I’d heard Dr. Day was here actually,” Thomas interjected. “Zane saw him coming out of the girl’s bathroom. He was so embarrassed when a girl kicked him out.”

My eyes narrowed. “Please tell me you’re joking.” I should have made Charlene use my PTO until this curse wore off. She was going to make me lose my job or get arrested!

Finally, ten minutes later, Charlene bounced in as if it was a normal thing that’d I’d show up late to a class I was teaching. I was going to have a serious talk with her.

“Hey, guys! Sorry I’m late. I forgot my phone at the gym and yeah, like I couldn’t be without this Power Point that I made for you.

“But then I realized that, like, you don’t want a boring Power Point. I said to myself, ‘Dr. Day, you wonderful, smart, handsome professor you…why don’t you give your students the day off so they can get a head start on that research report about the very exciting jungle expedition.’

“So, I’m making this proclamation–you may have not only this day but the whole week off! And when you get back, I’d love to see a nice shiny report in my inbox by midnight next Monday.”

The whole class erupted in applause.

“Uhhh…Dr. Day?” I yelled. “Can I see you after class?”

Charlene cocked her head. “Oh, I don’t need to see you, Charlie. You have the week off, too.”

“You’re going to see me whether you like it or not,” I said under my breath.

“Oh my God, Charlie. I think I’m in love. He’s like the coolest professor on the planet. I wonder what made him change.”

People were still cheering and Charlene was taking bows, winking and doing all kinds of unprofessional goofy gestures.

She WAS going to get me fired. Geeze. What was I thinking?

As soon as class ended, Charlene bolted, and I couldn’t find her. Unfortunately, Professor Woods caught me down the hall and practically forced me to go to Charlene’s next class. Thankfully, Ancient Metals was my specialty. When no one in the class would answer her questions, I’d go ahead. I really liked Dr. Woods as a colleague. She didn’t deserve the ungrateful students who looked as if they were really bored.

“That is correct, Charlie. You must have been doing a lot of studying.” Placing a hand on her hip she asked, “Now can anyone tell me what is the early period of the Bronze Age?”

I waited for several awkward beats before answering. The girl next to me was so rude, just looking at her phone. I also heard yawning behind me. So, I raised my hand again. “Um…that would be Chalcolithic, if I’m not mistaken.”

“Well done, Charlie. At least someone in here did their homework. Please take the rest of the period to go over your notes, class. We will have a quiz on Wednesday.”

Poor Professor Woods. I’d be really tough if my students treated me like this. I would have given them a pop quiz right then.

“Yo, Charlie. Smooth move there, brown-nosing with the teach,” Zane said.

“Brown-nosing? I did no such thing. Being prepared for class is what we as students are SUPPOSED to be doing. Have you even started on your research paper for Dr. Day’s class?” Zane was by far my laziest student. He barely made the required B to attend the expedition.

“Naw, I haven’t. But hey! Why don’t we go out for coffee and maybe you can give me some tips on how you went about yours. I’m assuming you’ve started. Right?”

Since all this madness happened, I haven’t even talked to Charlene about what she needed to do. We basically missed a whole week out of our lives. Was it fair to force her to write that paper based on results she never viewed? “I…uh…haven’t started on it, actually.”

“Then it’s a date. I’ve got work today, but I’m free tomorrow. We can go to Simbucks, get a coffee, and talk about our results. I know I could sure use the help.”

I bristled. No way should Charlene want to go on this study date with Zane. He was well beneath her in intelligence and in my opinion, not good enough for her overall. She needed someone that would push her, not bring her down. “Sorry, Zane, but I’ll pass. I work better alone.” His face fell at my words. But I didn’t feel sorry for him. He was just trying to use Charlene for her brains. I hoped she appreciated the favor I’d done in thwarting him.

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Chapter 6.39

Zack

My brother had been acting so freaking weird lately. The last I saw him, his girlfriend, Charlie, had him straddled over her back as she marched out of here. I didn’t know where they went but the next day, Charlie barged into our house like she owned the place.

“Zack…” she said with Liam cowering behind her. “Um…we’ll be in my…er…Liam’s room for a bit. Please don’t disturb us.”

Okay, so that was the last straw. This female dominatrix stuff was fine for the bedroom but they didn’t need to flaunt it in front of me. My God. What was happening to my brother? He looked like a whipped little boy, cringing at her every move. “Hey, Liam. Could I talk to you for a minute?”

“Who me?” he squeaked.

Charlie whipped a finger up and said, “Look, Zack, whatever you want to say to Liam, you can say in front of me. We’re…c-close now. So, ask away.”

What was this? Some sort of power play? Did Charlie have something on my brother and she was making him do things he didn’t want to? God. It was worse than I thought. But I wasn’t falling for it. Liam was going to have to talk to me about what was going on. Alone.

Jaw clenched, I said, “I want to speak to my brother without you, Charlie. Sorry. Family business.”

“Ha ha…family business. That’s a good one, Zack. What’s wrong? Dad dating another starlet? Mom is coming to visit? Seriously, you can say it to both of us.”

I put my hands on my hips. “Charlie, I don’t want to be rude but I need to speak to my brother by myself. Please.”

Sighing, she turned to Liam and said, “Hey…I’ll just be in the bedroom.” Then she whispered, “You’ll be fine.”

What the hell?

Looking at me with hooded eyes, my brother asked, “D-Did you want something?”

Who was this person? It was like he’d gotten hijacked by a weird cringy demon. “Are you okay? You look terrible. Is there something you want to tell me?”

His face looked so guilty like he was hiding something. “No! Honest! I don’t have anything to say. I just have to talk to Charlie. In my bedroom. A-Alone is all.”

“Liam, for God’s sake, I’m your brother. You can tell me. I know you haven’t gotten any in a while but is it worth it? I mean, come on! She’s totally ruling over you. I thought relationships were supposed to be equal. Dude, you’ve got to show her that you deserve respect.”

He shook his head and said, “No…honest. It’s not like that. Me and Charlie…like we’re not a thing. It’s just…we’re…um…working on a project. I’m…helping her and all. Like yeah, that’s it. Nothing else.”

Since when did he start using “like” all the time? Liam didn’t even talk like that when he was a teenager. “Dude. I know when something’s wrong with you. Spill already.”

“I’m totally and completely okay. Like yeah. Don’t have anything to tell you, so, I’ll be running along. Okay? Bro? Dude?”

Then he scuttled away from me and disappeared into the bedroom. Charlie must have had chains and whips in there. My poor brother. He was nothing but a nervous shell of himself. I hated seeing him like that.

But he was a grown man. If he liked BDSM, what could I do? I just hoped they were careful. That kind of shit could go wrong.

Charlie

“God, that was so embarrassing. Your brother thinks we’re screwing each other.”

Dr. Day was clacking away on his keyboard. “Let him. He’s too nosy into my love life anyway.”

“But he’ll tell Myla. I don’t want her to think we’re dating. This just sucks.”

Not looking up from his computer, he said, “This is only for a little while. I’m putting together a schedule for you so we don’t have to hang out like this. Then people will settle down. I can’t have anyone thinking we’re dating either. It’s against university policy for professors to date students.”

Bored, I looked around his totally pristine bedroom. It was like nothing would dare be out of place. No dust. No cockroaches. No holes in the walls like my tiny hovel.

Gazing at a picture of Ginny and him, I wondered what their relationship was like. He was such a cold person. Maybe he was different back then though. Ginny was so beautiful. So obviously put together and confident. The complete opposite of me. I bet she could do gymnastics and whip up a gourmet meal at the drop of the hat. I was lucky not to burn my daily ration of ramen noodles.

“How old were you in this picture?” I asked.

“Twenty. Seems like eons ago though.”

“I’m sorry about Ginny. You looked like the perfect couple.”

Focused on what he was doing, Dr. Day didn’t respond to my comment. Probably was too painful for him to talk about. “What are you typing up?” I asked. “It looks like a novel.”

He tapped a button and said, “It’s finished. I’ve texted you all my instructions, including my daily routine.”

My phone buzzed in my pocket. Glancing through the barrage of information and schedule, I blinked. “Oh my God, Dr. Day. Come on. Is that a 5:30 am wake up? What are you, a rooster?”

I shook my head. “I don’t think so. My feet don’t even get up before 8. And this line that says I’m supposed to work out at the gym? That’s not happening either.”

Dr. Day sighed. “Charlene, it’s not a big deal. You’ll get used to it. Just go to bed early. I’ll not have my body turn into a blob of goo because you’re inconvenienced.”

I scrolled through the impossible itinerary. “And how am I supposed to teach your class at 8:30 am when you have me working out, doing yoga, showering, itemizing artifacts, AND grabbing a breakfast smoothie beforehand? This is nuts!”

“You’re not teaching my class, Charlene. Notice I’m going to post the instructions on a power point. All you’ll do is go over what it says. I realize this will be a challenge for you, but I’m sure it’ll only be temporary. Just until we switch back.”

I flung myself on his bed. “Well, at least I get an upgrade in digs. This bed is heavenly.” I snuggled into the luscious pillowy mattress.

I almost giggled thinking about what was waiting for him at my apartment. “Oh and Dr. Day? Feel free to kick my body’s ass in the gym since, like, you’re into that stuff and all. I won’t mind a bit.”

He crossed his arms. “You’re going to join me in the gym at 6 am sharp, if you want to pass my class.”

“What?” I gasped, throwing my legs over the edge of the bed. “That’s blackmail. You know that’s against professor-student policy. I am soooo not an exercise person. Just kill me first.”

“Don’t tempt me,” he spat.

Liam

That insane genie knew what he was doing with this curse. Charlene was the exact opposite of me in almost every way. Trying to get her to follow my rigid program I’d set up for myself was going to be impossible. Thankfully, I could hold her grade over her head.

“I’ve set up a weekly allowance for you since you blew through all your money. I don’t understand how you could spend it all. Didn’t the university give you a meal plan and some cash with your full scholarship?”

Charlene knitted her eyebrows. “Yeah…about that…s-sorry, Dr. Day, um…like I didn’t know this was going to happen or I would have saved some of it. But yeah. I didn’t get the meal plan. I opted for cash and bought a beater with the money. I figured I’d get a job, but with studying and all, I just didn’t have the time. But don’t worry. I’ve stockpiled my cupboards. You know, with the five food groups? Mac n Cheese, ramen, donuts, brownies, and popcorn, so you won’t starve.”


I dropped down next to her not believing someone could live like that. “Just to let you know, THAT body is vegan, so you will not be poisoning it with any of THOSE disgusting foods you just mentioned.”

“Ewww…” she groaned. “Seriously? As in you eat a bunch of lawn clippings and pond scum and call it good-for-you? No thank you. I’m a meat and cheese kind of girl, Dr. Day. I’ll throw up if you make me eat some harvested algae or crap like that.”

All at once, it was like a weight pounded inside my head. I wanted to find that genie and beat the shit out of him. Unfortunately, that wasn’t going to happen.

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Chapter 6.38

Charlie

If I ever thought Dr. Day was a merciless asshole before, that was nothing compared to the force he wielded as a woman on a mission. Geeze. He wouldn’t listen to me. I didn’t want to be here. Like I’d told him before, the archway wouldn’t last. That’s why it was so mysterious and most people weren’t believed when they’d reported it. Plus, I was crazy lucky that I’d found it in the first place. But even if it was still there, that genie would just get mad and maybe do something even more horrible to us. But he was determined.

He spoke perfect Selvadoradan. Not gonna lie, it was amazing to watch him talk to the locals. I honestly thought he might have been flirting with one of the ladies. (So weird seeing that in my body.)

Had no freaking clue what he was saying. I thought he was supposed to get us some hotel rooms. But one of the guys started laughing at what Dr. Day had said.

And he took a bow for some reason.

The girl gestured for us to follow.

She ushered us to some weird old guy sitting inside a rickety house boat.

Dr. Day vehemently spoke like he was pleading his case.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Everything is full. There’s a lot of schools who’ve filled all the hotels in the area. But the woman I spoke with said this guy might have something.”

The old guy arched an eyebrow and said some words. Then eyed me up and down.

Dr. Day’s face didn’t make me feel comfortable.

Turned out there was only one tiny room with a single bed.

Dr. Day smirked. “Don’t worry, Charlene. You’re very safe sleeping with me.”

I shook my head. “I told you this is a waste of time. Let’s go back home.”

Glaring at me, he spat, “We’re finding that archway and we’re demanding the genie undo the curse. End of story, Charlene.”

I sighed. “Fine. But can we at least get something to eat? Your body is like a bottomless pit. I don’t get how you stay so skinny when it’s always hungry.”

“I work out. Something YOUR body desperately needs.”

I rolled my eyes. I certainly didn’t need a lecture. Especially from him. He had no idea what my life was like, but whatever. I decided not to argue. He was paying after all.

He chose a fancy place and got us a nice table.

“Ooo,” I crooned, looking at all the delicious dishes. “We should get a wine list, too. I need something to take the edge off.”

Not looking up, he said, “Just concentrate on the food. We need all our faculties when confronting that genie.”

“Aw, c’mon, doc, just one bottle. I hear Selvadoradan red wine is amazing. We might as well live a little.”

Eyes narrowing, he hissed, “Let me make myself very clear. We’re not here to have fun. We’re here because of your out of control stupidity that has placed me in your body. And as soon as we eat, we’re finding the archway.”

Okay, this surly attitude was getting old. Fast. “I don’t get how having a few glasses of wine would hurt.”

“Last time I checked, you don’t even have a nickle to your name, Charlene. That means I’m paying so what I say goes. Deal with it.”

I was like a pressure cooker about to blow. “Why do you have to be such an asshole?”

“Why do you have to be so irresponsible? It’s like you’re a little kid on a vacation. Your whole life is a mess. You have no money, you live in a pig stye, and if I hadn’t been such a stupidly nice person, you’d be flunking my class. So get this through your thick skull. We’re not friends. We aren’t on vacation. We’re cursed. And I’M the one who will get us uncursed. So for the rest of our time here, I’d appreciate it if you did what I said for once and shut the hell up!”

His words slapped me in the face. “Is that what you think of me?”

Liam

I normally was in total control. I’d perfected the art of having order in my life so I knew what to expect. After all that had happened to me and the people I loved, I didn’t like surprises. I didn’t like change. But Charlene jolted me. Made me unbalanced. And with this horrible experience we’d found ourselves in, I wasn’t acting like myself. I couldn’t believe I was the one out of control.

After I’d blurted some hurtful things, Charlene shuddered, tears welling up in her eyes.

Shaking my head, I said, “No…I…didn’t mean…”

She swallowed. “Yes, you did. Because it’s all true.”

Then she slid her chair back and ran away from me.

God. What was I doing?

I searched everywhere for her. She didn’t return to our room and no one had seen her. But then I figured she would be where I was going to look anyway.

At the place the archway used to be.

But she was right. The archway was gone. In its place was what looked like an antique couch.

“I’m sorry,” I said, feeling like a total jerk.

She sniffed, wiping her eyes.

“You were right, Charlene. I should have listened to you. Coming here was a huge waste of time.”

I motioned for her to sit down and I dropped next to her. “Look…I’ve been going over and over in my mind about what the genie had said to us. Maybe there’s a clue in there for us to figure out. I’m convinced that’s how we’ll get back to ourselves.”

“But…he didn’t really say anything, did he?” Charlene countered. “I mean, he just said he was going to curse us first.”

“Yes, but he also said it was up to us if we receive the blessing or not.”

Charlene gasped, “Do you think we’re going to be stuck like this forever? I mean, that’s not much to go on, Dr. Day.”

“I don’t know, but if we continue to fight, I bet that won’t help.”

Charlene breathed in and said, “Yeah. I guess you’re right. For what it’s worth, Dr. Day, I’m sorry you’re stuck with my life. I am a mess.”

Standing, she turned to leave. I grabbed her hand. “Hey, where are you going?”

“You’re right. Everything I do turns into the biggest dumpster fire. I’m just going to go to the room so I don’t ruin your life even more than I already have.”

Not knowing what to say, I sputtered, “H-Hey, that sounds like a good idea. Let’s get some sleep and then go home tomorrow. We can figure out what to do next once we rest.”

Charlene nodded.

*****

We didn’t speak that night. She looked as if she was on the verge of tears, so defeated. And honestly, I didn’t know what to say to make her feel better.

When I hit the bed, I fell right to sleep.

And although awkward as sleeping partners, it really wasn’t very strange. I was next to my body. Even though it was a little weird, it was comforting, too.

But then I heard her sniffling.

Raising my head, I asked, “Charlene. Are you crying?”

“No,” she answered then rubbed her nose. “Just got a cold.”

“I know you’re crying. What’s wrong?”

She shrugged. “What isn’t wrong? Newsflash, Dr. Day. Even though I’m a mess, at least I was a mess in my own body. Don’t take this wrong, but I hate being a guy. I don’t want to be like this forever.”

I sighed, scooting to the edge of the bed. I wasn’t going to tell her how much I hated living like a girl, too, but this was a challenge. I normally liked challenges. Puzzles. Ginny gave me that love. I wondered what she’d do if this had happened to her.

I could almost hear her now telling me not to give up. The answer was out there. Somewhere. I just had to find it. “Don’t worry, Charlene. We’ll figure it out.”

“But what if we don’t?” she asked. “What will we do?”

I shook my head. That was a question I didn’t want to answer.

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Chapter 6.37

Charlie

The jungle air seemed a bit drier as it wafted through the open window.

And what was with that awful dream I’d just had? Dr. Deathday must have been getting to me. That boring high school science dig he made us do yesterday slithered its way into my psyche like a bad ear worm.

I breathed deeply, relaxing all my tired muscles. Well, they didn’t feel as wiped as yesterday. In fact, I honestly felt the best I’d had in literal years.

Who knew nightmares could have that affect? I snuggled into the extremely comfortable bed, not wanting to get up. Dr. Day said we had to wake up bright and early since we were going on a trek today.

Rising, I blinked, looking at my room. This wasn’t the tiny Simdiana Sones room I’d slept in earlier. What gives?

My eyes drifted over the high dollar computer, the expensive art work, the exquisite terracotta tile and although I wasn’t a rocket scientist, I was smart enough to figure out something was defintiely wrong in Smenmark. Did I take Dr. Day’s room at the villa instead of mine somehow?

I was about to crawl out of bed when I heard a knock and a man’s deep voice. “Hey, Liam, I’m about to make coffee. Get your ass out of bed.”

My heart squeezed. Oh my GOD! I DID take Dr. Day’s room! And if I slept in his room, where the hell was he? We must have gotten drunk last night and somehow switched rooms. He was SOOOO gonna have my hide for this, blaming me because I probably suggested shots. The Selvadoradan booze must have been pure because I didn’t even have a hangover.

The villa had totally changed, too. It did have that jungle flair, but in a more Moroccan style.

I made my way to the kitchen when I spotted, no shit, Zack, Liam’s brother, making coffee! “Zack? Is that you?” I asked, so bewildered.

He chuckled. “Who else would it be, bro?”

“I…uh…didn’t know you came on the expedition. I didn’t see you yesterday.” What the heck was wrong with my voice? It sounded like a sexy man. I must have caught a cold as well. This was just not my day.

“Dude, you just got back from the expedition last night. Are you still dreaming or something? Don’t worry. I’ll have you fixed up in no time.” He filled the coffeemaker with some delicious smelling grounds.

I was so confused. Zack, Liam’s brother, was calling me “dude” and saying we came back from the expedition? A week early? We’d only stayed there for two days. “So…where is Dr. Day?” I asked. Honestly, I didn’t want to see him, but if he took me home then I DID get drunk. Like I must have gotten so drunk, I’d forgotten the whole week.

“Liam…maybe you should go back to bed. You’re not making sense.”

“Who are you calling Liam?”

When Zack gave me a puzzled look, I glanced down at myself and recognized the beautiful tan abs, the tall legs, the perfectly manicured hands.

OH MY FREAKING GOD!

In a panic, I bolted back to the bedroom.

Staring at myself in the mirror, my head exploded.

That asshole genie wasn’t a dream. He turned me into Dr. Day!

Liam

My neck pulsed in shockwaves of pain. I obviously had gotten a crick from the activities of last night.

And why did my villa bed feel so hard? It was like sleeping on cement. I decided to complain to the concierge. I paid extra for my room. The bed shouldn’t give customers back and neck aches.

Rising up, I tried to stretch. My God, what was wrong with my body? I hadn’t been this sore since high school. I had a workout regimen that never faltered, whipping my body into the best shape so I didn’t get sore muscles. But maybe I’d overworked the kids yesterday and I used muscles I hadn’t in years?

Then I noticed this wasn’t my villa bed. “What the hell?”

The events of the night before flashed in my head. Charlene stealing the cart. The archway. The temple. The genie. The pain. “No fucking way.”

My heart pounded in my chest as I looked at my unmanicured toes and white legs. “No…no no no NOOOOOO!” That wasn’t a genie. It was a figment of my very creative but very despicable imagination.

Getting to my feet, I waded in debris that was flung from one end of the tiny room to the other. “Where the hell am I?” I whispered. The stench of old sour milk filled my nostrils. It came from a glass on the desk that looked like a science experiment gone bad. Disgusting.

And then I caught a glimpse of myself in the Henry Puffer mirror on the wall. I gasped.

That fucking genie had turned me into Charlene!

*****

It didn’t take long for me to discover I was back in Oasis Springs. And on the wrong side of the tracks.

I caught a suber over to my house. Charlene had no money in her purse, of course, but thankfully, I knew my credit card number.

Blasting through the door, I yelled at my brother, “Where is she?”

“Hey, Charlie. Don’t mind you barging in here. You’re always welcome. Where’s who? You mean Myla? She’s coming over in a few hours if you want to stick around.”

Oh God. This was going to take some time to get used to. I was in Charlene’s body. Backpedaling, I said, “Sorry, I mean…where’s L-Liam?”

A smirk flashed over my brother’s face. “OoooHHHoohh…you want Liam. It’s not Dr. Day anymore then. Heh. What actually happened in the jungle? Hmmm? I’ve been dreaming about this day for years.”

I arched an eyebrow and glared. “Um no. I can assure you that will NEVER happen between us. Not even if she…I mean he…was the last person on earth. Now…where is he?”

My brother pointed to my room. Of course. Charlene probably hadn’t gotten out of bed yet. It was almost ten in the morning. Rolling my eyes, I burst through the door. I wanted to wring her neck for this. How could she be so stupid to meddle with ancient artifacts?

I stomped in front of her and glared.

She winced and said, “H-Hey…Dr. Day. Before you yell at me, can I just say…I’m sorry?”

Seething, I said, “Apology not accepted.”

Charlie

Oh God. How can Dr. Deathday give me his death glare while in my body? It was the creepiest scariest thing I’d ever witnessed. I was so dead. Like in the morgue with a toe tag dead. And yeah like I obviously got the blessing here. Poor Dr. Day inherited MY life. He sooooo wasn’t going to be happy when he took a look at my bank account. “So…like…I’m sure it’ll wear off. We won’t stay like this forever…will we?”

“For your sake, you better pray it wears off, but I’m not going to stand around waiting like a moron.”

I didn’t like the sound of that. “What do you think we should do? Like I doubt that genie will give us a do over. You heard him. He didn’t like how you went about asking for a blessing.”

His hands clenched. “So are you saying this is MY fault?”

How can he exert such dominance in my body? If I wasn’t so scared for my life I’d have marveled at little old ME looking so powerful. “Umm…well, I wouldn’t quite put it that way, Dr. Day. I think we kind of are in this…t-together, actually?”

He let out air then said in a low scary voice, “Let me make this clear. This is your fault, Miss Darby. YOURS. YOU decided to leave my protection. YOU decided to run off and into that unknown archway. And YOU decided to ask for a blessing from that maniacle genie. YOUR. FAULT!”

I raised my hands, trying to quell his anger at me. “Okay, okay, Dr. Day. It’s my fault. I admit it. And I’m repenting as best I can. But I don’t know what we can do about it.”

“Get dressed,” he hissed. “We’re leaving for Selvadorada today.”

Liam

Did I say Charlene Darby was the most stubborn, headstrong woman I’d ever encountered? Now she was refusing to go back to Selvadorada. Said she wouldn’t step foot on that soil again. “Oh yes you are coming!” I grabbed her hand, trying to pull her to the closet to get dressed. Why did my body have to be so strong? Maybe I shouldn’t have been so meticulous with my workout schedule.

Zack

There was something up between my brother and Charlie. On the one hand, I was balls to the wall happy. It looked as if my bro had gotten laid over the past week. That it was Charlie Darby was such a coup, too. I mean, think of the double dates we could have. Unfortunately, Charlie was yelling at my poor brother in the privacy of his room. Being whipped was one thing I never thought would happen to my brother. And yeah, he hadn’t gotten any sex in years, but I didn’t think he’d allow someone to treat him badly in order to get it.

But then I witnessed something I never thought I’d see. Charlie was definitely a hulk of a she-woman. Thoughts of what their sex life must have been like in the jungle blew me away. “Whoa…what are you doing with my brother, Charlie? Don’t hurt yourself! He’s a heavy man.”

Reed looked surprised as well. “Please put him down, Miss. I don’t want him hurt. He might break!”

“You heard him, Dr. Day,” Liam said. “Put me down!”

“I told you you were going whether you liked it or not.”

Now this was going too far. “Geeze, Liam, if you’re going to do role playing, for God’s sake, do it behind closed doors. That’s just…creepy.”

“Out of my way, Zack,” Charlie yelled. “And open the door!”

I shrugged and obeyed her. If these two did work out, they were definitely going to have a creative sex life. Who was I to judge?

Chapter 6.36

Liam

Finally, Charlene careened to a stop in the middle of the jungle. I hopped off the cart, chasing her. We were near an old dock and I could hear the Samazon river rushing ahead.

“Stop this instance!” I shouted. Why was she running from me? This was insane!

“You stop being a pigheaded jerk!” she called behind her. “The archway is close by!”

And when she slowed down, my mouth dropped open. “My God,” was all I could sputter.

“Isn’t it amazing?” she said, dreamily.

Before I could catch my breath, she darted toward the glowing, shimmering archway.

“NO!” I yelled. “We don’t know what it’ll do!” But she wouldn’t listen.

Leaping into a quivering energy shield, her body disappeared.

“Shit!” I hollered.

And before I could stop myself, I followed her.

It was like I’d walked off the edge of a cliff, falling down with my stomach tickling, wind whipping around my body. Then suddenly the ground stopped and the sky was instantly bright. It was as if we’d traveled to the other side of the world.

And just as the legend had told, an ancient temple rose three stories ahead of us. “Don’t even think we’re going in there,” I warned. Temples were notorious for their traps. It should be excavated by a team of archaeologists with a precautionary, well thought out plan. “We’ll go back and reveal its location. That should be enough for you, Charlene.”

I searched for the archway we’d entered, but it wasn’t anywhere near here. How the hell were we ever going to get back to our villa?

She said in a huffy voice, “Well, you can stay here all you like, Dr. Day, but I’m an explorer. So yeah. Buh bye!”

Shaking my head, I followed because I couldn’t allow her to explore alone. Who knew what might happen to her? Charlene Darby was the most infuriating, headstrong woman I’d ever met.

The architecture was definitely 15th century, Selvadoradan citadel structure. Pretty basic, so maybe we were in the area. But why did the sun rise so quickly? “Hmm…” I said, scratching my chin, “we should be okay since I think we’re still in Selvadorada. Maybe we can explore a few rooms and take back an item to show.”

She shook her head. “No way. I want to see if there really is a genie living here. According to aliensrreal.com, people swear on their lives they’ve seen him. And he always gives a blessing, which, not gonna lie, I need.”

“Charlene, do you hear yourself? You get your information from aliensrreal.com? How can I take you seriously as an archaeologist? Maybe you should go into palm reading instead.”

“You’re funny, Dr. Day.” She put her hand into the entrance and I heard a zap. “OUCH!” she cried.

God, she wasn’t going to listen so I had to at least get her under control. “Will you stop for a second? I’ll help you explore, but you must promise to listen to me, otherwise, you’re not going to get anywhere, understand?”

Rubbing the burn on her hand, she winced and nodded.

I sighed and marched into the adjacent room. “Okay, then. These ancient people loved to use religious puzzles. Just stand there and observe. This will be a good experience for you. That is, unless we get ourselves killed.” I flashed her a harsh glare then went straight away with my usual procedures.

Charlie

Oh God. I actually FOUND the freaking archway! But why did Dr. Deathday have to look at me like I was the stupidest person on the planet?

Probably because I was the stupidest person on the planet. We were stuck. In who knew where and who knew when. Aliensrreal.com didn’t say how the hell we were supposed to get back to where we started. There wasn’t an archway on this side and so we were freaking lost.

But then we had this amazing temple to explore. Problem was, it was full of puzzles and electrified shields. I hurt my hand thinking we could just pop through one like the archway. What a mistake.

Not gonna lie, even though Dr. Day was mad at me and a douchebag jerk, he was so nice to look at while he was scribbling down patterns and figuring out what to do.

I wanted to help, but everything I touched turned into a dumpster fire. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this. I just always dove in without looking for piranha first.

“That’s it,” he said, surveying one of the bowls. “Now according to these hieroglyphics, if I take some of this sand and place it in this ceremonial basin, it should release the shield.”

My heart froze as I watched sand spill from his hand into the golden bowl. Was he right? Would this be our ticket out of here?

A cold wind whipped around us as a red fire whooshed from the pot. “Damn,” he hissed.

We were never going to get out of here! And it was all my fault.

Not looking at me, he stormed ahead to the other open room. I helplessly followed like the idiot I was.

“Just as I thought,” he said, voice echoing off the ancient stone. “We have another chance. The other room gave clues to which oblelisk in this room to choose. Now all I have to do is move the blocks into the correct pattern and it should work.”

Going straight to work, he adjusted the large blocks then pulled the jewel encrusted lever. It let out a groan and a rusty squeal.

And nothing happened. “I thought for sure…” Dr. Day said, looking above him.

Then all at once, I heard a maniacle laugh as fire shot out of the obelisk, engulfing Dr. Day! “Oh my God, are you okay?” I shouted.

Covered in soot, Dr. Day said, “No, Miss Darby, I am not fine. We are still here in this godforsaken temple and I’m all out of ideas. And if we never get out of here, I’ll tell you this. Do not ever speak to me again. Understand?”

He stalked away, muttering to himself.

But I wasn’t ready to give up. Maybe he didn’t have the pattern right. I matched together the different arrows and leaves, then turned the cubes until I felt things looked correct. Cranking back the squeaky lever, I said a dozen different prayers, hoping this would work.

But that laugh happened again and I got engulfed in a weird fire, too. It didn’t hurt, but left a stinky stench all over like a huge skunk decided he’d like to dunk us in spray for funsies.

“Are you okay, Charlene?” Dr. Day asked.

I was about to answer when I heard a loud clank.

We both looked at each other then bolted to the shielded doorway. It was opened!

Running into the room, my stomach did a flip flop! There at the back was a strange looking man sitting crosslegged.

It had to be the genie!

Liam

“Dr. Day!” Charlene shouted. “That’s him! The genie! Tell him who we are and ask for a blessing!”

I’d had about enough of Charlene Darby’s nonsense for one day. I didn’t believe in hocus pocus, curses, blessings, vampires, witches, mermaids, and I especially didn’t believe in genies. As an archeologist, I saw first hand so many different cultures and beliefs and all were made up in the peoples’ minds. “Miss Darby, for God’s sake, let me handle this.”

Seeing the man gave me hope he could give us directions to our villa. Or maybe he knew someone who could give us a lift back.

“I’m sorry to bother you, sir, but I wonder if you could help us.”

He stood up so quickly, I didn’t see him actually do it. But there he was standing eye to eye with me. “You dare wake the great Simllama without an invitation?”

Simllama? I’d heard that name but from where? “Listen, I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb you. It’s just that my…f-friend and I are lost and we need some help getting back to our villa. If you wouldn’t mind…”

He cut me off, glaring. “You ask for a blessing? This is a very strange way to do such a thing. It is like you are a child, stumbling around in a pit of vipers, without knowledge of the steps to save you. No. You are not worthy. Be gone from me.”

“Look…I can pay you if only you could at least tell us where the nearest home is or even a trail back to the village, we’d be very happy to…”

Just then, Charlene nudged her body between us and blurted, “He isn’t worthy, Great Simllama, but I am. I know who you are. All we ask is to gain a blessing from your imminence. One that will make us both happy beyond measure. And we leave the how and when to you, oh Grand One.”

A smile swirled on the edge of his mouth. Was he really going to go along with this nonsense? The guy was so strange. But if it helped us get out of here, I wasn’t going to interfere.

The man seemed to drift back from us as he lifted his hand. “Very well, insignificant ones.

“You ask for a blessing and I’ll give you that. But first, you must endure a curse and my wrath for coming here without knowledge. And if you survive, I promise, you will gain happiness. Now, it starts with…pain.”

A burning sensation ripped through my flesh and pierced the pit of my gut. “Oof,” I gasped.

“What have I done?” Charlene whispered.

Every fiber in me screamed at me to flee. “Let’s get out of here, Charlene.” But my legs wouldn’t move.

“No, you city rats, you will not leave. Not before I give you this curse. It will be up to you whether you will receive the blessing. Now, my lovely snake, Asp, will spit on you and your fate will be sealed.”

A roaring fire seared through me and I cried out. What was happening to me? I could only hear a roar in my ears as I pulled away from my body.

The man chanted unintelligible words all the while that searing pain subsided. But now, everything floated below me. It was as if my body was hovering like a helicopter above him. Now I knew I must have been dreaming. I’d wake up. I just had to hold on.

And then the burning agony started back again. First in my mouth and then along my body.

I wanted to kill that guy. Moving toward him, I slowly inched my feet, but he jerked his hand, freezing me in the spot.

And then darkness swallowed me.

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Chapter 6.35

Charlie

We finally arrived at the temple and Dr. Day gave us an excavation briefing.

“Isn’t this amazing?” Susan asked me, grinning.

And yeah, the surroundings were beautiful but it wasn’t like this was a real temple. It was a tourist trap like Simsneyland. I mean, come ON! We were going to be archaeologists. How come we couldn’t dig in a real temple?

I had to admit I liked seeing this side of Dr. Day. He was so happy–almost beaming. It made him even more handsome to me. You could really tell he was at home here in the jungle.

But I just wasn’t enthused. I didn’t want to play archeaologist. I wanted to DISCOVER!

“Okay, everyone. There’s two dig spots and some discovery tables. Once you find an object, use the techniques we’ve gone over to figure out when your object was created and from what culture it is. You will be graded on this, so do your best.”

All my classmates went straight to work. I just couldn’t force myself to dig in something that had been prepared in advanced. It was like we were cheating.

“Come on, Charlie,” Susan said, rifling through the dirt. “Start digging! This is for our grade, you know.”

I sighed. God, this was sooooo annoying. Now I knew how it felt to die of boredom. It was a real thing.

“Hey, look. There’s a Charlie spot right next to me. Come on!” Susan patted the ground near her.

I shook my head and instead, decided to plead my case to Dr. Deathday. “Honestly, Dr. Day, do you see what a real lame waste of time this is? We could be discovering the secret passage of the Spiritual Transformation archway, but no. You have us digging in the dirt like a bunch of kids on a science field trip.”

Never glancing up, he said, “First of all, that passage doesn’t exist. It’s been proven. And secondly, you’ve got to walk before you can run, Miss Darby. Learn the techniques first THEN use them in a field situation.”

Ugh. He wouldn’t listen. I guessed I was doomed to do menial tasks instead of real exploration.

Dr. Day’s warning came true. We worked our asses off all day and into the night. My back ached but he said we couldn’t stop until all the artifacts were found. It was a monotonous cycle of digging, finding an item, then taking it to the table.

Eli picked out the most interesting artifact–a wooden llama sun god. Dang it. I wanted to find something cool like that. All I got were a few totem dolls and a coin.

Stretching my legs, I spied a weird glow off in the distance. My heart skipped as a twinge rippled through me. “What is that?” I whispered.

The twinkle grew bigger and bigger, hovering over the jungle. Could this be the celestial sign of enlightenment that aliensrreal.com was talking about? It happened once in fifty years but if you were lucky enough to see it, the glow would lead you directly to the archway.

I had no time to lose. Bolting to the outside, my heart beat so hard, it hurt.

But as I ran ahead, the glow seemed to sprint away from me. Damn!

And then it petered out the more I chased it. But I wasn’t going to give up. It’d showed itself! That part I knew was real. And I observed about where it had been or at least the area to search.

Meandering through the forest, the jungle took on a creepy dark tone which made the hair on my arms tighten. But I wouldn’t be disuaded by fear. Sure there were deadly things living in the dark at night. I just needed to focus on my quest.

And then I gasped as my heart lurched into my throat.

“It IS real,” I whispered.

Liam

“Okay, folks, it’s time to go back to our villa for the night.” I searched around, counting heads. I noticed one student missing. “Has anyone seen Charlene?”

Zane waved his arms. “The only thing I’ve been seeing are these freaking mosquitos!”

Walking over to her best friend, I asked, “Susan, have you seen Charlene?”

Wincing, she said, “Um…er…I thought she had to go to the bathroom really bad because I saw her run to the front but she hasn’t come back. Maybe she had to take a dump?”

I crossed my arms. She’d been blabbing about that fabled archway all day. I couldn’t understand how a smart, science minded girl like her could believe in fairytales like the Spiritual Transformation archway. It purportedly transported you to an ancient temple full of artifacts. But where was the evidence? Blurry pictures that looked faked were the only supposed “facts” the lunatics who talked about it could produce. The morons even purported there was a genie living in the depths. I mean, really? That was kid’s stuff like in the story of Simladdin. And now she’s probably gotten herself lost in the dark jungle. There were poisonous snakes and alligators out there. “Damn it,” I cursed. “I’ll go find her.”

My students insisted on accompanying me. I didn’t mind. It was best we stayed together.

Just as we were about to leave, I spied Charlene blasting toward us.

I stopped her, throwing my hands on my hips, I was so angry. “Where the hell have you been? Do you realize it’s dangerous in the jungle at night?”

Breathing hard, she said, “You’ve got to come with me, Dr. Day. I found it. The archway! It’s real!”

I folded my arms. This was unbelievable. “The archway is not real. And I’d appreciate it if you would follow the rules, Miss Darby. I’m responsible for your well being and until we leave at the end of the week, you will ask me if you can go somewhere. Understand?”

She lifted her hands. “Okay, I get it, Dr. Day. I screwed up but I saw a huge light and then I had to discover it for myself. Honest to God, I’m not joking. Come with me! It’s amazing!”

I pointed. “The only place you’re going is to the villa. Now march. And I better not hear anything more about this ridiculous archway or I’m going to send you home and you will fail my class. Is that understood?”

Her nostrils flared. “Oh my God, you’re impossible! Fine. Fail me! See if I care! But I’m going through the archway with or without you, asshole!”

Before I could stop her, she bolted toward one of our jungle carts. I chased after her, hoping I could beat her to it.

But she was too quick.

“Be careful, Dr. Day!” I heard one of my students shouting after me.

In a moment of insanity, I flung my body onto the cart, hoping to stop her, but she floored it. “Stop, Charlene!” I cried. “This is dangerous!”

“Go to hell!” she yelled back.

And so I was stuck on the top of that cart, clinging for my life and hoping she wouldn’t crash.

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Chapter 6.34

Charlie

Dr. Day was going over all the stuff everyone needed to take for the expedition. And with each word, I felt stupid and totally left out.

“God, I’m so angry with him, Charlie,” Susan whispered. “He can’t ban you from the expedition. You’ve got the highest grade in the frikin class.”

I sighed. “It’s my own fault, Suz. Don’t blame him.”

“Well, I do blame him. He’s going to get the cold shoulder by me all week. I don’t want to be in the jungles without you.”

“At least you’ve got your boyfriend to hang out with,” I said with a shrug. Susan hooked up with one of our classmates, Thomas Winkerstein, a few weeks ago. I had to admit, they were the cutest together. So, really, she was just being nice. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be working on some research papers and besides, who wants to end up with spider bites and mosquito welts? Not me.”

“Maybe I’ll talk to him. Beg him or something.”

“That won’t work,” I said, shaking my head.

“Why not?”

“Because he’s an asshole, Susan, and I don’t want him to take it out on you!”

“Asshole, huh?” Dr. Day was standing right behind me!

I winced. Oh God, why do you hate me?

So here I sat yet again staring at the coldest stare on the planet. Dr. Deathday should patent it for the army. It’d be their secret weapon!

“I uh…can explain. I…wasn’t…er…” but my tongue got all tangled up in my mouth. I hated lying.

He raised his eyebrows. I could see a slight smile rise on the corner of his mouth. He ENJOYED making me squirm, the jerk!

“Okay, okay,” I confessed, “I admit it. I called you an asshole. But can you blame me? You’re leaving me out of the expedition, something I’ve been looking forward to practically my whole life! And I’ve worked my tail off trying to do my best in this class but that’s not good enough for you! So I’ll sit home while you’re gallavanting across the globe, finding cool stuff and having the time of your archaeological life.”

“Are you finished with your tirade because I don’t want any emotional baggage or hard feelings against me once you reach Selvadorada.”

I blinked. “What the hell are you talking about?”

With a cocky grin, he answered, “Pack your bags, Miss Darby. You’ve got a long plane ride in your future.”

All of the angst I had been feeling earlier melted away. “Really? Oh my GOD! Thank you, Dr. Day!”

And for the first time in the history of me taking his class, I saw Dr. Day SMILE!

*****

Liam

Something happened to me right after I’d had that strange dream about Ginny. It was like a huge weight lifted off me. I was free. Free from the burden of my hurt and anger against the world for all the awful things that had gone wrong in my life. Dream Ginny was right. I had to let go. If I didn’t, I’d be miserable forever.

And the first thing I did was allow Charlene to go on the expedition. It was true. I was being an ass. So she messed up from time to time. She was the brightest student in my class. Charlene deserved to be there.

Once we arrived at our villa, I breathed in the muggy jungle air. I loved Selvadorada. I’d done my first real excavation there. And it brought back great memories of my own research.

“Hey, this is a cool place, Dr. D!” Reynold said.

It definitely was. I’d booked this place last year since it got so many great reviews on SipAdvisor.

Breathing in the sweet scent of plumeria drifting through the humid air, I led my students to the door. This was going to be an awesome trip. Probably the best one I’d done for my students to date. I could feel it in my gut.

Charlie

Selvadorada was even more beautiful than I could ever have imagined. Huge palms, tons of flowers, and green as far as the eye could see. I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven.

Susan was flirting with her boyfriend beside me. Looked like I was going to ride solo on my quest for the secret passage of the Spiritual Transformation archway. But no matter. I wasn’t sure if Susan believed in it or not.

All the rooms had names and mine happened to be Simdiana Sones! What a sign!

Was God trying to tell me that I was definitely going to discover that archway? According to aliensrreal.com, it was usually observed around this time of the year, during a full moon and around dusk.

I was determined to find it, take pictures, and prove its existence once and for all! It wasn’t going to go the way of Simsquatch or the Sloch Sness Monster.

Dr. Day wanted to show us our campsite today. We were just going to hike around, getting to know the area. Then travel up to a temple where we’d get to use our digging techniques.

Putting on my fedora, tingles crept along my arms.

I soooo looked the part, didn’t I?

“Selvadoradan legends can’t outwit me,” I declared to the mirror. “I’m coming for ya!”

By lunchtime, we arrived at the camp. And even though we’d walked miles, I felt so fresh like I could walk ten more!

“Okay, guys,” Dr. Day said, “let’s make a fire and eat. Then I’ll go over some of our digging techniques to refresh your memories. We’ll be excavating all afternoon and into the night, so you need to eat as much as you can now because we’ll only be snacking later.”

Snacking? Who needed food when the surroundings were a feast for the eyes?

“Want me to cook you a veggie dog, babe?” Thomas asked Susan. Aww…he was so sweet!

“Now make sure you cover yourself in insect repellant. The mosquitos are vicious here.”


“Thanks for telling us that now, Dr. D,” Eli said. “My ass is covered in red welts.”

“Oh my God! Did you see that? Was that a SNAKE?” Flynn might look like a cool cat on the outside, but he was really just a timid Mama’s boy. I had no idea how he was going to make it this week.

“Yes, there are snakes here,” Dr. Day said, nodding. “And bats. But if we stick together, these wild animals won’t hurt you. Believe me, they’re more scared of you than you are of them. A good rule of thumb is ‘don’t touch’.”

“Don’t worry, Dr. D,” Reynold said. “The only thing I’m going to touch is my sandwich. I’m starving!”

After we ate, my classmates built a roaring fire, using survival techniques.

But I didn’t want to join in. I had some investigating to do.

And I couldn’t do that just by standing around.

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