Generation 5 Chapters

Chapter 6.51

Liam

I didn’t want to be there. I allowed Charlene to talk me into coming to Ginny and her husband’s home to hear her explanation. But I knew in my heart that no explanation would make up for her callousness in allowing me to believe she was dead all these years.

The night breeze whipped around us as I surveyed her house. It looked strange, to say the least. Like glowing sea coral. That house had to have cost a fortune as it was on prime real estate right on the ocean in a private cove miles upon miles away from civilization. Cell phones didn’t even work out here. Earlier, I believed that maybe Ginny was poor and that was why she couldn’t take a flight to see me, but this confirmed the obvious.

Her dogs looked strange, too. They played underneath the moonlight. I’d never seen dogs with coats like these. Maybe they were painted?

I sighed, not wanting to take another step. What was I doing here? I was a stranger. An outsider. Insignificant and totally forgotten by Ginny. Did I really want to see her happy and in love with someone else? It’d be like a shark attack emotionally. “I can’t,” I declared. “Let’s go back.”

“Dr. D…I know this sucks, but…don’t you want to at least hear her out?”

When I didn’t budge, she grasped my hand and said, “Come on. I’ll be with you. I told her you were my girlfriend anyway. I won’t leave your side, okay?” She pulled on my hand, urging me along.

Bracing myself and trying to keep my emotions in check, I clung to Charlene for support as we entered what looked like the ocean itself. What the hell?

Charlene introduced me to Ginny and her husband, Koa, as “Liam’s girlfriend”. Did I see a touch of sadness in Ginny’s eyes when she looked at me, “the girlfriend”?

Charlene broke the awkward silence, “So…like…sorry to cut to the chase, but my girlfriend here is a little uncomfortable. We just want to know what happened then we’ll go cuz we got a lot to do. We’re professors, after all, and like…our vacation is almost over. Gotta get back to school and teach and identify ancient amazing artifacts, you know, be an archaeologist? Something you used to want to do.”

If I wasn’t so upset, I would have laughed at Charlene’s little dig. She was a really cool girl, and I was so grateful to have her by my side in this situation.

Without pause, Ginny shared a story so miraculous, it was hardly believable. But then…I was residing in Charlene’s body. Anything was possible.

Six years ago, Ginny and her parents went scuba diving along the volcanic rock to see the lava flow underwater. A strong current split them apart and pushed them away from land. Ginny tried desperately to find her parents but was so lost herself, she decided to swim toward land for safety. Unfortunately, the current swept her further from shore as her oxygen tank depleted. Struggling to keep afloat, Ginny drifted down, where she thought she was going to drown but Koa was there to save her. She’d lost her memory during this ordeal until two years ago.

She stopped her story there as if that was a good enough explanation. Thankfully, Charlene interjected on my behalf, “Ginny, I’m sorry, but that doesn’t give me a reason for you to ghost me all these years. My God. We have cell phones. Internet is a thing, you know.”

Waving her arms, she said, “I couldn’t contact you, Liam, because…”

“Because I turned her into a mermaid for her survival,” her husband finished for her. “And I would appreciate you not talking about this to anyone. If word got out, mermaids would be collected for their tails. Thankfully, we are but myths to most of the world and we’d like to keep it that way.”

This knocked the breath out of me. Her dad told me about mermaids, but…them having the ability to turn a human into one?

Charlene countered, “You couldn’t get a word to me? A letter? Call me on a cell phone? Something? Geeze Louise, sister, these excuses suck.”

“I did, Liam. I saw a girl you were dating two years ago. We chatted and she told me she was going to the University of Archaeology and dating a professor there. It was you! And once she said your name, all my memories came rushing back. I wrote a long letter to you, explaining everything and for you to visit me. She promised she’d give it to you. When you never contacted me, I figured you were angry and never wanted to see me again. Koa and I got married six months later. I can’t be away from the ocean, Liam, I’m sorry, or I would have hopped on an airplane to see you. Honest.”

Charlene looked down at the floor. I was just as blown away, not knowing what to think. I knew she was talking about the student who had given me the note but that girl must have crafted another about Ginny instead of giving me the real one. Funny thing, the girl’s letter wasn’t too far off from the truth.

Koa turned to Ginny. “Darling, why don’t you let them meet little Leolani.”

“O-Okay…” Ginny answered.

Leolani? Was that one of their dogs I saw in the front yard?

Ginny left for a bit then came back with a cute toddler who looked like a mix of her and Koa. She stared at Charlene in my body and said, “This is our son.” She paused then added, “Liam, I’m really sorry that fate changed us, but as you can see, it’s all for the best.”

I stared at the little boy that should have been OUR son, not Koa’s. During the time I was with Ginny, I always dreamed of having a son or daughter with her beautiful fiery hair. And now…

I couldn’t take it any longer.

Charlie

Oh my GOD! Listening to Ginny’s bizarre story was like we were trapped in a live action rendition of the Little Mermaid only Prince Eric got ditched for the evil King Mer-dude in a strange AU bad sequel. And to put salt in poor Dr. D’s wounds, she popped out her mer-spawn and flaunted him in his face. Unbe-FREAKIN-believable.

Dr. D’s face paled then he slowly got up and walked out.

“Eheheheh…” I said, trying to squelch all the weird vibes swirling around. “Sorry, my girlfriend’s a little upset. She…uh…thinks I’ll be crushed by your perfect life that should have been mine but isn’t. I can assure you, she’ll get OVER it…heh heh…”

As I got up, Ginny collapsed into me and clamped down. Gad! Mermaids must have super strength abilities, too! I could hardly catch my breath!

“Liam,” she whispered, “I wish you and Charlie the best of everything in the world. I really do.”

“Thanks,” I said, feeling so weird to have this moment with her. It was like I stole it from Dr. D. But he couldn’t have handled it anyway.

I found Dr. D sobbing on the beach a little ways from the mer-mansion. It was so strange to see him cry. When I first met him, that was probably the last thing he’d ever do. I guessed he was breaking down his walls. I was glad about that.

When I sat down next to him, he sniffed then said, “I think she didn’t want to contact me even when she regained her memory. You heard her at the end. She was glad she got away from me.”

And right there he started bawling. I felt so sorry for him and wanted to take all that pain away. But I was helpless. Ginny was a big, awful mermaid cow who honestly had probably changed on the inside. She wasn’t human anymore and she certainly didn’t care about Dr. D. It was all so sad.

Gingerly, I stroked Dr. D’s hair (well, my hair, but the way things were going, it didn’t feel like mine any longer.) “You’re better off, Dr. D. I know it sucks hairy balls right now, but in a few months, I’m sure you’ll meet someone and…”

“No!” he cried, drawing himself into a ball. “I’m done with relationships. The two I’ve had screwed me over. I don’t need that shit.” His shoulders shook as he silently wept.

Instantly, I pulled him toward me. We just stayed there for a while as I rocked him, letting him grieve the loss of what could have been.

*****

We all woke up early to catch the next flight out, when we were confronted by an excited Shama Kazi. “Folks, I think I have the answer to your problem!”

Oh shit. I mean, seriously, I didn’t want to deal with this guy. He was like being on a bad stoner trip only without the fun giggling sessions and munchies. “Honestly, dude, we’re really tired and have a plane to catch.”

Dr. D stopped me and said, “Now wait, Charlene, maybe we should listen to him.”

“Look, I noticed in your feet outlines that you have what is called, ‘spiritual transformativation’.”

Dr. D said in an exasperated voice, “Transformativation? Like in the Archway of Spiritual Transformation? That’s how we happened upon the genie who did this to us.”

“I’m not sure about an archway, but I made a call to a woman I’d met on Magicher–a dating app for us spiritists. Anywho, long story short, I was telling her about your case. She thinks she has a spell that will get you flipped into your correct bodies! Only she lives in a secluded area which will take around a three day backpack hike over a mountain, but it is possible.”

My eyes widened. Would we finally get back to our bodies and be freed from the curse?

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Chapter 6.50

Liam

It was like I was in a haze or a dream. There. On the dance floor was a girl that looked just like Ginny Malcolm!

As I got closer I saw her orange hair, her petite face, her little mole above her lips. Without thinking, I wrapped my arms around her and whispered, “Thank God, you’re alive!”

Instantly, she pushed me away. “Hey, what’s your deal? Get off me!”

For a split second, I’d forgotten all about the curse and my idiotic problems. To Ginny, I was a woman. Charlene Darby. A stranger.

My shoulders sunk as I stammered, “S-Sorry, I thought you were someone I knew. Forgive me.”

She lurched her head back. “That’s okay. I have that kind of face. Don’t worry about it.”

Next, I heard a gasp and Charlene exclaiming, “Oh my GOD! Is that Ginny Malcolm?”

In a flash, Ginny’s face beamed as she flung her arms around Charlie. I’d never wanted my body back more in this entire nightmare. At least I wasn’t dreaming. That WAS Ginny Malcolm. She was alive and living here in Sulani. But how? And why hadn’t she contacted me in all of these years?

“Liam!” Ginny breathed. “I can’t believe it’s you! How are you?”

Charlie was at a loss for words. She just shrugged.

Then Ginny said, “Hey, I want to introduce you to Kaleo. He’s my…”

“Husband,” said a gruff voice coming from a guy who looked like he belonged in an action hero movie.

The word, “husband” took a moment to register and then it stung like a poison dart.

“No…no…” I whispered, “that can’t be true…” My stomach tightened so much I felt like I was going to puke. I had to get out of there.

Charlie

What the hell kind of psycho drama was this? If it’d happened in the movies, I wouldn’t have believed it. But here we were in Sulani and I was staring at none other than Ginny Malcolm, love of Dr. Day’s life. WTF????

Oh she SOOOOO had some explaining to do.

“I…um…am shocked to see you but…glad.” I stuck out my hand to shake with Ginny’s husband’s. I noticed Dr. D’s face went pale and he’d fled the scene. Can’t say I blame him.

“Liam…you don’t know how many times I thought about you over the past two years. How are you?” Ginny beamed at me with a touch of sadness in her face.

I glared. It was time to get my bitch on. If Dr. Day couldn’t defend himself, I’d do it for him. This soooo wasn’t cool. “Two years? It’s been six. I thought you were dead, Ginny. Why the hell didn’t you contact me all of these years? Do you know what I went through? We were going to be married. You were my fiancé. Didn’t you think I had the right to know where you were?”

“I’m…sorry, Liam…it’s a long story. I didn’t regain my memories until two years ago and then by that time you’d moved on.”

I cocked my head. “Moved on? Why did you think that?”

“Ginny…why don’t we invite Liam over to our house so you can talk more? I don’t mind.”

I wanted Dr. Day to be there. I wasn’t sure what was going on with him right now but I knew he needed closure. “Can I bring my girlfriend, too? She’s worrying about me right now. I saw her leave in tears earlier.”

Ginny nodded. “Of course. I’d love to meet your girl.” Then she grinned at me and said, “I’m so glad you found someone special, Liam. I truly am.”

I searched everywhere outside the nightclub and then followed sand prints to a tiny lava springs.

God, Reed was even hugging Dr. Day. He must have known something was up. Like I wouldn’t have been upset by seeing Ginny. Only Dr. Day would care that much.

I walked up to them. “Hey…um…can I talk to Dr. Day…alone, please?”

The guys nodded. Reed blinked at me sort of giving me telepathy that he now understood the situation. Like yeah…this was the real Dr. D in MY body. It was like I knew our romance was over right then but I honestly didn’t care.

I stared at his stricken face and said, “God, Liam, I’m so sorry.”

Liam

Just hearing Charlene call me by my first name at this moment sent me into tears. I had been so emotional lately even before I’d seen Ginny. I’d heard that’s what happened to women during that time of the month–my emotions were definitely all over the place. And to make matters worse, seeing Ginny and her husband was like I was reliving her disappearance all over again only this time it hurt even worse. There was a finality to it. The death of our relationship for good.

“Is there anything I can do?” Charlene asked when I couldn’t respond. “God, I just want to slap her face and kick her ass.”

Tears streamed down my cheeks as Charlene wrapped her arms around me. And then I gave in, body shaking, crying on her shoulder.

Suddenly, rage shot up through the pain. “Why, dammit? WHY? Did she hate me so much that she had to make up a lie to get away from our life together? I don’t understand!”

Charlene shook her head. “Honestly, I don’t think that was it at all. She said she’d lost her memory until two years ago.”

“Then why didn’t she call me two years ago?” I was panicking and losing my shit. I hated being out of control. Hated the familiar terror seeping into my body as the reality of the situation gutted me. Just like what happened with Brandy. Just like when she first disappeared.

Holding me even tighter, Charlene breathed, “It’s going to be okay, Liam. I promise.”

At that moment, I really wanted to believe her, but I just couldn’t.

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Chapter 6.49

Charlie

Something was off between Dr. D and Reed. I caught Reed glaring at him during the flight but he was extra special nice to me. When I asked Dr. Day about it, he said not to worry. We just needed to focus on doing what the guru said. Not gonna lie, I was kind of over the moon about it. I was picturing getting my body back and starting on a program of the new and improved me. Being Dr. Day taught me that working out and eating veggies was kind of fun. I wasn’t going vegan but I definitely liked broccoli and tofu. Who would have guessed?

Reed took us to a pretty uninhabited part of the island near the volcano. “This is the home of Shama Kazi known spiritist of my island. Let me talk to him first for you or he’ll put his dogs on you.”

The shack gave me the shivers. It was like out of a Halloween movie tropical style. This was where we were going to find our answers? I kind of had my doubts.

“Todd,” Dr. D said, “are you sure about this?”

But Todd only grunted.

When Reed got back, he said, “Shama Kazi welcomes you with open arms except he’ll need payment.”

“Money, of course,” Dr. Day said. “Don’t worry, Charlene, I’ll pay. Anything to get my body back.”

“No…he desires your feet.”

I totally freaked out at that but Reed assured me he only wanted pictures. I bristled. What kind of creep needed photos of random strangers’ feet? But if that was all, I didn’t care what awful things he did with them. I wanted my body back.

He wasn’t anything like I’d pictured either. The guy was actually kind of cute and young. Weren’t shamans supposed to be 99 years old and wise with all the experience of the ages? I gave him a look. “How old are you?”

“Charlene, who cares?” Dr. Day said. “Let’s just see what he has to say.”

Anger flickered in his eyes. “If you don’t like what you see, you can leave. I don’t have time for difficult people who come in here begging for my help then spit in my face.”

Geeze, what got in this guy’s rattan basket? I backpedaled. “Sorry, Mr. Kazi, I meant no disrespect.”

Dr. Day cut in, “Look, we’re hoping you can help us with our souls getting back to our bodies. Do you have something for us to do or say or a spell you can enchant us with?”

He answered with a smile. “Ah yes, I believe I have the antidote you’re looking for. It should work instantly, too.” He glanced at me. “I see you’re very uncomfortable in this body and you’re ravenous to get out. I will help.”

He gave Dr. Day a potion. I was a little worried about it but heck. What did we have to lose?

Dr. Day threw it back like a mug of beer he was guzzling.

I did the same. Warm tingles zipped through my body. It was working!

But then Dr. Day’s hair turned blue and slithered out of his head like a bunch of slimy snakes. “Ahhh!” I screamed. “Dr. Day! What’s happening to your hair?”

“Very interesting,” the shaman said. “It would seem I was wrong. Souls are like roots of trees. They intertwine with the body they inhabit. It looks as though both of you are clinging to the bodies you possess.”

“What do you mean?” Dr. Day yelled. “Will we look like this forever? Can we ever get back?”

“The hair is only a sign of what’s inside. It will last another fifteen minutes. Do not fear about this. But as for your souls…you must give up what you know of yourselves and move on. Only then will you receive what you wish.”

“Give up what we know? Like who we were in our old bodies?”

“That is what I believe. But I’m not sure. I will do some research for you and will contact you later if I find out anything. Now…I believe I am due payment? Take off your shoes, please.”

Dr. Day rubbed his head. “God, okay fine, we’ll take off our shoes. Just give me a minute to process this.”

My mouth dropped at this news. “Omg…Dr. Day, am I stuck in your body forever?”

The dude must have taken a thousand pictures of our feet. What a weirdo!

Liam

The news hit me hard. It was like a heavy weight blanketed me. I was destined to be Charlene Darby for the rest of my life. What were my parents going to say? Or think? Would they not believe me just like Reed, thinking I was trying to take away my inheritance with a ruse?

In order to cheer us up, Reed suggested we go to a local bar called the Forbidden Mermaid. I got the feeling he was celebrating his victory over me. To him, this proved I was lying after all, and now, “Liam” was his. Charlene was all too happy to fall right back in his arms.

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But how could I blame her? At least she was able to move on with whatever life she could make in my body. I needed to do the same. Just thinking about having to go through three more years of college to get my pHD all over again gave me a sinking feeling. My life literally sucked. Cursed forever.

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“I can hear the music from here, Charlie. This is going to be fun!” Reed said.

Charlene turned her head. “Come on, Dr. D! Drinks on me!”

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I rolled my eyes. Drinks on her meant drinks on my bank account. That was another subject we were going to have to hash out. How to split my funds.

As we entered, the music base reverberated through me. I had to admit, the bar was breathtakingly beautiful with gorgeous paintings and stained glass of mermaids on the walls and lasers flashing everywhere.

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The patrons were all surrounding a girl who was dancing in the middle of the glass floor.

And then when I got a good look at her, all of the blood rushed out of my head.

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“Ginny?”

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Chapter 6.48

Charlie

Todd and I rushed over to my new apartment. There I found a very angry Dr. D.

“What the hell is this, Charlene? I specifically told you to come alone!”

I stepped back a little. He was TOTALLY scary when he got mad.

“T-Todd just came for moral support, Dr. D. I mean…who knew what I’d find and…”

Dr. Day shoved me out of the way and pushed Todd.

“Out! Now! And don’t come back until I say so.”

Todd gave me a sheepish look and stumbled out the door.

“My God, Dr. D, what the hell is going on?” I asked.

“Follow me,” he said as if he’d just attended a funeral.

“Oh no…it couldn’t be…”

“It is.” Dr. Day headed toward the bathroom door and everything added up. Honestly, I had blissfully totally forgotten about it because YES I was a guy right now.

When I entered, I had to stifle a laugh. Dr. Day must have bought out the whole drugstore. I’d never seen so many different kinds of pads, tampons, and even period cups!

He buckled over as if a cramp shot through him.

“Are you okay, Dr. D? I mean the first two days are the worst but you’ll get through it.”

“I think one is permanently stuck. It won’t come out. I…um…need your help.”

I cocked my head. “You just use the little stringie thingie. Did you try that?”

He nodded and said, “It fell off and then I panicked and called you. It hurts now. I think I’m suffering from toxic shock syndrome!”

I rubbed his back. “No…you’re fine. I’ll help you out. If that happens, you just have to dig…” But then I stopped myself. Did I really WANT Dr. D digging around there? Like HELL NO!

So, I performed the unsticking procedure. He grimaced and moaned the whole time. You’d think I was doing surgery on him. Men were such babies. God! We had to suffer the monthly curse almost our whole lives. He suffered once and you’d think the world was coming to an end.

*****

Liam

I fucking wanted my body back. NOW. Why the hell did that dickwad genie do this to me? What sadistic pleasures did he get by turning a man into a woman? Now I understood what women went through every single month. It wasn’t fair. Pain throbbed in my back and stomach and even down my legs. All I wanted to do was lay around. And what was worse, I wanted to lash out at everyone and everything.

After I retired for a bit, Charlene came in and checked on me. She was being so sweet and understanding. But I wasn’t appreciating her intrusions for some reason. In fact, her being so nice irritated me.

“Dr. D, please get out of bed. I made you something that will help take the tension off.”

I finally did as she’d asked, but I wasn’t happy about it. “The only thing that will take the edge off would be if you stuck a knife in my pelvis and did a mercy killing.” Standing only worsened the pain.

She glared. “Dr. D, stop acting like a ginormous baby and eat these cookies. I promise, it’ll make you feel better.”

Against my better judgement, I ate one. And then I ate three. For some reason, I had a voracious appetite.

Feeling a bit better, I sat on the couch with her.

“See? I told you the cookies would help.”

My eyes turned to slits. “Nothing will help until I get my body back.”

“Okay, yeah, so like about that…Todd says he found a shaman guru guy who might be able to help us out. Like he may be able to perform some sort of voodoo type thing. Only problem is…we have to go to Sulani.”

“Sulani?”

“Yeah…that’s where the dude is. I figure why not? We haven’t been doing such a great job at breaking the curse on our own.”

“Hmm…” I said. “I’m not sure we should trust a ‘guru type guy’. What if he makes matters worse?”

“Look, Dr. D…what’s worse than you suffering my periods? I mean, like, I can handle them. I’ve had them for the past ten years, but men just don’t have the mental capacity like women do. So what do we got to lose?”

She had me there. I used to think men were tougher in emotions and strength, but now? I’d been living in my own dream world. Women were way stronger than men if they had to suffer silently like this every month. I couldn’t even imagine giving birth to a child. I looked at Charlene with a greater appreciation. “I wonder that you would want to go back to this body at all. You’re a braver person than I am.”

“Honestly, Dr. D, being a guy isn’t all that fun. You have to hide your dick constantly when it decides to have a mind of its own. Seriously, that gets old.”

That made me laugh. “Yes, I guess you’re right about that.”

She gave me a playful look. “Now that we’ve decided we hate living in each other’s bodies, how about we do something we both like?”

I was intrigued. “Like what?”

She then suggested we have a Henry Puffer marathon. I hadn’t watched those movies since I was a kid. We made a bet that Lady Ravendancer Goth appeared in the second movie, but I knew she showed up in the first.

“What the hell?” Charlene shouted at the tv. “She’s in that mirror for one split second. That’s not fair, Dr. Day!”

I wiggled my eyebrows. “And now you have to do my laundry for one week.”

She pouted. “I hate laundry.”

******

After the third movie, we talked about Reed. I thought it’d be a good idea to tell him about what was going on. According to Charlene, the guy was basically in love with me, and I didn’t want him pining away needlessly.

So, the following day, we met up with him at my house. He glared at me. “You expect me to believe that nonsense? It’s just your feeble attempt to separate us.”

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I then relayed the time that only I knew about when Reed accidentally sent me a dick pic. I’d never even told my brother about it.

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He seemed to believe us then.

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I cautioned him not to explain the situation to my brother. There was no sense in getting any of my family involved. Not yet, at least. I’d decided this was our last chance. If the Sulani guru couldn’t help us then no one could. I’d then tell my whole family and try to get on with life as a woman.

Reed assured us that he could help find the shaman and he suggested he’d like to come along on the trip. I must admit, having him navigate the cliffs near the volcano relaxed me. He was a native, after all, and I didn’t want to be the lead in the search. Especially with Ginny’s memory looming over me like a specter. I’d taken a vow never to go back to Sulani again, but I was desperate.

Nervous jitters swept through me as we arrived at the Oasis Springs Airport.

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Todd came along as well for moral support. (And because it was his idea.)

After we’d checked our bags and went through security, Todd said, “I’m going to get some snacks. I’ll be right back.”

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Just then, Reed came up to Charlene.

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“Charlie, I’ve got a double chocolatte mocha for you, darling. Your favorite.”

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She lifted the side of her mouth. “Aww…you remembered from our date. Thanks, Reed.”

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It was good to see how Reed was embracing the fact that Charlene was residing in my body and that the break up wasn’t her fault. “I think I’d like some coffee, too, Reed. Where did you get it?” I asked, looking around.

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He blocked my way and thrust a finger in my face. “Ohhh, don’t think for a minute I’m going to help you out, you little hoe. Liam might be put under your spell, but I’m not that stupid to believe any of your lies. I’m only going along with this charade so when your tricks don’t work, I’ll take Liam home and get him some help.”

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Damn. I should have known that no one but Todd would believe us. And who could blame him? “Fine, Reed. You’ll find out the reality of the situation soon enough.”

“Whatever, bitch. Just stay clear of us once we get back from this trip or I’ll report your ass to the dean and get you expelled. Hypnotising unsuspecting people is against the law.”

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Chapter 6.47

Charlie

God, I’d made a huge disaster out of things. Typical, right? Without thinking, I just allowed my feelings to get ahead of my brain. Of course Dr. Day wouldn’t want to start a relationship with Reed. Whatever happened to my plan on getting him a GIRL-friend? And now, he was definitely NOT happy with his life like this and I was sooooo not going to break the curse. How stupid could I be?

After Dr. Day left, I heard a knock on my door. It was Reed.

“I really don’t want to do this now, Reed. Maybe in the morning?”

Jostling the bed, he said, “Liam…for what it’s worth, I understand. Coming to terms with your sexuality is one of the hardest things to do. I know it was for me. But I just want to say I won’t pressure you. Take all the time you need to decide.”

God, he was so nice. And that only made me feel three inches tall. It was like a bandaid that I didn’t want to take off but I had to. Rip it off and get it over with before I did anymore damage. “Yeah…about that…um…I’m not who you think I am, Reed, so…I can tell you now. I’m not gay, and I shouldn’t have led you on like that.”

“Sweetheart…I know what I saw tonight…and if you lie to yourself any longer it’ll only confuse you more. Can you honestly say that if we weren’t interrupted tonight that you wouldn’t have slept with me?”

Eek! A loaded question! How was I going to get out of this one? I REALLY liked Reed, but he wouldn’t want me in my original body. And that had to be my standard. Unless Dr. Day and I give up hope on getting back. I answered, “I mean…yeah…it probably would have happened, but that doesn’t make it the right thing to do. I have an obligation…”

He sat next to me and sighed. “I get it. An obligation to your girlfriend. I’ve been dumped for worse reasons.”

“I’m really sorry, Reed. I had a great time tonight but…the timing isn’t right. Not now.”

He jumped to his feet and padded to the door, saying, “Okay, Liam, I can wait. I believe you’ll come around when the timing IS right. I know what I felt tonight. You just need to come to terms with it yourself.”

I groaned inwardly as I heard him quietly walk out and close the door.

Flinging myself on the bed, I shook my head. “Why did everything have to be so messed up?”

*****

The following morning I was determined to do as much research as I could to redeem myself to Dr. Day. That note about Ginny was nagging at me, telling me not to give up hope on finding a clue. I went to the university and checked out as many books on Sulani mermaid lore as I could. Surely it would show me something.

One story struck a chord. In it, a mermaid lured a man to the water. From there, she kissed him, turning him into a mermaid. What if that note was true? What if the reason Ginny disappeared was because a mermaid, the mermaid she’d seen when she was a child, actually found her again and turned her into one!

But then if that happened, what could I do about it? She was lost forever.

As I was musing over this stuff, Dr. Monteira’s hushed voice startled me. “Hello, Charlie. Find any good information in that book?”

It was so weird hearing my name, it almost freaked me out. “I wish. Nothing but endless dead ends.” I slapped the book closed.

Moving toward the bookshelves, Dr. Montiera stopped me and said, “Why don’t we talk over coffee downstairs? I have something I want to discuss with you.”

When we arrived at the university coffee shop, I got a double chocolatte mocha (nothing like having the metabolism of a rabbit to enable you to guzzle extremely high calorie drinks!) Then I slid into my seat. Not gonna lie, I was kinda freaking out on the inside just being this close to Todd AKA Professor McHOTTIE sitting right next to me. Yeah, okay, I’d just gone from one hottie to the next but it had been kind of easy in Dr. D’s body. Seriously, the guy was like a dude magnet. But note to self–this guy knew I was a gal! WOOT!

Todd took a sip from his drink then said, “I wanted to run something by you first before I asked Liam. In my earlier research, I’d discovered a shaman who lives in Sulani. I believe he might dabble in cases like yours.”

“Well, heck yeah, doc, you don’t have to ask twice. Let’s go to Sulani! I’ve got nothing else to do.”

He pulled out his phone and scrolled through until he found a website about strange phenomena, voodoo, etc. “Well, you see it’s not that easy. He purportedly lives at the top of an active volcano.”

“Hey, what’s a little hot seat when we’re in the hot seat, am I right?” I asked, giggling at my joke.

He shook his head. “Yes, but he doesn’t like visitors so the trip might be all for naught.

“We’d have to somehow convince him to help us. Make it worth while for him, maybe.”

“Like give him a bunch of money? You know…Dr. D is loaded. I’m sure I can vouch for him to pay up. He HATES being in my body.”

“No…nothing like that. It seems the shaman has a bit of a…um…foot fetish.”

“A foot what?”

Suddenly, my phone buzzed. It was Dr. D! “Speak of the devil. Did you know we were just talking about you? Your best bud here has some good…”

“Shut up, Charlene, for once and listen to me!” he yelled. “Get over here at your apartment right now! And don’t bring anyone. Understand?”

“Omg, Dr. Day. Yeah…what’s wrong? Are you okay?”

“Just get here!”

He clicked off before I could ask him anything else.

Todd arched an eyebrow. “Something wrong?”

My heart sped up as my mind raced to all kinds of awful things that might have happened to my body. “Yeah. Dr. D’s in trouble. I’ve got to go.”

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Chapter 6.46

Charlie

Okay so I was totally blown away by Reed’s delicious smile and very hot style. He was like the flame to my gasoline. So why didn’t MORE warning bells go off in my head?

All I cared about was the giddy feelings pinging inside me. Like I hadn’t gone on a REAL date since my first year in college.

Simder hooks ups were about all I had time for and honestly, Froggy McToadster who “said” he was my last boyfriend only used me because I had the highest grade in our Cultural Studies class.

Reed swept my hand in his and cooed, “My, Liam, you do look beautiful tonight. Did you do something to your hair?”

Gah! He noticed! I got a cut and blow out at an exclusive salon. A girl’s gotta take care of herself when she’s got the money. (And honey, Dr. Day was sooooo up on his bank account. Too bad he’d put me on a strict budget. I kinda splurged all my funds for the week.) “You like it?” I asked, shyly. Omg, this guy was making my heart do flip flops!

Ushering me inside the door, he said in a silky voice, “Do I like it? It’s going to be all I can do not to take you home and skip right to dessert.”

I found myself constantly checking him out during dinner. Like pinch me now, was I in the most delectable fantasy date or what?

“There are so many vegan dishes here, dear, so don’t worry. Your palate is safe,” Reed assured me.

I laughed. “I’m soooo over veganism, Reed, but thanks for thinking about that.”

Then I looked him straight in the eye and said, “Meat is my favorite now.” OMG! Could I get any cringier?

He laughed along with me and said, “I like the sound of that.”

Feeling a little awkward, I decided to change the subject. “So…like you’re from Sulani. Tell me about growing up there.”

He told me how his father owned a shipping company and decided to branch out into different ports. One of them in Brindleton Bay. “That’s where you grew up, am I right, dear?”

Ack! I knew nothing about Dr. D’s “before college life” except for the fact that he’d met Ginny in high school. But heck, I’d go along with whatever Reed said. “Um…sure, right…good old Brindleton Bay. Eheheh…”

I got him off the subject of me…er…Dr. D and flipped it onto him. He was an amazing person. He’d taken a gap year to see the world and now he’s a photography student, hoping to eventually sell pictures to magazines.

Grasping my hand, he said, “I’d love to go on a dig with you sometime, Liam. Archaeology intrigues me. I want to break into National Simographic one day. I think we’d make a great team.”

Sipping my wine, all I could do was nod and not worry about what would happen if Dr. D found out I was promising the world to this hot guy in his body.

As soon as we got home, it was like magnets pulled us together. We couldn’t get enough.

And before I knew it, our shirts were off and our pants were about to go too.

“Oh, God, Liam,” he moaned. “I’ve always dreamed about this.”

Reed then started kissing my firm pecs, my washboard abs (well, Dr. D’s washboard abs) and OMG!!!! I soooo wanted what was going to happen next!

Suddenly as if out of a horror film, I heard a loud voice shriek, “What the FUCK?”

And “Oh my GOD! Poor Charlie!”

I was totally busted.

Liam

The past week had been a turning point between me and Charlene. I’d even go as far as to say we’d become friends.

Tonight I decided to scroll through some awful movies for our next Crapfest Theater–something Charlene came up with. She told me to pick the five worst rom coms of the last decade. Then she’d decide which one we’d see.

I smiled thinking about how much fun we’d had the other night.

I actually hadn’t laughed that hard in literal years.

I was really looking forward to it.

Then I heard a knock on my door. It was late so I wondered who it could be.

When I answered it, Myla’s worried face hit me. “I hate to break this news to you, sweetie, but… Liam is cheating on you with Zack’s best friend. We both walked in on them. I’m so sorry.”

It took me a moment to realize what she was saying and then it knocked me over. “He did WHAT?”

*****

Wasting no time, I bolted over to my house to find an embarrassed Charlene (half dressed) looking guilty as hell next to a shirtless Reed with Zack glaring at both of them. I pointed to my bedroom. “Get in there. Now. We have to talk!”

Reed glared. “Don’t do it, Liam. She can’t boss you around.”

“Oh, G-God,” Charlene sputtered. “I’m so sorry, Reed. But…I gotta go.”

Once we were safely behind my door, I rounded on her. “How dare you use my body without any consideration to my feelings let alone his! Do you realize he’s had a crush on me for YEARS? How could you do such a thing?”

“I…um…I’m really sorry, Dr. Day. I just thought…well, I mean…”

“I’m telling you this, I want that body back. Understand? It’s not yours to do with whatever the hell you want.”

“Yeah…God…I know…I screwed up. I mean…it just feels like we’re stuck. You know? And I…I was weak and Reed’s so…charming! I do want to go back to my body. I’m sorry.”

Pulling back, the reality of our situation hit me. I hadn’t been dealing straight with her either. Todd said the curse wasn’t broken with that other couple so…there could be a chance we’ll never get back. And then what?

“Look…I’m sorry I just lost it there. Just…give me six months, okay? If we can’t figure out a way to break the curse then I’ll relinquish claim on my body. And…you’ll be free…to do whatever you want. I won’t stand in your way.”

“Dr. Day…what if we really can’t break the curse? What will happen to us?”

I looked straight at her, pinning her eyes with mine. “We WILL break this curse, Charlene. I promise.”

“But…it seems so hopeless…”

She stopped and tears rolled down her face.

“Listen, Dr. Todd Montiera, my best friend and a hell of a great researcher, knows about us. He’s going to help. With all of us working together, I can almost guarantee it. We’ll figure this out, Charlene. You just can’t give up hope.”

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Chapter 6.45

Liam

After hearing my name from Todd, he stood up and faced me. There was no more hiding from him and to be honest, I was relieved somewhat. “H-How could you know?”

He explained, “I wasn’t sure, not really, until you punched me. Sorry about that but I was testing my theory with trying to kiss you and it worked. I did my masters thesis on unexplained archaeological mysteries. The curse you’re under was in some of my research.”

My heart sped up. “So is there a way to break it?”

He sighed and said, “I’m not sure.

“There was only one couple who were interviewed in a report I read. They’d lost their jobs because people thought they were crazy. And Liam, the curse was never broken for them.”

This news punched me in the gut. “So am I doomed to be in Charlie’s body forever?” Now more than ever I was determined to get back to the genie somehow and make him remove this curse.

We both walked in silence down toward the lab room.

Then Todd said, “You know, there’s just not enough evidence out there that this situation is permanent. I wouldn’t give up. That was just one couple’s experience.”

“So you call them a couple. Are they together like married or something?”

“No…but they were a man and woman pair like you and Charlie. They actually moved to different parts of the country. They couldn’t bear to see their original bodies anymore and got on with their lives.”

Todd stopped in front of the Llama Sun God and sighed.

“Why’d you do it, Liam? The Archway of Spiritual Transformation is filled with all kinds of curses. You’re lucky you got out of there alive.”

I shrugged. “It was purely an accident. Charlie ran into it and I was worried for her safety. Honestly, I’d never heard of the archway until Charlie told me about it. I’d never studied it in college.”

Pursing his lips, Todd said, “I’ll do some more digging for you to see if there’s a way out, but in the meantime, I need your expertise. There’s a ton of work piling up and just gotta say, I’m glad I found the real you. Charlie wasn’t helpful.”

When we got to the lab room, Todd showed me a new artifact we just got in.

“I was hoping you could identify this. It’s from Selvadorada, but its markings are new.”

I scratched my chin. This was rare and worth a lot of money as the Selvadoradan people used jade sometimes in their work. “It’s an arballos. The ancients would often use this for ceremonial oils.”

Doing work kept my mind off of what Todd had revealed. I decided not to tell Charlie we might be doomed to inhabit each other’s bodies forever. I refused to accept the fact the curse lasts forever. Somehow, I was going to figure out how to break it.

Charlie

I had such a good time with Dr. D, I couldn’t believe it. He was actually thawing out which surprised the heck out of me. Add that to coming home to Mr. McDreamy and I was going to write this day down in my diary as SPECIAL (if I had a diary–note to self: buy a diary ASAP).

“Welcome home, Liam. Did I ever tell you that I really like your new look? That hat is especially sexy.”

“Thanks, Reed. It’s the same kind as Simdiana Sones used. Kinda makes me feel the part of an archaeologist, you know?”

Reed smiled. “According to Zack, you’re one of the best in the field. You should explore in my homeland with me this summer. You’d love it.”

Even though I knew I wouldn’t be Dr. Day by the summer, I was curious. “I’d love to. Where are you from, Reed?”

“Sulani. It is a tropical paradise that I know you’ll enjoy. With me as your guide, how could you go wrong?” He winked. “And we’re well known for our mermaids, if you believe in that kind of thing.”

My stomach fluttered as we chatted. I couldn’t help but be attracted to this beautiful man.

It was like saying no to eating a luscious chocolate cream pie. It wasn’t good for me, would make me gain a ton of weight, but…like, I gotta have me some of that!

I offered, “Why don’t we go on winter break? I’ve got time off then.” Heck, what was I saying? Dr. D was going to kill me if I went off on a fling with Reed. But I just couldn’t help myself!

“Are you serious, Liam? I would love to go with you.” His eyes made my knees quiver and something else happened that honestly felt totally hot but would be embarrassing if Reed saw.

“Then it’s a date.” OMG! What was I doing?

“Winter break is a few weeks away, Liam. Would you like to go to dinner with me tomorrow night? I’d like to get to know you better.”

My heart beat a mile a minute as I felt all kinds of guilty pleasures at making this date with Reed. I hadn’t had a date in like two years and the last guy I went out with was a serious frog. Soooo not attractive. I could never get someone as beautiful as Reed to even glance my way. Yeah, sure he was gay, but since this curse wasn’t forever, why not have a little fun? What harm would it do?

I heard myself answer, “Okay…just name the time and the place.”

Chapter 6.44

Charlie

Dr. D texted, saying he had a surprise for me. When I arrived at an apartment complex that was gated with high metal bars, a friendly security guard, and a fountain that looked like it belonged at the Bellagio, I knew I wasn’t going to like what he was about to tell me. I’m like, really? When I got my body back, I wouldn’t be able to make rent. And then what? I’d be kicked to the streets with nothing. I did have a great deal, living at the Hacienda. Sure there may have been working girls hanging out there from time to time, but seriously, Ms. Fantasia was a really nice land lady. If I didn’t have rent right on time, she’d just pat my hand and tell me to get it to her when I could.

But before I went all kicking and screaming toddler on him, I decided to hear him out.

He waved his arms and said proudly, “Well, what do you think? I know it’s kind of small but you really don’t need much, and at your income, I believe you’ll be able to swing it once we’re back to normal.”

I shook my head. The stone walls alone looked like they belonged to a bazillionare. And it had floor to ceiling windows with a view. The cockroaches at my normal digs had better views than I ever did. “I don’t know, Dr. Day…I mean, you do realize I’m a poor girl. Growing up, I’d been tossed around in foster care until I was 18. I’ve never had money. There’s no way I’ll be able to afford this.”

“It’s okay, Charlene. I’ve realized this and I’ve got a great plan. I’ll float you the expense until next year when I can take you on as a TA. You wouldn’t make a lot but I’m willing to pay the difference of what you can afford. It’s worth it to get you out of that slum.”

“I don’t want your money, Dr. Day. Seriously. And YOUR TA? Are you kidding? You hate me. I wouldn’t last a week let alone the three years until I graduate.”

But he wouldn’t listen to me. He just pulled me into the bedroom and said, “Look, if you think the genie wants us to improve each others lives, think of this as part of the solution. It’s a gift. A blessing from the genie.”

“I don’t know…” I gaped at all the stuff. Scads of expensive clothes and the shoes! I was going to have a heart attack just looking at it all.

My own dressing table!

And when I saw the bedroom, how he put together my stuff with the colors and all my favorite things, I couldn’t help it.

The water works started in my eyes.

“Why are you crying, Charlene? You really don’t like it that much?”

I tried to hold it in because I didn’t want to do this in front of him. Not cold, Dr. Day. I’d built a wall around myself and never let even my friends in on my wounds.

Dropping to the floor, I covered my face.

He sat next to me. “What’s the matter? I’ll redo it if it’s that bad. Really. I don’t mind.”

Sniffing, I said, “It’s not that…

“I’ve just been alone almost my whole life. No one has ever really cared for me like this before. And I know you’re doing it because you have to but…I don’t know…it feels overwhelming. I’m not used to it.” That was as far as I’d go. I couldn’t tell him why I was in foster care. Why I had to scrape my way out of the trash heap. Scholarships were the only thing that kept me sane. I wasn’t about to allow my sperm and egg donor define me. Hell, I never really knew anything about them other than “Mom” was an addict and I was living like a feral child when I was found.

“Wow…I…um…didn’t know. I’m sorry.”

Liam

Hearing about Charlene’s hard life blew me away. I felt like shit for a lot of the things I’d thought about her. I truly surmised by the way she acted, she’d been coddled and spoiled all her life. But a person who had nothing and who had gone through foster care to come out of that with a full ride to The Archaeological University master’s program? She was a phenom in my eyes.

I needed to change the atmosphere, though. Pulling her to her feet, I said, “Have you ever watched College Cram?”

“Oh God, you’re kidding me, right? Isn’t that like a bunch of dirty lame jokes and awful acting?”

“I’ve heard it’s funny. Let’s watch it.”

Actually, the ratings were horrible, but I figured it would lighten this mood. I hated seeing Charlene so upset. I couldn’t imagine the life she’s led. I, at least, had my parents, for the most part. Both of them loved me even though they had their own lives after Brandy died. My suffering was nothing next to being shuffled around as a kid. Unloved.

*******

After the movie was over, I said, “That wasn’t so bad was it?”

“If you like hormone-induced mascots running around woohooing in each other’s locker rooms. Okay. Yeah.”

“Oh, come on…I saw you laugh through the whole thing! That streaking scene alone. Come on!”

“Okay, I’ll have to admit, seeing Ham Tolland’s ass was a plus.”

“And what about when they duct taped that naked guy to the laundry cart? You can’t say that wasn’t epic.”

She snorted. “Oh my God that was so BAD!”

I laughed along with her. It was the worst show I’d ever seen.

“And…hee hee…the spit wars…” I added through laughs. “It was…so…STUPID!”

“GOD! Will you stop? I’m about to pee my pants right now.”

“You owe me one for making me watch that crap,” she said when she got back from the bathroom.

“Okay. You get to torture me with a horrible movie of your choice next time.”

******

The following morning, I arrived at the university at 6 am. I hoped I could get there before anyone else. I needed to get caught up on some work and that couldn’t happen with the staff watching.

But I was surprised by Todd’s voice. “You’re here awfully early, Charlie. Can I help you with something?”

For some reason, seeing Todd made my heart climb into my throat. “Um…just going to the library, Dr. Monteira.”

Before I could sidestep him, he pushed me to the wall. What the hell? Did he always jump on women students when no one was around? I would have pushed him away but remembered how much Charlene wanted a date.

Leaning in, he said in a sweet voice, “I’ve noticed how much you’ve changed, Charlie. New hair. New clothes. I must say…I like what I see.”

Searching for a way out, I battled with myself. Did the genie really want me to fulfill every wish Charlene made? Todd was way out of line. But maybe I could salvage it a little. “H-How about we could go for coffee after class today, professor. I-If you wish.”

“How about YOU come with me to the lab room and we can identify…stuff.”

Okay. That crossed a line.

Pushing him away, I punched him with all I had (which wasn’t much). Thankfully, I’d gained a little muscle from recent workouts.

Best friend or not, I was going to report his ass to the dean asap.

When I stormed off, I heard him say, “Pretty good punch there…Liam.”

The sound of my name stopped me cold.

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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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